When Manfred von Richthofen flying an Albatros DII found a British F.E. 2b at the tail end of the British formation, he attacked immediately.
On Sep. 17, 1916 two formations of aircraft converged near Marcoing France. One was a group of 8 Royal Flying Corps B.E. 2c’s escorted by a flight of 6 F.E. 2b’s of No. 11 Squadron belonging to Royal Flying Corps (RFC). The British formation had just returned from a bombing raid on a German occupied railroad station and were simply trying to get home. This formation was intercepted by a German formation consisting of 20 Albatros fighters of Jasta 2 led by the legendary Oswald Boelcke, whose dicta Boelcke is still considered the basic rules of Air combat.
Thus far only Oswald Boelcke had scored victories for his new unit, 7 since the beginning of the month. This mission was the first time the entire Jasta had flown as a unit, and they found the formation over Marcoing and attacked it en masse. Boelcke himself shot down a British F.E. 2b, while Hans Reimann brought down another.
The fight drifted south of the target area, and when Manfred von Richthofen flying an Albatros DII found a British F.E. 2b at the tail end of the British formation, he attacked immediately.
In his own words from his patrol report;
‘WHEN PATROL FLYING I DETECTED SHRAPNEL CLOUDS IN THE DIRECTION OF CAMBRAI. I HURRIED FORTH AND MET A SQUAD WHICH I ATTACKED SHORTLY AFTER 1100. I SINGLED OUT THE LAST MACHINE AND FIRED SEVERAL TIMES AT CLOSEST RANGE (TEN METERS). SUDDENLY THE ENEMY PROPELLER STOOD STOCK STILL. THE MACHINE WENT DOWN GLIDING AND I FOLLOWED UNTIL I HAD KILLED THE OBSERVER WHO HAD NOT STOPPED SHOOTING UNTIL THE LAST MOMENT. NOW MY OPPONENT WENT DOWNWARDS IN SHARP CURVES. AT APPROXIMATELY 1200 METERS A SECOND GERMAN MACHINE CAME ALONG AND ATTACKED MY VICTIM RIGHT DOWN TO THE GROUND AND THEN LANDED NEXT TO THE ENGLISH PLANE.’
From this combat report we can see the following.
- Richthofen singled out the last British aircraft in the formation after being alerted to their position by German flak.
- Richthofen closed in and attacked from a range of only 10 meters
- The British observer remained shooting until the last moment
- Richthofen attacked from the Fe2b’s blind spot
- Richthofen riddled the engine and killed the observer.
- A second German machine tried to shoot down the F.E. 2b. then landed next to it.
- The machine landed at the German airfield at Flesquieres, north of Villers Plouich.
- Richthofen watched the dying and dead observer be removed from the craft.
- Richthofen refused to allow the other aircraft to claim the victory. As an Officer and lifelong hunter, Richthofen was likely enraged that another pilot attacked what he regarded as HIS “Englander” as a dying Morris glided his helpless aircraft onto a safe landing at a German aerodrome.
- Richthofen scored his first confirmed victory.
2nd Lt. Lionel Bertram Frank Morris, managed to land his F.E. 2b despite being severely wounded. His departure to hospital was watched by Richthofen who had landed in the same German airfield he did. Morris died shortly after being removed from his aircraft. He was only 19 years old when he passed. 2nd Lt. Morris was buried with Full Military Honors by the Germans, with von Richthofen himself attending the funeral and laying a stone on his grave. Morris is interred at the Porte de Paris Cemetery outside Cambrai France.
The F.E. 2b observer, Captain Tom Rees, tried to defend his aircraft but his determination couldn’t compensate for Richtofen’s attack from a position of strength. Ironically he was promoted to Captain on the very day he died. In a terrible double family tragedy, Rees’s brother John was struck by lightning and killed on the same day. Captain Rees was only 21 when he died. He is buried in Plouich Communal Cemetery, France.
All in all, the British lost 4 out of 6 FE2.b’s in their formation and 2 of 8 BE2.c’s. Jasta 4 had also engaged, claiming 1 F.E. 2b at Equancourt, while it was ground fire which shot down the two B.E. 2cs.
Manfred von Richthofen would become famous as the Red Baron after he painted his Albatros bright Red in order to give himself a distinct personal aircraft scheme that everyone on both sides of the Trenches of World War I would recognize.