1. Sergeant Alfred George Franklyn

Around 1929 English newspapers carried a report that the real victor over the Red Devil might have been Sergeant A G Franklyn who had been in charge of Section 110, ‘F’; Anti-Aircraft Battery of the Royal Garrison Artillery. The Battery was composed of a number of 13-18 pounder guns mounted on lorries and they took up position on the road where needed. These were 18 pounder guns modified to fire 13 pound AA shells.

The former Sergeant stated that his battery had shot down a German aeroplane on 21 April 1918 and that it had crashed 200 yards from the battery’s position. He further claimed that the pilot had been von Richthofen who had been chasing TWO Sopwith Camels at the time, and that the pilot of one later came to the battery to thank him.

Careful examination of Franklyn’s written claim reveals that the position which he gave for his lorries on 21 April agrees with his description of the area; he was somewhere on the Corbie road about half a mile east of Bonnay (on one occasion he gave his position as 880 yards, and on another 800 yards). The ground between the lorries and a high ridge in front of them was occupied by Australian field batteries. A line drawn on a map certainly places a road as described, but it is the road from Corbie to Mericourt L’abbe, not that from Corbie to Bray.

Upon checking exactly what Franklyn wrote, the simple words ‘Corbie road’ will be found. These words were later clarified by others; they became the ‘Corbie- Bray road’.This so-called clarification, which was not of the sergeant’s doing, moved his lorries from the east side of the Morlancourt Ridge (the Ancre River side) to the west (Somme River) side. Taking the closest point of the Corbie to Bray road to the location described by Franklyn, the unnecessary literary help moved the lorries a minimum of 600 yards south-east from where he had placed them. If we take 200 yards from the crash site as a bench mark, and interpret it as favourably as possible, the lorries will have been moved by almost one mile and into clear German view. It will be recalled that the Corbie to Bray road was considered to be dangerous in daylight and that vehicular traffic either moved along it at night or very rapidly.

The War Diary of the 4th AA Defences records ‘F’ Battery as having shot down a German aeroplane on 22 April. Franklyn’s claim is not helped by another witness. Lieutenant P Hutton, who claims that the two aeroplanes were DeHavilland DH5s. These machines had a very distinctive back-stagger of their top wing but unfortunately, the DH5 was no longer in service in France in April 1918.

Franklyn sent a detailed hand-written account of the action to John Coltman in which he stated that the reports that von Richthofen was flying a Fokker

Triplane were untrue! According to him he had been flying an Albatros biplane. The plain truth is that during a long battle there are no weekend breaks to separate the days and they soon tended to blend together. For one person to recall exactly when something happened, albeit only about ten days earlier, he would often have to ask somebody else or to consult the War Diary. ‘F’ Battery definitely shot down a German aeroplane which crashed nearby, but one day later than the Richthofen affair.

2. Corporal William C Gamble

In June 1984, in Volume 55. No.2 of the Journal of the Royal Historical Society of Victoria, Australia, there appeared an article by Ronald East, on the autobiography, itself unpublished, written in 1978 by former Corporal Gamble who had served with the 25th Machine Gun Company in WW1.

Gamble described how he saw three Triplanes flying between Le Hamel and Villers-Bretonneux. One of them separated from the other two and dived down to attack a British aeroplane which had been flying too low down for Gamble to see. A standard story of von Richthofen chasing May up the cliff and over to the north-east towards the 55th and 53rd Batteries then follows. Gamble did not see Brown attack the Triplane, that would have been hidden from him by the terrain.

Gamble and his crew opened fire on the red Triplane after it levelled off over the crest and headed north. He supplied two sketches, one horizontal and the other vertical, which Ronald East included in the article. They depict the trajectory of his shots. Aiming in front of the fuselage, he fired a whole pannier of 47 rounds upwards and semi-frontally at the left-hand side of the Triplane. The Triplane turned right – north-east – and he remarked to his crew:‘Well, at least we saved our chap’s life.’ He marvelled that an aeroplane could pass through so many bullets without the pilot being injured, although from later information received, he came to believe that he had hit him. Shortly afterwards, the other two German aeroplanes came within range and he opened fire on them too, but without any observed results.

With the German attack expected any day, before he could report the event to his officer, his gun team was moved down to the low ground between Le Hamel and Corbie. On the 24th he was caught in a barrage of poison gas shells, and then wounded in the head the next day, eventually losing an eye. He never did file a claim.

Corporal Gamble obviously fired at the von Richthofen Triplane and may even have put a few shots through some fabric, but his sketches show clearly that he could not have inflicted the right-to-left wound.

3. Private Ernest Boore

The London Daily Express, 20 March 1995. published a


story sub-titled Foot Soldier Grabbed Rifle to Shoot Down German Ace, says family. Private Boore’s grandson said: ‘I can remember Grandad holding up his trigger finger and telling me,“That’s the finger that shot down the Red Baron.”

Ernie’s close friend Bill Carless, who was still alive at the time, clarified that Ernie had tears in his eyes as he explained how he had seen the Red Baron firing at this Canadian. Ernie, who had no weapon at the time, snatched a rifle from a New Zealander, pointed it and hit the Baron with a single shot.

The Daily Express consulted the RAF Museum, Hendon, London, where they were told that Ernies story was possible. It agreed with Professor Nixons medical report. The Museum also confirmed [the obvious], that Captain Browns squadron had forced [sic] von Richthofen down so low that he could have been hit by a shot from the ground.

If Private Boore formed part of Lieutenant Wood’s platoon or was somewhere near it. the story is possible. The only error present is in the clarification provided by an official at Hendon, viz: the reason why the Baron was flying so low down.

Unfortunately the reporter who wrote the story, did not mention where Private Boore was standing at the time which makes it impossible to evaluate his claim until such information is discovered or provided.

4. Private Theodore Henzell

A newspaper clipping with the page heading missing but known to be from Brisbane, around 1986, presented the claim of a pensioner who, in 1918, was serving in the Australian 3rd Trench Mortar Battery. Due to illness, he was on light duties and was serving as a batman to a lieutenant (unidentified) who was stationed in Vaux-sur-Somme.

Private Henzell said that on 21 April, at Vaux, he watched a German aeroplane shoot down two British observation balloons. The aeroplane changed direction and was heading directly towards him. With his.303 rifle and standing slightly to the left of the flight path, he fired one shot at it from about 80 yards range. The German aeroplane, which he defined as a Fokker, nosed downwards and crashed about 1,000 yards away near some British trenches. He claimed that the angle of his shot agreed with the results of: ’… years of painstaking research…. into the medical records which showed that he [von R] had been killed by a bullet which entered his chest on the left side, piercing his heart and exited behind the right shoulder.’ Unfortunately the only painful thing for Private Henzell is that the true original medical records state no such thing, although some edited combinations of the First and the Second Reports do.

The Baron, who regarded a live, effective pilot as more valuable to Germany that a dead hero, would never go near an observation balloon, and in his earlier career was fortunate enough never to be ordered to do so. There is no evidence that he ever even contemplated such a move in his entire combat career. Very wise.

5. Trooper William Howell

In 1969, the Melbourne newspaper, 77i<* Age, published the story of a member of the Australian Light Horse, Trooper W Howell. He stated that he had fired his.303 rifle at the Triplane that was flying at a height equivalent to about’three gum trees’.The Australian eucalyptus (or gum) tree grows quite tall, so the height at which he placed the Triplane is quite possible as von Richthofen was climbing, heading east after surviving the shots fired by Buie, Evans – and Gamble. Howell was supposed to be quite good at deflection shooting and allowing for the wind.

Unfortunately the reporter who wrote this story did not mention where Howell was standing either, which also makes it impossible to evaluate his claim until such information can be found.

The above stories are just a few of the many which have appeared over the years in various forms. Most have some basis of truth, but the only thing that brings them together is the fact that all eventually become part of the Richthofen legend. Author Norman Franks remembers vividly looking at a display ofWWl model aeroplanes some years ago outside a shop window in Twickenham, Middlesex.

An elderly gentleman came along and stopped, looking keenly at a large model of the Baron’s red Fokker Triplane. He was obviously eager to relate some tale about it as he turned first to the left and then to the right to see if anyone was in earshot. Finally looking behind him. he saw Franks. Without hesitation the man said:‘I saw him come down, you know.’ Franks looked interested. ‘Yes, he was quite near me and he climbed out of his cockpit, gave his iron cross to one Tommy and his scarf to another, then they took him away to prison camp.’ A companion standing next to Franks, as the old gentleman walked away, the smile of recollection on his face, enquired why Franks did not chase after him and ask him more about it. The reader can imagine what Franks said in response!

The thing is, the old gentleman believed unquestioningly that the German pilot was Baron von Richthofen. He had obviously witnessed something similar while in France and over the intervening years he had associated this with Richthofen because that became a well known event. Or was he just shooting a line…?

The First Medical Examination

(The Midnight Preview)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If one takes the same starting point as being

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

We examined the body of Captain Baron VON

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

The entrance wound was situated on the right

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

The gun firing this bullet must have been

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

The First Medical Examination

We are agreed that the situation of the entranoe

The First Medical Examination

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

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

Lieut. R. A.M. C.


in the Field


The First Medical Examination

Lt Downs’ Sketch Clarified

Vo*» Richthofen

The First Medical Examination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Engagement with red triplane

Time: about 11-00 a. m.

