The show seemed to ignore the testimony of Oliver LeBoutillier, who in Dale Titler's book stated that Brown closed to within 40 feet of Richthofen's triplane and then pulled up the left. In the simulation last night, Brown was shown pulling up to the right from a distance considerably farther than 40 feet.
Le Boutillier would seem to have had the best vantage point of all observers at the moment in question.
Could you comment on this?
The big problem for the film producer was how much he could include in the available 45 minutes of program time. He had material for twice that time, and had it been available items could have been explained clearly and placed into better context. In the case of Oliver LeBoutillier's evidence, I was faced with a serious problem; his combat report and the 209 squadron record book do not agree with his statement to Dale Titler. According to his combat report, when the airflight over Sailly-Laurette broke up, Capt. LeBoutillier led his flight towards Albert on a continuation of their original patrol. They attacked three German two-seaters, used up all their ammunition in the process and then returned home. Albert lay in the opposite direction to Vaux-sur-Somme.
If we take Roy Brown's combat report as the factual basis, he dived on a red triplane and fired a long burst at it. With May and the Baron being not much above tree-top height, Roy would not have had much air space to pull out of his dive, which makes it extremely unlikely that he used a Camel's maximum diving speed of 180 mph as stated by the narrator. A shallow dive of about 130 to 140 is more likely. The forward speed of the triplane was governed by staying behind the wildly zig-zagging May, so 90 mph would be a good estimate. The closing speed would then be 40 to 50 mph which is 60 to 75 feet per second. To pull away at 40 feet would only have allowed Roy 2/3 second to avoid a collision. One hundred feet would be hair-raising, but just possible in view of the Baron's rapid evasive action turn to the right.
To avoid collision, Roy curved away to his left, exactly as Dale Titler wrote, but three ground witnesses state that he then made a U-turn to the right and flew off to the northeast. This agrees with Roy's log book entry where he states that he went to the aid of Lt. Mellersh who had two Fokker triplanes on his tail. A recently discovered letter written by Mellersh later that week gives the clue as to where he and his company were at that time about three miles to the northeast of where Roy attacked the Baron.
Oliver LeBoutillier would certainly have had the best vantage point, but there is no confirmation that he was within four miles of Vaux-sur-Somme at the time.
Looking at angle that which Capt. Roy Brown fired and the forensic evidence for bullet entry and exit, Brown fired from the left and above whereas the entry was from the right and below. Doesn't that evidence alone, discredit Brown's claim. Regardless of the statistical probability of the hit by Brown. He just wasn't firing from the correct angle. I read twenty-five years ago in a magazine that this had been determined and that Brown's claim was discounted then. Am I correct in my assumption?
You deduce correctly. However, there are a few twists to the actual event, one of which gave Roy Brown the opportunity to score a hit from that angle. The Baron's evasive action a sharp skidding turn to the right exposed his right side to Roy whilst the latter was firing. A Fokker triplane in the hands of an experienced pilot was exceptionally agile and could make such a turn without stalling.
I saw the show last night on The Discovery Channel and really enjoyed it. I've always been fascinated With World War I aviation. I have several books on Von Richthofen and WWI aviation in general. Could you please share which flight sim was used in the test to determine if Brown could have actually fired the fatal shot?
I merely contributed to the historical part of the show. I was not involved in the flight simulator part. Had I been involved, Roy Brown's Camel would not have been shown wearing a red nose and two red V's. These were overpainted regulation khaki the week before on the express orders of General Salmond, the commander of the RAF in France.
First of all, I enjoyed the episode and appreciate the detail put into each investigation.
In the final minutes of the show, one shooter (Popkin, I believe) was eliminated because he fired at the front of the aircraft. This assumes that the Red Baron was facing the front. Has anyone hypothesized that he may have been "checking his six" at the time of bullet impact. Popkin's observation of a violent aircraft pitch would be consistent with a massive involuntary recoil following the wound.
I agree with you. Really, all that one can go upon is reasonable probability. Personally, I do not eliminate Popkin from the possible candidates.
Was Richthofen alive when he hit the ground? Are there any surviving photos of the crashed Triplane?
