History : Mar-Apr 2018
8 MARCH/APRIL 2018 PROFILES instructed to keep the sun behind the at- tack line, always carry through an attack once started, and only fire at close range to avoid wasting ammunition. Finally, if the fight broke up into a series of single combats, pilots needed to take care that several pilots did not go for one opponent. In the summer of 1916, while flying in Russia, Richthofen had a fateful encoun- ter with Boelcke, whom he considered his mentor and hero. In search of candidates for one of the first German fighter squadrons, the Jagdstaffel 2—nicknamed Jasta 2—Boelcke selected Richthofen to join the unit. While Boelcke set the tac- tical rules of Jasta 2, its pilots set the rules of honorable combat. If an enemy pilot was clearly in distress or presented no threat he would be left alone or enemy pilots would shepherd him homeward. Nevertheless, war was war, and Richthofen was as keen as any to give chase. His fighting style was patient and strategic: Before engaging, he soared high above his foes, stalking them from a dis- tance. Then he selected a target, swooped down, and fired his guns with precision to knock the enemy from the sky. In November 1916 he fought British flying ace Maj. Lanoe Hawker, whom Richthofen nicknamed the “British Boelcke.” Hawker was the most famous Allied fighter pilot, awarded the Victoria Cross for downing three planes in one sortie. The two engaged in a heated dog- fight, one that Hawker almost escaped. Richthofen described the battle’s final moments: “The gun pours out its stream of lead. Then it jams. Then it reopens fire. That jam almost saved his life. One bullet goes home. He is struck through the back of the head. His plane jumps and crashes down...Hewasabraveman,asports- man, and a fighter.” The Flying Circus In late January 1917 Richthofen decided to paint his plane red. It is not entirely clear why he decided to do so, but it was certainly distinctive, so everyone who saw the plane knew who was flying it. That same month, the Red Baron received the Pour le Mérite after his 16th confirmed kill, the highest military AKG/ALBUM RICHTHOFEN, seated in the cockpit, poses with comrades in April 1917. The man immediately below him has been identified as Hermann Göring, who led the Flying Circus several months after the Red Baron’s death. Göring’s experience helped him rise to power in the Nazi Party and become commander of the Luftwaffe, Germany’s air force before and during World War II.