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Did injured brain betray Red Baron?
K.C.Star ^ | Tue, Sep. 21, 2004 | ALAN BAVLEY

Posted on 09/21/2004 6:24:41 AM PDT by bad company


Posted on Tue, Sep. 21, 2004

Did injured brain betray Red Baron? Trauma from earlier wound likely caused lack of judgment on fatal flight, psychologists say By ALAN BAVLEY The Kansas City Star

The Associated Press An undated photo circa 1917 of the Red Baron, Manfred von Richthofen

It's never been clear why the World War I German flying ace dubbed the Red Baron took the chances that got him killed one spring day in 1918.

Now two retired U.S. Air Force psychologists think they have an answer: The Red Baron, Manfred von Richthofen, had suffered so traumatic a brain injury in a previous air battle that his judgment was fatally impaired.

“He had clear lapses in judgment,” said Daniel Orme, a neuropsychologist at the University of Missouri-Columbia. “He wrote the book on what to do, and he broke his own rules.”

Orme and colleague Thomas Hyatt of Cincinnati, also a neuropsychologist, took up the Red Baron mystery after long careers evaluating U.S. Air Force pilots for their mental fitness to fly after injuries or illnesses.

They had seen a television documentary that investigated theories about who shot the Red Baron. But it didn't examine to their satisfaction how von Richthofen's brain injury might have affected his behavior.

After analyzing accounts of the Red Baron's injuries and his medical records, Orme and Hyatt concluded that the ace exhibited classic signs of traumatic brain injury, including depression, fatigue and impulsive behavior. Their study is to be published this fall in the international journal Human Factors and Aerospace Safety.

Von Richthofen was wounded on July 6, 1917, by a bullet that creased his forehead. He was momentarily paralyzed and blinded and his plane plunged into a dive, but he recovered in time to make a crash landing. His headgear had filled with blood. The wound never fully healed, and for the rest of his life, his head was bandaged.

“If the Baron were in the U.S. Air Force today and had such an injury, he probably would have come to my attention,” Orme said. “He would have been grounded at minimum for 10 years, according to the regs.”

Orme said the bullet, which “put a divot in his skull,” likely damaged the frontal lobes, which play an important role in governing mood, judgment and impulse control. The impact also could have caused von Richthofen's brain to shake violently in his skull, causing further damage.

“It was a very serious injury,” Orme said. “Immediately, he became a changed person. He was miserable, in bad spirits, impulsive.”

This lack of inhibition, Orme said, led von Richthofen to do uncharacteristic, impulsive things such as laying his head on a restaurant dining table to display his wound.

The Red Baron's final battle came in April 1918, nine months after he was injured. Von Richthofen, 25, pursued a fleeing British plane near Vaux sur Somme, France, locking the pilot in his sights and following him into British territory at treetop level where he faced deadly enemy fire. His Fokker triplane was shredded.

“It was a shooting gallery down there,” Orme said.

Orme said von Richthofen broke his own rules by continuing to chase the British plane into enemy airspace.

“He wouldn't have done what he did the day he was killed if he didn't have the brain injury,” Orme said.

“We (as psychologists) would call it mental rigidity. In the Air Force we call it target fixation.”

Canadian historian Alan Bennett, co-author of the book The Red Baron's Last Flight: A Mystery Investigated, agreed that the injury may have affected von Richthofen's judgment, but not his abilities as a pilot.

“There was nothing wrong with his flying ability,” Bennett said. “The day before he died in less than five minutes he shot down two Sopwith Camels.” Von Richthofen was credited with about 80 “kills” of Allied aircraft during the war.

The day the Red Baron was shot down, the prevailing winds had reversed direction and clouds obscured the ground, Bennett said. Many German pilots inadvertently drifted into Allied territory.

“It seems fairly obvious (von Richthofen) had lost his air position. He was nowhere he thought he was,” Bennett said. “The wound in his head would have helped with that disorientation, but the major factor was the wind direction.”

Bennett agrees with Orme on at least one point: von Richthofen should not have been flying with that head injury.

To reach Alan Bavley, medical writer, call (816) 234-4858 or send e-mail to


First glance

• Baron Manfred von

Richthofen was shot down in 1918 while chasing a British plane over France.

• Two neuropsychologists say a brain injury may have caused a lack of judgment by the German ace, leading to his death.


© 2004 Kansas City Star and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.

TOPICS: Education; Health/Medicine; History; Military/Veterans
KEYWORDS: ace; archaeology; ggg; godsgravesglyphs; history; redbaron

1 posted on 09/21/2004 6:24:41 AM PDT by bad company
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To: bad company
“If the Baron were in the U.S. Air Force today and had such an injury, he probably would have come to my attention,” Orme said. “He would have been grounded at minimum for 10 years, according to the regs.”

One would hope that a German centarian aviator in the US Air Force would probably come to someone's attention. :-)

2 posted on 09/21/2004 6:28:34 AM PDT by pikachu (The REAL script)
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To: pikachu


3 posted on 09/21/2004 6:30:12 AM PDT by bad company (What's the font kenneth?)
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Just adding this to the GGG homepage, not sending a general distribution.
Please FREEPMAIL me if you want on, off, or alter the "Gods, Graves, Glyphs" PING list --
Archaeology/Anthropology/Ancient Cultures/Artifacts/Antiquities, etc.
The GGG Digest
-- Gods, Graves, Glyphs (alpha order)

4 posted on 09/21/2004 11:17:50 PM PDT by SunkenCiv (
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To: bad company

Red Baron brought down by a shot fired the previous year
Telegraph ^ | September 22, 2004 | Roger Highfield
Posted on 09/21/2004 7:24:44 PM PDT by Land_of_Lincoln_John

5 posted on 09/21/2004 11:22:56 PM PDT by SunkenCiv (
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