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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER ONE The Military Situation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER ONE The Military Situation
CHAPTER ONE The Military Situation


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘From Kofi (Kommandeur de Flieger)

HQ. 2nd Army, to Commander JGI.

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

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

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

Von Richthofen, despite being Germany’s premier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Fatal Bullet’s Path

(Permanent and Temporary Bullet Path Cavities)

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

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

Bottom: Permanent and Temporary Bullet Path Cavity.

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

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

The Fatal Bullet’s PathThe Fatal Bullet’s Path

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



The Fatal Bullet’s PathThe Fatal Bullet’s Path

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

Top left: Diagram of deflected bullet’s path.

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

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

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

The Two
Possible Paths
Of The
Fatal Bullet

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

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

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

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

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


(Written in 1962)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Authors’ Note

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

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

Lieutenant ‘Wop’ May’s Adventure

Lieutenant ‘Wop’ May’s Adventure

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


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

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

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

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

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

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





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


Lieutenant ‘Wop’ May’s Adventure

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

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

Above: View to the south-east from the windmill

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

Lieutenant ‘Wop’ May’s Adventure

Above right: Australian 18-pounder gun in action.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lieutenant ‘Wop’ May’s Adventure

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

Top right: Sopwith Camel.

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

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

Above right: Leutnant Wolfram von Richthofen,

Jasta 11.

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

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

it. The Triplane followed the manoeuvre.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

unfolding around him.

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

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

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

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

The Second Medical Examination

(The Official One)

On the morning of Monday 22 April. Colonel Thomas Sinclair, Consulting Surgeon, and Colonel John A Nixon (not Dixon, as sometimes recorded). Consulting Physician, both of the Army Medical Services and accredited to the British Fourth Army, arrived at Poulainville aerodrome.

From a letter (quoted later in this chapter) it is clear that, similar to Lieutenant Downs and Captain Graham, they had been briefed on the circumstances of the three claims; that is type of weapon, number of rounds fired, angle of fire, and the presence of just one bullet hole in the fuselage of the Triplane and the fact that it was in the right-hand side at the front end by the cockpit. Like their predecessors, they were both unaware that the fatal bullet had been found, and more important, where it had been found.

Before proceeding with the description of the Official Medical Examination, two explanations of the terminology used therein are required.

1. Rifle Bullet

0.303" Mark VII with Spitzer-shape nose and cylindrical body. Standard British Army issue in WW1 and WW2. Used in Lee-Enfield rifles, Vickers machine guns and Lewis machine guns.

Six other types of Spitzer-shape bullets were used in WW1; three examples are tracer, incendiary and armour piercing. The other three types were for use against balloons and airships. Each one of the seven inflicted its own distinctive variety of wound upon the human body.

Ground-based machine guns fired a mixture of rifle bullets and tracer bullets in ratios varying between 4:1 and 10:1 as per the gunners preference. Aircraft machine guns were loaded with rifle bullets interspersed with tracer and other types, depending upon the intended purpose. The ratio used reflected the individual pilots preference.

The characteristics of a wound, when matched against the types of bullets loaded into different weapons firing simultaneously at a target, can sometimes indicate which one was responsible for it.

2. Axillary Lines

The word axilla means armpit. Basically, when a person is standing in the military attention position, the front of the arm will agree with the anterior axillary line down the trunk and the rear of the arm with the posterior axillary line. In medical terminology these are definite linear positions on a human body. For example: the intersection of the eighth rib and the anterior axillary line is an exact (or pinpoint) location, not an approximate one.

The two Colonels also noticed something about one or both of the wounds which hinted that the bullet had followed a ‘dog-leg’ path from entrance to exit. Again, no indication remains of what they saw but. unlike their predecessors, they took their impression seriously and decided to investigate it.

There is a difference of recollection among the orderlies who were present as to whether Colonel Sinclair (the surgeon) used a medical instrument or a piece of fencing wire, which he found nearby, to probe the wounds in order to establish the path of the bullet. It certainly was not a piece of barbed wire as has sometimes been written (see Chapter 14) that would be absolutely useless for the purpose. Probing will not establish a precise direction and therefore its result is not accepted, for instance, in a judicial court. However, it will often give a general direction which may well serve the purpose of the occasion.

The present authors have been advised that where a Spitzer-type rifle bullet is involved, provided that it still has its pointed nose undamaged and facing forward when it strikes flesh, and has not started to tumble, the first inches of penetration w ill be quite likely to provide an acceptable indication of the angle at which it struck the body. After tumbling has begun, probing becomes meaningless. To evaluate damage, or lack of it. to internal organs, the body must be surgically opened. In this case it appears that a general direction, which agreed with their original suspicions, was established to the satisfaction of the examiners. They proceeded no further.

Colonel Sinclair and Colonel Nixons report, dated 22 April 1918, was as follows:

We have made a surface examination of the

body of Captain Baron von Richthofen and

find that there are only the entrance and

exit wounds of one rifle bullet on the trunk. The entrance wound is on the right side about the level of the ninth rib, which is fractured, just in front of the posterior axillary line. The bullet appears to have passed obliquely backwards through the chest striking the spinal column, from which it glanced in a forward direction and issued on the left side of the chest at a level about two inches higher than its entrance on the right and about in the anterior axillary line.

There was also a compound fracture of the lower jaw on the left side, apparently not caused by a missile – also some minor bruises on the head and face. The body was not opened – these facts were ascertained by probing the surface wounds.

Authors’ Xote.

Careful, leisurely measurements made on a male body of’ equivalent build to Manfred von Richthofen have revealed that the difference in height between the two wounds, which the – olonels estimated at ‘about two inches’, would ctually have been on the high side of two, not the low side.

