The Red Baron flies into film storm

The German WWI fighter ace, Baron von Richthofen (aka The Red Baron), was a great enemy to the British Empire. During the war, he shot down 80 British Empire and allied planes.

Legend has it that the German was a chivalrous fighter pilot, who let his enemies have a sporting chance. Instead, according to a new book about to be published in Britain, he was nothing more than a cold-blooded killing machine.

The Red Baron was supposedly shot down by a Canadian pilot, Roy Brown. However, new research suggests that he was actually killed by anti-aircraft fire.

Red Baron flies into film storm

By Bojan Pancevski In Vienna
The Telegraph

The Chivalrous image of the German First World War flying ace Manfred von Richthofen, the Red Baron, is shattered by a biography soon to be published in Britain.

Manfred von Richthofen, the Red Baron, brought down 80 British and Allied First World War pilots

The Whole Truth, by Joachim Castan, suggests that rather than giving his enemies a sporting chance, the fighter pilot was a cold-blooded killing machine.

The claim comes just weeks after the release in Germany of Der Rote Baron, a 14 million blockbuster film starring Matthias Schweighofer as the pilot who downed 80 British and other Allied pilots.

The film has proved an unprecedented hit in a country where war heroes have largely gone uncelebrated since the end of Nazism, but only by playing up to long-held perceptions of von Richthofen as a man of conscience, who would allow crippled opponents to crash-land rather than finishing them off in midair.

A British Empire WWI bomber. The Red Baron shot down 80 British Empire and allied planes

The film, to be launched in Britain this summer, has been lauded for helping to soften Germany's entrenched opposition towards all things military, at a time when the country is under strong international pressure to allow its armed forces to play a more robust role in Afghanistan.

But Mr Castan has described von Richthofen's screen portrayal as a "work of fiction", designed to make the glorification of a war hero palatable to modern Germans.

Mr Castan, 41, who holds two doctorates in modern history and is also a documentary film-maker, told the Telegraph: "The only way the film could honour the glory of a German war hero was to depict him as a near pacifist who loathed violence and bloodshed, a warrior of knightly virtue.

"The truth is von Richthofen wanted to kill and destroy the enemy, which is what he did in cold blood and with formidable precision.

"He was an efficient killing machine, a product of a strict Prussian upbringing that did not allow for too much compassion."

In the biography, Mr Castan reveals previously unknown personal documents that sharply contradict the chivalrous character in the film, who in one scene remarks: "Our task is to bring down aeroplanes, not men. We are sportsmen, not butchers."

Such comments went down well among senior German army officers, who have spoken recently of the need to find new military role models untainted by the stigma of Nazism.

But Mr Castan, who was given access to the von Richthofen family archive, says the real Red Baron, in private notes, remarked: "I never get into an aircraft for fun. I aim first for the head of the pilot, or rather at the head of the observer, if there is one."

Mr Castan said: "The myth about the Red Baron served well to create the wider myth of the battle of the skies being a matter of gentlemanly competition. But it was every bit as bloody, ruthless and inhumane as the butchery in the trenches."

Baron von Richthofen, who got his nickname because his three-winged Fokker aircraft was red, was born in 1892 to a Prussian noble family. He was game-hunting from the age of 11, developing the sharpshooting skills that served him well during his career as a pilot in 1915, which saw him became the most successful flying ace of his time.

Mr Castan's book, now being translated into English, claims: "He swapped deer for Englishmen, animals for enemies, and he was equally as efficient in taking down Allied aircraft as he was in hunting down and killing game."

The Red Baron died in action in 1918 at the age of 25, near the Somme.

The "kill" is officially credited to Roy Brown, a Canadian pilot played in the new film by Joseph Fiennes, but modern research suggests that he may in fact have been hit by anti-aircraft fire.

Much of von Richthofen's reputation as a gentleman combatant stems from his famous decision to abandon a dogfight with a British pilot when he saw that his opponent's gun had jammed.

Rather than finishing the Briton off, he forced him to land and then disembarked from his own aircraft and shook hands with him.

However, Mr Castan said the incident – while true – was the exception rather than the rule.

Mr Castan's claims have drawn criticism both at home in Germany and abroad, much of it from British and American Red Baron enthusiasts, who cherish the notion that the battle for the skies in the Great War was a kind of dignified blood sport when compared with the carnage on the battlefields of Europe.
lone wolf
War is Hell.... When you consider the Brits didn't even have parachutes, which is the more merciful - a swift death, roasting on the way down or being mangled at the end of the ride?

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