Locality. Vaux sur Somme

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


On 2 December 1925 the Canadian newspaper the On, піч Citizen published what it termed:’A full account of the fight’ given, it claimed, by an officer who had been engaged in the air battle over Cerisy and Saillv – Laurette on 21 April 1918.The officer was not named.

Some of the phrasing of that Anonymous Account will look quite familiar to a reader once he has digested the contents of the Siimimiry (Appendix C). provided (it is claimed) by the Air Ministry in London to the author Floyd Gibbons (but see our misgiving in that appendix).

If, after studying the transcript (below) of the Anonymous Account, the reader peruses My Fight with Richthofen. (Appendix E), further similarities will be noticed.

The Anonymous Account was as follows – verbatim:

‘Fifteen of our planes were patrolling along the lines,’ he said. ‘Captain Brown was leading his squadron / / / of fire machines parallel with the second squadron, and some distance above the third and leading squadron.

‘We had not gone far when we saw below us two or three RF. Hs out on artillery observation, and attaching them were several German triplanes /2]. At that time iir were at an altitude of some fifteen thousand feet, and the enemy planes were Jlying quite low /3/.

‘Captain Brown, without hesitation, dived, the others following. Within a few minutes we were in the middle of a “dogfight". Hi1 discovered nr were attaching 22 14/ enemy machines. Fortunately the speed of the onslaught threw the Germans off their guard, and the old RHs were able to get away undamaged 5],

‘Captain Brown, as leader of the squadron, was beeping an eye on the entire fight. He had one pilot, Captain “lli>/>” May of Edmonton, who had never before tahen part in an air battle bj and quite naturally he paid particular care to the new man. Captain May dived with the rest, engaged with a (iennan, and after bringing him down /7/, made towards our own lines in accordance with instructions.

So sooner had be become detached from the others than Richthofen made after him and opened up heavy fire 8f. Fortunately Captain Brown had been watching this turn of events and he immediately followed after Richthofen. His first bullets ripped through the fuselage of the enemy plane /9/. lie //0/ saw him elevate his fire slightly / / If Richthofen collapsed in his seat and the plane plunged to the ground //2/.


‘When the battle was over, we discovered that we had accounted for eight enemy planes, and we had received no damage at all /13/.

‘Richthofen,’ continued the airman, ‘was usually successful because he invariably followed any plane which became detached from the fight. I question whether he ever realised that he in turn, was being followed. He was hilled instantaneously by the first burst of bullets and his machine was riddled I I4f

Authors’ Xotes

1. The flights are called squadrons; an error in the Summary. The writer obviously was not ^ R pilot.

2. The RESs and Fokker Triplanes which were ixx sight over Le Hamel, not below Browns Camel’ tr Cerisy. have been inserted. These appear again m і Summary.

3. The genuine RESs and Triplanes over Le H-— were not ‘quite low*, they were at 7,500 feet. Га altitude is given in the Combats in the Air Rcpon written jointly by the two RES crews.

4. 22 German machines are said to have been pre^n I low anyone could have counted them is – « explained, and the same number is cited in "ir Summary. The figure is about double the acn_a. number.

5. The genuine RESs carried on with their phi : – graphy in peace and neither crew made any reference to Camels being present.

0. This was not the first time that May had been – combat: actually it was his second combat and tht" flight over the lines. Also his rank is shown incorrect! although he became a captain later in 1918.

7. May is incorrectly said to have shot down і Triplane. This is repeated in the Summary which thcr. adds – ‘flames’ – to the fiction. The only Triplane к*’* over the Somme on that day was Richthofen’s 425 17

8. The heavy fire is pure invention. The aces on both sides only fired a few shots at a time in short bursts they were so close that they knew they couldn’t miss

9. II. 12. The bullets through the fuselage. Brown elevating his fire, and the Triplane plunging to the ground all reappear in My Fight with Richthofen in a more elaborate manner. In some of the published versions. Richthofen collapses in his seat as well. The text is still recognisable as having originated in the Anonymous Account and having been ‘laundered’ on its way through the Summary and The Red Knight of C iermany.

10. ‘lie’ suggests that two, or more, Sopwith Camel pilots were living within 50 yards of Captain Brown when he fired on the Triplane. To see such minute detail, ‘they would have to be extremely close to him yet nobody saw them. This positively identifies the ‘story’ as a fabrication.

13. Eight enemy planes shot down is again pure invention. Only von Richthofen’s Triplane was lost although another may have been forced to land.

14. ‘Riddled with bullets’ is more invention. The people who examined the Triplane 425/17 after the forced landing were amazed to find how undamaged from gunfire it was. Private Craven, who souvenired a piece of fabric with a bullet hole in it. was said to have been lucky. There was only one bullet hole in the fuselage; Captain R Ross. Lieutenant W J Warneford and I AM A A Boxall-Chapman, all testified to that effect.

The Anonymous Account may have been the source of a

fictitious story published on 26 February 1930 in the Herald, a Melbourne, Australia newspaper, under the name of Lieutenant L A Mellor of 209 Squadron KFC (sic). Like the writer of the Anonymous Account he claimed to have been flying close to Brown when the latter attacked the Red Baron. Unfortunately С E W

Bean could not find a Lieutenant L A Mellor in the RAF or AFC lists of officers. The present authors have made a similar search with the same result. The 209 Squadron Record Book does not mention him as having flown on 21 April 1918. nor is his name listed in the Squadron pilot roster.

Background and. Circumstances

Due to the bad weather which had directly followed the arrival ofJGI at Сарру on 12 April, von Richthofen had not made many flights over that part of the front from this base. He had, of course been fighting over this sector in early April when based at Lechelle, which is a little further north from Сарру. From studying maps, reinforced by those flights, he was certainly familiar with the river, the towns, the villages and the wooded areas.

All were easy to identify when seen from an altitude of 2,000 feet or more. However, from 50 feet above the ground things look very different. Virtually nothing has any quickly recognisable outline or form. The woods no longer have any shape; they are just trees seen from the side. The villages have no shape either, they arc just a collection of houses, or ruins of houses. Worse yet, objects pass so quickly that there is no time for a second look just to make sure.

On 21 April there was an additional confusion factor. The wind, which normally blew from the west, was on this morning blowing strongly from the east. Lieutenant May, followed by the Baron, was heading west which means that the wind was hurrying them both along relative to the ground. A pilot who is mentally conditioned to the time taken for landmarks to pass by in a 110 mph aeroplane flying into a 25 mph headwind, can easily be a long way ahead of the place on earth where he believes himself to be when flying with a 25 mph tailwind. The distance over the ground that he would normally cover in three minutes now takes one minute, 44 seconds. With one village looking like another, no distinct forest outlines at this height and no front-line trenches within view on either side of the river (remember, there were only strong points at this stage, front­line trench systems had not been dug), it would be very easy to confuse Vaux-sur-Somme for Sailly – le-Sec. (Both of the present authors have flown over the area and were initially confused. This was around 400 feet and the Baron would have even less chance at around 50 feet.) Both villages are about the same size, both lie on the north side of the canal, and in both cases the canal has turned to flow north-west. Sherlock Holmes found the fact that the dog did not bark in the night to be of singular significance. Something similar was about to happen, or better, not to happen.

In April 1918 the important difference between the two villages was that Sailly-le-Sec was only half a mile inside Allied-held territory whereas Vaux-sur-Somme was two miles inside. The main night-time supply route to the Allied forces in the Sailly area was the Corbie-Bray road which runs past the Sainte Colette brickworks atop the Morlancourt Ridge. This road was a favourite target for German fighter pilots who regularly strafed it at dawn to catch breakdowns or stragglers, plus the odd attack during the day if cloud cover was favourable. The strong anti­aircraft defences along and nearby this road were very well known to the German Army Air Service. Von Richthofens subsequent actions
strongly suggest that he took a distant village on the north bank of the canal to be Sailly-le-Se. whereas it was actually Vaux. On this hypothes:- von Richthofen, in quite unknowingly having proceeded beyond the genuine Sailly-le-Sec. was in absolute violation of his strictest precept: never to fly low down over enemy territory. He hac never done so before and there was no reason f * him to do so today. Moreover, in terms of anti­aircraft fire, he was fast approaching the mo-r heavily defended sector for miles around.

In addition to the strong cast wind and the badly manufactured ammunition in his gum. another adverse factor entered the situation for the Baron. Presumably because of the hazy air du: morning, he was wearing flying goggles with special lenses. From their shape, they probably had been captured from an Allied airman. Their brigr: yellow double layer lenses considerably improved forward vision (one of the authors has inspected them) through haze, and by eliminating glare made moving objects stand out against a stationer- background. But, being flat, they had the disadvantage of eliminating peripheral (side vision. Like Lieutenant May and Captain LeBoutillier, to see either side von Richthofen he^ to turn his head considerably; to see directi’, behind he had to turn his aeroplane.

The later fanciful journalistic stories of Brov. – seeing the glint of von Richthofens eyes as he glanced back at him are simply not true. Looking at someone wearing the goggles today from ju<t a few feet away, the eyes are totally obscured.

It was at this point that Lieutenant Punch (windmill FOP) saw the two aircraft, both at tree – top height, approaching his position from the ea-: He spoke to Gunner Rhodes who cranked the handle of the field telephone and asked for the duty officer at the 53rd Battery.