The colonels learned from the examination that only one bullet had struck the deceased, that it was of the rifle-type, (so it could have been fired by any >ne of the three claimants) and that whilst inside the body, it seemed to have been deflected by about 30 degrees. Knowing that only one bullet hole had been found in the side of the fuselage of the Triplane ind that its location agreed with the position and direction of the entrance wound, they decided that not just one, but all three of the claimants were disqualified. This left the verdict wide open and gives the lie to allegations that their report was slanted against Brown. A long stretch of imagination is required to declare an ‘open verdict’ as biased.

The Colonels’ report in effect disqualified all three candidates as each claimed that he had inflicted many hits from his machine gun(s) fired from 50 to 350 yards range and from a specific direction, but none of them had claimed to have tired from anywhere near the right hand side ‘roughly in the plane of the long axis’ (to borrow a phrase from Graham and Downs).

The twin Vickers machine guns mounted above the vibrating engine of Brown’s Sopwith Camel would, at all times, give a cone-shaped pattern of tire, hence the need to get close in order to hit a target. At 300 yards range, and further, the spread would be rather wide and a hit with a single bullet was actually more likely than with half a dozen. This was a strong point in his favour. Unfortunately there was the matter of the bullet hole in the front end of the right-hand side of the fuselage. Its alignment with the entrance wound indicated that von Richthofen’s trunk had not been twisted round to his right when the bullet struck him; he had been sitting straight, or close to it, in the cockpit. The bullet which struck him could not have been fired from ‘above, behind and from the [Triplanes] left rear’ as per Brown’s claim.

The bullet had approached the Triplane from slightly below and from slightly in front on its right-hand side. Its point of origin could only be determined exactly if. at the time it struck, the precise attitude and direction of the Triplane in the air were known. At this stage, that aspect had received little, if any, attention. The field was now open to claims from anybody who had fired a rifle – type bullet from anywhere between 400 and 800 yards range towards the right-hand side of the Triplane. In truth, the finding of the bullet inside the Baron’s clothing indicated that the shot had most likely come from a distance of 600 to 1,000 yards, but because Corporal McCarty had kept the finding of the bullet to himself, it did not come into the equation. So today we can state it was NOT a short range shot.

The two colonels’ report differed markedly in style from the first one in that the position of the entry wound and of the exit wound were given in anatomical terms and therefore, both medically and forensically, defined exact locations. However, their examination did not mention bullet wounds in the knees and legs which some still believed to be present. This has been held against the completeness of their report despite the most probable cause of the apparent omission being that the injuries in question had not been caused by bullets – or caused at all! Most of the stories of the supposed chest and leg injuries seem to have stemmed from initial viewing by troops at the scene of the large amount of blood discharged from Richthofen’s mouth. This had naturally gushed onto the front of his flying suit, the top of his legs, his knees and soaked into the upper part of one of his fur overboots. They did. however, settle the matter of the injuries to the mouth and face, which had also, in the early stages been said to have been caused by gunfire.

In October 1934, Doctor J A Nixon, by then a well-known physician in the Bristol area of England, received a query on von Richthofen’s death from a Mr Linder. The question(s) which Mr Linder asked are unknown but the following two paragraphs excerpted from Doctor Nixon’s reply are self-explanatory.

Death of Baron von Richthofen

Colonel Sinclair (consulting surgeon to Fourth Army) and I were sent for to go to an aerodrome at Bertangles in order to decide if possible to which of several claimants the credit of bringing down Richthofen belonged. An Australian squadron claimed that they had engaged his whole Circus (well known by their coloured planes) and singling out their leader had riddled him with bullets till he crashed. Another squadron (British) said that they had been previously engaged with the ‘circus’, and that they had disabled Richthofen’s plane before the Australians came on the scene.

Finally a machine gun battery on the ground maintained that he was escaping by flying low until he came within their range and had poured an incredible number of hits into him.

Our verdict disposed of all these claims. The plane had only been hit by one single bullet which had passed through the fusillage [sic] and entered the chest in the middle of the right axilla. Travelling horizontally it had struck the front of the vertebrae and glanced off, probably into the heart, but we did not open the body to make our examination. Enough had been established to dispose of all the claims we had heard. No one had claimed to have come alongside of Richthofen and fired horizontally at him. All this account is my own first hand observation.

The word ‘all’ in the last sentence quoted above is sometimes challenged on the ground that by the time Colonel Nixon arrived at Poulainville the section of fuselage fabric with the bullet hole in it had most probably already been removed from the Triplane which might well be true. The most likely explanation is that he received information from an officer who had personally seen it. probably Captain Roderick Ross, the Armaments Officer with 3 AFC’, who had no connection with the 53rd Battery. Like Lieutenant Warneford and 1AM Boxall-Chapman. he belonged to the Australian Flying Corps, so they had no axe to grind. They had all seen the bullet hole in the fuselage long before it assumed importance, and certainly had not invented it.

It appears that Colonel Nixon was never really satisfied as to what had happened to the Red Devil. At the end of his letter to Mr Linder he mentions that he had heard a rumour which properly fitted the trajectory of the bullet, and he emphasises that it was merely a rumour, that whilst the Baron was living along, a British two-seater aeroplane drew up alongside without him noticing, and the observer killed him. For this to be true, one would need to imagine von Richthofen, over enemy territory, flying along admiring the scenery or reading the morning paper at the time. Obviously this is the tail wagging the dog again. The story has been created in reverse; the starting point being the true trajectory of the bullet relative to the Triplane.

Surprisingly – or by now perhaps not surprisingly – Doctor Nixon s‘rumour’ without the earlier paragraph of his letter quoted above, has been published more than once as a ‘new discovery’ or ‘new evidence’, and Lieutenant Banks of 3 Squadron AFC has even been named as the observer in question despite the only time he encountered the Baron being half an hour before the latter was killed.

