The chain of events which culminated in the death of von Richthofen form a fairly simple story. Whoever in the RAF HQ advised Captain Roy Brown to re-submit his claim on the proper form did so prematurely and then, after the publicity, could not withdraw it. The artificial situation resulted in the instruction to the pilots of 209 Squadron not to talk about the event. The secrecy, aggravated by the files being closed for 50 years, created a vacuum which was filled by rumour, speculation and pure fiction phrased for thrills. Each one fed upon the other until the truth was lost.

Dale Titler, in the foreword to his well – researched book The Day the Red Baron Died. puts it so well that the authors can pay him no better compliment than to present his words once more.

For 52 years sensationalists have filled the undocumented gaps of this day with lurid and dramatic happenings. For all it was worth, they moulded the war drama of a national tragedy and highlighted the mystery and contention. In time, the facts of this gallant nobleman’s violent finish became so enmeshed in fiction that the early war records and eyewitness accounts were submerged in a sea of fabrication.

The research conducted by John Coltman, who was killed in action with the RAF in 1942, has filled in one big gap; exactly where Captain Brown attacked the red Triplane. Then Mr A Twycross, by sending the story of his father, Gunner Ernest Twycross, to the Imperial War Museum, where­upon Mr Brad King passed it to the present authors, provided the key to exactly when von Richthofen died, and thus settled the 79 years’ old controversy as to whether he was killed in the air during Roy Browns attack and the Triplane crashed shortly afterwards or whether he died later whilst attempting an emergency landing.

With the new information provided by those mentioned above, tempered by airmanship, military organisation, trained reactions and the modern understanding of ballistics, it now seems possible to connect that fateful day’s events together in a logical manner and without significant gaps.

On 21 April 1918 the wind was blowing strongly in the opposite direction to normal. This had a definite effect upon ground speed relative to the previous days and appears to have had a significant role in the events of that morning.

Even though von Richthofen was having trouble with his guns, a novice pilot was a tempting target. To go after him was not a dirty trick; all the aces had begun as novices. Why let him gain experience and possibly become another Albert Ball, James McCudden or Mick Mannock?

Flying west at a ground speed of 135 mph (aeroplane 110 plus wind 25) against the normal 85 mph (with wind speed subtracted), von Richthofen was covering ground 50 mph faster than usual as he chased May. During his dive around or through the low mist, he appears to have made a simple navigation error of the ‘time versus distance flown’ type, and being too low down for the terrain to look like his mental map of the area, he confused two villages which, although similarly situated on the north bank of the Somme canal, were actually a mile and a half apart.

The obvious landmark which would have revealed his error, the sharp bend from west to south of the canal just before Corbie, was obscured by the trees along the sides of the zig-zags of the waterway. The present authors can attest to this; they did not see it either until it loomed up in front of their aeroplane around what appeared to be just another ‘zag’. When the quick kill became hard work, von Richthofen failed to cut his losses and head for home, that was his first wrong decision.

The attack by Captain Brown, which he skilfully countered upon hearing the first shots zip by his Triplane, was a sharp warning, but victory was so close that he, on seeing Brown’s Camel banking away towards the south-west at high speed, appears to have decided upon one more tty at May. That was his second wrong decision. The Baron saw nothing to tell him his true position, and that the heaviest concentration of anti-aircraft guns in the area was just ahead of him — not two miles away as he thought.

The crucial and unexpected bend in the river suddenly appeared a moment later. Due to the strong tail wind there was only one way out – a steep climb which included a turn of 45°, over a


place where the trees were not so tall.

Machine-gun fire from Sergeant Popkin and from Private McDiarmid passed behind him so he would have neither seen the smoke of the tracer nor heard the Rak-ak-ak sounds. As he topped the Ridge, the lower wing and mid-wing of the Triplane would have hidden the camouflaged 18- pounder guns from his view – ironically the very guns he and his men had been sent to the area to help find. He might have seen them if he had banked and looked down, for, from his low height, camouflage netting is not very effective.

