Photo: author's collection


The iconic Fokker Dr. I 425/17 in its initial stage of decoration, marked with Iron

Cross national insignia. The smooth opaque application of the red paint indicate

that it was most likely spray-painted in this color at the Fokker factory.

Finally becoming a fighter pilot

A major reorganization was taking place in the

Fliegertruppe in the summer of 1916. The first

Jagdstaffeln, units solely equipped with singleseater fighter aircraft, were to be formed. The

obvious choice of leadership for one of the first

of these new formations was Hauptmann Oswald

Boelcke, by then the far highest scoring pilot in


His status allowed him to hand-pick the pilots

that would serve in his new Jagdstaffel, and one

of his trips to pick those pilots resulted in another

meeting of the two men.

Oswald Boelcke´s older brother Wilhelm was

the commander of Kampfstaffel 10 of Kagohl 2,

a neighboring unit of Richthofen´s outfit near

Kowel. And on a particularly hot summer day in

August 1916 Boelcke and von Richthofen met again

there. The great ace must have seen quite a bit of

potential in the young Ulan pilot, as he was one of

two Kagohl 2 pilots he selected as new members

for his own Jagdstaffel, the other choice fell on

Lt. Erwin Böhme.

Just three days later Manfred boarded the train

for yet again trip towards the Western Front,

and he arrived at the airfield of Boelcke´s newly

formed Jagdstaffel 2 at Vélu on 1. September 1916.

On the very same day, the first three aircraft

were also taken on charge by the new Staffel:

a Fokker D.III and a Fokker D.I were shipped over

from the local Armee-Flug-Park, while Vfw.

Reimann was transferred over to Jasta 2 from

Jasta 1 and brought with him an Albatros D.I.

While it is possible that the unit also had a single

Halberstadt D-type on hand in early September,

no photographic evidence of this has yet been

found. And while further new pilots seemed to

arrive on a nearly daily basis, the unit had to

make do with these three or four aircraft during

the first half of September.

Then, on 16. September, six additional Albatros

fighters were delivered to the unit, and the unit


INFO Eduard

was finally able to really commence operations

then. Besides conducting frontline flights, flying

as a unit had to be practiced first, and Boelcke

was instrumental in teaching his pilots all they

needed to know.

His tenure was to be tragically short, for he was

killed as the result of a crash-landing that was

caused by a mid-air collision with the abovementioned Lt. Erwin Böhme on 28. October.

Yet the roughly eight weeks under Boelcke´s

leadership were enough to turn Manfred into

a highly competent fighter pilot. And from all we

know about von Richthofen, he not only passed

on his knowledge to other pilots like his mentor

Boelcke did, but he also adapted Boelcke´s style

of leadership.

Taking command of Jagdstaffel 11

The chance to do just that arose for him when he

was given command of Jagdstaffel 11 on January

15, 1917, three days after having been awarded

the “Pour le Mérite”, with his score standing at

16 confirmed victories. Already while he was

a member of Jasta 2, he had begun to use red as

his personal color on at least one of his fighters.

He carried over this color to “his” Staffel, which

soon adopted red noses as their unit markings.

And soon his personal aircraft had larger and

larger sections painted red.

The definitive history of this celebrated

Jagdstaffel will see the light of day sooner or

later and going into the many achievements of

Manfred von Richthofen as the commander of this

unit, and later as the leader of Jagdgeschwader I,

would go far beyond the scope of this article. But

it is safe to say that he transformed an entirely

unsuccessful formation of pilots into the most

élite and highest scoring German Jagdstaffel

of the war.

During the roughly 15 months that he lead Jasta

11 and Jagdgeschwader I he added another

64 victories to his tally, in spite of being away

from the front on several occasions for various

reasons, and sometimes for fairly prolonged

periods of times. The victories that he claimed,

and that were confirmed to him, have come under

an unparalleled level of scrutiny over the past

century. While in some cases it was only possible

to find “likely” matches to his claims, it has not

been possible to categorically prove that one or

more them were illegitimate. One cannot help but

wonder what would be left of the total number of

victories credited to some Entente fighter pilots

if someone would take the trouble to put them

under the same microscope.

In the post-war years, and even fairly recently,

some authors have described Manfred von

Richthofen as ruthless, selfish, focused on

Photo: author's collection

at this point, a lucky coincidence caused it to have

exactly the opposite result.

Following the issue of the order that instituted the change of the national marking

to the straight-sided Balkenkreuz insignia, these markings were modified


Supposedly taken in the morning of 21. April 1918, this would be one of the last photos of Manfred von Richthofen

(fourth from right) before his fatal flight. Note the alarm bell just visible in the background of the photo, beween

the pilots and the tent on the right side.

May 2023