Thursday, January 12, 2017

von Richthofen Day

Gott Mit Uns!

100 years ago today, Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen was awarded Imperial Deutschland's highest military award - Pour le Mérite - often informally referred to as the "Blue Max."  Pour le Mérite was awarded strictly as a recognition of extraordinary personal achievement, von Richthofen earned his for shooting down 16 confirmed French and British fighters and observation planes (not counting two unconfirmed kills).

With Red Baron as his nom de guerre, von Richthofen in his all red fighter wrecked havoc on Allied Air Forces for the next 15 months, shooting down 80 aircraft in very close combat. 

For comparison, the highest-scoring Allied ace, the Frenchman René Fonck, achieved 75 confirmed victories. The highest-scoring British Imperial fighter pilots were Canadian Billy Bishop, who was officially credited with 72 victories, Mick Mannock, with 61 confirmed victories, Canadian Raymond Collishaw, with 60, and James McCudden, with 57 confirmed victories.

Along with his posse of fighter pilots known as the Flying Circus, von Richthofen became an international celebrity and a genuine war hero to the Central Powers and Germany especially.

A true blue blood of Prussian nobility, von Richthofen led his Flying Circus to unparalleled success, peaking during "Bloody April" 1917. In that month alone he downed 22 British aircraft, including four in a single day, raising his official tally to 52. By June he had become the commander of the first of the new larger "fighter wing" formations: Jagdgeschwader 1, composed of Jagdstaffeln 4, 6, 10 and 11.

The Flying Circus was highly mobile and combined tactical units that could move at short notice to different parts of the front as required. In this way, JG1 became "The Flying Circus" or "Richthofen Circus", name coming both from the unit's mobility (including, where appropriate, the use of tents, trains and caravans) and its brightly colored aircraft.

von Richthofen was wounded in combat at least once and although he was performing the duties of a lieutenant colonel, he remained a captain as it was a Deutsch custom for a son not to hold a higher rank than his father, and von Richthofen's father was a reserve major.

Instead of using risky, aggressive tactics like his brother Lothar (40 victories), Manfred observed a set of maxims (known as "Dicta Boelcke" ) to assure success for both the squadron and its pilots. He was not a spectacular or aerobatic pilot, like his brother or the renowned Werner Voss, however, he was a noted tactician and squadron leader and a fine marksman. Typically, he would dive from above to attack with the advantage of the sun behind him, with other pilots of his jasta covering his rear and flanks.

Richthofen was a brilliant tactician, building on his mentor, an air superiority pioneer Oswald Boelcke's tactics. Unlike Boelcke, he led by example and force of will rather than by inspiration. He was often described as distant, unemotional, and rather humorless, though some colleagues contended otherwise. He circulated to his pilots the basic rule which he wanted them to fight by: "Aim for the man and don't miss him. If you are fighting a two-seater, get the observer first; until you have silenced the gun, don't bother about the pilot".

Richthofen's early victories and the establishment of his reputation coincided with a period of German air superiority, but he achieved many of his successes against a numerically-superior enemy, who flew fighters that were, on the whole, better than his own.

At various times, several different German military aviation Geschwader (literally "squadrons"; equivalent to USAF "wings") have been named after the Baron particularly Jagdgeschwader 71 "Richthofen" (from 6 June 1959)—the first jet fighter unit established by the post-World War II German Luftwaffe; its founding commander was the most successful air ace in history, Erich Hartmann

von Ricthofen's tactical genius is still required learning today for Air Forces around the world and his autobiography is a very good read.

Today is the 100th anniversary of the creation of a legend.