An interesting corollary to the above is to be found in the Obituary’ of Colonel Thomas Sinclair given below:

Carlcton Иосе Herald
Vol.9l, So.23, Xovcmbcr 27, 1940
Credited Roy Brown With
Downing Richthofen

Belfast, Sou 25 — Col. Thomas Situ lair, 81, Consenvtiue Member of Parliament for Queen’s Unitrrsity here for 17 years, died today. He retired from the House of Commons tiro months ago. It was Col. Sinclair who as consulting surgeon of the British 4th Army in the hirst Great War gave credit to Capt. Roy Brown, former Carlcton Place boy and Canadian aviator, for the shooting down of Baron Manfred von Richthofen, German flying ace.

Richthofens plane crashed in a dog fight. He was chasing a young British pilot when Brown got on his tail. Ihe three planes dived within range of the ground fire of Australian troops. Ihe latter claimed the Baron as their victim. Colonel Sinclair officially examined von Richthofen’s body and, from study of the flier’s uvnnds, concluded that he had been brought down by Brown.

The Carleton Place Herald cannot be faulted for this flawed Obituary, which was written in Northern Ireland. Whoever wrote it appears to have a vague recollection of the tale as told in The Red Knight of Germany (see Appendix D).The young’British pilot’ of course, is Canadian Lieutenant May, whom Gibbons had earlier described as an Australian from Melbourne, but surely a Canadian newspaper should have known enough at least to correct or highlight this error about one of its sons?

The sad aspect is that with the best of intentions, when anniversaries occur, the flawed information is re-cycled even in newspapers of high standing, and thus gains new life.


The authors of this book gave the Graham/Downs and the Sinclair/Nixon post mortem reports to a highly experienced pathologist who lives in Grimsby, Ontario. Canada. He studied them for some time, discussed them with colleagues and gave the following opinion in non-medical terms which is reproduced below with his kind permission:

There is a noticeable difference in the degree o f medical detail documented in the first two post-mortem examinations.

Without the precise descriptions of the location of the entry wound and of the exit wound given by Colonels Sinclair and Nixon, l could not have determined either of the two possible paths of the bullet. The ribs slope downwards and by themselves are imprecise reference points. The Colonels, by stating that the entry wound was just ahead of where the ninth rib crosses the posterior axillary line, have pin-pointed its position. Similarly, the male nipple, in the vertical plane it is normally on the fifth rib. However, in the horizontal plane its position varies widely from man to man.

The entry and exit wounds as described would place the path of the bullet through the vital organs o f the thorax. The bullet most lihely punctured the aorta if it passed posteriorly fdog-legged via the spine/ or the heart if it passed anteriorly Istraight through I. If we also take into account that the bullet was tumbling as it passed through the body, the injuries would indeed be devastating. The expected result would be massive internal and external haemorrhage.

Regardless of whether this injury caused immediate death or not, it would certainly cause immediate severe functional impairment. It is extremely unlikely for an aircraft pilot with such an injury to retain the ability to control an aircraft in the skilful fashion described by witnesses on the ground.

In summary, the severity of MvR’s injury would be expected to cause profound functional impairment especially including the co-ordination of the eyes with the hands, and death within a matter or seconds, not minutes.

Dr. Jose Segura MDCM (McGill) Pathologist.

Doctor Segura then mentioned a point that had just occurred to him. The type of wound suffered by von Richthofen would most likely result in an immediate spasm of muscular contraction. Such spasms have been mentioned by Lothar von Richthofen (Manfreds brother – 40 victories in WW1 – who survived the war but died in a crash in 1922), by Arthur Gould Lee MC, (later Air Vice-Marshal) and others. This agrees with Private Wormald’s statement: ‘When the Baron was hit, the Triplane began to climb steeply,’ and with Sergeant Derbyshire’s: ‘The Triplane seemed to run into a brick wall.’

Von Richthofen’s reaction to pull back on the stick, and probably move it to the right also – the roll to the right as observed – would logically have been the same at whatever map location the bullet struck him. However, according to Brown, von Richthofen’s response to his burst of fire (‘He went down vertical’) was the exact opposite of the expected initial effect of such a wound. This is a statement of profound significance because it confirms medically that von Richthofen’s fatal wound was not acquired above the mud flats down in the valley beside the southern face of the Ridge. This realization had apparently occurred 40 years ago to the authors of Von Richthofen and the Flying Circus (Harleyford) who found that it could only be explained, within the knowledge available at that time, if Captain Brown had made a second and un­noticed attack upon the Triplane about 20 seconds before it made its rapid descent. They therefore posited that such an attack had taken place about 300 feet overhead and in front of a good 500 soldiers, none of whom noticed it.

Until Doctor Segura referred the present authors to Doctor David L King, the fact that a 0.303" British Army rifle bullet tumbles during a long passage through tissue had not been appreciated by them. This characteristic of a Spitzer-shaped bullet was confirmed by ballistics expert Peter Franks. In the light of this information, which was new to them (and one suspects by many others before us – NF/AB), the authors looked back into medical opinions gathered many years earlier by Frank McGuire and Pasquale Carisella. They agree in principle that the wound was severe, that there would be a strong reaction in the nervous system of the body and that the wound would prove mortal in one minute or less. One of the surgeons said that probable cause of death would have been a massive loss of blood.

In short, the medical evidence as interpreted by Doctor Segura agrees with the testimony gathered by John Column.

A Different Opinion

In the 1980s two or three American doctors and/or surgeons attempted to analyse the effects of such a wound as that suffered by the Baron. They ‘proved’ that he could have lived for two or three minutes and have guided an aeroplane through intricate manoeuvres during that time before suddenly collapsing. One even stated that people shot in such a manner had been known to survive. That misleads by placing‘possibility’ ahead of‘probability’, and not taking the type of bullet into consideration.

