Last Flight of the Brother Aces
100 years ago, the bullet that will kill the Red Baron has probably been cast, but...whose gun will it be loaded into?
Lothar von Richthofen, a great ace in his own right who scored 33 of his 40 victories in just three months, had flown with his brother Manfred for the last time in mid-March. Lothar had just returned from being out for an ear infection. "As always, my brother was in good form."
As soon as we reached [a flight of ten Englishmen], we proceeded to attack. As always, my brother was on them first; he attacked one and forced him to go down. The Englishman tried to get rid of his opponent by diving and turning. My brother was always behind him. He then forced him with more hits to land the crate near our field.
I had merely been an observer at the beginning of this fight and had seen that my brother had only the one opponent. In such cases one does not need help. Therefore I looked around for a victim of my own.
No More Richthofen & Richthofen
Lothar scored two victories and helped with a third in this brief battle. Afterward, he commented, the "crewmen whose airplanes were forced to land by my brother and me said at their interrogation that they had heard of the Richthofen brothers."
But there would be no more victories for Richthofen & Richthofen. Lothar crashed shortly afterward and suffered serious head injuries, as his brother had the previous year, and Manfred would die before Lothar recovered.
Uncle Sam Throws Hat in the Ring, Scores Victories
The Americans have begun to fight - just recently, but spectacularly. James Norman Hall scored two victories in one day on 23 March, and on April 14th, the 94th Aero "Hat In the Ring" Squadron flew some sorties over the front lines. Eddie Rickenbacker, still inexperienced, went out when the fog was coming in and felt very fortunate to make it alive back to the ground through the fog. Shortly afterward,
...we heard two of our machines taking off the field. It was Campbell and Winslow, who had been standing by all the morning for a chance nobody had expected them to get. I started to run towards the hangars; but before I reached the field a private rushed to me saying, " A German aeroplane has just fallen in flames on our field!"
It was true. I could see the flames from where I stood. Before I could reach the spot, however, another yell aroused my attention and I turned and saw a second Boche machine fall nose down into a field not five hundred yards away. The first had been destroyed by Alan Winslow who had shot it down in flames within three minutes after leaving the field. The second was forced down by Douglas Campbell, and it crashed in the mist before the pilot could discover his proximity to the ground. These were the first two enemy aeroplanes brought down by any American squadron and both were miraculously crashed on the very doorstep of our aerodrome on the first day we had begun operations!
More American Aviation Firsts
It turned out that the Germans had been following Rickenbacker and his companion, and had themselves gotten lost in the fog and were over the airfield because they thought it was their own. "This was indeed a wonderful opening exhibition for our Squadron and had the stage been set and the scene arranged for it, could not have worked more perfectly."
Winslow was credited with the first victory for the 94th Aero, and Campbell was credited with the first victory for an American-trained pilot. He would soon build on that victory to become the first American-trained ace (see earlier blog post on how complicated it gets keeping track of American aviation firsts!)
There is a great 3D schematic of the battle in an article in the Air Force Magazine from April 1988, when Campbell was 91, and a good friend of the Parks family. The article also describes a souvenir taken from the wreckage by James Norman Hall and presented to Campbell - that souvenir can now be seen in the VAFM collection.