Who do you think shot down the Red Baron?

Who killed the Red Baron?

  • An Australian Flying Corps' No. 3 Squadron RE8 observation two-seater

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Gunner W. J. Evans of the 53rd Battery

    Votes: 0 0.0%

  • Total voters

Ad: This forum contains affiliate links to products on Amazon and eBay. More information in Terms and rules

Soundbreaker Welch?

Tech Sergeant
Feb 8, 2006
Colorado, USA
Well? It's kinda a tossup. On the PBS website there are differant theories to how he died.

Here it is.


Explore Competing Theories
by Evan Hadingham

Like the Kennedy assassination, the death of Manfred von Richthofen is clouded by dozens of often conflicting eyewitness accounts and has inspired a mountain of speculative theories. NOVA's "Who Killed the Red Baron?" is based partly on a notable recent investigation of those theories, The Red Baron's Last Flight, by Norman Franks and Alan Bennett. Another important recent book, The Many Deaths of the Red Baron, by Frank McGuire, surveys the literature supporting the competing claims. Below is a brief sampler of the many versions of the events of April 21, 1918, discussed in detail by these two sources.

Mortally Wounded in Air Combat?

The Royal Air Force (RAF) gave official credit for the Baron's death to No. 209 Squadron's Captain Roy Brown, whose combat report gives only the barest outline of the action: "Went back again and dived on pure red triplane which was firing on Lieut. May. I got a long burst into him and he went down vertical and was observed to crash by Lieut. Mellersh and Lieut. May."

In 1927, after gaining access to British Air Ministry files, Floyd Gibbons published a vivid account of Brown's victory in his best-selling popular book, The Red Knight of Germany. That same year, a first-person narrative of the action, "My Fight With Richthofen," was published in Liberty magazine. Although supposedly in Brown's own words, the article was clearly influenced by Gibbons and embroidered by Liberty's copywriters.

While these popular accounts of Brown's attack are of doubtful value, his claim is supported by testimony from another 209 Squadron Captain, O. C. LeBoutillier, and from a few key eyewitnesses on the ground. However, most recent analysts conclude that the attack came at least a minute before the Baron's final crash, probably too early to have inflicted the fatal wound.

Murdered On the Ground?

In 1925, a New York-based magazine called The Progressive published an article titled "Richthofen Was Murdered." The article reported rumors circulating in Germany that Richthofen had landed unscathed and that Canadian soldiers had jumped from their trenches and killed the Baron before he could climb out of his triplane. The rumors may have begun when German pilots from the Baron's "circus" reported witnessing the triplane's relatively smooth crash landing; at first, this fueled hopes that the Baron had been captured alive, and later, the speculation that he had been murdered. However, eyewitness accounts by the first ground troops to reach the crash site make this highly implausible.

Chasing Two Sopwith Camels?

In accounts collected in the 1930s, at least three eyewitnesses claimed that the Baron was pursuing two Sopwith Camels at the time he was brought down by ground fire. One of the most detailed of these claims was by Sergeant A. G. Franklyn, who was in charge of an Australian antiaircraft battery and claims to have shot down the Baron with his Lewis gun. Subsequent research has suggested that Franklyn probably confused the Red Baron's demise with his battery's downing of a German airplane the day after the Baron's death in a slightly different location.

Shot Down by a Two-Seater?

On the morning of April 21, 1918, the crew of two RE8 observation planes of the Australian Flying Corps' No. 3 Squadron reported a skirmish with two red-nosed Fokker triplanes. The squadron's commanding officer, Major D. V. J. Blake, submitted his squadron's report with other details implying that one of the attackers was Richthofen and that fire by an RE8 observer had brought the Baron down. However, the attack was at too high an altitude and too early to have been connected with the Baron's death. One explanation is that a pair of triplanes from the Baron's "circus," perhaps including the Baron himself, briefly dived on the two RE8s prior to encountering the Sopwith Camels of RAF No. 209 Squadron.

An Unknown Rifleman on the Ground?

