Manfred von Richthofen
Manfred Von Richtofen portrait

Full Name Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen
Titles Chief of the Luftstreitkräfte

Generalfeldmarschall in the German Luftstreitkräfte

Born 2 May 1892

Kleinburg, Germany

Allegiance Flag-GER German Empire

Manfred von Richthofen (born 2 May 1892), better known as the Red Baron (German: Der Rote Baron), is a German fighter pilot. He is famous for being the most successful flying ace of the Weltkrieg with 80 confirmed air combat victories, the first German Generalfeldmarschall coming from the Luftstreitkräfte, and the current Chief of the Luftstreitkräfte, and more precisely the founder of it as an integral part of the German army.


Early Life

Manfred von Richthofen was born in Kleinburg, near Breslau, in Silesia, in the well-known family of old Prussian nobility (see below). Moving to the nearby Schweidnitz at 9, the young von Richthofen enjoyed horse riding and hunting: after completing cadet training in 1911, he joined the cavalry unit Ulanen-Regiment Kaiser Alexanders des III. von Russland (1. Westpreußisches). When the Weltkrieg broke out, he served as a cavalry scout in both eastern and western fronts: due to the cavalry becoming obsolete with the use of machine guns and barber wire, von Richthofen soon became disappointed in not being able to participate more often in combat operations, and asked for a transfer to the young Luftstreitkräfte (Air Defense Force). His request was granted and he joined it at the end of May 1915.

The Flying Circus

Initially a reconnaissance observer over the Eastern Front from June to August 1915, Richthofen managed to shoot down a French Farman with his observer's machine gun, but the kill was not credited as it fell behind enemy lines. Trained as a pilot in October 1915, he joined in March 1916 the Kampfgeschwader 2 with an Albatros B.II, and later a Fokker Eindecker. He participated in the battle of Verdun, shooting down another French aircraft for which he gained no credit. After his meeting with fighter pilot Oswald Boelcke, who selected him to join Jasta 2, Richthofen registered his first aerial victory above Cambrai on September 17, 1916. From then on, he would receive a silver cup with the date of the victory: he continued this until he had 60 cups, but was stopped due to the silver restriction in Germany at that date. Engaging in risky tactics like his brother Lothar, he tallied more than 80 victories, even managing to shoot down his British rival, Major Lanoe Hawker, described by Richthofen himself as "the British Boelcke". Switching between different planes, he gained his reputation as "The Red Baron" with his bright red Albatros D.III, painted as this for better recognition during air combat.

The Fokker D.I was popularized by the many victories that the Baron enjoyed with it

"Der Rote Baron"

Fokker D1

Fokker D.I, popularized by the many victories that the Baron enjoyed with it

In January 1917, after his sixteenth confirmed kill, Richthofen was invited by the Kaiser Wilhelm II himself to a dinner, and received the Pour le Mérite, the highest military honour in Germany. On the same month, he assumed command of Jasta 11, composed of pilots whom he trained himself, painting their planes in the same red that his own plane had, in order to be better recognised. During this time air combat, while risky and taking place in an unknown ground, had become something seen as chivalrous and beautiful, while at the same time thousands of soldiers were dying every day in the muddy trenches. He achieved 22 victories over British aircraft during the month of April 1917 alone. On July, 6, 1917, he was wounded on the head near Wervicq, grounding him for several months. During his convalescence, he wrote (apparently with the help of a ghostwriter) his autobiography, Der Rote Kampfflieger. After this episode, he became a legend of some sort for both sides, with propaganda claiming that the British air forces raised special battalions to shot him down, whilst the German propaganda services were fearing that his death could give a fatal blow to the German morale. After a risky engagement above Somme River on April, 21 1918, the Kaiser himself give instructions to ground him, only giving him nominal commandments until the end of the Weltkrieg. Since then, he assumed his role of figurehead in the hearts of many Germans galvanised by the stories of his engagements, and was militantly in favour of the creation of a true German Air Force; using his popularity, Reichskanzler von Tirpitz created officially the Luftstreitkräfte in February, 13 1925, naming von Richthofen as his chief, a post to which he has never removed since it's creation 11 years ago. His popularity was cemented when the Kaiser insisted to give him the rank of Generalfeldmarschall in May 1932, being the first person coming from the Air Force to achieve such a prestigious title.

