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Before the war Richthofen had been a national champion horseman and had grown fond of trophies and ribbons During the war he went so far as to award himself an engraved silver cup for each Allied plane he downed The Orden Pour le Merite was his nations highest military honor and two days after receiving his first command Richthofen wore its blue and gold cross Satisfied he took firm charge of his squadron Jasta 11 On his first mission as leader he scored his seventeenth confirmed victory the squadrons first Richthofens fame spread slowly Then whether to taunt his opponents or to make it easier for his inexperienced squadron-mates to locate him he had his Albatros painted bright red Almost instantly French fliers spoke of le Diable Rouge the Red Devil Others called him the Red Knight or the Red Baron Wild rumors sprang up about the red fighter some even claimed that the plane was piloted by a woman Morale soared in his unit and before long Jasta 11 ruled the skies in their sector Soon his men painted their planes red although all but the Baron were required to display at least one other color The Barons fighting policy was the same as his mentor Boelcke Always begin the encounter with an advantage dont show off and shoot down the target as quickly as possible The Red Baron would head the first Jagdgeschwader a group of four Jastas including Jasta 11 This group of 40 to 50 of Germanys best fighter planes and their crack pilots would become the famous Flying Circus known as Jagdgeschwader 1 or JG1 The unit lived in tents so they could move from base to base overnight They would take to the air in massive V formations with the Red Baron at the point The British would surely shrink back in fear In early September 1917 JG1s Albatros DIIIs and DVs were replaced with the faster-climbing more maneuverable
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