The Wandering Wounds

Over the years, due to lack of concrete information, a good deal of emphasis has been placed on finding out the type of wound inflicted on the Baron by means of an attempt, based on the assumed time of his death, to reverse-calculate the exact time he was hit.

This was complicated by argument concerning the exact nature of the wound. The evidence collected by John Column, supple-inented by Gunner Twycross, has clarified the entire situation and definite times can now be given for both the wounding and the death.

So much attention, which can now be shown to be inaccurate, was previously placed on the wound, that it tended to cloud what actually happened. Therefore, in order to clarify this to the reader and historian, later chapters, which are based on more complete up-to-date knowledge both of ballistics and pathology, go into this quite deeply.

With rare exception, those who looked at the body in the cockpit, on the ground beside the Triplane or at any other time prior to the medical examinations, seem to have held to the first impressions which they initially adopted. It is said that those impressions last the longest, and this seems to be the case with the injuries to Manfred von Richthofen. This is clearly illustrated in the statements made by the major participants ten years (Brown), thirty years (May) and forty years (Buie) after the event. 209 Squadron pilots. Lieutenants Robert Foster and Francis Mellersh, who, although not major participants were closely associated with the events, have followed the same pattern in their official pronouncements.

The wide variations in opinion displayed by the participants as to the number, position and direction of the wound(s) have been used, in several instances, to give the impression that doubt still exists as to its (their) nature. This is not too difficult to achieve if the ‘information’ is gathered from books and articles published around 1930, and/or from later works which have used them for reference and therefore were unintentionally flawed from the outset. Who for example would have questioned Gibbons’ original book, or information still to be found at the Public Record Office at Kew, or even supplied by Air Ministry!

In September 1937, John Coltman received a letter from a former officer with the 150th Brigade Royal Field Artillery, G N Farquhar, stationed on the northern slope of the Morlancourt Ridge just to the south-east of Heilly. While it is not possible to fathom how much of the action he saw on 21 April, he does make a very interesting statement:

___ although at the time I had no

doubt whatever that I had seen Richthofen killed (from a distance of only about 150 yards) I have read so many and such conflicting reports of his death in the past nineteen years that I begin to wonder whether I really saw it happen.

Gunner Robert Buie, one of those who claimed to have shot down the Baron, was quoted in December 1959 by the magazine Cavalier as having written as follows:

Over the past forty-two years I have read some strange accounts of what was supposed to have taken place in the action, and each has been more fantastic than the preceding one. Some of those who looked at von Richthofen’s body before it was removed from the cockpit, saw no further than the large quantity of blood which appeared to have flowed from the mouth.

It appeared to them that van Richthofen had been shot front ally through the mouth. At some point the comment was added that the bullet had exited behind the left eye some said behind the right eye.

While the body was lying on the ground outside Major Beavis’s dug-out at 53rd Battery, several men looked at it. One was Gunner E A Bellingham of the 53rd. who wrote in November 1937 from his home in Victoria, Australia:

Just about sundown or a little later, they [the salvage party] came back with the plane and the body. He was laid down on the grass in front of the major’s dug-out. He seemed to have a good many bullets in him. There was a crowd of people there claiming to have brought him down.

When Major Beavis received the body in his dug-
out he at first accepted the head wound story but, after a more leisurely look, he later reported that same day:

The wounds in the pilot’s body were mainly in the chest and stomach. Apparently the first bursts of fire were effective. Both guns inflicted wounds on the pilot, in my opinion. If the enemy plane had not been turned off by our fire, it would have been able to drive down the British plane.

This did not explain the injuries to the abdomen which some claimed to have seen, so as the story in the report was passed on, it changed to: Von Richthofen had been hilled by bullets which entered throne’ll his left shoulder, passed downwards through his chest from left to right and exited through his abdomen.

An airman, R Schofield, on clerical duties at 22 Wing HQ in 1918, wrote to a London newspaper in the 1930s as follows:

I saw both ‘combat reports’ of the officer concerned, and only a medical examination of the body finally proved that the fatal shot was fired from above – through the shoulder and heart.

That is the basic theme of the beliefs expressed in later years by Captain Brown, Lieutenants Wilfred May, Francis Mcllersh and Robert Foster.

Some people seeing or hearing of the large wound in the left breast, which matched a close burst of Lewis gun fire, assumed an exit wound in von Richthofens back. The story then became: non Richthofen was hilled by a bullet which passed through his heart from front to bach. This version is the basic theme of the beliefs expressed in later years by Gunner Buie, Sergeant Popkin and Lieutenant Ellis.

A close-range shot from that direction would have pierced the body and made a hole in the back of the pilots seat. Such a hole was duly invented.

To some people the large lesion on the left breast looked suspiciously like the exit wound of a single bullet rather than one of multiple entry. On the understanding that the bullet had passed through von Richthofens heart, an entry point was required in the middle of his back which in turn required a bullet hole through the back of the seat. Such a hole had already been invented and so the tail now began to wag the dog:

First Air Mechanic Boxall-Chapman, and Captain Roderick Ross (who was Boxall-Chapman s CO in overall charge of Salvage Operations and who later inspected the Triplane at Poulainville) had earlier formed the opinion that a single bullet had entered the body, low down on its right side, had passed upwards and forwards through the chest and had exited behind the left shoulder. This story then seemed to disappear into oblivion. The simplest explanation of this, and therefore the most probable one, is that Boxall-Chapman was obviously wrong as no-one had claimed to have fired at the Fokker from that direction.