P. J. Carisella and James W. Ryan's popular book Who Killed the Red Baron?, published in 1969, includes an account by Lieut. R. A. Wood of the 51st Battalion asserting that an unknown gunner from his unit brought down the Baron. "As soon as the planes had passed overhead my platoon opened up with rifle fire, and two sets of [Vickers] machine or Lewis guns on my left opened fire. Richthofen was seen to crash soon after one of these bursts." Another eyewitness interviewed in detail in 1975, Private V. J. Emery of 40th Battalion, supported Wood's claim. Emery believed that an unknown rifleman from Wood's platoon was in a better position to have fired the fatal shot than any of the other gunners in the area.

Shot Down by a Machine Gunner on the Ground?

NOVA's program focuses on the two best-known claims attributing Richthofen's death to machine gun fire from the ground. These were made by two different Australian antiaircraft crews who were stationed on the Morlancourt Ridge. In 1956, Gunner R. Buie, a Lewis gunner of the 53rd Battery, wrote to Australian newspapers about how he and Gunner W. J. Evans had opened fire on a German plane chasing a British one toward their position. "I started firing at the body of the German pilot directly through my peep sight," Buie wrote. "Fragments flew from the plane and it lessened speed. It came down a few hundred yards away." Most researchers reconstruct Buie and Evans' firing position as facing the oncoming triplane, making it unlikely that either could have fired the side-on shot that killed the Baron.

Sergeant C. B. Popkin, a Vickers gunner with the 24th Machine Gun Company, was in a more plausible position had he fired, as he claimed, when the Baron gave up chasing May and turned back toward the German lines. According to Popkin's statement recorded soon after the event: "As it came towards me, I opened fire a second time and observed at once that my fire took effect. The machine swerved, attempted to bank and make for the ground, and immediately crashed. The distance from the spot where the plane crashed and my gun was about 600 yards."

While Popkin's position seems the best match for the evidence of the Baron's wound, the long range and wide deflection angle required has led some to doubt the plausibility of his claim. Even Popkin himself had doubts; he told the Brisbane Courier in 1964 that "I am fairly certain it was my fire which caused the Baron to crash but it would be impossible to say definitely that I was responsible...As to pinpointing without doubt the man who fired the fatal shot the controversy will never actually be resolved."

Though there was only one bullet wound in the Red Baron's head, I put the Combination Option since it's possible that several guns hit the plane and perhaps helped in downing the Fokker. I'm still not sure if the plane had other bullet marks in it. If it did, even Roy Brown may have helped in damaging the Barons aircraft, even if he didn't kill him.
But even if there was no other bullets that hit the plane, it still could be either Popkin or the unknown gunner that killed the Baron. My vote of Combination kill goes to those two men even though only one killed him. But in uncertainy, you make it a Shared Kill.
I also saw a program which stated a gunner on the ground was firing at him and while doing so, the plane pitched up and then quickly came to the ground. It was believed that the wound didn't kill him immediately, giving him time to land the plane but he died by the time the plane stopped.
From the PBS website there is a transcript of the program. It's too long to post all here but I posted the part about how one person claimed he was alive after the plane landed.

NARRATOR: Von Richthofen's body was taken to an RAF base at Poulainville where several medical examinations were carried out. They showed that he had been mortally wounded by a single .303 bullet that entered several inches below the right armpit and passed up through the chest, emerging just below the left nipple. Both Allied aircraft and ground gunners used the same .303 ammunition.

The direction, distance and timing of this fatal shot are vital clues that have been constantly debated. Starting from the medical reports, author and aviation historian Norman Franks has been re-investigating the mystery.

NORMAN FRANKS (Aviation Historian): Once we looked at the pathology, we interviewed two or three eminent pathologists, and they said that the sort of wound that he would have suffered would have given him no more than 12 to 20 seconds of life once he was hit—just enough to get down.

ALEX IMRIE: I've spoken...I've asked a few pilots about this—those that were there—and one in particular, Rudolph Stark, a Bavarian, he was flying that morning, and he reckons that Richthofen was still alive when he landed because he said the triplane was so touchy to fly, it was absolutely impossible for it to land smoothly on its own.