Unfortunately, in the USA and Canada, many seem to have to accepted the ‘possibility’ as being what happened in the Baron’s case. A few years ago, the theme was re-cycled in a presentation and an article which required Brown to have attacked von Richthofen from the right near Sailly-le-Sec. When all three inputs to an evaluation are incorrect, the answer hardly merits confidence.

Unlike the commonly cited excerpts, the complete report by these doctors clearly states that their opinion was based upon a shot inflicted on a deer by a bullet from an American deer hunting 0.3" 30/30 cartridge. Whether the bullet passed through the heart from front to back or from side to side was not specified. The effect of the 30/30 is so different from a British Army standard 0.303м rifle bullet as to make any comparison meaningless.

А 0.303м bullet would not have made a hole through von Richthofen’s heart, it would have torn a huge channel through it, whilst, with deflection off the spinal column, it would have carved a chunk out of the aorta and the oesophagus. The final result of either path, when created by a tumbling 0.303" bullet, would have been the same, therefore to argue which one was followed is a wasted exercise. Also, due to the distance travelled through the tissues of the Baron’s body, the exit wound would have had the same appearance in either case; namely the typical shape caused by a 0.303 bullet travelling somewhere between side-first and base-first.


By 1000 hours that morning the drizzle had stopped and, except down in the valley and over Vaux-sur-Somme, the morning mist had cleared enough for each side to send out their recce machines. Vertical visibility was quite good; it was not too bad over the river for even though there was a layer of mist, it was not dense and only about 200 feet thick. Horizontal visibility was about one mile through the mist except to the south where the effect of the sun reduced it to half a mile. Above the mist visibility was somewhat limited by the haze. Vertically, the haze was within the limits of the haze filters fitted to aircraft cameras but horizontally it was quite noticeable, especially when looking upwards to the south-east where the sun was behind it. When asked about the visibility that morning, as many ground witnesses said that i’ was good as said the contrary. Speaking many year – later. an airman said: “On that morning visibilirv was layered.’ In truth, the witnesses’ impressions depended upon where they had been positioned and in which direction they had been looking.

As the weather improved and the sky began to clear, 3 AFC’ Squadron despatched two of their RES observation two-seaters off to the Front froir. their base at Poulainville. Their target area was the German supply dump and troops assembly are^ around Le Hamel. Both machines were crewed b

One of the aerial photos taken by the 3 AFC RE8s just prior to Von Richthofen and Weiss’s attack upon them. Note Le Hamel at the bottom of the picture.

highly experienced airmen who were well- practised in the art of working together. Their progress was noted by German observers who very quickly made a telephone call toJGI at Gappy.

The observer in the leading RES (A3661) was Lieutenant E C Banks, from Mosman. New South Wales, his pilot being Lieutenant T L Simpson, from Hamilton, Victoria. In 1965, Banks wrote a long description of what occurred on this sortie. After taking six photographs (the other crew of Lieutenants S G Garrett, from Box Hill, near Melbourne, and A V Barrow, from Harrowgate, England, also took six), Barrow caught sight of about eight aircraft (there were actually nine) approaching them from the east. Suspecting they would be German, the two observers alerted their pilots and all four men prepared for action. The time was noted as 1045.

The nine hostile aircraft were soon identified as Fokker Triplanes, two of which separated from the formation and headed towards them. The colour of the leading Fokker was noted as red and its pilot selected Garrett and Barrows RES for attention. The second Dr. I which had come from the outer edge of the German formation, attacked Simpson and Banks. The first shots of the day s action were about to be fired.

A duel between experts without surprise being a factor is rarely resolved rapidly. After some minutes of manoeuvring for position and some dose-range exchanges of fire, the red Triplane suddenly rolled over and dived away; it did not return to the fray. This left the second Triplane alone to face two well-handled REHs. Working together, Simpson and Garrett turned their machines so that their observers could concentrate their fire on the German fighter each time it came within range. The manoeuvre was successful and splinters were seen to fly off the Triplanes wings. Then its pilot abandoned hostilities, made a diving turn to the east and quickly disappeared into the distance.

The two REs, not wishing to push their luck with the other Triplanes that must still be around, or even other Germans who may have been attracted by the scrap, took shelter inside a nearby cloud. When they emerged a short while later, the sky was empty and so they resumed their photographic work.

From the description of the formation of Triplanes it has to be assumed that the red Triplane, the formation leader, was flown by von Richthofen and the supernumerary position on the outside edge would probably have been taken by Leutnant Hans Weiss (but see also the end of Appendix G). Weiss had scored his 15th victory the previous day and in fact 21 April saw the award for him of the Knights Cross of the Royal Hohenzollern House Order. The part taken by von Richthofen has not been confirmed, but it is in keeping with the tactics used, that the senior pilots would attack while being covered by the rest of the Staffel. It is known, however, that Weiss returned home alone and early, to Сарру, with his rudder controls half shot away. In a letter to his friend Oberleutnant Heinz Schmauser, about the events of the 21st. Weiss wrote the next day:

Unfortunately I was not there at the time he made his emergency landing. Shortly before, I had attacked a flight of enemy reconnaissance aircraft and a bullet cut a rudder cable. I had to return home because I was unable to turn properly.

Manfred von Richthofen was not famous for abandoning a fight without proper cause. There is a good possibility that the poor ammunition quality problems which were to plague him this day had started to appear and that, being temporarily disarmed, he sought some quiet airspace where he could try to un-jam his guns. By the time he managed to clear one, or both of them, the RESs had vanished so he rejoined Jasta 11 on patrol.

