Terry C Treadwell, The Red Baron (Pen & Sword, 2021)
World War I was the first air war, but unlike the war on the ground, fighting in the skies was an individual endeavour where different, but no less deadly, rules applied. The pilot warriors that dueled each other over the trenches fought and died under their own code of conduct. Some became aces and heroes, a few became legends, but there was only one Red Baron: Manfred von Richthofen, the most feared pilot of the war. In this illuminating book, Terry Treadwell offers a photographic insight into Richthofen’s world.
There are only two chapters in The Red Baron, which is a bit odd. Treadwell begins with the outbreak of WWI to set the scene for the early Manfred von Richthofen to grow into. He entered the war as a cavalry officer followed by a stint in the trenches with the infantry, but the newly introduced Air Service attracted him, and he was soon training as an observer then a pilot. In September 1916, Richthofen joined ace Oswald Boelcke’s fighter squadron and he soon had his first confirmed kill. Richthofen’s rise continued until he led his own squadron in January 1917. By then he was already Germany’s top living ace: German propaganda ensured he was also a household name. He became the Red Baron through painting his aircraft red for recognition, and he encouraged his pilots to individualize their planes too, thus Richthofen’s Flying Circus was born. Richthofen suffered a serious head wound in July 1917. He resumed flying and accumulating more kills, most famously in his red Fokker Triplane, but in April 1918, Richthofen broke his own rule about never flying low over enemy lines and was shot down and killed. Who killed him remains open to debate, but there is no doubt over the regard his enemies held him in when they buried him with full military honours, much to the chagrin of local civilians. Treadwell concludes with a post-mortem description of Richthofen’s death and a list of his victories.
Treadwell’s The Red Baron is one of those books that provides just enough information to taunt the reader into wanting to know more. The author’s text, as he admits, is there to guide the reader, however, through Richthofen’s illustrious career and to accompany the photographs. The book contains many pictures, tightly grouped around Richthofen himself, thereby offering an almost intimate portrait of the Red Baron in that you get the sense of the man as a warrior and leader. In the most poignant photograph, however, you do not see Richthofen, just him flying his triplane into the distance on his last mission. For those interested in the air war in WWI, this is an informative biopic of the greatest pilot to fly in it and an enjoyable evening’s reading.