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"Brownie Did It"
"Brownie Did It"
Gene Kuhn
Published by Scott
12 August 2008
"Brownie Did It"

'Brownie Did It'
Eyewitness: Sopwith Camel Guns Turned The Trick

By Gene Kuhn

   Fifty-five years have passed since that fateful Sunday morning in April when Germany's ace of aces, Baron Manfred von Richthofen, was shot down in his bright red Fokker triplane over France's Somme Valley.
   In that time, hundreds of differing accounts have been written, several books have been published and, countless arguments have taken place, over one question: Who got the Red Baron?
   Was it one or both of two Australian machine gunners who took the baron's low-flying plane under fire from the ground? Or was it, as the official record has it, the late Capt. Roy Brown, leader of 209 Squadron's A Flight.
   The answer, supplied by Oliver Colin "Boots" LeBoutillier, a 75-year-old Las Vegas businessman, will disappoint both the Australians, who have been not at all averse to taking credit, and the Germans, who prefer to believe that nothing in the sky could match the baron.
   LeBoutillier, the only American volunteer in the squadron and leader of B Flight was an eye witness to the baron's downing and he insists it was indeed Brown who shot him down.
   "To my dying day I'll say Brownie shot him down, Capt. Roy Brown. I'm convinced of it.
   "By God, it was so evident. I saw the shots going into the cockpit. How could it be anything else?"
   "There is absolutely no doubt Brownie shot him down," he repeated. "He was probably dead before he hit the ground.
   "The Australians saw the red triplane and started firing like hell at him. Then when he was down they jumped in and scavenged the airplane.
   "It isn't up to me to say they didn't fire at him and maybe they hit the wings. But they claimed him. The Australians will always say, 'We got him.'"
   LeBoutillier said the fatal shot had to come from Brown's Sopwith Camel as he dove at a 45-degree angle on the baron's plane.
   The bullet, he said, entered Richthofen's shoulder from the back and took a downward path, hitting his heart and making, its exit in the left chest area.
   LeBoutillier's hands became the planes of Brown and Richthofen as he gestured to show the relative and changing positions of the aircraft in the dog fight.
   His statements on the death of the legendary fighter pilot were made in an interview prior to his appearance last night as guest speaker at a dinner meeting of alumni of Fresno State University's aerospace classes.
   "Would you put something in that I'm vitally interested in aerospace education programs?" he asked.
   LeBoutillier said he was "just a kid" when he ran away from home to join what was then the Royal Naval Air Service in Canada.
   "I had five minutes of flying in a Model B Wright airplane, "just like the Wright brothers had, at Mineola, Long Island.
   "I took it off the ground, made a turn and the minute I landed I was a pilot."
   LeBoutillier started as a probation flight sub-lieutenant. But promotions were rapid because of attrition, he said.
   In those days Britain had two air arms, the Royal Flying Corps and the RNAS. The naval squadrons were in the 200 series, he said, and his squadron was the ninth, hence the 209th Squadron.
   The squadron was assigned to patrol the Allied lines on April 21. But "the weather was bad and it finally cleared so we could get off about 9:30."
   It was divided into three flights, Brown's, LeBoutillier's and C Flight with Capt. O. W. "Red" Redgate as the flight leader.
   The squadron was two or three minutes from the lines when the fight with Richthofen's Flying Circus developed.
   "At 12,000 feet Brownie had started to tangle with all the German triplanes, and that's when B Flight flew right into it," LeBoutillier continued.
   "All you saw were Sopwiths and triplanes. all together. There were three or four red triplanes, but nobody knew Richthofen was in one of them.
   "I had fired on a red triplane but missed. Then one chased me for about 20 seconds. I pulled out to see if my wings were all shot up. Then at that moment here came Roy Brown at a 45-degree angle, and I could see his tracers going into the cockpit. He pulled up and never saw the red triplane again."
   But LeBoutillier did. He made a low pass over the downed plane, which he said had received damage to landing gear and right wing tip.
   Brown's report of the action apparantly triggered much of the controversy over the Red Baron's death.
   LeBoutillier said Brown reported "the triplane went straight down." But it did not, and the Australians took it under fire.
   "He (Brown) pulled up in a climbing turn to the left, and it looked to him like it was going down. He assumed when he pulled up, the plane went straight down.
   "Then he later said he shouldn't have put that in the report. Your first impressions of what you saw is what they want. Once you walk away from your airplane and make your report, you can't change it."
   Dale M. Titler makes a great deal out of Brown's failure to see Richthofen's plane hit the ground. In his book, "The Day the Red Baron Died," Titler is inclined to give credit to Robert Buie, one of the two Aussie gunners who opened up on Richthofen's plane.
   According to Titler, Richthofen died of a bullet which entered the side of the Red Baron's chest and ranged upwardójust the reverse of the bullet's course as LeBoutillier described it.
   LeBoutillier's footnote to history may end the controversy over the end of the Red Baron. Maybe.

Fresno Bee (Fresno, California) - Friday, July 13, 1973



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