The following description of the wound(s) were publicly made by the major participants:

Gunner Robert Buie, Cavalier magazine, December 1959:

In the crash Richthofen’s face had been thrown against the gun butts and suffered minor injuries. Blood had come from his mouth which indicated at first glance that a fatal bullet had pierced a lung. According to the popular versions, death came from a single bullet which had entered his back and passed forward through the chest.

This is not true. Richthofen was struck in the LEFT BREAST. ABDOMEN and RIGHT KNEE! I examined these wounds as his body lay on a stretcher. His fur-lined boots were missing, as were his helmet and goggles and other personal effects, these having been taken by souvenir hunters before his body arrived at the battery.

He was wearing red silk pyjamas under his flying clothes.

The wounds were all frontal. Their entrances were small and clean and the exit points were slightly larger and irregular in the back. Later, Colonel Barber of the Australian Corps and Colonel Sinclair of the Fourth Army, both medical officers, made separate examinations of the body and their reports agreed that the fatal chest wound was frontal.

Authors’ note: It should be pointed out that Buie’s identification of the medical examiners is only partially correct, and that his information concerning their verdicts is totally wrong.

Подпись: There is a bullet hole in the seat back which proves that von Richthofen was killed by a bullet through the heart fired from behind.
Подпись: I saw at least three machine-gun bullet holes through his body; one in his ribs at the side and a couple through his chest.

Sergeant Cedric В Popkin. Official Report dated 24 April 1918:

Lieutenant A В Ellis (53rd Battery). Story from the Australian 5th Division, dated 1927:

Men hurried to the spot and found the body of their renowned and gallant enemy lying dead among the ruins of his Triplane. It bore frontal wounds on the knees, abdomen and chest.

Captain A R Brown DSC’, Ottawa Citizen, 2 December 1925:

Captain Brown said that the story published in German newspapers that Richthofen had landed safely behind the Canadian lines and had afterwards been shot by two men of the 149th Battalion was ‘absolute nonsense’.

There was an enquiry and it was found that the bullets had been fired from above. It was definitely established that Richthofen had been shot from the air.

One bullet entered the left shoulder, passed through the heart and came out through the abdomen.(D

1) Medically the abdomen means more than the front of the belly. It covers the sides and the rear.

Authors’ note: This fully agrees with Captain Browns 1920 description of his attack on von Richthofen. It should be noted that the path of the bullet, as described, requires the entry point to be considerably higher than the exit.

Ottawa Citizen, 5 February 1931:

In the Mount Royal Hotel last night Roy Brown was questioned about who had brought down the crack enemy airman. He answered: ‘I have no bones to pick with those who think they brought him down, they were quite right in believing they did. Their guns were on the ground and trained up at an angle. They saw him coming, they fired, and he fell.

But the autopsy revealed the bullets had hit from above and behind. The Royal Air Force recognised me as the man who brought him down. I was right on his tail at the time I shot. Therefore, either Richthofen was flying upside down and backwards, or else I brought him down.

Authors’ note: In this second interview Captain Brown confirms the direction of his attack as given on the plaque at the Canadian Military Institute, by implication, and that his earlier statement that the entry wound was in the left shoulder meant the rear of it. The expression ‘flying upside down and backwards” should be noted.

Lieutenant W R May. 7 lie Edmonton Journal, II January 1919:

The preface to an interview with Lieutenant May contains the following statement probably excerpted or paraphrased from his remarks on the encounter with Manfred von Richthofen. ‘A post mortem later revealed the fact that the Baron had met his fate by a bullet through the heart fired from above.’

The Edmonton Bulletin, 9 July 1919:

In about an hour we heard for sure that it was the Red Baron. He had been shot through the heart and instantly killed.

The bullet had entered his shoulder and went down through his heart thus establishing beyond a doubt that it came from above and was fired by Captain Brown.

The Canadian, which is published in Carleton Place, Ontario, where Captain Brown was born and lived, told its readers on 15 October 1936:

You no doubt know the remainder of this story – how the Australians and other people claimed he was shot down from the ground. However. Baron Richthofen’s body was examined, and it was found that the bullet passed through his shoulder and down through his heart. The bullet was fired from above, and could not have been fired from the ground. Captain Brown was officially given credit by the Royal Air Force.

Canadian Aviation, April 1944:

A short time ago we heard that the red tri-plane [pilot] was none other than Baron von Richthofen. His body was examined and it was found that one bullet had passed through his heart from his shoulder down, which proved conclusively that Roy shot him.

Richthofen would have to have been in a partial loop for the ground gunners to accomplish this feat.

Authors’ note: the expression in a partial loop means upside down. Captain Brown had also used that analogy as referred to above.

Lieutenant R M Foster. Memoirs, date unknown but around 1930 when he was a Squadron Leader RAF:

The doctor’s [sic] report showed that the bullet which had killed Richthofen had come from above and behind and so tallied with Brown’s account of his attack on the red Triplane. To support the Australian

claim, von Richthofen’s aircraft would have had to have been in an inverted position close to the ground, whereas it struck the earth at quite a slight angle and was by no means smashed to pieces. To us it was conclusive that the pilot had been killed in the air and that the aircraft had carried on in a shallow dive till 1t hit the ground. At any rate.

