Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen (2 May 1892 – 21 April 1918), also widely known as the Red Baron, was a German fighter pilot with the Imperial German Army Air Service (Luftstreitkräfte) during theFirst World War. He is considered the top ace of the war, being officially credited with 80 air combat victories.
Originally a cavalryman, Richthofen transferred to the Air Service in 1915, becoming one of the first members of Jasta 2 in 1916. He quickly distinguished himself as a fighter pilot, and during 1917 became leader ofJasta 11 and then the larger unit Jagdgeschwader 1 (better known as the "Flying Circus"). By 1918, he was regarded as a national hero in Germany, and widely respected even by his enemies.
Richthofen was shot down and killed near Amiens on 21 April 1918. There has been considerable discussion and debate regarding aspects of his career, especially the circumstances of his death. He remains perhaps the most widely known fighter pilot of all time, and has been the subject of many books, films and other media.
At the time, the Baron had been pursuing (at very low altitude) a Sopwith Camel piloted by a novice Canadian pilot, Lieutenant Wilfrid "Wop" May of No. 209 Squadron, Royal Air Force. In turn, the Baron was spotted and briefly attacked by a Camel piloted by a school friend (and flight commander) of May's, Canadian Captain Arthur "Roy" Brown, who had to dive steeply at very high speed to intervene, and then had to climb steeply to avoid hitting the ground. Richthofen turned to avoid this attack, and then resumed his pursuit of May.
It was almost certainly during this final stage in his pursuit of May that a single .303 bullet hit Richthofen, damaging his heart and lungs so severely that it must have caused a very quick death. In the last seconds of his life, he managed to make a hasty but controlled landing ( ) in a field on a hill near the Bray-Corbie road, just north of the village of Vaux-sur-Somme, in a sector controlled by the Australian Imperial Force (AIF). Gunner Ernest W Twycross was the first man to reach the aircraft and Richthofen tried to say something in German to him. Richthofen then sighed and died. One witness, Gunner George Ridgway, stated that when he and other Australian soldiers reached the aircraft, Richthofen was still alive but died moments later. Another eye witness, Sergeant Ted Smout of the Australian Medical Corps, reported that Richthofen's last word was "kaputt".
His Fokker Dr.I, 425/17, was not badly damaged by the landing, but it was soon taken apart by souvenir hunters.
In 2009, Richthofen's death certificate was found in the archives in Ostrów Wielkopolski, Poland. Richthofen had briefly been stationed in Ostrów—which was part of Germany until the end of World War I—before going to war. The document, which is a one-page, handwritten form in a 1918 registry book of deaths, misspells Richthofen's name as "Richthoven" and simply states that he has "died 21 April 1918, from wounds sustained in combat