Experienced pilots in WWI would often spend time in selecting the ammunition and helping to fill their own machine-gun belts, or fill a drum for a Lewis gun. This did not eliminate rounds with a defective primer. Each pilot might also select his own mix of cartridges; tracer, incendiary, explosive, armour piercing, or jacketted lead. For balloon attacks special ammunition was generally used – Buckingham in the case of the British, (see Appendix I)

The events which followed give the impression that it was during his efforts to clear the stoppage(s) that the firing pin of the right-hand gun fractured. That he rejoined the patrol indicates that he had at least one gun working. What is certain is that a short time later, von Richthofen, who was renowned for his marksmanship and accurate deflection shooting, and who several times had Lieutenant W R May in a could not miss position, failed to dispatch him.

The RES crews recorded their height when the fight began as 7,500 feet, and although neither crew claimed a Triplane shot down, later events made it seem to 3 AFC’s CO, Major David V J Blake, that his men had downed von Richthofen. He anotated their combat report accordingly with

3 AFC - THE FIRST CLAIMAbove right: RE8 reconnaissance machine of 3 Squadron, AFC. It was an aircraft from this unit that started the day’s action.

Right: While the RE8s were photographing Le Hamel, JCI’s main task was to clear the air in order for German Rumpler CV photo-recce aircraft to locate the Australian batteries beyond the Moriancourt Ridge.

the word ‘Decisive’ and entered it as such in the Squadron Record Book. However, the fight having been fought between about 1040-50, this is too early to have been von Richthofens final action. Oddly enough, when Banks later wrote the story of this fight, he noted the time as being even earlier – 1020, although this is clearly an error of memory.

The waters were further muddied by later events as far as 3 AFC were concerned, for when Major Blake was asked to provide a salvage crew to bring in the wreckage of a downed Fokker Triplane later that day (after lunch), which had crashed near Vaux-sur-Somme, included was the news that the pilot, who had been killed, was none other than von Richthofen. Blake may well have added two-and-two together even if it had not been the Baron, and assumed at this stage the Triplane had been that engaged by his crews that
morning, but as it was the Baron, he would has r been even more keen to do so.

Later interest in the day’s events brought tor* the story that Captain Roy Brown had dived down several thousand feet to rescue two 3 AFC R£v which were being attacked by two Fokk;* Triplanes. Records show that this is incorrect. In his combat report. Brown does not mention. г г RESs, neither does his flying log-book entry, and nor do any of his companion’s reports. And neithrr of the two RE8 crews mention any such rescue bv Sopwith Camels. In fact, post war, the four RE" men denied indignantly that Camels had con.; anywhere near them, let alone rescue them. The.: saviour was good shooting coupled with teamwor». and a nice fluffy cloud in which to hide.

All becomes clear when one discovers the ‘rescue’ occurred not on the 21st but on the 22n^_ One of the REHs (C2270) was crewed К

‘8 SO 26) Will SO—*73 00,000 i-O/WVHWVM’ms/l) Ffrnn/WMIS/O

Подпись: Army Form W. 33-lS.* 10130—>1107 J.-.II. IKVI ’|)/lf


Combats in the Air.

—– Narrative.

Подпись: d " to Watch At 10.4Q a. in. while engaged on Photography wo were attacks» by two triplunee uo above. Ono triplane dived on us and the Observer fired 120 rounds in bursts. Ono E. A. >p;-s.,rod V – separate, from the others and alght down but tb<> pilot,.nd

Подпись: Signed Подпись: S.G.GAARB'n1. A-V.fiARROW. Подпись: Liout. Liout. Подпись: Pilot. 0 bservur.

Observer wore too bually engaged with the othar fi. A him down. Tho other h. A. finally withdrew.

Liout. T. L.Sirapnon, Pilot and Liout. fi. C.fiunics. Obsorver

a tat о –

At 10.40 и. ш. whilo proceeding ovoi tie linos ad photogruj wo його attacked near ILUIEL at 7000 feet by 4 fi. A. triplaneo. Її divod on ua and the Observer fired JiOO rounds. Tuo of the Я. А. eppotvred to att_ok Liout. Garrott and Biuut. Barrow in another Ш28 but we were too busily engaged in the fight to see what actually happened.

Подпись:•J!.JL, SIrtPS0U. Lieut. Pilot. В. С.ВАІГКЗ. Liout. Oboorvor.

3rd Aast. Divisional Artillery report –

At about 10.40 a. rn. several rod-nosed triplanee worn oeen to nttaok two REA’a in the neighbourhood of HA2JSL. One of these triplanes oarae down and eraohed ut J.19b.4.4. .‘Pilot killed. Papers on tho Pilot’s body show hi:,i t. o ho Captain von ЫСНТ0РАУ.



Сой. і – in • r<; о ;;.<■« і e-i. not. ЛІ;-,} n

Подпись: AFC after the action withCombat Report: Made out by Lieutenants Garrett and Simpson of 3 von Richthofen and jasta 11.

■*’ – w* Army Form W. 3243 Ж

INJot* available———————— No. Squadron.

4 209 Aeroplanes^ л<г 8QUADR0N RECORD BOOK.

1 U у————————- Date-

Тур* *nJ Number і Pilot and Obserrer


Hour of— 6t*K | Return

Berner kj

Sop*ltb B. R.l 1

______ В 6Щ_____ Limit «П«ОП-






p. m




D 33?fl В 7273 0 3328 В ЗчАв В 7272

Oaptn Boutlll li Lieut Taylor Lieut Srook Lieut Porter Lieut ttarfcar

»r I. g.p





5.40 0.40







2.CO Deolelve Coabet elth Altatroee 2.neater 2.uG et d. lO. a.o oror Albert, rhlon crmmbed

2.0 at eao. J 23,D. l’llot and ofceenrK* killed

2.0 (ьое 0Caabat report )


