Подпись: This case contains the seat of the ToKKer triplane of Baron M.Von Richthofen, regarded, as the most distinguished of the German airmen in the Great War, having 8Z Alliedptanes to his credit. He u/asshot through the heart by Cagtassi A.Roy Brown, D.S.C.,and bar. Royal Air Force, of Carteton Ptace, Ontin an atr engagement over the Somme Valley, 2/st Afrit /9/3. Captain Brousn usasflying af ter Richthofen, and white slightly above ana behind Aim on his left rear''brought him doum by the shot mentioned. "When the German triptasie reached the earth, a claim us as made by the cress of a snachine gun, and also by а/г anti-aircraftbattery, that thy had fired the shot ushich ended the career oy Richth ofen. 77tese ciaims, and the statement of Contain Broom were, enquired into by a Board, and the evidence adduced by those firing being someushat conflicting, the evidence of the surgeon uho examined the dead and gallant airman, proved that the course of the bullet through the body showed that it could only have been fired from an aeroplane cn the. position <f Captain Brou/n , and afinding us as made accordingly. C<y>tain Brousn haviny been given this trophy and memento, has findiy deposited it inzhe ffuseum of The Canadian Aulitary Institute • Подпись:

This framed plaque was displayed in 1920 at the Canadian Military Institute (now the Royal CM I) in Toronto, Canada on the occasion that Captain Roy Brown ceremonially inaugu­rated an exhibition which included his personal trophies from Fokker Dr. I 425/17.

This was the aircraft in which Rittmeister Manfred Freiherr von Richthofen met his death on 21 April 1918 over the Somme Valley. The principal item exhibited was the aluminium seat from the Barons Triplane.

On 10 November 1977, the Librarian and Curator of the Institute, Lieutenant – Colonel W G Heard, in reply to an enquiry from Captain Frank McGuire, a historian at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, exlained the origin of the plaque exactly as follows:

77ie caption Ithat/ yon hair, was used when A R Brown donated the ‘seat’ to the R. C.Xt. l.

It in turn was taken from an Ontario Board of Education grade H History of Canada textbook published by Coppe, Clarke and Company. Hie caption was dictated by Roy Brown.

The clear and concise description of the position of Captain Browns own Sopwith Camel aeroplane given on the plaque was confirmed in Browns own statements during interviews when he visited various cities and towns throughout Canada on business in the 1920s. His words were reported in the local newspapers and are to be found later in this work.

The altitude and the map location at which the engagement took place are also described later, using information provided by Captain Brown and by some of the very few people who actually

saw where this happened.

The total number of Allied aircraft officially credited to the Baron by the German High Command is now known to be 80, not the 82 as recorded on the plaque. Additional information on the composition of the ‘board* is to be found in this book and appendices.

The Plaque is currently (1997) on display in the private museum of the Royal Canadian Military Institute in Toronto.

The authors will have cause to return to the wording of this plaque during their analysis of events.




Prior to the publication in 1%9 and 1970 of the books by Pasquale Carisella/ J W Ryan, and Dale Titler, the number of medical examinations performed on Manfred von Richthofen’s body was rarely cited correctly. The number and the combinations of the doctors who made them is like a lottery, and the three separate and completely independent medical reports were often combined


which time the bullet has stabilized, there is a little loss of velocity over the next 3(H) yards.

When a 0.303" Mark VII cartridge is fired from a Lee-Enfield rifle, the bullet, which weighs 174 grains, leaves the muzzle at 2.440 feet per second (1.664 mph) spinning at 2,930 RP Sec (173.8(H) фін).The trajectory of the bullet is approximately as depicted below (not to scale):

175,000 RPM 2,300 FPS


152,000 RPM 1,000 FPS


1.50 sec


—I— 400yrds


0.5 sec



into one apparently composed to stress a particular aspect. The ‘midnight’ medical examination by the new 22 Wing MO, Captain N C Graham and his predecessor, Lieutenant (‘« E Downs, is emphasised, whilst the ‘official’ examination by the most highly qualified specialists from the British Fourth Army hospital in Amiens (known as No.42 Stationary Hospital), is disparaged. The third examination, literally the ‘accidental’ examination, again made by a highly qualified specialist (in fact the Deputy Director of Medical Services for the Australian Imperial Force – ie: the top man in France who, for reasons that need not be stated here, happened to be at Poulainville), is ignored. The true sequence of events seems to be unknown by the general public. This is not surprising given the many television programmes, plus magazine and newspaper articles which over the years have re-cycled the flawed material of the 1930s.

Characteristics of 0.303 inch
Rifle Bullet Wounds

The British Army 0.303" Mark VII rifle bullet is a variant on the Spitzer type. This is an aerodynamically shaped fully metal jacketed lead bullet with a pointed nose. The shape causes minimal aerodynamic drag with the result that after the initial 1(H) yards flight, by

Note. The rpm of the spin decreases 5 to 10% per second of flight rime. The progressively slowing bullet will take three to four seconds to cover one mile depending upon the air density of the occasion.

The portion of the trajectory where good accuracy is normal (400 yards) is covered at a nominal 2,300 feet per second (1,368 mph). According to an official RAF publication for fighter pilots, after a bullet has covered the initial 400 yards a progressive loss of velocity begins. At 8<)() yards travel over half of the initial velocity has been lost, with a corresponding decrease in “hitting power’.

This supersonic speed is the cause of the Rak- ak-ak sound when bullets from a Vickers, Lewis or German machine gun pass nearby. The design of the bullet’s shape places the centre of gravity towards the rear to obtain maximum effect. Were it not for the spin imposed upon the bullet around its long axis by the rifling of the gun barrel, the rearward centre of gravity would cause serious directional instability. A little instability does remain, however and, in technical terminology, the bullet is said to yaw in flight. In the vernacular, the pointed nose wiggles a little but the direction of travel is accurately maintained. The rearward centre of gravity is the reason why spent Spitzer-type bullets fall from the sky base first.

The following information applies to all persons wounded by a German or British Spitzer-type 1914-18 bullet. Once a Spitzer bullet encounters the resistance (drag) of human (or animal) tissue, the rapidly slowing spin is no longer able to maintain it in a nose-forwards position for more than about four to six inches of penetration. The four inches of penetration is representative of bullets fired from 600 to 8< и) yards, and the six inches for bullets fired from 11 и і to 5< И) yards. However, it should be borne in mind that other variables might consist of worn barrels on whatever gun is firing the round whether it be a Lewis gun, Vickers gun or a short Lee-Enfield ritle. Also, each of those types of gun produces a different rate of spin. A Spitzer-type bullet which enters and exits tissue of an arm or a leg would be nose first all the way. A front-to-back (or back-to – front) penetration of the chest or abdomen, being about eight to ten inches of flesh, would initiate a departure from the nose-forward attitude well before the exit of the bullet through the outer skin on the tar side. At ranges of 1.0(H) yards or more, the spin rpm and the velocity will be so low that the change of attitude will begin very early. The increased ‘drag’ as the nose progressively tilts away from the direction of travel, results in a greater loss of kinetic energy per inch travelled. This is converted into increased damage to the tissue surrounding its path as it goes through the body.

This change of attitude is known as ‘tumbling’. Tumbling does not mean turning over and over, but merely one half turn around the short axis in which the bullet changes attitude from nose-first to tail- first. The centre of gravity is now at the front, and wall remain there. Assuming a 175,000 rpm strike at 2.300 feet per second, for a bullet to reach a fully tumbled condition (base-forwards) requires a passage of about 18 inches through human tissue.

Assuming that prior to striking a human body the Spitzer-type bullet has not been damaged, the entrance wound will be small and round. If the ‘trike was perpendicular to the skin (ie: it has struck squarely) the abrasions around the periphery of the entrance wound will tend to be equal. However, if the bullet has struck the skin at an angle other than perpendicular, the entrance wound will frequently be oval and the abrasions around the edge will be unequal; any heavier abrading present at the edge of the wound will tend to indicate the angle whence the bullet came.

A fully tumbled or partially tumbled bullet will present a blunt surface to the inside of the skin at the exit point. The skin being elastic in nature will absorb a lot of energy before permitting the bullet to pass through. The resulting exit wound will be ‘torn’ rather than ‘perforated’. It will be very much larger than the entry wound.

A Spitzer bullet, which during the process of tumbling touches a fairly resistant bone, can suffer a major change of direction. The direction in which it is deflected will depend upon whether the nose or the tail of the bullet touched the bone, and at which radial angle it was tumbling at the time. In all cases a major loss of kinetic energy will simultaneously occur, ie: the bullet will slow down considerably and the tendency to tumble will increase.

Between the ranges of400 and 800 yards, Spitzer- inflicted wound paths will be identical in appearance although penetration will vary. 1 During flight the spin rpm and the velocity have decreased, but not by enough to be obvious in their effect upon stability. Range cannot be determined with any certainty from the wound between those distances as premature tumbling may have many causes.

If a Spitzer bullet is fired from more than 800 yards at the trunk or abdomen of a man who happens to be wearing heavy clothing, the spent bullet is quite likely to be found resting in between his skin and the said clothing just below the exit wound. Bullets are frequently found at a soldiers waistline, trapped where his trouser belt holds his shirt against his body. Sometimes the bullets tall out when the victim is moved. During the time that the bullet travelled side – first, ripping through tissue and organs, the friction had already converted so much of its kinetic energy into tissue damage that, after overcoming the elasticity of the skin, the remaining energy was absorbed by the elasticity of the garments.

If the range exceeds 1,000 yards, it is quite likely that a tumbled Spitzer bullet will not exit the trunk or abdomen. At ranges below 150yds, a 0.303" British Army Mark VIII rifle bullet (Spitzer) is travelling at more than twice the speed of sound and will literally self-destruct shortly after impact. This creates an effect similar to an explosive bullet and results in a distinctive type of wound.

Unlike a bullet fired from a 45 (0.45") automatic pistol, which merely increases a little in diameter (due to compression) as it passes through human tissue, and may be said to bore a hole, a Spitzer type carves a channel once it slows enough to tumble. In addition to the channel itself, the kinetic energy absorbed by surrounding tissue during the carving action results in extensive internal damage. More information on this aspect is given in Chapter 12.

Many people have been shot frontally in or through the heart with a pistol and have survived. A shot fired from the side by a British Army 0.303" weapon would have a tar different result.


In 1927 the US magazine Liberty began publishing articles on the air lighting during the First World War. A short story, developed from an interview with Captain Brown on his career in the RNAS and RAF, was published in the edition dated 6 November 1927 and was later serialised in several newspapers.

Upon transcribing his notes, the copywriter converted serious facts into a thrilling story for boys by ‘jazzing up’ what he had been told and by including additional information drawn from material found in previously published stories. The Anonymous Account was one of them as was an early version of Gibbons’ Red Knight of Germany whose serialisation had just ended in the magazine, so it comes as no surprise that 22 German aircraft are again mentioned. To do the copywriter justice, he, doubtless, was doing his best to make the story interesting by filling in details which Roy Brown had apparently omitted. It is quite probable that the copywriter was merely composing an entertaining story and that it never crossed his mind that his efforts might be taken to represent history or that some of his additions might be seriously flawed. Indeed, some of his effort found its way into the British Official History of the Great War which was being written around this time. Information on the end of the Red Devil was scarce and Liberty seemed to have what was needed.