Brown was definitely awarded the kill.

Authors’ note: The expression itwerted position, meaning upside down has now appeared for the third time. The use of: ‘To us…..’ in the phrase ‘7o ns it was conclusive, etc. is of interest. Foster appears to be referring to some kind of a discussion with his colleagues at some time after the event.

Lieutenant F W J Mellersh, RAF Staff College. 1931, when he was a Squadron Leader RAF.

Doctors reported that Richthofen had been hit by two bullets, which had been fired from above and behind. They further said that in their opinion the shot could not have been fired from the ground.

Official Press Release, Australian HQ. France, 23 April 1918:

It was a dramatic end to a great fight. The German champion crashed smashing his machine to smithereens. Only one bullet was found in his body, and that had gone straight through the heart, entering on the left side.

Baroness Kunigunde Freifrau von Richthofen, Toronto Star, 6 July 1936:

On 5 July the baroness was interviewed in Toronto by R C Reade. During the conversation he mentioned, ‘a portion’ of the seat from her son’s triplane was nearby. The incorrect downgrading of the exhibit to a mere ‘portion’ destroyed any interest the Freifrau might have had. She merely commented: ‘The pieces which have been kept would make two aeroplanes. I should like to know [what happened] but I am afraid I shall never know.’

But, [Reade remarked] the evidence seems to be clear that the bullets entered the aeroplane from above. ‘But I have been told,’ said she. ‘that at the moment he was making what they call an Immelmann roll. He was upside down. So he could have been shot from the ground and appear still shot from above.’

The present authors refer the reader back to the 78 statement of G N Farquhar and R Buie on the first page of this chapter. If the Triplane was indeed ‘upside down’ when the ground gunners fired at it, not one of them, nor any witness, has ever mentioned it in any comment or statement.

As late as 1964, a major article in The Canadian, told its readers:

In the Royal Canadian Military Institute in Toronto, is the seat from Richthofen’s DR-1 [sic]: a bullet hole is 1n the back of the seat, slightly upward and to the right.

The Canadian, whose writer had obviously never seen the exhibit upon which he was expounding, elaborated a little on the theme as follows:

A controversy as to who brought down Von Richthofen began. The Australians claimed they did. with small arms fire from the trenches, but evidence decreed the fatal bullet was fired from an aircraft, since the shell [sic] struck the Baron from an upward angle to the rear and to the right – from where Captain Brown pressed the firing button.

With information, such as the above examples (to cite but a few) being given to the public over the years, in which Captain Brown’s own words above and left have been changed to below and right, it is no small wonder that there is indeed a controversy.

Further evidence of error is that Lieutenant May’s several writings show that he and von Richthofen were just skimming the surface of the water at that time, which would hardly leave height for Captain Brown to be below him.

The basic common factor in what the major aerial participants appear to believe is that the shot(s) came from above, behind and from the left, whilst the ground participants believe that they came from the front and the right. The exceptions are 1AM A A Boxall-Chapman, Lieutenant Warneford and Captain Ross of 3 Squadron AFC, who all saw the bullet hole in the starboard side at the front part of the fuselage. The curiosity is the repetition of the upside down analogy by 209 Squadron pilots.

The hint, by Lieutenant Foster, that some kind of discussion took place after the actual event and that a conclusion may have been reached, could be connected with the repeated use of the analogy upside down and the mention of a ‘board’ on the plaque made for the 1920 exhibition at the Canadian Military Institute.

The Wandering Wounds

Authors’ note

The fur overboots worn by von Richthofen on 21 April are now on display in the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. One of them contains a small area at the top edge where the fur is matted with dried blood. This would be at the wearer’s upper thigh height. The fur overboots appear to have had at least one previous owner, a British pilot, who claimed after the war to have been wearing them on the occasion von Richthofen shot him down.

Over the years it has been assumed that the fur boots were all that the Baron was wearing on his feet and legs but these were in fact over-boots which would be worn over his shoes. The actual shoes worn by him that day were taken by Corporal J A Porter, of 3 AFC Squadron, who even wore them in France, but after the war forwarded them to the Baroness.

An official of the Australian War Memorial who had noted the bloodstain made the unfortunately phrased statement that: ‘one boot bore evidence of the fight.’ His words were instantly interpreted as indicating the presence of a bullet hole and thus ‘new evidence’ was created. In 1972, Mr A J Sweeting, Acting Director of the AWM confirmed no such hole existed.

It is to the medical exam­inations and the type of bullet that hit von Richthofen that we must now turn our attention. So much has been written about the examinations in the past based upon partial information that a modern up-to-date analysis based on present day knowledge of ballistics and pathology is needed to present the information in a logical and understandable manner.


In the mid-1920s the author Floyd Gibbons began research for what became a famous book on the life of Manfred von Richthofen. His meticulous research in Germany produced Lite Red Knight of Germany which is possibly the best biography of the life of the Baron from the day he was born until the day before he was killed in action. At that point the confusion began.

Floyd Gibbons was faced with some strange stories. One was that the British had placed a bounty on the Baron’s head and that when he made a forced landing due to engine failure, two Canadian soldiers, whose persons and regiment were named, had murdered him to collect it. It is fortunate that names were specified as it became easy to prove that no such named soldiers existed. It was also discovered that the regiments were not stationed in the area either. Despite the proven fabrication, the story was resurrected in the early 1940s as a new discovery.

