Black Friday, 'Bloody April': The death of Lancelot and the Red Knight rises...


Darragh Christie, 13 April 2017 · #

During Bloody April one RFC airmen was killed, on average, every 18 hours. Friday April 13th was a very black day for the RFC, and one Mosman family.

Illustration showing FE shooting down an Albatros. Not always the result of a combat between these two aircraft types.

Above Arras

In April 1917:

The stage was set for the big spring offensive.1

On April 9th, the Battle of Arras began. It raged from Vimy Ridge to Bullecourt. The Royal Flying Corps supported British and Commonwealth troops, flying over the lines to bring back reconnaissance photos, direct artillery, and bomb targets.

Black Friday 13th: Red Knight rising…

Jasta 11. Richthofen’s mount is the 2nd aircraft.

On Friday, April 13th at 9 am, Rittmeister Manfred Von Richthofen, leading in his red DIII Albatros [2] sighted six RE8’s of 59 Squadron. His Jasta tore into the ungainly machines like wolves amongst a sheepfold. Within minutes the RFC had lost six of its aircraft, with 12 airmen killed or captured.

Richthofen added RE8 A3190 to his tally.3 He recalled:

The day began well. We had scarcely flown to an altitude of six thousand feet when an English squadron of five machines was seen coming our way. We attacked them by a rush as if we were cavalry and the hostile squadron lay destroyed on the ground. None of our men was even wounded. Of our enemies, three had plunged to the ground and two had come down in flames…I have gradually become accustomed to seeing machines falling down, but I must say it impressed me very deeply when I saw the first Englishman fall and I have often seen the event again in my dreams.

A Royal Flying Corps (RFC) RE8 aircraft serial B506? which crashed on the battlefield at Westhoek.

Richthofen later met one of the survivors:

A very amusing thing occurred. One of the Englishmen whom we had shot down and whom we had made a prisoner was talking with us. Of course, he inquired after the Red Aeroplane. It is not unknown even among the troops in the trenches and is called by them “le diable rouge.” In the Squadron to which he belonged there was a rumour that the Red Machine was occupied by a girl, by a kind of Jeanne d’Arc. He was intensely surprised when I assured him that the supposed girl was standing in front of him. He did not intend to make a joke. He was actually convinced that only a girl could sit in the extravagantly painted machine.4

Lancelot Lytton RichardsonLancelot L. Richardson

Black Friday 13th: The death of Lancelot

That evening, at 6.40pm, 25 Squadron set out to bomb the railway junction between Henin Lietard and Lens. One of the six aircraft was piloted by Captain Lancelot L. Richardson.

Fellow Mosman Ace, P.G.Taylor described the FE type Richardson was flying:

The gunner was in front of the pilot in the aircraft’s nose so that he had a good field of fire ahead, and none to the rear. In spite of this handicap, the enterprising FE2b pilots devised means of fighting with this aeroplane which proved to be at least partially successful: On sighting the German aircraft the flight would form a circle, virtually a rotating air fortress, and follow each other around, waiting to be attacked. In this way, an approaching enemy came under the fire of several gunners in the noses of the FE’s. A determined attack by a number of German fighters, however, could often break up the FE formation. They then could be picked off individually, since they were very slow to manoeuver and were completely defenseless from behind or below.5

FE2b one of the ‘…appallingly makeshift aeroplanes…optimistically called a “battleplane” by the authorities’ Photograph and quote from Tayor, P.G. ‘Sopwith Scout 7309’

25 Sqn. reached their target at about 7 pm and started their run. Several scout planes approached the FE formation as they were bombing the railway:

They looked like Nieuport fighters, and having been advised that a Nieuport patrol would be in the locality to give them some protection, they did not open fire.

Instead, it was Jasta 11, led by Richthofen. The FEs did not have time to form a defensive circle. Richthofen’s perfunctory report after the battle stated:

With three planes of my Staffel, I attacked an enemy bombing squadron…above Henin Lietard. After a short fight, my adversary began to glide down and finally plunged into a house…The occupants were both killed and the machine destroyed.6

FE vs Albatros

Richthofen and Hans Klein from Jasta 4 both shot down Re8’s earlier that day. Now they added a Vickers, Old Type7 to their score.

According to aero historian Norman Franks:

The first FE to go down went under the guns of Klein, A6372 falling near Vimy, having almost made it home8

A6372 was Richardson’s aircraft.

Richardson and his observer, 2nd Lieutenant R.C. Woollen, were buried together with the Canadian troops who fell at Vimy ridge. Richardson was 21.

Posthumously awarded

Capt. Lancelot Lytton Richardson was awarded the Military Cross, posthumously, on May 11th, 1917:

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He attacked a formation of five hostile scouts and brought two of them down. On another occasion, although himself wounded, he destroyed two hostile machines and drove down, damaged, at least two others.9

He was the second brother in the Richardson family to be killed in the Great War.

He and older brother Rupert Noel had been schooled in the Mosman area. The Richardson brothers enlisted with the 6th Light Horse, sailed together from Sydney to Egypt, and fought at Gallipoli. Here Lancelot was promoted to Sergeant. Both Brothers spent time in Mudros Hospital. Rupert was hit by a Turkish shell shortly after being discharged on 17/09/1915 and died of his wounds. Following his brother’s death and another stint of illness, L.L. Richardson applied for the RFC (a good service record and schooling at SCEGS would have helped with his acceptance.) By June 1916 he was flying sorties with 25 Squadron over the Somme. Both Brothers achieved the rank of Captain.

Hans Klein was later awarded the Blue Max , adding it to his Iron and Knights Cross. He ended the war with 22 victories to his name.

Richthofen’s ‘kills’ on Friday 13th amounted to three of the twenty aircraft shot down during Bloody April (for a total of over 50 by the end of the month). Jasta 11 downed roughly 90 aircraft, over one-third of all British losses. Richthofen was shot down on the 21st of April 1918.

