Artifacts of the Great War

A collection of World War I objects, from the mundane to the extraordinary

The Red Baron's engine. (Imperial War Museums 2020.165.1)

Red Baron's Engine

Fighter aces like Albert Ball VC or France’s Georges Guynemer became household names, and their deaths were widely mourned. But chief among them, the most enduring name, was German ace Baron Manfred von Richthofen, or the “Red Baron.” By mid-April 1918 he had been credited with 80 “kills.” Richthofen had been promoted to command Jagdgeschwader 1 (literally “Hunting Wing 1”), known as the “Flying Circus” because of the varied colors disguising its aircrafts’ outlines as well as its peripatetic nature. He was piloting a red Fokker Dr.1 Triplane when, on April 21, 1918, he pursued a novice British pilot in a Sopwith Camel. A more experienced Canadian pilot, Roy Brown, swooped down and fired a burst that raked Richthofen’s machine. Close to the ground, Richthofen was also hit by Australian machine gun fire. Whoever delivered the fatal bullets, he was mortally wounded and his plane then crashed. He was so famous that people clamored for souvenirs. Pieces of canvas were cut from his aircraft, and his flying boots went to Australia. His Oberursel UR2 rotary engine from the crash-site, shown here, came to Britain as a trophy for the Royal Air Force, which passed it on to the new War Museum the following year. It remains a symbol of the man and machine that epitomized the era of the fighter ace.


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