This Day in History: The Red Baron Claims His First Kill (9/17/21)

This Day in History: The Red Baron Claims His First Kill (9/17/21)

A.J. Hargett, Feature-Writer

On this day in 1916 marks the day the well renowned World War One fighter pilot, Manfred von Richthofen more commonly referred to as “The Red Baron” claims his first aerial victory. While not being the first “ace” he is by far the most well known and easily recognizable pilot, famous for his red paint job on his fighter plane.


Manfred was born in a city named Breslau, Prussia (now called Wroclaw, Poland) into a prominent aristocratic family. During his youth Manfred and his younger brothers enjoyed hunting and riding horses. Manfred started training for the military when he was 11 when his family moved to Schweidnitz (now Swidnica, Poland). He finished training in 1911 and joined the German army where he joined a cavalry unit. During the first year of the war Manfred was a part of a reconnaissance cavalry unit, due to trench warfare and the obsolescence of horses in that strategy, Manfred’s division was dismounted and used as messenger runners and phone operators. This caused Manfred to become dissatisfied with his inactive role in the military and pushed him to apply for the “Luftstreitkräfte” which was the new German Air Force. Manfred desired to join the airforce because he thought it would put him in a position where he could more directly participate in the action.


Manfred’s piloting career first started when he joined the “Kampfgeschwader 2” or the No. 2 Bomber Squadron. At first he was considered a below average pilot and even crashed during his first flight but quickly became familiar and adept with controlling his aircraft. At the battle of Verdun on April 26, 1916 Manfred is reported to have shot down his first plane but was not given credit for it. Later in that same year on September 17th, 1916 he scored his first confirmed aerial victory in Cambrai, France, after which he contacted a jeweller in Berlin and ordered a silver cup with the date and model of the plane he shot down engraved on the cup, which he would do for almost all of his other victories. Manfred’s reputation continued to grow as his number of aerial victories increased, one of which he achieved against British ace pilot Lanoe Hawker. Manfred was killed after engaging two Canadian pilots on April 21st, 1918 near the Somme River from which he received a fatal wound that sent him and his famous red plane crashing towards the ground. Following Richtofen’s death the allied commander of the No. 3 Squadron Major David Blake organized a full military funeral to respect the formidable pilot. 


Manfred von Richthofen was the first well known fighter pilot ace of the first world war and still remains one of the most well known pilots of all time. In total he is said to have scored a total of 80 confirmed aerial victories but counting unconfirmed kills brings that number closer to 100. But on this day in history this is when his piloting career took off (pun intended) and when the Red Baron Claimed His First Kill.