Quite unknowingly he followed Lieutenant May’s Camel along the west side of the line of guns which was when he began to notice ground fire coming from Buie, Evans and probably Gamble. Although the Triplane’s nose was pointing north, the wings were supported by air that was travelling west at 25 mph. Thc result was the Triplane’s track over the ground was close to north-west. The ground machine gunners not only had to lead their target, they also had to aim to the west of it. In addition, the Triplane was flying so low-down that the machine guns had to be traversed and elevated rapidly to follow it. The result was the Triplane presented a complicated deflection shot to machine gunners who had not been trained for such situations. Von Richthofen skilfully avoided their bullets, although some hit his wings and/or interplane struts.

Then he made his third and fatal wrong decision. He started to climb and began following a predictable flight path heading east. He was now flying into the strong wind which greatly reduced his ground speed, for the wind was no longer ‘lowed by the trees and friction with the terrain. Worse still, he was no longer being carried sideways – he was moving in the direction that the nose of the Triplane was pointing. Therefore he became an easy target from the front, from behind and for anyone at the side who was able to calculate the angle of deflection correctly.

Gunner Buie, and possibly Evans also, had emptied their panniers, so until the empty one was taken off and a fresh one locked into place, Buie at least, could not fire again. In any event, as he himself stated afterwards, he thought the Triplane was already finished and he was not even contemplating further firing. Private Emery, up by the brickworks, was biding his time; he was well aware of the danger of firing early, missing, and giving away his position to an enemy pilot who was heading in his direction, sitting behind twin machine guns.

Half a mile south-east of the Triplanes flight path, that is on the right-hand side of its fuselage.

were the soldiers of Lieutenant Woods platoon who had exchanged tools for rifles and were firing at it. Near them were four Vickers machine guns under Sergeant Popkin, of which only one was manned. The Sergeant opened fire for the second time, having missed with his earlier burst as the Triplane flashed by and below him a couple of minutes earlier. (It is interesting to speculate that if Popkin had shot the Triplane down with his earlier burst. Brown would have had a better claim, having attacked the Triplane just moments beforehand!)

As Private Emery told Geoffrey Hine, it was AFTER he heard the Lewis guns (Buie, Evans and Gamble) stop firing and BEFORE he heard the Vickers gun start, that the Triplane gave indication that its pilot had been hit. He added that there had been a background of rifle fire all the time, and that his first impression was that one of the soldiers in Lieutenant Woods platoon had scored a hit.

The apparently clear picture becomes blurred when 1,100 feet per second is included; that is the approximate speed of sound in an air temperature of 45° Fahrenheit.

Sergeant Popkin was about 2,1(H) feet south of Private Emery, therefore Emery would not hear him beginning to fire until two seconds later. Similarly, Emery was about 3,000 feet away from Buie and would not hear him ceasing fire until three seconds after he had actually done so. Add in the wind factor which was carrying the sound away from Emery, and the delay becomes even longer, thus a hit from Popkin s machine gun shortly after he opened fire is definitely possible.

From the foregoing it can be deduced that von Richthofen was alive and well four to seven seconds after Buie and Evans ceased firing. At 85 mph he would be travelling at 130 feet per second, so in that time he would have covered 520 to 910 feet. If von Richthofen is allowed 10 to 15 seconds to descend and touch down, it can be calculated from a map that he was hit somewhere between 900 and 1,200 feet away from the 53rd Battery. This agrees with Gunner Buie’s estimate of 300 to 500 yards. The numbers fit together, not precisely, but acceptably. The bounds of probability do not need to be stretched one iota, which contrasts with other hypotheses advanced in the past for which the bounds of ‘possibility’ not ‘probability’ were considerably strained.

Who killed the Red Baron?

We have come to the definite conclusion that, despite much of what has been written over the last 80 years, the new evidence available today confirms the elimination by most earlier serious investigators of Captain Brown as being responsible for von Richthofen being shot down.

In the remote possibility that the bullet was not fired from a machine gun. it could only have come from one of the Australian riflemen of Lieutenant Wood’s platoon (see table below).They were at the right distance and angle from the Triplane. Some of them came from farming communities back home where they had helped eke out their living by shooting game birds on the wing. Leading a target was second nature to them.

