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Victory 18

Event ID: 157

24 January 1917

50.37622781830363, 2.8098147229337216
West of Vimy

Source ID: 13

Under the guns of the Red Baron, Norman Franks, Hal Giblin and Nigel McCrery

ISBN: 9781898697275

Victory 18 and emergency landing after loss of upper wing Combat Report: 1215 hrs, west of Vimy. Fixed motor: Plane No. 6937; Motor No. 748. Occupants: Pilot – Captain Craig. (Obs) Lieutenant McLennan. Accompanied by Feldwebel (Hans) Howe, I attacked, at about 1215, the commanding plane of an enemy formation. After a long fight I forced my adversary to land near Vimy. The occupants burnt their plane after landing. I myself had to land, as one wing had cracked at 300 metres. I was flying an Albatros DIII. According to the English crew, my red painted plane is not unknown to them, as when being asked who had brought them down, they answered: “Le petit rouge”. Two machine guns have been seized by my Staffel. The plane was not worth removing as it was completely burned. Weather: fine all day.

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  1. source: Inside the victories of Manfred von richthofen – Volume 1, James F. Miller, Aeronaut Books, 2016

    MvR wrote of this victory in Der rote Kampfflieger but there are several discrepancies between that account, his combat report, and other reports/recollections of the combatants. In his autobiography Richthofen wrote that after damaging the FE.2 (“two-seat Vickers”) he felt the crew had been wounded and experienced “deep compassion for my opponent and decided not to send him plunging down” (he wrote the FE.2 eventually burst into flames before reaching the ground), after which he experienced “at about five-hundred-meter altitude, a malfunction in my machine during a normal glide [that] forced me to land before making another turn.” He then described landing his Albatros D.III nearby amongst some barbed wire near the FE.2 and then overturning, after which he spoke with Greig and MacLennan personally (“I enjoyed talking with them”) about this “careless” landing and learned from them that his red Albatros was known as “Le Petit Rouge.” Richthofen’s combat report (written immediately after the event and not dictated some four months later) states Greig and MacLennan actually set fire to their plane themselves on the ground (“the inmates burnt plane after landing”) and that his Albatros wing “cracked” at 300 meters, an altitude which dovetails with what Richthofen wrote in a personal letter to his mother 27 January (“one of my wings broke in two during the air battle at three-hundred-meter altitude”). His combat report also states “according to the English inmates my red painted plane was not unknown to them, as when being asked who had brought them down they answered: ‘Le petit Rouge.”‘

    However, Floyd Gibbons’s postwar interview with MacLennan indicates he never spoke with Richthofen: “As regards the red machine, we had previously seen it, but we did not know who it was. I glad to hear that he had to land, as I did not know this.” Unless MacLennan is lying it is almost without question that had such an event and subsequent conversation about that event occurred, one would retain the memory of speaking with the man who had just shot one down and then crash-landed nearby. Richthofen’s combat report agrees that the Englishmen knew of his red plane but it does not state specifically that this knowledge was gleaned first hand via personal conversation. This suggests Richthofen learned of the name “Le petit Rouge” either through conversations with the soldiers who had captured and spoken with Greig and MacLennan and then relayed the information to Richthofen (perhaps as he later scavenged the wreckage of 6997 for souvenirs), or by similar second-hand means. Whether Richthofen actually up-ended his Albatros upon landing—which is mentioned neither in his combat report nor personal letters, as are other similar events—or the event was included as autobiographical embellishment is uncertain and open for conjecture.

    MacLennan revealed Richthofen continually attacked the gliding 6997 (always from its six o’clock low) until “the machine was but a few hundred feet from the ground, ” corroborating the relatively low altitude at which Richthofen experienced structural failure and contradicting Der Rote Kampfflieger’s claim of “deep compassion” for the enemy, Rather, it is another example of his no-quarter modus operandi.

    Due to the structural problems of the Albatros D.III, which led to Idflieg grounding the make/ model on 27 January, Richthofen began flying a Halberstadt D-type (see Victory No. 19).

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