Captain Arthur Roy Brown, DSC & Bar, (23 December 1893 – 9 March 1944) was a Canadian First World War flying ace credited with ten aerial victories. The Royal Air Force officially credited Brown with shooting down Manfred von Richthofen, the "Red Baron" (who seems in fact to have been shot down by ground fire). What is less well known is that Brown never lost a pilot in his flight during combat, a rare distinction for an air unit commander of that war. This was due largely to his demands for a "breaking in" period in which new pilots flew over the fights just to see how they worked.
Brown was born to upper-middle class parents in Carleton Place, 30 miles (50 km) west of Ottawa. His family home still exists, located at 38 Mill Street, just down from the Town Hall. He was the middle of five children. He had two older sisters, Margaret and Bessie, and two younger brothers, Horace and Howard. His father had started business as a miller, but branched out into electrical generation when the first power grids were being set up around the start of the 20th century. His father eventually owned a power company in the town.
Though Brown did well in high school, he transferred to a business school to study accounting in order to eventually take over the family business. Following this course, he wanted to continue to university to study business administration, but he needed his high school matriculation, which he technically did not have. He took a course at the Victoria High School in Edmonton from 1913-15 to get his high-school diploma. There he befriended Wilfrid R. "Wop" May.
Brown enlisted in 1915 as an Officer Cadet at the Army Officers' Training. As a prerequisite to joining the Royal Naval Air Service Brown received flight training at the Wright Flying School near Dayton, Ohio, from September to November 1915. He was awarded the Aero Club of America Pilot's Certificate No. 361 on 13 November, and was confirmed as a flight sub-lieutenant in the RNAS on the 15th.
Brown set sail for England on November 22, 1915 and underwent further training at Chingford. On May 2, 1916, Brown crashed his Avro 504 emerging apparently unscathed, though next morning he experienced severe back pain as he had broken a vertebra. He spent two months in hospital and in September 1916 was posted to Eastchurch Gunnery School. In January 1917, he was sent to Cranwell to complete advanced training.
In March 1917, Brown was posted to No. 9 Naval Squadron, flying coastal patrols off the Belgian coast in Sopwith Pups. In April, "B" Flight, which included Brown, was attached to the Army's Royal Flying Corps to assist during the Battle of Arras. Brown fell ill at this time and missed "Bloody April", a period when British casualties were very high.
In June 1917, Brown was posted to No. 11 Naval Squadron, and in July he was briefly posted to No. 4 Naval Squadron before returning to No. 11 Naval Squadron later that month. On 17 July, he achieved his first "kill", an Albatros D.III, while flying a Pup, and gathered another three unconfirmed kills.
No. 11 was disbanded in mid-August 1917, and Brown returned to No. 9, equipped with the Sopwith Camel. He was promoted to flight lieutenant on 1 October, and on 6 October, Brown was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC). His citation read:
- Acting Flight Lieutenant (now Flight Lieutenant) Arthur Roy Brown, RNAS.
- "For the excellent work he has done on active service. On 3 September 1917, he attacked a two-seater Aviatik, in company with his flight. The enemy machine was seen to dive down vertically, the enemy observer falling over on the side of the fuselage shot. On the 5th September 1917, in company with formation, he attacked an Albatross scout and two-seater, driving them away from our lines. One machine was observed to go down apparently out of control. On 15 September 1917, whilst on patrol, he dived on two Aviatiks and three Albatross scouts, followed by his flight. He dived several times and picked out one enemy scout, firing about 200 rounds, when the enemy machine went down out of control, spinning on its back. On 20 September 1917, whilst leading his flight, he dived on five Albatross scouts. Flight Lieutenant Brown picked out one enemy machine and opened fire. One of his guns jammed, but he carried on with the other. The enemy machine went down out of control and over on its back, and remained in that position for about thirty seconds, whilst Flight Lieutenant Brown continued firing until his other gun jammed. The enemy machine then disappeared in the clouds, still on its back. Another officer of the same patrol was later followed by four enemy machines, as he was separated from the formation. Both Flight Lieutenant Brown's guns were jammed, but he dived on the enemy machines and drove them off, thus undoubtedly saving the pilot's life."
Soon after, Brown was made a flight commander, a role in which he excelled. No. 9 was posted to the Somme area in early 1918, and was forced to retreat during the German spring offensive between 20 and 29 March. The tempo of operations increased, with the entire squadron typically flying two missions a day. