Air Aces of World War One

The von Richtofen Brothers – Manfred and Lothar

The richtofens
Picture – Courtesy of Pinterest

Oberleutnant Lothar Seigfried Freiherr von Richtofen – German Ace 1894 / 1922

  During the first week of May 1917, Richtofen scored three more victories. On the evening of the 7th of May 1917, Richtofen was leading a flight of five Albatros Dlll’s near Douai when they encountered eleven S.E.5’s of the “elite” No.56 Squadron R.F.C. Including the top English Ace at the time, Captain Albert Ball, as well as a Spad S.VII from No.19 Squadron and a Sopwith Triplane of No.8 Naval Squadron.

In a running battle in deteriorating visibility in the middle of a thunderstorm over Bourton Wood, both sides became scattered. Richtofen engaged in single combat with the British Triplane. At about the same time, Ball was seen by fellow 56 Sqn member Cyril Crowe chasing a red Albatros in to a thundercloud. Ball lost control of his plane and crashed in to the ground which resulted in his death. Although forced to land his damaged aircraft, Richtofen suffered no injuries. The Sopwith Triplane Involved in the action returned to his base undamaged.

Richtofen posted a claim for shooting down the Sopwith Triplane. However the propaganda value of Ball’s death at the hands of a German pilot was obvious and so the German High Command awarded the victory over Ball to Richtofen. The fallacy of the award was readily apparent. The idea that a pilot of Richtofen’s experience could confuse a biplane with a triplane was ludicrous. Leutnant Hailer, a German pilot on the ground who witnessed the crash and was one of the first on the crash scene, saw no battle damage to Ball’s aircraft. The Doctor who autopsied Ball’s body reported massive injuries due to the crash, but no bullet wounds. Nevertheless, the German official line was that Richtofen shot down Ball.

Richtofen raised his total to 24 on the 13th of May, when after shooting down a B.E.2, he was wounded in the hip by anti-aircraft fire and crash landed, his injuries kept him out of combat for five months. On the 14th of May he was awarded the Pour le Merite, and he resumed command of Jasta 11 in September 1917. In early 1918, he suffered a severe ear infection and was hospitalised in Berlin.

Returning to his unit in February 1918, He claimed 3 Bristol Fighter F2b’s on the 11th and 12th of March before he was again forced down by a Sopwith Camel flown by Captain Augustus Orlebar of No.73 Squadron. Whilst nursing his crippled Fokker Dr1 into a landing, Richtofen clipped a high tension wire and crashed heavily, suffering serious head injuries it was while recovering from these injuries that he heard of his elder brothers death.

Lothar returned to service with Jasta 11 in July 1918, he scored his final victory a D.H.9a on the 12th of August 1918 flying a Fokker D.VII. The next day he was again wounded in action against Sopwith Camels, probably by Captain Field E. Kindley of the 148th Aero Squadron U.S.A.S. Lothar was promoted to Oberleutnant and saw no further action during the war.

If you consider the amount of time spent on the front and in hospitals, he was one of the most combat efficient and prolific flying Aces of the war, perhaps even more so than his brother Manfred. Of his final score of 40 victories, Lothar scored 33 in just three months, 15 in April 1917, 8 in May 1917 and 10 in August 1918.

Lothar von Richtofen died in a flying accident at Hamburg in 1922, when the plane he was flying crashed due to engine failure.

(C) Damian Grange 2018


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