MHT Blog

Welcome to the MHT Blog Site and our Posts try to not be dusty topics or blah military history but things we find interesting and hope you will too! The most recent two posts are printed below and at the bottom of this page is our MHT Blog Archive for additional topics. We will have more from the sites we visit once we get back on the road later this year. Thanks for checking us out – The Editor

MHT reviews four World War I (WWI) “Knights of the Sky” Movies. Chivalry above the muddy trenches or Hollywood anti-war primers.

 

First is the epic “Hell's Angels”, a 1930 American pre-Code United Artists film directed & produced by Howard Hughes & director of dialogue, James Whale. Starring Ben Lyon & James Hall as the two British Rutledge brothers as Oxford University students who enter the Royal Flying Corps at the start of WWI. The film began filming in 1927 as a silent film, but Hughes adapted it over three-year (1927–1930) as a year & a half into production, the advent of the sound motion picture was heralded with the arrival of “The Jazz Singer.” Hughes incorporated the new technology into the half-finished film, but female star Greta Nissen became the first casualty of the sound age, due to her pronounced Norwegian accent.

He paid her for her work but replaced her because her accent would make her role as a British aristocrat ludicrous. The role was soon filled with an inexperienced actress, just 18-years old at the time she was cast & hired by Hughes himself, the platinum blonde Jean Harlow.

 

Although most of the footage is black-&-white but there are several one-color-tinted scenes chosen for dramatic effect, such as a dawn gun duel, as well as part-screen full-color for the flames consuming an Imperial German Zeppelin.

Hughes included a full-screen full-color for one sequence, which is the only color footage of co-star Harlow's career & shows off her pre-code translucent & transparent gown.
A classic "10-minute intermission" is placed into the film after just over an hour.

In the film, the WWI German enemy was depicted as both immoral and foolish never more so than in the Zeppelin attack on London. There was controversy in a lawsuit against a competing WWI aviation film (The Dawn Patrol (1930)), the release date was repeatedly postponed, the huge budget had overruns & inevitably the film failed to recover its exorbitant costs. In spite of this, Hell's Angels was one of the highest-grossing films of the early sound era and is today is justly hailed as a landmark for the usage of sound, color film & epic sweeping action. 

The aviation footage was considered revolutionary & dangerous as three aviators & a mechanic were killed during the film's production. The aviation coordinator, Mantz considered the final scene, in which an aircraft had to make a steep pullout after a strafing mission, too dangerous & reported that his pilots would not be able to do the maneuver safely. Hughes, a noted aviator piloted the aircraft himself, but as Mantz had predicted, he failed to pull out, crashed & was seriously injured with a skull fracture. He spent the next few days recuperating in the hospital as he underwent facial surgery.

Hell's Angels revealed many traits of pre-code Hollywood notably the infidelity scene with the German Baron's wife in her revealing negligee that leads to a pistol duel at dawn with seconds. There was some fairly frank sexuality including Harlow famous seduction line "Would you be shocked if I put on something more comfortable?" MHT gives it 4 Stars for the vast live action air combat scenes.

Our second “Ace of Aces” an RKO film from 1933 focuses on the United States entry into WWI, Rocky Thorne (Richard Dix a silent film leading man that made the transition to talkies) has no interest in joining the military to pursue his career as a sculptor. He is cynical about the war’s purpose & the enthusiasm of those who have enlisted, in a glaring anti-war soliloquy comparing them to Norwegian lemmings that go over the cliff into the fjord & will swim until they drown themselves.

But his fiancée, Nancy Adams (Elizabeth Allan), has become a Red Cross nurse & mocks his pacifism & accuses him of cowardice. To prove her wrong, he enlists and becomes a fighter pilot as part of the American Expeditionary Forces in France.

Arriving at his assigned squadron, Lieutenant Thorne's has a pet lion cub which was based on two real lions’ "Whiskey" & "Soda" who served as mascots for the Lafayette Escadrille, the US Volunteer Squadron flying in France before the U.S. enters the war. The first night, he is concerned about the enemy aviators he is going to be shooting at; but his initial reluctance lasts only until he is shot at & wounded himself. Then he retaliates, shooting down his first enemy aircraft.