Flying officers attached to Rittmeister Manfred Freiherr Von Richthofen’s squadron, Jasta 11. Richthofen himself is seated in the Albatros D.III. aircraft. From left to right: standing: unidentified (possibly Leutnant Karl Allmenroeder); Hans Hintsch; Vizfeldwebel Sebastian Festner; Leutnant Karl Emil Schaefer; Oberleutnant Kurt Wolff; Georg Simon; Leutnant Otto Brauneck. Sitting: Esser; Krefft; Leutnant Lothar von Richthofen, younger brother of Manfred.

Appendix: Der Rote Kampfflieger (1917)

Der Rote Kampfflieger (1917) by Manfred Von Richthofen: Trans. J. Ellis Barker. published in 1918 as The Red Battle Flyer (retrieved online 28/02/18)
.
Chapter 11 – My Record-Day (13/04/17)

The weather was glorious. We were ready for starting. I had as a visitor a gentleman who had never seen a fight in the air or anything resembling it and he had just assured me that it would tremendously interest him to witness an aerial battle.

We climbed into our machines and laughed heartily at our visitor’s eagerness. Friend Schäfer thought that we might give him some fun. We placed him before a telescope and off we went.

The day began well. We had scarcely flown to an altitude of six thousand feet when an English squadron of five machines was seen coming our way. We attacked them by a rush as if we were cavalry and the hostile squadron lay destroyed on the ground. None of our men was even wounded. Of our enemies, three had plunged to the ground and two had come down in flames.

The good fellow down below was not a little surprised. He had imagined that the affair would look quite different, that it would be far more dramatic. He thought the whole encounter had looked quite harmless until suddenly some machines came falling down looking like rockets. I have gradually become accustomed to seeing machines falling down, but I must say it impressed me very deeply when I saw the first Englishman fall and I have often seen the event again in my dreams.

As the day had begun so propitiously we sat down and had a decent breakfast. All of us were as hungry as wolves. In the meantime, our machines were again made ready for starting. Fresh cartridges were got and then we went off again. In the evening we could send off the proud report: “Six German machines have destroyed thirteen hostile aeroplanes.” Boelcke’s Squadron had only once been able to make a similar report. At that time we had shot down eight machines. Today one of us had brought low four of his opponents. The hero was a Lieutenant Wolff), a delicate-looking little fellow in whom nobody could have suspected a redoubtable hero. My brother had destroyed two, Schäfer two, Festner two and I three.

We went to bed in the evening tremendously proud but also terribly tired. On the following day, we read with noisy approval about our deeds of the previous day in the official communique. On the next day, we downed eight hostile machines.

A very amusing thing occurred. One of the Englishmen whom we had shot down and whom we had made a prisoner was talking with us. Of course, he inquired after the Red Aeroplane. It is not unknown even among the troops in the trenches and is called by them “le diable rouge.” In the Squadron to which he belonged there was a rumour that the Red Machine was occupied by a girl, by a kind of Jeanne d’Arc. He was intensely surprised when I assured him that the supposed girl was standing in front of him. He did not intend to make a joke. He was actually convinced that only a girl could sit in the extravagantly painted machine.

Appendix: British and French losses on 13/04/17

From: ‘Bloody April 1917’ Norman Franks et al

Footnotes

1 Taylor, P. G. (Patrick Gordon), Sir Sopwith Scout 7309. Cassell, London, 1968

2 In his Autobiographical sketch Der Rote Kampfflieger (The Red Fighter Pilot) he said ‘For whatever reasons, one fine day I came upon the idea of having my crate painted glaring red. The result was that absolutely everyone could not help but notice my red bird. In fact, my opponents also seemed to be not entirely unaware [of it].’ Richthofen quoted in Hart, Peter Bloody April: slaughter in the skies over Arras, 1917. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 2005.

3 Hart, Peter Bloody April: slaughter in the skies over Arras, 1917. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 2005.

4 Richthofen, Manfred von Der Rote Kampfflieger

5 Taylor, P. G. (Patrick Gordon), Sir Sopwith Scout 7309. Cassell, London, 1968

6 Franks, Norman; Giblin, L R Hal; McCrery, Nigel Under the guns of the Red Baron: the complete record of Von Richthofen’s victories and victims fully illustrated London: Grub Street, 2007.

7 Ibid. 25 Squadron claimed 4 Albatros shot down, including one by their C.O.verified by a British artillery Battery. The Germans, however, did not report any loses.

8 Norman Franks et al. quoted in: De Broglio, Bernard Pusher ace: Captain Lancelot Lytton Richardson:”:http://mosman1914-1918.net/project/blog/pusher-ace-captain-lancelot-lytton-richardson retrieved online 24/04/17. Official reports have Richardson going down at 7.10 and the air battle at 7.30. If this is accurate Richardsons machine may have been shot down earlier than the other 2 FE’s

9 The London Gazette Ay 11, 1917 retrieved online 24/04/17

Recommended reading:

Hart, Peter Bloody April: slaughter in the skies over Arras, 1917. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 2005.

Franks, Norman L. R. (Norman Leslie Robert) & Bailey, Frank W & Guest, Russell 1994, Bloody April – black September, Grub Street, London

Morris, Alan Bloody April. Arrow Books, London, 1968.

Recommended webpages:

Morgan, G. and De Broglio, B. Fokker fodder and castor oil: life above the trenches

De Broglio, Bernard Pusher ace: Captain Lancelot Lytton Richardson

The illustrated History of WW1: The Battle of Arras and Bloody April 1917

Rise of Flight – Albatros D. V vs F.E.2b

Rise of Flight – Albatros D III vs R.E.8.


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