Beautiful Hunting Ground

I’ve been reading about the Red Baron, Manfred von Richthofen, from The Red Baron, a translation of his letters and diaries.  (I have borrowed this from the Vintage Aero Flying Museum just outside of Denver, on the plains where they can fly their replica Fokkers.  Fascinating museum.)  He was shot down (or, from what I’ve heard, probably landed and was killed by ground fire) over the Somme after the second battle of the Somme, in April 1918.  But he was also there for the first battle of the Somme in 1916, and about that he said,

“I have never found a more beautiful hunting ground than in the skies at the battle of the Somme.  The first Englishmen came very early in the morning, and the last disappeared long after the sun had gone down.  ‘An El Dorado for fighter pilots,’ Boelcke once said.  That was when Boelcke had increased his victories from twenty to forty in but two months.  We beginners did not have the experience that our master did, and we were happy enough when we ourselves did not catch a thrashing.  But it was wonderful!  Not a mission without an air fight.  Often great air battles of forty to sixty Englishmen against, unfortunately, fewer Germans.  They did it with quantity, and we did it with quality.”

–Manfred von Richthofen, The Red Baron: The Fabled Ace’s Story in His Own Words, ed. Stanley M. Ulanoff, trans. Peter Kilduff (New York: Ace Books, 1969), 57

It was interesting reading that description after seeing my husband’s drawing of the Red Baron over the Somme.  I think the picture captures this cheerful description of a major battleground.  The ace himself is in the Albatros (partly hidden by struts) in his colorful little fat red airplane flying over the dull background of the Somme.  It’s the Red Baron’s paint job, and it’s his tail number.  It’s about as close as Ewan gets to a cartoon; in some other cases his art is very subtle; leaving it as a puzzle for the aviation aficionado to figure out what characteristics of the airplane were exaggerated.  But I think it kind of fits Richthofen’s attitude.  There is a funny quote I want to put on the blog another day, about his reaction to hearing about the Anti-Richthofen unit the English sent after him.

If you like airplanes or history, I think you’re missing something if you haven’t seen Ewan’s artwork.  I have trouble describing it; I don’t know of anyone in aviation art doing the kind of thing he does.  It’s as historically correct as he can make it, except for the exaggerations to show off the character of the aircraft.  It’s serious enough to be used as a reference if you wake up in the middle of the night wondering which configuration was flown in a particular year of a particular war.  Perhaps you, like Ewan, enjoy art as a conversation-starter to talk with friends about history.  Perhaps you would like to add his art to your own aviation collection.

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