At German fighter wing's museum, the Red Baron lives
Stars and Stripes October 14, 2004
The Red Baron would be proud of the historical collection of Germany’s Fighter Wing 71 at Wittmund in northern Germany.
Rittmeister Manfred Freiherr von Richthofen, the German ace’s real name, was the most successful fighter pilot of World War I with 80 air victories. He was a collector himself, and always tried to get a piece of memorabilia of his victims to keep with him.
His room at Schweidnitz near Breslau (now Wroclaw, Poland) looked like a museum. Parts, pieces and identification numbers of Allied planes he downed decorated every inch of the walls. His lamp was made from a motor block of a British Sopwith Camel plane, and two Vickers machine guns hung over the door. The collection disappeared when the Red Army overran Schweidnitz in 1945 at the end of World War II.
Today’s collection, called the Militärgeschichtliche Sammlung, is in several rooms at the air base. It not only honors the military life of the Red Baron and the history of air war in World War I, but also serves as a historical showroom for today’s Fighter Wing 71, the Jagdegeschwader 71 “Richthofen” in German.
The exhibition is so well organized that it is considered a model for other museums for the German armed forces, according to retired Col. Heinz Novak, one of the wing’s former commodores.
The collection, started in the 1960s, displays historic photos and paintings, models and military decorations and memorabilia from both world wars.
One of the highlights is a life-size replica of the Red Baron’s Fokker Dr. I triplane. Constructed by a team of young airmen, the project took years of planning and studying historic construction blueprints until the Red Baron’s bird was re-created in 1975. The small cockpit contains original instruments from old Fokker planes. The new Fokker Dr. I proudly carries the same ID number, FOK DRI 102/17, that was on the plane in which the Red Baron finally met his fate on April 21, 1918, over the Somme River in eastern France.
Another important part of the exhibition shows the re-creation of Fighter Wing 71 after WW II and its history from the 1960s until today.
The historical collection is a must for aviation enthusiasts. It is at Isumserstrasse 20, outside the town of Wittmund, and is open from 8:30 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 8:30-11:15 a.m. on Fridays. Reservations are required and can be made by calling (+49) (0)4462-917-26409, or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Guided tours are conducted on Fridays during the summer. There is no charge.