The village ofVaux-sur-Somme now appeared right in front of May and the chasing Baron. Thi – should have been the moment for the latter и turn back, but like the singular behaviour of the dog in the Sherlock Holmes story, he did not rea.: to the situation. This tends to confirm that Richthofen had the erroneous impression that the village was Sailly-le-Sec and that he was in the relatively clear area which began a short distance behind the Allied forward defence positions.

From the testimony of the few people who sav. the next part of the action, it appears that von Richthofen came within normal accurate firing distance of Mays Camel at about this time. Judging by the events which followed, the most probable explanation why a man who was renowned for his
accurate shooting failed to dispose of the easy target in front of him is that his left-hand gun was the only one in proper working order and it jammed the instant he opened fire. When the breech-block of the gun was later opened on the ground, it was found to contain a split cartridge case. This was a fault which could not be diagnosed accurately in the air and a pilot could easily expend useless effort in the hope of clearing it. It fits with the puzzlement of some of the ground witnesses as to why the Triplane s pilot did not take advantage of more than one instance when the Camel was at his apparent mercy. As to why von Richthofen continued the chase, the most plausible reason is that the right-hand machine gun was still operable. However, for the sole two or three rounds it would fire at a time to be effective, he needed to reduce the range considerably and, in the total absence of another hostile aircraft, he still had opportunity to do exactly that.

Lieutenant-Colonel J L Whitham (CO 52nd Battalion), in his command post in Vaux, could hear the noises of the air battle up above the patches of mist which lingered over the village and nearby canal. Spent bullets were dropping from the sky from time to time. He had a front seat in the Stalls and was about to receive a surprise such as occurs when the stage magician waves his magic wand. Suddenly before his eyes and those of the garrison of Vaux a British biplane followed by a German Triplane appeared at roof-top height. Until then they had been out of sight below the tree-tops along the river and canal banks to the east. The British aeroplane was so low down that it had to turn sharp right to miss the church tower. Some of the surprised soldiers took aim with their rifles and fired at the German machine. In early 1933, Whitham replied to his friend С E W Bean (a war correspondent), following an enquiry:

lam very definite on the point that two ‘planes only came down the valley. A heavy fog or river mist, with a curtain of about 150 feet, had rested in the valley of the Somme for several hours and prevented our view of the air fight which we could hear plainly… towards the east, ie: over Sailly – le-Sec and Sailly Laurette. Both these ‘planes came from the east and downwards, and they flattened out as they passed over Vaux-sur-Somme, less than 100 feet from the valley level. It seemed certain that both would crash into the spur immediately west of the sharp bend of the Somme where it turns southwards towards Corbie, but we saw the leading ‘plane rise at the spur, closely followed by the triplane. The triplane seemed definitely under control of its pilot as it passed over Vaux-sur-Somme and it is difficult to credit the assertion [1] that the pilot was fatally wounded by a shot fired from the air prior to his passing over Vaux.

I cannot say whether Richthofen was firing at the Camel at this stage – the noise of both engines was very great – but I heard machine guns firing from the ground further west down the valley.

After a short excursion heading north towards the Ridge, the British Camel turned west again just as though the pilot had realised that to make the steepish climb in front of his pursuer was tantamount to signing his own death warrant. The Triplane followed the manoeuvre, cutting corners as it went, and step by step reducing the distance between them. It was obvious that an ‘old hand’ was trying to catch a novice. The puzzle was why the ‘old hand’ had let pass two or three excellent opportunities to down the Camel. In those moments too, the usually cool and methodical Baron must have been feeling frustrated and quite busy in his cockpit, which must have reduced the amount of time to glance around and ascertain his exact position. Just moments earlier, the Camel pilot had almost led him into a church tower!

The chase at low-level through the wisps of mist along the south face of the Morlancourt Ridge had begun. One possible reason why von Richthofen made an exception to his normal operational limits and headed deeper into Allied territory is that he saw two Triplanes some distance away and at a higher altitude to his left (south) near Hamelet (not to be confused with Le Hamel) which would provide him with ‘top cover’. Leutnant Joachim Wolff, the pilot of one of them reported having seen von Richthofen. There is no record whether Oberleutnant Wilther Kaijus, the pilot of the second Dr. I, also saw him.

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.



In the Public Record Office, the following document which is transcribed verbatim, is to be found under AIR 2397/262/2:


Captain Baron von Richthofen’s career was ended by a British pilot who was unaware of the identity of his victim until after the fight which wrote a large page in the history of the World War.

Captain A. Roy Brown of the Royal Air Force had been engaged in active service along the British front for fifteen months prior to the engagement on April 21, 1918. This had been punctuated only by a month’s leave to visit Canada and his nervous system had become so disorganised that it affected his stomach and for the last month of that time his diet consisted of brandy and milk.

Confined to his bed, he nevertheless arose and led his two patrols daily into the enemy’s territory. The British held a momentary supremacy in the air and this sen,- favourable condition added the greatest hazard to flying – the necessity of making all engagements over foreign territory. A new and more serious factor likewise had appeared – the Richthofen Circus.

This aggregation of gaily decorated Fokker triplanes, superior to anything the Allies possessed, had appeared in this sector three weeks previously. With them they had brought new tactics consisting principally of flying in Squadron formation. Whereas contact with the enemy previously had been in flights of five planes each, the British now worked in squadrons of various numbers, dependent upon last minute developments.

Captain Brown commanded a flight of Sopwith Camels in Squadron 209, stationed at Bertangles, four miles from Amiens. The squadron was commanded by Major Butler, holder of the Distinguished Service Order.

Captain Brown had been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross in a career which had included the dropping of about 15 enemy planes, although he is not certain of the official total.

During the time that Richthofen’s Circus had opposed Squadron 209, the latter had come in daily contact with it. without marked results. Without realising which plane belonged to the German flier who had nearly eighty Allied planes to his credit, the British aviators each day had their skirmishes with the aggregation, and Captain Brown formed an unusual attachment with one which remained as a vivid memory after the war.

He had singled out a Fokker triplane with a pale green fuselage and lavender wings and each day had his private duel without either himself or his German opponent ever gaining the advantage. For all he knew at the time, this might have been Richthofen, but this belief also was shared by each of his compatriots who were conducting their own private affairs.

On April 21. with the memory of these occurrences of the past few days in mind. Squadron 209 (sic) set out for the regular morning patrol at 10.30 a. m. The Squadron consisted of three flights of five planes each. The first flight flew in a V-shaped formation, close together, with Major Butler leading, two planes slightly behind him and at each side and two others still farther apart and above behind them.

Flanking the leading flight on the right, in the same formation, was Captain Brown’s flight, he being second in command. A similar flight was to the left of the Major’s detail.

The patrol first took a methodical path up and down the lines where (sic) here ran north and south and where, below, the Australian Colonials were facing the Germans. Back and forth they flew, gradually gaining altitude as they flew in wide arcs until the squadron was at 15,000 feet. The visibility was fair with a few clouds but when the squadron reached this altitude, flying over the lines. Captain Brown noticed the Squadron Commander Butler and his flight were not in evidence. Thereupon, Captain Brown assumed command of the two remaining squadrons [sic), signalling for the other to take position behind and above his own. With this formation made, he headed east in search of enemy planes and to do whatever reconnaissance was possible. This latter was secondary, however, to the main purpose of the Camel pilots to find and destroy whatever enemy – planes might be sighted.

The captain, his attention attracted by a burst of fire from his own anti-aircraft guns, looked over the side of his plane and far below sighted three Fokker triplanes attacking two R. E.8 type British planes over the German lines. The R. E.Ss were slow, cumbersome planes sent up only for the purpose of spotting Allied artillery – fire and quite unable to cope with the expert German pilots in their new equipment.

A kick on the rudder turned Captain Browns Camel on its side and the sight that met his eyes sent a tremor down his spine. A whole swarm of German aircraft had appeared, as if from nowhere, and. while neither of the observation planes had gone down, he realised it to be but a matter of seconds until they were both over-powered by virtue of numbers alone.

But while he watched the fight more than two miles below – he estimated the engagement to be at 3,000 feet altitude – his mind, trained to the mathematical formula of flying formations, reviewed the situation.

His first responsibility was to get enemy planes, but equally important was the requirement that he exercise every precaution to get his men back safely. Up to this time both records were clear for he had got more than his share of planes and he had never lost a man in the enemy’s territory.

The question was whether he should exercise prudence and permit the sacrifice of the two planes already involved below or whether he should make the heroic effect of endeavouring to save them. And then a third element entered into his reasoning – plain, cold fear.

His own craft were outnumbered two to one, he knew, and by the bright colourings he knew the German planes to be members of the Circus which had made its reputation even before he had set foot on French soil. As a matter of fact, he later found his machines out­numbered three to one.

Never before had he encountered so many of the Circus members at once and. as patrol leader, he would be the first on into the melee, probably arriving thousands of feet ahead of his support. He also knew with certainty that among the nine other planes there might be at least one who would falter.

Possibly the fear of fear itself was what prompted his decision. In any case, he knew it was not reason.

He waggled the wings of his plane, the signal for the others to follow him, and within a fraction of [a] second after the stream of thought had begun to pour through his mind, he pushed forward on the stick, stood the plane on its nose, and dived straight for the combat with ‘the gun wide open’, his plane going with the combined speed of the motor and the acceleration of gravity.