By virtue of the volume of fire per second it is far more likely that the fatal bullet came from a machine gun, and the evidence, as interpreted by the present authors, indicates Sergeant Popkin. His was the only machine gun in action and firing at the right-hand side of the Triplane at that time. This agrees with the findings of Captain Bean and of the late Pasquale Carisella, and it is worth remarking that ‘Pat’ reached his conclusion by using the evidence available at the time (mid – 1960s), most of which he obtained by writing letters to every person involved whose name and address he could find.

The authors find the evidence and probabilites, based on logic, indicate that the honours belong to Sergeant Cedric Bassett Popkin.







Was firing when Baron was struck







Fired at R. H. side of Triplane







Fired at an acceptable angle







Ammunition included rifle bullets







Range was suited to the wound characteristics








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.



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.


An interesting statement was made by Roy Brown between 1927 and 1930 at which time he vas being badgered by various parties and * tions to explain gaps, oxymorons and plain "possibilities in stories on von Richthofen’s demise. Some of these had been presented in.:ch a manner as to suggest that they were his vn personal memoirs. Brown could not have en very happy for some people were calling :m a liar and others a murderer. A few words ould have cleared it all up.

Triggered by the furore which resulted from the publication of The Red Knight of Germany and Fight with Richthofen, the Australian ex – .-vicemens magazine Reveille had been featuring,‘ters on the events of 21 April 1918. Apparently, the hope of straightening things out, the editor rote to Roy Brown asking what had happened. F r certain, without entering the contentious area, Brown could easily have settled the questions as to iere and at what height he had attacked von Richthofen. Brown’s reply, printed in November •30, was as follows:

As far as I am concerned. I knew in my own mind what happened, and the war being over, the job being done, there is nothing to be gained by arguing back and forth as to who did this and who did that. The main point is that, from the stand-point of the troops in the war, we gained our objectives.

An answer that seems to miss the point of the …estion may do no more than disappoint the recipient, but when the non-answer to Reveille is Liken together with the earlier non-answer to C EW Bean: ‘I cannot comment as I am not a reader »f that magazine,’ the repeat event and the careful phrasing of both raise suspicion that the evasion is not exactly accidental.

In 1935 Wing Commander H N Wrigley DFC AFC RAAF, in his book I be Battle Below (The History of 3 AFC Squadron) (published by Errol G Knox, Sydney) and at the time Director of Organisation and Staff Duties with the RAAF, lifted the curtain a little. He revealed that it was not only C EW Bean who had changed his mind after hearing evidence from people who had not been directly involved but who had a very good view of the proceedings. Major D V J Blake and Captain E G Knox MBE (the publisher, and a journalist), who had respectively been the CO and the RO of 3 AFC Squadron, had also changed their minds. The key passage follows:

Major Blake also states that he made many enquiries from ground eye-witnesses of the combat and crash, including Brigadier-General J H Cannan CB. of the 11th Australian Infantry Brigade, near whose headquarters Richthofen was shot down, and is personally satisfied that Richthofen was brought down by fire from the ground.

Captain Knox, who was also present at the medical examination and some of the subsequent enquiries, supports Major Blake’s statements.

The curtain was completely raised and the picture revealed in 1968. Seventy years after the death of Manfred Albrecht von Richthofen, historian Frank McGuire received a letter from Air Vice – Marshal J L Barker СВ CBE DFC BA, dated 12 October 1988. When the excerpt which follows is compared with Mellersh’s own lecture at the RAF Staff College in 1931, it becomes obvious that Mellersh had an Official Attitude and a Private Opinion. The present authors have Mr McGuires permission to quote from the letter:

Nearly 60 years ago [Flight Lieutenant] Mellersh was adjutant of the Oxford University Air Squadron when I went up in 1930 to Brasenose. I was lucky in that I was one of his pupils as he combined the duties of adjutant with that of Chief Flying Instructor – and he sent me on my first solo.

At that time memories of World War 1 [The Great, to those who fought in it] were still fresh – in fact we were equipped with the Bristol Fighter which was such a success at the end of that war.

To those of us who were learning to fly, Richthofen, although a German, was something of a legend, and all I can recall is that Mellersh was convinced that the Red Baron met his end as the result of ground fire – and none of the flight claimed otherwise.

