Lothar von Richthofen
The Red Baron's Younger Brother, 40 Aerial Victories
By Stephen Sherman, Sept. 2003. Updated April 15, 2012.
Forever fated to be known as the Red Baron's younger brother, Lothar von Richthofen was a great ace in his own right, downing forty Allied planes.
Born in Breslau on 27th Sept. 1894 as the third of four children of Albrecht Baron von Richthofen and his wife Kunigunde, Lothar attended high school in Breslau. He selected a military career and served with Dragoon Regiment (1st Schlesisches) No. 4 'von Bredow,' garrisoned in Lueben (today Lubin) near Liegnitz.
He attended war school in Danzig. At the outbreak of war on 1 August 1914, his regiment was assigned to the 5th Cavalry division and deployed to the Western Front.
Stationed in Brussels, Belgium from 17.08.1914, he was promoted to second lieutenant in September. On the 29th the regiment moved up to Mauvinee, near Reims, France. In October, while stationed in Attigny, he earned the Iron Cross 2nd Class. He ended the month at Vaux/Champagne
In November 1914, his regiment shifted to the Eastern Front.
He was at the Carpathian Front in Hungary early in the year. In March, illness sent him to the hospital (the Charité) in Berlin. That summer/autumn he returned to Germany for basic [pilot?] training. Then he served in Russia - Dolsk/Kowel/Pinsk. On the recommendation of his famous brother Manfred, Lothar changed to the aviation service.
In the winter of 1915/16 Lothar underwent training as a field observer. Subsequently, he transferred to KampfStaffel 23 of KampfGeschwader No. 4 (KG 4/St. 23), led by Karl Bolle, a future Pour le Mérite flier and leader of Jasta Boelcke. He spent Christmas holiday with his family in Schweidnitz.
On 2 February the brothers Manfred (pilot) and Lothar landed in Schweidnitz. Lothar, with KG 4, returned to the Western Front, took part in the Verdun campaign, and later in the Battle of the Somme. He wrote this at Le Chatelet, on 8 May 1916:
Manfred visited me an hour. It was very nice to see him again here in the field times. Some days after he shot down a Frenchman. Unfortunately I have not gained such a sucess yet, although I already have some aerial engagement behind me. Once [28 April 1916] I saved one of our airplanes from the claws of two Frenchmen. The observer, a second lieutenant of Schwerin of my staffel, was mortally wounded and could not resist any longer. Unfortunately he died nevertheless afterwards [02 May 1916]. The leader was only lightly wounded. The trommelfeuer of the dead man I see almost every day.
By 5 July, his staffel set up at the airfield Mercy le Bas, near Sandres at the Verdun front. Always on the move, the unit moved to Essigny le Grand in the Quentin/Péronne area at the end of the month.
Lothar was awarded the Iron Cross 1st Class by Kogenluft (Commanding General of Air Forces), von Hoeppner in December 1916. With his father and brother, Lothar spent Christmas with the Jasta Boelcke, at the Pronville airport, hardly a respite from his pilot training that winter. In fact, on 25 December, he completed his first solo flight
In February, Lothar was sent home for medical reasons, to the Auskurieren. After his pilot examination on 6 March, Lothar was assigned to Jasta 11, then led by his brother, Manfred von Richthofen. He reported to Jasta 11 four days later at La Brayelle. From the end of March to end of April, Lothar obtained 16 air victories - in six weeks, an even 20. The Germans officially credited himwith shooting down the great British ace, Albert Ball, but there is little evidence to confirm that.
Rising quickly under his brother's guidance, Lothar became leader of Jasta 11 on May 1, while Manfred went home on vacation. On the 10th, he was awarded the Hohenzollern medal.
Lothar was injured in a dogfight with a B.E.2a on May 13. He was subsequently awarded the Pour le Mérite, whihc he received while in the Hamburg military hospital. In his 1917 autobiography, Manfred von Richthofen described Lothar's fight and injury:
I had not yet passed eight days of my leave when I received the telegram: "Lothar is wounded but not mortally." That was all. Inquiries showed that he had been very rash. He flew against the enemy, together with Allmenröder. Beneath him and a good distance on the other side of the front, he saw in the air a lonely Englishman crawling about. He was one of those hostile infantry fliers who make themselves particularly disagreeable to our troops. We molest them a great deal. Whether they really achieve anything in crawling along the ground is very problematical.
My brother was at an altitude of about six thousand feet, while the Englishman was at about three thousand feet. He quietly approached the Englishman, prepared to plunge and in a few seconds was upon him. The Englishman thought he would avoid a duel and he disappeared likewise by a plunge. My brother, without hesitation, plunged after. He didn't care at all whether he was on one side of the front or the other. He was animated by a single thought: I must down that fellow. That is, of course, the correct way of managing things. Now and then I myself have acted that way. However, if my brother does not have at least one success on every flight he gets tired of the whole thing.
Only a little above the ground my brother obtained a favorable position against the English flier and could shoot into his shop windows. The Englishman fell. There was nothing more to be done.
After such a struggle, especially at a low altitude, in the course of which one has so often been twisting and turning, and circling to the right and to the left, the average mortal has no longer the slightest notion of his position. On that day it happened that the air was somewhat misty. The weather was particularly unfavorable. My brother quickly took his bearings and discovered only then that he was a long distance behind the front. He was behind the ridge of Vimy. The top of that hill is about three hundred feet higher than the country around. My brother, so the observers on the ground reported, had disappeared behind the Vimy height.
It is not a particularly pleasant feeling to fly home over enemy country. One is shot at and cannot shoot back. It is true, however, that a hit is rare.
