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Book Review
Manfred von Richthofen
The aircraft, Myths and Accomplishments of
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by: Stephen T. Lawson [ JACKFLASH ]

Air Power Editions was formed in 2007 by a renowned aviation editorial and design team to publish books written by leading authorities and researchers in specialist areas of military aviation history.

Their Montra is "created by enthusiasts for enthusiasts".

The aim at producing books covering subjects of interest related to military and aviation history that would perhaps not ordinarily be taken on by other publishers.

Also to provide the aviation historian, researcher and/or modeller with the best possible narrative, photographic and illustrative record of aircraft, personnel, units and camouflage and markings by working with the world's foremost authors and students of military aviation history.

Author of the latest monograph concerning Rittmeister Manfred von Richthofen is by James F. Miller. Now it has been said that there are more books written about Manfred von Richthofen than there are about Abraham Lincoln. So this appears a more main stream effort than one going off the beaten path.

James F. Miller
I have both known and had good conversations with the author James F. Miller for about 10 years now. I can say that I like his "fresh eyes" look at the aircraft, myths and accomplishments of MvR. And as you will note he is not stuck or entrenched in his view of this subject. It is ninety-eight pages of thorough research on the subject matter. Of the related bibliography & sources at the book's end I can say that most are highly authoritative. Though in my opinion the five common references in the right hand column of p.96 should be disregarded.

As I came to the next subject in my list of books and references for review I contacted James and he gracuiously wrote back.

". . .Jim Miller here. As we discussed. . .here is a list of corrections for the MvR book. If you spot more please let me know so I can mark them for correction if there is a second printing.

Be advised that I’ve radically changed my opinion regarding Manfred’s Alb D.II. The profile in the book shows it in factory condition—which of course it was at first—but I believe it was overpainted by the time MvR fought Hawker. I hint at this possibility in the book but since publication I’ve gone full monty. This is based on statements and photographs. If interested I’ll send a new profile and explain my conclusions, although I understand that will have nothing to do with the book review. If nothing else I like talking about airplanes and it gives you a chance to tell me to jump in the lake if you think I’m way off base. . ."

Errata & Addenda to the book from the author
Page 9: Caption “HEC/UTD” should be “HAC/UTD.”

Page 29: Photo credit to “Greg VanWyngarden.”

Page 8, top paragraph: Remove hyphen in “Replacement.”

Page 10: Planes in photo background are AGO C.Is.

Page 15, left column, nine sentences from bottom: Change “the flight was a mixture…” to “the flight had been a mixture…”

Page 20, left column, top paragraph: Spark retarding lever in an Albatros D is on the port cockpit wall, not starboard.

Page 23, top paragraph: Change “Stephan Kirmaier” to “Stefan” Kirmaier.

Page 26, left column, top paragraph: Albatros D.III contract was in October 1916, not 1917.

Page 27, illustration caption: Machine may have been Lübbert’s machine.

Page 29, left column, fifth sentence from bottom: It is possible MvR used Lübbert’s plane on 9 March but there is a greater likelihood he used Lübbert’s Albatros the afternoon of 6 March, after Le Petit Rouge had been damaged, when he downed a BE2e later that afternoon for his 24th victory

Page 30, second column, first paragraph: Delete comma in “which from altitude, appeared suitable for

Page 31, first column, 8th sentence: Change “Schäfer” to “Schaefer.”

Page 33, photo caption: Change “Markebeke” to “Marckebeke.”

Page 42, no.12: The uppersurfaces of both the upper and lower wings were red.

Page 34. Left column, third paragraph, seventh sentence from bottom: Change “aeroåplanes” to

Page 38, right column, third paragraph: Remove “Ltn” in “Leutnant Ltn Kurt Wolff.”

Page 39, right column, second paragraph: A two-second view in a recently seen cine film revealed
webbing existed between the two parallel straps that lay directly atop the wound bandage.

Page 39, right column, third paragraph, last sentence: Source is Management of Gunshot Wounds, 1988, p. 176.

Page 48, photo caption: Change serial number from “144/17” to “114/17;” photo credit to Lance Bronnenkant.

Page 48, left column: Change “there after” to “thereafter.”

Page 61, photo caption: Change “Schäfer” to “Schaefer.”

Page 62, 1st Examination: Insert space between “instructed.” and “Although”.