Ground witnesses, some of whom thought that a German triplane was attempting to strafe them, testified that it made a heavy landing with the engine shut off. The landing was crosswind and resulted in a ground loop in which the undercarriage was wiped off. This is confirmed by the salvage report and the condition of the engine which was obviously not rotating when it reached the ground.
The triplane stopped sliding along the ground near an artillery observation trench and the officer in there told his signaler to take the German pilot prisoner. The signaler found the pilot bleeding from The mouth and heard him gasp "Alles Kaput." The pilot thereupon fell unconscious and was found dead with his right hand still holding the joystick by later arrivals.
The only surviving photograph which has been published depicts some of the dismantled wreckage placed together for a press photograph. The lower wings are supported on trestles; The other wings are missing. Despite this, it has been proffered to the credulous as depicting the crash of the triplane in the field.
Most of Richthofen's victories seem to be over inferior aircraft (RE8s, etc.) as opposed to the better British fighters. Do you think he chose his opponents that were flying inferior aircraft?
Richthofen tackled what the Allies threw into the air against the German army. The R.E.8s were spotting for artillery or taking photographs and had to be stopped. Only his last 20 victories were in a Fokker triplane. He previously flew inferior German aeroplanes against better Allied ones and still came out victorious. The stories that he only tackled inferior Allied aircraft and always had two men to guard his tail were Allied wartime propaganda. Incidentally, all Allied flight commanders had two men to guard their tail whilst they paid attention to navigation or stalking the enemy.
I saw your show and thought that, for the most part, it was excellent. The only thing that kind of got me was your cancellation of Capt. Brown. To honestly say it was not him is kind of ridiculous. There are simply too many variables in the equation. But I am not writing to criticize you, but to encourage.
Keep up The good work!
I did not produce the show, but was merely a consultant on the historical report. I did not decree the elimination of Capt. Brown as a candidate, and I agree with you that there are too many variables (in fact variables within variables) for a conclusion to be reached.
(1) Has any one single fighter pilot had more confirmed "kills" than Manfred von Richthofen in any war since WWI?
(2) If no one pilot can make that claim, would the Red Baron be considered the greatest fighter Ace of all time?
Richthofen has the highest confirmed total in The Great War. Of his 80 victories, Norman Franks has established that two escaped from their death dive and returned to base. In addition to the 80 (perhaps 78) confirmed, Richthofen had about 30 unconfirmed.
On the Allied side, Rene Fonck had 75 confirmed by a wreck on the Allied side of The lines; the French demanded solid evidence. He claimed another 35 on The German side.
In WWII 107 German fighter pilots scored 100 or more victories. At least three more scored between 80 and 99. The Ace of Aces was Major Erich Hartmann who scored 352. Details are to be found in The Bantam War Book, Horrido or in Fighter Aces of the Luftwaffe published by Aero Publishers, Inc., 329 West Aviation Road, Fallbrook, California 92082.
I watched the show on the Red Baron recreation. I enjoyed it very much. I had thoughts on the show. They showed the Red Baron flying from right to left in front of the three soldiers on the ground. If this was so, how could they have shot the pilot in the right side when they could only see the left side of plane? My outlook was that if the Red Baron had banked right bringing the right wing up and the left wing down to see where the plane that was shooting at him was, it would have exposed his right side to the British pilot, which could have been the deadly shot. They did show this in the recreation. I also feel the British pilot should have the credit for the kill, regardless of the two minute theory.
As I was not involved in the recreation, I had to watch a taping of the show to evaluate the question properly. Unfortunately, I could not find the scene to which you refer.
I live close to the Richthofen mansion here in Denver. Do you know the story of the mansion and the relationship to Manfred Von Richthofen?
The Richthofen family has several branches, one of which derives from Manfred's grandfather, lives in the United States. That is all I know.
Do we know what happened to the plane or parts of the triplane, such as the guns?
What happened to the silver cups that he had made or other souvenirs of his victories?
Is it true that even after being mortally wounded the Red Baron made an almost perfect landing and then died after getting out of the plane?
How long after his burial were his remains dug up and returned to Germany? Where are they now?
P.S. I fly a replica of a Fokker DV11.
The guns have disappeared completely except for the breechblock of one of them which The late Pasquale Carisella obtained from an old soldier in Australia.
