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Victory 22

Event ID: 163

04 March 1917

50.460847735488976, 2.795852292025774
1 km N of Loos

Source ID: 13

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

ISBN: 9781898697275

aircraft actually returned to base safely. Combat Report: 1250 hrs, one kilometre north of Loos. BE two-seater. Details unknown, plane fell on enemy’s side. I had started all by myself and was just looking for my Staffel when I spotted a single BE. My first attack was apparently a failure as my adversary tried to escape by curves and dives. After having forced my adversary downwards from 2.800 to 1.200 metres, he imagined himself safe and flew straight on once more. I took advantage of this, put myself behind him and fired some 500 shots at him. My adversary dived, but in such a steep way that I could not follow. According to our infantry observations, the plane crashed to the ground in front of our trenches. Weather: fine.

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

    Although he received confirmation of this victory, in actuality 5785 was able to escape and return to base. Richthofen’s combat report does not state he saw the BE.2 hit the ground. Although speculative, he could have had a reasonable “might have” assumption of this having happened, based on 5785’s steep dive. If such an assumption occurred it is unknown if he would have filed a claim based upon that. However, upon returning to base it is obvious inquiries were made and he was informed that “according to our infantry observations the plane crashed to the ground in front of our trenches.” Therefore it seems these ground eyewitness observations provided the final basis for the claim.

    Richthofen is often associated with flying a Halberstadt throughout March. Seemingly corroborating this at least in part is the crew of 5785 reported being attacked by a Halberstadt. But Richthofen’s combat report states his first attack (which wounded Prance) had been (‘a failure” and that as he re-attacked he fired “some 500 shots.” Although Richthofen’s account estimates his rounds fired it suggests these combined attacks expended more than 500 bullets. This exceeds the 500 round capacity of the single gun Halberstadt DS but falls well within the 1,000 round capacity of the twin gunned Albatros D.III.

    Additionally, Idflieg’s grounding of Albatros D.IIIs had been rescinded on 19 February, nearly two weeks before this encounter and 39 days after Richthofen’s wing failure of 24 January. It is doubtful that with the renewed availability of the repaired Albatros D.IIIs that he would have continued flying a Halberstadt, a make and model he held in lesser standing than the Albatros. As Ferko’s Richthofen reveals, on 22 December 1916 Richthofen attended a conference in Cambrai regarding the future of fighter development and was the lone voice supporting the development of higher powered machines rather than the 120 hp Halberstadt. In a report the following year he directly compared the Albatros and Halberstadt D-types and although he had criticism for the Albatros, clearly he preferred it to the Halberstadt: “Aussicht: Aussicht oben, unten, seitlich muss einwandfrei sein. Albatros D Ill gut; Alb. D Il besonders nach unten schlech. Alb. D I nach oben im Kurvenkampf nicht zu gebrauchen. Beirn Halberstadter D ist oberes Tragdeck zu nahe an den Augen und genau in Augenhöhe. Etwas weiter ab vom Auge und etwas höher ist für der Luftkampf angenehm.“

    View: View up, down, sideways must be impeccable. Albatros D.III good; Alb.D II especially downwards bad. Alb. D I (the view) up (is) useless in turn fights. On the Halberstadt D the upper wing is too close to the eyes and just at eye level. A bit further off from the eye and a bit higher is comfortable for air combat.”
    “Sturzflüge: Einen senkrechten Sturzflug von über 1000 m, dabei eine Verwindungskehrtwendung muss die Maschine unbedingt aushalten; bei Albatros D III nicht immer der Fall. Maschine muss Oberdruck auf Flächen aushalten / Verwindungs-Looping/; auch verunglückte Loopings und vielfache scharfe, überrissene Kurven mit voll laufendem Motor. Bei Sturzflügen ist die Möglichkeit, grosse Fahrt zu erreichen, dringend notwendig. Ein langsamer Sturzflug, wie beim Halberstädter, meistens zwecklos.”
    Nosedive: The craft must tolerate a vertical dive over more than 1000 m including a half roll under all circumstances; for Albatros D Ill (this is) not always the case. Aircraft must bear top pressure on the wings/ aileron-looping/ even failed loopings and numerous tight turns with a fullspeed engine. The potential to gain fast speed in dives is most essential. A slow dive, as with the Halberstadt, is mostly useless.”

    Furthermore, Ferko lists that by 28 February Jasta Il had exchanged their complement of Halberstadts for Albatros D.IIIs. With the six Albatros D.IIIs that arrived in January, the unit received at least another six Albatros D.IIIs between 25—27 February. One cannot dismiss the possibility of a Halberstadt straggler, but it appears fairly certain that by March Jasta Il was an Albatros Staffel. Even if for some reason Le Petit Rouge’s wings weren’t repaired/replaced by March, it is unlikely that Richthofen would have flown any lesser-powered/armed/regarded Halberstadt straggler with such an availability of better powered/armed/regarded Albatros machines. Still, was mindfulness of the Albatros’s recent wing trouble and recollection of his personal close-call with same the reason why he could not follow 5785’s dive?

    The crew of 5785 reported that MvR’s first attack was from head-on, out of the sun. It is common knowledge that attacking from within the sun’s blinding glare is the paramount attack methodology. However, as will be seen, later in his career Richthofen wrote an Air Combat Operations Manual in which he stated: “I consider it to be very dangerous to attack a two-seater from the front. In the first place, one seldom encounters the opponent (this way). One almost never makes him incapable of fighting (this way).” It seems his attack on 5785 at least in part provided the experience upon which those comments are based.

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