NARRATOR: Although mortally wounded, had von Richthofen somehow managed to wrestle his aircraft safely to the ground? Eighty years after the event, an important new piece of evidence surfaced in a letter from the son of an Allied soldier who claimed to be the first to reach the crashed triplane.

SON OF GUNNER ERNEST TWYCROSS (Excerpt from 1973 letter): My father's officer sent my father down to take the pilot prisoner, which my father did. My father was the first man to the aircraft and the pilot tried to say something in German to my father. The pilot then sighed and died.

BRADLEY M. KING: This added a whole new dimension to the final moments of Richthofen's life and confirmed that the aircraft came down intact. It was practically flown down. Richthofen was still alive, which nobody had known about before.

NARRATOR: If von Richthofen was still alive on the ground, the shooter must have fired at him no more than 20 seconds or so before he landed. Was Captain Brown at the right spot and at the right angle to have fired the fatal shot?

A second new piece of evidence now emerged. It was a large collection of correspondence from the 1930s between a former World War II RAF officer and surviving witnesses of the Baron's last flight. It had lain neglected for 60 years.

In the collection was a letter from an Australian engineer called Darbyshire who was watching the action from the Somme canal. Crucially, he was in a position to see both von Richthofen and Captain Brown.

SERGEANT GAVIN DARBYSHIRE (Excerpt from 1937 letter): I turned to look at the two leading planes just going over the ridge, heard a burst of gunfire, and the Fokker stopped in its stride and did the first half of a loop, then straightened out and fluttered down out of sight as if doing a pancake landing. By this time the third plane was just approaching the ridge. I was amazed later to hear that the Hun was brought down by a plane, as the chaser was not firing at the time the German stopped.

NARRATOR: Darbyshire's statement was a vital clue.

NORMAN FRANKS: He saw the triplane coming back over the ridge rear-up and then crunch down in a forced landing. That, to us, indicated when he was hit, which was way past Brown's attack.

NARRATOR: After the war, Captain Roy Brown chose not to make further statements about his attack on the Red Baron.

DENNY MAY: Roy was quite convinced he had shot that red triplane down. He never wavered from that. If there was any reticence, it's just that he hated the war. He was a sick man at this point. He was looking out for his men, worried about them all, and not wanting to become a hero in anybody's eyes. He was just doing a job.

NARRATOR: When contacted in the 1930s, Roy Brown continued to refuse to answer any direct questions.

CAPTAIN ROY BROWN (excerpt from letter): There is no point in my making any statement when official records are in existence.

NARRATOR: Captain Brown probably fired on von Richthofen from behind and above left. But as the medical reports showed, the Baron was hit by an upward-traveling shot to the right side. After more than eighty years, most of the evidence fails to support Brown's claim. So who did fire the fatal shot?

Ballistics tests can reveal the effect of a bullet fired from different ranges. When a human body is hit there's an explosive effect called hydrostatic shock—the closer the range, the greater the wound damage.

PETER FRANKS (Ballistics Consultant): If the bullet had struck von Richthofen at close range, I would have expected a more explosive-type wound. Now the evidence is that the wounds were actually probed by the medical staff after he had been shot down, and they were actually able to follow the bullet-path through the body.

NARRATOR: A low-damage, low-velocity hit would indicate a long range shot. Moreover, one of the medical orderlies actually found the .303 bullet that had killed the Baron.

PETER FRANKS: The fact that the bullet was found intact inside the clothing of Richthofen is another indicator that it was a long range shot. And I would say that would be probably 600 yards plus.

NARRATOR: Australian Gunners Buie and Evans were in range and could have hit von Richthofen, as they claimed, some 20 or 30 seconds before he is known to have died. But, by their own testimony, they were firing face on to the triplane so they could not have hit von Richthofen on the right hand side.

NORMAN FRANKS: So we asked our gun expert, what do we need to look at? He said, "Have you got somebody who knows what they're doing, 600 yards away, and he's firing at Von Richthofen's right side?" We said "yes." He said, "There's your man."

NARRATOR: Perched on the slope was the Australian gunnery sergeant, Cedric Popkin. He had followed the fight and now swung his Vickers gun through 180 degrees in case the red triplane re-appeared. He was in luck.

