The Red Baron of WWI
Snoopy vs The Red Baron
I think when lessons are provided in a fun and interesting way, kids are more likely to enjoy learning and in turn, learn more. In the late 1960s the band The Royal Guardsman created a trio of songs starring Charles Schultz's Snoopy and the German WWI pilot the Red Baron. Though the songs a fun and fictional there is some historic accuracy in the lyrics allowing us to learn a bit of history in a fun and interesting way!
The Royal Guardsmen
The Royal Guardsmen is a Florida based group of men that rode on the tales of The British invasion in the 1960s. Snoopy vs The Red Baron, released in 1966, was their second single release and it made it to number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. They followed up with The Return of the Red Baron and Snoopy's Christmas in 1967.
Snoopy, the dog in the comic strip Peanuts created by Charles Schultz, made his debut in October of 1950. Originally he was a normal dog, the pet of Charlie Brown. Eventually his character began to develop further, with the audience able to read his thoughts in word balloons, the other characters being able to understand his thoughts and finally into a more human-like character. The premise actually arose that Snoopy the dog actually forgot he was a dog. In October of 1965 an alter ego of Snoopy was created. This was the World War One flying ace. This alter ego would wear a pilot hat and goggles, a scarf and ride his dog house which was supposed to be a Sopwith Camel. Often, Snoopy the flying ace was in battle with WWI German flying ace The Red Baron and although he was never seen in the comic (as adults were not drawn), his presence was indicated with bullet holes in the side of the dog house and Snoopy's cry "Curse you, Red Baron!
The Red Baron
Manfred Baron von Richthofen
Richtofen was a German fighter pilot in World War One. He flew a red plane which led to his nickname of The Red Baron. He is probably one of the most recognized fighter pilots in history. At first he flew an Albatross and later the more recognizable Fokker Dr.I triplane. A pilot is said to be an "Ace" after he is credited with at least 5 victories (although some countries required 8 victories). The Red Baron is said to have shot down 80 enemy planes.
The song (Part 1)
After the turn of the century
In the clear blue skies over Germany
Came a roar and a thunder men had never heard
Like the scream and the sound of a big war bird
Up in the sky, a man in a plane
Baron von Richthofen was his name
Eighty men tried, and eighty men died
Now they're buried together on the countryside
Ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty or more
The Bloody Red Baron was rollin' out the score
Eighty men died tryin' to end that spree
Of the Bloody Red Baron of Germany
World War One began in July of 1914 which makes it just after the turn of the century (1900). The war began in Europe between Germany and its supporters and England and its supporters. So indeed, there were fighter planes over the skies of Germany. Battles in the skies was a new form of fighting, since the first manned flight had only taken place in 1903 planes were still a new invention. But the risk of battling in a flying plane seemed more appealing than being holed up in the trenches. And even though the life expectancy of a new pilot being between 4 and 6 weeks, soldiers felt that they had more control over their lives which was preferred. The Red Baron had 80 victories recorded (victories means planes shot down) making him one the top ace of World War 1. France's pilot Rene Fonck was next with 75 victories, Ireland's Edward Mannock had 73 and Canada's top flying ace Billy Bishop was credited with 72 (and he actually survived an air battle against The Red Baron.)
The Song (Part 2)
In the nick of time, a hero arose
A funny-looking dog with a big black nose
He flew into the sky to seek revenge
But the Baron shot him down--"Curses, foiled again!"
Now, Snoopy had sworn that he'd get that man
So he asked the Great Pumpkin for a new battle plan
He challenged the German to a real dogfight
While the Baron was laughing, he got him in his sight
The not so real facts
So although the Red Baron was a real person during WWI, Snoopy is just a fictional character. The Great Pumpkin, mentioned in this part of the song, is an extension of the Snoopy story. In the Peanuts comic strip The Great Pumpkin is an imaginary character that seems only real to the character of Linus van Pelt. Similar to Santa Claus, the Great Pumpkin is said to deliver toys to true believers. Perhaps Snoopy's belief in The Great Pumpkin will deliver him a victory.
The term dogfight (although cleverly used here since one opponent is a dog) has been used for centuries to describe a fierce battle between opponents. Since the introduction of fighter planes in WWI it is more commonly associated with close range combat in the sky.
The Rest of the Song
That Bloody Red Baron was in a fix
He'd tried everything, but he'd run out of tricks
Snoopy fired once, and he fired twice
And that Bloody Red Baron went spinning out of sight
The End of the Red Baron
April 21, 1918 was the day after the Red Baron had shot down his 80th plane. He was involved in an air battle with a group of British planes when one single plane made a move away from the group. This plane was flown by Canadian Wilfred May. This was his first combat and after his guns jammed he tried to head back to safety. The Red Baron, seeing an easy kill, began a pursuit. May's friend and Canadian Captain, Arthur Brown set off to help his friend. In an attempt to get away, May flew close to the ground, Brown tried to shoot the Baron out of the sky and Australian soldiers on the ground fired at the red plane too. Suddenly, the Baron's plane crashed to the ground. Upon investigation they realized that the Bloody Red Baron was killed by a single gun shot - but where that shot actually came from is unknown. The Red Baron was dead at the age of 25.
Carleton Town Hall - Home of Roy Brown (flying ace)
The Return of the Red Baron
Despite Richthofen's death in WWI the Royal Guardsman continued the saga of Snoopy vs the Red Baron in their second song.
The third song in the Snoopy vs Red Baron trilogy is Snoopy's Christmas which also includes the real WWI Christmas truce. Find out more in the Wartime Christmas lens.