The Red Baron
The man known as the Red Baron of WWI was born Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen in Breslau, Lower Silesia (now known as Wroclaw, Poland) on May 2, 1892. He came from a proud Prussian family of nobility.
Richthofen’s parents were Major Albrecht von Richthofen and Kunigunde Newdorf. His father was a military man and as such held an aristocratic position in Prussia.
The young Manfred enjoyed a youth that was spent in athletic endeavors. He loved horseback riding, hunting, gymnastics and other sports. His athleticism would work to Manfred’s stead in his later military career. For the pursuits he would seek after, physical ability was key to success.
Even before the young boy’s birth, his father planned on his first son following the military path. Later the family moved to nearby Schweidnitz, came to know his uncle Alexander who had spent time in Africa and Asia, always hunting. This man and his father would play heavily into Manfred’s upbringing.
The older Richthofen was not new to the adage of being a hero when Manfred was born. He had distinguished himself in military service. He tragically though had to retire early from military life when he led a daring rescue to save fellow soldiers from an icy river and became completely deaf.
At age 11, the young Manfred entered Wahlstatt Academy, a military school. Manfred was not a fan of the academics and it showed in his report grades. However, it did not mean that he did not gain something important from the institution. His love of athletics made him a top student of the sports regimen of the school; especially gymnastics. By age 17, he moved onto Lochtefeld and completed his education.
After he left school, Richthofen joined the cavalry unit of the Prussian army. By the time WWI began, he was doing reconnaissance by horseback. The very passions of his youth were shaping the way he would serve in the military. But when the trench warfare of the European battle field was making horseback fighting and strategy ineffective, Manfred decided to change tactics and look to the skies. He joined the German Army Air Service and joined his unit by the Spring of 1915.
Manfred had developed his love for the idea of flying by watching the air battles when he had been located in the trenches. He knew he was better suited to handle reconnaissance and what better way than from the sky. When Richthofen finally went up into the sky, he did so as an observer and was instructed in how to draws maps and descriptions from a flying vantage point. He stated one time about his soon to happen first flight, “Naturally, I was very excited, because I could not imagine what it would be like”.
It took Manfred a couple of times in the sky to develop a proficiency at the reconnaissance map making. In fact, this first was such a fiasco that the pilot had to land when Richthofen got lost. His lack of sense of direction did not play well his first time up. As time went on, not only did he become a proficient mapmaker, he also could locate the enemy and handle the releasing of bombs.
In the Fall of 1916, the new flyer was transferred to the Eastern Front. It was here that he would go from reconnaissance to fighter pilot. He met with the German Ace pilot, Oswald Boehlke and became a part of the new fighter group known as Jagdstaffel 2. From the front he was transferred to France.
While in France he made his first confirmed kill (Richthofen tried to claim he had two air successes before joining the Jaedstaffel 2) in September 1916. The new fighter pilot was a showboat with his kills as he accomplished them. He had a silver cup created each time he made a kill and eventually had 60 such cups (and more kills after that).
History describes the man as one of reckless abandon in his skills as a fighter pilot. However, his mentor had taught him and others to be precision driven in each attack upon the enemy planes. The skill of the pilot was done by having the sun behind him so that the enemy could not see him closing in until it was too late. His athletic strength and endurance made his flying skills an advantage to his prowess in the air.
In April of 1918, Manfred von Richthofen met his end when an enemy bullet punctured his lung while in an Arial battle. It should be said that the tag “The Red Baron” was not placed upon this infamous pilot until after his death.