By a ‘tail wagging the dog’ process, the items ‘borrowed’ from My Fight with Richthofen, and now wearing the clothes of the Official History, have been presented by some as proof that the former represents the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Such had happened once before. Sir Arthur Conon Doyle took the findings of the abandoned sailing ship Mary Celeste (the correct name) as the idea for a thrilling story. He named his ship Marie Celeste and added many mysterious items such as a ticking clock, warm food found on the table and the Long Boat still present. Sir Arthur was most surprised when his artistry was taken to be the latest information and the official history in a shipping company was ‘corrected’ to suit.

Although the title block did not specifically so state, its wording encouraged the reader to believe that Captain Brown had written or at least dictated every word of the story. However, the contents clearly indicate that this was not so. The obvious give-away is the citing of RAF 209 Squadron as existing on 21 March 1918.To have served in 9 Naval Squadron was considered to be a distinction and Captain Brown would not have forgotten the date, 1 April 1918, when the military world around him changed.

Whoever made the final draught was not an aircraft pilot, was unfamiliar with rotary engines and combat instructions and did not know how the most famous Allied and German wartime airmen had been killed. Even worse, he had no idea of the true condition of the pilots seat from von Richthofen’s Triplane which was Captain Brown’s personal trophy of the event, and had been in his personal possession for over one year before he donated it to the Canadian Military Institute’s private museum. In short, My Fight with Richthofen parallels the tale of the Marie Celeste in that more people appear to be familiar with the fiction than the facts.

It would seem that Captain Brown, who had accepted payment for his story, which was published on 26 November 1927, had not been given the right of approval over the final text. This placed him in a difficult position when what had been published as *his version of events’ was challenged by people who had also participated. When the Official Australian Historian asked him for his personal comments on the story, Brown declined the invitation on the ground that he was not a reader of Liberty magazine. The careful wording of his reply, which evades the issue, tells quite a lot. Being short of money, having signed a receipt and with two more stories to be published (Dirty Work at the Cross-roads, 24 December 1927 and Sightliawks the following week) by the same magazine, he would hardly wish to antagonise his benefactor.

In 1971 the Editor of Liberty responded in print to a request for clarification on the authorship. In Volume 1, No.3, he offered the following statement. The operative words are ‘probably’,‘won’t rule out’ and ‘not unusual’.To anyone who reads it carefully, the meaning, written between the lines, is quite clear.

Roy Broirn was paid for the article and probably contributed all or most of the facts. We won’t rule out the possibility that the piece was ghost-uritten but this is not unusual in any national magazine.

As tacitly admitted by the 1971 Editor, the article is a mixture of fact and fiction. Historically speaking, it is extremely dangerous as there is more than enough fact and detail to make the whole story seem to be genuine to anyone unfamiliar with the items, situations and events described.

The most unfortunate part of all is that some recent scholarly works have, in complete innocence, quoted items from earlier well-known works which had in turn derived them from the flawed parts of My Fight with Richthofen. In modern parlance one can say that certain events or descriptions have been ‘laundered’ until their true origin has been lost and they have become accepted truth. They continue to appear again and again, even in major newspapers, when certain anniversaries come around.

A small selection of easily provable deviations from the truth follows below. The page references are for the reprint in Liberty, Autumn 1971,Volume l, No.2.

1. The seat, page 55, middle left.

Starting at the elevator, bullets had ripped their way along the fuselage: bullets fired from above and behind. They had travelled right along to the cockpit. There were holes in the cockpit. Blood spattered the seat. There was a hole in it.

Apart from blood on the seat, the entire statement is untrue. The seat was officially given to Captain Brown as his personal souvenir (he had actually requested the engine) and he was well aware that there was no hole in it that could have been made by a 0.303 bullet, or indeed any bullet, and that it was on display in Toronto. There is ample photographic documentation and testimony from 3 Squadron AFC personnel, including two officers, Lieutenant W J Warneford and Captain К Ross, on the absence of bullet holes in the area specified. Although there is no confirmation that Brown looked at the dismantled Triplane when it arrived at Poulainville, it is highly unlikely that he failed to do so.

Brown would also have known that having attacked towards the left-hand side of the Triplane as he intercepted its line of flight, his fire would not have ‘stitched’ its way up from the tail to cockpit, the way a layman would describe an assumed attack from the more usual astern (six o’clock) position.

It has been postulated by historian Frank McGuire that when Brown discovered that the text to be published was not quite what he had in mind and that Liberty would accept no changes, he caused the display location of the seat to be added so that anyone who cared to look at it would learn that the article had been ‘edited’.

2. The Crash Site, page 55. upper left

IVe (Col. Caimes and (.’apt. Brown) walked towards the place where the red Triplane lay. It was possibly a mile and a half away (from the battery). A road ran pan of the distance. Then nr entered the reserve trenches. And shortly nr saw the machine. It lay on high ground, between the trenches, in what was once a cultivated field. Sticking to the trenches we got as close to it as nr could, but it was still possibly 100 yards away.

The road did NOT stop short of the crash site. The reserve trenches were NOT on the route from the battery to the crash site. The Triplane was NOT in between the trenches on the high ground: it was about 800 yards south-east of them and on the opposite side of the road. No-one at the crash site has ever mentioned seeing Caimes or Brown there.

Captain Brown knew full well where the crash site was located. The copywriter appears to have composed his location from descriptions given in the Summary and in the Red Knight of Germany.

3. Von Richthofen’s Body, page 54. middle left.

Cairns (mis-spelled all through the article) asked the whereabouts of the body, and was told that it had been turned over to the Royal Air Force. We learned later this was done only after a verbal dog fight. The Anssies had not wanted to part with it.

Captain Brown was well aware that 3 AFC’ at Poulainville had jurisdiction and that all the examinations and official procedures including the burial had been conducted under its CO, Major I) V J Blake.

The paragraph on page 54 which follow’s the one transcribed above contradicts it in that according to the copywriter. Brown then proceeds to examine the body that is not there. Brown was well aware when he first saw the body; it was at Poulainville that evening. Fie so stated in a letter to his father.

The entire episode, as presented by the copywriter, is pure invention.

4. Deaths of the Aces, page 42. top right.

I he greatest of them – Boelcke, Ball, Gnynemer, McCndden, died like the poorest dnb when an enemy pilot spewed a straight burst at the right moment.

Only Guynemer was shot down, and there is a question as to whether by plane or by ground fire. The other three were killed in flying accidents which were used in Advanced Flying Schools as examples not to be copied, Boelcke collided in air combat. Ball became disoriented in cloud, and McCndden, suffering engine failure, turned back rather than make a forced landing straight ahead. Brown, who served as an instructor, was certainly aware of the truth and would not have subscribed to such nonsense.

5. Engine Trouble, page 52. top right.

I After shooting down von Richthofen / / turned towards Bertangles…. Only three cylinders were hitting [firing/. The propeller was scarcely turning over. But I made the ‘drome.

No aeroplane pilot would have written that! However, it is an improvement on the Summary which allowed Brown only two cylinders out of the nine.

An aeroplane with a rotary engine in that condition would be likely to catch fire in short time. Unburned petrol would be issuing from the six spinning exhaust ports, collecting inside the cowling and then washing along the bottom of the fuselage just waiting for a spark. The loss of power would be far too great for the Camel to maintain height and the vibration from the unbalanced forces would cause rapid failure of the engine support frame.

A pilot of the calibre and experience of Roy Brown would instinctively have switched OFF his engine and made a precautionary landing. Even over enemy territory, no pilot who valued his skin would have done otherwise. The story is probably a gross exaggeration by the copywriter of some lesser difficulty described by Brown, although nowhere else is there a mention of a problem with his engine.

6. Decorations, page 56, top right.

I was given neither decoration nor award, although two Australian Tommies were credited with receiving Distinguished Conduct Medals for their unsuccessful shooting from the trenches.

The entire statement is untrue. Lieutenant May is on record as being amazed when he read it. It would appear to be a dramatised distortion of Brown’s disappointment that the recommendation that he be awarded the

Distinguished Service Order (DSO) was not approved. That would not be shabby treatment; the DSO is but one step below the Victoria Cross and requires great bravery in action on the occasion for which it is awarded.

Instead, later in the year, at a ceremony conducted by the Prince of Wales, he was awarded a Bar to his Distinguished Service Cross. This decoration was more applicable to the circumstances. The complete recommendation is to be found in Appendix E.

No Australian received a medal of any kind whatsoever.

It may come as a surprise to the reader to learn that the well-known story of von Richthofen looking round to see who was firing at him originated in My Fight with Richthofen on page 52, bottom left. To look round is the reaction of a novice and it was in such a way that a surprisingly high number of newly graduated pilots met their death, for, whilst they were looking round (instead of getting out of the line of fire), their attacker – most likely with the sun behind him – was correcting his aim.

If a novice pilot survived long enough to conquer that fatal, although natural, reaction, he had a chance to see the end of the war. The reader may recall that on the silver screen the hero pilot always hears shots, looks round puzzled, (probably curses: swine! if he is British; schweinhund! if German) and is then killed from behind (accompanied by a small trickle of blood from one corner of his mouth). An excellent book: No Parachute, by the late AVM Arthur Gould Lee MC (Jarrolds 1968), contains a good description of how by bitter experience he learned how not to look round if attacked and that it was by the grace of the enemy’s poor marksmanship that he reached that level of expertise.

Von Richthofen was not a novice; it was well – known by the British aces who tangled with him that at the first sign or sound of a shot he took sharp evasive action. He only survived in front-line duty for eighteen months by being quick. Gould Lee commented that he could never hold von Richthofen in a good position long enough to take aim and then fire. With that in mind, My Fight with Richthofen, in sentences too close to the Summary for co-incidence, asks its readers to believe that despite the loud Rak-ak-ak noise of bullets striking his tail, von Richthofen calmly flew straight ahead and allowed Brown to correct his aim. That he then continued to fly straight ahead whilst hearing Brown’s bullets stitching their way up the fuselage to the cockpit and that his only defensive manoeuvre was to look round. The mind boggles at the ineptitude. It is fortunate that many photographs of that part of the fuselage (despite the ravages of looters and souvenir hunters) and tail/elevators still exist to counter the slur on the Baron’s intelligence and proficiency.

The ‘looked round’ story is obviously an addition which the copywriter thought applicable to the circumstances and tacked onto the scenario “lifted’ from the Summary. The authors have been surprised at the number of people who have heard that My Fight with Richthofen is seriously flawed and yet have firmly believed, until advised of the origin of the tale, that von Richthofen did indeed look round when he saw tracer coming his way.

Dirty Work at the Cross-roads (Liberty, 24 December 1927).

