Tag Archives: German history

Review: The Red Baron (film)

The Red Baron.

Yesterday was the 100th anniversary of the death of Manfred von Richthofen, so I re-visited this film, preparatory to writing this post. It was as disappointing the second time around as it was the first.

The movie just flirts with history, which is understandable: von Richthofen was only 25 years old when he died, so he wasn’t around long enough to do much more than to become famous as Germany’s flying ace with the most kills during the First World War. He is credited with having written a brief memoir (Der rote Kampfflieger), but considering how young he was, what his connections were, and his celebrity status in Germany, it was probably ghost-written for him.

But from the first scene on, the script of this movie is almost laughably fictitious. To begin with, boys of his time, especially those with von Richthofen’s background (Prussian petite noblesse), never would have behaved as he was portrayed at the beginning of the film. No boy who was old enough to be out hunting with a gun would have been so stupid as to have taken to the woods with a noisily panting pet dog, instead of a trained hunting dog. Furthermore, boys were raised with a healthy respect for firearms and their value, so Manfred never would have abandoned a gun in the forest, just to go rubbernecking at an airplane from the back of a horse.

For much of the rest of the movie, what time is not spent tossing a little history around in dialogue between talking heads is devoted to shoehorning a patently fictional love interest into the story, and displaying vertiginously filmed dogfights that feature hokey closeups showing the pilots doing ridiculous things, such as looking over their shoulders directly into the sun, to locate enemy aircraft.

The film closes with no effort made to postulate who really shot down the Red Baron, although it seems to give the nod to Roy Brown, whose claim to have done so has been discredited, based on the evidence of von Richthofen’s sole wound: through the thorax at an angle impossible for Brown to have shot him, even if Brown had still been pursuing him at the time.

If the makers of the movie had put as much time into writing a better script as they must have done to find an actor who so strongly resembles von Richthofen, the story might have been of more substance than just light entertainment with a historical figure attached.

 

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Review: The First World War (Reid)

The First World War.

Produced “in association with Imperial War Museums,” this is a mini-encyclopedia of Great War tanks, planes and ships, presented in the form of flash cards.

The set features British (20 cards), German (15 cards), French (9 cards), Italian (2 cards), Austrian (1 card) and Russian (1 card) fighting machines. Two of the cards display a very brief timeline of the war.

The cards are printed in color, but they’re not color-coded, and although military armament is usually painted in drab colors (except for aircraft), there’s not much detail to the illustrations, but for that, a novelist or other adult researcher would probably consult other sources, anyway. Even most injection-molded plastic model-building sets come with more information than the cards supply about authentic appearance, so they would be of limited utility even to hobbyists (of any age).

The cards constitute only a quick reference guide; that said, they may have some value for a homeschool history assignment.

Not worth their list price, but if you can get them at a deep discount, they may make an interesting gift for a child whom you’d like to encourage to study military history.

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Review: The Real War, 1914-1918 (Hart)

The Real War, 1914-1918.

The cover shown is of a later reprint of the 1931 reissue of B. H. Liddell Hart’s 1930 History of the First World War, the quintessential Great War history. It’s organized like an academic textbook, with a Preface and two introductory chapters that prepare the field of study; units dedicated each year of the war, within which chapters labeled as “scenes” provide detailed analyses; and an Epilogue that functions as an overall summary.

Because it was written in the middle-interwar period, it avoids the speculative baggage of post-Second World War hindsight. Hart also stays out of the 1917 Russian revolution, a topic into which many modern historians digress.

Despite its thoroughly methodical organization, it doesn’t read like a textbook. Liddell Hart writes with the engaging voice of a true storyteller, which may have much to do with his book’s enduring popularity with several generations of readers. He hits his stride at the middle of the book, in “The Growing Pains of the Tank” (‘1916 – The “Dog Fall” Scene IV’), a chapter I can only describe as the most eloquent writing I have ever read on the topic.

The copy I read was the 1931 printing (obtained from the public library), and its being such an old copy with fragile pages, all its maps had been torn out and lost, so I can’t evaluate them. Each chapter is given its own bibliography, and the back matter also includes a very detailed index.

It cannot be considered to be the last word in the accuracy or impartiality that’s generally expected to be exhibited by academic historians, but its authenticity can’t be questioned. It’s available in many reprints, and I will be adding a copy to my own Great War research library. Recommended.

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