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The Rock-itt : October 2011
DID AN AUSTRALIAN KILL THE RED BARON? Photograph of Manfred Von Richt hofen, known as the “Red Bar on”, wearing the “Blue Max” (Pour le Mérite) Germany’s highest military honour in 1917 Born of a noble family in Silesia, Von Richthofen was destined for stardom; a confident and handsome young man, who was athletic and enjoyed hunting. Not surprisingly when the tim e came for cadet training he was drawn to his love of riding and in 1911 joined one of the more elite cavalry regiments. Here he stayed until May 1915 having seen action on both Eastern and Western fronts as a reconnaissance officer but he soon became impatient for more action and applied for a position in the newly formed Imperial German Air Service. It was not until October of the same year that he started training as a pilot and not until November 1916 that his famous downing of British fighter ace Major Lanoe Hawker VC brought Von Richthofen into notoriety. By January 1917, when he was awarded The Blue Max after his 16th confirmed “kill” and he became squadron leader. It was at about this time that he decided to paint his Albatross D. 111 red, and others in his squadron followed suit, thus coining the phrase, The Flying Circus. Von Richthofen was to become the famous German fighter ACE in the Red Tri-plane who was shot down in April 1918 after the German offensive known as Operation Michael. But controversy surrounded the death of this great pilot and many different people laid claim to the shot that killed him and brought his aircraft to the ground near the Bray Corbie Road in a sector of the battlefield occupied by the Aussies. Until recently his death had been claimed by a Canadian pilot, Captain Brown, who had fired at the Red Baron during his chase of anoptehr Allied aircraft. But evidence had been ignored; evidence which showed that the ACE had been killed by a bullet to his heart and lungs which had entered from the side of the craft and at an angel that could only suggest that a .303 round had been fired from ground level. Popkin’s 24th Machine Gun Company – AIF An Australian Anti-Aircraft unit, part of the 24 th Machine Gun Company had a certain Sergeant George Popkin at a location which appears credible and who claimed to have fired twice at the Red Baron’s plane, once head on and the second time as the plane crossed his line of vision, still in pursuit of the hapless Allied fighter. It is thought that this second burst of machine gun fire contained the bullet that entered Richthofen’s body and the airman brought his plane to land in a field in time before he took his last breath. It was the Australians who were garrisoned in this southern sector of the lower Somme battlefield, who were first to the scene. His plane was virtually undamaged but souvenir hunters quickly stripped the plane of identifiable parts. No 3 Squadron of the AFC was the closest Allied Air Force unit to the crash site and it was their responsibility to look after the remains of the Germany’s fighter ACE. A full military funeral was granted to the German and 6 Australian officers with the rank of captain were chosen as pall bearers along with a Guard of Honour in the village of Bertangles where General Monash was headquartered in the Chateau. By Simon Lyon Australian Officers carry the Red Baron to his funeral