Personal Life

Richthofen is still suffering of headaches from his head wound on July 1917, and also from the unfortunate death of his brother Lothar in 1920. Despite the rumours of an affair with successful female pilot Amelia Earhart, nobody knows him to have had any relationship, wedding or child. A personal friend of the Kaiser, he used to make exhibition flights, for official ceremonies, parades or even inaugurations. Some analysts are even seeing him as a possible Reichskanzler due to his popularity, but he has been too compromised by the extreme positions of his friend and former colleague Hermann Göring.

Manfred and Lothar Richtofen

Manfred with his brother Lothar (right)


The Richthofen family, thanks to being linked with royal families due to their past of illegitimate sons of Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Nassau, has several prestigious persons within her, along with Manfred himself: his younger brother, Lothar, also fought in the Air Force during the Weltkrieg, achieving 40 victories until he died over Britain in 1920, shot down by an ANZAC anti-aerial gun. Their cousin, Wolfram, is also having a great career in the Luftstreitkräfte. Manfred's uncle was geographer Ferdinand von Richthofen.

Military Career

  • Cavalry - Ulanen-Regiment Kaiser Alexanders des III. von Russland (1. Westpreußisches) - Rittmeister: 1911-May 1915
  • Flying Service - No. 69 Flying Squadron - Reconnaissance observer : June-August 1915
  • Flying Service - Kampfgeschwader 2 - Pilot : March 1916-August 1916
  • Flying Service - Jagdstaffel 2 - Pilot : August 1916-January 1917
  • Flying Service - Jagdstaffel 11 - Commander: January 1917-July 1918
  • Flying Service - Jagdgeschwader 1 - Commander: July 1918-April 1920
  • Flying Service - Generaloberst: November 1923
  • Flying Service - Chief: February 1925
  • Generalfeldmarschall: May 1932

Decorations and Awards

  • Prussian Pour le Mérite Order: 12 January 1917 (in recognition of his 16th aerial victory).
  • Prussian Red Eagle Order, 3rd Class with Crown and Swords: 6 April 1918 (in recognition of his 70th aerial victory).
  • Prussian Royal Hohenzollern House Order, Knight’s Cross with Swords: 11 November 1916.
  • Prussian Iron Cross, 1st Class (1914)
  • Prussian Iron Cross, 2nd Class (1914): September 1914.
  • Bavarian Military Merit Order, 4th Class with Swords: 29 April 1917.
  • Saxon Military St. Henry Order, Knight’s Cross: 16 April 1917.
  • Württemberg Military Merit Order, Knight’s Cross: 13 April 1917.
  • Saxe-Ernestine Ducal House Order, Knight 1st Class with Swords (issued by the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha): 9 May 1917.
  • Hesse General Honor Decoration, “for Bravery”
  • Lippe War Honor Cross for Heroic Deeds: 13 October 1917.
  • Schaumburg-Lippe Cross for Faithful Service: 10 October 1917.
  • Braunschweig War Merit Cross, 2nd Class: 24 September 1917.
  • Saxe-Coburg and Gotha Duke Carl Eduard Medal, 2nd Class with Swords and Date: 30 December 1916 
  • Hamburg Hanseatic Cross
  • Bremen Hanseatic Cross: 25 September 1917.
  • Lübeck Hanseatic Cross: 22 September 1917.
  • Austrian Order of the Iron Crown, 3rd Class with War Decoration: 8 August 1917.
  • Austrian Military Merit Cross, 3rd Class with War Decoration
  • Bulgarian Bravery Order, 4th Class (1st Grade): June 1917. 
  • Turkish Imtiaz Medal in Silver with Sabers
  • Turkish Liakat Medal in Silver with Sabers
  • Turkish War Medal (“Iron Crescent”): 4 November 1917.
  • German Army Pilot’s Badge
  • German Army Observer’s Badge
  • Austrian Field Pilot’s Badge (Franz Joseph pattern)

The Nickname

Von Richthofen was, during the Weltkrieg, rarely referred to as "Baron", but as Freiherr, his correct title of nobility. His 1917 autobiography was titled Der Rote Kampfflieger, translated into English by J. Ellis Barker in 1918 as "The Red Battle Flyer". His nickname is known as "Der Rote Baron" in German, "the Red Knight" or "the Red Baron" in English, and "Le Diable Rouge" or "Le Petit Rouge" in French.