Reference was made earlier to Roy Brown’s second contribution to the magazine. Basically it follows the same pattern as the first one; Brown’s story has been heavily edited to heighten suspense and to create thrills. The description of how to dive a Sopwith Camel has no relation with reality. Once again truth has been converted into a load of old rabbit:

Down went the stick. And down went the nose of the Camel, plumb vertical, engine full out. That was one wild dive! In eight seconds we dropped 8,000 feet.

Pilots were taught NEVER to dive a Camel vertically. It tended, against the pilot’s wishes, to go ‘over vertical’ and to progress into an inverted dive from which recovery in one piece was extremely difficult. The lack of knowledge of the copywriter who ‘enhanced’ Brown’s account is indisputably revealed by a simple conversion into Miles Per Hour of the stated descent rate of 1 ,(KK) feet per second.

Every pilot knows that Miles Per Hour, divided by two, gives Yards Per Second fairly closely. 1,(KH) feet is equal to 333.3 yards, therefore, the descent given by the copywriter would be approximately 667 mph. (The calculated answer is actually 682 mph.) This is more than three times the speed at which a Camel’s fuselage would leave the wings behind, and is faster than every jetliner in service in 1997 except for Concorde.

Let the Reader be the Judge

The reader, who by now should be aware of the relative positions of the three aeroplanes, is invited to decide which is true; Lieutenant May’s written assertion that he did not see Brown attack von Richthofen, or the following statement in My Fight with Richthofen on page 52, middle left:

Then he (May) heard my guns. Fie flashed a look. ‘Thank God, its Brownie.’


Rather than supporting Captain Brown as having shot down von Richthofen, the heavy editing of his story has destroyed his credibility by using obvious falsehoods to present his case.



he subject of the Red Baron’s last flight is not a new one, we know that. Argument and discussion have taken place since the flight on the day in question. That we have something to say on the matter is obvious because of this book, but we are not just jumping on a band-wagon which people may believe had long ago lost most of its wheels.

In trying to look subjectively at the events of 21 April 1918 we have been mindful that many writers in the past have begun from the wrong premise and with already flawed information. Journalistic hypberbole {hype in present parlance) over the years did not help either. Therefore we have tried to be objective as well as subjective.

The two main authors who have already written excellent books on the subject. DaleTitler and the late Pat Carisella put everything they discovered into their well-read studies, but one problem in reading their books is that the sheer volume of the evidence presented can confuse a reader who is not deeply familiar with the subject. In other works people have gone into such great detail by putting in argument and counter­argument, claim and counter-claim, that one becomes almost punch-drunk and it is easy to lose the thread of whence such-and-such an argument started or whither it is leading.

Our approach was to start with a clean slate, put down what we believe are the salient facts and features of the occurrences and try, with common sense, to trace what either happened in fact, or where there is doubt, to apply a logical approach to suggest the most plausible answer. Where we are dealing with the trained, instinctive reactions of an aircraft pilot, the simplest answer is most likely to be the correct one.

Readers of this book may wonder why we have not mentioned many of the witnesses who have been approached over the years for their stories. In not mentioning them we do not imply that we discount their recollections, although it must be said that a number were quite obviously remembering an event, which while similar, was quite divorced from the one under review. Some, for instance, who insist the Baron was shot down soon after dawn or that his aeroplane had two wings, not three, must be confused about this incident or actually recalling another. Had it not been for the name of von Richthofen, most people
on the ground would have had little reason even to remember the event at all. but it is quite natural for another, similar event, to be placed in the forefront of the memory so that they believe they must have seen the Baron s fall.

The Carisella and Titler books are so well known, and most serious WW1 air historians will have them on their book-shelves, that it will be easy to cross-reference these other participants’ stories. We have had to mention several of the main characters in the drama as their statements are exceptionally important, or the events cannot be recorded faithfully without them. However, we mean no disrespect to those we have left out; we simply wish to refer the reader to these other books if they wish to read about them.

What we hope we have achieved is to portray as simple an overview of the 21 April 1918 as can be written down in order for the reader to follow easily and clearly the events of that day.

We believe that this new account will clear rather than further muddy the waters and earnestly feel that some interesting facts, especially concerning the pathology, and the logic we have applied to the story, will clarify much and at the same time put other things into proper perspective.

Norman Franks, Surrey, England Alan Вашей, Grimsby, Ontario, Canada.

The First Medical Examination

(The Midnight Preview)

On the evening of 21 April, Major Blake, the CO of 3 Squadron AFC, received word from 22 Wing HQ that Lieutenant-Colonel Cairnes (1) was sending the new Wing MO, Captain Norman Clotworthy Graham RAMC, to his aerodrome to examine von Richthofen’s body. One must assume that Cairnes was in hopes that at least the dispute between the two squadrons under his command could be resolved before the ‘top brass’ (the Fourth Army Consulting Surgeon and Consulting Physician) arrived on the morrow. Judging from the after duty hours activity which then took place, the 3 AFC medical orderlies received instructions to clean the body up a bit and to lay it out neatly.

During this activity, the senior orderly, Corporal Edward McCarty, discovered a spent bullet inside the clothing at the front of the body. Actually it fell out unexpectedly, so he could not say precisely where it had been lying. Others saw him pick it up and heard him comment on it; this eliminates the discovery being a later‘tall story’ on McCarty’s part. The body had been moved around quite a bit since the Baron died, so exactly where the bullet came to rest is unknown. The knowledge as to between which layers of clothing it was resting was also lost when it fell out of its own accord. McCarty’s belief was that upon exiting the body, further travel of the bullet had been arrested by the bulk of a leather wallet which he found in the breast pocket of an inner garment. The details are somewhat garbled and in the light of the knowledge that von Richthofen pulled his flying suit on over his pyjamas, it is more probable that the wallet was in an inside pocket of the suit. This would also explain the fact that those who had earlier searched the body for valuables and had found a large sum of French money, had missed the wallet. The bullet was not pristine; it bore a sharp indentation indicative that it had struck something hard at some stage.

During the 1960s the late Pasquale Carisella succeeded in finding the ‘owner’ of the wallet and obtained four excellent photographs of it; one of each of the shiny leather surfaces: two exterior and two interior views. Author Bennett has seen these photos and can affirm that none of the four faces bears any mark or dent whatsoever. It therefore would appear that the final energy of the bullet was consumed in breaking through the skin and possibly the pyjamas, and that it came to rest against the inside of the heavy fur-lined flying suit.

There were two other mentions of a bullet on the body, curiously enough both by members of Sergeant Popkin’s gun team, Privates Weston and Marshall. Weston said that it was on the left side partially embedded in a book. It may have been hearsay for, in extensive correspondence with historian Frank McGuire, he never mentioned it. Sergeant Popkin told С E W Bean, the Australian Official Historian for the 1914-18 war, that Marshall had taken a bullet from the body. Marshall was killed later on in the war; however, it is strange that no one else has mentioned such an interesting‘find’on his part. The most probable explanation is that either Marshall or Weston saw the bullet and decided to leave it well alone. Corporal McCarty found it later on that evening.

At about 2330 hours, Major Blake and his Recording Officer, Captain E G Knox, arrived at the tent-hangar where the body had been laid out. They were accompanied by Captain Graham and his predecessor, Lieutenant Downs, who was to leave France four days later to take up a posting in England. The captain had arrived just the previous day, Saturday the 20th, and had immediately assumed his new function.

The two MOs, without doubt, had heard from Lieutenant-Colonel Cairnes about his visit with Roy Brown to the 53rd Battery, and it is logical to assume that Major Blake had already spoken to them about the red Triplane which Lieutenants Barrow and Banks had forced out of the fight over Le Hamel. The task before the two doctors might be a fairly simple one; namely a dispute between three bursts of machine-gun fire; all from 50 to 350 yards range, but from completely different angles towards the Fokker.

(1) Lt-Col Cairnes arrived at 22 Wing from Home Establishment on 17 April and would take full command from Lt-Col FV Holt on the 25th.

Whilst they made their examination, about 20 officers from 3 AFC watched from a respectful distance. One of them was Lieutenant Banks, the RES observer who had a stake in the game.

The first unexpected discovery was that tar from having been the victim of a burst of machine-gun fire, only one bullet had struck the body. What had been taken to be a multiple bullet entry wound was actually the exit wound of a – ingle bullet. The other‘bullet wounds’ all turned ‘Ut to be impact injuries, sustained in the cockpit during the crash landing.

According to witness testimony received by Dale Titler. Lieutenant Downs noticed something ^bout the body which suggested to him that the bullet had not followed a straight path from the entry point to the exit point. The nature of this mething’ has, unfortunately, never been disclosed.

In an attempt to discover what that ‘«•omething’ might have been, the present authors. onsulted three gunshot wound specialists; one in Canada, one in England and one in Australia. They.11 indicated that when dealing with a Spitzer-type bullet, the entrance wound will often give an indication of the angle at which the bullet struck me victim. If it strikes the skin perpendicularly, its harp point, followed by an aerodynamically – – haped increasing diameter, will make a neat round hole and the abrasions around the inner edge of the hole will be equally distributed. As the angle of impact moves away from the perpendicular, so will •he hole become progressively unequal. The exception will be if the bullet has struck something else first and has either become deformed or has begun to tumble.

Dale Titler’s witness also revealed that Lieutenant Downs had tactfully suggested to Captain Graham that perhaps the bullet had dog – legged on its way through the body (possibly via touching the spine). Whether he drew Grahams attention to the entry wound is unknown. The witness continued that Graham, after looking at the size of the exit wound which was much larger than the entrance one, was of the opinion that it was still not large enough to have been caused by a bullet which had deflected off the spine. This was not exactly true, for the size of an exit wound in the trunk or the abdomen made bv a Spitzer-type rifle bullet depends mainly on a combination of its spinning rpm at the time of impact and how far it has travelled through the body tissue.

Two of the three claimants said that they had tired from 50 to 100 yards range. The third one had opened fire at 350 yards range (noted as long range by his standards) and had ceased fire at about 50 yards range. The wound characteristics, being identical between 400 and 800 yards, would not reveal the range at which the shot was fired. The distance travelled through body tissue rapidly reduces the rpm of the spin |from the rifling] which permits the bullet to begin to tumble (change from point-first to base-first travel). The conversion to a partially tumbled or fully tumbled attitude will be helped by an interference such as glancing off the spine. However, given the distance travelled by that particular bullet, it would have tumbled regardless of which of the two paths it had followed. In the straight-through instance, the rate at which tumbling progressed to the base-first attitude was principally a function of the rpm of its spin. In the dog-leg instance (off the spine) the straight – through situation was modified by how much encouragement the glancing had given to the progression of the tumbling. Captain Graham, being totally unaware that the bullet had been found and that it bore, according to the man who found it, a sharp indentation, and because of the rudimentary knowledge of ballistics in those days, had considerably over-simplified the situation.

In the light of todays knowledge, Captain Graham’s error is easily explained. If one looks at a bullet travelling a ‘short’ distance through, say, a limb, and being provoked into early tumbling by deflection or glancing off a bone, the point of exit may well coincide with the maximum extension of the temporary cavity which is then unable to close and thus remains open in the form of a horrendous wound. It would appear it was this sort of injury to which Captain Graham was referring.