Another story which was quite widely believed, is related by the Barons mother in her book Mein Kreigstagebuch (My War Diary), published in 1937. The tale runs as follows:

In the 4th May /9/7 edition of the newspaper Vossisclte Zeitung it is reported that the British hare formed a squadron of volunteer fighter pilots whose purpose is to destroy the most successful German fighter pilot, Rittnieisier Freiherr non Richthofen. The flier who succeeds in downing or capturing him will receive the Victoria Cross, a promotion, the gift of a personal aeroplane, 5,000 pounds sterling and a special prize from the manufacturer of the aeroplane which he used on the occasion. It is also said that a cine-camera operator will fly with that squadron to film the entire event for the British Army Jilin archives.

The newspaper suggested the addition of some observation balloons to provide an aerial grandstand and commented that the Richthofen Fighter Wing would ensure that the performance took place in a most interesting manner. (I)

Her son also read the article and commented:‘This is a great honour for me. but I must honestly say that I am rather embarrassed about it.’ He added that he wondered what would happen if his first victim in such an air battle were to be the aeroplane which carried the cine-camera.

To anyone with even a little common sense and even a little knowledge of British military decorations, the mention of a Victoria Cross immediately indicates a fabricated story. The VC is awarded not so much for an achievement as for courage against overwhelming odds shown on a single occasion or a succession of actions above and beyond the call of duty. A surprisingly high proportion is conferred posthumously.

There were also stories which involved enemy aircraft. One described how the Baron had been shot down by two enemy aeroplanes piloted by Canadians which sneaked up behind him. In another story, one pilot cowardly shot him down as he was gliding in to land inside enemy territory after suffering an engine failure. There were others of this nature, most of which involved ‘Canadians’ and ‘engine failures’.

The following report published in a German newspaper eight days after the Baron’s death gave contrary information:

Berlin Tageblatt (evening edition)

Monday 29tli April I9IH. Volume 47, So.217
The Death of Baron von Richthofen

A German war correspondent has recently spread around a story that Freiherr von Richthofen did not fall in combat but that after having landed he mis killed by Australian soldiers. This report is false, for English statements and German observations confirm each other with regard to the circumstances of the death of Baron von Richthofen. These show that there can be no doubt that Richthofen was hit by a bullet from a ground-based machine gun whilst he mis pursuing an enemy aeroplane at a very low altitude.

On Thursday, 2nd May, 19IX, a grand ceremony in memory of Baron von Richthofen will be held in the Old Garrison Evangelical Lutheran Church (Garnisonkirclte) in Berlin. (I)

In an attempt to learn the truth Floyd Gibbons went to England and asked the Air Ministry for information from the records concerning the events of 21 April. He found that the records were sealed until 1969 under the ‘fifty year delay rule’ and than an exception would not be made for him. The sealing had considerable justification for the files, which the present authors have examined, include personal character evaluations, fitness for promotion assessments. and recommendations for transfer to less exciting duties. Many of them concerned war veterans who were still living. Sadly, also included amongst the files were letters of condolence from commanding officers to the family of a son who was missing, had been killed, or had died of wounds in hospital. If he had been trapped in a flaming aircraft at 10,000 feet or burned to death in a landing accident, it was never revealed to the family. The saddest letters of all are the replies from grieving mothers or father, praying for some glimmer of hope that a son may be a prisoner, and some of which refer to the inclusion of a cheque to cover their dead son’s mess bill and/or address to where his belongings should be sent.

The Air Ministry offered to arrange for someone to study the records and to provide Gibbons with the information requested, (see Appendix C) A typed form is to be found in the Public Record Office, Kew. London, England where it has been filed together with a Resume of an interview with Captain Brown, without

(I) Translation by Dr Diane M Bennett.

^:e or place specified, but said in the index of files to *jve taken place ten years after the death of the Baron, ri mever, the final sentence of the Resume indirectly – tes the interview evenly with the Sunmuiry. This •rduces the ten years to about eight. The Resume and •-.e Summary are to be found in File Air I – 2397/262/2.

The record of the interview is entitled Resume of the Military Career of Captain .-1 Roy Brown. In the Resume part, which in the main is perfectly accurate, there are some strange slips in familiarity with the Naval side of the British armed forces. It may be said, with a fair degree of certainty, that Roy Brown did not proof-read it. Indeed, from what can be reasonably ascertained today (1997). he was in Canada at that time. The first ‘slip’ instanced below suggests that the ‘interviewer’ was an American who was unfamiliar with British terminology. Below is the interview with ’slips’ noted in square brackets | |.

A Roy Brown, living in Toronto, joined the Royal Xavy as a Flight Sub-Lieutenant September /. 1915. At this time only civilian /trained/flyers were accepted and previously he had gone to Dayton, Ohio, to study aviation at the U’right Flying School; this at his own risk and expense. |A couple of strange statements here, in that the vast majority of men joining up would of course be civilians, and the inference is that had he trained as a pilot directly and not at Dayton, he would have encountered no ‘risks’. He would also have been made a Probationary Flight Sub-Lieutenant upon joining up, which is why, in the following paragraph mention is now made of his commissioning, for the Probationary rank did not hold a commission.]

After being accepted at Montreal, and commissioned. Brown sailed for England from XewYork in December of the same year.

