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Final flight

Event ID: 403

21 April 1918

49.932804234339855, 2.5372532
On a ridge by the Bray to Corbie road

Source ID: 12

The Great War Illustrated 1917, William Langford & Jack Holroyd

ISBN: 9781473881617

Second Lieutenant Wilfrid R May (‘Wop’), a Canadian pilot flying with the newly formed No.209 Squadron (1 April 1918), was on his first combat mission over the area of the river Somme when his squadron of fifteen Sopwith Camels attacked two German reconnaisance machines. Suddenly, they were swooped on by scouts of JG 1 led by the Red Baron. After some initial manouvering, ‘Wop’ May was selected as a victim by von Richthofen. The Canadian powered down to tree top level and began weaving as the all-red Triplane attempted to line him up as his 81st kill. Captain A Roy Brown, leader of the squadron, saw the plight of his fellow Canadian and immediately dropped down after the three-strutter; he was an experienced pilot with nine kills to his credit. May later reported: “I was attacked by a red triplane which chased me over the lines low to the ground. While he was on my tail, Captain Brown attacked and shot it down. I observed it crash into the ground”. Brown in his report considered that he had hit and downed the red scout: “I dived on a pure red triplane which was firing on Lieutenant May. I got a long burst into him and he went down vertical and was observed to crash by Lieutenant Mellersh and Lieutenant May.” Did Brown fatally wounded von Richthofen causing him to crash land? The singel bullet that killed the German ace came from beneath and not from above. As the three planes raced low over Morlancourt Ridge, in the 4th (Australian) Division’s sector, Sergeant Popkin, along with other Australian machine gunners and riflemen, blazed away at the red triplane. The Baron was hit by a .303 calibre bullet which passed diagonally upwards from right to left, tearing through his lungs and heart. The Red Baron made an emergency landing on a ridge by the Bray to Corbie road, north of Vaux-sur-Somme. One witness, Australian Gunner George Ridgway, stated that when he and other soldiers reached the plane Richthofen was stillalive but died seconds later. Sergeant Ted Smout, recalled that Richthofen uttered the word kaputt before he died. Manfred von Richthofen died at 10:45 am. His body was taken to Poulainville airfiel and was examined and photographed. His machine was quickly reduced to a wreck by souvenir hunters. Injuries to his face were caused by him impacting with his machine guns. He had released his harness to work on a malfunctioning gun.

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