English Version
German Version.
Medical Re-evaluation
Was MvR fit to Fly?
(Movie) Plan by (A.W.M)
(Movie) Plan by (P.J.C))
(Movie) MvR turns
(Movie) The Fokker lands
(Movie) Air to Air
(Movie) Aerial 3 planes
A re-examination of the question:
Who killed the Red Baron?

Copyright 2000 www.anzacs.net
Manfred von Richthofen was a sportsman and a hunter. By his own admission he was not a great pilot. In his  book he expressed amusement at the fact that an opponent he brought down made a perfect landing whilst his attempt at the same feat, at the same time, was disastrous.


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Before the war, he had been a national champion horseman, and had grown fond of trophies and ribbons.  As a child the walls of his home were heavily adorned with trophies of the hunt.  It is then not surprising that during the war, he awarded himself an engraved silver cup for each Allied plane he downed.  In his flying career he was accredited with 80 planes and 127 air personnel either killed or captured.

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"Pour le Merite"
"The Blue Max"
Richthofen's fame spread rapidly through the ranks of Allied troops.  He had his Fokker Albatros painted bright red. Almost instantly, French fliers spoke of "le Diable Rouge," the Red Devil. Others called him the Red Knight, or the Red Baron. Wild rumors sprang up about the red fighter; some even claimed that the plane was piloted by a woman. Morale soared in his unit, and before long Jasta 11 ruled the skies in their sector. Soon his men painted their planes red, although all but the Baron were required to display at least one other color.
von Richthofen preparing for a flight.

On April 21st 1918, three Fokker aeroplanes jumped a pair of lumbering R.E.8 observation planes of the No. 3 Australian Squadron. Allied anti-aircraft gunners tried to help the scouts with a quick barrage.

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The action caught the attention of Canadian Capt. Roy Brown, who led a flight of eight Sopwith Camels far above.  Brown and his flight  dived into the fray. Soon some Albatros Scouts joined in, as did a new group of Fokkers. Among them was an all-red Triplane.

Brown Wrote:
"At 10:35 A. M. I observed two Albatross burst into flames and crash. Dived on large formation of fifteen to twenty Albatross scouts D. V.’s and Fokker triplanes, two of which got on my tail and I came out. "

Another  young Canadian, Wilford May, was flying his first combat patrol. His friend Brown had told him to stay above any fight,should one develop. May did, but couldn't resist the temptation to join the battle. He quickly became overwhelmed in the tangle of 30 or more planes, and broke away, flying a dangerously straight line away from the fight. Richthofen, flying above the scrap, noticed and gave chase.  May began evasive actions after the Baron's initial burst. He and the 'Baron' screamed along just above the ground, the Triplane steadily gaining.

  MvRMAYjpg.jpg (14175 bytes)
brown1.jpg (7630 bytes). Brown knew that unless he distracted the Triplane pilot, his boyhood friend May was doomed. Diving at full speed, he swept in behind the Fokker and fired a burst before May and the Triplane disappeared behind a stand of trees.
Brown  (continued from above):"I went back again and dived on pure red triplane which was firing on Lt. May. I got a long burst into him and he went down vertical and was observed to crash by Lieutenant Mellersh and Lieutenant May. I fired on two more but did not get them.”

(Important Question: Did Capt. Brown approach the Baron from the Baron's right or left side? See diagrams below.webmaster.)

Brown because of his speed after the dive had swung wide. To the many Australian ground troops there were now only two planes in the air. May pursued by the Baron. The gunners waited till May had flown by and fired at the Red Fokker.  One of the soldiers known to have fired at the plane was Gunner 3801 Robert Buie, an oyster farmer from Brooklyn, New South Wales. 
Frank Wormald
, a despatch rider was within twelve feet of Robert Buie as he fired his Lewis Gun at the triplane.

Fragments of a sound recording of Wormald's account of this brief moment in history is available on this site.  Links for all items associated with this story are indexed in left hand column. Frank's audios are listed in the links above. "Eye-Witness Audios".

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<IMG SRC="file:///C%7C/AAAAnzacRemake/PlanView.gif" WIDTH=400 HEIGHT=200 BORDER=0> Issued by the Australian War Memorial, these are the relative positions of May, The Baron and Brown .   In this version the Baron is fired upon by Brown from the Baron's right side so Brown could have fired the fatal shot, but the Baron continued chasing and firing at May for more than a mile and a half after the encounter.



Addendum from Dr. Miller

"Since my article was written, the results of an exhaustive investigation into the circumstances of the death of von Richthofen have been published in a book, 'The Red Baron's Last Flight' by Norman Franks and Allan Bennett, Grub Street, London 1997. (See comprehensive review on "Red Baron Books" page.)

"These authors have now shown that Dr Bean's account, in the Official History of Australia in the War of 1914 - 1918, that Captain Brown attacked von Richthofen from the triplane' right side is incorrect . They have demonstrated that Captain Brown attacked the German triplane from the south-east, that is from Richthofen's left side.

