Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Happy Birthday, Manfred! (The Red Baron)

Today is the 120th birthday of Manfred von Richthofen.

AKA:  The Red Baron

No, that dude does not look German at all.

von Richthofen is known to my generation primarily through frozen pizza marketing and as the cad who shoots down Snoopy, WWI Flying Ace.*  But real he was (and without the handsome mustache attributed to him by the pizza box artists).

The Red Baron had a reported 80 victories in the skies over Europe, many in his Fokker Dr.I, the crimson tri-wing you absolutely cannot believe someone had the guts to fly in any combat conditions whatsoever.  During WWI, air combat retained some semblance of gentlemanly chivalry as understood in Europe, with pilots following certain rules of engagement and a vague sense of knightly honor, even as they ambushed one another relentlessly from cloud cover or diving in with the sun at their backs to ensure a tactical advantage.


Apparently its not apocryphal that von Richtofen collected silver mugs with the date and location of his various victories inscribed upon them, of which he had about 60 when Germany ran out of silver.

The Red Baron was, of course, fighting on the side of the Germans in what became truly horrific combat on the ground as trench warfare led to the introduction of new tactics, including gas warfare.  Perhaps because of the near certainty of death in aerial combat (it was sort of a question of "when" more than "if" your number would get punched), the 80 victories and surviving one disaster did not deter The Baron, who turned down a cushy desk job, recognizing that other wounded German soldiers would also be returning to the front lines.

The circumstances of von Richthofen's death are somewhat puzzled over, as its possible he went down from enemy fire from the air or from the ground, but when he finally did go down in 1918, the British treated his burial with the utmost respect.  Perhaps not a hero, but certainly a respected opponent.  His remains were later reinterred in Berlin.


*there's a whole song about Snoopy vs. von Richthofen.
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