Rocky now renounces his pacifist attitude & becomes completely committed as the lion of the air, hunting its prey. He even takes individual flights against orders, to get more chances to shoot down Germans. In a few months he becomes the leading U.S. ace. Then, while on furlough in Paris, he runs into his former love, who is also away from her frontline nursing station. She has been impacted by her experiences & is torn by guilt for the change in the mild-mannered sculptor. When Rocky says that he does not want to waste his valuable leave time on talking & demeans her moral attitude for not wanting to spend the night with him, she agrees to do it:

Rocky: “It’s a new deal. But the ace is wild.”
Nancy: “You’ve changed so. You’re so… different. Is this what war’s done to you?”
Rocky: “Wasn’t this what you wanted?’
Nancy: “I didn’t know I spoke of the glory of war. I know now. The mud, the filth, the suffering, the agony… those poor helpless dying boys.”
Rocky: “It isn’t muddy up where I am. When death comes, it comes swiftly & cleanly. Ah, it’s a grand war! I only hope the next one is half as good. I used to think I could take clay & mold it into semblance of a living thing. The closer it came to being alive, the greater my glory. The power of life is more than that, Nancy. Life! Life for myself as I control my plane. And then, death. Swift & final. In the squeeze of my fingers. You can’t do that with clay, Nancy.”
Rocky has pressured her into sleeping with him. Her actions disabused him of romance, humanity & beauty, and now she fully understands her folly.

The fuselage art on Rocky’s first plane shows it is pre-code Hollywood as Nancy engages in sex with him as a penance. MHT gives it 3 Stars for the squadron bunk area that has a pet bird, dog, pig, monkey besides the lion.

Our third film is “The Dawn Patrol” the 1938 version that Warner Brothers made as an almost exact copy of its original 1930 film with new stars. Both were based on the short story "The Flight Commander" by John Monk Saunders, an American writer said to have been haunted by his inability to get into combat as a flyer with the American Expeditionary Forces in France.

The film, directed by Edmund Goulding, stars Errol Flynn, Basil Rathbone and David Niven as WWI Royal Flying Corps fighter pilots. The Dawn Patrol's story romanticizes many aspects of the WWI aviation experience that have since become clichés: white scarves, pilot’s hard-drinking wartime fatalism, chivalry in the air between combatants, the short life expectancy of new pilots & the reputation of the "Red Baron & his Flying Circus." However, The Dawn Patrol also has a deeper combat leadership theme showing the severe emotional scars suffered by military commander who must constantly order men to their deaths (not a single female appears in the film.) This theme underlies every scene in The Dawn Patrol.

“A” Flight is led by Errol Flynn as Captain "Court" Courtney who is constantly at odds with Basil Rathbone (before he was the definative Sherlock Holmes) as Major Brand, the No. 59 Squadron Commander over the continuing lack of pilot training particularly when the dreaded Baron von Richter’s Squadron (a takeoff on Richthofen but gearing up anti-Nazi propaganda as the German planes are black with the scull & crossed bones squadron logo) is now their foe across no man’s land. One of his pilots’ flies low over the 59th’s aerodrome dropping a pair of trench boots with a taunting note telling the British pilots that they will be safer on the ground. Maj Brand (Rathbone) warns his men that the boots are intended to incite inexperienced pilots into trying to retaliate & forbids any take offs without his approval. orders. Flynn & a young David Niven as Lieutenant "Scotty" Scott, also known as "Scott-O" disregard the prohibition, taking off in the dawn mist after stealing the boots from Brand's room. They fly to von Richter's airfield, where the fighters are being readied for the day. Flynn & Niven bomb & strafe the field, destroying most of the German aircraft & shooting down two which try to take to the air. Flynn then drops the boots. Von Richter retrieves them and shakes his fist at the departing British. Flynn is shot down behind German lines but is rescued by Niven, whose aircraft is also hit by anti-aircraft fire. When leaking oil blinds Niven who lifts his googles so that the oil can spray directly into his eyes (?), Flynn talks him down to a crash landing behind their own trenches.

