17/9/1916 The first victims of the Red Baron

Fighting continues at the Somme. The most recent push by the British is now petering out into the usual series of uncoordinated minor assaults that serve no purpose other than to get men killed. Haig is over any disappointment he might feel at this latest failure and is already looking forward to the next big push, which will surely see the Germans collapse and the British cavalry romping across open country to exploit the great victory.

While the infantry struggle away in the mud on the ground, a new kind of war continues above them. The British are using aircraft to observe the German positions and to guide artillery bombardments onto the enemy. But the Germans are not letting the British fly over them with impunity. Increasing numbers of German fighter planes have been brought to the Somme to contest Allied control of the skies.

Today British aeroplanes are returning from a bombing mission behind German lines when they are attacked by German fighters. Captain Tom Rees and Lieutenant Lionel Morris are in a two seater FE 2. They find themselves caught in a struggle to the death with a German pilot flying an Albatross D.II. Rees tries to shoot down the German with his Lewis gun but the Albatross manoeuvres underneath the British plane. The German peppers the FE 2 with bullets, killing Rees, wounding Morris and knocking out the aircraft’s engine. Morris manages to crash-land behind the German lines but dies later in the day of his injuries.

Rees and Morris are the first victims of Manfred von Richthofen, a newly minted German fighter pilot who has learned his trade from German ace Oswald Boelcke. Rees was 21 years old when he died, Morris just 19. Richthofen orders a silver cup from a Berlin jeweller to celebrate his victory.

image sources:

Alex Hamilton’s painting of Richthofen’s battle with Rees & Morris (BBC)

Tom Rees (Wikipedia)

Lionel Morris (Wikipedia)

Manfred von Richthofen (The World at War)

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