Mother of Eagles--The War Diary of Baroness von Richthofen

Mother of Eagles--The War Diary of Baroness von Richthofen

Mother of Eagles--The War Diary of Baroness von Richthofen, by Suzanne Hayes Fischer, Schiffer Military History, 2001; 207 pp., 9-1/4" x 6-1/4", hardcover, illustrated with photos and line-art, endnotes, bibliography, index; ISBN 0-7643-1307-X; $29.95.

Upon looking at the volume's handsome dust jacket with its colorized rendering of a well-known photo of Major Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen's family at their home in Schweidnitz in 1917, one can almost hear the howls: "What! Another Red Baron book?" Yes, World War I air combat fans, the Red Baron--Manfred Freiherr von Richthofen--is back in another literary incarnation. Members of the anti-Richthofen clique and other "purists" are urged to read no further.

For those (apparently) very many of you interested in "MvR," as he's called on various e-mail lists and in other scholarly exchanges, this oddly-named book is a translation of the wartime diary of the famed aces mother, Kunigunde Freifrau von Richthofen, and offers her views of the lives and times of her famous family.

'Mother of Eagles' is an ambitious undertaking, but contains flaws. To clarify one point, Fischer is the book's translator, not author. Fischer's contribution of a 31-page introduction to a lengthy memoir written byFreifrau [Baroness] von Richthofen does not constitute authorship of what is really the baroness' book. Further, it would have been helpful for Fischer to have identified the writer of this edition's foreword (pp. 8-9), which by inference must be the younger Manfred Freiherr von Richthofen, the nephew and namesake of the Rittmeister. Confusion creeps into Fischer's introduction when she lists (p. 35) the aces' mother's maiden name as "von Schickfus"; most other sources (including Fischer's endnotes) have it as "von Schickfus und Neudorff," reflecting a fairly common amalgamation of aristocratic family names when two prominent houses are linked by marriage. Likewise, Fischer identifies the younger Manfred's "son Hartmann" as the current German Ambassador to Great Britain, when, in fact, a distant relative--Dr. Hermann Freiherr von Richthofen, G.C.V.O.--has served as Germany's senior diplomat to the Court of St. James in recent times and is now retired.

Translation detail of the memoir suffers on the first page of the memoir text (p. 44), when two young men are identified as "war college students" (Fischer's rendering of the German term "Kriegsschüler" for "military school students"; the term "war college" applies to a higher institution of education, more likely for field grade officers than cadets). Further on (p. 46), the future ace Lothar von Richthofen is described as a student at "the war college [Kriegsschule] in Danzig," rather than at the military school for his regiment, which was garrisoned at the Baltic port city.

An opportunity to clarify a little-covered aspect of World War I was missed with the faulty use of the English word "snipers" (p. 50) for the original German text phrase "Franktireurs" (from the French "franc tireurs" to describe irregular or guerilla forces), which is not synonymous with "snipers" ("Heckensch?tzen" in German). An endnote about the significance of "franc tireurs" early in World War I would have added to the reader's knowledge. As to the endnotes, which are rich with information, they appear in this text in a confusing manner and do not always match the numbers in the text.

Despite such snags, 'Mother of Eagles--The War Diary of Baroness von Richthofen' contains much information, which the general reader can obtain with determination and a German-English dictionary at hand. This rendering assumes the reader is already a dedicated "Richthofenophile" (as is the translator, who has produced interesting articles for Over the Front); but untranslated and unexplained references cry out for clarity. Of interest to Richthofen buffs, however, are the photos, which help to illuminate the life and times of the Red Baron.

Overall, Freifrau von Richthofen's perspectives on the war and her famous sons should interest many World War I aviation history enthusiasts--except for the aforementioned Richthofen critics. It is to be hoped that a revised edition of this potentially valuable work will be more thoroughly vetted and thereby afford English-language readers the same rich experience enjoyed by people who read the original German text.

submitted by Peter Kilduff