The death of World War I’s most famous and deadly flying ace was remembered Saturday at the Alberta Aviation Museum.
Although the event happened 7,000 kilometres away and long before flying was a commonplace in Canada, the death of Manfred won Richthofen had a fateful impact on aviation history in Alberta and the North.
The rookie pilot being chased by the Red Baron was Edmonton’s-own Wop May, who would go on to become a legendary aviation figure for decades to come.
We were fortunate to have Denny May, Wop May’s son, as the keynote speaker at our commemorative event. May, along with his wife Marg, son David and daughter-in-law Kimberly, traveled to northern France in 2000 to research the dogfight that almost killed his father.
That day, April 21, 1918, the elder May had been told to stay above the fighting and simply observe. But he decided to dive on a German triplane that passed below him and ended up in the middle of the dogfight with his guns jammed.
“People are shooting at him and he thinks, ‘I better get out of there,’ ” Denny May says. “So he dove down into the Somme River valley and into the canal and was flying along there. And all of a sudden bullets started appearing in his wings. He didn’t know who was shooting. He said to me, ‘If I had known who it was I would have died from fright.’ ”
“This aircraft was relentless, and he flew lower and lower and his wheels actually touched the canal. At that point he went through the town of Vaux sur Somme. An observer standing on the rooftop reported, ‘Two aircraft passed below me going down the street.’ ”
May’s saviour was another Canadian pilot, Roy Brown, who also spent time in Edmonton. Brown dove down in his damaged aircraft and fired into the Baron’s red triplane. The Baron broke off the chase and was subsequently shot down. Mystery still surrounds who is responsible. Roy Brown, the Australians and other Allied soldiers have all claimed credit.
“Lots of people claimed they shot down the Red Baron,” says May. “I think at one point in Australia you could even buy a certificate for $40 that said, ‘I shot the Red Baron.’ Nobody every got formal (military) credit for shooting (him down.)”
Our thanks to Denny May for giving such a well researched and entertaining presentation. May has been a huge supporter of the museum and is always there whenever we call. We will be posting a video of his presentation in the coming week for those who missed it. Look at the photo gallery and you will see this was a fun and education event for the whole family.
Thanks as well to Global TV and CTV for their coverage both before and during the event. You can watch their stories below.