The silver cups and the rest of the Baron's personal souvenirs disappeared from the family home at Schweidnitz when the Russian army conquered that part of Germany.
Pieces of the red triplane are to be found in many museums and private collections around the world. The greater part of the fuselage, which was made from welded steal tubing, was eventually taken to the French high-grade steel dump for recycling in 1918.
The Red Baron made a reasonably good crosswind landing and died whilst still in the cockpit.
At the end of the war all the German dead in that area were consolidated in one cemetery at Fricourt. In about 1934 the Baron's body was taken in a special train to the Heroes' Cemetery in Berlin. When it was learned that the Berlin Wall was to pass through the cemetery, his body was moved to the South Wiesbaden Municipal Cemetery where it rests today.
Why hadn't Richthofen switched over to the new Fokker D-VII before his death? As Germany's leading pilot and the head of the elite squadron he could have probably ordered the new plane for his entire Circus.
Manfred von Richthofen had already test flown the Fokker D-VII and approved it. Quantities were being gathering in the aircraft parks and their issue to the Jastas was to begin in May. JG 1 was at the head of the list.
Do you think the contents of the Richthofen Museum will ever be recovered?
Do you think any photographs exist of the final crash site and, if so, what can be done to try and locate them?
Probably the only way to obtain an answer to the possibility of the contents of the Richthofen Museum being returned would be to ask Vladimir Putin.
The photographs taken by an Australian soldier of Fokker Dr. I 425/17 where it came to rest on 21 April, 1918 were destroyed in a laboratory fire many years ago. Prints were never published. Unfortunately, the owner of them kept the negatives alongside the prints. It is possible that Charles Donald has one or two prints, but he declines to publish them.
The narrator erred when she stated that four different fields had been given as the forced landing site. Four different locations in one field is correct. The exact place is now known and a plaque was erected at the roadside by the Somme Valley Historical Society in 2001.
I am a second cousin of Roy Brown the WWI Ace who shot down the Red Baron. The Aussies have been trying to claim he was shot down from the ground. The proof they present is false and concocted out of whole cloth. The pilot the Red Baron was chasing was Winfred (Wop) May, my Godfather, from whom I as a youngster I heard the true story. Roy was given the kill by the British after a lengthy investigation. Wop, by the way was just glad to get home. Wop went on to be an Ace in his own right after learning the previous incident to fire the Lewis gun in bursts. He also established the Yukon Airlines. I could ,and am doing, writing a book on Wop. Roy died 2 years before I was born, I have to rely on my father and Wop for his life story.
I have photocopies of the correspondence between Dr. H.A. Jones, who wrote the official history of the RAF in the Great War, and Dr. C.E.W Bean, the Australian Official Historian, in their attempt to evaluate all the evidence then available on the death of Manfred von Richthofen. Dr. Jones expressed no belief or even suspicion that the four Australian claims were fabricated; he simply judged Roy Brown's claim to be "the least unlikely" and, therefore, gave his verdict in Roy's favour.
I possess photocopies of the actual reports submitted on April 1918 by all parties who claimed to have ended the Red Baron's career and/or examined his body. The contents of the latter differ considerably from misleading paraphrasing and sensational stories published years later (some falsely said to have been written by Roy Brown) upon which you may be basing your opinion.
I also have photocopies of the entries made in April 1918 in the personal diaries of Australian and English airmen who were stationed on the same aerodrome as Roy Brown. These confirm that four Australians (one airman and three soldiers) also engaged the Red Baron.
Authors Dale Titler and Pasquale Carisella (deceased) have letters (written around 1950-57) by over one hundred soldiers who witnessed or participated in some piece of the event. Author Norman Franks and I have photocopies of letters written in 1937-38 by thirty-five witnesses or participants to RAF Sergeant John Coltman. We made the copies from the originals which were then handed to the RAF Museum at Hendon.
The opinions given by the TV narrator of the story are hers alone and were neither pre-approved or post-approved by me.
The correct spelling of "Wop" May's first name is Wilfrid. His Camel did not have Lewis guns.
You can find detailed information on the life and career of "Wop" May in a book entitled, Wings of a Hero, Ace Wop May written by Sheila Reid, published by Vanwell Publishing Ltd., P.O. Box 2131, St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada L2R 7S2. It was written around photographs and information provided by Mr. D.R. May, "Wop" May's son.
