Tag Archives: Fokker Aviatik GmbH

21 April 1918

vo R Portrait by Nicola Perscheid.
Rittmeister Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen, Jagdstaffel 11, Deutsche Luftstreitkräfte. (Portrait by Nicola Perscheid)

21 April 1918: Rittmeister Manfred Albrecht Freiher von Richthofen, “The Red Baron,” was killed in combat at Morlancourt Ridge, near Vaux-sur-Somme, France. He was just 25 years old.

A cavalry officer turned airplane pilot, Baron von Richthofen is considered to be the leading fighter ace of World War I, with 80 officially credited aerial victories. In January 1917, he had his airplane, an Albatross D.III, painted bright red. It was in this airplane that he scored most of his victories, and earned his nickname.

Fokker Dr.! (National Archives)
“The Red Baron prepares for a flight over British lines in his Fokker Dr. I Triplane (National Archives)”—MHQ

Flying his Fokker Dr.I Dreidecker (tri-plane), serial number 425/17, von Richthofen was in pursuit of a Sopwith Camel F.1, D3326, flown by Lieutenant Wilfred Reid May, No. 209 Squadron, Royal Air Force, when he was attacked by a second Sopwith Camel BR, number B 7270, piloted by Captain Arthur Roy Brown, DSC, May’s commanding officer.

During the battle, the Red Baron was wounded in the chest and crash-landed near Vaux-sur-Somme, France. He was still alive when he was reached by Australian infantry, but died almost immediately. He was buried with full military honors by No. 3 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps.

Captain Brown later wrote:

. . . the sight of Richthofen as I walked closer gave me a start. He appeared so small to me, so delicate. He looked so friendly. Blond, silk-soft hair, like that of a child, fell from the broad high forehead. His face, particularly peaceful. had an expression of gentleness and goodness, of refinement. Suddenly I felt miserable, desperately unhappy, as if I had committed an injustice. With a feeling of shame, a kind of anger against myself moved in my thoughts, that I had forced him to lay there. And in my heart I cursed the force that is devoted to death. I gnashed my teeth, I cursed the war. If I could I would gladly have brought him back to life, but that is somewhat different than shooting a gun. I could no longer look him in the face. I went away. I did not feel like a victor. There was a lump in my throat. If he had been my dearest friend, I could not have felt greater sorrow.”

Captain Arthur Roy Brown, DSC and Bar, Royal Air Force

Captain Arthur Roy Brown, DSC and Bar, Royal Air Force. (Royal Canadian Air Force)

     The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the award of Bars to the Distinguished Service Cross to the undermentioned Officers late of the Royal Naval Air Service:—

To receive a Bar to the Distinguished Service Cross.

Lieut. (Hon. Capt.) Arthur Roy Brown, D.S.C., R.A.F.

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. On 21st April, 1918, while leading a patrol of 6 scouts he attacked a formation of 20 hostile scouts. He personally engaged two Fokker triplanes, which he drove off; then seeing that one of our machines was being attacked and apparently hard pressed, he dived on the hostile scout, firing the while. The scout, a Fokker triplane, nose dived and crashed into the ground. Since the award of the Distinguished Service Cross he has destroyed several other enemy aircraft and has shown great dash and enterprise in attacking enemy troops from low altitudes despite heavy anti-aircraft fire.

— Fourth Supplement to The London Gazette of Tuesday, the 18th of June, 1918, Numb. 30756, at Page 7304, Column 2

Sergeant Cedric Popkin, Australian Imperial Force

Captain Brown was credited by the Royal Air Force with the shoot-down and was awarded a Bar to his Distinguished Service Cross (a second DSC).

There has been speculation that the Baron’s wound was actually caused by a .303-caliber (7.7×56mmR) rifle or machine gun bullet fired from the ground, rather than from Brown’s Sopwith Camel.

Many researchers have come to the conclusion that Sergeant Cedric Bassett Popkin, 24th Australian Machine Gun Company, 4th Division, Australian Imperial Force, fired the burst of gunfire that struck the Baron. Other machine gunners and riflemen also fired at von Richthofen’s Fokker tri-plane.

Lieutenant Donald L. Fraser, Brigade Intelligence Officer, 11th Australian Infantry Brigade, A.I.F., witnessed the incident and was one of the first to reach Rittmeister von Richthofen. In his official report he wrote:

“. . . I congratulated Sergeant Popkin on his successful shoot, but afterwards found out that two A.A. Lewis Guns belonging to the 53rd. Battery A.F.A. had also fired at this plane when it was directly over my head, but the noise of the engine prevented my hearing the shooting.