Seven of his planes followed. Two faltered. They returned home safely but their pilots’ stories were not those of the eight heroes of 209.

There is no opportunity to give many orders to a fleet of roaring airplanes but every man with one hand on the control stick and another on his machine gun trigger knew what he was supposed to do.

Each was to distract as many of the enemy as possible and permit the escape of the R. E.8s who still feebly held their own by the grace of their skill and luck. That duty finished, each British plane was to get home as best it could – but get home! Pilots had been lost in wholesale lots and each was considered an individual asset and necessity of the army.

Among those seven pilots following Brown toward the ground with every strut and spar of their Camels straining at the excessive speed was one boy who that morning had gone out for his baptism of fire. He was Lieutenant May, R. A.F. who survived the war and returned to his home in Melbourne. Australia.

He was operating under special orders. These were that in case of an engagement he should not try to join the general fighting but pick out a single plane, put it down if he could – if not. play with it until he could break away – and then head for home. Pilots on their maiden flights had the habit of trying to do too much and too many had been lost.

A few thousand feet above the Germans the falling phalanx pulled into a circling glide to size up their opponents. Still the lone ICE.8s held their own. But more of the Circus had appeared and now there were 22 planes bearing the black cross.

Into the melee plunged the eight Camels with motors wide open, guns roaring and every man for himself.

There was no regular order of battle – only more than thirty planes rolling, diving, turning, circling, banking, and firing bursts of machine gun bullets each time an opponent passed before the sights of their guns. Plainly perceptible from the ground, the Australians and the Germans who looked aloft could hardly distinguish their own planes in the dog fight but they looked on a battle royal such as had seldom occurred over the lines prior to that time.

Three times two planes got on Brown’s tail, the one direction which renders a single pilot helpless. Most of the German planes were of the Fokker triplane type, but here and there zoomed an Albatross (sic).

Brown estimated that the fight must have lasted ten minutes, an unholy eternity to a fighter in the air, flying automatically and concentrating on the double problem of putting his own bullets where they will count and at the same time protecting himself and his plane from two or three opponents equally intent upon doing the same thing.

Brown’s men were fighting the same odds, aided occasionally by him when he was not in momentary danger.

Somewhere in the ‘dog-fight’ was Richthofen – fighting with the cunning and skill and disregard of danger which had caused the German high command to print his exploits in a book and circulate them in the army as a shining example of the spirit of His Majesty’s Army.

His plane was one of those gaily decorated craft which made the fight a rainbow, streaked here and there with the cerise of the Red Nosed Camels, the distinctive mark of Brown’s squadron.

The R. E.8s both had retreated to safety and the Camels now were trying to extricate themselves. A hurried count assured Brown that all still were in action when Lieutenant May broke from the engagement.

Acting under his orders, he had sent a plane hurtling down in flames and then he followed his other orders to return home. Bertangles was to the north-west of the fight and the planes had dropped to about 1,000 feet during the action. Brown saw May leave while he was engaging two ot’ the Fokkers and then turned his attention to his other planes, planning to stay with them unless May got into trouble. May did.

When perhaps a quarter of a mile away a bright red plane swooped down upon him and May, without ammunition, was helpless.

He did every stunt he had been taught on the training field to distract his pursuer. Bulling up sharply he would go into an Immelmann turn, looping until flat on his back, then side-slipping over into normal position headed in the opposite direction, flying a zig-zag course, making short bursts of speed – always followed by the starlet plane which spat fire at him that he was helpless to return.

Brown decided that May needed aide worse than the seasoned pilots and darted out and down upon the red plane.

When he overtook the craft manoeuvring after May the three combatants were not more than 2<>o feet above the ground, directly over the Australian first line trenches. Brown could see the infantrymen looking up at him and the machine gunners spraying lead in the vicinity of the red plane.

His dive took him directly above and to the rear of the German plane and he opened fire with his last drum of ammunition.

Interspersed with the bullets were tracers, small shells which left a trail of smoke at every tenth shot. The first tracers went through the red planes tail.

A slight pull on the stick, a fractional elevation of the Camel’s nose, and Browns tracer showed a line of fire approaching the cockpit. The pilot had not noticed him.

As the gun stopped, empty, the German plane wavered and fell to the ground between the first line support trenches of the Australian infantry.

Richthofen was down! But Brown was unaware of the magnitude of his victory.

Brown managed to get back with only two cylinders of his machine working. The Camel otherwise was a sorry sight with twisted wires and punctured wings and fuselage where many German bullets had come dangerously near to him. Every one of his men came in – one by one – each in as bad a condition. One had suffered a slight wound. But the day had been fruitful.

When the reports had been read they read:

Lieutenant Mackenzie – Fokker triplane out

of control.

Lieutenant May – Fokker triplane destroyed

and himself wounded in arm.

Lieutenant Taylor – Albatross shot down

in flames.

There was no unit added to Captain Browns score. The infantry claimed the prize for their machine gunners and he had hardly landed before word was spread that Richthofen was dead.

Brown was in a state of intense nervous excitement, his mental powers and physical condition almost overcome by the strain of the engagement in a weakened condition. But he asked Lieutenant Colonel Cairnes, Wing Commander of the sector, to aid him in making an investigation.

With Cairnes he went to the support trenches where he saw the plane, lying as it had crashed, under fire from the German trenches.

With the aid of infantrymen. Brown brought in Richthofen’s body.

A post-mortem confirmed the fact that Brown had ‘got’ Richthofen. One bullet hole only was found in the body – the missile had entered the left shoulder, gone through the heart and emerged from the right side; making it apparent that the fatal shot had been fired from above and not from beneath.

Immediately after the post-mortem the day following the fight. Richthofen was laid in state – and Brown went on another patrol.

He does not remember returning – or anything, for that matter, for the next few weeks.

He landed his Camel safely, collapsed and was carried to the hospital near Amiens, listed as a critical case suffering from stomach trouble, accentuated by nervous strain. For three weeks he was delirious.

While Richthofen was buried by the Allies with full military honours, plans were being made to transport Brown to England.

After six weeks he was pronounced sufficiently recovered to assume duty as a combat instructor in England and a bar was added to his Distinguished Service Cross by the Prince ofWales. But fate had ruled that for Captain Brown the war was ended.

In spite of a slight attack of influenza, he took up a plane for practice and when at about 300 feet his comrades saw the machine plunge nose downward to the ground with the engine going full speed. Brown had fainted in the air.

They actually lifted the engine off his neck and he first was pronounced dead. Then a trace of life was found and the physicians set about mending twenty-two fractures in his skull.

Today, at 33 years of age. Captain Brown is actively engaged in business, has a wife and three children and is contemplating the not-far-distant date when his nervousness resulting from his experiences will have abated sufficiently for him to trust himself to drive a motor car.

Authors’ Comments on a Selection of Major Points

Once having read the above account, one is immediately amazed at how such a dramatized document came to be written in the first place by a staff’ member of the Air Ministry Historical Section. It is certainly not a product of someone in the 1^20s working in a government department, and it certainly would not have passed inspection by the senior ‘winged-collared’ clerk. For one thing it is not a historical document. The style closely resembles the work of a pulp-fiction writer. While it obviously has some accurate facts, the writer is clearly not really au fait with the subject matter and seems to make a number of assumptions. In fact, it almost seems as if Gibbons himself wrote it from a number of notes that may have been merely given to him by Air Ministry, as there are too many ‘Americanisms’ in the phraseology although except ‘airplane’ the spelling is English, not American. It was then typed by an English person.

Richthofens aeroplanes were not the only ones which were highly decorated so one cannot assume they were up against JG1 as opposed to any other German flying unit. Also, saying that the Circus was operating before Brown himself landed on French soil is wrong. Brown was in France in April 1917 and JGI – the Circus – was not formed until June.

In the opening stage of the air fight, the writer initially makes the point that Brown had only seven other Camels with him in the attack, then goes on to say there was ‘a fleet of roaring aeroplanes’ then a ‘falling phalanx’ of aircraft. Why he imagines Brown to have been ‘arriving several thousands of feet ahead of his support’ ie: the other Camels, is not known, but it makes Brown look an idiot – or the others reluctant participants. Furthermore, the phrase: ‘every man with one hand on the control stick and another on his machine-gun trigger’ (twice he assumes the Camel to have only one gun) indicates that the writer had no idea whatsoever how a fighter pilot controls his aeroplane, British, French or German, ancient or modern.

The mystery is how such a document came to be in an Air Ministry file, but it did. and over the years has assumed the mantle of an ‘official’ document. A simple explanation is that Gibbons sent the Air Ministry a copy of his typed-up notes, which were duly filed and later became a FRO document when records were transferred into the public domain.

Carrying on from this to specifics. On page 2 paragraph four of the document, it is stated:

‘The first flight flew in a V-shaped formation, close together, with Major Butler leading.’

‘Major Butler’ is not a slip of the pen. The error is continued on page 3 which begins as follows:

*___ but when the squadron reached this

altitude, flying over the lines. Captain Brown noticed that Squadron Commander Butler and his flight were not in evidence.

