Wings of Honor
Wings of Honor Title Wings of Honor

Wings Of Honor: Biographies


Roy Brown: World War I Fighter Ace - Continued

Reprinted with the permission of Miles Constable of "Canadian Air Aces and Heroes"



April 21, 1918

The day started cold and foggy, but cleared by 9 A.M., so both British and German aircrews warmed up their fighters. Camel F1s for the British, Fokker Dr. I triplanes for the Germans. Richthofen flew in his standard red coloured triplane, Brown in his cherry-nosed Camel.

Both flights left their respective aerodromes around 9:15 and each ran into enemy two-seaters. Brown missed an Aviatik but one of his men cut it down. The Germans attacked a pair of Australian RE8s (upgraded RE7s), but lost a triplane before the Australians escaped. Both sides reformed and headed towards each other. Brown spotted the Germans first and motioned for Wop May to stay high out of danger and then led 209 Sqdn to the attack. The triplanes were more agile than the Camels, and Brown soon had two on his tail. He quickly slowed his plane and the triplanes roared past him. May watched from above until several Fokkers passed under him. He could stand it no longer and dove to the attack, spraying lead all over the sky. He missed everyone and had both guns jam. Happy with surviving his first battle May headed for Allied lines. But the Red Baron had spotted the rookie as the pilot he dove on was Wolfram. He tracked May as he left the melee and followed him.

The first time May knew that he was in trouble was when Richthofen's bullets smashed into his Camel. As a novice he had not developed the observational techniques required to stay alive in the air. He looked quickly over his shoulder to see a scarlet triplane on his tail firing at him. He dove quickly and zigzagged as he dropped. Richthofen stuck to him firing and matching the novice's moves.

I kept dodging and spinning, I imagine from about 12,000 feet until I ran out of sky and had to hedgehop over the ground. Richthofen was firing at me continually. The only thing that saved my life was my poor flying. I didn't know what I was doing myself and I do not suppose that Richthofen could figure out what I was going to do. We came over the German lines, troops firing at us as we went over. This was also the case coming over the British lines."

Brown saw that May was in desperate trouble and dove to engage the red Fokker from behind. He was a ways off and May had to fend for himself for several minutes. May wrote:

I got on the Somme River and started up the valley at a very low altitude, Richthofen very close on my tail. I went around a curve in the river just near Corbie. Richthofen beat me to it and came over the hill. At that moment I was a sitting duck. I was too low down between the banks to make a turn away from him, I felt that he had me cold, and I was in such a state of mind at this time that I had to restrain myself from pushing my stick forward into the river, as I knew that I had had it."

Last Flight of the "Red Baron" Brown was now in a position to fire. He pulled out of a steep dive barely two plane lengths behind Richthofen and fired off 40 rounds. He saw the German ace snap upright in his cockpit as Brown roared past him. The Fokker continued on over Allied territory for another minute and then nosed into the ground. As it descended it was subjected to a hail of gun fire from Australian troops. The plane wasn't badly damaged, but the Aussies found Baron Manfred von Richthofen stone dead.

Richthofen's Downed Aircraft Quickly souvenir hunters hacked apart his aircraft before the British army HQ staff could get there to take the body and aircraft back for study. However, army surgeons had no interest in looking at a dead German body to determine who's bullet killed him. They had too many live British bodies to look after.

Richthofen was shipped off to Bertangles and placed in a hanger only a 100 yards from Brown's tent. After the morning patrol, Brown went in to see the mighty warrior he had killed, but the sight of the body sickened him. The similarities between Richthofen and himself were too great. It wasn't glamourous, Richthofen's eyes were open, his teeth were bashed in from the crash and he had a large gash on his chin. He wrote of that night:

Richthofen's Funeral

"… the sight of Richthofen as I walked closer gave me a start. He appeared so small to me, so delicate. He looked so friendly. Blond, silk-soft hair, like that of a child, fell from the broad, high forehead. His face, particularly peaceful, had an expression of gentleness and goodness, of refinement. Suddenly I felt miserable, desperately unhappy, as if I had committed an injustice. With a feeling of shame, a kind of anger against myself moved in my thoughts, that I had forced him to lay there. And in my heart I cursed the force that is devoted to death. I gnashed my teeth, I cursed the war. If I could I would gladly have brought him back to life, but that is somewhat different than shooting a gun. I could no longer look him in the face. I went away. I did not feel like a victor. There was a lump in my throat. If he had been my dearest friend, I could not have felt greater sorrow."

He was awarded his second DSC for the feat. The Australians gave Richthofen a military funeral with an honour guard near Bertangles. After the war he was exhumed by the Germans and reburied with honours in Berlin.


Brown's Combats in the Air Report

Brown's Air Combat Report

BROWN, Flight Lieutenant Arthur Roy - Bar to Distinguished Service Cross - awarded as per London Gazette dated 21 June 1918.