A close look at many of the post-war statements made by 209 Squadron officers reveals that they are mainly in the third person and contain
statements such as: ‘The RAF recognised…’, or ‘The doctors said… ’.‘The opinion at RAF HQ…’:‘Brown was given the credit’, and so on. These cannot be described as definite personal opinions. They bring to mind the tradition that officers of the armed forces, when told not to talk, did not talk. When told what to say, they said it, and they took their secrets with them to the grave.

Wilfred May’s letter to Donald Naughton in

which he professed lack of knowledge of the true direction of von Richthofen’s wound, may have been part of the same code of honour to which Roy Brown can be seen to have adhered, at great personal inconvenience, for the rest of his life. For what he had to put up with later on, he really earned the Distinguished Service Order that he was denied in 1918.

PostscriptLieutenant F J W Mellersh RNAS

209 Squadron — The Second Claim

The pages of209 Squadrons Record Book which were submitted to 22 Wing at the end of 21 April, showed that 15 pilots, divided into three flights, left Bertangles at 0935,0940 and 0945 hours:


Captain A R Brown DSC B7270
Lieutenant W J Mackenzie B7245
Lieutenant W R May 1)3326
Lieutenant L F Lomas D3340
Lieutenant F J W Mellersh D3329


Captain О C LeBoutillier D3338 Lieutenant R M Foster B3858 Lieutenant M A Harker B7272 Lieutenant M S Taylor B7200 Lieutenant C G Brock B3328


Lieutenant О W Redgate B7250
Lieutenant A W Aird B6311
Lieutenant E В Drake 1)3345
Lieutenant C G Edwards D3331
Lieutenant J H Siddall 1)3327

As far as Wing HQ was concerned a squadrons day began at 1601 hours on one day and ended at 1599 hours the following day, not midnight to midnight. The pages of the various record books, depending on how busy a unit had been, might cover one page one day, several days or merely a few hours. In the case of 209 Squadron at this period, their Record Book page covers both the 20th and 21st, while the 21st also spills over onto a second page covering the 21st only, while the subsequent page covers later events of the 21st and then the 22nd (see page 33).

Upon reaching their assigned altitude, the three flights patrolled the front to discourage any German photographic reconnaissance aircraft from trying to cross the lines. Eventually Redgate s flight became separated from the others by cloud and a little later two of his pilots were forced to return to Bertangles due to engine problems. Redgate and his remaining two men patrolled until the end of the allotted time and then returned to base.

Around K)2(l hours. LeBoutillier s flight saw a

German two-seater recce machine over Beaucourt at 12,000 feet and Lieutenant Merril Taylor, a Canadian, shot it down. Before hitting the ground it caught fire. He identified it as an Albatros C – type but it was probably a Rumpler or LVG CV crewed by Leutnant Kurt Fischer and Leutnant Rudolf Robinius, of FAA203, who were both killed. They came down near Ignaucourt, just to the north-west of Beaucourt, the location given by Taylor for the combat. From a distance. Captain Brown saw the action, followed by an aircraft descending in flames. His testimony was used to confirm Taylors claim.

Here fate took a hand and the path of Captain Browns depleted Squadron crossed with that of Jasta 11. That morning, with von Richthofen leading, they had been joined by a few machines from Jasta 5, Triplanes and Albatros Scouts. At about 1040 hours British time battle was joined in the area of the town of Cerisy, map reference

62D. Q.3.

Both Brown and von Richthofen had a similar habit which endeared them to their subordinates After leading an attack, each would detach himself from any combat which followed, climb above it and be ready to go to the aid of any pilot who was in a tight spot. Von Richthofen even carried a pair of small binoculars on a cord around his neck for better identification of distant aircraft.

Having re-formed themselves after the engagement with the two RE8s, the Fokker Triplanes were once more patrolling behind the German lines looking for British aircraft. Von Richthofen had rejoined and was at the head of one Kette (Flight), flying with his cousin, Leutnant Wolfram von Richthofen, Oberleutnant Walther Karjus, Vizefeldwebel Edgar Scholz and Leutnant Joachim Wolff. It is not known for certain who was leading the second Kette following Weiss’* departure, but one of the pilots was Leutnant Richard Wenzl, formally of Jasta 6. The Fokker pilots saw five Camels coming up from the south, approaching Le Hamel. These were Brown and his four companions. Wolff noted that the Jasta 5 machines were about four kilometres to the north-east, over Sailly-le-Sec, just the other side (north) of the Somme. Moments later Wenzl saw

209 Squadron — The Second Claim
209 Squadron — The Second Claim

another Flight of Camels – Le Boutillier s В Flight.

The formations met. Lieutenant Mackenzie, of Brown’s flight, was taken by surprise and wounded early in the fight; perhaps this was Wolffs claim. Mackenzie turned to face his attacker and claimed to have shot him down. He then left the battle and headed back to Bertangles where he landed safely although in the Record Book his landing time is the same as Brown and Co. His copy of the combat report that went to Brigade is interesting because later that afternoon Major Butlers annotation in ink ‘decisive’ was amended in pencil either by 22 Wing or by 5th Brigade, with the prefix ‘In-’ so that the final decision on his claim became ‘indecisive’.

Lieutenant Francis Mellersh. also in Brown’s flight, was engaged by two Triplanes, possibly Joachim Wolff and Walther Karjus, who had him out-manoeuvred. Brown saw this and rescued him successfully. These are the two Triplanes Brown refers to both in his combat reports and log book, almost as an afterthought. Clear of immediate danger, Mellersh fired at a Fokker with a blue tail near Cerisy. He made his first mistake by following it down to be sure of his victory. Two other Triplane pilots saw this and. realising that the attacking Camel was following a predictable flight path (Mellersh’s second mistake), angled down to intercept him. The blue-tailed Triplane, which could not have been from Jasta 11, but more likely from Jasta 5, force landed near Cerisy but as neither unit suffered any fatalities – or men wounded, it is difficult to comment. Mellersh. having become unexpectedly otherwise engaged, claimed the Triplane as ‘having crashed’ in his combat report, and perhaps believed it had. Only Vfw Scholz is known to have been shot up but he returned safely.

In the action were pilots of varying degrees of experience, but two of them stood out, one a Canadian, the other a German. Lieutenant Wilfred Reid ‘Wop’ May, from Edmonton. Alberta, was a month past his 24th birthday. He had joined 209 Squadron this very month, so was still finding his feet, very much the novice. On the other side. Wolfram von Richthofen, aged 22, from Barzdorf, Silesia, and like his famous cousin, a former cavalry (Hussar) officer, had joined Jasta 11 on 4 April, so he too was very much a new boy. Both men had been warned to stay clear of any action and that if danger loomed, they were to break off and head for home – fast.

When the main fight erupted. Wop May, as instructed by his friend and flight commander, Roy Brown (they had known each other back in

Canada), edged away but when he saw a Triplanc tantilisingly close by. decided to take a crack at : This turned out to be Wolfram von Richthofie: himself trying to stay out of trouble. However. :r. r danger to the Fokker pilot had been spotted bv the experienced eyes of the Red Baron, who carne down from his‘guardian angel’position above the fight to help his young cousin. Those de^r. experienced and now concentrating eyes latched onto the Camel. There can be little doubt that the Baron, while intent on saving his cousin, was noting mentally his approaching 81st kill.

It was only May’s third patrol into enerr74- territory and his second taste of combat. For h an inexperienced pilot to encounter the seasor. r.: airmen of Jasta 11, supported by Jasta 5. л *:• decidedly unlucky. Although May later stated tha: botli his machine guns jammed in the fight, th:- not mentioned in any documentation of the dav: Such jamming is only mentioned in a report r~. May concerning another action one week late:

Brown had said to May:‘Keep out of any fig-* Stay above it and watch. If an enemy begins : come towards you. head for home.’

Whatever had happened beforehand. May now lost altitude and decided to head for horr; Unfortunately instead of climbing out of the battle as he should have done, he put the Can.; – nose down a little for more speed and followed і predictable flight path. Two airmen saw this Manfred von Richthofen and Roy Brown.


Less than one week after the death of von Richthofen, Major Butler began efforts to obtain an award for Captain Brown. His initial attempt to obtain the Distinguished Service Order was unsuccessful as this high award requires great bravery in heavy fighting or an above average period in action or command producing material results. A suitable award for having shot down Germany’s greatest ace was thought to be a Bar to his Distinguished Service Cross. Had the event not been so close to the formation of the RAF it may well have produced not a Bar to the DSC but the new RAF equivalent to the Navy’s DSC or the Army’s MC. the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Butler’s recommendation was submitted as follows:

Commanding Officer,

22nd Wing,

Royal Air Force

I wish to recommend the under mentioned Officer for immediate award for marked skill and gallantry in aerial fighting during the present operations, particularly on the occasions mentioned below.