With a bullet travelling a longer distance through a body, as in von Richthofen’s case, the temporary cavity had time to close down again by the pressure of the surrounding tissue. The exit wound therefore is considerably smaller. Ballistic pathologist. Doctor David King, pointed out to the authors that the exit wound, as described on von Richthofen’s body, conformed exactly to what he would have expected to see resulting from a Spitzer bullet having taken a long path laterally through his trunk.

The sketch on page 84 shows this and a fuller explanation will be found in Chapter!2.

The cause of death had definitely been established; a single bullet through the chest which had caused massive damage to vital organs in its path. Whether, as it tumbled, it had passed in a straight line from entrance to exit points or had dog-legged, the final result would have been the same although the organs damaged and the symptoms would have been different. Downs gave

Подпись: Sketches of a typcial wound straight through a limb, and one deflected by an arm or leg bone.
The First Medical Examination

no argument and со-signed the report which, although obliquely mentioning his suspicion, presented no opinion against it.

The next morning, Monday 22nd, they wrote the following combined report to 22 Wing RAF HQ:

We examined the body of Captain Baron von Richtoven [sic] on the evening of the 21st instant (April 1918). We found that he had one entrance and one exit wound caused by the same bullet.

The entrance wound was situated on the right side of the chest in the posterior fold of the armpit and the exit wound was situated at a slightly higher level nearer the front of the chest, the point of exit being about half an inch below the left nipple and about three quarters of an inch external to it. From the nature of the exit wound, we think that the bullet passed straight through the chest from right to left, and also slightly forward. Had the bullet been deflected from the spine, the exit wound would have been much larger.

The gun firing this bullet must have been situated in roughly the same plane as the long axis of the German machine and fired from right and slightly behind the right of Captain Richtoven. (1)

We are agreed that the situation of the entrance and exit wounds are such that they could not have been caused by fire from the ground.

The wing span of an aeroplane in those days was greater than the length of its fuselage. The long axis referred to would be close to that of an imaginary line drawn along the middle wing of a Triplane from tip to tip. When the ‘joystick’ was pushed forward or pulled back, the Triplane would pivot around that line, hence the name axis. Depending upon the attitude of the Triplane at that time, the long axis could have been inclined in any direction. The two MOs, who are using engineers’ terminology, are stating briefly that the right-hand side of the Triplane was almost squarely facing the gun that fired the fatal shot wherever that gun may have been. They are relating the gun to the attitude of the aeroplane – not vice-versa.

Some, who have not realised the import of the long axis statement in the third paragraph, have claimed (mistakenly in the authors’ opinion) that the final sentence contains the unwarranted assumption that a fighter aeroplane always flies straight and level, and Captain Graham and Lieutenant Downs have been accused of both outright bias and of gross stupidity because of it. However, a moment’s reflection suggests that the MO of an entire Wing, which included several squadrons of fighter aircraft, would be well aware how they were flown and would be most unlikely to imply such nonsense, especially in writing to a superior officer. There surely had to be more to it than that.

If one takes the same starting point as being

(1) It is amazing how many people at this time did not know how to spell Richthofens name. We have had Reichtofen. RichthofFen and now Richtoven.

We examined the body of Captain Baron VON

RICHTOVEN on the evening of the 2iet instant. We found that he had one entrance and one exit wound caused by the same bullet.

The entrance wound was situated on the right

eide of the oheet in the posterior fold of the armpit: the exit wound was situated at a slightly higher level nearer the front of the chest, the point of exit being about half an inch below the left nipple and about three quarters of an inch external to it. Prom the nature of the exit wound, we think that the bullet passed straight through the oheet from right to left, and also slightly forward. Had the bullet been deflooted from the spine the exit wound would have been much larger.

The gun firing this bullet must have been

situated in roughly the same plane as the long axis of the German maohine, and fired from the right and slightly behind the right of Captain RICHTOVEN.

The First Medical Examination

We are agreed that the situation of the entranoe

The First Medical Examination

and exit wounds are such that they oould not have been caused by fire from the ground.

Capt. R. A.M. C.
M. O.i/o 22nd Wing, R. A.F

Lieut. R. A.M. C.


in the Field


The First Medical Examination

Lt Downs’ Sketch Clarified

Vo*» Richthofen

The First Medical Examination

the situation before the MO’s, it becomes obvious that they would not have any reason to make a general statement, as they had only one ground fire claim to deal with. To them, the fatal shot, not being a frontal or semi-frontal wound through the chest with exit through the back, eliminated the claim of the 53rd Battery. There was also the matter of the tight pattern fired by a Lewis gun at close range versus the single bullet which struck the Baron, and a ground-based Lewis gun was much steadier than one mounted on a vibrating aeroplane.

The final statement was as far as they were prepared to go; anything deeper was dangerous territory. RAMC Lieutenants and Captains do not pre-empt Army Medical Services Colonels, unless they wish a posting to some far away place with a strange sounding name and lots of flies! The statement represents the conclusion of their examination; it is not just a comment. Once it is read as referring to the claim by the 53rd Battery, their report becomes clearly impartial.

The sketch which they appended to illustrate the third paragraph (The gun firing this bullet….), required knowledge of the bullet hole in the right-hand side of the fuselage at the front end. Such knowledge could only have come from a briefing on that point, probably from Major Blake who would have learned about it from Captain Ross, his Armament Officer. The snag was that the lines on it did not exactly match the angles from which Captain Brown or Lieutenants Barrow and Banks claimed to have fired at the Triplane. However, who could be sure of the exact attitude of the Triplane in the air at that time? There was the added complication of the harness which the pilot had loosened to work on his defective machine guns. Was he sitting erect or leaning forwards when he was struck? There is no indication that his right 86 arm may have been raised as he worked the cocking handle of his guns, for at the moment he was struck he would already have given up on that and have been in the act of pulling up and away. The ‘hot potato’ of 209 Squadron versus 3 AFC remained on the griddle.

Unnecessary confusion has been created by the paraphrasing of the conclusion to the point that it is common belief that the words are: ’…. the shot could only have been fired from the air.’ This completely alters the point that the MOs were trying to make (rightly or wrongly) that the 53rd Battery’s claim was inconsistent with the facts.

A copying error occurred in the transcript sent to С E W Bean, the Australian Official Historian, so that it read: ’…. below the right nipple…" instead of: ‘…. below the left nipple…’. Either that or the writer was mentally viewing von Richthofen from the front where the left nipple would be to the writer’s right. Bean caught and corrected the slip but some of the others, who received copies of the flawed transcript, used it verbatim. The origin of statements such as: “Von Richthofen was shot in the back of his right shoulder and the bullet exited through his right breast…’ , becomes obvious.

By the morning of the 22nd, 3 AFC’ had withdrawn its claim; the time of the encounter of their RE8s with the Triplanes was too early. By default, this left Captain Brown as the remaining contender – from the air.

At some time that morning, the Recording Officer of 209 Squadron (Lt Shelley), obtained an Army Form W3348, Combats in the Air (reports) and re-typed Captain Brown’s earlier one in a more presentable manner. The subscripted words: ‘.. and Lieut. May.’ became part of the line itself. No words were changed: that would have been illegal, but some additions were typed into the top left hand corner, viz:

Engagement with red triplane

Time: about 11-00 a. m.

Locality. Vaux sur Somme

Captain Brown signed it. Major Butler approved it and this time annotated it: One Decisive.

The better-looking report was also dated 21 April 1918 and was submitted to 22 Wing on the 22nd together with post-1601 hours documents referring to the 21st. In the Air Ministry file it is numbered later than the 209 Squadron reports received by the 5th Brigade on the 21st.

Also on 22 April, 3 AFC Squadron submitted its War Diary entry for the 21st. The relevant portion is transcribed below:

Two machines of this Squadron encountered the Circus about the same time as the Baron was shot down although they were not concerned in the actual shooting down of the celebrated enemy. Lieuts, Garrett and Barrow, and Lieuts. Simpson and Banks were proceeding to the line for the purpose of photographing the Corps front when they saw the enemy triplanes approaching. Lieut. Simpson and Banks were the first to be attacked by four of the triplanes. The observer fired 100 rounds at point blank range at the E. A., one of which was seen to separate and go down. The others withdrew and attacked Lieuts. Garrett and Barrow. The observer in this case got 1n 120 rounds Lewis, in bursts and another of the E. A. was seen to go down out of control. Both pilots then proceeded over the line and carried out their task of photographing the whole Corps front

In the meantime reports had come from the Infantry that one of the triplanes shot down in the general combat which had ensued between our scouts and the enemy circus after they had been driven off by the the RE8s of this Squadron, was that of Baron von Richthofen. The Lewis gunners of the 5th Divisional Artillery, A. I.F. claimed the honour of firing the shot which brought him down, but after the matter had been carefully investigated, the award was made to Captain Brown, of No. 209 Squadron, RAF.

The entry was written by the RO, Captain E G Knox (a former Sydney journalist) and signed by the CO, Major Blake. The phrasing indicates that 3 AFC was no longer pursuing Lieutenant Barrows claim. Another interesting fact at this early stage is that Knox apparently knows, or at least indicates, that the Baron was killed by a single bullet! It also makes the first known official reference to an ‘investigation’. Major Blake will return to the story in the final chapter.

Any investigation which took place in the evening of the 21st or the morning of the 22nd would hardly have all the facts at its disposal. Such a hurried affair clashes somewhat with the impression given on Browns plaque in Toronto where he refers to a Board, and with the statements made by Foster, May and Mellersh on the same subject. The clash has complicated earlier attempts to study what some have referred to as the Official Board of Enquiry for the descriptions appear to refer to two different meetings.

The solution to the puzzle is actually quite simple; there were two different meetings. The first one was on the evening of the 21st and the second one on 2 May, the day after Captain Brown entered No.24 General Hospital at Etaples. The details appear later in Chapter 15.

The Graham/Downs medical examination report was not a model of precision. The wording – ‘a slightly higher level’ and ‘in roughly the same plane’ could without any difficulty have been made clearer. The second example given is particularly deficient in that ‘above’ or ‘below’ is not specified. The report also contains two’abouts’ and one ‘we think’. Even worse, they had missed an injury caused by the very bullet whose path they had studied.

Historian Frank McGuire told the authors of an amusing story about an attempt (not his) to locate Captain N C Graham after the war in order to obtain his first-hand comments on the examination. A RAMC Captain Graham was found without too much difficulty and he said that he remembered the incident quite well. Unfor-tunately the story which he told matched an inaccurate one published some time before. Further investigation revealed that his initials were not N C, nor had he been in France in April 1918!


British Official History of the Great War • The War in the Air

The RAF Official History of the Great War (World War 1) contains the following description of the death of Rittmeister Freiherr Manfred von Richthofen. It was written, after considerable debate and argument, by the RAF Official Historian, H A Jones, in 1932. The significance of the date is that it was compiled three years after the publication of Gibbons’ The Red Knight of Germany and My Fight with Richthofen (Appendix E). A comparison of those two stories with the Official History (below) reveals a further step in the progress of what began as an Anonymous Account (Appendix B). There is a marked similarity to the process by which the sailing ship Mary Celeste became the Marie Celeste.