NORMAN FRANKS: In our view and final analysis, the best candidate for bringing down von Richthofen was Cedric Popkin, Australian Sergeant machine gunner.

NARRATOR: Though he was their greatest foe, the Allies buried Manfred von Richthofen alongside their own dead on April 22, 1918, with full military honors.

BARON HERMANN VON RICHTHOFEN: It is very sad and ironic that he was killed at the height of his competence and success. On the other hand, he would not have survived as a kind of symbol for chivalrous warfare as he has in being killed.

NARRATOR: With the new evidence about von Richthofen's death, we may be closer to the truth, but eyewitness testimony always leaves room for doubt. The circumstances surrounding the Baron's death will continue to be shrouded in mystery.

DENNY MAY: I don't think that the world will ever know for sure who shot the Red Baron down. That's a question that will go on in the minds of people for years and years and years.

NARRATOR: In death, Manfred von Richthofen became an icon of a period that saw the dawn of aerial combat and modern warfare. His legend grew, not merely because of his 80 victories, a score which would not be beaten until World War II, but because his dashing career recalls a brief era of innovation and heroism, although it came at unthinkable cost to human life.

SUZANNE FISCHER: I think the Red Baron's real achievement was his legacy of squadron tactics. And it wasn't just that he developed them, but he actually wrote them down so that people could use them and still do use them today. His other achievement was his love of technology and pushing to get the best aircraft produced as quickly as possible.

NARRATOR: In four short years, aerial combat had evolved from an amateurish sport to a deadly efficient killing operation. But now the evidence of von Richthofen's death suggests a final irony. If he indeed was killed in action by an old fashioned gun from the ground, the Red Baron may never have lost a dogfight.
Good lord we can't figure out how many shots were fired at JFK with film and audio yet we are determining the outcome of combat in WW1 using poor maps in super light Aircraft that would change direction in flight if you spit them . If Manfred was that low he didn't do it voluntarily he was driven down
I like the idea of a lucky shot from some guy with a rifle just blasting away with a rough lead on the airplane. He and probably 10 other guys are firing and one of them hits the target. He sees the airplane fall a mile away, probably toys with the idea of going over to check it out, thinks "Hell with it" and goes back to digging the hole or carrying ammo or whatever he was doing beforehand. Never knew he fired the shot.

Popkin is the best candidate for an automatic weapon. As such, he is the best candidate across the board. An automatic gives him a greater number of chances per minute to hit versus a rifle. Makes sense that he'd get the credit for a ground shot.

Still, after all these years, with the evidence compiled, a quirky kind of irony would surround the Red Baron being shot down by some nameless, faceless infantryman blasting away at a certain piece of sky and never knowing he'd ended the career of the Great War's highest scoring ace.
I always thought it was Roy Brown who took him down with the help of the Aussie Lewis Gunner. But now, with that unknown rifleman, I think thats what brought the Baron to a watery grave. Also by this evidence, he never lost a dogfight.
P38 Pilot said:
I always thought it was Roy Brown who took him down with the help of the Aussie Lewis Gunner. But now, with that unknown rifleman, I think thats what brought the Baron to a watery grave. Also by this evidence, he never lost a dogfight.
The Red Baron was shot down in 1917 when he recieved a head wound. On July 6, 1917 Second Lieutenant A E Woodbridge flying in an FE2 hit the Red Baron while he was attacking his aircraft.

The Red Baron didn't "dogfight." He hunted down his enemy when he had an advantage, got as close as possible and blasted away.

I have read the book by Pj carisella "Who Killed the Red Baron, one thing is for certain is that he was NOT shot down by Captain Roy Brown more likely by the machine Gunner.