Captain A. R. Brown. D. S.C.

April 21st. ‘Dived on formation of 15 to 20 Albatros Scouts D5‘s and Fokker Trі planes, two of which got on my tail and I came out. Went back again and dived on pure red Triplane which was firing on Lieut. May. I got a long burst into him and he went down vertical and was observed to crash by Lieut. Mellersh and Lieut. May.’ Engagement took place over Vaux-sur-Somme at about 11 a. m. Note. This machine crashed in our lines and pilot was subsequently identified as Captain Baron Richthofen.

April 12th. ‘Dived on two Fokker Triplanes over Warfusee-Abancourt followed by Lt’s Mellersh, Mackenzie and Lomas. Lt. Mackenzie dived on one Triplane and fired about 100 rounds. E. A. went down vertical and Lt. Mackenzie lost sight of him. I observed It going down but could not watch him right down. Capt. Brown & Lt.

Mellersh dived on the other Triplane. Each fired about 200 rounds. E. A. then went down vertical and we followed him down. Lt.

Mackenzie & Capt. Brown observed burst of flame come out of him then. Followed him down to 500 feet when he came out of dive. Capt. Brown and Lt. Mellersh opened fire again. E. A. carried on gliding and looked as if pilot was landing or was dead and machine gliding automatically.’ Note. Confirmed in R. A.F. Communique No.2.

April 12th 1 brought down and 1 driven down out of control.

another keeping E. A. from getting above us. Picked one and fired about 100 rounds into him at fairly close range. He did climbing left hand turns right in front of me while I was firing then went into vertical dive and I lost him under left wing.*

Engagement occurred N. E. of Foret d’Houthulst whilst escorting a French Caudron. Confirmed by pilot of Caudron (as per RNAS Communique No 18) to have crashed.

February 2nd. ‘I dived on 2 Albatros two – seaters over Foret d’Houthulst and opened fire on one getting in about 100 rounds when the other two-seater began to get above me. I turned on him and fired about 350 rounds. Both E. A. disappeared in the mist after I had turned to dive again.*

This Officer was awarded the D. S.C.. in October 1917, whilst with this Squadron.

С H Butler. Major Commanding 209 Squadron R. A.F.

In the Field. April 26th 1918.

The award of a Bar was announced in 22 Wing Routine Order No.552. dated 11 May 1918. It was actually presented to Brown in July by the Prince of Wales. The Citation was as follows:

Announcement of award of ‘Bar to the Distinguished Service Cross to Lieut. (Hon. Capt.) Arthur Roy Brown. D. S.C., R. A.F’: in London Gazette, Fourth Supplement to 18 June 1918. published 21 June:

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. On 21st April, 1918, while leading a patrol of six scouts he attacked a formation of 20 hostile scouts. He personally engaged two Fokker triplanes, which lie drove off; then seeing that one of our machines was being attacked and apparently hard pressed, he dived on the hostile scout, firing the while. ‘Ibis scout, a Fokker triplane nose-dived to the ground. Since the award of the Distinguished Service Cross he has destroyed several other enemy aircraft and has shown great dash and enterprise in attacking enemy troops from low altitude despite heavy anti­aircraft fire.

March 22nd. ‘Dived from 15,000 feet on 7 E. A. two-seaters. At first dived on one after


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


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

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

175,000 RPM 2,300 FPS


152,000 RPM 1,000 FPS


1.50 sec


—I— 400yrds


0.5 sec



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

Characteristics of 0.303 inch
Rifle Bullet Wounds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


25 May 1918 an account of the end of the Red evil was published in the London (England) Graphic. : was accompanied by the painting of the air fight by ‘■eph Simpson. Boyd Cable was named as the r. tributor. A careful reading will reveal that it is -viously an honest attempt at a true rendering and. г rears to be based upon the account of a 209 Squadron — _-:nber. In its simplicity, it is far closer to the truth than _‘er more detailed efforts by others.