В 7 270 D 3320 I) 3340 D 3329

Oaptn Brow Lieut May Lieut Ьопав Lieut Meiiareh








10.30 6.25

2.10 Three Albatroee obeerved attacking aakz

2.10 B. B.a’e vnioh eere driven off. Mo deolelve 0 oo turned o>lng to Ignition reeult.


В 7250 D 3 34& D 3327 b 6311 D 6331

Lieut Kedgate Lieut Brake Lieut siadall Lieut btovln Lieut SdjtanlB










10.20 10.20





X. S6 nothing to niport.

1.55 1.55

Total 6a • Ten

Total fl;

Г flying tine ■ • • –

log tine «

m the Field


26 boure 20 boure

10 nlni 30 aln< 40 Bln<



•aajo r

Coraoan-iing 20Oth bquadron •oyal Air Koroe

Record Book of 209 Squadron’s final entries for 21 April and initial entries for 22 April. Carbon copies of this page do not show the…’2′ in the 21. The ’22’ in the "22.4.18" is completely missing. This has confused people in the past but the original clearly shows the correct dates. Note that the remarks concerning Captain Brown’s patrol refer to Albatros machines and not Triplanes.

Lieutenants F L Baillieu and E R Rowntree, who reported *… three EA scouts attempted to attack this machine at 3,000 feet over Bois deVaire but three Camels came up from the west and drove the EA back over their own lines. One EA is thought to have been brought down by Camels.’ This action was timed at 0910 hours.

The Squadron Recording Officer of 3 AFC’ (the Adjutant) later sent the day’s page(s) and Combats in the Air reports to RAF 22 Wing HQ. whence they would progress to 3th Brigade HQ. There, if considered to be of sufficient importance, a mention would be included in that day’s Summary of Work, submitted that evening to higher authority, which included the HQ of the British Fourth Army, commanded by General Sir Henry Rawlinson. The Simpson/Banks/Garrett/

Barrow claim, although not listed in the Combat- annex to the 5th Brigade Summary for 21 April. \ – shortly to be brought to the General’s attention.

While 3 AFC’ had been skirmishing with the Fokkers near Le Hamel, 2<>9 Squadron had bet patrolling the Front. Half an hour into their pam Lieutenant Mellersh had dropped out with engine trouble and returned to Bertangles. Here he changed to a spare machine (B6257) and took off: rejoin the others, which he succeeded in doing. about 1020.

At 1025, Oliver LeBoutillier, spotted anc engaged what he believed to be two Albatros two – seaters over Le Quesnel, about ten kilometres south of the Amiens-St Quentin road. Togetht* with Robert Foster and Merril Taylor, a: Englishman and a Canadian respectively, they downed one of the two-seaters in flames and drove, the other off.

This action took place at the southern end o: the Squadron’s assigned patrol line near Beaucoun so once re-formed, they turned and headed north again. C Flight (Lieutenant Redgate) now became separated from A and В and saw no further acnot. in the events that were about to unfold.

Аітт Form W 33*3. .Squadron.



No.. 3rd_


n… 22nd April 191^



RE8 A4404. Captain H. D.E. Ralfe.(P) Dusk Reconn.
,Lt. W. A.J. Buckland (0)>


5.50p. 8.05p.! No movement observed in forward areas, Strong point at P.8d.5.4. seems to be strongly helcl.

Enemy trenches betn MARRETT WOOD and J.6a£.6. appear to be In good Order.

Flashes and Zone Calls.

6.25p. NF PB|P.10c.2.2.(bacc. 4 yellow flashes) zone call sent, fire observed, corrections MC5. Battery neutrali’sed.


Two pages of 3 AFC’s Record Book for events of 22 April recording an action with EA scouts and Camels. The entry for RE8 C2270 has sometimes been misunderstood as Brown rescuing the RE8s on the 21st. Note that events after 4 pm are recorded on the sheet dated the 23rd.


The Third Medical Examination

(The Extra One)

During the Germans March Offensive, and the Allied effort which stopped the Germans from taking Amiens, there had been a scandalous shortage of bandages, dressings and medication in the Field Advanced Dressing Stations and the Main Dressing Stations. This was due, in great part, to the confusion of the retreat and the «к/ hoc measures taken to stem the German onslaught.

A renewal of the German attack was expected towards the end of April (it actually began on the 24th) and Colonel George W Barber, the Deputy Director of Medical Services, (the AlF’s top Medical Services man outside Australia), who was based at Villers Bocage just north of Amiens, was determined that, this time, the AIF men at least would lack for nothing in the way of immediate treatment.

Accordingly, in early April, he began a series of personal inspections of the advanced and the support medical facilities. On 21 April, accompanied by Major C L Chapman AAMC. he inspected the 12th Australian Field Ambulance unit. On the morning of the 22nd he went to Bertangles where he (quote): ‘Conferred with the Officer Commanding |the| 3rd Australian Flying Squadron re his medical requirements.’The officer would have most probably been Major Blake whose aeroplanes were at nearby Poulainville aerodrome.

Upon arrival he learned that Baron von Richthofen s body was at the aerodrome lying in a 3 Squadron tent hangar at Poulainville. His programme for later that morning, to inspect 3 FC‘s Dressing Station, thereupon suffered a short postponement. It was too good an opportunity to allow to pass by.

Colonel Barber and Major Chapman arrived at the tent hangar just as the medical orderlies were cleaning up after the examination by Colonels Sinclair and Nixon. The story of what happened next is best described in Barbers own words in a letter to С E W Bean 1’A years later:

October 23rd, 1935

My Dear Bean,

With reference to your letter of Oct.