Rathbone call both pilots into his office for a severe dressing down  which will become a standard event in many aviation movies from “Flying Tigers” & “Flying Leathernecks” in WWI to “Flight of the Intruder” in Vietnam to the all time classic double “on the carpet” with Maverick & Goose in “Top Gun.”

MHT gives it 4 stars for the study of men under stressful combat leadership & the entertaining arrival of a captured German aviator at the squadron HQ. 

Our final WWI film is “Lafayette Escadrille” is a 1958 Warner Brother film directed by William Wellman joined the French Foreign Legion's Lafayette Flying Corps, N.87, les Chats Noir (Black Cats.) He flew was a Nieuport 24 fighter with three recorded "kills" of enemy aircraft, plus five probable kills receiving the Croix du Guerre for his service. Wellman was shot down in combat & survived the crash, but walked with a limp for the rest of his life.

The story is Thad Walker (Tab Hunter), a spoiled, rich kid from Boston, who has gotten in trouble with the law has fled to France to join the French Foreign Legion in WWI. In Paris, with companions, "Duke" Sinclair (David Janssen), Tom Hitchcock (Jody McCrea) and Bill Wellman (the Director’s son William Wellman Jr.), the group of expatriates join the Lafayette Escadrille made up of American volunteer pilots who fly for France.

While waiting for their paperwork to be approved, the boys stop at a Paris bar and Hunter meets and falls in love with Renée Beaulieu (Etchika Choureau, a French Bridgette Bardot light), a club escort with some sensitivity. She quits the oldest profession & takes a job as a Metro (subway) conductor, reforming for her new American lover's sake. Walker's father beat him so Hunter resents authority figures. When a strutting, arrogant French officer irritated by the America’s inability to understand commands in French, strikes him, he knocks the officer to the ground & is arrested for the very serious offense.

Before he can be court-martialed, the other students get him out of the brig including some future stars Clint Eastwood (before the “Man with No Name” Spaghetti Westerns) as George Moseley the Yale alum & Princeton’s Arthur Blumenthal played by Tom Laughlin who becomes Billy Jack. The film lags as the romance as too much time is devoted to Hunter hiding in Paris in his sweetheart's apartment with a terrible fake facial scar. Hunter is saved when taking a U.S. General to a high-class brothel & may have some basis in fact as during the war, Wellman supposedly encountered General John J. Pershing, a.k.a. "Black Jack", in a Paris brothel. Several years later, Pershing came to Hollywood to tour the Paramount Pictures lot, where he encountered Wellman again.

While the aviation scenes & training sequences in Lafayette Escadrille were well received as they were reminiscent of those he shot in his earlier silent classic “Wings” that won the first Academy Award, Wellman wanted Paul Newman & Clint Eastwood as the leads; studio head Jack L. Warner refused & substituted teen idol Tab Hunter & David Janssen. Critics said the film falls short with the mediocre love story, predictable plot, flat acting & some dreadful dialog.

The good news the film ends with a shot of the Lafayette Escadrille Memorial Cemetery dedicated in 1928, the memorial cemetery consists of an ornate central arch, half the size of the Arc de Triomphe less than three miles away, with a French inscription on the façade & an English translation on the rear. The central arch is flanked by wings on either side that include open hallways, terminating in end pavilions. A reflecting pool runs the length of the structure. Behind the memorial is a semi-circular terrace that forms the roof of the crypt below. Stained-glass windows in the crypt depict the major battles of the Western Front. In the memorial crypt are 68 sarcophagi, one for each of the aviators of the Lafayette Flying Corps who lost their lives during WWI. 49 of these aviators are entombed in the crypt along with two of their French commanding officers.