11 liile in training for combat at Chingford, England, Brown crashed and broke a bone in his spine which kept him confined in a hospital until January o f 1917.

Then, as a Sub-Lieutenant of the Royal Xavy, he was assigned to land duty in Trance with Squadron 9 of the naval aviation corps, [this should have been, of course, the Royal Naval Air Service.) His unit patrolled the Belgian coast, escorted bombing raids, engaged in photographic and reconnaissance work, and offensive flights over the German lines as far south as the British area extended. |As a scouting squadron 9 Naval Squadrons duties, flying Sopwith Triplanes and then Camels, would ordinarily not include photographic and recce work, although they would have escorted two-seater aircraft that were engaged in such activities.)

From January 1917 to April I, 19IS, this work continued with Brown chalking up a large number of planes to his credit. He believes his official record is 15 German planes, but in company with many other pilots he did not report his victories, leaving that to other observers due to the habit, he said, of many aviators discrediting their work by telling too many tall stories. |This seems to be something of a myth that was created post-war, whereby many

high scoring pilots were supposed not to have made claims against enemy aircraft. Brown’s combat reports exist and as it was a positive requirement that pilots complete or at least dictate them, this at first glance appears to be something of a post-war journalistic statement in order not to show Brown, or anyone else, as a glorified scalp hunter. In fact Brown’s combat record indicates claims for three German aircraft destroyed and another six ‘out of control’ (ie not seen to crash), between 17 July 1917 and 12 April 19IK.)

However, his work was recognised by the award of the Distinguished Service Cross and promotion to the full rank of Flight Lieutenant, Royal Xavy, which ranked an army captain. I In fact it only ranked as a Full Lieutenant., one up from Second Lieutenant, which was the Flight Sub – Lieutenant rank equivalent.)

11 hen the naval fliers were consolidated with the Royal Flying Corps, into the Royal Air Forces /sic/, operating independently of either army or navy. Brown became a Flight Commander, with the rank of Captain |and now equivalent to an army Captain, not to be confused with a naval Captain which is the equivalent of an army Colonel. 9 Naval Squadron RNAS then became 2nlf Squadron RAF.|

He remembers few details of this period and has practically no records so refused to talk of his services. His succeeding history is recorded in the story of his victory over Richthofen. (This might well be pure modesty on his part, which is not unknown among airmen of any war, but especially Brown who was being constantly asked about his career following the Richthofen fight.]

An interesting point is that when the RFC! and RNAS merged, former RNAS personnel were not required to purchase new uniforms, for the RAF did not have one. Like most RFC! pilots joining or transferring from army regiments, it was far more expedient and cost effective to continue using their regiment uniforms over the left breast pockets of which they would have their wings or half-wings sewn. Only direct entrants would need to have the well-known ‘maternity’jackets of the RFC!.

Many former RNAS men would, as a matter of pride, make sure they continued to wear their dark blue naval uniforms, some right up till the Armistice, and RAF uniforms, perse, were not available until well after the war. It is worth noting that a careful examination of several photographs of Brown reveals that his jacket sleeves have the rings of a naval lieutenant around the cuffs. The point is made because of the assumed identity of the visiting pilot who was seen at the von Richthofen crash site.

In the Public Records Office, the Summary (also undated) is entitled Material on Brown for Gibbons’ Richthofen Story. A complete and verbatim transcript is to be found in Appendix C.

A point by point critique of the contents of the Material on Brown presented in the Summary would be to give it more attention than it deserves. Appendix C! contains a selection taken from the major errors which should suffice to prove that document is seriously flawed.

Gibbons also received at least two more documents:

1. A transcript, with one omission and a few inconsequential changes of arrangement, of the second Combats in the Air report written by Captain Brown and dated 21 April 1918. The omission, which was the description of the armament fitted to Captain Brown’s Camel, was to cause embarrassment for Gibbons when the first edition of his book was published.

2. Some information assembled from the first two medical examinations which stated that there had been only one bullet, defined its path as being from right to left and affirmed that it could only have been fired from the air.

The Sum шагу gave the direction of Browns attack as from above and behind. The Anonymous Account did not mention it. In the serialized version (about 25 parts) published in Liberty magazine starting around June 1927, Gibbons used the Summary’s version of Browns dive on von Richthofen but corrected the machine-gun error. (The Summary described Lewis guns whereas Browns Camel had Vickers.)

It was not the only time Gibbons took the preferred route, nor was he above ‘correcting* documents to substantiate his conclusions. Take for instance his account of von Richthofens combat of 29 April 1917. It was unfortunate that the Baron did not record the type of machine he shot down (victory 52) only that he had been in combat with Nieuports, Spads and Triplanes. As, presumably, he could find no Triplane loss but had a very fine Nieuport pilot (Captain F L Barwell) being shot down that day, he ‘corrected’ the translation of von Richthofens combat report to read: ‘Plane: Nieuport one-seater, no details, as plane burned’, adding the – ‘Nieuport one-seater..’ in front of Richthofen’s: ‘No details….’

He then went on to ignore Richthofen’s comment about shooting the British aircraft down after a short time, knowing full well that the report on Barwell’s loss, showed the combat had lasted half an hour. He even ignored the fact that the German Nachrichtenblatt clearly identified the victory as a Sopwith Driedekker, for a Sopwith Triplane it indeed was, from 8 Naval Squadron. Bearing this sort of alteration in mind, one has to be very careful about other things Gibbons may have recorded as being ‘official’. In other words, while Gibbons was occasionally misled, he also misled his readers.