At this moment he [von Richthofen was seen by Captain Brown who had eluded converging attacks by two Fokkers and was climbing rapidly again to rejoin the other ‘Camels’ in the main fight. At first Captain Brown thought that Second Lieutenant May (until whom he had been at school in Edmonton, Alberta) was beyond danger, but almost at once lie noticed the triplane diving on the tail of the ‘Camel’. Soon the ‘Camel’ was twisting and zigzagging with Richthofen closely following every movement until the moment should arrive when he could, as he had so often done before, begin and end the fight with a short burst of bullets fired from decisive range. Captain Broil’ll was nor aware of the identity of the Fokker pilot, but that Second Lieutenant May was in jeopardy was obvious enough, and the Flight-Commander thereupon dived steeply to his subordinate’s help. By this time the aeroplanes were near the Australian front-line trenches. [ 1 j Brown came out of his dive above and to the right /2/ of Richthofen who, his eyes fixed on the elusive ‘Camel’ ahead of him, was oblivious of the danger which threatened. The German leader was caught in a position from which few pilots, no matter how skilled or confident, could expect to escape. As a burst of fire came from the twin machine-guns of the ‘Camel’, Richthofen turned in his cockpit. /З/ It seemed to Captain Brown that he then crumpled [4], and the Fokker zigzagged to a rough landing two miles inside the British lines

Authors’ notes. The items 1 -4 are explained below. The tail is doing more than wagging the dog; it is positively shaking it.

[1] Taken from the Summary. In truth, the aeroplanes had already crossed the Australian front lines and were almost two miles deep into Allied territory.

|2] Taken from The Red Knight of Germany. Brown stated many times in Canada that he was behind, above and to the left of the Triplane.

[3] Taken from My Fight with Richthofen. An ace pilot on either side would ‘break’ first and then look round.

[4] Taken from the Anonymous Account. Those who saw it happen said that von Richthofen stiffened and his head fell to one side, or that he seemed to shrug, but this action was some time after Brown’s attack, and after Richthofen had survived the machine guns of the 53rd Battery and was heading for home.

A continuation of the Official History, in a possible oblique reference to the arguments with С E W Bean, states:

The official decision was that Richthofen was killed by a bullet from the machine guns of Captain A R Brown.

Re-examination of all evidence, official and un-official

tends to confirm this decision in the field……….. It is impossible

to see how any of the bullets fired from specified machine-guns on the ground could have entered the German Pilot’s body from the right-hand side.

The reference to a ‘decision in the field’ which is earlier called ‘the official decision’ is puzzling. Neither the discussion on the evening of 21 April nor the meeting held on 2 May were official in nature. (See Chapter 15) The British Fourth Army Official Enquiry, of which a complete record exists, decided that Gunners Buie and Evans had been responsible.

Even more puzzling is the disqualification of Buie, Evans and l’opkm due to the allegation [incorrect] that they could not possibly have fired at the right- hand side of the Triplane. That argument apparently does not apply to Captain Brown who could not have done so either.

The argument that the RAF official History confirms the truth of My Flight with Richthofen has no validity whatsoever; the former being largely derived from the latter.

CHAPTER ONE The Military Situation

Towards the end of March 1918 the LudendorfF Offensive (Operation Michael), Germany’s final effort to end WWI favourably before the weight of American arms could be felt, had ceased to make progress after a successful start. The last assault made had attempted to capture the city of Amiens but on 3*» March the Australian Imperial Force had halted the German advance ten miles short of its objective. By the next morning the Australian infantry was starting to run short of ammunition and might soon have been forced to withdraw. 3 AFC Squadron came to the rescue. Its RE8s tlew over the Australian positions at an extremely low height and the observers tossed out small containers of ammunition from the rear cockpits to the troops. With pieces of old blankets tied with rope around the containers, sufficient ammunition survived the drop unscattered to save the situation.

Private Vincent Emery was one of the recipients of this largesse. According to his later testimony, he was down to the last two panniers of ammunition for his Lewis gun as the re-supply came from the skies. His helpers were able to gather enough undamaged drums for their gun to remain in action. This was the first known air-to – ground ammunition supply drop.

In early April the German High Command decided to renew the attempt to take Amiens. Troops and supplies were being concentrated in the area of the town of Le Hamel, situated just south of the Somme, 18 kilometres due east of Amiens. Although Le Hamel itself was protected from an Allied counter-attack by trenches, there was no continuous front line. The German forward defences were merely a series of strong points where their advance had been halted. The gaps between the strong points were linked by barbed wire and covered by machine-gun positions and trench mortars.

In the first fortnight of April the Allied forces had constructed a similar series of strong points. The gaps between them, from Corbie to Sailly—le— Sec, had mainly been filled by Vickers machine – gun crews who had dug their weapons into camouflaged and sheltered positions along the north bank of the Somme. This tall bank forms part of the south edge of the Morlancourt Ridge.

The Ridge itself, from a geographical point of view, is composed of the high ground between the River Ancre to its north and the Somme to the south.

In this Sector the main weapon, both for the Germans and the Allies, was artillery. It was one of the rare occasions in the First World War that the Allies enjoyed the strategic advantage of holding the high ground. Two Australian Field Artillery Batteries, the 53rd and the 55th, each equipped with six 18-pounder guns, were situated in a field just below the top of the Morlancourt Ridge on the Ancre (north) side of the crest, with the town of Bonnay behind them. just across the river. They were therefore completely hidden from the German artillery observers on the south side of the Somme, beyond Le Hamel.

The eyes of the two Australian Field Artillery Batteries were several carefully sited Forward Observation Posts (FOPs) whose crews were equipped with binoculars, a telescope and a field telephone. The best of the German observation positions was located in the church tower in the town of Le Hamel. The German observers enjoyed a panorama of Allied territory to their north and north-west which included an excellent view of the ruins of an old windmill silhouetted against the skyline some five kilometres away. This excellent German view of Allied territory was countered by the 53rd Battery FOP located in three short trenches near the ruined stone windmill. Being dug a little below the crest of a section of Ridge which jutted out to the south, the three trenches gave an overview of Le Hamel and German-held territory around it. The clearest and most easily recognised object was the Hamel church tower. The continued existence after the war of both the ruins and the tower, suggests a tacit modus vivaidi between the opposing observers.

To the left of the windmill FOP trenches sat a small forest known as Welcome Wood, which blocked the view to the north-east but in that direction lay Allied-held territory. In a large field just behind the windmill (to the north of it) lay an Advanced Landing Ground (ALG) used recently by aircraft of 3 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps, whose main base was at Poulainville five miles

Подпись:Подпись:Подпись:CHAPTER ONE The Military SituationGround gained in П2Л German attack on 24 HI 4.

(8 km) north of Amiens. However, now that the German lines were so close, this had been abandoned. The German attack was planned for 24 April and would be repulsed by the Australians at Villers Bretonneux, to the south-west of Le Hamel.

Two mobile 18-pounder guns of the Royal Garrison Artillery were operating along the Corbie to Bray road, which ran along the top of the Morlancourt Ridge, in a more or less west to east direction. Their FOP was dug into a field just to the south of the road. The field sloped away gently towards the Somme, then suddenly the incline became quite steep. The observers, who were near the Sainte Colette brickworks, at the high end of the gentle slope, had a clear view of the German-held territory west of Le Hamel from
one half to five miles away (0.8 — 8 km). They were very well positioned to deal with a German attempt to move forces or supplies towards the river or the town of Corbie. Although the skyline created by the change from a gentle slope to a steep gradient blocked the River Somme below from view, this was of no great consequence as an observation trench was being prepared near the edge of the slope by the 51st Battalion. The FOP observers could move forwards to join them if required. The surface of the gently sloping field going back as far as the road was clearly visible in the German telescopes. Prudent men avoided forming groups there in daylight. Vehicular traffic used the road only at night.

From the Sainte Colette FOP the view to the east was blocked ‘A miles (2.5 km) away by Welcome Wood. The village of Sailly – le-Sec, in the distance behind the wood, could not be seen. Similarly, the brow of the Ridge in front (south) of the post completely hid the nearby village of Vaux-sur-Somme and the river itself from view.

The opposing armies stayed tar enough apart for one to be relatively safe from rifle or machine – gun tire from the other. However, it was wise to avoid bunching-up in groups large enough to provoke an ever-watchful artillery observer into picking up his telephone. German shells continually cut the telephone wires between the various levels of headquarters and their outposts. Daily repair work was required, especially alongside the Corbie to Bray road which was shelled nightly (nicknamed ‘The Evening Hate’) by pre-ranged guns in attempts to disturb and disrupt the supply vehicles on their way to the forward defence positions. A ‘wag’ with a theatrical background claimed that the Germans staged a

CHAPTER ONE The Military Situation
CHAPTER ONE The Military Situation


CHAPTER ONE The Military SituationTop left: Corbie to Laurette-Cerisy showing major points and where the day’s air battles would be fought.

Top right: Manfred von Richthofen and his father Major Albrecht von Richthofen.

Left: Troops walking along the Somme Canal, looking east.

show called The Evening Hate’ twice nightly with a matinee on Saturdays.

The opposing air forces were primarily concerned in discovering the dispositions of the others’ ground forces. The presence of any photographic reconnaissance RE8 aeroplane near Le Hamel or of a German Rumpler CV near Bonnay was a serious matter. In early April, both sides took steps. 209 Squadron RAF (formally 9 Naval Squadron RNAS until the RFC and RNAS merged into the RAF on 1 April 1918). commanded by Major С H Butler DSO & Bar, DSC, and equipped with Sopwith Camel fighters of the latest type, was ordered to Bertangles aerodrome on 7 April, as reinforcement for 22 Wing RAF. Butler had received his DSO & Bar fighting against German Gotha bombers raiding England in the summer of 1917, both awarded within a fortnight.

At the same time, the German High Command ordered von Richthofens Jagdgeschwader Nr. I to Сарру aerodrome on 12 April. Abbreviated to JGI it was better known to
the Allies as Richthofens Flying Circus, and comprised fourjastas, Nos 4,6. 10 and 11 .All were equipped with Fokker Triplanes, although they also had a few Albatros DVa machines. For some time Richthofen had been awaiting the arrival of the new Fokker DVI1 biplane, which he had test flown in Germany, but he was destined never to fly one in front line service.

On the same day that von Richthofen was killed the British captured a document which explained his presence on that part of the front. It read as follows:

‘From Kofi (Kommandeur de Flieger)

HQ. 2nd Army, to Commander JGI.

Strong enemy opposition is preventing flights west of the River Ancre.

I request that this air barrier be pushed back to permit reconnaissance flights as far as a line between Marceux and Puchevilliers.’

(The line mentioned was about 20 kilometres behind the front line.)