The remainder rest in other locations, or their remains were never recovered. MHT visits this scenic memorial & the nearby Suresnes American Cemetery in Paris where 1,541 Americans who died in WWI & 24 unknown WWII US soldiers just over two miles from the Arc de Triomphe. MHT gives it 3 Stars with an extra ½ as the least of the preachy anti-war films but loses that ½ star for the karma of his first flight to Rickenbacker’s 94th Aero Squadron.

Join MHT in France to see the WWI Battlefields: https://www.miltours.com/index.php?route=product/product&path=17&product_id=99

 

MHT Salutes the Ace of Aces in WWI: Manfred Albrecht “Freiherr” ("Free Lord" - a German title of nobility that is equal rank to a "Baron") von Richthofen (2 May 1892 – 21 April 1918), known in history as Baron von Richthofen, and famously in aviation lore as the "Red Baron", was the premier German WWI fighter pilot. He is considered the WWI ace-of-aces, being officially credited with 80 air combat victories verified with a high degree of accuracy. There was also a slew of unconfirmed victories that would put his actual total as high as 100 or more. Richthofen's early victories and the establishment of his reputation coincided with a period of German air superiority, but he achieved many of his latter successes against a numerically superior enemy, who flew fighter planes that on the whole were better than his own.

A calvary officer at wars start, Richthofen was unhappy with static trench warfare but a chance meeting with German ace fighter pilot Oswald Boelcke led him to enter “Fliegertruppe” (pilot) training in October 1915. In February 1916, Manfred "rescued" his younger brother Lothar from the boredom of an infantry training command in Luben and encouraged him to transfer to the Fliegertruppe.

Richthofen scored his first confirmed aerial victory in the skies over Cambrai, France, on 17 September 1916. He reached 16 kills in an Albatros D.II receiving the Pour le Mérite, the highest military honor in Imperial Germany at the time and informally known as "The Blue Max" in January 1917.

The Pour le Mérite was founded in 1740 by King Frederick II of Prussia. In January 1810, during the Napoleonic wars, King Frederick William III decreed that the award could be presented only to serving military officers. The “Blue Max” gained international fame during WWI. Although it could be awarded to any military officer, its most famous recipients were the pilots of the German Army Air Service (Luftstreitkräfte), whose exploits were grandly celebrated in wartime propaganda. German Aces Max Immelmann and Oswald Boelcke were the first airmen to receive the award, on January 12, 1916. Junior officers (army captains and lieutenants and their navy equivalents) accounted for only about a fourth of all awards. Several famous Kapitänleutnant U-boat commanders, including Lothar von Arnauld de la Perière (U-35), Walther Schwieger (U-20) Otto Hersing (U-21) and Otto Weddigen (U-9), received the medal. The military class of the Pour le Mérite became extinct as a result of Kaiser William II's abdication as King of Prussia and German Emperor on 9 November 1918. This marked the end of the Prussian monarchy and it was never awarded thereafter; however, the honor continued to be recognized for, and worn by, previous recipients.

Richthofen took the flamboyant step of having his plane painted red when he became a squadron commander. Thus, was born his moniker as the Red Baron” when his Albatros D.III Serial No. 789/16 was painted bright red, in late January 1917, from which he first earned his name and reputation. His autobiography states, "For whatever reasons, one fine day I came upon the idea of having my crate painted glaring red. The result was that absolutely everyone could not help but notice my red bird. In fact, my opponents also seemed to be not entirely unaware [of it.]" Thereafter he usually flew in red schemed aircraft, although not all of them were entirely red, nor the brilliant scarlet beloved of painters and model-builders. He assumed command of the Jagdstaffel (fighter squadron, shortened to “Jasta”) 11 Squadron. which ultimately included some of the elite German pilots, many of whom Richthofen trained himself, and several of whom later became leaders of their own squadrons.

His younger brother Lothar would become one of his pilots that would command his own squadron. Lothar was far more daring and impulsive in his attacks than his coolly calculating brother Manfred and notched 40 confirmed kills earning the “Blue Max.” He was shot down twice by Sopwith Camels and once by anti-aircraft fire wounded all three times. He survived the war but ironically died as a commercial pilot when his aircraft’s engine failed taking off from Hamburg in 1922.

