Not long after returning to duty, Richthofen upgraded to a more acrobatic Fokker Dr.1 triplane–the plane that would become synonymous with the Red Baron legend. Despite. his injuries, he returned to the fight with renewed vigor, quickly racking up kills in his new fighter. By April of 1918, the Red Baron had an incredible 80 kills to his name.
The Red Baron’s luck runs out
On April 21, 1918, one day after shooting down his 80th Allied aircraft, Richthofen led his “Flying Circus” into battle over Vaux-sur-Somme in northern France. They were met by a wave of British fighters, and Richthofen almost immediately gave chase to a Sopwith Camel piloted by a young and inexperienced Brit named Wilfrid May. It was an acrobatic chase like literally dozens he’d flown before, but as the blood-red Fokker tri-plane zoomed low over Allied infantry troops, a group of Australian soldiers spotted the infamous German pilot.
They opened fire as the Red Baron passed over their heads. At the same time, Canadian Captain Arthur Roy Brown, May’s squadron leader, got into position behind the red-painted fighter and squeezed the trigger, unleashing a hail of gunfire into the Fokker triplane’s tail.
It’s unclear who’s gun actually hit Richthofen, but a single round tore through his torso. Unlike the previous time he’d been hit, Richthofen failed to recover the aircraft. He crashed in a nearby beet field, where he would bleed out and die, still strapped to his seat.
Just like his flying ace tutor Boelcke before him, the Red Baron was dead at only age 25.
Seven months later, Germany would sign the Treaty of Versailles, admitting defeat to the Allied powers.
Alex Hollings is a writer, dad, and Marine veteran who specializes in foreign policy and defense technology analysis. He holds a master’s degree in Communications from Southern New Hampshire University, as well as a bachelor’s degree in Corporate and Organizational Communications from Framingham State University.
This article first appeared on Sandboxx News.
Image: Wikimedia Commons