Thereupon Captain Brown assumed command of the remaining two squadrons, [sic]

Unfortunately for the writer, 209 Squadron’s Record Book shows that Major Butler did not fly on this day, in fact there is no record that he flew at any time that month. The RAF actively discouraged Squadron COs from flying combat; for trained and experienced administrators who could also command men were hard to find. The CO who flew when his work permitted tended to be so out of practice at the quick responses and distant vision required that he often became a liability. Von Richthofen’s 79th victim. Major R Raymond-Barker MC is a case in point. A senior flight commander was normally appointed and he led the squadron on patrol or into battle. In the case of 209 Squadron, this was Captain StearneT Edwards, who was on leave in England during April. The applicable pages of 209’s Record Book are to be found in FRO file AIR 1 -1 S5S/2< >4/214/H.

The final word ‘squadrons’ could be a slip of the pen for ‘flights’. It could also have been ‘inherited’ from the Anonymous Account. Either way it shows a lack of familiarity with aerial formations on the part of the person who prepared the Summary. Similarly his comment that May could, if engaged, try to put down (a strange phrase) an enemy plane if he could, if not. play with it until lie could break away. And this is the same author who is telling us about the deadly nature of the Richthofen Circus, but that May can ‘play’ with one of them until he finds himself in trouble. Good chance! On page 3, paragraph two. it is stated:

The Captain, his attention attracted by a burst of fire from his own anti-aircraft guns, looked over the side of his plane and far below sighted three Fokker triplanes attacking two R. E.8 type British planes over the German lines. The R. E.8s were slow cumbersome planes sent up only for the purpose of spotting allied artillery fire and quite unable to cope with the expert German pilots in their new equipment.

The following comments apply to the above excerpt which develops on pages 4 and 5 into how 209 Squadron Camels dived steeply and succeeded in rescuing the REHs.

1. On 21 April, the pilots of 209 and the crews of 3 AFC’s RESs, to a man, did not report any contact, indeed the latter vehemently denied it when the subject was broached after the war. 209 and 3 AFC documents show that the rescue of an RES by Captain Brown’s flight occurred the following day, the 22nd.

2. The task of the two RESs is again described as artillery spotting. This error may again have been ‘inherited’ from the Anonymous Account or from Cable’s Account. The writer is also over sensitive to the plight of the RES machines. While they were not on a par with German scouts, they could still handle themselves and often got out of trouble. As we know the two 3 AFC machines escaped Richthofen and Weiss shortly before the main air fight began, whereas the summary has the RESs surviving the onslaught of several Circus pilots for some minutes, while Brown manoeuvres and then attacks.

3. The reference to ‘German pilots in their new equipment’ is a dangling phrase. No equipment change is mentioned anywhere before or afterwards in the Summary. The ‘dangle’ suggests that the phrase was ‘lifted’ in its entirety from some other work where it fitted in properly. Fokker Dr. I triplanes were far from being ‘new equipment’; they had been in service on and off for six months and were now becoming obsolete. They had some advantages over Allied fighter types, not the least of which was their turning ability.

but experienced Camel and SE5 pilots could generally cope with the Triplane. The Fokker DV11 biplanes destined to replace most front-line German fighters. Triplanes and Albatros Scouts by the end of the war, were already being delivered to the aircraft parks for issue to Jagdstaffeln at the beginning of May. Richthofen himself was looking forward to flying one over the front.

On page 5 paragraph two, it is stated that after the war Lieutenant May returned to his home in Melbourne, Australia. He would have a long journey for nothing and a disappointing welcome upon arrival. He lived in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

On page 5 paragraph five it is stated:

Into the mel£e plunged the eight Camels with motors wide open, guns roaring and every man for himself.

The pilots of 209 Squadron were anything but a disorganised mob. Until 1 April it had been 9 Naval Squadron and in the RNAS discipline was spelt with a capital ‘D The tactics described above for attacking three enemy aeroplanes would be the perfect recipe for mid-air collision, that is given the remote chance that the wings of the Camels stayed attached to the fuselages and their rotary engines did not disintegrate in flames. With only 50 seconds worth of ammunition on board expert pilots only fired their guns after careful aiming; normally at close range. Any flight leader responsible for such a shambles would have had an unforgettable interview with his CO upon returning to base.

On page 7, paragraph five it is stated:

He (Brown) opened fire with his last drum of ammunition.

Brown’s machine gun was belt fed. And nowhere is there any mention of him being down to his last rounds in any event. Just as there is no report of his aircraft suffering the heavy damage supposedly found upon his return to Bertangles.

On page 8 paragraph two it is affirmed that Lieutenant May’s Combats in the Air report indicates the following:

Lieutenant May – Fokker destroyed and himself wounded in [the] arm.

1. May’s report claimed nothing of the sort, only that ‘he (the enemy aeroplane) went over and dived down.

1 was unable to observe the result.’ The report was annotated ‘Indecisive* by Major Butler.

2. Lieutenant Mackenzie was wounded, not May.


The person who provided the information for Floyd Gibbons had not read the sealed files and had little, if any, personal knowledge of the events which he described. His use of the words ‘drop’ and ‘dropped’ for shooting down hostile aircraft are curious and not normally used then or now. The information appears to have been derived from an anonymous fictitious account of the air battle published around 1925 together with garbled third or fourth-hand stories interspersed with guesses, not to mention a penchant for the dramatic.

The Witnesses to Captain. Brown’s Attack

Captain LeBoutillier had expended all his ammunition in the fight and was on his way back to Bertangles. Like most seasoned pilots who

[1] Whitham had read the historian, H A Jones’s, words that Richthofen was probably hit as lie chased May, by Brown who died and attacked between Sailly le-Sec and Vaux-sur-Somine.

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The Witnesses to Captain. Brown’s Attacksurvived the war, and the coincidence is not accidental, he kept a sharp look-out at all times and in all directions. Down to his right nearVaux, he saw three aeroplanes; a Camel, followed by a Triplane — both heading west; then a second Camel, higher up, diving at about a 45° angle to intercept the Triplane. Taking a good look round every few seconds and turning his own Camel as required to be sure that no enemy was sneaking up on him, he watched the show from a front row seat in the Gallery.

Lieutenant Wood, from his position on the brow of the Ridge, could see over and around the mist covering Vaux. He could also see downwards through the wisps over the Somme canal and the mud flats of the original river beside it. He had been watching the air battle above Cerisy and had seen an aeroplane drop out of the fight. He had seen a second aeroplane follow the first one, then, a little later, a third aeroplane start downwards after the other two. As they approached they resolved into a biplane followed by a triplane followed by another biplane; and they were all heading towards him. What they were, he could not yet tell, but the show was about to begin and he had a front row seat in the Dress Circle.

Lieutenant J A Wiltshire (on the Corbie- Mericourt road north of the Ridge, and near the 53rd Battery positions) saw the three machines

Australian field kitchen at Vaux-sur-Somme. Ma> and von Richthofen flew towards this or a similar position.

leave the far distant air tight and head downwards towards the Somme canal. He watched them u: they disappeared below the Ridge to the so;::~- east. If they kept their line of flight, he would probably see them again if forced to rise when they reached the western end of the Ridge the Somme bends to the south.

Captain Brown’s

To fire an air-cooled machine gun for longer than ten seconds was a direct invitation for trouble. Th e breech would overheat and cause a jam which :hr pilot must not attempt to clear until the machine gun had cooled down. Captain Brown would h^ . mentally planned when to fire, when to cease fire, and his all-important escape route. Apart from n : placing himself where he would be in danger Iron the Triplanes guns, he had to avoid a mid-air collision and to recover from his dive witho:: losing his wings or touching the water with his wheels. From low-down, the escape route to the north involved an immediate climb over the Morlancourt Ridge. With a strong tail wind and
controls stiff from speed, that was not an attractive proposition. To the south, the terrain was Hat. An attack from the south-east, with the sun behind him, that is, towards the left side of the Triplane, could easily be developed into an escape to the south-west. To a professional airman, such a plan would be second nature.

At ISO mph, the maximum power-on forward speed of a Sopwith Camel, the dive down from 5,000 feet to 1,000 feet, would consume 28 seconds. From that point onwards the closing speed between the two aircraft became the important factor. Assuming 110 mph for the Triplane, the closure speed was 70 mph which corresponds almost exactly to 35 yards per second. Browns objective being to rescue May from impending doom, it was logical for him not to wait until he was near enough to the Triplane to be sure of killing the pilot or destroying it. To distract the pilot of the red Triplane would be enough to save May. This could be achieved several seconds before accurate firing distance was reached. Two witnesses, one of whom was Private Emery, confirmed that the Camel pilot did exactly that.

Three hundred yards was the furthest range at which Brown could be sure that his bullets would pass close enough to the Triplane for its pilot to realise that he had company. Long-range fire might, by a fluke, hit the pilot or even the fuel tank. Such lucky shots had happened before, but not very often. Brown would have been distinctly aware that it had already taken several seconds to get into position, and every second had been one of mortal danger for May.

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.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Berlin Tageblatt (evening edition)

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

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

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

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

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

(I) Translation by Dr Diane M Bennett.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gibbons also received at least two more documents:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brown’s Attack

Making a montage of testimony of Captain Roy Brown, Oliver LeBoutillier, Lieutenants R A Wood, J M Prentice, J A Wiltshire and Sergeant Gavin Darbyshire, plus Gunner George Ridgway, it is reasonably certain that the following occurred.

Arthur Roy Brown had been in France since April 1917 and been awarded the DSC in October for having shot down four German aircraft. He was on leave over the winter but returned to 9 Naval as a flight commander in mid – February 1918. Since then he had raised his score of combat victories to nine. In short, he was an experienced fighter pilot.