     “The 53rd. Battery Lewis Gunners probably assisted in sealing the fate of this airman, as he apparently flew right into their line of fire. However, I am strongly of the opinion that he was first hit by Sergeant Popkin’s shooting as he was unsteady from the moment of the first burst of fire.”

Two postmortem examinations determined that the fatal bullet entered von Richthofen’s chest from low on the right side, struck his spine and exited to the left. Captain Brown had attacked from the left rear and above. The Red Baron broke away to the right. Because von Richthofen’s airplane could rotate in three axes, and the pilot could move and turn his body somewhat within the cockpit, it is unlikely that it would be possible to determine with certainty what direction the fatal bullet came from.

THE FUNERAL OF RITTMEISTER MANFRED VON RICHTHOFEN, APRIL 1918 (Q 10919) The service at the graveside. No. 3 Squadron Australian Flying Corps. Bertangles, 22 April 1918. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205215975

"Four officers placing wreaths from British Squadrons on the grave. Bartangles, 22 April 1918." (Imperial War Museum, Catalog number Q 10923)
“Four officers placing wreaths from British Squadrons on the grave. Bartangles, 22 April 1918.” (Imperial War Museum, Catalog number Q 10923) [Note: The officer to the right, without a cap, appears to be Captain Arthur Roy Brown.—TDiA]
© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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1 July 1915

Leutnant Kurt Wintgens, Luftstreitkräfte, wearing the order of the Pour le merite (the "Blue Max")
Leutnant Kurt Wintgens, Luftstreitkräfte, wearing the Pour le Mérite (the “Blue Max”) (Postkartenvertrieb W. Sanke)

1 July 1915: German Luftstreitkräfte fighter pilot Leutnant Kurt Wintgens was flying a pre-production prototype Fokker M.5K/MG number E.5/15 (Eindecker III, when in production), which was equipped with a fixed, forward-firing machine gun. An interrupter gear driven off the engine stopped the machine gun momentarily as the propeller blades crossed the line of fire. This was known as synchronization.

Leutnant Wintgens' Fokker M.5K/MG Endecker fighter, E.5/15.
Leutnant Wintgens’ Fokker M.5K/MG Eindecker fighter, E.5/15.

At approximately 1800 hours, Leutnant Wintgens engaged a French Morane-Saulnier Type L two-place observation airplane. The French airplane’s observer fired back with a rifle. Eventually, the Morane-Saulnier was struck by bullets in its engine and forced down.

Wintgens is credited with the first aerial victory using a synchronized machine gun, though because his victim went down inside Allied lines, the victory was not officially credited.

His airplane was armed with a 7.9 mm Parabellum MG14 machine gun made by Deutsche Waffen und Munitionsfabriken Aktien-Gesellschaft. This gun fired ammunition from a cloth belt which was contained inside a metal drum. It had a rate of fire of 700 rounds per minute.

The Fokker Aviatik GmbH M.5K/MG Eindecker III was a single-place, single-engine monoplane fighter constructed of a steel tubing fuselage with a doped fabric covering. It had a wingspan of 6.75 meters (22.15 feet), a wingspan of 8.95 meters (29.36 feet) and height of 2.40 meters (7.87 feet). The airplane had an empty weight of 370 kilograms (815.7 pounds) and gross weight of 580 kilograms (1,278.7 pounds).

It was powered by an 11.835 liter (722.2 cubic inch) air-cooled Motorenfabrik Oberursel U.0 seven-cylinder rotary engine which produced 80 Pferdestärke (78.9 horsepower). This engine was a German-built version of the French Société des Moteurs Gnome 7 Lambda engine.

The M.5K/MG had a maximum speed of 130 kilometers per hour (80.8 miles per hour) and a service ceiling of 3,000 meters (9,843 feet). Its range was 200 kilometers (124.3 miles).

Type L
Morane Saulnier Type L (Getty Images/Hulton Archive)

The Aéroplanes Morane-Saulnier Type L was a single-engine two-place monoplane used as a scouting aircraft. The single wing is mounted above to fuselage on struts. This type is called a “parasol wing.” The airplane is 6.88 meters (22.57 feet) long with a wingspan of 11.20 meters (36.75 feet) long and height of 3.93 meters (12.89 feet). Its empty weight is 393 kilograms (866 pounds) and gross weight is 677.5 kilograms (1,494 pounds).

The Type L was powered by a 10.91 liter (665.79 cubic inch) Société des Moteurs Le Rhône 9C nine-cylinder rotary engine which produced 83 horsepower at 1,285 r.p.m.

The Morane Salunier Type L had a maximum speed of 125 kilometers per hour (78 miles per hour). It could be armed with one .303-caliber Lewis light machine gun on a flexible mount.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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