Book Review — The Red Knight of Germany: The Story of Baron von Richthofen, Germany’s Great War Bird

The Red Knight of Germany: The Story of Baron von Richthofen, Germany’s Great War Bird by Floyd Gibbons is an early account of the Red Baron. Gibbon’s was a war correspondent for the Chicago Tribune. At the Battle of Belleau Wood he lost an eye to German gunfire while rescuing a wounded soldier; for this, he was awarded the Croix de Guerre. Afterwards, he became chief of the paper’s foreign service, but went on to become a novelist and radio commentator after being fired.

Originally published in 1930, Gibbons used first-hand sources to write Richthofen’s biography. There are letters the baron wrote to his mother and the baron’s mission reports requesting credit for kills. There are also reports from those who survived aerial combat with Richthofen too. These reports and statements show the respect the pilots had for each other and the baron. While the infantry died in the hundreds of thousands many were left to rot in no man’s land, pilots were buried with honors by their enemies. The air war was a separate war.

With all the recent writing of the war at its one hundred year anniversary, this book was written just twelve years after the end of the war and Richthofen death provides some of the best coverage of the air war using primary source material. Perhaps only Rickenbacker’s Fighting the Flying Circus is a better source of first-hand material. An excellent biography not only of the war but of the person Richthofen was and his drive to excellence. His fight was not of hate but of sport. For many fighting in the air war, battle was a competition much like a boxing match. It was person against person not country against country and even in war there was respect.

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