Dear Mr. Bennett,
I have been intrigued about who actually killed the Red Baron since I was in High School in 1974. My questions are these. Is it possible to exhume the body and examine the bones for bullet marks to verify what the actual bullet path might have been? Has exhuming the body been considered and are there living relatives today that have denied the exhumation?
Thank you for your time.
I also have contemplated what exhumation of The Baron's body could reveal. In separate consultations with four pathologists I have learned that The critical information is not so much whether The bullet was deflected (or not) by The spine, but The damage to internal organs created by The secondary cavity, i.e., The shock wave as it passed by. Such information would not now be present. Therefore, there would be no point in making such a request.
It is unfortunate that Colonels Sinclair and Nixon had been told that only two claims were involved one from in front and one from behind; otherwise, they would surely have made a study of The exact internal path of The bullet. TO them, from probing The bullet path in both directions, it was obvious that neither claimant could have inflected The wound and, therefore, they gave no decision. Sergeant Popkin's claim reached them two days after th Baron's funeral, by which time The Ludendorff offensive was again in full swing and Dunkirk almost occurred 22 years earlier.
A somewhat amateurish examination of The body made earlier by Lt. Downs and Capt. Graham, in which they missed a broken jawbone, a broken rib and did not probe The bullet path, has received much publicity because they eliminated The single known ground fire claim by writing: "The bullet could not have been fired from The ground." This statement has been paraphrased as "The bullet could only have been fired from The air" which in view of its upwards path through The Baron's body (which they reported) is obviously not what they meant.
How many times was The Red Baron shot down, and who was The pilot that finally ended The Baron's flying days?
The Red Baron had his share of forced landings due to mechanical problems, but was only shot down once. This occurred on 6 July 1917 near Comines when he attacked a flight of six F.E.2Ds (a heavily armed pusher two-seater observation/bomber). Capt. Cunnell (pilot) and Lieut. Woodbridge (observer) in A6512 claimed four Albatross Scouts driven out of The fight. One of them was Manfred von Richthofen whose skull was "ceased" as he flew towards them. The shock of The impact destroyed his vision, but he recovered partially just in time to make a successful forced landing. The book, The Red Airfighter, published under his name, but probably written for him, gives details of his ordeal. It is available from Greenhill Books, Lionel Leventhal Ltd., Park House, 1 Russell Gardens, London, U.K. NW11 9NN and Presidio Press, 31 Pamaron Way, Novato, CA, USA 94949.
Concerning who inflicted The Baron's fatal wound on 21 April 1918, The evidence is both contradictory and incomplete. One reason being that due to low clouds and a strong wind blowing in The opposite direction to normal, most of the pilots involved did not know where they were at th time. Whoever fired, it was a lucky shot for out of The hundreds fired only three or four struck The triplane. One hit The fuselage beside where he was seated, The others struck an interplane strut from which fragments of wood were seen to fly.
I had heard from a school chum, whose German grandmother was a contemporary of The Baron, that he had profanity lettered across The top wing of his Fokker as an incitement to his enemies. Is that truth or fiction? Thank you for your time.
Several German pilots had inscriptions placed in large letters on The top of The upper wings of The aeroplane: "Do you remember me?" is one example. There is no record of The Baron having done This, and as a Silesian nobleman who was temperate in his habits and speech, it is rather unlikely he would have used profanity. In my opinion The tale is fiction.
Dear Mr. Bennet,
I recently saw the episode of Unsolved History dealing with The Red Baron. With The laser test on the airplane The plane was flying straight and level when The laser was being shot at it. How many combat pilots do you know fly straight and level especially fighter pilots. If Richthofen was flying straight and level perhaps something was wrong with him when The ground units had been firing. Perhaps he already had a bullet in him.
You are quite correct. To fly low down, straight and level over enemy territory was an invitation to a funeral: The pilot's own.