Gibbons’ next step has served to bedevil researchers for the next 60 years. The medical information regarding the direction of the bullet (right to left) was in conflict with the Summary which stated left to right. Gibbons did not know that Captain Brown, who surely was aware of his own actions, had stated that he had been on the left hand side of the Triplane when he opened fire. Gibbons therefore chose to prefer the medical examination version, which was not unreasonable under the circumstances.

In the book form, first published in November 1927, in order to match Brown’s attack to the true direction of the wound, he added, not as an opinion, but as a statement of fact, the word ‘right’. He wrote as follows:

Bur Brown had arrived at the end of his dive. He came out of it slightly above and to the right of the darting Fokker.

He watched the tracer bullets going to the red Triplane from the right side. They hit the tail first. A slight pull on the stich – a fractional elevation of the Camel’s nose, and the Canadians line of fire started to tuch a seam up the body of the Fokker.

Brown saw his tracers penetrate the side of the Fokker’s cockpit.

It is worth noting that the two phrases:‘A slight pull on the stick – a fractional elevation of the Camel’s nose…’are taken word for word from the 5’іні//ниг)They will re-appear. paraphrased, in My Fight with Richthofen (see Appendix E), viz.:‘Very gently I pulled on the stick. The nose of the Camel rose ever so slightly. The stream of bullets tore along the body of the all-red tripe.’

The ‘slight elevation of fire’ business actually originated from the Anonymous Account, which tells the reader:

‘His first bullets ripped through the fuselage of the enemy plane. We saw him elevate his fire slightly.’

If the Anonymous Account, the Summary. The Red Knight of Germany, and My Fight with Richthofen, are carefully compared in that order, it will be seen that in many areas each one is an amplified re-write of its predecessor. Even Quentin Reynolds, author of They Fought for the Sky (Cassell & Co, 1958 – and incidentally the book credited with starting the whole new wave of post – WW2 interest in WWI) was taken in. Basically speaking, the fact that the two major works of the late 1920s are in agreement on many points which were later disputed by Titler and Carisella, means nothing historically. If a dozen writers state that Wilfred May came from Melbourne. Australia, it proves nothing if each one has used the same flawed source.

And of course, journalistic licence only adds to the confusion: eg:‘…watched the tracer bullets going to the red Triplane line of fire started to tuck a seam up the body of the Fokker.* “.. saw his tracers penetrate the side of the ..cockpit.’This is what the layman ‘sees’ in his mind’s eye, the dramatic, rather than the historic. Hollywood’s air aces always stitch a close line of bullet holes in the target, so this is what must occur in real life!



on Richthofen was tar from a natural born pilot but he learned rapidly and became highly proficient. Over the years many people have tried to present him as a man who could not nave achieved his 80 recorded victories without the support of his Jasta pilots, two of whom were upposedly detailed specifically to protect his tail while he made the kills. Also that he took credit for other pilots’ claims or took a share in kills credited to the Jasta or Jagdgeschwader. This is fir from the truth; such a man would not have been held in such high esteem by his men who would certainly have not celebrated his memory for many years after WW1 at the annual gathering of ‘The Old Eagles’. Certainly he flew at the head of his unit and it was his job to make the first attack, but this was the German system, this is how the fighting units acted, it was nothing specially attributed to von Richthofen’s personal way of doing things. He achieved his remarkable score in just 18 months of front line combat duty by pure ability and shooting expertise.

In the years between 1918 and 1997 there have been numerous attempts to resolve the contra­dictions, both apparent and real, concerning events that occurred on 21 April 1918: namely, the day that Rittmeister Manfred Freiherr von Richthofen was killed in action.

In the late 1920s, Floyd Gibbons, an American journalist, wrote what is still justly believed by many historians to be the best biography of the German air. ace yet published, The Red Knight of Germany. To describe the events surrounding the death of the Baron he used information which was provided to him through ‘official channels’ (mostly Air Ministry in London) and which, by no fault of his own. he accepted in good faith.

He found that under the 50-year rule, records were sealed until 1969. The sealing had considerable justification for the files, which the present authors have examined, include personal character evaluations and so on. Air Ministry offered to arrange for someone to study the records and to provide Gibbons with a summary of the information requested. The information that he subsequently received unfortunately contained many serious errors. It is to be found at the Public Records Office. Kew, London, where it has been filed together with a resume of an interview with Captain Roy Brown some years

later, (see Appendix D)

Prior to Gibbons’ book being published it was serialised in the American magazine Liberty. His descriptions of the events of 21-22 April, in both the serial and the book, were, therefore, based upon flawed information. However, in some of the subsequent reprints of the book, a few of the errors were corrected, although one or two then introduced further errors. It appears that rather than consult the Air Ministry. Gibbons would have done much better to have travelled to Canada and interviewed Brown himself.