Unfortunately Cable gave no idea of the elapsed me between the events which he described: this ccned a door to much invention. His story may be said і be a skeleton to which others have added flesh, reared sometimes from out of thin air, and which have Transformed what was quite close to the truth, into -.rtual fiction.

Cables account contains one major error and three nor variations from the truth; three of which were to. г pear again and again; sometimes expanded, sometimes -. -^phrased, as later writers added ‘interest’ to the basic • >rv. The major error is treated in Item 4 below. All-in – .2. however, it was a good effort.

The Red Baron, with his famous circus, discovered nro of our artillery observing machines, and with a few followers attached; the greater part of the ‘circus’ drawing off to allow the Baron to go in and down the two. They put up a fight, and, while the Baron manoeuvred for position, a number of our fighting scout machines appeared and attached the ‘circus’.The Baron joined the melee, which, scattering into groups, developed into what our men call a ‘dog fight’. In the course of this, the Baron dropped on the tail of a fighting scout, which dived with the Baron in close pursuit. Another of our scouts, seeing this, dived after the German, opening fire on him. All three machines came near enough to be engaged by infantry machine gun fire, and the Baron was seen to swerve, continue his dive headlong and crash in our lines. His body and the famous blood-red Fokker triplane were afterwards brought in by the infantry, and the Baron was buried with full military honours. He was hit by one bullet, and the position of the wound showed clearly that he had been hilled by the pilot who dived down after him.

Author’s Sotcs:

The attack on the two RE8s was not made by von Richthofen alone. He was accompanied by Leutnant 4ms Weiss. Subsequent elabortions have not copied Cables count; they seem to have leaned the other way rv increasing the number of Triplanes to three or even four.

It should be carefully noted that Cable’s story does. ot have Captain Brown diving to the rescue of the

RE8s. It states correctly that Brown engaged the rest of JGI and that von Richthofen then desisted from attacking the RE8s and rejoined JGI.

2. Cable suggests that Lieutenants Banks and Barrow, the observers in the two RE8s. were reporting the tall of artillery fire. That was not so. They were taking photographs of the German troops and supply concentrations in the Le Hamel area.

3. Cable gives the impression that the machine-gun fire from the infantry occurred at the same time as the second fighting scouts attacked the triplanes (near the bottom of the valley). That was not so. There may have been some rifle fire, but the first machine gunner definitely known at that time to have fired at the Triplane was Sergeant Popkin as it approached the crest of the ridge after climbing up from the valley.

4. Cable shows knowledge of the single bullet but gives its path through von Richthofen’s body as being the reverse of what is known to be true. The wording looks rather like a paraphrase of what is said to have been the opinion of the group of 209 Squadron pilots who, on 2 May 1918. studied the evidence and beliefs, both right and wrong, available to them.


Cable’s 1918 story appears to have been the basis for an anonymous account of the same events published in Canada in 1925. Unfortunately, some of the additions, which considerably distorted the story, had little or no basis in fact, (see Appendix B)

Two famous paintings are worth commenting on. They were both painted shortly after the event and were not influenced by later fanciful writings. Although the background of the Simpson painting (referred to above) is incorrect (it depicts the encounter as being at high altitude), the position of Brown’s Camel relative to von Richthofen’s Triplane should be carefully noted. Brown is shown attacking from the left.

The other 1918 painting, this time by Geoffrey Watson, is worthy of study as well. The background too is incorrect but the attack direction is correct – from the left – as per Brown’s statements.

From 1927 onwards the direction of Roy Brown’s attack, as shown in sketches, drawings and paintings, will be found to be from the right, (see also Appendix D)

NB. Boyd Cable was the pseudonym of Ernest Andrew Ewert OBE. from west London, who wrote several books for John Murray & Co. Ewart was an observer with the RFC and saw service with squadrons at the front for over a year. His stories were fictional but based on facts gleaned while on active service. He ended the war as an acting Lieutenant-Colonel.