He used a combination of three aircraft an Albatros D.III, Halberstadt D.II & Albatros D.V for 45 of his victories. By June, 1917 he had become the first commander of the new larger "fighter wing" formations; these were highly mobile, combined tactical aviation units that could move at short notice to different parts of the front as required. Richthofen's new command, Jagdgeschwader (JG) 1, was composed of four fighter squadrons No. 4, 6, 10 & 11. JG 1 became widely known as "The Flying Circus" due to the unit's brightly colored aircraft and its mobility, including the use of tents, trains, and caravans to move up and down the front.

Richthofen flew his iconic red Fokker Dr.I triplane from late July 1917, the distinctive three-winged aircraft with which he is most commonly associated—although he did not use the Fokker exclusively until November when an improved version with strengthened wings arrived. Only 19 of his 80 kills were made in the red triplane despite the popular links between Richthofen and the Fokker Dr.I. He was shot down twice without injury but the third was not a charm. He was wounded in the head and barely escaped a deadly spin due to partial blindness and had to have multiple operations to remove bone splinters and would affect his flying in the future.

Richthofen received a fatal wound just after 11:00 am on 21 April 1918 while flying over Morlancourt Ridge near the Somme River from the ground by a .303 round. The Red Baron although fatally wounded but still managed to land his Fokker Dr.I 425/17 behind the Australian Imperial Force section of the lines. He was given a full military burial on the 22nd by the No. 3 Australian Flying Corps at Bertangles in northern France.

His command of JG 1 is taken by German ace, Hauptmann Wilhelm Reinhard as the Fokker DVII became the German fighter. Reinhard went down in a test flight on 3 July as Oberleutnant Hermann Goering (above with the Red baron’s walking stick) replaced Reinhard on 7 July and would become synonymous with the Luftwaffe in WWII. There was no glamour in trench warfare and few heroes in the artillery or machinegun death of no man’s land. By contrast there was still chivalry in the aerial warfare duels of the gallant knights of the air far above the barbwire, mud and misery of the trenches far below. Baron Manfred von Richthofen, the leading air ace of the war with 80 confirmed kills is shot down by ground fire barely above the trenches by an Australian machine gunner remains one of the significant ironies of The Great War.

"The Red Baron" was the true media star of WWI. It would be easy to assume - von Richthofen had a heck of a publicity team back in Imperial Germany as his nickname remains highly visible over a 100-years after his death in battle. Here are a sample of products using Manfred's nickname, who we doubt is getting any $$$ from Red Baron brand...Pizza, Bottle Cappers, Restaurants & Bars, Squeegees, Racing Teams, Tool Organizers, Phone Bezels, Models, Clocks, Gloves, Silver Snaps, High School Sports Teams, Goggles, Glue, Aviator Sunglasses, Onions, Women's Handbags, Wall-mounted Hand Dryers, High Score Savers, Pool Leaf Catchers, Peaches, Baby Onesies, Mugs, Aircraft APUs, Chairs & most importantly during the Chinese Coronavirus Crisis...Beer.

 

Almost everyone remembers the Schultz comic strip “Peanuts” knows of the feud between Charlie Brown’s dog Snoopy as the WWI flying ace whose Sopwith Camel doghouse usually came up short and ends with a "Curse You, Red Baron!" The Charles m. Schulz Museum stills send the “Snoopy and the Red Baron” Exhibition on the road or see it at the Museum in Santa Rosa, CA.

Those who remember the 1960's British Invasion have to remember the fake-news-mop-tops Royal Guardsmen from "Brit-Centric" Ocala, FL. Their "Come on Sloopy" rip-off called "Snoopy vs. The Red Baron" is an earworm novelty song that only another fake band "The Monkees" kept from getting to #1 on the Hot 100 To hear it click (note the 1965 goosestepping by the band members would be frowned on by the cancel culture today): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oxzg_iM-T4E

My real favorite usage is the picture of Richthofen sitting in his Albatross D.III with members of his Jasta 11 squadron around him that was converted by a rock album illustrator by cropping out the Red Baron and his plane and replacing five of the heads of the German aviators with the faces of the four band members plus a blonde actress. He added sunglasses and facial hair to many of the other pilots.

