The souvenir hunters had thoroughly taken apart Dr.I 425/17 when this picture was taken. The inner surface of the remaining fuselage fabric show no sign of

streaking, supporting the theory that at least the upper and side surfaces of this plane were just painted red at the factory.

collecting awards and even bloodthirsty. This

author has been lucky to know some historians

who still had the chance to speak to many of the

man who served with and under him during the

war. And none of these witnesses described him

in any such way. On the contrary, the attribute

seemingly most commonly attributed to him

was modesty. Very few photographs show him

wearing more decorations than the Iron Cross,

Pilots badge and the Pour le Mérite, even during

visits of high-ranking officers at his unit. Had he

been an avid collector of decorations he would

have certainly been keen to show them off. And

flying single-seat aircraft with the purpose of

shooting down enemy airplanes had to result in

the deaths of many of his opponents – especially

since the Entente commanders had chosen to

deny their pilots the luxury of parachutes. He was

quite simply a product of the era that he grew up

in, and the same is true for the combatants on the

other side. Judging these men by the standards

of our current society after the passage of more

than a century seems somewhat presumptuous.

Much has been made of the fact that his final score

of 80 confirmed victories made him the highest

scoring pilot on either side, even though he died

almost seven months before the Armistice. While

this is undeniably true, one has to keep in mind

that he was also an extremely talented instructor

who passed on his knowledge to those who served

under him. Besides this, he was instrumental in

constantly pushing aircraft manufacturers and

the Inspectorate of the German Flying Forces to

develop more advanced single seaters.

Ever since joining Jasta 2 he had mostly flown

Albatros fighters, upgrading with each new

generations of these fighters from the D.I onwards.

On 23. January 1917, just as he was scoring his

May 2023

18th victory, the spar in the lower wing of his new

Albatros D.III broke, and he was lucky to get to the

ground alive. This problem occurred on a number

of other aircraft of the same type, and similar

problems resurfaced on the later D.V soon after

it reached the front. He was thus forced to switch

back to one of the older Halberstadt fighters

which had previously served with Jasta 11 until

a fix to the wing problem could be worked out.

Besides the structural problems, the fact that

new variants of the Albatros failed to bring about

noticeable performance improvements also lead

him to be increasingly disenchanted with the type.

newly developed types that were evaluated during

the three fighter competitions in 1918 were to be

test-flown by frontline pilots on those occasions.

This turned out to be the preferable way to ensure

that the types that were chosen for production

would actually meet pilots expectations. This

was especially true for the Fokker D.VII, a type

that was put into production at three factories

(Fokker, Albatros and O.A.W.) as a result of his

approval. Unfortunately, he never had a chance to

fly this aircraft in combat, as the first production

examples of the new Fokker biplane arrived at JG

I just days after his fatal last mission.

Influence on aircraft development

Photographs taken during 1917 document that he

visited the Fokker, Pfalz and Roland factories in

order to keep himself informed about the latest

developments of these companies. One cannot

help but wonder if he was actively looking for

a potential successor to the Albatros D-types,

which had essentially become the standard

fighter of the Jagdstaffeln during 1917. While he

scored many victories flying various Albatros

fighters, he always had reservations related to

the single-spar lower wing design of the D.III –


As early as July 1917 he wrote: “…Fokker… has two

machines which are superior to the Albatros, but

they are not in production.” Here he is relating to

the Fokker V.1 and V.2 prototypes, which he must

have seen or even test-flown during a visit to the

Fokker works in Schwerin during either May or

June. These aircraft never went into production,

but the ground-breaking cantilever wing design

was the main feature of all Fokker fighters that

would enter series production later.

It was thanks to Manfred von Richthofen that the

Abrupt ending to a stellar career

While the Triplane most commonly associated

with MvR is his all-red Fokker Dr.I 425/17, he

apparently only flew this particular aircraft for

a very short period of time. His last two victories

were scored at the controls of this plane on 20.

April 1918, but from late 1917 to early 118 he flew

a surprisingly large number of Triplanes. Besides

this one, and the F.I prototype (102/17) that was

shipped to him directly from the Fokker factory

in late August 1917, he is documented to have

flown at least six further Dr. Is at various times:

Dr. I 114/17, 119/17, 127/17, 152/17, 161/17 and 477/17.

This listing does not claim to be conclusive, but as

far as current research shows, of these triplanes

only 425/17 may have been painted in an “overall

red” scheme. And it was this particular plane in

which the “Red Baron” was mortally wounded in

on 21. April 1918, after being hit by a bullet while

flying at low altitude. By now, general consensus

is that the fatal shot was fired at him by an

Australian machine gunner from the ground,

a fate that befell several pilots on both sides of

the front.

INFO Eduard