Fighter pilot Manfred von Richthofen (the Red Baron) lacked innate aerobatic ability. As a tyro, he attempted to solve this problem through denial, going so far as to sneer at stunting as pointless. Great War air combat experience proved quite the reverse, and so we would anticipate a short and sad fighting life for the fellow. Yet the Red Baron became the Great War's single greatest scorer, as measured by total victories. How did he do it?
This book is concerned with tactics, especially those tactics used by the Red Baron and his opponents. It offers the how and why of Great War aerial combat. The author leans heavily on his expertise in engineering and aerodynamic techniques to explain this, with his reasoning presented in a readable, non-mathematical style. Absent are both the usual propaganda-laced Air Service reports and psychobabble. Offered instead is the logic behind Great War aerial combat; i.e., those elements determining success or failure in the Red Baron's air war.
Gunnery experience led to the machine gun as the weapon best suited for aerial combat. Joined with a suitable aircraft, the extremely successful Fokker diving attack resulted. In reaction, effective defensive techniques arose, using forms of shrewd tactical cooperation by two-seater crews: pilot and gunner. These are detailed. Numbers mattered, establishing the level of assault firepower. Tactics of machines flying together in formation are given, as well as those of 'formation busters', intent upon reversing the odds and turning large numbers into a disadvantage. A pilot's nature and emotions had much to do with choosing between the options defining tactics. What were the aces like? How were tactics tailored to suit personality? What traits made for the ability to grapple with a jammed machine gun? A dozen high achievers are examined in terms of tactics and background. In a fascinating study Leon Bennett covers all of these aspects of WWI aerial combat, and more.
Similarly, the author turns his attention to examining the cause of von Richthofen's death, employing the tools of logic, rather than merely accept one of the many conflicting eyewitness reports as truth. In doing so, much testimony is exposed as unlikely. The bullet scatter to be expected from ground anti-aircraft fire matters greatly, and is developed, along with the odds against lone riflemen hoping to hit a fast-moving low altitude target. The most dangerous altitude for front-line crossing is established. The author concludes by rating the possibility of a rifleman downing the Red Baron as quite realistic - certainly as likely as any of the more celebrated possibilities.
This is an important book, offering a groundbreaking account of WWI aerial tactics, and a thorough examination of the final combat and death of the Red Baron.
"This book examines the strategies used by both von Richthofen and his opponents, scrutinising the nature of Great War aerial combat an impressive detail." FlyPast
"...the book shines with a cornucopia of information ... an interesting book and a recommended read." Over the Front magazine
"The Fall of the Red Baron explains how Manfred von Richthofen chose his victims and how he went about defeating them in the air utilizing simple logic and pre-planned techniques … I was impressed with the magnitude of the research done by the author, concerning Richthofen’s mentor – Boelcke, who not only spelled out air fighting’s internal rules, but taught them to beginners – including Richthofen … Overall, I was very impressed with the quality of references and fact checking that the author did, and the easy way that he presented his material. I would recommend this book for any World War One enthusiast’s shelf.“ Thomas Crean, author of Lieutenant der Reserve Werner Voss and the Pilots of Jasta 10, published Nov 2010 by Outskirts Press.
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