Red Baron’s wings clipped by Aussies

With the life ex­pectancy of a Bri­tish pi­lot over France be­ing just 17 hours the shoot­ing down of this plane lifted morale to new heights

The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - - NEWS - Grantlee Kieza

YOUNG Ted Smout had seen some as­ton­ish­ing things in the 20 years since he was born in Bris­bane.

He’d seen Bri­tish of­fi­cers send­ing un­trained men to the slaugh­ter in France like so much can­non fod­der, he’d sur­vived a poi­son gas attack at Ploeg­steert and some­how lived through the mud and blood of Pass­chen­daele.

But as he rested with some other World War I Aus­tralian stretcher-bear­ers near the old brick works near Vaux-surSomme in north­ern France, he was spell­bound as the most no­to­ri­ous killer on earth was chased across a field of su­gar beet.

The jockey-sized Ger­man aris­to­crat Baron Man­fred von Richthofen was at the con­trols of his bright red Fokker tri­plane as it flew low over a French farm.

Over the last three years the “Red Baron’’ had shot down 80 Al­lied pi­lots but now he was un­der the gun him­self. A Cana­dian flyer was hot on his tail and Aus­tralian sol­diers were shoot­ing up at the red air­craft as it passed by.

In 1916 Richthofen’s fly­ing ma- chine had swooped down like a bird of prey on the aero­plane of Bri­tish war hero La­noe Hawker VC, and the baron had fired 900 bul­lets at him. One of them blew Hawker’s head apart.

Richtho­hen had landed his air­craft near the wreck­age and claimed the Lewis ma­chine gun from Hawker’s smashed plane.

He hung it above the door of his room like the antlers of a mighty stag. Just as he had done with ev­ery other plane he shot down, Richthofen then placed an or­der with a Ber­lin jeweller for a small sil­ver cup bear­ing the name of his vic­tim and the date.

By 1917, Ger­man air power was at its zenith. Richthofen took over the fighter squadron Jasta 11, which boasted some of the most feared pi­lots of the war, in­clud­ing his crazy brother Lothar, Ernst Udet and the dash­ing Her­mann Göring, later Adolf Hitler’s right hand man.

The life ex­pectancy of a Bri­tish pi­lot over France was 17 hours.

But Richthofen sus­tained a se­ri­ous head wound af­ter a crash dur­ing com­bat in July 1917 and needed sev­eral op­er­a­tions to re­move bone splin­ters. He be­came mo­rose and care­less.

At 11am on April 21, 1918 – 100 years ago next Satur­day – Richthofen was chas­ing a Sop­with Camel be­ing flown by rookie Cana­dian pi­lot Wil­frid “Wop” May. The Red Baron was ready for vic­tim No. 81.

An­other Cana­dian pi­lot, Arthur “Roy” Brown, came to May’s res­cue. Richthofen turned to avoid Brown’s attack but like a dog af­ter a bone, ig­nored the dan­ger and went right back in pur­suit of his orig­i­nal tar­get as May flew to safety over Al­lied ter­ri­tory.

It was a part of France held by the Aus­tralians.

Bul­lets from the Aussie troops shot sky­ward and a sin­gle .303 shell burst through Richthofen’s lungs and heart.

De­spite the in­jury he still had enough con­trol to land in a field near the vil­lage of Vaux-surSomme as Ted Smout ran to the scene, cer­tain it was an Aus­tralian bul­let and not a Cana­dian one which had done the dam­age. “The Baron’s plane came down and swiv­elled around and tilted on to its right wing,’’ Ted said, shortly be­fore his death in Bris­bane in 2004 at the age of 106. “He was a bit of a mess. He had his iron cross (medal) around his neck on a very fine chain but his face and body and cloth­ing were all cov­ered with blood. “He was cleaned up and taken out of the plane and placed be­side it on the grass. “The Red Baron re­gained con­scious­ness just long enough to say one word. “Ka­putt (fin­ished). “Then he died.’’ Grantlee Kieza is the author of Bert Hin­kler, the Most Dar­ing Man in the World, the story of Queens­land’s World War 1 fighter pi­lot who be­came a record­break­ing avi­a­tor.

MAG­NIF­I­CENT MEN: Baron Man­fred Von Richthofen or the Red Baron on the hunt (main pic­ture and in­set above) and Aussie sol­dier Ted Smout (in­set left) who was on hand when Von Richthofen was shot down.

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