Red Baron in the news

Anyone see this one yet?

Injury May Have Led to Red Baron's Death

Wed Sep 22, 8:04 AM ET

By SCOTT CHARTON, Associated Press Writer

COLUMBIA, Mo. - History books say that The Red Baron, the legendary World War I German flying ace, was shot out of the sky and died in April 1918. But new research suggests that his death spiral may have begun nine months earlier.

AP Photo

A University of Missouri at Columbia researcher and his Ohio collaborator argue a severe injury to Manfred von Richthofen's brain during an earlier aerial confrontation figured in his death.

"He was a very reserved character all his life, but he is described as much more immature after the injury, and we have found that is common with this type of brain injury," Missouri's Daniel Orme said Tuesday.

During his final, fatal dogfight, von Richthofen was seen pursuing a fleeing plane across enemy fire in an uncharacteristic display of "target fixation." The pursuit broke Richthofen's own rule to "never obstinately stay with an opponent," said Orme.

Orme collaborated with fellow neuropsychologist Tom Hyatt of Cincinnati for a fresh take on what led to the Red Baron's death on April 21, 1918, when he was shot through the chest and crashed.

They focused on a July 6, 1917, incident in which von Richthofen was flying head-on toward an enemy plane's machine gunner at a distance where he was sure he couldn't be hit. "Suddenly something struck me in the head," he recalled. A bullet creased Richthofen's scalp, leaving a four-inch scar that never completely healed.

After that, von Richthofen, the son of Prussian nobility who would have glowered at a soldier's unbuttoned tunic, began exhibiting odd behavior, such as laying his head on a Berlin restaurant table to publicly display the open head wound to a friend's mother.

His mother, Baroness von Richthofen, wrote that after the injury, "something painful lay 'round the eyes and temples" of her son.

"I found Manfred changed ... the high spirits, the playfulness, were lacking in his character ? he was taciturn, almost unapproachable ? even his words seemed to come from an unknown distance," she wrote.

After subsequent flights, Richthofen had to lie down to fight off nausea and severe headaches. Richthofen wrote: "I am in wretched spirits after every aerial combat but that is surely one of the consequences of my head wound."

Hyatt was watching a documentary about the Red Baron, and became fascinated with the head injury. "The film clearly showed him in hospital with a large head bandage, and to me, it began explaining his later behavior that led to his death," he said.

Orme and Hyatt began sifting journals, medical records and books about the Red Baron's symptoms in the months before his death. Their findings are to be published this fall in the international journal Human Factors and Aerospace Safety.

For Orme and Hyatt, research on the Red Baron's case fit a shared professional specialty. Both are retired from the Air Force, where their duties included studying whether brain-injured pilots should be allowed back into the air.

"We have evaluated many head-injured patients, and the description of the Red Baron's actions and behavior are just classic for what is called post-concussive syndrome," Orme said.

"In combat, the environment is very austere and the individual has to act quickly and make critical decisions, and he just lost the capacity to incorporate all that data quickly and make solid judgments. He didn't have the mental flexibility to realize he shouldn't pursue that plane."

There is still debate about who fired the shot that fatally pierced Richthofen's chest ? an Australian artillery crew on the ground, or a Canadian flier, Roy Brown.

But Orme and Hyatt say the shot fired nine months earlier, by British flier A.E. Wooldridge, set the Red Baron on a fatal course because of the brain injury.

"It was a pretty serious hit," Hyatt said. "As a neuropsychologist, I always get irritated when Hollywood movies depict someone being hit in the head, falling down, then shaking their head and all is fine. That isn't how it works, and the Red Baron's case shows those long-lasting effects."

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Yeah, saw it today, rather interesting idea, with some potential.

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"SamVanga" wrote

I've seen several of these REALLY post-mortems, notably one suggesting that Alexander the Great died of West Nile Virus.


Reply to
Kurt Laughlin

Interesting! But one can also make a good case that the Baron was suffering from what would be called "Combat Fatigue" in a later war. He had been flying combat for almost 2 years, more counting his time as an observer, and much of the last year while saddled with command responsibilities beyond that of just his Staffel. The wound certainly didn't help, if only by driving home the fact that he wasn't immortal either. On the morning he died, he broke three of his own rules for air combat within 5 minutes with fatal results. I submit he was what we today would class as a "burnout case". He's not alone either. Look at some of the other aces and the way they died. Mannock, Guynemer in the first war. Several of the U.S. aces who were killed in the Pacific are also good examples. Thomas McGuire is the first that comes to mind. A tactician as well as a fighter pilot, yet Like vonRichtofen he broke a couple of his own rules and really killed himself, the Japanese fighter never actually laid a gun on him.

Bill Shuey

Reply to
William H. Shuey

Funny you should mention him. I just read the P-38 book by Martin Caidin. A whole section is devoted to Mcquire;s last flight. It really soudns as if he was responding to someone's aid. And, that if he simply had more altitude, he would have pulled off the manuver to save his life. Of course, anyone can make mistakes under rpessure.

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The JG 1 Ospey book says that the 1917 wound may have been friendly fire.

Reply to
Stanley Parker

"Friendly fire ..... isn't."

Rule # 15, Murphey's Rules for Grunts

-- John The history of things that didn't happen has never been written. . - - - Henry Kissinger

Reply to
The Old Timer

Caiden had a hard time letting the truth stand in the way of a good story. Anyone interested in McGuire is better off finding Charles Martin's "The Last Great Ace"--a biography worthy of its subject.

Reply to
Tom Cervo

True.! I rank Caiden with Arch Whitehouse, better at spinning a yarn than writing history.

Bill Shuey

Reply to
William H. Shuey

He was great inspiration back in high school. Most of the aviation section of the library was by him. If they're still there my name should feature prominently on most of the books' borrower card. On second thought, they've probably gone digital and no one there would know what I meant. ;]

Bill Banaszak, MFE

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