- Cedric Popkin
Cedric Bassett Popkin (1891-January 1968) is considered the person most likely to have killed German ace
Manfred von Richthofen— also known as the "Red Baron" — on April 21, 1918.Miller, Dr. Geoffrey. [http://www.lib.byu.edu/~rdh/wwi/comment/richt.htm "The Death of Manfred von Richthofen: Who fired the fatal shot?"] "Sabretache: Journal and Proceedings of the Military History Society of Australia", vol. XXXIX, no. 2, 1998.] [http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/redbaron/ NOVA, 2003, "Who Killed the Red Baron? Explore Competing Theories" (Public Broadcasting Service)] ] Popkin was an anti-aircraft(AA) machine gunner with the First Australian Imperial Force(AIF), during World War I.
Popkin was born in
Sydneyand was a carpenter by trade. When he enlisted in the AIF, in Brisbaneon May 6, 1916, he was living in Palmwoods, Queensland. He left Australia on October 20 with the 6th Reinforcements, 7th Machine Gun Company on HMAT "Port Lincoln".
By April 1918, Popkin — who had achieved the rank of
Sergeant— was a gunner in the 24th Machine Gun Company, part of the Australian 4th Division, which was stationed in the Somme Valley, France.
At about 10:35 a.m. on April 21, Richthofen, flying his famous red
Fokker Dr.I, engaged Sopwith Camels from 209 Squadron, Royal Air Force(RAF). He pursued a Camel piloted by a Canadian, Lt Wilfrid May. In turn the Baron was chased by another Canadian pilot, Capt. Roy Brown. The three planes flew over MorlancourtRidge, in the 4th Division's sector, and Popkin — using a Vickers machine gun— and other Australian machine gunners and riflemen also fired at Richthofen. The Baron was hit by a 0.303 calibre bullet which passed diagonally from right to left through his chest. He then made a hasty but controlled landing, in a field on a hill near the Bray-Corbie road, just north of Vaux-sur-Somme. His Fokker was not damaged by the landing. One witness, Gunner George Ridgway, stated that when he and other Australian soldiers reached the plane, Richthofen was still alive but died moments later. [Miller 1988] Another eye witness, Sergeant Ted Smout, reported that Richthofen's last word was "kaputt" ("finished") immediately before he died. [ Discovery Channel, 2002, "Unsolved History: Death of the Red Baron" (television documentary)] .
The identity of the person who shot the Baron remains unknown; 0.303 ammunition was the standard ammunition for all machine guns and rifles used by
British Empireforces during World War I. However, many experts believe that the shot probably came from Popkin. [Miller 1988] However, some believe the shot came from William John "Snowy" Evans." Unsolved History: Death of the Red Baron", 2002, Discovery Channel] It is now considered all but certain by historians, doctors, and ballistics experts that von Richthofen was killed by an AA machine gunner, for a number of reasons. Autopsies revealed that the wound which killed the Baron was caused by a bullet moving in an upward motion. It was reported that a spent .303 bullet was found inside Richthofen's clothing. These facts, and the angle at which the bullet passed through Richthofen's body, suggest that he was killed by a long distance, low velocity shot from a ground-based weapon. Many Australian riflemen were also shooting at the Baron at the time, so one of them may have fired the fatal shot. However, Popkin was an experienced AA gunner, the volume of fire from the Vickers was far greater (at least 450 rounds per minute) than the bolt-action Lee-Enfieldrifles (up to 30 rounds per minute) used by the infantry, and Popkin was the only machine gunner known to have fired at Richthofen from the right, and from a long distance, immediately before he landed.
The RAF gave official credit to Brown. However, it has been calculated that Richthofen would have lived for only 20-30 seconds after he was hit — due to the severity of his wound — and Brown did not fire at him within that time frame.
Popkin returned to Australia on January 5, 1919, and after being discharged from the army, worked once more as a carpenter. He spent most of the remainder of his life in
Tweed Headsand the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales. He is buried in Brisbane.
In 1964, Popkin told the "Brisbane Courier-Mail": "I am fairly certain it was my fire which caused the Baron to crash [,] but it would be impossible to say definitely that I was responsible ... As to pinpointing without doubt the man who fired the fatal shot [,] the controversy will never actually be resolved." [NOVA 2003]
* [http://www.lib.byu.edu/~rdh/wwi/comment/richt.htm Dr Geoffrey Miller, 1998, "The Death of Manfred von Richthofen: Who Fired the Fatal Shot?"] (orig. publ. in "Sabretache: Journal and Proceedings of the Military History Society of Australia", v. XXXIX no. 2, June 1998)
* [http://www.suncoast.com.au/Palmwoods/News/98-04/p5a.html "Palmwood District News", 1998, "Popkin family looks up local connection"]
* [http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2003/12/25/13258/202 kuro5hin.org, 2003, "Who Killed The Red Baron?"]
* [http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/redbaron/theories.html "NOVA", 2003, "Who Killed the Red Baron? Explore Competing Theories" (Public Broadcasting Service)]
* [http://www.awm.gov.au/cms_images/awm8/24_12_3/pdf/0191.pdf Australian War Memorial (AWM), "7th Machine Gun Company, 6th Reinforcements", "Australian Imperial Force — Nominal Roll"]
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