The information which the Commandcr-in – Chief of the British Fourth Army, General Sir Henry Rawlinson, had received until now was a little confusing. General Sir John Monash. who commanded the 5th Australian Division, had been told that the Red Devil (as he was often called by the front line troops) had been shot down by an RES reconnaissance aeroplane. General Sir William Birdwood. who commanded the Australian Corps within the Fourth Army, had heard quite a different story. His Aide. Captain McGrigor, made the following entry in his diary for the 22nd:

Great excitement yesterday afternoon as Baron von Reichtofen [sic], the great Bosche [sic] flyer who is said to have accounted for 80 of our machines, met his fate yesterday near here, being brought down by machine guns of one of our batteries at about 500 feet up while swooping on the tail of one of our reconnaissance machines. He was killed dead having about five bullets in him. and there is no doubt but that he is the famous pilot all Bosche communiques have been making so much of the last few months. There is a lot of dispute as to who actually shot him down, but the machine gunners of the battery have finally established their claim. Went over to see his plane in the afternoon, it was a red triplane, but owing to the crash and the multitudinous souvenir hunters who got at it before the flying people, there was really very little of it left. Crowds of French troops still on the roads behind us. all moving north. Rode over and dined with Jack Cunningham [1] at No.65 Squadron: the talk was all about Reichtofen’s death, and they all swear that he was brought down by a plane and not from the ground. Had a most cheery evening finishing up with a good game of poker, did not get back until 1.15.

|1| Major J A Cunningham. CXT of 65 Squadron and soon to command 65 Wmg: .i former RFA officer lie had been л pilot since Iі) 12 and ended the war. is л Lt-C’olonel DSC) I )FC. Croix de Guerre. Chevalier of the Order of Leopold.

The time came around for the official British 4th Army Daily Report on Activity and Availability of Munitions, dated 21 April 1918 to be issued. Under Item 11 – General, it stated:

Baron von Richthoffen [sic], the well-known German aviator, was brought down and killed by a Lewis Gun mounted over 53rd Battery A. F.A. His machine. a red triplane, crashed on the road 1,000 yards north of Vaux sur Somme. Baron von Richthoffen on the previous day accounted for his 80th Allied machine. An account of the circumstances under which he fell is attached as an appendix.

It would appear that the three claims which had been making their way up through the chain of command arrived at the HQ of the Fourth Army shortly after the Daily Report was issued. They were brought to the attention of Sir Henry and may be briefly described as follows:

The claim from 3 Squadron AFC’, Lieutenant Barrow, was based upon a burst of Lewis gun fire aimed frontally at the Triplane as it dived on the RES. This would encompass about one third of a drum of bullets fired at about ten rounds per second. A standard drum held 47 rounds.

The claim from 209 Squadron, Captain Roy Brown DSC’, was based upon a long burst of fire from twin Vickers guns aimed from above and from one side in a dive towards the left rear of the Triplane. This would encompass about 50 to 70 rounds from each gun. ie: 100-140 in total.

The claim from the 53rd Field Artillery Battery AIF. Gunners Buie and Evans, was based upon several short bursts of fire from two Lewis guns aimed semi-frontally, that is upwards and a little from the right of the Triplane s direction of flight. Gunner Buie had fired 47 rounds but gunner Evans’s contribution is unknown.

At least there was agreement on one point between all stories, official and unofficial. The Baron, no matter how his name was spelled, had been struck by a fair number of bullets. This introduced a factor which might possibly be decisive; the types of the bullets in the body. The 53rd Battery claimants were using‘rifle’bullets and ‘tracer’ only. However, in the case of 3 AFC’ and 209 Squadrons, about 80% of the bullets fired would be ‘rifle’ bullets, about 10% would be ‘tracer’ while the final 10% would be ‘explosive’ or ‘armour piercing’ rounds. The exact mix depended upon the preference of the airmen concerned; this would help.

With such a vast difference between the angles of fire and the possible presence of a type of bullet not employed by the 53rd Battery gunners and/or of the two squadrons, an expert medical examination of the body should be able to determine which of the three claimants was truly responsible for bringing down the Fokker. Even if the bullets were not found, each type made a wound of a highly distinctive nature.