Colour notes on the Alb. D.I & II
". . .I am of the opinion that MvR’s Albatros D.II had its fuselage, empennage, and upper wing crossfields overpainted brown by the time he fought Hawker 23 November 1916. Furthermore, it is possible that either it and/or an Albatros D.I had been overpainted green in the weeks prior, and it is even possible that Manfred’s D.II was still green by the Hawker fight.

Now, to explain how and why…

My belief is based partly on speculation that a D.II seen in three photographs of Richthofen (among others, Ferko’s book, pages 12 and 13) actually was his machine. I believe so because he is featured prominently with it in two photos, and in one of them he is alone with the machine and posing in a very proud stance. If one is going to pose alone with a war machine, why stand in front of someone else’s and not walk the camera man the 50 or 100 feet to photograph you standing next to your personal airplane? Several other Jasta 2 photos reveal pilots standing alone with machines different than that shown with Richthofen, and one pilot (Günther) is shown posing with a D.I in one photo and then sitting in the cockpit of the same machine in another photo, ostensibly about to takeoff. The pictorial subtext is the pilots were photographed with their individual machines. It is quite natural for one to pose with one’s own war machine (or Cessna, or car, etc.), yet I concede that although this belief is common sense and well plausible, it is not proof. Regardless, I feel confident that the D.II photographed with Manfred was indeed his.

There are well known photos of Jasta 2 Albatros with their white tail crossfields overpainted at the corners, with the fuselage crossfields either overpainted entirely or done so in a fashion that left a slim border around the cross. This overpainting continued forward on the fuselage and ended at the nose cowl panels which left a “ring” of light-colored (i.e., factory gray or pale greenish gray) cowl panels around the nose. A well known Alb D.I so overpainted was Büttner’s D. 391/16, with “Bü” painted on the fuselage. These photos are provenance and precedence that Jasta 2 had some of their machines overpainted in this manner.

Regarding his brother’s machines, Lothar von Richthofen wrote:

“When Manfred began to gain his first successes with Jagdstaffel Boelcke, he was annoyed because he felt he was much too visible to his enemies in aerial combat and that they saw him much too early. He tried using a variety of colors to make himself invisible. At first he emphasized the earth colors. From above one would not detect these colors if there were no movement, which is of course impossible in a plane. To his sorrow, Manfred found that no one color was useful in the air. There is no camouflage for the flier with which he can make himself invisible. Then, in order to at least be recognized as the leader by his comrades in the air, he chose the color bright red. Later the red machine also became known to the English as “Le petit rouge” and the other names that accompanied it.”

“Earth” colors to me are, generically stated and for camouflage purposes, green and brown. Blue (water) and white (snow) are also possible, but neither would have camouflaged Jasta 2’s airplanes from above in autumn 1916. Thus, based on Lothar’s writings, Manfred painted his plane(s) green and then brown, or brown and then green. I get the sense (bear in mind, to be redundant, “sense” is not proof) that Manfred used color singularly, rather than mottled or camouflaged as a Spitfire, for example. I.e., his plane was all green, it was all brown, etc. I favor brown for MvR’s plane in November because in the Northern Hemisphere the earth becomes browner and less green in November, and the purpose of Manfred’s use of camouflage was to blend with the earth as seen from above. This is hardly proof, of course. When this overpainting began is unknown—his “first successes” began 17 September so it is possible even a D.I was painted green and/or brown. It is even possible the D.II in discussion was green 23 November, although I lean toward brown for the reasons stated.

How have I linked the referenced D.II photographs with November? In one of the photos of Richthofen standing next to this D.II he is with Jasta 2 members Stefan Kirmaier, Hans Imelmann and Hans Wortmann. Wortmann joined Jasta 2 in early November (I cannot find an exact date but his first victory was the 9th of that month) and Kirmaier was killed the day before the Hawker fight, the 22nd. These events and the presence of these two men together date the photograph and thus the appearance of the nearby D.II as being sometime during the first three weeks of November; without question the picture must have been taken at least between 9-22 November.

Take a look at the attached photos. MvR D.II 01 is great because you see planes that are overpainted and planes that are not, all at roughly the same angle to the sun. The D.II at far left (MvR’s) and the D.I at far right appear overpainted. Hallmarks include:

1. “Hazy” tail crossfield from overpainting, with corners especially so.

2. Dark engine cowl panels aft of the nose panels. These dark panels are the same color or at least the same darkness as the fuselage.

3. Very distinct light/dark demarcation between the dark engine panels (i.e. overpainted) and the light nose cowl panels (i.e., factory finish).

