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21 APRIL 1918
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It was a bright clear day over
the front line between Hamel and Villers-Bretonneux.
All of a sudden two planes flew
over the Australian trenches. One was an RAF plane,
being chased by a German 'Red
Circus' triplane firing bursts of machinegun-fire. The
Australians opened up with rifles
and machineguns, and the triplane broke off its
attack, peeling away and up.
Seconds later, the German plane plunged into the ground.
The pilot had been shot through
the chest by one bullet. It turned out he was Baron
Manfred von Richthofen -- the
celebrated 'Red Baron' -- Germany's greatest flying ace,
with as many as 80 'kills' to his
name. He was given a fine funeral, complete with a firing
party from No. 3
Squadron, Australian Flying Corps, AIF. He was regarded as a
and worthy foe.
Inevitably, the question arose,
who had been responsible for shooting down the German
ace. Many theories have been
proposed and debated. Many came to regard Corporal Bill
Gamble, (born at Trentham,
Victoria) of the 25th Machinegun Company as that person.
He had fired a withering burst as
von Richthofen's plane had passed through his sights.
The crash had happened almost
immediately. But Sir Ronald East in his article 'How the
Red Baron Died in 1918' (Royal
Historical Society of Victoria Journal, Vol. 55, No. 22,
June 1984) examined all the
evidence -- including Gamble's own 1978 unpublished
biography -- and concluded that
'Richthofen's aircraft was so damaged by Gamble's head
on fire that the Baron realised
the extremely perilous position he was in and
at once to get away back to his
own lines. In turning and climbing, he exposed himself
fire from machine guns and rifles
. . . It was a bullet from one of these which struck von
Richthofen under the right
armpit, with the bullet coming out of the front of his
Even if not brought down solely
by the Victorian Bill Gamble, it appears certain that
amazing 'Red Baron' was finally
dispatched by an Australian bullet. |
The RAAF museum at Point Cook, Victoria, has
exhibits about the Red Baron and some of
his personal effects,
including a matchbox.