14th, I was Inspecting this Air Force

unit and found the medical orderly

washing Richthofen’s body, so I made an examination. There were only two bullet wounds, one of entry and one of exit of a bullet which had evidently passed through the chest and the heart. There was NO WOUND of the head but there was considerable bruising over the right jaw which may have been fractured. The orderly told me that the Consulting Surgeon of the army [the Fourth Army] had made a post mortem that morning. I asked him how he did it as there was no evidence. The orderly told me that the Consulting Surgeon had used a bit of fencing wire which he pushed along the track of the wound over the heart. I used the same bit of wire for the same purpose. So you see the medical examination was not a thorough one and not a post mortem in the ordinary sense of the term. A bullet hole in the side of the plane coincided with the wound through the chest and I am sure he was shot from below while banking. I sent a full report to General Birdwood at Australian Corps and I have often wondered what became of it.

With kind regards. Yours sincerely, George W Barber

P. S. Of course a proper PM might have been made after I saw the body but I never heard of it and do not think so.

In a letter to a British Military Publication circa 1930, Major General Barber supplied information identical to that given above but with one addition:

The report that it [the body] was riddled with bullets is absolutely incorrect. There was one bullet wound only and this was through the man’s chest. I formed the opinion that it had been fired from the ground and struck the airman as he was banking his machine, because the exit of the bullet was three inches higher than the point of entry.

Whatever written contribution Major Chapman made for posterity is also now lost except for a quotation: ‘The bullet came out about three inches higher than it went in and might well have been shot from the ground.’

Because Colonel Barber’s written report appears lost, and without secure knowledge of what was in it, beyond the affirmation that only one bullet had struck the body and that the other so-called wounds were all impact injuries, there are no known actions of his which can be taken as first hand discoveries. His major contribution was ordering Corporal Ted McCarty, the medical orderly, to undress the body completely and thereby setting beyond doubt that there were no other bullet wounds anywhere on it.

It is obvious from the content of Barber’s letter that he had received information from others on the circumstances of the Red Devil’s demise, not the least of which was the bullet hole in the fuselage, which he may or may not have been shown but was obviously told about. Corporal McCarty certainly had watched what Colonel Sinclair had been doing because he knew of the piece of wire and because in later years he mentioned that the bullet had dog-legged inside von Richthofen’s body. It must have been common knowledge amongst all the orderlies that the Fourth Army Consulting Surgeon had said so, and he would carry much more weight with them than the new 22 Wing MO. McCarty still remained quiet about the bullet which he had found in the clothing. One has to wonder about this all the time. If he had been an ordinary‘erk’ one might excuse it, but being a medical orderly he must have known of its possible importance. He was apparently not looking for any trouble that might arise, and the longer he remained quiet the more he would be unable to admit to his find. Initially he had told others there were at least three bullet holes in the body, so perhaps finding just one bullet didn’t seem overly important at the beginning. Or perhaps it was purely a case of having a great souvenir and he was going to keep it!

It could be said that Colonel Barbers letter agrees with Graham and Downs in that the shot came from roughly in the plane of the long axis, although he goes a little further than they did by indirectly pointing out that said axis might well have been inclined at the time. On another point he appears to agree with Sinclair and Nixon for, although there is no record that Colonel Barber’s probing confirmed Sinclair’s conclusions, there are no reports or rumours that he disagreed with them. Not even amongst the post-war recollections of the orderlies.

That afternoon, von Richthofen’s body was interred with full military honours. The pall­bearers were pilots from 3 AFC Squadron, one of them being Lieutenant Banks. The next day, RAF aeroplanes dropped photographs of the grave at useful locations over the German lines. One of the pilots selected was Lieutenant Robert Foster of 209 Squadron.

Back at Сарру, with the realisation that von Richthofen was not coming back. JGIs adjutant, Oberleutnant Karl Bodenschatz, opened a box kept in the office safe, in which he knew there was an envelope for just such an occasion as this. He opened it. There was a single pencil-written sentence, dated 10 March 1918 – just about six weeks earlier:

Solte ich nicht zuriick kommen. so Obit. Reinhard (Jasta 6) die FCihrung des Luftgeschwaders Giber nehman.

Freiherr v Ri chthofen Ri ttmei ster

(Should I not return. Oberleutnant Reinhard (Jasta 6) is to assume command of the Geschwader.)

The Baron’s obituary in Flight magazine was short and elegant: ‘Manfred von Richthofen is dead. He was a brave man, a clean fighter and an aristocrat. May he rest in peace.’

Oberleutnant Wilhelm (Willi) Reinhard led JGI until 18 June 1918. On that date he handed over temporary command to Erich Lowenhardt in order to go to Adlershof, Berlin, to attend a flight test programme of the latest aeroplane designs. The aces were the test pilots and each one flew an aeroplane in mock combat with the others. On 3 July Oberleutnant Hermann Goring landed the Dornier DI, an all-metal framed biplane, and handed it over to Reinhard. During his flight in it, the top wing collapsed and Reinhard was killed in the crash. Thus was altered the course of history. Goring, the Staffelflihrer of Jasta 27, was promoted to lead Richthofen’s JGI three days later, and after the war became Prime Minister of East Prussia, then finally Reichsmarschall. head of the German Luftwaffe, and in September 1939 Adolf Hitler’s designated successor.

Von Richthofen’s dog Moritz was adopted by Leutnant Alfred Gerstenberg, a former pilot in Jasta 11, who took him home to his farm. Many years later Moritz died there of old age. Gerstenberg became a Generalleutnant in the Luftwaffe in WW2 and died in 1959.

The Third Medical Examination
The Third Medical Examination

The Basic Facts ofVon
Richthofen’s Fatal Wound

1. It was inflicted by a Spitzer-type rifle bullet either fired by a machine gun or a rifle and travelled far enough through the Barons body to begin tumbling. This created a large exit wound but not so large as others which Captain Graham had seen.

2. The general direction of the bullet path through von Richthofens body was upwards. The exit wound (between the 5th and 6th ribs on the left side) was more than two inches higher than the entry wound (through the ninth rib on the right side).

3. The trajectory of the bullet in the vertical plane was slightly upwards relative to the side panels of the fuselage of the Triplane.