In short, Gibbons’ honest, best efforts were seriously flawed from the outset and had a ‘snowball effect’ as a Liberty copywriter would later insert many of the flaws into his dramatisation of Brown’s wartime service recollections which were published under the title My Fight with Richthofen in November 1927. By chance, an anonymous description of the air battle on 21 April 1918 was making the rounds at the time. It had more flaws in it than facts but read convincingly and phrases from it, which are recognisable, were also inserted. Doubtless this copywriter was doing his best to make the story interesting by filling in details which Brown had ‘apparently’ omitted. (See Appendix B)

The reader, furthermore, was led to believe that Brown himself had dictated every word. However, many years later the magazine editor admitted that the text had been ‘heavily edited’ prior to publication. (See Appendix E)

Following the diffusion around the world of the two stories, letters from participants and witnesses of the actual event began to reach magazines and newspapers. These called attention to serious omissions and alleged the inclusion of pure invention in both stories. Into the latter case fell the description, one given in great detail, of the roles played by two of 209 Squadron personnel, Major С H Butler (who did not lead his unit in the air that day), and Lieutenant FWJ Mellersh, who had landed and was at Bertangles aerodrome at the time he was supposed to have been seen at the crash site.

People in many countries took an interest in the matter but unfortunately some newspapers, even as far away as Australia (who in any event knew some of their Anzac readers would have a vested interest), saw that the creation of a ‘controversy’ would increase circulation. In one known case, a key letter which would have settled one aspect once and tor all. was, for that very reason, not published! On a private level, some people began corresponding with surviving participants and eye-witnesses. However, with the coming of WW2 interest understandably declined. The letters disappeared into filing cabinets and in many cases were later thrown away upon the death of the correspondent.

In recent years one such collection from the 1930s came to light in England and by a chain of lucky circumstances it was sent to the present authors for study. The collection has great importance as memories at that period had only to go back some 20 years and personal recollections were less likely to have unintentionally been influenced by the statements and writings of others post WW2. In addition the collection of information gathered over several decades by the late Bill Evans, who lived in Cleveland, Ohio until his death in 1996, also had interesting items in it.

The first collection, circa 1937-39, was assembled by a young man, John Column, who as an RAF navigator in WW2 was to die in action over Germany in 1942. His approach was to advertise in newspapers asking for people to write to him. One of those who replied, provided a definite location for Brown’s aerial attack on the Baron. What was interesting about this collection was that the majority of contributors were not the same as those contacted by later authors such as Carisella and Titler.

Some time after WW2 three Americans took a similar interest and approach. After years of research, the late Pasquale (Bat) Carisella published П7/С Killed the Red Baron in 1969 and Dale Titler published The Day the Red Baron Died in 1970. The third author, Charles Donald, published several articles but no book. All three managed to contact participants and witnesses. The copious correspondence which followed tilled filing cabinets with letters, and boxes with audio tapes. Donald and Carisella also achieved collections of artefacts ranging from the silk scarf, goggles and belt worn by von Richthofen at the time of his death, to pieces of Fokker Dr. I Triplane 425/17, factory serial number 2009, which he was flying. Pat Carisella’s efforts included a journey to the field where the Baron’s life ended and to the cemetery where he was first buried. He was even invited to the 50th Anniversary of ‘The Old Eagles’; the surviving members of Jagdgeschwader Nr. l. known to the British by the nickname—‘The Flying Circus’.

The origin of the name Flying Circus was that the unit’s function was one of being able to move en-masse to various sectors behind the front in order to bring a large number of aeroplanes to support offensive or defensive actions. Reference has also been made to the aircraft colour schemes, but this is secondary to the main reason for the name.

To the present authors a most interesting point is the large number of witnesses who came forward or who were located and agreed to participate. Combining the five above-cited cases, the total is around 250, and the overlap, especially of Columns 1930s people, is quite small. The size of the various units of the British Fourth Army, commanded by General Sir Henry Rawlinson, which were stationed along the Morlancourt Ridge, on the Somme, is a matter of record. From this it can be adduced that the English and Australian soldiers, from private to general, who witnessed either some or the greater part of the action which culminated in the tall of the Baron, numbered approximately 1,000. This means that close to one quarter of the witnesses can be shown to have testified in private enquiries of which a record still remains.

For any one person standing on the ground to have followed the entire sequence of events without a gap of some sort was impossible. Wherever any observer stood, some part of the action was hidden from his particular view by cloud, mist or some geographical feature such as a forest and the Ridge itself. Probably the best overall view was obtained by one of Captain Brown’s colleague flight commanders who watched the entire aerial action from above. A full account is provided in DaleTitler’s book.

From the German side, three artillery observers and two fighter pilots from von Richthofen’s staff’d also saw significant parts of the fight. The new information obtained by the present authors confirms a statement made by one of the pilots which until now had not been given much credence.

The four private enquiries mentioned above concentrated on testimony from England, Germany, Australia and the USA. Another source, Canada, although occasionally mentioned, was not explored. The Canadian evidence was brought to our attention by Frank McGuire, a former historian at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa. He kindly provided a number of Canadian newspaper clippings on Captain Brown. These revealed that about one year after Roy Brown had returned to Canada he officially inaugurated a

Richthofen exhibition in a military club in Toronto (which is still on display), and that for some time afterwards wherever he travelled on business he was greeted by the local press which rarely failed to enquire about his celebrated victory over Germany’s top ranking air ace. Roy Brown’s words were thereby recorded for posterity many times over and, when taken together with the text of the plaque which graced the exhibition, provide evidence which is ‘old’ by the calendar, but ‘new’ to most of the public, and of enlightening content.

An unintended off-shoot of checking the new information against old documents was the revelation of what appears to be the key to the puzzle as to why Roy Brown wrote TWO Combats in the Air reports, both dated 21 April 1918.

