Updated: Feb 28
Over the past "umpteen" years I’ve had a few, yet significant encounters with small red-engine biplanes. My first was in the 1950s when I met Snoopy within the colorful pages of the Sunday "funnies" as he pursued his enemy, the Red Barron.
Loved this engaging, humorous dog as well as Oliver, my husband's beagle whom I met in 1965. Fifty years later I met Joyce Faulkner, principal of Red Engine Press. Of course, the Red Engine, of Red Engine Press, is also a biplane, one which I've been riding ever since with Joyce, who is my pilot and publisher.
My next encounter with a red-engine plane happened about two years ago when I had a website designed at www.authordylanweiss.com. Included on the website is my blog, “Sky Writing.” I based the title on fond childhood memories of me, with my head in the clouds, watching for letters in the sky that might spell out ...“EAT AT JOES against a spring-blue Cleveland sky.
Most recently, during a lifelong learning program presented by historian Todd De Pastino at the Masonic Village in Sewickley, PA, the subject of the Red Baron came up. Both my friend, Jim Giammaria, who loves history, and I were absorbed in Todd’s excellent lecture regarding WWI. During his lecture, Todd detailed a little-known event, the Christmas Truce, which happened at the end of the war. I believe Todd may have mentioned the Red Barron while discussing several famous German soldiers. For whatever reason, it prompted Jim to whisper, “ya know who fought the Red Barron in the comics don’t ya ... it was Snoopy from the Peanuts strip by Charles Schulz.” So, I Googled and found some interesting information on the Charles M. Schulz Museum website. For those of you interested in visiting, the museum is located in Santa Rosa, CA.
The Following is Adapted From https://schulzmuseum.org
“Charles Schulz introduced Snoopy as the World War I Flying Ace in 1965, and over the decades the Flying Ace has become one of Snoopy’s most recognizable personas. This traveling exhibition from the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center, titled Snoopy and the Red Baron, tells the full story of the charismatic and beloved character, from the origin of the storyline, to how Schulz researched all aspects of World War I to bring authenticity
to the strips.
Dressed in a leather flying cap, goggles, and scarf, Snoopy took to the skies atop his doghouse, which his imagination transformed into a Sopwith Camel biplane. Throughout the years, Snoopy’s dogfights against the elusive and infamous Red Baron, based on a real German flying ace named Manfred von Richthofen, captured readers' hearts and imaginations. As their aerial battles raged on, Snoopy could often be seen waving his fist in the air and shouting “Curse you Red Baron!” – a phrase that still lives on in popular culture. The Flying Ace’s debut occurred during a period of resurgence that glamorized WWI aviators in films, radio dramas, novels, and comics.
Though he could not have predicted the popularity of Snoopy’s now-famous alter-ego, Schulz knew from the start that he had created something special. “I discovered that I had something good going,” he said, “and I let Snoopy’s imagination go wild.”
Snoopy and the Red Baron brings the full story of the World War I Flying Ace to life. The exhibition will delight fans who grew up with the Ace, and introduce new audiences to Snoopy’s adventures in the sky.”
I also wanted to learn more about Snoopy’s nemesis, Baron von Richtoven, so, once again a simple Google search and voila ... the Royal Air Force Museum.
The Following is Adapted From https://collections.rafmuseum.org.uk/collection/ inventory/.
The Fall of the Red Baron
On 21 April 1918, the infamous Red Baron, named after the red Fokker Dr I he flew, was shot down and killed. Manfred, Baron von Richtoven was the most famous of German fighter pilots of the First World War, with 80 victories to his name.
Richthofen was born on 2 May 1892 in Breslau, Germany (now Wroclaw, Poland). His was a prosperous family and one of his great joys was hunting in and around the family estate.
Richthofen first saw action in the First World War with a cavalry regiment of the Prussian army and fought in Russia at the start of the war and during the invasion of Belgium and France. In the cavalry, he won the Iron Cross for courage under fire. His role in the cavalry soon become one of transporting supplies rather than action as most fighting was taking place in trenches. He wanted to see action so in May 1915 he joined the Flying Service and undertook his first solo flight on 10 October 1915.
The Flying Circus Richthofen was known as a deadly shot, a skill he gained while hunting, and a great tactician. By early 1917, he had become Germany’s highest-scoring pilot with 16 confirmed victories. He was awarded the Pour le Mérite, more commonly known as the Blue Max, after the great German fighter pilot Max Immelmann. In January 1917 Richthofen was given command of his own fighter squadron, Jagdstaffel 11 (No. 11 Fighter Squadron). His aircraft was painted red and was nicknamed by the allies, ‘the Red Baron’. The pilots of this squadron were handpicked from the leading fighter pilots of their day, including Richthofen’s younger brother Lothar. Lothar later shot down the great British ace Captain Albert Ball VC, who trained at Hendon in London where the RAF Museum is now located. Of the 26 pilots who were attached to this Jasta, 20 achieved five or more victories. The squadron was known for its colorfully painted aircraft and soon gained the nickname ‘The Flying Circus’.
Respect in times of war
‘The Flying Circus’ was so successful under the Red Baron’s leadership in April 1917 that the month was dubbed ‘Bloody April’ by the Allies. It is estimated that between January and the end of May the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) lost 708 aircraft, of which 275 fell in April. There were 1,014 casualties of whom 473 were killed, 317 were wounded and 224 became prisoners of war. Despite the large number of casualties, there was mutual respect between the pilots on all sides. When Hauptmann Oswald Boelcke, known as ‘the father of the German fighter air force’ was killed in a mid-air collision, he was honored by the RFC. They dropped a wreath with the wording: ‘To the memory of Captain Boelcke, our brave and chivalrous opponent’.
Buried with Honor
A great deal of ‘souveniring' took place when Richthofen’s aircraft crashed inside allied lines on 21 April 1918. Captain Roy Brown was credited for shooting down the Baron. Eyewitnesses recalled that when the aircraft’s fabric was torn off, a bystander made away with the propeller. The Red Baron was given a military funeral with full honors.
‘The Times’ of 24 April 1918 paints a rather beautiful and moving picture of the funeral:
‘Captain Baron von Richthofen’s funeral yesterday afternoon was a simple but impressive ceremony. The coffin, which was borne by six officers of the Royal Air Force, was deposited in ground in the corner of the French cemetery in a little village from ground near which, before the ceremony, one could look at Amiens Cathedral, standing very clear and beautiful in the afternoon sun. The English Service was read, and the last salute fired over the grave.’ At his death, Richthofen was just 25 years old.
I look forward to more encounters with Red Engine Biplanes and will keep you posted if/when another makes an appearance.