100th Anniversary of the Death of the Red Baron
Many of us are familiar with the Red Baron only from the TV special, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (
or from the frozen pizza we see in the supermarket). Who can forget Snoopy, dressed as a World War I flying ace, sitting atop his Sopwith Camel (doghouse
), taking intense machine-gun fire from the Red Baron until he is forced to ditch his plane. Snoopy’s aerial combat, while only a cartoon, makes one wonder what it might have been like to encounter the real Red Baron in the skies above France during the First World War.
As some history teachers and students may already know, the Baron's real name was Manfred von Richthofen. After growing tired of the trenches during the Great War
, he joined the German air corps. He quickly became the leader of a fighter squadron which became infamous as The Flying Circus
because of the bright colors of the planes and the fact that the unit often moved from place to place, setting up tents on improvised air strips. Shortly after taking command of his squadron, he painted his plane a bright red, prompting his opponents to refer to him as the “Red Knight,” “Little Red,” and finally, the “Red Baron.” It wasn’t long before Manfred became known as the “Ace of Aces.” His squad became one of the deadliest flying units of the war. On April 20, 1918, he increased his personal tally to 80 kills by shooting down a British Sopwith Camel
. It would be his last victory.
On April 21, 1918, von Richthofen and his Flying Circus engaged British fighter planes over northern France. He gave chase to a Sopwith Camel piloted by Wilfrid May. With the Red Baron in hot pursuit, May flew over Allied infantry emplacements. Australian ground troops unleashed a hail of machine gun fire at Manfred's plane
. At the same time, Canadian pilot Arthur Roy Brown came in behind Richthofen's tail and fired a burst from his guns. A single bullet, either from Brown's plane or from one of the ground-based Australian anti-aircraft guns, hit its mark, causing the Red Baron to crash into a field. He died still strapped in his cockpit.
While von Richthofen was one of the most hated Allied adversaries in the war, in death he was honored like a fallen hero. The Australian Flying Corps buried Von Richthofen with full military honors. After the war his body was returned to Germany where he was given a state funeral.
During this final year of the 100th
anniversary of World War I, Social Studies teachers should take advantage of the resources in eLibrary
to let students research this crucial period in world history.
After searching eLibrary, encourage students to dig even deeper into the Great War by using other top-notch ProQuest historical offerings such as:
History Study Center
videos (In particular, I’d like to recommend the video High Above the Trenches,
part of the BBC’s Century of Flight
Trench Journals and Unit Magazines of the First World War
And, new to ProQuest’s History Vault,
is the recently added World War I: British Foreign Office Political Correspondence