“Of course, with the increasing number of aeroplanes one gains increased opportunities for shooting down one’s enemies, but at the same time, the possibility of being shot down one’s self increases.” — Manfred von Richthofen
He was the second child and the eldest son born to Major Albrecht Phillip Karl Julius Freiherr von Richthofen and Kunigunde von Schickfuss und Neudorff. The family was part of the Prussian aristocracy and lived a life of privilege. Manfred enjoyed horse back riding, hunting and gymnastics. He was home schooled until 11 when he entered the Royal Military Academy at Lichterfelde.
“He was a better athlete than he was a scholar, and applied his horseback riding skills to become a cavalry officer. He was commissioned in April 1911 in the 1st Regiment of Uhlans Kaiser Alexander III, and promoted to Lieutenant in 1912.” [First World War.com]
When World War One began he served as a reconnaissance officer for the cavalry. In May of 1915, after brief service as a dispatch runner in the trenches, he switched to the newly formed German Air Force. He was a natural aviator and “took his first solo flight after only 24 hours of flight training.” [Ibid] Richthofen flew an Albatross for a while, then he switched to the Fokker DR-1 Dridecker, a tri-plane with a “Spandau” lMG 08 machine gun. His plane was painted red.
“His success in the air led to his being named der Rote Kampfflieger by the Germans, le petit rouge by the French, and the Red Baron by the British.” [ Ibid]
In 1917 he was award the Pour Le Merite (aka “The Blue Max”) and was put in charge of an elite unit of German pilots nicknamed the Flying Circus. He personally racked up over 80 kills along the Western Front.
On July 6, 1917 He received a serious head wound. He passed out, but regained consciousness before the airplane hit the ground and was able to make a safe, if rough, landing in a farmer’s field. While recovering from the wound the German Airforce Press and Intelligence unit had him “write” an autobiography (that they promptly censored, polishing the image of the flying ace.) He was a national treasure and they didn’t want him to go up again (neither did the doctors), but The Red Baron ignored them, rationalizing that other German soldiers didn’t have the option of staying away from combat, and neither should he.
He went back to active service at the end of July. On April 21 1918 he was shot down over Morlancourt Ridge near the Somme.
“A British pilot flew over the German aerodrome at Cappy and dropped a note informing the Germans of Richthofen’s death. Buried in France by the British with full military honours, Richthofen’s body was later exhumed and reburied in the family cemetery at Wiesbaden.” [Ibid]