The Albatros is the one he was flying when a bullet creased his skull, he was brought down earlier in the war, the other pictures show the angle of the bullet that entered his body when he died flying the Fokker Dr1. The angle shows that it couldnt have been from Roy Browns sopwith camel, as he was flying above behind and slightly further back


  • Red Barons Albatros in which he was brought down.jpg
    Red Barons Albatros in which he was brought down.jpg
    58.4 KB · Views: 1,047
  • Red Barons body position when hit by fatal round.jpg
    Red Barons body position when hit by fatal round.jpg
    22.2 KB · Views: 1,032
  • Entry  exit wound position.jpg
    Entry exit wound position.jpg
    34.6 KB · Views: 617
  • Richtofen in Death.jpg
    Richtofen in Death.jpg
    91.8 KB · Views: 8,431
The Red Baron didn't "dogfight." He hunted down his enemy when he had an advantage, got as close as possible and blasted away.

Oh but he had dogfighting skills, if you look at his fight with Billy Bishop, that was a good fight, this was basically a Battle between the Allies best Pilot vs the CP's best Pilot, there was no winner but they tore the sh*t out of each others planes
102first_hussars said:
Oh but he had dogfighting skills, if you look at his fight with Billy Bishop, that was a good fight, this was basically a Battle between the Allies best Pilot vs the CP's best Pilot, there was no winner but they tore the sh*t out of each others planes
Billy Bishop?!?!? His own words about the 1917 engagement....

The . . . experiences of the morning had put me in good humor for fighting.... I was up in the air again, with my squadron commander, to see if there were any Huns about looking for a bit of trouble.... Presently, to the south of us, we saw five Albatross Scouts. We went after them, but before we had come within firing distance we discovered four red Albatrosses, just to our right. This latter quartet, I believe, was made up of Baron Von Richthofen and three of his best men....

In my turn I opened fire on the Baron, and in another halfminute found myself in the midst of what seemed to be a stampede of bloodthirsty animals.

Everywhere I turned smoking bullets were jumping at me; and although I got in two or three good bursts at the Baron's "red devil," I was rather bewildered for two or three minutes, as I could not see what was happening to the Major, and was not at all certain as to what was going to happen to me.

Around we went in cyclonic circles for several minutes, here a flash of the Hun machines, then a flash of silver as my squadron commander would whizz by. All the time I would be in the same mix-up myself, every now and then finding a red machine in front of me, and letting in a round or two of quick shots. I was glad the Germans were scarlet and we were silver. There was no need to hesitate about firing when the right color flitted bv your nose.

It was a lightning fight, and I have never been in anything just like it. Firing one moment, you would have to concentrate all your mind and muscle on the next in doing a quick turn to avoid a collision....

... I saw up above me four more machines coming down to join in the fight. Being far inside the German lines, I at once decided they were additional Huns, so I "zoomed" up and out of the fight to be free for a moment and have a look around. The moment I did this I saw the approaching machines were triplanes belonging to one of our naval squadrons, and they were coming up for all they were worth to help us against the Albatrosses. The latter, however, had had enough of the fight by now, and at the moment I "zoomed" they dived, and flew away toward the earth.

From the Red Baron....

"The duty of the fighting pilot is to patrol his area of the sky, and shoot down any enemy fighters in that area. Anything else is rubbish." Manfred von Richthofen

The Red Baron did not to dogfight - and he avoided doing so. This was documented in his own memos and was also documented by thise who flew with him....
I voted for Popkin, I also think Richthoven's head injury played a part in his death. As FBJ points out he was an ambush hunter and normally would have broken off his attack long before he was brought over the dangerous front lines at a low altitude.
It's interesting how in a way Richthofen and Roy were both trying to do the same thing. Keep a friend, or brother in Richthofen's case, from dying. Except the Baron happened to be the unlucky pilot flying over enemy lines and not Roy.
His death was horrible, but we should also thank that his fokker plane was not caught in fire and landed his plane swiftly, but then he died of wounds...

because of his death, the Allied power esp. the French were now compatible because of this terrible ace loss. And coz of this they fought the germans bravely...! :)
well i will add my 2 cents. was Aussie Gunners from the ground accordingly to medical reports done at the time. no way brown could have fired the fatal shot but the story about canadians killing him that is certainly news to me. As far as i knew the Baron came down near Australian Infantry lines. Body taken to nearest RFC aerodrome etc and buried with full military honours and funeral with Australian Infantrymen forming the firing party in salute

Users who are viewing this thread