"All accounts agree that the entry wound was in the right side of Richthofen's chest so that this new evidence is further proof that Captain Brown could never have inflicted the fatal wound on von Richthofen."

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Click on picture to enlarge.
This aerial photo with overlays comes from Germany : "Flugzeuge die Geschichte machten: FOKKER DR.1"
(Airplanes Which Made History: Fokker Dr.1)
author: Jörg Armin Kranzoff
It shows the paths of the three planes  with the Baron flying to the left of Popkin exposing his right side making it possible for Popkin to fire the fatal shot.   Buie's position is not shown.
Captain Brown's approach  is on the Baron's  left side so this  would have made the shot impossible for Brown. (See anatomical references below and addendum at left.)

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PopkinPic.gif (24506 bytes) popkin-mini.jpg (24359 bytes)Impression of Popkin's P.O.V.


Dr. M. Geoffrey Miller in his thorough re-examination of the evidence in the Australian War Memorial (see links)  makes the following statement about the path of the fatal bullet...."one is drawn to the conclusion that the fatal bullet must have passed directly through the chest from its entry wound at the posterior axillary line (the back of the armpit) at the level of the 9th rib (that is at about five inches below the lower level of the outstretched arm). As there is no real evidence that the bullet hit the vertebrae the most probable trajectory of the bullet would have to be along a line joining the entrance and exit wounds. Such a line indicates that the bullet was fired from the side, behind and below the pilot’s body, notwithstanding his position in the cockpit.

As the exit wound was about three-quarters of an inch external to the left nipple this means that the bullet would have passed through the heart and would have been rapidly fatal. von Richthofen would have lost consciousness within 20 to 30 seconds, and certainly could have not continued to fly his aeroplane and fire on Lt. May for over a minute (9).

It is possible to correlate the medical evidence with that of the eyewitnesses of the last flight. Fortunately, as the events took place at low altitude, directly over the Australian lines, the chase and crash were witnessed by many eye witnesses".

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Web-masters impressions of path of fatal bullet from Dr.Miller's descriptions.Copyright 1999 anzacs.net Note: P.J.Carisella reports that the fatal bullet was found by a medical orderly, Ted McCarty. The bullet had enough velocity to penetrate the Baron's body but not enough to pierce a wallet carried in the his left breast pocket. If this bullet still exists, with today's modern ballistics expertise,  the question of  "Who killed the Red Baron"? could be forever answered.

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von Richthofen was buried on the 22nd April 1918 in the small village of Bertangles. British and Australian troops gave him full military honors. A British pilot dropped a note in German territory containing the news. Germany went into deep mourning. In 1925, Manfred von Richthofen's younger brother Bolko recovered the body and took it home.   Baron Manfred von Richthofen  had the largest funeral ever seen in Berlin. There is a very bizarre coda to this story in the epilogue of "Who killed the Red Baron?" by P.J. Carisella and James W. Ryan.  It seems that only the skull was removed for burial in Berlin. Some years later P.J.Carisella re-opened the grave in search of a coffin plague made by one Harold Edwards, an air mechanic with No.3 squadron. He did not find the plaque but he did recover the remaining, well-preserved bones of the "Baron", all intact except for the skull.

Who really killed the Red Baron?
Many have claimed credit since that fateful day, April 21, 1918.
All have their detractors and supporters.
Principal claimants are:
Captain A Roy Brown
Gunner Robert Buie(Lewis Gun) Australian 53rd battery #3801
Gunner Sgt CB Popkin (Vickers gun) with the Australian 24th machine gun company.
And someone who cannot be discounted is an unknown soldier with a Lee-Enfield .303 who could have fired the fatal shot in the rain of bullets fired at Manfred Freiherr von Richthofen. He was not a 'Baron', by the way. His title of 'Freiherr' loosely translates as 'freeman'.

All of these men have been touched with the brush of history. Even Lt Wilfred May who was merely an unwitting lure for Richthofen had his part to play in this very real drama. His part was as important as Richthofens. What cannot be agreed upon and possibly never will, is the question of who supported the leading role. Who really killed the Red Baron? To me, the answer to this is not as important a seeing all of them, including Wilfred May and a possible unknown soldier, as the heroes they really were, involved in the day to day, month to month and year to year horror of the worst conflagration the world had ever seen. I salute them…all!

The facts and figures presented on this site are offered in the hope of adding something positive to the debate and controversy which has surrounded the subject for 80 years. Now, please check out the links in the left hand index. 
copyright 1999 anzacs.net  I am grateful for the support of Max Buie in constructing this site.

Note: All re-digtized pictures are the copyright of anzacs.net    These pictures may be used for non - commercial purposes if a full accreditation and  link is provided to www.anzacs.net   Email requests to John Woods

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