Manfred von Richthofen had survived as a tighter pilot for eighteen months, approximately thirteen and a half of which had been on active duty at the front. Keeping a sharp look-out, having speedy reactions, keeping the dice loaded in his favour and a measure of good luck had kept him alive. On this day, the reduced side vision due to his special flying goggles would have forced him to turn his aeroplane in addition to his head to check his tail. During the elapsed time of Browns dive and approach he would have done so several times. It is quite likely that Brown saw von Richthofen make a check to the left rear as, with an appropriate deflection angle, he aligned his gun-sights on the Triplane. Whatever happened Brown’s strategy worked well. Von Richthofen, with his vision to the left impeded by the sun, the haze and his goggles, tailed to see Brown diving on him. Brown later wrote: 4 got a long burst into him’ – which by WW1 definition was five to seven seconds. In fact. Brown’s strategy worked too well, for, during his low, high-speed pass from out of the haze, through the wisps of river mist and back into the haze again, he was not visible for very long to anybody who was looking upwards or horizontally to the south-east. Apart from a working party down in the valley, only those who were high enough up to see downwards over the Ridge at a steep angle through the mist, and who were looking that way at the right moment, saw the entire interception.

During such a burst of fire the Camel would have moved somewhere between 175 and 245 yards closer to the Triplane. Allowing distance for collision avoidance, it would appear by calculation that Brown was 300 to 350 yards away from his target when he pressed the triggers. To close the range to the normal 50 yards before firing would have taken seven or eight more vital seconds and could easily have cost Lieutenant May his life. From the tactics employed by Brown, it would appear that his plan was for May to use his superior speed to escape whilst von Richthofen was occupied countering the sudden new danger that Brown posed.

Up on the top of the Ridge just across the road from the Sainte Colette FOB, Private Emery, a trained and proficient anti-aircraft machine gunner, assisted by Private Jeffrey, was gazing upwards at the distant air battle now scattered between Cerisy and Sailly Laurette. Both were hoping that some ‘trade’ would come their way. They prepared their Lewis gun just in case. Together with Lieutenant Wood, in his trench on the brow of the Ridge overlooking Vaux-sur – Somme, they had a clear view to the south around the patches of mist. Gunner Ridgway, who was 20 feet up the Sainte Colette brickwork’s chimney (which in 1918 was not in the present-day

Scene of the final moment of the Baron’s Last flight, 21 April 1918
















Brown’s Attack

















Brown’s Attack

Brown’s Attack

May, pursued by Von Richthofen, heads along the and curves southwards to have the sun behind him as

canal towards Vaux-Sur-Somme. Brown dives down he makes his attack on the red Triplane west of Vaux.

Brown’s Attack

Roy Brown breaks away to the south and begins a climbing turn over the Ridge by Corbie. May pulls up over the Ridge as Von Richthofen continues the chase for a few moments but with both guns now

inoperable, he turns east, by the Australian guns and, hit as he pulls back over the Ridge, attempts a crash landing by the Saint Colette Brickworks.

Brown’s AttackBrown’s Attack
Top right: Lieutenant W j Mackenzie, 209 Squadron RAF.

Left: Leutnant Joachim Wolff, Jasta 11.

Above: Captain О Le Boutillier, 209 Squadron RAF.

position, but further forwards, closer to the road) was mending telephone wires. (Ridgway was not. as sometimes stated, on TOE of the chimney, nor half way up a telegraph pole.) He had the best view of all. He could not only see above and beyond Vaux but also down into the valley beside it. All four men watched the third aeroplane approach from the south-east in a 45° dive. Except for Privates Emery and Jeffrey, who were too low down, they saw the third aeroplane open fire on the German. Due to later reports that the leading aeroplane was an RES from 3 Squadron AFC’, it was doubtful that all or any of the watchers identified the types or even the nationalities correctly in the early stages.

In late 1937 and early 1938 John Column was in touch with W J G Shankland, from Greenvale,

Victoria, who was a gunner with the 27th Battery, A1F in 191S. In correspondence concerning whether or not there was a third aircraft in the vicinity, as he stood watching the scene facing south, he stated:

I say quite definitely that there was [a third aeroplane]… British and German machines [were] engaged in a dog-fight over the enemy lines and whilst manoeuvring for position they disappeared below the crest of the slope on which we had our battery position. In a few minutes a Sopwith Camel plane, flying very low, came into view a little to the right of the brickworks which were situated on the top of the slope and about 4-500 yards to our right and

Подпись: Aerial view taken in July 1996 with Vaux-sur- Somme bottom left, Welcome Wood middle distance far right and the brickworks middle distance centre.

slightly in advance of our position. Sitting hard on the Camel’s tail was Richthofen in a red triplane, followed closely by another Camel. The first Britisher seemed to me to ground his wheels, and hesitate as if about to land and then continued on across the valley to safety. Opposite the brickworks the German rose sharply to 200 feet or so. began a right hand turn and nose dived into the ground.

I was one of the first 20 or 30 to reach the scene of the crash, and can still clearly see the tall, closely cropped fair-haired Baron lying on his back amongst the ruins of his plane.

Once again we have the distant slant view by Shankland, and from Ins position it is probable that his feeling that May had attempted to land his machine was due to the fact that the Camel did not climb to escape but flew parallel to the ground as the Gunner viewed it, and assumed it was trying to land. An optical illusion?

In one of Mays later accounts of the action he confirmed that at times during the chase down the valley he was so low he could have gone no lower. This supports the witnesses.

There is another account of a witness seeing

Mays wheels touch the ground. This came from E ETrinder, an observer with the 31st Battalion AIF. writing to Column from his home in Brisbane in January 1938. Trinder had been watching the whole action through a pair of Zeiss binoculars, for his job was to report all daily happenings and movements on the Battalion sector and noting map references etc. This morning his FOP was situated on the spur of Corbie |Morlancourt| Ridge overlooking (ie: from where he could see through his binoculars) both the villages ot’Vaire – sous-Corbie, which was held by his battalion, and Le Hamel, occupied by the Germans.

… I watched their progress over the British side of the lines, both planes [sic] firing at intervals, when I was astonished to notice both planes change direction towards our OP. As they came close the British marked plane was only one length and a half ahead of the German plane which was shepherding the British plane towards the ground. As they came within 40 yards of the OP the British pilot endeavoured to land, his wheels on the plane touched the ground on two occasions, but he had too much speed to land, as he certainly would have capsized. He went over the side of the hill for a few hundred feet. The German was on his tail during this landing movement; the British plane then skimmed the grass and rising went directly towards a wood, which was 150 yards from the OP. Immediately on
reaching the wood – the planes were no higher than 50 feet – a burst of bullets from a Lewis gun situated in the wood was fired and the German plane momentarily wobbled and then crashed to the ground.

The British plane flew straight on and passed over the town of Corbie. I can honestly say they were the only two planes that were seen over the Ridge that morning, and who fired the burst from that Lewis gun I cannot say. If I had known who the pilot of the red plane was at that particular moment he crashed, I would have certainly broke a record to be in for a souvenir.

Brown’s Attack

This seems yet another case of the short appearance of Browns Camel below in the valley being hidden by the lip of the Ridge from a viewer higher up. When combined with the mist over the valley, the sun to the south, we can see quite clearly how people standing in different locations and concentrating on the two main antagonists can report seeing contradictory things if interpreted as applying to the chase as a whole.

Another Australian correspondent with John Coltman in late 1937 was Jack O’Rourke, also from Brisbane. Being in another spot, apparently about a mile further to the east than Trinder, he was most emphatic that the second Camel did the damage:

…anyone suggesting that there was not a third plane in Richthofen’s fatal dive is very definitely wrong. The third plane was on Richthofen’s tail quite long enough to have caused this great airman to go to his death.

Left: The church at Vaux-sur-Somme taken in July 1996; May nearly led von Richthofen into the tower after the chase along the canal and coming out of the mist above the water.

Brown’s Attack

Below: The wooded slope of the Morlancourt Ridge (facing north) taken in 1918, as the river turns from north-west to south; to the right is the marshy flooded area and Corbie is in the foreground. (The canal is just out of view to the right.)

I was standing not more than 50 yards from where the pursued Camel flattened out from its life or death dive and could plainly see the pilot looking round to see if Richthofen was following. On looking up for Richthofen I found that his guns were not firing and that he seemed to have changed the angle of his dive and that he had another plane on his tail. His machine seemed to wobble and considerably slacken its speed as the other British plane left him and returned to the dog-fight. This would naturally convey to one that the second British pilot was satisfied he had got his man.

Major H C Rourke MC was another of Columns correspondents, whilst serving at the Royal Military College, Duntroon, Australia in 1937. He was atop the Morlancourt Ridge, east of the brickworks, on the 21st, with the 27th Field Battery A IF:

I was standing in the mess dug-out on which was mounted an AA Lewis gun. After the battle had been going on for some minutes I saw a Camel dive towards the ground. It was followed at once by the red triplane. As they got near the ground they were both obscured by trees and a ridge to the south-east of the battery. Shortly afterwards three planes (two Camels and the red triplane) came into view from the south-east and commenced chasing one another round the trees. The triplane was engaged by a large number of ground AA Lewis guns including my gun, whenever it was safe to fire. One Camel disappeared early and Richthofen appeared to be getting the better of the other. Finally the last Camel appeared to break off the fighting and fly off in the direction of the aerodrome.