The medical services of the British Fourth Army were headed by Major-General O’Keefe. Colonel John A Nixon, (one incorrect reference cites a Colonel Dixon) whose title was Consulting Physician, and Colonel Thomas Sinclair, whose title was Consulting Surgeon, reported to him. These officers were highly qualified professionals and, in addition to administrative duties, they dealt with the more difficult cases at the Fourth Army Hospital in Amiens officially known as the 42nd Stationary Hospital. The basic arrangement was that Field Dressing Stations at the front would send casualties on to the nearest Field Hospital. The latter moved with the front line position and were considered to be mobile hospitals. These, in turn, would send serious cases to a Stationary Hospital. This, in the case of the Fourth Army, was the 42nd in Amiens. Those whose recovery would be delayed would, after initial treatment, be sent back to ‘Blighty’, as Britain was nicknamed. This resulted in the term ‘a Blighty wound’, which some regarded as a blessing in disguise.

Sir Henry Rawlinson requested Colonels Sinclair and Nixon to examine the Baron’s body. On the basis of probability, it may be assumed that at that late hour the Colonels yet had things to do that evening. A message had to be sent to Poulainville to have the body prepared for an examination on the morrow and an Aide would need a little time to arrange the necessary transport to the airfield. Ordinarily Colonels do not ‘hurry’, and the body would still be there in the morning.

Sir Henry was to be disappointed. When the two medical men returned the next day, they brought disquieting news. The first item was that 22 Wing RAF had jumped the gun by sending over the new Medical Officer (MO), Captain N C Graham, RAMC, from its Field Hospital, accompanied by his predecessor, Lieutenant G E Downs, RAMC, who was preparing to depart for England. They conducted an examination of their own on the evening of the 21st. Although 22 Wing Routine Orders do not cite Downs as surrendering his functions until the 25th, Graham had in fact taken over as Wing Medical Officer upon arrival on the 20th. He signed the medical report on von Richthofen as: ‘Ml) i/c 22 Wing.’ As one of the interested parties, and with the knowledge that the matter had been referred ‘upstairs’, this was improper procedure.

The second item is best told in the words of Colonel Thomas Sinclair as written on 17 October 1934:‘Our verdict disposed of all these claims.’ The reason for this surprising statement was that the injuries to von Richthofen’s body did not. in the slightest degree, have any relation to the quantity, direction and angle of fire described by a single one of the three claimants. Even Air Mechanic Boxall-Chapman’s opinion was at variance with the facts.

The controversy had begun, and, in the opinion of Major Beavis, given in 1934, many of the arguments concerned items which were so self-evident or had been witnessed from close up by so many soldiers at the time, that nobody had bothered to write them down.



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 Wandering Wounds

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

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

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

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

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

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

___ although at the time I had no

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gunner Robert Buie, Cavalier magazine, December 1959:

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

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

He was wearing red silk pyjamas under his flying clothes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ottawa Citizen, 5 February 1931:

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

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

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

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

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

The Edmonton Bulletin, 9 July 1919:

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

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

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

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

Canadian Aviation, April 1944:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brown was definitely awarded the kill.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Wandering Wounds

Authors’ note

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Berlin Tageblatt (evening edition)

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

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

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

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

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

(I) Translation by Dr Diane M Bennett.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gibbons also received at least two more documents:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

later, (see Appendix D)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

The Aftermath

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

saw where this happened.

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

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

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




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


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

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

175,000 RPM 2,300 FPS


152,000 RPM 1,000 FPS


1.50 sec


—I— 400yrds


0.5 sec



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

Characteristics of 0.303 inch
Rifle Bullet Wounds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. The seat, page 55, middle left.

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

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

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

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

2. The Crash Site, page 55. upper left

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Engine Trouble, page 52. top right.

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

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

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

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

6. Decorations, page 56, top right.

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

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

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

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

No Australian received a medal of any kind whatsoever.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let the Reader be the Judge

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

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


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