The Rittmeister’s Attack. on Lieutenant May

Von Richthofen saw an easy interception and dived to the attack: this required some rapid menu, trigonometry. In order to finish his dive in a g firing position behind May’s Camel, he had to airr. for a point well ahead of it. Several ground witnesses, mainly those looking east rather than south-east and therefore not into the sun. saw : ; aircraft and then another dive out of the figh: Although there is no evidence whatsoever of th. it is safe, on the basis of combat airmanship ale ne to assume that von Richthofen curved his d: . around to the south so as to have the sun behind him in his approach to the Camel. A11 ‘old hand on either side, would not have done otherwise unless he had lost interest in surviving the war.

According to the Combat Reports and the squadron Record Book entries for Capm: Brown’s fight, map references 62D. Q.2 and 62D. Q.3 (Cerisy) appear. These locations arc : the south-east of where Brown later attacked von Richthofen. Brown initially believed that May, whom he had last seen over the River Somme a short distance to his south, had successfully disengaged. A few seconds later, he noticed that a second aeroplane had also disengaged. It resolved into a Triplane which appeared to be taking an unhealthy interest in Mays Camel.

For a reason which will never be known, von Richthofen failed to make a good interception; lie came out of his dive too fir behind Mays Camel, which gave May the advantage as his machine was the faster of the two.

Tiking Mays later testimony as a basis, it may be concluded that von Richthofen came into maximum firing range of May somewhere between Saillv-le-Sec and Welcome Wood. From the Camel’s flight path von Richthofen had probably suspected that its pilot was new to the game and decided to find out for certain. Even with the occasional defective round of ammunition in his belts that morning, he could safely tackle an inexperienced enemy. If the Camel pilot turned out to be otherwise, a Fokker Dr. I Triplane could out climb a Camel any day. He opened fire to see what would happen. An experienced pilot upon hearing the Rak-ak-ak sound of bullets passing close by or seeing the smoke of the tracer, would, without any hesitation whatsoever turn his machine to face his attacker. A novice would spend vital moments looking around to find his attacker who, if close by, was using those same vital moments to correct his aim! If the novice survived the second and more accurate burst of fire, he would probably begin to zig-zag. The urgency with which Brown regarded the situation may be deduced from the airmanship which he now displayed.

A third aeroplane was seen by ground witnesses to leave the ‘dog fight’ high up over Cerisy and start downwards heading south-west; it was Brown. An ‘old hand’ like him instinctively knew that in an attack from this direction – ie: into the sun with a layer of haze ahead of it – the dice would be loaded against himself. He would be heading into haze made opaque by the sun’s rays, whereas his opponent’s clearest view would be towards him. On the way down there would be time to remedy this and thereby gain the tactical advantage of surprise.

Having detached himself from the fight which was now down to 5,000 feet, Brown performed his own mental trigonometry. A dive from that altitude to ground level required that he start levelling out at 1,000 feet and then stabilise his aeroplane on the final intercepting course. This required about 7,500 feet of forward motion and a lot of good judgement. To use the sun and haze to his advantage, he would need to attack the Triplane from above, behind and on its left. Brown stated in his Combat Report that he was fighting in 62D. Q.2 which would have placed him in a good position relative to the sun and the ground haze to observe the members of his Flight. Starting from 62D. Q.2 it would not be difficult to adjust his course on the way down so as to approach the aircraft from the south-east. Vincent Emery, in his trench at Sainte Colette, saw him do this. If he were then to pass to the south of Vaux-sur – Somme, the mist would help to hide him. After that, on his attack path, he would have the sun behind him. There was a good chance that the

German pilot just might not see him_________

Fundamental to any fighter pilot in any war. it has been estimated that 50% of pilots shot down, never saw the aircraft that attacked them. This is good tactics, giving the maximum result with the minimum risk.

Brown eased his Camel into a 45° dive, adjusted his engine power to obtain 180 mph, which was the maximum safe airspeed, so as not to separate his wings from the fuselage. LeBoutillier later confirmed this angle of dive by saying ‘… I saw him coming in from the right [of Boot’s position) in a steep 45° dive.’

Von Richthofen’s impression that the Camel pilot ahead of him might be a novice had been confirmed. Upon realising that someone was firing at him, May swerved his aeroplane and began to zig-zag. The aerodynamic drag of the turns reduced his speed. The Triplane, which was actually the slower aeroplane of the two, now held the advantage and the distance between them began to diminish. May descended lower and lower until he was, in his own words: ‘Just skimming the surface of the water.’