Richthofen manoeuvred his plane round the trees for a short time, as if looking for his opponent, and then flew due west straight up the Corbie ridge, generally above the Corbie-Bray road. He was flying about 200 feet above the ground and was being engaged by a large number of Lewis guns. As he passed over the ridge the nose of the machine was almost pointing straight up in the air. He then dived suddenly and appeared to crash nose first.

Up in the sky from a distant slant view, LeBoutillier saw Brown make his attack exactly as described on the plaque in the military club in Toronto where the Triplane’s seat, etc, is on view. LeBoutillier stated that he saw Browns tracer strike the Triplane but he did not say where, presumably because the slant view would not have allowed him certainty. Apparently he said in later life that he saw the bullets strike the cockpit area, but one has to wonder if by that time he was adjusting his view to fit the known facts? At the very least the tracer passed by close enough for von Richthofen to see the trails of smoke.

Lieutenant Wood heard shouts from the field kitchen in the trees on the slope below him. Bullets from the air had struck the mobile stove; one of them had holed the stew-pot and part of his platoon’s mid-day meal was streaming out through it onto the ground. The hungry men must have noticed that the third aeroplane was facing in their direction at that time for they cursed its pilot roundly and in no uncertain terms! This is further confirmation that Brown attacked the Triplane from the south-east; that is on its left side.

As no bullet holes were later found in the tail or the rear of the fuselage, on the basis of probability it may be presumed that some of Brown s bullets hit the Triplane s wings and that von Richthofen saw the smoke of the tracer from the others pass by. After the forced landing, one soldier who looked at the Triplane stated that the interplane struts on one side had suffered damage. Unfortunately he did not clarify which side or how he thought the damage had occurred. Whether the Baron heard the Rak-ak-ak sound, saw tracer smoke, heard/saw bullet holes or was hit towards the end of Brown’s long burst, his subsequent behaviour establishes that he believed he was being attacked from the left. Even if he saw no indication of the whereabouts of his attacker, the position of the sun to his left and the Ridge face to his right heavily favoured the left.

Von Richthofen’s immediate and ingrained reaction would have been to turn and face his attacker who would logically be somewhere up there in the sun on the left and who was most likely correcting his aim at that very moment. To hesitate meant to be shot down. People who have claimed to have fought against him in combat all confirm how quick his reactions were. The first shot fired in his direction and he was gone.

However, on this occasion, being too low down to roll over and dive away, plus the risk of a collision if he turned left to face the attack, he ‘broke’ sharply to the right. There were two good reasons for this ‘breaking’ direction. The first was that it would put more distance between himself and the bullets coming his way. The second one was also the reason why Brown stopped firing and began turning left – to avoid the mid-air collision. Other than stories which depend entirely and absolutely upon bullet holes which never existed, no information has been found to gainsay LeBoutillier who claims to have seen the “break*. Whilst von Richthofen was occupied, May had been handed an excellent chance to escape. Unfortunately he did not see the chance and continued to zig-zag.

The topography, prudence and combat technique dictated that Brown make a gradual turn to the south-west (his left) immediately after firing. In this way he would not present himself as a target to the Triplane pilot and could lose his excess speed on his way up and round the south of Corbie before continuing into a right-hand turn to the north and home. If May was then still in danger from the Triplane, he would yet be in a good position to spot the two aircraft and engage the German again as they dropped down the northern side of the Ridge. It should be noted however that it is not easy to relocate an aircraft once it has been lost from sight. May was in a camouflaged machine but even a distant red aeroplane would not be that easy to find, always provided Brown was looking in exactly the right direction and distance. Like forced-landing drill – never take your eyes off the field selected or you’ll never find it again.

Oliver LeBoutillier later confirmed that Brown did as described above and pointed out that during his long, gradual climbing turn to the left. Brown’s wings would have obscured the view of the Triplane and he would not have seen what followed. That Brown believed that he had wounded the German pilot, is indicated by his reports and actions later that day. Unfortunately, having lost sight of the Triplane, it would not be so easy for Brown to find it again as might be imagined.

Both of Brown’s combat reports (he made out two due to reasons which will be explained later) state: ‘He went down vertical.’ But unfortunately neither one of them says when or beginning from where. One thing is certain, it was not immediately after; the Triplane was not high enough for it to do so. His flying log book entry is equally silent on this point. According to LeBoutillier the descent followed some time afterwards. The other witnesses to Browns attack agree with that.

If von Richthofen had been killed by Brown’s long burst, the red Triplane would have crashed beside the river between Vaux-sur- Somme and Corbie, or certainly on the southern slope of the Ridge. Its engine would probably have still been running at normal power. A wounded von Richthofen could recover control and fly for some time; how long and how well was another matter. Those who query whether he was hit at this stage, either by Brown (who in any event was the wrong side of the Triplane to inflict the mortal wound) or from ground fire from the Ridge, must explain why the Baron did not immediately turn south to south-east, towards the German lines, rather than face the climb over the Ridge.

Wounded or untouched, as may be, whilst von Richthofen was completing his evasive action, he would already have been looking for his attacker. He would have noted that the aircraft which had caught him by surprise had overshot at high speed and would not be back for a while. Assuming that the Baron had mistaken his ground position, he would have believed that the heavily defended zone between Vaux and Corbie was yet a couple of miles away. The only Allied airfield around was the one north of Vaux, formerly used by 3 AFC as a landing ground, but which had been evacuated three weeks earlier. Apart from the now departed Camel which had attacked him, there was no sign and not much likelihood of any unfriendly activity. The Camel that he had been about to despatch was still zig-zagging away. It was further ahead than before but not too far to catch. There was time for one more try. The continued zig­zagging agrees with Lieutenant May’s later statement that he did not see Brown’s attempt to rescue him.

On the basis of airmanship, a pilot of Brown’s calibre would not have made unnecessary manoeuvres in an aeroplane close to self – disintegrating speed. If he was doing anything at that moment other than sweating, it was most probably trying to check May’s present situation. This is supported by Lieutenant J Quinlan on the Morlancourt Ridge who reported having seen an aeroplane travelling west about half a mile beyond the far side of the river. The probability is that after Brown’s Camel had slowed down enough to restore normal control pressures, he looked back to his right. In the time taken to do this, he would have travelled about one mile. May would have travelled less than that, but to find May’s olive-brown Camel and the red German Triplane against a dark background. Brown needed first to know approximately where they were. Looking into three-dimensional space is one thing, finding something is another.

Whilst Brown was distracting von Richthofen from May, Lieutenant Mellersh had succeeded in escaping from the two Triplanes which had forced him down to hedge-hopping height. All that is known of Mellersh’s movements from then onwards is that, as he passed near Corbie on his way home, he saw a red Triplane crash nearby. He did not say to his right or to his left. He then looked upwards and saw Brown’s streamered Camel above him. However, based on LeBoutillier s statement that Mellersh was flying ahead of him and off to his right, one has to assume from this that Mellersh had to be south of the river and if he was indeed flying north-west in the direction of Bertangles. then the Triplane must have been off to his right and within his view.

The total elapsed time between Brown ceasing fire on the Triplane and Mellersh seeing him overhead would have been about 30 seconds, depending on exactly where Mellersh


There would be nothing unusual for an aeroplane with a severely wounded pilot to fly, under control, for some time before crashing. There were many cases during the war of a pilot dying of wounds within minutes of making a successful landing. It would have been nothing really extraordinary for Brown to catch sight of the red Triplane in a steep descent about 30 seconds after he had fired on it and about half a mile from the place where he had done so.

Although neither of Brown’s combat reports nor log book mentions the subject, he later affirmed that he had seen the red Triplane crash at Sainte Colette. To quote:‘May saw it, Mellersh saw it and I saw it.’ If‘it’ included the steep angle of the Triplane’s initial descent and not just the cloud of dust which followed, the source of the phrase: ‘He went down vertical,’ is explained. Brown never publicly clarified exactly what he saw and there is no record that he was ever asked to do so.

As Jasta 11 pilot, Leutnant Richard Wenzl, flew past Corbie and Hamelet on his way back to Сарру, he noticed a small aeroplane on the ground. When combined with von Richthofen’s failure to return and Leutnant Wolff’s sighting of him low down in the same general area, he recalled that the small aeroplane might have been red in colour. The suspicion arose that something unfortunate must have befallen their leader.

Upon hearing this unwelcome news, Hauptmann Willi Reinhard immediately ordered three aircraft to be refuelled and dispatched to check what Wenzl had observed. Wenzl, who knew the exact spot. Walther Karjus and Wolfram von Richthofen were the pilots. From this excursion much confusion was to arise later for they were attacked by Sopwith Camels and heavy machine-gun fire from the ground between Vaux and Corbie. For a few minutes any combination of Triplanes and Camels chasing one another could be seen, and more than one was reported.

Richard Wenzl managed to confirm that there was a red-coloured aeroplane on the ground but he could not get close enough for positive identification. He was surprised to see a second aeroplane on the ground not far from the first one and was certain that it was not lying there when he passed by earlier. Nobody else mentioned it on either side and not much credence was given to his observation until 1993 when Private Frank Wormald revealed that he had watched it come down. There are no obvious British casualties to fit this second aeroplane, so perhaps if indeed there was one it was merely someone force landing, with only slight damage or engine failure. It had nothing to do with the matter in hand, except that the sudden possible appearance of a pilot may have led to further confusion amongst the soldiery on the Ridge and may be behind a tale which eventually developed into the fable, which achieved official status, that Lieutenant Mellersh landed in a nearby field.