4. Dark vents and hatches that are same hue as fuselage.

On MvR’s D.II at left, there is a distinct dark area between the light nose cowl panels and the white stripe around the nose. If the engine cowl panels were the same color as those panels around the nose, there would not be this dark area. Angle of the sun reveals there is nothing that would cast a shadow there and in that direction. I.e., those engine cowl panels are dark—much darker than the nose cowl panels, and as dark as the fuselage.

MvR D.II 02 shows the same details, only closer. Additionally, there appears to be no black border to the white stripe around the nose. (More on that stripe in a moment.) This is the photo I mentioned with Kirmaier, Imelmann, and Wortmann.

MvR D.II 03 shows Imelmann standing near a D.I. This plane is overpainted in a similar manner as Richthofen’s D.II and shows the strong color demarcation between the dark and light engine cowl panels that perfectly aligns with the edge of the nose panels adjacent the wood fuselage. The dark cowl sections are further illustrated by the light colored center section strut against them.

MvR D.II 04 shows Günther near yet another D.I. This one has not been overpainted and immediately discernible is the marked visual difference between these light colored engine cowl panels and panels that have been overpainted on other machines. These panels are as light as the center section strut, save for slight shadow of the exhaust manifold. This plane had a light blue belly and is believed to be from a batch of D.Is that was factory painted alternate green/brown camo (the wooden fuselage portion). Included here just to show an Albatros D-type with light cowl panels photographed in a similar angle to the sun.

MvR D.II 05 shows a scanned view (from Ferko’s book, page 13) of Manfred and presumably his D.II. (BTW, I would be eternally grateful if you could furnish a digital copy of this photograph, should you have one. Nobody I have contacted has it, and two searches of Ferko’s photos in Dallas were fruitless.) Again, dark cowl panels are apparent. Spinner lighter than the nose panels. No logo or info on prop (it is possible the prop had the early “dagger style” Axial logo but I need a better resolution photograph for better scrutiny, the one in Ferko’s book is small and very grainy). Prop very dark—Ortho film? Or would he paint a prop? That seems unlikely to me because I have seen many photographs of the same prop that in one photo appeared nearly black but in another the wood laminations were well seen, but one never knows another man’s motivation. No question the tail crossfield is overpainted, and although the fuselage vents are more visible in this photo the engine access hatch is very dark, as is the radiator. In this shot there appears to be a black border to the white stripe but I now believe this black border is more likely a photographic illusion called an artifact. In this photo similar artifacts are seen on the landing gear struts and wing undersurfaces. There are also similar illusions called halos visible in the white stripe; areas along the edges of the white stripe that are lighter than the stripe itself. Reference the photo Artifacts.

Similar to the fuselage, I believe the white upper wing crossfields were overpainted (ostensibly with “earth colors” so, in November, I favor brown but, again, cannot exclude green absolutely) in a manner that left a white border around the cross, although complete overpainting cannot be excluded absolutely, either. Reference MvR DII 05. Look at the upper wing leading edges above the outboard interplane struts. On Albatros D.IIs the white crossfields wrapped around the front of the leading edges (as seen with Boelcke and Kirmaier’s machines, among others, including 484/16 and 497/16) and these wrapped-crossfield edges of Manfred’s D.II appear to have been overpainted. Typical wear along the wing leading edges has flaked/eroded some of this overpainting to reveal the white crossfield underneath. Provenance and precedence for this practice within Jasta 2 exists with photographs of Diether Collin/Prinz Friedrich Karl’s D.I.

What color brown or green? I do not know. I have drawn several possibilities in Photoshop. One has a reddish brown and the other a more tobacco-ish brown; I am still working on various green versions as well. These are not definitive appearances, of course, just possibilities. I will include a couple here.

Also, notice in one profile that the radiator is painted but untouched in the other. I am uncertain if the radiator was painted but it does appear awfully dark in the photographs. Look at the machines in MvR DII 01. The machines at far left and far right—the overpainted machines—have radiators far darker than the machines in the middle. One turns to Büttner’s plane for precedence—but a photo of the port side shows a dark radiator and a photo of the starboard side shows a very light radiator! The starboard side shot was taken post-capture and begs the question did this machine have the outer extensions of the radiator (i.e., those that would have been painted) removed, assuming it had them in the first place? I cannot say. After inquiries, several mechanics told me that painting just the side of a radiator like that would not degrade its cooling ability, and to my eyes the Manfred D.II radiator sides look very dark in an area with no shadow. At the very least it is possible the radiators were overpainted with the fuselage colors.