Von Richthofen, despite being Germany’s premier

CHAPTER ONE The Military SituationAustralian machine gunners take up positions near Vaux-sur-Somme, 30 March 1918.

fighter ace, having downed his 79th and 80th opponents on 20 April, was still only a Rittmeister, ie: cavalry captain. This was because his father, a former army officer now brought out of retirement for service during the present war, held the rank of major. In Germany a son could not hold a rank higher than a father on active service.

On the morning of 21 April, the two rostered anti-aircraft machine gunners of the 53rd Battery, Gunner Robert Buie and Gunner William James ‘Snowy’ Evans, had prepared their Lewis machine guns. Their position was just beyond the top on the north-western slope of the Morlancourt Ridge, at the north end of the line of the Battery guns; they were passing time by playing poker nearby.

The duty officer at the windmill FOP site was Lieutenant J J R Punch; his telegraphist was Gunner Fred Rhodes. The Sainte Colette FOP was occupied by Lieutenant Turner and his signaller Gunner Ernest Twycross RGA. Five other signallers. Privates Dalton, Elix, Harvey, Newell and Ridgway, were at work on the telephone lines in the Sainte Colette area.

In a short trench near the brickworks, an expert anti-aircraft machine-gun crew, Private Vincent Emery, a trained anti-aircraft gunner, and his helper Private Jack Jeffrey, had their Lewis gun prepared in case a daring German flyer tried a “strafe and run’ attack on the Corbie-Bray road. Private Jeffrey was also a well experienced infantry support machine gunner who had been decorated with the Distinguished Conduct Medal for bravery.

Lieutenant-Colonel J L Whitham was in charge of the 52nd Battalion stationed in the village of Vaux-sur-Somme from which position
he could easily see the Le Hamel church tower to the south-east and the ruins of the windmill to the north-east. The 51st Battalion, also under Whitham, was manning defences on the slope of the Morlancourt Ridge between Vaux and Sainte Colette. A platoon of this Battalion, under Lieutenant R A Wood, was working near the lip of the Ridge restoring an old trench, said to have been dug much earlier by the French, so as to have it ready for action when the renewed German attack came. This trench held a commanding view otVaux below. It would be perfect for directing the fire of the Battalion’s machine gunners who were dug-in on the slope ahead.

Sergeant Gavin Darbyshire was supervising a party of soldiers repairing pontoon bridges across the Somme canal. That morning they were repairing one situated behind a large farmhouse on the south bank, half a mile before the canal makes a sharp turn from west to south prior to reaching the town of Corbie. If Lieutenant Wood were to direct his binoculars down the slope to the south-west (his right) he would be able to watch them at work.

That morning too, at Bertangles airfield, north of Amiens, Captain Roy Browns mechanics attached two long coloured streamers to the elevators of his Sopwith Camel, B7270. He had been designated by the CO, Major Charles Henry Butler, to lead 209 Squadron on patrol that day. 209’s other flight commanders this morning, Captain Oliver LeBoutillier, an American, and Lieutenant Oliver Redgate, from Nottingham, England, a deputy flight leader, had a single streamer attached to the rear interplane strut on both sides of their machines. (The Squadron’s senior flight commander. Captain S T Edwards DSC’, a Canadian, was on leave in England.)

Some 35 kilometres due east of Bertangles, on the German airfield at Сарру. JGI’s commander, Manfred von Richthofen, elected to lead Jagdstafl’el (Jasta) 11 that morning. The displaced Staffelfiihrer, Leutnant Hans Weiss, (himself standing in for the brother of the Baron, Lothar von Richthofen, wounded on 13 March), would accompany him on the extreme right of the formation. A German account disagrees with the arrangement of the pilots between the two flights. This is explained in Appendix C>.

With the exception of Major Butler, all the above-mentioned persons would become involved in a chain reaction provoked when the morning cloud, mist and drizzle cleared sufficiently for both sides to send photographic reconnaissance aircraft aloft.

The Fatal Bullet’s Path

(Permanent and Temporary Bullet Path Cavities)

The term Permanent Cavity refers to the tissue that lay in the immediate path of the bullet. Basically, it is the bullet hole all the way from start to finish as found after the event. Once the skin has been penetrated, the diameter and shape of this

Below left and right: Male torso indicating entrance and exit points, and showing the axillary lines on the left.

Bottom: Permanent and Temporary Bullet Path Cavity.

cavity depend far more upon the shape and the metallic composition of the bullet which made it than upon its diameter; 0.45" or 0.303" for example.

After an initial penetration which can be anywhere between two and six inches, depending upon several factors, a Spitzer Mark VII 0.303" British army type rifle bullet begins to tumble. As the bullet transitions from the point-forwards attitude to side-forwards attitude, the ‘tunnel’ inside the body being bored by it will be progressively enlarged up to at least 1И” diameter

The Fatal Bullet’s PathThe Fatal Bullet’s Path

Подпись: 0 2 4 6 8 10 12 14 16 18 20 22 24 26 28 30 INCHES TRAVELLED



The Fatal Bullet’s PathThe Fatal Bullet’s Path

the bullet measures I X<th" from top to base). Any tbsue in its way is literally turned into pulp, which is why probing a wound on a corpse beyond four inches is not recommended. As the bullet continues changing attitude from side-forwards to base-forwards, the diameter of the permanent cavity (the correct name for what we have termed the ‘tunnel’) progressively decreases back to about (>.303" although the bullet may exit the body before this state is reached.

Top left: Diagram of deflected bullet’s path.

Below left: Diagram of non – deflected bullet’s path.

latter expands as the bullet passes along and thereby compresses the surrounding tissue. If said tissue is elastic in nature, it eventually returns, undamaged, to its original shape.

However, if the tissue surrounding the permanent cavity is hard in nature (such as the liver) and cannot absorb the compression, severe damage, generally of a permanent nature, occurs.

The Two
Possible Paths
Of The
Fatal Bullet

To avoid congesting the bullet path illustrations with lines, the temporary cavity is not shown. It is not difficult to imagine it as being there, and thus to comprehend the severe nature of the wound, straight or deflected, incurred by von Richthofen.

/. The permanent canity as might be caused by deflection from the front of the spine as suggested by Lieutenant Downs and confirmed by Colonel Sinclair and Colonel Nixon (See Chapter 13). then later re-confirmed by Colonel Barber. (See Chapter 14)

The bullet is depicted tumbling clockwise horizontally. It could just as easily have tumbled vertically or anti-clockwise in any combination. The effect would‘be roughly the same.

2. The permanent canity as might be caused by a straight through path as per Captain Graham’s opinion.

The bullet is depicted tumbling anti-clockwise The term Temporary Cavity refers to the tissue horizontally. Clockwise and/or vertical are equally surrounding the permanent cavity. The wall of the likely, and with similar effect.


(Written in 1962)

Many stories have been told regarding Baron von Richthofen’s last tight and his final defeat on the 21st April 1918. These accounts have mostly been compiled by persons other than combatants. They all differ so fundamentally it is safe to say they cannot all be true.

My story of Baron von Richthofen’s last battle has never been told publicly though I have had many requests to publish it. I could see no benefit by being involved in this ever-green controversy.

I believe the four Australian airmen from No.3 AFC, Lieutenants Garrett and Barrow in Number I machine, with Lieutenants Simpson and Banks in Number 2 machine, who fought von Richthofen that day, shot down the red triplane and drove down another triplane damaged. My story is supported by many precise and indisputable facts as set out in this document.

For some days before April 21. 1918, the Australians were warned that the Germans had massed their strongest air squadrons opposite our front with the intention of driving the British from the air in this sector.

About 10 am on the 21st. two RE8 machines from 3 Squadron AFC flown by the above officers set out on a mission to photograph the corps front, a routine performance every few weeks. The flight arrived in position about 10.20 and commenced photography with Number 2 machine (Simpson and Banks) towards the Germans and Number 1 machine (Garrett and Barrow) on the Australian side flying NQrth.

Some six photographs had been taken by each machine when we saw a close formation of about eight triplanes heading directly towards us. The observers, Barrow and Banks, signalled each other and manned their Lewis guns for an attack. As the Germans drew close two triplanes swept away from the formation as show in diagram ‘X’ below and one attacked each of our planes. The leader was a red triplane.

Both of our gunners were experienced at this type of fighting and the pilots knew their battle tactics. Each time a triplane tried to manoeuvre on to the tail of an RE8 our pilot turned his machine around and the procedures started all over again. Our machines kept together and protected each other.

This fight lasted about six to eight minutes while von Richthofen and his mate were always under fire. The fight was at short range and the airmen could see one another clearly.

Suddenly the red triplane turned over and fell away rapidly. Barrow and Banks then concentrated their fire on the remaining triplane. He took a bad battering and after splinters were seen to fly from his wings pulled out of the fight and dived for home.

This fight occurred a few minutes before the recorded time when von Richthofen crashed and was precisely above the pin-point on the military map where his plane landed. The mosaic diagram of photographs prepared in the mapping section of the Squadron clearly shows a gap in the sequence around the crash point. With the combat finished the two RE8 machines continued their photographic programme.

This was a wild day for Lieutenant Simpson and Banks. About half an hour later they were again confronted by a formation of some twelve Albatros planes flying at 7.000 feet. As this ‘armada’ approached Simpson and Banks, now separated from the other plane, assumed the big formation was a squadron of our own machines and flew over to take a photograph.

Their amazement was complete when suddenly they could see a mass of Maltese crosses and wildly gesticulating German airmen in the cockpits. Fight was out of the question as their ammunition was almost exhausted. Simpson put the RE8 into a steep dive and passed through the Germans so closely that their faces were clearly visible. The long dive continued for about 6,000 feet while the whole German formation broke and followed like hornets. The Australian machine was riddled and broken control wires streamed out behind but at 200 feet Simpson pulled out and hedge-hopped home.

The reports of these adventures were written and recorded by our four officers in the Squadron headquarters before it became known that von Richthofen had been shot down. The four officers were overwhelmed with congratulations by the commanding officer and staff officers of the Wing.

A party was sent from the Squadron to collect the body of the German airman and the remains of his plane. Both were placed under guard in one of our squadron hangers for a post mortem to determine the fatal wound. About 20 officers attended the final examination when Richthofens uniform was carefully cut from his body. The fatal bullet entered about 3 inches below and behind the right armpit. It pierced his lungs and emerged from the left chest about 4 inches below and in front of the left armpit. It was formally decided that this bullet was fired in aerial combat and could not have been fired from the ground as had been rumoured.

Von Richthofen’s pockets contained miscellaneous items including 5,000 French francs, letters and articles which might serve him in case of his capture. Many of the articles were commandeered by the officers present. While this court was in session souvenir hunters were busy stripping the triplane. My share was a piece of red fabric, a length of driving chain and a wire strainer. Over the years the red fabric has shrunk considerably and now measures only four inches by two.

A full military funeral was accorded our late enemy. His coffin was placed on a gun carriage and drawn to the military cemetery near Bertangles. Four Australian Flying Officers including myself were the pall-bearers

into the graveyard. The ceremony was most imposing and a mark of respect for a tough fighter. The cross |on the grave| was cut from the four-bladed propeller of an RES.

