This day in history, April 21, 1918, Baron Manfred von Richthofen, also known as “The Red Baron” was killed by Allied fire.
Originally a cavalryman, Richthofen transferred to the Air Service in 1915, becoming one of the first members of Jasta 2 in 1916.
Using an Albatross biplane, he downed 15 enemy planes by the end of the year, including British flying ace Major Lanoe Hawker. He quickly distinguished himself as an elite fighter pilot and in 1917, became leader of Jasta 11 and then the larger unit Jagdgeschwader 1, better and popularly known as the “Flying Circus.”
In 1917, Richthofen surpassed all flying-ace records on both sides of the Western Front and began using a Fokker triplane painted entirely in red.
By 1918, he was regarded as a national hero in Germany and was respected and feared by his enemies.
On April 21, 1918, Richthofen and his squadron of triplanes flew into Allied territory in France on a search for British observation aircraft.
Baron had been pursuing (at very low altitude) a Sopwith Camel piloted by a novice Canadian pilot, Lieutenant Wilfred R. May while flying over Morlancourt Ridge, near the Somme River.
The Red Baron ventured too far into enemy territory and flew too low to the ground while helping save the life of his cousin who was being fired upon by May.
An Australian machine-gun battery fired upon Richthofen and a single .303 bullet struck his torso. He managed to land his plane alongside the road from Corbie to Bray, near Sailley-le-Sac, but by the time Australian troops reached him, he was dead.
Manfred von Richthofen, 25, was buried by the Allies in a small military cemetery in Bertangles, France, with full military honors.
He is considered the ace-of-aces of the war, being officially credited with 80 air combat victories. At the time, a pilot with 20 air combat victories reached legendary status.