My brother [Lothar] approached the line. At a low altitude one can hear every shot that is fired, and firing sounds then very much like the noise made by chestnuts which are being roasted. Suddenly, he felt that he had been hit. That was queer to him. My brother is one of those men who cannot see their own blood. If somebody else was bleeding it would not impress him very greatly, but the sight of his own blood upsets him. He felt his blood running down his right leg in a warm stream. At the same time, he noticed a pain in his hip. Below the shooting continued. It followed that he was still over hostile ground. At last the firing gradually ceased. He had crossed the front. Now he must be nimble for his strength was rapidly ebbing away. He saw a wood and next to the wood a meadow. Straight for the meadow he flew and mechanically, almost unconsciously, he switched off the engine. At the same moment he lost consciousness.
My brother was in a single-seater. No one could help him. It is a miracle that he came to the ground, for no flying machine lands or starts automatically. There is a rumor that they have at Cologne an old Taube which will start by itself as soon as the pilot takes his seat, which makes the regulation curve and which lands again after exactly five minutes. Many men pretend to have seen that miraculous machine. I have not seen it. But still I am convinced that the tale is true. Now, my brother was not in such a miraculous automatic machine. Nevertheless he had not hurt himself in landing. He recovered consciousness only in hospital, and was sent to Douai.
In late September he returned to Jasta 11 and (after another Christmas holiday with his brother and father in the field) he assumed its command on 18 January 1918
January/February - Lothar suffered a tympanic cavity inflammation and went in the military hospital, into a sanatorium in Berlin.
16 February until 13 March - resumed command of Jasta 11
March 1918 - As the Germans built up their forces for their upcoming offensive, the British increasd their aerial reconnaissance over German lines in the second week of March. Jasta 11 responded defensively and the Richthofen brothers were in the thick of it. Lothar downed three Bristol F2.B's on the 11th and 12th.
After the war, Lothar wrote of his battle with the Brisfit two seaters. His account is summarized here. The fliers of Jasta 11 spotted about ten British machines heading over the lines flying at 17,000 feet. According to his account, Jasta 11 attacked, with Manfred duly in the lead. The Red Baron cut one Englishman out of the pack, stayed on his tail firing, and forced the plane down on ther German side.
Lothar looked for a target of his own and shortly found himself all alone ahead of his Staffel surrounded by British airplanes. He dived away from them and one of the F2.B's bravely or foolishly stayed with him, as Lothar later recounted the event. At the lower lower altitude, the two adversaries flew straight at each other head on shooting. A deadly game of chicken, in which the English two seater had the advantage of a rear-firing observer, able to shoot at the German the moment the planes passed each other. Just before collision, von Richthofen's bullets hit home and the combustible Brisfit caught fire. Quickly engulfed in flames the stricken machine turned away and the doomed aircrew briefly pondered their choice of deaths. They jumped.
Almost parenthetically Lothar further noted that he soon "shot down another from the same squadron and helped a third along."
The next day, March 13, Lothar's Staffel encountered Camels of No 73 Sqn and Brisfits of No 62 Sqn. A quick encounter, a Lother and his Staffel mates attacked the British planes, which dived away. As Lother pursued one, a loud crash rent his machine. It had been hit. At 4000 meters, with the top wing shredded and the rudder useless, the plane could barely glide. "My triplane became a biplane." He spotted a clearing to land in and he crash-landed, narrowly avoiding some hihg tension wires. He suffered multiple injuries to his face and was hospitalized in Duesseldorf. Camel pilot Augustus Orlebar and B.F.2b crew Geoffrey Hughes and Hugh Claye claimed the victory.
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"Marvelous chaps, the brothers Richthofen: who are together fifty years old and already celebrate their hundredth victory," Kaiser Wilhelm II.
21 April - Manfred von Richthofen fell in aerial combat over enemy lines and was buried with military honours. Lothar learned this grievous news while still in the hospital himself.
19 July - Lothar got out of the military hospital and "defected" to front - on his way west, he shared a meal with the Kogenluft von Hoeppner and von der Lieth Thomsen. Traveling through Maubeuge, he then continued by airplane, and returned to his staffel.
Led Jasta 11 from 19 to 27 July
Lothar transferred to command JG (Jagdgeschwader) No. 1 'von Richthofen'.
Scored his final victory on 12 August 1918, he shot down a Sopwith Camel flown by English ace John Summers
13 August - third injury - shot in the thigh when a Camel fired on his Fokker D VII. Lothar was no longer suited for combat duty. Stayed in the Hamburg hospital.
Married Countess Keyserlingk in Cammau. Two children (a son and a daughter) from this marriage.
Albrecht Baron von Richthofen, the flier's father, died and buried in Schweidnitz.
4 July - On a flight from Berlin to Hamburg the airplane D 1481 with Lothar piloting had an accident. Just before the airfield the engine stopped. The machine creates it no longer over the crowns of tree, separates falls. The pilot died - the passengers, among others UFA star Fern Andra, survived.
11 July - funeral in Schweidnitz. The funeral service took place in the garrison church. Flier comrades stood at the coffin.
Lothar buried beside his recently deceased father; the burial place does not exist any longer, it fell victim to the Second World War.
- Frontflieger - German-language source of this page
- Fokker D VII Aces of World War 1 (Part 1) (Osprey Aircraft of the Aces 53), by Norman Franks, John Weal (Illustrator), Greg Vanwyngarden (Illustrator)
- Rand McNally Encyclopedia of Military Aircraft, 1914-1980, by Enzo Angelucci, The Military Press, New York, 1983
- The Aerodrome