After the burial a request was received from the German Flying Corps seeking permission to drop a wreath on the grave. I understand that this was given and a wreath dropped, but I did not witness the event.

Authors’ Note

A German account of the fight with the RESs published on 23 April 191S in the Tiigliche Rundschau by war correspondent W Scheuermann, names the five pilots in the flight led by von Richthofen whilst Leutnant Richard Wenzl. in his book Richthofen Flicker places Leutnant Weiss as leader of the second flight. He was accompanied by Wenzl and two other un-named pilots. On this basis it might appear that one of the un­named pilots was Lieutenant Banks’s adversary, not von Richthofen. Banks may have failed to notice that the Triplane attacking him carried a pilot’s personal identification insignia or colour in addition to the red fabric. However, this is conjecture and it should be remembered that it was usual for the leader always to attack first; ie: Richthofen in this case. Richthofen and Weiss being leaders of both flights of Triplanes, were most likely to have been the attackers.

It was the German tactic that the leader would always attack first, supported and protected by his men. It is this tactic that is often overlooked and ignored by those who wish to denigrate Richthofen’s prowess by saying he always picked out a victim to attack whilst others covered him. That is exactly right and proved its worth, not only with Jasta 11 and JG1 but with every other Jasta, whose Statfelflihrer or flight leader made the initial attack. Only after this did the others break о if to engage other aircraft as the dog fight developed. This was nothing peculiar to the Germans, the RFC and RAF used much the same tactics after 1916, the leader generally controlling his pilots up to the initial clash and signalling the attack. Of course, there would always be the hot-head who would break off and attack on his own.

Lieutenant ‘Wop’ May’s Adventure

Lieutenant ‘Wop’ May’s Adventure

Looking south to Welcome Wood and the windmill from the Morlancourt Ridge; German shells exploding 12 April 1918. The 53rd Battery OP comprised three short trenches in front of the ruined base of the windmill.


Shortly before 11 am Allied time (German time was one hour ahead of Allied time at this period, ie: 1200 hours), on 21 April 1918, a field telephone rang in the HQ of the 53rd Australian Battery; Sergeant H E Hart answered. Gunner Fred Rhodes was on the line from the windmill FOP, watching the activity in and around Le Hamel. The duty officer. Lieutenant Punch, wished to advise the battery commander, Major Leslie Beavis, that two aeroplanes, a British one pursued by a German, had just passed his observation post and were heading west along the River Somme towards the 53rd Battery’s gun positions. The aircraft were living low-down in the thin mist and were just above the surface of the water.

As Oliver LeBoutillier later described it. even in perfect weather there were times when the Camel pilots flew home and kept themselves hidden from the Germans as they crossed the lines in the hilly Somme area, by simply flying low and using the mist as cover.

The distance between the FOP and the Battery being about ‘A miles (2 km), Major Beavis expected the aircraft to arrive in less than a minute. There was not much time to alert the Battery’s air defences which were two post – mounted Lewis guns under the orders of

Bombardier J S Secull. On this morning the company cook and assistant cook. Gunners Buie and Evans respectively, had been rostered for gun duty.

From the descriptions provided by three people, each one from a different location, it is possible to piece together what most probably occurred.

The two aeroplanes had approached the FOP from the direction of the village of Sailly-le-Sec and had been hidden from view until then by the trees of Welcome Wood and a bend in the river. Lieutenant Punch and the crew of the FOP, being on high ground and out of the mist, suddenly had a front seat view of the chase. The two aeroplanes resolved into a Sopwith Camel followed by a red Fokker Triplane. The observers watched them pass by and saw them enter the mist over Vaux-sur – Somme, re-appcar and then continue westwards towards the two Field Artillery Battery emplacements. Lieutenant Punch later said that the two aeroplanes had actually flown by him





Aerial shot of the windmill, with Welcome Wood just off to the right; the FOP trenches are clearly shown in front of the windmill.


Lieutenant ‘Wop’ May’s Adventure

Lieutenant ‘Wop’ May’s AdventureLieutenant ‘Wop’ May’s AdventureLieutenant ‘Wop’ May’s AdventureLieutenant ‘Wop’ May’s Adventure

Top: Looking south-east over the Somme River and canal, on 29 March 1918, with Sailly-le-Sec on the far left. Picture taken from approximately the spot of the FOP position in front of the windmill by Welcome Wood.

Above: View to the south-east from the windmill

FOP trenches taken in July 1996 (as would be seen through binoculars). Coming towards them from the background to the foreground the observers saw a Camel being chased by a German Triplane. Even in 1918 the foliage was plentiful alongside the river.

Lieutenant ‘Wop’ May’s Adventure

Above right: Australian 18-pounder gun in action.

JGI was brought into the area to help locate several batteries of these guns shelling the Hamel area prior to a new German offensive.

Right: Looking south today from in front of the Sainte Colette brickworks. Welcome Wood is off to the left and Vaux-sur-Somme is below the slope, out of sight. The lone tree, and scrub to the right, show the beginning of the slope down to the canal.

within pistol range. However, the mist overVaux prevented Punch from seeing a third Camel – Captain Brown – pass on the far side of that village on its way to intercept the red Triplane. The actual interception also took place outside their view, as did the turn made by May and von Richthofen by Vaux church. [Authors note: the authors have stood where Lieutenant Punch’s FOP used to be and looked east along the Ridge face. The view both to the left and the right of the canal is obstructed by trees and natural obstacles. It is only along a narrow path, straight ahead (and down), that the end of the valley can be seen in the distance. Any aeroplane that was not following that path would disappear from view from time to time. It is acknowledged that today the trees have grown, but in 1918 this area was not a devastated lunar-type landscape and the early spring foliage had started on nearby trees and saplings.)

Lieutenant-Colonel J L Whitham, in Vaux itself, had heard the noise of the air battle over Cerisy. Although he could not see any aeroplanes through the blanket of mist overhead.

confirmation of their presence had been coming for some time in the form of spent bullets fired in the fight dropping near him; in itself a dangerous situation, which did not lend itself to standing around gaping at the sky. Suddenly the loud engine noises typical of low-flying aircraft caught his attention and distracted some soldiers of his Battalion from their mid-day meal.

Those who did step outdoors to look up saw two aircraft approaching below the mist just above the surface of the mud fiats beside the canal. To avoid hitting the houses at the eastern edge of the village, the Camel took avoiding action and a wingtip came very close to grazing the tiles at the top of an ornamental gateway in front of one of them. Behind the Camel came a red Triplane equally low down and the two aeroplanes skimmed over the rooftops heading straight for the village church; from a distance its tower blended into the background. Just in time. May saw it and made a steep banking turn to the right, changing direction from west to north. The second aeroplane, the Fokker, which was not yet

Lieutenant ‘Wop’ May’s Adventure

Top left: Lieutenant Wilfred ‘Wop’ May, 209 Squadron RAF.

Top right: Sopwith Camel.

Above: Von Richthofen’s red Triplane 425/17.

(This photo has in the past been captioned as under guard after capture. Unfortunately the soldiers are obviously German.)

Above right: Leutnant Wolfram von Richthofen,

Jasta 11.

close enough for effective shooting and whose pilot, doubtless, had just had an equally unpleasant surprise, did likewise. Some soldiers who had their rifles handy tired a few rounds at it.

The Camel continued north for a few moments, its pilot seeing the Morlancourt Ridge ahead of him. He would not want to start a climb over the Ridge, thereby presenting his pursuer a good shot as he came onto the skyline. Therefore he turned left, towards Corbie, keeping the slope of the Ridge to his right, the canal to his left. The Camel pilot would then begin to see the bend in the canal, the Ridge curving round with

it. The Triplane followed the manoeuvre.

Although those on the ground obviously would have no idea as to the identity of the airmen, some of the more experienced might have hazarded a guess seeing an all red Triplanc. The Camel was piloted by Second Lieutenant Wilfred May and the Triplane by Baron Manfred von Richthofen. Lieutenant-Colonel Whitham did not see the third Sopwith Camel either, as it flew at high speed and gradually curved round above the mist behind him to his south on its way to intercept the German machine. In following the line of flight of the two aircraft that flew over Vaux, he would, of course, be looking north.

From his newly-prepared trench on the brow of Morlancourt Ridge at Sainte Colette, Lieutenant Wood had been watching the air battle high up over Cerisy and Sailly Laurctte. One aeroplane had dived down to the river somewhere between Sailly-le-Sec and Vaux. A second aeroplane had followed it. Both had now passed Vaux and were skimming the lakes and mud flats on the north side of the canal. He had

Lieutenant ‘Wop’ May’s AdventureManfred von Richthofen – the Red Baron.

also seen a third aeroplane, now known to have been that flown by Brown, dive out of the air fight high up over Cerisy disappear behind the mist over Vaux and then re-appear from the south-east heading towards the second aeroplane. There had been some machine-gun fire and the third one had continued flying west down the valley towards the 53rd and 55th Batteries. The details of Woods testimony are given later in this work.

Lieutenant May. who had his hands full with the difficult and dangerous task of ‘hedge­hopping’ with a tail wind, and a gusty, strong one at that, had to maintain a sharp look-out ahead. That he did not crash by touching the water with his wheels or brushing a tree with a wingtip is a tribute to his Advanced Training instructors. May’s intense concentration on things ahead
unfortunately prevented him from seeing Brown’s attempt to rescue him. Even if he had heard any firing, he would most probably have taken it to be from the Triplane behind. Therefore, instead of using his superior speed to escape whilst von Richthofen was distracted, he continued to zig­zag. At ground level a Fokker Triplane was about Ю to 15 mph slower than a new Bentley-engined Camel. This Triplane pilot was obviously well aware of that for he expertly followed the basic direction of the faster Camel and thereby gradually shortened the distance between them.

On their way down the valley, the two aeroplanes had to pass in front of the defensive positions which various machine-gun companies had dug into the sloping (south-facing) face of the Morlancourt Ridge. The surprise of the Vickers machine gunners was such that there ь no record of any having gone into action. One Vickers crew opened fire with their personal rifles as there was not enough time to fit a belt into the machine gun.

What appeared to be just another normal bend in the canal, suddenly developed into the sharp 90° turn of the river from due west to due south. Trees on this bend would mislead a pilot not expecting anything other than a ‘kink’ in the canal. Only as he entered it would he see the ‘kink’ as a much sharper turn. May was now suddenly confronted by the towering, steep slope of the Ridge face as it curved south with the river. He was faced in those split seconds with three options: turn sharply left (south, which led to German-held territory): climb over the crest directly in front of him; or misjudge either one and die in the crash. The strong tailwind made a short 45° straight climb safer than a steeply banked 90° turn to the left. The powerful Bentley engine could handle such a climb but the guns of the Triplane behind him were another factor not to be overlooked. Pilots who have flown a replica Bentley-engined Camel in recent years testify to the power of the aeroplane and its climbing ability at full throttle. May made his choice and hauled up over the Ridge.

