Manfred von Richthofen the famous German World War I pilot is historically known as the ace of aces for his 80 air victories in combat. Midway in his flying career Richtofen began painting parts of his plane red so his fellow pilots and countrymen would not mistake him for the enemy. Because of this red paint he was called by his countrymen, Der Rote Kampfflieger -The Red Fighting airman -, the French called him Petit Rouge - Little Red -, and the English speaking public called him simply The Red Baron.
Richthofen began the war as a member of the 1st Regiment of Uhlans Cavalry. He realized that mechanized warfare left little room for cavalry and joined the air service in 1915. Richthofen during his training as an observer met his idol Oswald Boelcke. It was Boelcke’s influence that persuaded Richthofen to become a fighter pilot. He got his pilot license after completing only 24 hours of flight training.
Richthofen shot down his first plane on April 24th 1916. The plane crashed behind enemy lines and he was not credited with the kill as it could not be confirmed. Finally September 17, 1916 Richthofen scored his first confirmed air victory. While Richthofen is usually remembered for his red Fokker DR. I triplane, he spend most of his combat time flying biplanes like the Albatros D. II and D. III.
On January 4, 1917 Richthofen scored his 16th air victory and became Germany’s top ace. For this he was awarded the Orden Pour le Merite, the Blue Max. During April 1917 Richthofen shot down 21 planes including 4 on one day.
Richthofen was killed on April 21st 1918 while pursuing a British Sopwith Camel deep into British territory. The Red Baron was buried by the British with full military honors.