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. On the 21st April, 1918, while leading a patrol of six scouts he attacked a formation of twenty hostile scouts. He personally engaged two Fokker triplanes, which he drove off; then, seeing that one of our machines was being attacked and apparently hard pressed, he dived on the hostile scout, firing the while. This scout, a Fokker triplane, nose dived and crashed to the ground. Since the award of the Distinguished Service Cross he has destroyed several other enemy aircraft and has shown great dash and enterprise in attacking enemy troops from low altitudes despite heavy anti-aircraft fire.


Nine days later Brown was admitted to hospital with influenza (likely the deadly Spanish Flu that was soon raging across the world) and a nervous breakdown. He was discharged in June and was appointed to No. 2 School of Aerial Fighting as an instructor. He again was involved in a serious air accident. On July 5 he fainted in the air and crashed, badly fracturing his skull, neck and back. He spent another five months in hospital, but it was another five years before he fully recovered. His final tally was 1 captured, 2 and 1 shared destroyed, 4 and 2 shared out of control for a total of 10.

When the war was over Brown gratefully retired from the RAF went back to civilian life as an accountant. He tried several jobs and started a small airline in Quebec and Ontario. This failed in 1939. When WWII started he tried to join the RCAF but was rejected. He then ran for Parliament, but lost. His last job was as Advisory Editor to Canadian Aviation magazine.

Nearly his last public act was a photo op with the current ace of the day, George Beurling.

He died of a heart attack at age 50, in Stouffville, Ontario, 9 March 1944. Brown was certainly the reluctant warrior. Really, he shouldn't have been in the war, his nerves and health weren't rugged enough to take it. But he forced himself up day after day, despite deteriorating health because it was expected of him and because the raw recruits flying with him needed his expertise to stay alive. That's what makes a hero, whether he shot down Richthofen or not.


EPILOGUE

Wilfrid "Wop" May went on to become an ace with 13 kills and one of Canada's most famous bush pilots. He was involved in the aerial tracking of Albert Johnston, the "Mad Trapper from Rat River", and performed many couragous acts opening Canada's hinterland with an airplane. Denny May, his grandson has an entire website devoted to him at: WopMay.com

In the final analysis, Richthofen may have done as much to kill himself as did Brown, or gunners Popkin and Buie. He was exhausted from continual, harsh battle. He broke his own rule that he drilled into his men: never follow a low flying British pilot back over his lines. It was too hazardous. And he lost his situational awareness. He was concentrating so hard on Wop Map in front of him, that he forgot to pay attention to his situation. Had he spotted Brown diving towards him, he may have made an escape. Had he survived the war, it is probable that he would have become highly ranked in the Luftwaffe in WWII, as did aces Ernst Udet and Hermann Goering. Who actually killed him? That can not be proven. Brown never officially stated that he had killed Richthofen, although he admitted to it in a letter to his father and his later writings obviously showed he felt responsible for his death. The Australians maintained for a long time that one of their officers commanding a machine gun company killed him, although the officer never categorically stated that he had killed the Baron. The body was not autopsied, the plane had been shredded by souvenir hunters and there were no gun cameras at the time. To paraphrase Billy Bishop,

"Brown was an excellent flier, an experienced fighter pilot and was on he tail of Richthofen firing at him just before he crashed. Richthofen came over the Australian machine gun position several hundred feet up at a high speed, was over their position for only a few seconds and they had to fire up at him. So who is the most likely to have killed Richthofen?"

However, Bishop was not familiar with the incident.

The Path that May, Richthofen and Brown took in the chase.

Last Flight (Click to view larger image)

From the book: "Flugzeuge die Geschichte machten: FOKKER DR.1" (airplanes which made history: Fokker Dr.1) by Jörg Armin Kranzoff. As presented on the ANZACS website Who Killed the Red Baron?


A great deal of controversy has been generated by the competing claims of Canadians and Australians over who shot down the "Red Baron". Dr M. Geoffrey Miller has written a clear analysis of the final moments of Richthofen titled "The Death of Manfred von Richthofen: Who fired the fatal shot?" and is presented in this link as published in Sabretache the Journal and Proceedings of the Military History Society of Australia with the author's permission. An excellent website exists explaining much of the information available on Manfred von Richthofen's death at: ANZACS: Who Killed the Red Baron?. Norman Franks and Allan Bennett have published much of this information in 'The Red Baron's Last Flight' Grub Street, London 1997.


Canadian Aces Home Page Images From:

A.R. Brown, Imperial War Museum.
Sopwith Triplane, Calgary Air Museum.
Sopwith Pup, unknown.
Brown and a Camel, unknown
Wilfrid May, Imperial War Museum
Brown's report from Imperial War Museum.
Manfred von Richthofen, from a German postcard of the era.
Black and white version of a painting by J Davis?
MvR's DrI remains, Imperial War Museum.
MvR's first funeral, Imperial War Museum
Brown's report, Imperial War Museum
The Red Baron's Last flight from ANZACS website, Who Killed the Red Baron, with permission.