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MvR wounded – Woodbridge’s version

Event ID: 542

06 July 1917

50.770168436308694, 3.0411227634729854

Source ID: 43

The Red Knight of Germany, the story of Baron von Richthofen, Floyd Gibbons, 1927, 1959 Bantam Books

The man who shot Richthofen down that 6th of July morning was Flight Commander Albert Edward Woodbridge, who was a Second Lieutenant at the time and was acting as observer for Pilot Captain D. C. Cunnell, commanding a wing of the Twentieth Squadron, R. F. C.

Cunnell was killed six days afterward, but Woodbridge survived the war to tell his story.

“… It was a fine morning, that 6th of July, and the wind was in our favour. The six of us composing our flight buzzed off about ten o’clock and started for our patrol area, which was over Comines, Warneton and Frelinghein, up between Ypres and Armentières. We had been on our way about half an hour and were well over the German lines at an altitude of about twelve hundred feet. Swinging down from the north, we spotted a formation of eight speedy German planes. They wheeled around to the west of us and got between us and our own lines. I notice that the Baron calls this manoeuvre a trick to cut off our retreat. That’s pulling it rather long, because, you know, we did most of the fighting over the German lines – that’s where it all took place – and according to orders we were there looking for it.

As soon as they were behind us, we turned around and started for them to engage them. We had hardly got in contact with them when other enemy formations – larger ones – seemed to close in from all sides. Gad, I don’t know where they all came from. My word, I never saw so many Huns in the air at one time in my life before. We estimated later that there must have been about forty Albatross scouts altogether in formation that seemed to number from eight to twenty.

As Cunnell wrote in his report, ‘a general engagement ensued’. That’s formal verbiage for the damnedest scrimmage imaginable. I fired my fore and aft guns until they were both hot. I kept jumping from one to another. Cunnell handled the old F. E. for all she was worth, banking her from one side to the other, ducking dives from above and missing head-on collisions by bare margins of feet. The air was full of whizzing machines, and the noise from the full out motors and the crackling machine guns was more than deafening.

The Jerries showed more spirit than usual. They went to it hammer and tongs. This enabled us to fire from the closest range and was really to our advantage. Cunnell and I fired into four of the Albatrosses from as close as thirty yards, and I saw my tracers go right into their bodies. Those four went down, and fortunately some of our flight saw them tumble, because we were given credit for them.  Some of them were on fire – just balls of flame and smoke, you know – nasty sight to see, but no time to think about it at the moment.

Two of them came at us head on, and I think the first one was Richthofen. I recall there wasn’t a thing on that machine that wasn’t red, and God, how he could fly! I opened fire with the front Lewis, and so did Cunnell with the side gun. Cunnell held the F.E. to her course, and so did the pilot of the all-red scout. Gad, with our combined speeds, we must have been approaching each other at somewhere around 250 miles an hour. 

Thank God, my Lewis didn’t jam. I kept a steady stream of lead pouring into the nose of that machine. He was firing also. I could see my tracers splashing along the barrels of his Spandaus and I knew the pilot was sitting right behind them. His lead came whistling past my head and ripping holes in the bathtub.

The something happened. We could hardly have been twenty yards apart when the Albatross pointed her nose down suddenly. Zip, and she passed under us. Cunnell banked and turned. We saw the all-red plane slip into a spin. It turned over and over and round and round. It was no manoeuvre. He was completely out of control. His motor was going full on, so I figured I had at least wounded him. As his head was the only part of him that wasn’t protected from my fire by his motor, I figured that’s where he was hit. But I didn’t see him crash – Gad, no – too busy for that. More Jerries dove in from all directions, and we just kept on pumping it into any of them that whizzed by or that we could dive on. Hell of it was that it never seemed like it was going to be an all-day affair. Fact is that it only lasted about forty minutes, but that’s eternity in an air fight.

My hands were burned and blistered and my throat aching dry when we finally pulled out with all of our ammunition expended. The Archies gave us hell as we streaked it back for the lines. Our flight had knocked down seven Huns, of which number Cunnell and I were given credit for four on the testimony of other pilots. Our credit did not include the all-red chap, who now appears to have been Richthofen, because I was not sure whether he could not have righted himself before crashing, but he certainly was out of control.


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