The windmill FOP observers, who were by this time looking from behind (most probably through binoculars at this stage) and thus had little sense of forward motion, saw the Camel re­appear beyond the mist and then seem to stand on its tail and climb. The Triplane followed suit some way behind. The observers were surprised that the Triplane pilot did not shoot down this easy target. One later opined that at the time he had taken the German pilot as being a sporting fellow who

had given his adversary a chance. The truth was revealed later that day once the Triplanes guns were examined bv a weapons expert from 3 AFC’ Squadron.

It would appear that during the skirmish with the RE8s a short time earlier a cartridge with a faulty primer and a flimsy case had been fed into the breech block of the left-hand gun. The pilots efforts with the extractor mechanism to eject the cartridge had caused its case to split thus creating a jam that could not be cleared in the air. In armourers terminology it was a ‘number three stoppage*. At another time during that morning’s combat, a further disaster had occurred; the firing pin of the right-hand gun had fractured. (One of the authors has seen and held the lock from this actual breech block [see colour photo|, and if one shakes it one can hear the bit of the broken pin rattle.) This fault would still permit the gun to fire but only two or three rounds at a time. Automatic action would then cease and the firing mechanism would need to be re-cocked manually. With an expert marksman behind the gun. two or three shots would be sufficient, provided that he could get close enough to his quarry to make them tell. At the moment when such an easy target appeared in front of him, Richthofen probably had his mind occupied trying to handle an unexpected, dangerous, steep climb, avoid a mid-air collision and check that no-one was on his own tail – and all at the same time! (See Appendix I)

The machine gunners on the slope saw the Camel barely clear the tree-tops and half-turn to the right (north-west). It was still followed by the Triplane which, although slower, could climb much better.

The activities of the two aircraft had, one by one, attracted the attention of two German artillery observers, Leutnant Fabian and Leutnant Schonemann, and of a German infantry officer, Hauptmann A Roster. When the two aircraft crested the Ridge they came into clearer view and the German officers, quite independently, focused their telescopes on the scene.

Von Richthofen was also being watched from the air. Leutnant Hans Joachim Wolff (usually referred to as just Joachim Wolfi) had been watching the chase from well above until the all-too familiar rak-ak-ak sound caused him to turn and defend himself. During the time that he had spent in wondering what his commander, whom he had seen chasing the Camel, was up to, he had forgotten to pay regular attention to his own rear. Twenty bullet holes ripped through a wing as a penalty.(l)

Now that the two aircraft had crested the Ridge, the soldiers of the Nth Field Artillery Brigade, which was part of the 5th Divisional Artillery, had the best view of all. Soldiers from other units were also stationed in that area. Their purpose was to man the Heilly Sector strong point in the event of a German attempt to clear the path to the river by launching an attack on the forward defences. The strong point was actually a network of trenches which formed a reserve position about two miles behind the advanced positions where the fighting would begin. It had been carefully sited on the higher ground to the north-east of Sainte Colette where nature had provided a good natural defensive position against an attack from the south.

The Allied ground forces in that area totalled around 1,000 men, and most of them, from private to general, now had a grandstand view of the events as they unfolded. Not a single one of the several reports submitted that morning by members of the 5th Division mentioned the presence of a third aeroplane within their immediate limits of visibility. The next day, or even later, in response to specific questions, a few witnesses stated that they had seen another aeroplane (one even said aeroplanes), one mile or further away but had not mentioned it in their reports because it had not been involved in the action. By that is meant the part of the action which they had seen. From various locations specified for that aircraft, it is obvious that more than one had passed by in the distance around that time. It is quite likely that the aeroplane seen by some to the south and then later, by others, to the west over Corbie church was not the same one. Captain Brown does not seem likely to have been the pilot of the west-flying Camel as when he approached von Richthofen he was well below the line of sight. The probable occupant was Captain ‘Boots’ LeBoutillier.

When not actually firing, the 18-pounder guns of the 53rd Artillery Battery were hidden beneath camouflage nets. This procedure had been successful for. although the Germans knew that there was artillery on the far side of the Morlancourt Ridge, they did not know exactly where the guns were sited. A lucky chance view

(1) Wolff in fact was credited with a Camel shot down at 1150 am (German time) south of Hamelet. which was over the Allied side of the lines. It was the seventh of ten victories he would score before being killed in action on 10 May in combat with SE5s of 24 Squadron.

from a German observation aeroplane could alter that situation and the gunners were taking great care for their guns not to be seen. As the Camel and the Triplane made their half turns to the right and flew along the top of the Ridge towards the hidden gun positions down the slope beyond, Lieutenant-Colonel Fitzgerald and some members of the gun crews noticed the unusual shortness of the bursts of fire from the chasing German aircraft. More than two witnesses claim to have observed the German pilot moving forwards and backwards in his cockpit immediately before he fired each short burst. This body movement conforms to that required to cock a firing mechanism manually.

Hollywood film-makers would have us believe that guns on WW1 fighter aircraft needed always to be cocked before they could be fired. It looked dramatic but was not true to life. The only need to cock a machine gun manually was to fire the first bullet. The recoil action of the breech automatically re-cocked the gun for further firing. Von Richthofen was only doing it now because he had a gun problem and was not getting automatic re-cocking.

Adding to von Richthofens problems was the strong east wind blowing that morning which was causing a gusty up draught along the face of the Ridge. This created heavy turbulence at the crest which made it difficult for him to hold the Camel in his gun sights long enough for effective shooting at anything other than the point-blank range which the Baron was obviously seeking.

With the Fokker once more behind him and hearing the occasional Rak-ak-ak sound of bullets passing close by or even striking the fabric of his wings, Wop May must have expected the apparently inevitable shots to hit his back at any moment. Suddenly things became quiet and stayed quiet. It appears that a cartridge with a defective primer had this time been fed into the breech of the right-hand gun and it was now completely out of action. Von Richthofen at this point must have decided to desist and head for home. May later stated that after things had been quiet for a while he risked a look behind. It was a big risk, for to do so he had to turn his aircraft at least 30° to one side or the other. This would slow his speed down and at the same time increase the size of the target which he presented to his attacker. To his surprise and no doubt relief, the sky was clear. He could find no-one behind him or even near him.

For May to establish to his own satisfaction that there was indeed no Triplane on his tail, higher, lower, to his right or to his left, took at least ten seconds. To find an aeroplane in flight is not so easy as widely believed by armchair-pilots, even when it is known to be in the vicinity. Lieutenant May mentioned this in one of his articles on this day’s events. In Canadian Aviation, April 1944, he wrote:‘My experience was that it was very difficult to see an aircraft in the air.’ Human eyes have to focus on the distance before an object in line with them can be seen. If the sought aeroplane blends in with the landscape, many seconds may elapse before a relative motion against the background indicates its presence. (The reader who wishes proof of this is invited to study the dust jacket of this book from close up and then from a distance. May’s Camel blends into the background. This effect was not intentional. The first version of the painting had the Camel in its correct colour but it could hardly be seen against the vegetation – even by the authors who knew where to look. They had to request the artist to lighten its colour.)

May finally located the Triplane. It was far away to his right (east) near Sainte Colette and appeared to be out of control. Several interviews with May have been published over the years and in two he includes the detail that he saw the Fokker spin for one and a half turns followed by a cloud of dust when it slammed into the ground. Witnesses on the ground say that the Fokker made a quarter turn or a half turn as it slid along the rough surface of the field where the Sainte Colette artillery FOP was located. When seen from a distance in a slanting view, the height and the exact position of a low-flying aircraft are very difficult to judge, even for an expert. Analysing what happened, it appears that May caught sight of the Triplane as it spun around to the left at the end of its slide along the ground. Remember too. he was just getting used to the idea that he was no longer facing imminent death. From his position above and some way off he would have had the best view of the amount of turning to the left. One and a half turns are quite normal for a ‘ground loop’ and would indeed have raised a cloud of dust. May’s story matches reality.

One of May’s other accounts of this day’s actions includes more detail. He said that being hardly able to believe his own eyes, he flew over to Sainte Colette and confirmed that the Triplane had indeed crashed. He then turned and headed towards Bertangles looking around on his way for some explanation. As he neared Bonnay he spotted Captain Brown’s Camel above him. This has the ring of truth for he would not immediately have caught sight of an aircraft he did not know was around, but once spotted, the two streamers at the tail immediately identified it and its pilot.

The rotations (ground loop) of the Triplane on the ground and the formation of the cloud of dust took time too. Somewhere between 30 to 50 seconds total time must have elapsed between the beginning of the quiet period and the identification of Browns Camel above him. By then May was about a mile to the west of the Triplane’s crash-landing site. With most of those on the ground looking to the east or to the south, where, relative to their position, the Triplane had come to grief, it is not surprising that only two or three men reported seeing a Camel over Corbie church about one mile away to the west.

The experienced Captain Brown had a well- deserved reputation for looking after his men and Lieutenant May instantly concluded that, not very long ago and quite unseen by himself, his flight commander had been his saviour. A grateful May followed him back to their base at Bertangles aerodrome. Brown, May, Lieutenant Francis Mellersh and Lieutenant W J Mackenzie, were all logged as having landed at 1105 hours.

Historians were reminded (1995) by the late Ed Ferko in his booklet Richthofen, (Albatros Publications Ltd) that a German balloon observer, Joachim Matthias serving with Bullonzug 50, wrote an account in 1928 of the chase as he interpreted it from his lofty perch abut 15 kilometres away. In all essentials, it agrees with the foregoing.

Lieutenant May told his story several times with varying amounts of detail. It, logically, included pieces of the action which he had not personally witnessed but which had become familiar to him over the years. Considering his state of panic at the time, he did quite well in remembering as much as he did of his own part in the drama

unfolding around him.

Although Captain Brown clearly stated in his second Combats in the Air report that the location of his attack on the red Triplane was Vaux-sur-Somme, it has been assumed that this meant east of it; that is in the direction of German-held territory. This may also have been assumed due to the suggestion in many paintings that there was a chase along the canal, with Brown following the Triplane, which was following May. It also explains why some people say they saw the second Camel while others say there wasn’t one, due to the fact that everyone assumes they are all talking about the second Camel being to the rear of the other two machines heading down the canal.

Because the observers in the FOP near the old stone windmill east ofVaux did not see Brown’s attack, it has traditionally been believed as having occurred even further east – closer to Sailly-le – Sec than to Vaux, whereas it was further west.

With the traditional belief in mind, a comparison of May’s basic story with the terrain over which he flew and with the time factor involved has. until now, produced a puzzle. There seemed to be a gap in the narrative about a mile long and one minute wide between Captain Brown’s rescue attempt and von Richthofen’s cloud of dust.

John Coltman’s collection of replies to his enquiries produced the answer. Captain Brown did not err; he did indeed make his attack in the locality otVaux-sur-Somme, but it was to the west of it, low down, round the bend and out of sight of the machine gunners on the slope before the sharp southwards turn of the river by Corbie. There were several witnesses, and their stories will be told in a later chapter. The time factor correction has a positive effect on several other aspects of the story which until now have been a little cloudy, and will be revealed in due course.