In mid-April 1918, for some reason, 209 Squadron had run out of Army Form W 3348, Combats in the Air |reports| and the Recording Officer (RO), Lieutenant Albert Shelley RNVR/RAF. a 28-year-old peacetime accountant and auditor from Sydenham, south­east London, had perforce to use a locally made substitute. This was to influence later events. Upon returning to Bertangles, Captain Brown, together with colleagues, made their reports to the RO. who typed them up for posterity; one original and the usual number of carbon copies, on this unofficial form. Brown, in his report, cited Lieutenant Mellersh as witness to the crash of a red Triplane. The text of Brown’s report reads like a run-of-the-mill description of a High Offensive Patrol (HOP) in which contact with the enemy had occurred, and is phrased in the ‘least said, fewer questions asked* style. (Not unusual in any of the dozens of other squadrons in France.) The only location mentioned is map reference 62D. Q.2 which delineates an area to the immediate west of the village of Cerisy. The only altitude given for the events described in the report is 5,000 feet. No additional information is given as to where or at what height:‘I got a long burst into him..’ took place. There would have been nothing out of the ordinary in catching sight again, 30 seconds later, of an earlier target now going down out of control, therefore, ‘He went down vertical and was seen to crash by Lieut. Mellersh’ was a clear and concise statement of fact. With each day’s paperwork to be closed out at 1559 hours and much of it sent to 22 Wing soon afterwards, the RO would long ago have mentioned the merits of brevity to everyone. That no particular care was taken with the phrasing is illustrated by an obvious un-corrected error. The ‘2-seater Albatros’ which was shot down by Lieutenant M S Taylor if referred to as ‘2 Albatrosses’. In the upper right quadrant of the substitute combat report. Major Butler added in ink – ‘Decisive’.

Apparently, at some time after these forms and carbons had been removed from the typewriter and separated. Captain Brown learned that Lieutenant May had also witnessed the crash of the red Triplane, so the RO, in order to maintain alignment on all sheets, one by one subscripted onto the original and each copy, the additional words: ‘and Lieut. May.’ On the second and later carbon copies the additional words are in fact in far neater letters than the blurred text in the main body which gives the impression that somebody added them later on a different typewriter. This logically brings into question when the addition was made. An examination of a photocopy of the original shows no difference in the type face and provides the clue as to what probably happened. It is most unlikely that Lieutenant Shelley would have made such an addition after Major Butler had appended his signature and comment. However, the report is definitely an altered document and as such, incurred someone’s displeasure later that day, or perhaps on the morrow, when its contents acquired unexpected importance.

The two pages of 209 Squadron’s Record Book which cover from 1601 hours on Saturday 20 April to 1559 hours on Sunday the 21st, state that on 21.4.18 Captain Brown had a ‘Decisive combat with red Triplane at 62D. Q.2 (See Combat Report)’.

Major Butler’s comment in ink was altered at

Wing or Brigade level to ‘Indecisive’ by the pencilled addition of a suffix ‘In’. The probability is that soon after lunch, Lieutenant-Colonel W J Cairnes, who had already taken over some of the duties of Lieutenant-Colonel F V Holt, the 22 Wing CO, whom he would replace later that week, was made aware that two RES crews of 3 Squadron AFC had also been in action with a red Triplane at about the same time and place and. while they had made no claim initially, were now wondering whether they had indeed shot it down. A further complication arose when word arrived that a red Triplane had been shot down by anti-aircraft fire from the 53rd Australian Battery and the 24th Machine Gun Company, also at about the same time. It must soon have become obvious to Cairnes that all four claims referred to the same aeroplane.

In a letter written by the then Major – General L E Beavis in the 1960s he confirmed, that in the late afternoon of the 21st, a senior RAF officer, who may be assumed to be Lieutenant-Colonel Cairnes, accompanied by a pilot who may well have been Brown, visited his dug-out at his Field Artillery site near Bonnay. They came to investigate the downed Triplane (and it has been suggested that Brown saw von Richthofen’s body laid out on a casualty­clearing stretcher, which Beavis himself had earlier sent up to Sainte Colette. Also that Brown then had an attack of nausea). Beavis, however, did not have any recollection of Brown going into his dug-out. The 53rd Battery’s Daily Record Book (or War Diary) does not mention the visit of an RAF Lieutenant-Colonel, and a locally important one at that. No witness has reported seeing Cairnes or Brown risk his life to long-range snipers or an artillery shell by going out into the open at Sainte Colette to inspect the Triplane. Indeed, its position in the field was deemed to be so dangerous that 3 AFC Squadron salvage crew crawled out to it to decide how best to retrieve it. The only visiting officer definitely known to have gone to Sainte Colette for a short while at that time was Lieutenant W J Warneford, who was in charge of the salvage crew. He and his men surprised everyone by calmly advising that they had arrived to collect the German aeroplane which had been shot down by an RE8 of their Squadron. Officers did not wear name tags on their uniforms in those days. Unless a visiting officer were brought into direct contact with an NCO or private soldier, they would be unlikely to learn his identity, except through rumours.

Подпись: Roy Brown's first combat report.

Some idea of the confusion of names on that day may be gained by information given officially to author Floyd Gibbons stating that it was Lieutenant Mellersh of 209 Squadron who conducted the salvage operation! Major Beavis vividly recalled receiving many visitors the following day.

In the light of his own observations, Major Beavis did not take much notice of Captain Brown’s assertions that he had shot the Baron down, especially as Warneford was already saying 3 AFC had got von Richthofen and he was well aware of the claims of his own gunners, Buie and Evans. Following on from this, a heated discussion between Brown and Lieutenant Ellis, of the 53rd, got to such a state that Ellis ended up by calling the Canadian pilot a bloody liar, a remark for which Beavis told Ellis to apologise. This remark was to turn up again, totally inverted in Liberty magazine and in the serialised newspaper article – My Fight with Richthofen – in which Brown is made to say Beavis was the liar, although he is also said to have made the remark behind the Majors back.

Because of Major-General Beavis s revelations, the pages of the 53rd Battery Daily Record Book, and the confusion of officers’ names as described above, the recollections of 22 RAF Wing personnel at Poulainville aerodrome, that the first time Brown saw von Richthofen’s body and suffered his well-publicised attack of nausea was when the Crossley tender driven by Mick Worsley arrived back there with it on board, sound as though they might be correct.

When Captain Brown’s letter to his father, dated 27 April, is considered, confirmation appears. Brown wrote in reference to preparations at Poulainville for the first medical examination that it was the first time he had seen von Richthofen’s corpse.

It should be noted that, from statements later made by Brown, he believed that he had put several bullets into the Baron’s back in the area of the left shoulder, that they had passed downwards and forwards through the heart and had exited through the abdomen on the right side.

The Combats Annex to 5th Brigade’s Summary of Work of the 21st, issued that evening, describes events from 1601 hours on the 20th until 1559 hours on the 21st. For 209 Squadron only the ‘decisive’ combats of Lieutenant Taylor and Lieutenant Mellersh are listed. 3 Squadron AFC and 209 appeared to be making a duplicate claim for a certain red Fokker Dr. I, therefore, Captain Brown’s claim, and that of Lieutenant

Barrow, had been omitted from the Annex for the day in question. 22 Wing, to which both squadrons belonged, had not resolved the matter due to some unexpected complication with the Australian 5th Division.

Brigade had decided to make some enquiries before taking a decision. Prudence dictated placing the matter before the common superior, the HQ of the British Fourth Army.

Authors’ Note

In the 1960s an attempt was made to discredit Gunner George Ridgway’s testimony by alleging that the chimney which he had climbed was not at Sainte Colette but at the town of Heilly.

The chateau, where the Sector HQ was located, was near the town of Heilly, and not surprisingly that part of the Front was known as the Heilly Sector. When the present authors drove past the chateau in 1996, it was empty, abandoned, the wrought iron gates were chained shut and its once beautiful garden was overgrown with weeds. In statements concerning the Triplane’s forced landing site, many witnesses had referred to the brickworks chimney as the Heilly Sector Chimney. Unfortunately, Ridgway, whilst describing his location had, on one occasion, omitted the word ‘sector’.

The town of Heilly is deep down in the valley of the River Ancre on the north side of the Morlancourt Ridge. There is indeed a tall chimney in the industrial section at the south­west edge of the town, but the top of the chimney is more than 100 feet below the top of the Ridge. A person who climbed that far up it would have a grand view of the fields surrounding the town and of the River Ancre, but not much else. That has been cited as proof that Ridgway was fibbing.

However, no signals officer who valued his job would run his wires AWAY from their destination or down the back streets of a town. That eliminates the Heilly town chimney immediately from both the technical and logical points of view of communication with the various Battalion HQs in the Sector.

When researching his book, Carisella looked into the chimney issue. Ridgway’s son was running a tourist hotel in Amiens at the time – the Australian Hotel — and fortunately, his father, on a visit to France had shown him exactly from where he had watched Brown diving to the attack. The son personally took Carisella to the place – Sainte Colette brickworks.