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Events from History: 21 April 1918

The Fall of the Red Baron: The Death of Manfred von Richthofen

On April 21, 1918, the skies over the Western Front witnessed the end of an era as Manfred von Richthofen, known as the “Red Baron,” was shot down near Vaux-sur-Somme, France. The Red Baron was the most feared and celebrated pilot of World War I, credited with 80 air combat victories. On that fateful day, during a dogfight that involved several fighter planes, Richthofen, in his distinctive red Fokker Dr. I triplane, pursued a Canadian Sopwith Camel piloted by Wilfrid “Wop” May deep into Allied territory. Despite his experience and prowess, Richthofen broke his rule of avoiding enemy territory, setting the stage for the following dramatic events.

At approximately 10:45 AM, while in hot pursuit of May, Richthofen was hit by a single bullet that severely wounded him. Although he managed to make a rough landing in a field on the Allied side, by the time Australian troops reached him, the Red Baron was dead. The exact source of the fatal shot remains a subject of debate among historians, with credit claimed by Canadian pilot Arthur “Roy” Brown, who was trying to protect May, and also by soldiers from the Australian ground forces who were firing at Richthofen from the ground. Manfred von Richthofen’s death marked the loss of a legendary figure in military aviation and a turning point in aerial combat during the war. The Red Baron was respected by friends and foes alike for his honour and prowess, and his legacy endures as a symbol of the chivalric code of the knights of the air in the early 20th century.

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