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Shot down by the Red Baron

The Story

Canadian pilot Emerson Smith is one of the world's first air combat aces. A schoolmate of Billy Bishop, he joined the RAF in 1917 and flew a Sopwith Camel over the battlefields of Europe. As we hear in this interview for CBC Radio's Assignment, Smith's career (and his life) nearly ended when he tangled with Manfred von Richthofen, Germany's infamous Red Baron. 

Medium: Radio
Program: Assignment
Broadcast Date: June 28, 1962
Guest: Emerson Smith
Host: Bill Pike
Duration: 6:11

Did You know?

• According to an article in the Aug. 12, 1919, edition of the Victoria Daily Colonist newspaper, Emerson Smith transferred to the RAF in 1917 and became a scout pilot for a home defence squadron. He was sent to France to join the 45th Squadron, flying Sopwith two-seater planes. The squadron was upgraded to Sopwith Camels, and according to official reports Smith brought down seven enemy aircraft. (In this clip, Smith says he shot down 20 planes.)

• Emerson Smith was wounded twice, once slightly and more seriously when he was shot down by Manfred von Richthofen while flying a patrol into enemy territory. According to the Daily Colonist article, "Lt. Smith saw the inside of many German POW camps and hospitals, and though his letters to his parents were invariably cheerful, the reason has now come to light. It appears that all mail was very strictly censored... In reality, though an officer and pilot, he was accorded the usual shabby treatment meted out to all in their power."

• With 80 air combat victories, Germany's Red Baron is commonly seen as the most successful air fighter pilot of the First World War.
• He was dubbed the Red Baron because his aircraft was painted red so it could be identified during combat.
• Richthofen's feared Jagdeschwader 1 squadron was nicknamed "The Flying Circus," after their brightly coloured aircraft and the tents the men and machines were housed in.

• The Baron himself was killed in battle on April 21, 1918. The identity of the person who killed him remains unknown today, although it has been the subject of much speculation by war historians. Many suspect he was shot by an Australian anti-aircraft gunner while he was being pursued by Canadian pilot Arthur (Roy) Brown, who the RAF credited with the kill.

• The Red Baron been a major figure in popular culture over the years. In Charles Schultz's classic comic strip Peanuts, Snoopy the dog has a recurring fantasy that he is a World War One flying ace battling against the Red Baron.
• As a prisoner of war, Emerson Smith encountered another famous military figure: he was interrogated Hermann Goering, who would command the Luftwaffe in the Second World War.

• William Avery (Billy) Bishop is Canada's most famous pilot. During the First World War he racked up 72 victories, the most of any Allied pilot. He initially served as an infantryman, then joined the Royal Flying Corps. Bishop survived a battle with the Red Baron, and won a Victoria Cross for an attack on a German airfield. He rose to the rank of air marshal and was a key RCAF leader during the Second World War.



The First World War: Canada Remembers more