Using 1918 army maps and the new information, the present authors, one of whom has fifty years experience as an aircraft pilot, made a high level and a low level flight following the path down the River Somme taken by Lieutenant W R May as he was being chased by the Baron. The ground speed of the low level flight was the same as that of its 1918 predecessor. From this exercise the authors believe that they may have stumbled across the explanation of how the Baton came to violate his own strict rules against flying low down over enemy territory. During low level flying a pilot can easily lose track of his exact position and confuse one spot with another, or in the case of von Richthofen on the day in question, one partly demolished village and bend in a river with another.

The author-pilot also held long conversations with two people who have built and flown replica

Fokker Dr. I Triplanes. One of them was exact to the point of having a 110 hp LeRhone rotary engine and was flown about thirty times each year for several years by the late Cole Palen of New York. The flight characteristics of these aircraft, he learned, are considerably different from those which both he and the general public had been led to believe. The differences contribute to the misrepresentation of some of the eye-witness evidence. By design intent the Fokker Triplane did not have inherent stability. This made it extremely manoeuvrable in combat as it did not resist sudden changes of attitude desired by the pilot. The most obvious indication of this feature is the complete absence of wing dihedral. The disadvantage was that the Triplane would not automatically recover from any upset caused by strong wind or turbulence; the pilot had to restore it to level flight. This made the aircraft appear to be unsteady when flying through zones of turbulence. However, it was not a difficult aeroplane to fly, or land, provided that it was landed directly into the wind.

The following photographs serve to demonstrate how old information may not necessarily be well-known or even believed. The subjects are still in place today and may be seen by anyone who cares to do so. Two of them have been there for over 70 years and their condition bears heavily upon a correct understanding of the manner of the Baron’s death. The reader is recommended to make a most careful examination of the photographs of the seat and the engine.

Right: The aluminium seat from von Richthofen’s Fokker Triplane, on display at the RCMI, Toronto.

Below: The rear view of the line of ‘bullet holes’ in the seat – in reality the rivet holes which held the seat in place.




Above: The Le Rhone engine from von Richthofen’s Triplane 425/17. It was obviously not rotating at the time of impact.

INTRODUCTIONRight: Despite several references to the contrary, Manfred von Richthofen is buried in Wiesbaden Municipal Cemetery, in a family plot together with his brother Boiko, his sister Elisabeth and her husband. There is also a memoriam plaque to brother Lothar, who is buried at Schweidnitz together with their father. In the photo Madame Niedermeyer places a flower on Manfred’s headstone.

The Aftermath

Gibbons’ work. The Red Knight of Germany, has been published in more than twenty editions over the years and was serialised again, this time in the Chicago Tribune. The flawed information was continually recycled.

In different editions of the serialisation and/or the book, some of the errors instanced above were corrected. The case of Gibbons not having information or proper knowledge on the type of armament fitted to

Captain Browns Sopwith Camel caused him much grief. The Liberty serialized version said:*., his last belt of ammunition was in place.’ This suggested it was something Brown had fitted prior to his last attack. Unfortunately the Vickers machine-gun belts on a Sopwith Camel could only be changed on the ground, and even worse, two men were required to perform the operation. The book form circumvented the belt problem by going back to the Summary and staring: his

last drum of ammunition was in place’ and thereby unwittingly introduced further error. Drums were fitted on Lewis guns, not Vickers.

A similar case occurred when Gibbons tried to correct the erroneous information that Captain Brown organised the removal of von Richthofen’s body from the red Triplane. Gibbons nominated Lieutenant Mellersh in Brown’s place, which was also incorrect. He was right in so far as it was an airman, but it was actually Lieutenant Warneford of 3 AFC Squadron.

It appears that rather than consult the Air Ministry in London, Gibbons would have done much better to have travelled to Canada and to have interviewed Roy Brown, always assuming he had not already tried and been rebuffed. Incidentally, Roy is his correct name, not Royal as has sometimes been stated.

In short, Floyd Gibbons honest, best efforts were seriously flawed due to no fault of his own. Who, in his situation, would entertain doubts as to the veracity and completeness of information provided by the Air Ministry. It would never have crossed his mind that it had been selected so as to provide a specific conclusion and that any evidence to the contrary had been down­played or totally omitted.

There is also some irony too that Gibbons, as well as adding a few ‘facts’ to fit his researches, sometimes missed an important point. When he was writing his book he enquired of Air Ministry about a certain Sergeant McCudden, and was he the man known later as Captain James McCudden VC? They confirmed this to be so and in hindsight it appears that Gibbons had stumbled upon the possibility that Sergeant McCudden had possibly been the Baron’s opponent on 27 December 1916. With the limited information available to Gibbons in the 1920s he could not take the premise further and so missed the vital clues that showed that McCudden was indeed his 15th ‘victory’, although in this particular case it was one that got away.

Gibbons’ legacy to mankind is that from 1928 onwards most drawings and paintings show Brown attacking from the right, and this has become the popular belief or misconception. Other artists have placed all three aircraft in a line astern chase situation along the Somme canal, May-von Richthofen-Brown, which is equally incorrect.

For historical purposes both the Summary and the chapters in The Red Knight of Germany which cover the death of the Baron have no value whatsoever. They may be said to contribute negatively to a proper under­standing of what happened on those two fateful days in April 1918.


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!