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American Pilot Recalls Day Red Baron Was Shot Down
American Pilot Recalls Day Red Baron Was Shot Down
News Journal - Sunday, October 25, 1970
Published by Scott
20 July 2007
American Pilot Recalls Day Red Baron Was Shot Down

American Pilot Recalls Day Red Baron Was Shot Down

LAS VEGAS, Nev. (AP) — Oliver Colin LeBoutillier, believed to be the only living survivor of the World War I dogfight that killed famous German ace "Red" Baron Manfred von Richthofen, says today's pilots are better than the daredevils of 50 years ago.
"They have to be," says the Las Vegas businessman. "Their equipment is more sophisticated. I had 29 hours and one minute before I began flying combat in 1917 and today to get a private ticket you have to have 50 hours.
"The kids flying today have the same spirit we did. They just have better equipment," he reflects. He helped train U.S. pilots during World War II and later flew for Hollywood films.
LeBoutillier left his hometown of East Orange, N.J. to join the Canadian flying corps in 1917 to fight in France. Today he admits to being "something more than 70," is actively running a Las Vegas pharmaceutical distributing company, and recently collaborated on a book covering the controversy surrounding who killed the Red Baron.
Richthofen shot down 80 Allied planes before he himself was shot down April 21, 1918, over Allied territory in France.
LeBoutillier remembers the dogfight with absolute clarity, he says, because "it was the greatest fight of any war under any circumstances."
Noting that Australian ground forces claimed credit for killing the Baron, LeBoutillier says it could also have been his fellow pilot, Capt. Roy Brown, who strafed the baron less than a minute before the Australians began firing from the ground. The Canadian RAF officially credits Brown.
"By God, I saw Brown's tracer bullets hitting into the fuselage around the cockpit area. The baron turned his head, knew he had been fired on, and continued chasing another Canadian pilot, Lt. Wilfrid May."
LeBoutillier said Richthofen may have lost his bearings because of the dogfight in an unusual easterly wind and because he was chasing May, a green pilot flying apart from the Allied formation.
Eleven Sopwith Camels of the Allied air forces tied into 27 German planes of Richthofen's so-called Flying Circus on the famous day, says LeBoutillier.
"We all came back that day on both sides—except Richthofen.
"When we took off the weather was just clearing. It had been bad. Still there was some haze and fog.
"We took off and climbed to an altitude of 12,000 feet heading to the southern end of our sector. In about 30 minutes we reached this position and bumped into these aircraft and got tangled with them.
"Everybody was mixed up. I never saw so many German triplanes in my life! I got right in the middle of 'em.
"They were all pulling in and out, circling around, but no one crashed into another. It's one of those things of fate that happened, destiny or something, but all of us got away with it. Everyone came back except Baron von Richthofen.
"I broke off because there were so many after me and some of the other Camels. I was a couple of thousand feet above Brown and May. I noticed that Brown came in to make a pass at the red triplane. The red triplane was chasing Lt. May low, over our lines along the Somme River. I could see Brown's tracer bullets hitting the red triplane in and around the cockpit area.
"I was above and to the left. Brown made his pass and pulled up in a climbing turn to the left. In doing so his right wing blanked out his view of the red triplane. It was about 25 to 30 seconds later that the red triplane seemed to slow down and make a shallow turn to the right and glide down."
During the battle May, following orders, had been staying at 12,000 feet but could not resist temptation. Several times German planes in the dogfight below zoomed back up near his position. On one such occasion, May disregarded his orders and dove on a German plane. His dive took him right down into the middle of the fight and his guns had jammed. Realizing he was in real trouble he spun down lower, flattened out over the Somme River and headed for home, recalls LeBoutillier.
That was when the triplane that had been milling around in the fight spotted May's Camel and took out after him, says LeBoutillier, chased by Brown.
He made his pass on the red triplane near the town of Vaux.
"When Richthofen's plane passed over the 53rd Battery it made, more or less, a flat turn, wobbled a bit, then glided to the ground. From all reports, it's a good possibility that von Richthofen was dead before his plane hit the ground."
LeBoutillier says he dropped from 2,000 feet to around 300 feet, witnessed Richthofen's last minute in the air, and returned to his base. It was not until hours later that he and others of his squadron knew that the pilot of the red triplane was Germany's ace of aces, Rittmeister Cavalry Capt. Baron Manfred von Richthofen.

News Journal - Sunday, October 25, 1970

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oliver leboutillier, manfred von richthofen, roy brown, wilfrid may

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