The Red Baron (film)

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This article is about the 2008 German film. For the 1971 British film, see Von Richthofen and Brown.
The Red Baron
Red-baron movie-poster.jpg
Cinema poster
Directed by Nikolai Müllerschön
Produced by Dan Maag
Thomas Reisser
Roland Pellegrino
Written by Nikolai Müllerschön
Starring Matthias Schweighöfer
Joseph Fiennes
Til Schweiger
Lena Headey
Cinematography Klaus Merkel
Edited by Christian Lonk
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures (non-U.S.) [1]
Monterey Media (U.S.)
Release dates
10 April 2008
Running time
123 minutes
Country Germany
United Kingdom
United States
Czech Republic
Language English
Budget €18 million

The Red Baron is a 2008 German biopic directed by Nikolai Müllerschön about the World War I fighter pilot Manfred von Richthofen, known as the "Red Baron". It was filmed in the Czech Republic, France and Germany, entirely in English to improve its international commercial viability.


In 1906, a youngster Baron Manfred von Richthofen (Tomáš Koutník) is out hunting deer, with his younger brother and younger cousin, Lothar and Wolfram, when they hear an aeroplane overhead. Enchanted, he follows it on horseback, waving his arm.

Ten years later, Lieutenant von Richthofen (Matthias Schweighöfer) is serving as a fighter pilot with the Imperial German Air Service along the Western Front. After dropping a wreath over the funeral of an Allied pilot, whom they knew, Richthofen and his fellow pilots Werner Voss (Til Schweiger), Lehmann (Hanno Koffler) and Friedrich Sternberg (Maxim Mehmet) encounter a squadron of enemy planes led by Captain Lanoe Hawker. Richthofen shoots down Canadian pilot Arthur Roy Brown (Joseph Fiennes). After pulling Brown out of the wreckage of his plane, Richthofen assists Nurse Käte Otersdorf (Lena Headey) with applying a tourniquet to the Canadian's wounded leg.

Later, after successfully shooting down and killing "the notorious Captain Hawker," Richthofen is awarded the Pour le Mérite and promoted to command his own private aerial Squadron. There, he is soon joined by his brother Lothar von Richthofen. He orders his men to avoid killing enemy pilots unless absolutely necessary and is enraged when Lothar deliberately strafes and kills a British pilot who has already been forced into a landing.

Later, during an aerial dogfight, Richthofen again encounters Captain Brown, who has escaped from a German POW camp after being nursed by Käte. Brown lands his damaged aircraft in No-Man's land and von Richthofen lands to make sure Brown is well and in the process von Richthofen damages his aircraft. They share a friendly drink and Brown expresses the hope that they will not meet again until after the war is over. He tells Richthofen that Käte has feelings for him. When Richthofen asks how he can be so sure, Brown retorts, "She kept bitching about you for weeks."

On the way back to base, Richthofen is devastated to learn that his close friend, the Jewish pilot Friedrich Sternberg, has been shot down and killed. Over the days that follow, Richthofen makes no secret of his grief and refuses to leave his room. An enraged Lothar reminds him that "A leader cannot afford to mourn."

Shortly thereafter, Richthofen is wounded in the skull during a dogfight and is sent to be nursed by Käte. As he recovers, the two share a romantic dinner and a dance in Lille. After Richthofen expresses gratitude for his wound, an enraged Käte gives him a tour of a local field hospital and berates him for regarding war as a game.

Later, Richthofen and Käte are beginning to make love when they are interrupted by an Allied bombing raid. Determined to protect the squadron's aeroplanes, he orders Käte to hide in the cellar and takes to the air with his men. During the raid, Richthofen's wound begins to reopen, making him disoriented, and upon witnessing the death of his protege Kurt Wolff, he goes into a state of rage in the air.

During a later visit from Käte, Richthofen informs her that he has been offered a rear echelon position in command of the entire Air Service. Käte, who has long been frantic at the thought of losing him, is overjoyed. Richthofen, however, conceals his doubts from her. He goes to speak with Werner Voss (who is putting a British Bentley engine into his triplane) about what decision to make. The two joke that Voss is encouraging him to take the promotion so that he can pass up Richthofen's score. He then jokingly tells Voss that he will step down if Voss stops flying first. Voss replies by saying: "I don't think so. I'm married to my plane; this is how I spend my spare time."

Shortly after, Richthofen tours the Fokker manufacturing plant in Germany, when Anthony Fokker complains that Richthofen's pilots are installing enemy engines into the planes that he has made. When Richthofen asks how he knows about this, Fokker tells him about the British recovery of a "new triplane", and says that they were "...less than amused to find one of their own Bentley engines in a Fokker they shot down." indicating that Voss has been killed, and that Richthofen has lost yet another close friend.

Richthofen has realized that he is being manipulated for propaganda by Kaiser Wilhelm II and his Generals Ernst Wilhelm von Hoeppner, Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff. On the eve of the Spring Offensive in February 1918, he approaches Generalfeldmarschall von Hindenburg and tells him that the war has become a no-win situation which should be ended as soon as possible. Hindenburg is outraged and orders him back to his squadron.