He created the cover for the greatest heavy metal album (that twice knocked the Beatles Abbey Road from #1 in 1969) by a band whose name has some context to WWI – Led Zeppelin II.

Walk the grounf with MHT in France: https://www.miltours.com/index.php?route=product/product&path=17&product_id=99

 

MHT Blog Archive

05/04/2021 – MHT Movie Review – WWI Aviation

04/24/2021 – Manfred von Richthofen – The Red Baron

04/19/2021 - Death of the Wehrmacht

04/10/2021 – The Three Bells of Balangiga

04/07/2021 - The Iraqi Thunder Runs

03/29/2021 - Women in the Military Trifecta Movie Review

03/22/2021 - Iwo Jima & Baron Nishi

03/19/2021 – The History of the Iron Cross

03/12/2021 – MHT Movie Reviews - John Garfield WWII Trifecta

03/05/2021 - MHT Reviews TV's Special Ops Shows

02/26/2021 – MHT Movie & Book Review “Flight of the Intruder”

02/23/2021 - A Salute to the Flag Raisings on Mount Suribachi

02/19/2021 - Anzio Beachhead on the Brink

02/16/2021 – MHT Salutes the Gallant Defense of Chipyong-ni

02/09/2021 – MHT Movie Review of “The Eagle Has Landed”

02/01/2021 - "Picture That Lost the Vietnam War"

01/27/2021 – MHT Looks in the Old Footlocker

01/21/2021 – MHT Movie Review: The James Garner 1964 D-Day Doubleheader

01/11/2021 – MHT Movie Review “WWI in the Movies / The African Queen”

01/09/2021 – Cape Gloucester – “The Green Hell”

01/06/2021 – USS Saginaw – Midway, Cure, Kauai & Oahu Islan

01/03/2021 - Solomon Island Campaign

12/30/2020 - Battle of the Bulge – Part 5 – “Kampfgruppe Peiper Leaves Massacres in Its Wake”

12/26/2020 - Battle of the Bulge – Part 4 – “General Patton’s Drive North”

12/23/2020 - Battle of the Bulge – Part 3 – “General Patton’s Famous Weather Prayer”

12/22/2020 - Battle of the Bulge – Part 2 -  “Bastogne Surrounded”

12/19/2020 - Battle of the Bulge – Part 1 – “German Special Operations”

12/16/2020 - MHT Movie Reviews - U.S. Military Academy

12/11/2020 - Chosin Reservoir - Tootsie Rolls

12/10/2020 - Chosin Reservoir - Retreat Hell!

12/09/2020 – Chosin Reservoir – My Division for a Bridge Over Frozen Water

12/08/2020 – Chosin Reservoir – Not a Retreat, Just Fighting in Another Direction

12/07/2020 – Pearl Harbor – Hawaii

12/06/2020 – MHT Movie Reviews – The Dirty Dozen & Where Eagles Dare

12/03/2020 - Deployment Military Baggage – The Valpak

12/01/2020 – Chosin Reservoir – RCT-31 & Task Force Faith

11/30/2020 – 245th USMC Birthday – Quantico, VA

11/27/2020 – Civil War – Artilleryman’s Delight

11/26/2020 – Civil War – Fort Sumter

11/25/2020 – Korean War – Chinese 2nd Phase Offensive

11/24/2020 – Saipan – Bombing of Tokyo

11/23/2020 – Stalingrad – Russia Eastern Front

11/22/2020 – China Clipper – Inaugural Flight

11/20/2020 – Nuremburg – Martin Bormann

11/20/2020 – The Big Guns of Tarawa

11/19/2020 – MHT Movie Review: Casablanca

11/18/2020 – The Battle of Beecher Island

11/17/2020 – Fleury – French WWI Ghost Town