MvR Alb. D.II Serial Number
As I am sure you know there is a source-based discrepancy regarding the serial number of Manfred’s machine, either 481/16 or 491/16. Personally I cannot link Richthofen with either of these machines, nor can I link those serial numbers with the airplane photographed with Richthofen.

A couple months ago I wrote Dan-San about the origins of this discrepancy. His reply was most interesting. He said that the source of 491/16 was in Nowarra’s 1958 von RICHTHOFEN AND THE “FLYING CIRCUS” (sic) and sure enough, when I checked, on at least page 166 it lists “491/16,” but—like the rest of the book—there are no source endnotes. Dan-San said the first he saw 481/16 used was in Ferko’s book and had assumed it was a typo. Coincidentally, when I was in Dallas a couple years ago I had copied part of Ferko’s original handwritten manuscript; a section that dealt with airplanes used by the Richthofen brothers, which became page 20 of his book. On that page, the serial number for Manfred’s D.II is written “481/16,” but when I checked his handwritten manuscript after hearing from Dan-San I saw that Ferko had written “491/16”—four-nine-one-sixteen. Very, very interesting. See Ferko Notes.

Several questions arise. Did Neal O’Connor, who took Ferko’s hand written manuscript and typed it, typo the serial number? Did Ferko make a mistake in his manuscript, writing “9” instead of “8” that was latter edited? When writing the manuscript (which took him five years) did Ferko believe the serial number was 491/16 and then subsequent research led him to believe the serial number was really 481/16? Again, I do not know, and neither does everyone else I have asked (and please chime in here if you have anything to add), but Dan-San may be on to something here. Ferko mentions this serial number elsewhere in his book so the thing to do is the next time I am in Dallas I will reference Ferko’s manuscript (I know the entire thing is there [unless somebody has since stolen it] because I held it and looked through it) and see if he is consistent with his use of 491/16. If so, that still does not rule out that further research caused him to change his belief to 481/16, but it would sure add more smoke if not fire to Dan-San’s typo theory.

Right now, based on no historical provenance whatsoever, I lean toward 491/16. However, how is either number associated with the D.II in the photographs? As I type these words I still do not know. I do believe the photographed D.II was Manfred’s—again, based on no historical provenance, but what are you going to show your grandkids, a picture of you standing by your airplane or standing by some other guy’s?—but I am less confident in its serial number being 491/16. How do we know? On the other hand, and using the same thinking, I cannot absolutely state the serial number of the photographed D.II was not 491/16 or 481/16! I am just looking for proof deeper than Ferko or Nowarra said so. Okay, they said so, but why? How? Where? . . ."

So the research goes on.

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Click here for additional images for this review.

Highs: Excellent references on a great subject, by a fine author.
Lows: I wish the death of MvR had been treated in a similar vein as his July 6, 1917 wounding.
Verdict: Over all a fine addition to anyone's library on the subject. It comes close to being the final word.
Percentage Rating
  Scale: 1:1
  Mfg. ID: ISBN 978-0-9555977-3-2
  Suggested Retail: $32.95
  Related Link: New painting - Richthofen's Alb.D.II
  PUBLISHED: Apr 29, 2010

About Stephen T. Lawson (JackFlash)

I was building Off topic jet age kits at the age of 7. I remember building my first WWI kit way back in 1964-5 at the age of 8-9. Hundreds of 1/72 scale Revell and Airfix kits later my eyes started to change and I wanted to do more detail. With the advent of DML / Dragon and Eduard I sold off my ...

Copyright ©2021 text by Stephen T. Lawson [ JACKFLASH ]. Images also by copyright holder unless otherwise noted. Opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of AeroScale. All rights reserved.


Hi Stephen I have just ordered this from the Aviation book shop, I have been emailing Jim for the last week or so, about some information on the Albatros C1X. this has some incredible info in it by the looks of it, so its an order well worth placing, thanks for reviewing it. Dave
APR 28, 2010 - 10:38 PM
Here is a bit of support from the Grand Fellow himself Alex Revell. "I think the book is excellent. Jim is to be congratulated on a fine job, all round. One of the best, most refreshing books on von R I've read. I've noted the corrections, but that happens in the best of books, unless they are very carefully copy edited by someone who is familiar with the subject matter. One thing I did notice was the ubiquitlous use of 'ubiquitous'. Sorry about that Jim, just a little joke. Regards Alex"
APR 29, 2010 - 08:50 PM

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