Joachim Wolff, who was in the Baron's Jasta and flew with him on 21 April 1918 expressed The belief that The Rittmeister had forgotten about The reversed wind direction and believed himself still to be over German-occupied territory. In which case there would be no ground fire to worry about. Indeed, Lieutenants May and Mellersh both believed themselves still to be over German-held territory when they were actually quite safe. Along The River Somme in that part of The France, The water table was only a couple of feet below The ground; therefore, neither side had dug trenches. No-man's-land was merely a distance between The opposing armies (which were sheltering in The plentiful woods) and was not discernable from The air. I have personally flown over The area several times at low altitude and can affirm that from The air The village of Vaux-sur-Somme can easily be mistaken for Sailly-Laurette (and vice versa); The critical difference on 21 April 1918 being that The former was two miles into Allied territory whereas The latter was one mile inside German territory.
Unfortunately, due to air time constraints, This information was not included in The TV program.
First of all, let me congratulate you on your conclusion that Roy Brown didn't down The Red Baron.
I have been a World War I historian for many years and from The first accounts of The last flight that I read I didn't believe that Brown was The one who fired The fatal shot. That fact became crystal clear The time I read Brown's actual combat report and he only states that he "shot at" a "Red Fokker Tripling". With almost all of The Circus sporting red on some parts of The tripling Brown could have shot at any one of The enemy aircraft that day.
It actually didn't have any bearing on The point of who fired The fatal shot, but both of The Baron's guns were out of commission that day due to a broken firing pin in one and a stoppage in The other. It has been speculated that The Baron was trying to run May into The ground and he just about did it; May admitted that he almost crashed on purpose to get out of The fight.
Its just too bad that The fatal bullet couldn't be recovered from The trash heap where it was burned Along with other memories from one of The participants.
Have both sections of The Baron's skeleton ever been reunited and buried in The same grave?
In my personal view, Roy Brown remains a legitimate contender; what is at stake is his position on The list of claimants. Given that only one shot struck the fuselage of the red triplane and that had it been 12 inches ahead or to The rear it would have passed in front or behind The pilot, it was a very lucky shot indeed. Different pathologists, all faced with The constraint that The exact path of The bullet inside The Baron's body was not determined, have given The length of time he could have remained conscious between 20 seconds and two minutes. It is also known that depending which nerve paths were affected, he might not have felt pain immediately. Major Blair Wark, VC who watched The final part of The event from close by, did not believe that any of the known claimants was responsible.
In my opinion there are so many variables that, like Dr. H.A. Jones and Dr. C.E.W Bean who had The best chance of all to resolve The question, I feel there is no sure, definite answer. In simple words, all four claimants contributed. Roy Brown's attack drove The Baron (wounded or unwounded) towards The ground fire. A case can be made that he was hit at This time, but it still remains that he would not have been in that position had Roy Brown not "pushed" him that way.
Recently released statements confirm the previous suspicion that the Baron was trying to force "Wop" May to land and be taken prisoner.
There are serious doubts that McCarthy ever had the bullet; at any event some of his earlier colleagues did not believe The tale when they heard it. It is far more likely, as This time there is a witness, that Gunner Leonard Marshall found it inside The Baron's clothing when he and Sergeant Popkin were checking The wounds. For lack of available air time, this was not included in The TV program.
There is no confirmation that the Baron's body was ever partitioned. The Baron's brother, Bolko, examined it when The coffin was disinterred at Fricourt for translation to Berlin and reported that Manfred had been buried in his flying clothes.
In The last part of The show, the one ground soldier, Popkin said in his report that he shot at the Red Baron when he(the Red Baron) was coming straight towards him. I believe he also said that the plane jerked.
Taking into account the jerking, could it have been possible that at that time the bullet struck him if the Red Baron turned to his left to look?
That would put the body in position for the entry wound.
When I was growing up, I got a chance to fly in a bi-plane and The pilot was able to turn and look left even with the seat belting. Taking this into account, the possibility could exist that Popkin could have still fired the fatal shot.
I never did hear anyone mention The pilots position in The plane?
Just a thought,
The Baron's position in the cockpit is another of the variables which "upset" an apparently simple situation. When Sergeant Popkin opened fire for the second time the red triplane was heading east and presenting its right side towards him. It then turned south and flew directly towards him. One of his first shots could have inflicted The wound, but a shortly delayed reaction would be required.
I have piloted biplanes of similar size and have sat in a replica Fokker Dr. I, and can confirm that there is plenty of space for a pilot to twist his body round. If The shoulder harness is left a little slack, the entire upper torso can be rotated.