4. The trajectory of the bullet in the horizontal plane relative to the side panels of the fuselage was the subject of dispute.

come from slightly behind. Lieutenant Downs did not oppose Graham s opinion although earlier he had expressed doubts.

Colonel Nixon and Colonel Sinclair, after checking the initial permanent cavity direction, decided that the bullet had come from slightly in front.

5. Captain Graham gave the opinion that the bullet had passed in a straight line from entry to exit. Again Lieutenant Downs did not oppose Graham’s opinion, although as before he had doubts.

6. Colonels Nixon and Sinclair, after checking the permanent cavity, stated that the bullet had dog­legged inside the body having been deflected off the front of the spine.

7. Colonel Barbers examination report has been lost – or at least not found. In a letter on the subject he affirmed that von Richthofen had been shot from the right. (See Chapter 14)

Captain Graham, 22 Wing Medical Officer, who did not actually check the initial permanent cavity direction, gave an opinion that the bullet had


Sir Hiram Maxim’s belt-fed machine gun was adopted by several countries, each of which made redesigns to suit circumstances and requirements. However, the basic principle remained the same.

In England, the Maxim gun developed into the Vickers water-cooled machine gun and used the same size Spitzer-type 0.303м (7.69 mm) ammunition as the Lee-Enfield infantry rifle. The bullets (projectiles) were identical.

The Maxim gun, as redesigned in Germany, used the standard German army infantry ammunition, the Spitzer-type Mauser 7.92 mm x 57 cartridge. A light­weight air-cooled version was adopted for use on aircraft and was known as the LMG 08/15, which stood for air-cooled machine gun, type 8, designed in 1915. It was manufactured, principally in the town of Spandau, just to the west of Berlin, by several companies and various different names, however, all parts were fully interchangeable. Apart from the synchronising mechanism and the barrel, the infantry and the aerial versions used identical parts in the feeding, loading and firing systems.

The German and the British machine guns, being the same basic design, responded almost identically to defective ammunition, to wear and tear and to the failure of component parts.

Cartridges were fed, loaded, locked in place, fired
and extracted somewhere between eight to ten times per second, and the lock had to withstand pressure between 45,000 and 55,000 pounds per square inch. The duty cycle of the complicated mechanism was quite heavy, and the moving parts and springs were prone to high rates of wear. In aerial use, the close- tolerance parts were subjected to the extreme cold of high altitude flying in winter; an environment for which the original design was not intended.

It was not uncommon for a fighter pilot, who had finally caught up with a high flying two-seater or airship, to have his machine guns fire just one round and then refuse to reload. The hump on the Sopwith Camel was actually a chamber which directed hot air from the engine onto the breech end of the guns to prevent that from happening.

The crank handles (or cocking handle/lever), which came in various shapes and sizes to suit aircraft types, made one backwards and forwards movement through an arc of about 110 degrees for each round fired. A jam would cause the handle to cease motion in one of four positions. The position in which the handle stopped was a reliable indicator of the basic type of jam which had occurred. Each position was known by a number, and machine-gun jams were described, for example, as ‘a number two stoppage’.

A number 1 or 4 stoppage could be cleared in the




air. The pilot would extrac t the defective cartridge by – pulling the crank handle back to the far stop and then releasing it. The spring return would feed the next cartridge into the firing chamber.

A number 2 stoppage caused by a tight cartridge case could often be cleared in the air. A small hammer, sometimes a wooden mallet, (secured by a strap) was carried in the cockpit, and the pilot would apply it vigorously to the crank arm to force it forwards to position 4. The expression: ‘the pilot hammered his machine gun’, means exactly that; not as portrayed in the movies as beating on the breech with clenched fists.

A number 2 stoppage, caused by the previous cartridge case having separated during extraction, would have the new cartridge telescoped into the broken piece. The crank arm. when hammered, would not move. To clear such a jam was a major operation that could only be performed on the ground.

A number 3 stoppage was generally impossible to clear in the air. Both a number 2 and number 3 stoppage could be caused by the pilot himself, usually a novice who had indulged in over-long bursts of fire. This overheated the breech mechanism thus destroying the lubricant and causing the delicate parts to seize.

A component failure, frozen moisture, dirt and/or congealed lubricant could also cause any one of the four types of stoppages.

British Standard 0.303" Cartridges

With the constant improvement in rifle design, muzzle velocities began to exceed 2,000 feet per minute. The
result was that the soft round-nosed lead bullets such as the British Mark VI then used would disintegrate inside the human body causing really complicated wounds. Fragments of lead were spread over a large body area to no purpose.

The 1907 Hague Convention produced an agreement between the major European powers that lead bullets would have a pointed nose and that the lead would be fully encased in a hard metal jacket. The result is known as a Spitzer-shape (or type) bullet.

The aerodynamic Spitzer shape, when spun by a rifled barrel, was stable in flight and had excellent accuracy.

The British version, the Mark VII cartridge when fired from a 0.303′ rifled barrel, as in Lee-Enfield army rifles or in Vickers and Lewis machine guns, had a nominal muzzle velocity of 2,440 feet per second (1,664 mph) and was spun by the rifling at about 175,800 rpm. In flight the speed and rpm would gradually decrease, but even after having travelled half a mile the bullets were still supersonic. Bullets which passed close by could be heard quite clearly.

Unfortunately at ranges over 300 yards the lighter weight tracer bullet did not conform exactly to the trajectory of the rifle bullet; it lost height rapidly. Pilots who lifted the nose of their fighter to correct their aim. often achieved exactly the opposite of their intent.

In daytime, tracer ammunition could only be seen from directly behind the gun which had tired it for the trace was actually a bright pinpoint of light from inside the bullet. Stories which make reference to ‘seeing flaming tracers’are pure journalistic invention.