As the offensive begins, Richthofen's squadron sets out to clear every Allied aeroplane and balloon out of the target area. As Käte tends the wounded on the ground, she is horrified to learn that her beloved has returned to combat.

Käte confronts him and demands to know why he has turned down the chance to remain safe. Richthofen states that he will not betray the soldiers in the field "by remaining the immortal god that Berlin wants me to be", and tells her that "You are my greatest victory."

On the morning of 21 April 1918, Richthofen leads his squadron into battle after making love to Käte. Although not shown, he is killed in action.

In the aftermath, Käte crosses over to Allied lines with Brown's assistance. She directly addresses Richthofen's grave, "I could not come sooner. It is not so easy to cross the lines into British territory. Finally a friend of ours helped me. He asked me why it was important for me to come here. I told him I love you. Did I ever tell you?"

The camera pans to a funeral wreath left by the Royal Flying Corps, "To our friend and enemy, Manfred von Richthofen."


In credits order.

Production details[edit]

Production background[edit]

To improve its chances on the international market, The Red Baron was filmed in the English language, although it is a German production depicting Germans. With an estimated budget of 18 million euros, it is one of the most expensive and at the same time lowest-grossing films in German history. It premiered on 31 March 2008 in Berlin and was released a week later in the German cinemas. Fewer than 100,000 movie-goers saw the film in the first week, causing the film to miss the Top 3. In the second week it dropped to No. 10. In the third week the film was gone from the top ten.


The film was quite controversial in Germany, where glorification of war heroes is nowadays a taboo.[4] The reviews after the first public performances of the film were mainly negative, criticizing in particular the high level of historical inaccuracy. The fictitious love story between Richthofen and Käte Otersdorf was described as having little factual basis. The film received a cool reception at the Berlin premiere and one member of the audience stated that Richthofen's disillusion with the war was not believable.

Historical accuracy[edit]

The film takes a number of liberties with factual accuracy. The 1906 opening shows a monoplane flying overhead of a boy Richthofen, he was actually a fourteen years old in 1906. There would have been no monoplanes flying in Germany in 1906 as depicted with what looks to be a Morane-Saulnier, a plane not created until 1911. Richthofen himself is portrayed as a proto-pacificist and a gentleman, a man who instructs his men to aim for the machine, not the man flying it. In reality, the contrary was true. He circulated to his pilots the basic rule which he wanted them to fight by: "Aim for the man and don't miss him. If you are fighting a two-seater, get the observer first; until you have silenced the gun, don't bother about the pilot".[5]

A major plot point involves Werner Voss installing a Bentley engine in his Fokker Dr.1 Triplane. Later Anthony Fokker complains about German pilots using Allied engines. In reality the Fokker Dr.1 was powered by the Oberursel Ur II 9-cylinder rotary engine, an unlicensed bolt-for-bolt copy of the Le Rhône 9J engine used by such Allied fighters as the Nieuport 17 and the Sopwith Camel, therefore Anthony Fokker had no grounds to complain about Allied engines powering his fighter. Historical truth is that the Bentley engine was an improved design, lighter in weight and giving more power than the Le Rhône original design, and even better compared to the marginally lower quality Oberursel copy. This allows one to understand why the real Werner Voss actually changed the engine of his Fokker triplane.

In addition, Captain Roy Brown is depicted as having been shot down by Richthofen in 1916 and subsequently escaping from a German POW camp. There is also a later scene in which Brown and Richthofen crash in no man's land and share a friendly drink. Neither of these events have any historical basis, for the two never met except in combat. Captain Roy Brown was credited with having shot down the Red Baron, during an aerial combat commencing with Richtofen engaging another Canadian pilot, Wilfrid "Wop" May. Brown was also identified as belonging to a 'Royal Canadian Flying Corps' which was a training corps for Canadian and American pilots, not a combat unit. He was in the Royal Naval Air Service that in 1918 merged with the Royal Flying Corps to become the Royal Air Force.

A Handley Page bomber shot down in one scene has a Royal Mail logo painted on the fuselage. The Royal Mail didn't exist at this time, it would have been the GPO.

Werner Voss, who was only 20 when he died, is portrayed by actor Til Schweiger who was 42 during filming.

When Richthofen fought Lanoe Hawker, Hawker was flying an Airco DH.2 'pusher' style fighter, not an SE5. Also the "Grim Reaper" painted on the side of his aircraft in the movie was in real life painted on the aircraft of the French Escadrille N.94, not Hawker's. The death of Voss etc. has no historical basis, he was killed while Richthofen was on leave, in one of the most famous dogfights of WW1 involving 6 SE5's led by James McCudden.


  1. ^ Meza, Ed (6 February 2007). "Warner flies with 'Baron'". Variety. Retrieved February 6, 2007. 
  2. ^ In reality, Brown was a flight commander in the Royal Naval Air Service.
  3. ^ "". The Red Baron. 
  4. ^ Red Baron Film Breaks War Hero Taboos
  5. ^ McAllister, Hayden, ed., p. 61, Flying Stories. London: Octopus Books, 1982. ISBN 0706417348

External links[edit]