I personally do not eliminate Sergeant Popkin from the list of possible candidates.
I am stationed in Darmstadt, Germany, and I know there is a connection between Griesheim Airfield (now closed) and the Red Baron, but I do not know what that connection is. Can you give me some background as I have always been curious?
By Murphy's Law the connection between Griesheim Airfield and the Red Baron is explained in a publication on sale in Darmstadt where you are stationed. It is entitled Denkmalschultz in Darmstadt, Fliegerei und Luftfahrt in Darmstadt and available from Magistrat der Stadt Darmstadt - Denkmalschutz - Kulturamt, Bessunger Strasse 125, Block C, 64295 Darmstadt. Telephone 06151/13-2411 or 2930 or 2937.
Basically, when the 1918 armistice was declared, JG-1, now under its third commander, Hermann Goering, flew its Fokker D-VII aircraft to Griesheim Airfield to surrender them to the Allies. By strange clumsiness, every pilot made such a bad landing that his aeroplane was badly damaged. During WWII a flak tower near the airfield was named The Richthofen Tower; today it is known as The Mozart Tower. The hangar/workshop of August Euler, the German pioneer aviator, still stand son The edge of The airfield. I visited it about six years ago.
After viewing The program, The Death of The Red Baron last night; I began to think about how he may have violated his rule about flying low in enemy territory. Could it have been that he just got too caught up in This particular fight? The man lived on The edge as it was and maybe This time when he saw his quarry run he may have thought he could get him before This guy could escape him in The dive. He may have even continued with the chase with the knowledge that the Camel was faster than he was in the tripling, thus he may not have wanted to present his tail to the pilot he had just chased for fear of being shot down.
If I recall correctly it was said that the Baron looked up when the tracers went by him. So his focus may have been more on air threats than anything else. Could there have been an engine problem that forced the plane down after the initial combat? His air speed surely would have dropped making him an easier target. He was being shot at from all sides as was covered in The program. This could have led to his being hit himself. Please let me know what you think about these questions.
I agree with you that the Baron's focus was on being attacked from the air, since as explained above, there is evidence that he believed himself to be over German-held territory. He was, however, taken by surprise by Roy Brown who had used the low sun behind himself as cover.
The tale that the Baron looked up (or behind) when he heard shots dates from an anonymous article published in 1925. It was picked up by Floyd Gibbons (the Red Knight of Germany) and was then inserted by a copywriter to another tale published in 1928 supposedly written by Roy Brown. Roy's authorship was denied by his brother in 2000 and is denied today by his surviving daughter. Roy provided true and correct information to a copywriter, but was not granted final approval of the text before publication. One need say no more than "sensation means sales".
A fighter pilot of the Baron's class would no more have wasted time looking behind than calling out "Who's there?". Survival meant immediate evasive action, which according to Oliver LeBoutillier, he immediately took. In doing so he presented his right side to Roy Brown, which makes Roy a candidate for having wounded him.
A German newspaper originated the engine failure story and added that after a forced landing, when the Baron tried to surrender he was shot for the bounty on his head by two Canadian soldiers. Much invented detail of the dastardly deed thereupon followed, but all was officially denied by the German government later that week.
The engine from the red triplane still exists and I have examined it. There is no indication of bullet damage, but the magneto is missing (it only used one). However, the salvage report written by Lt. John Warneford contains no mention of damage to the engine and it is known that the magneto switch was in the "off" position when The tripling was examined. Certainly when the red tripling was flying east and its cruising speed relative to the ground was reduced to 50 mph it would have been an easier target for a shot fired from the north or south. However, when it was flying north or south it was a very difficult target since it was being carried sideways at 30 mph by The wind, i.e., it was not traveling in The direction its nose was pointing.
One of the questions in the online quiz is: why was the Red Baron's squardron called the flying circus"? Discovery says it's because the planes were painted bright colors. Which is wrong. It's actually because they would frequently pack up all their tents and move location, like a traveling circus. I believe the name pre-dates the 1917 repainting of the planes in bright colors.
You are right. The statement that the term the Flying Circus came from the brightly colored planes is a myth that has been repeated in many books. The actual fact is as you stated the name was in reference to the squadron's frequent relocations.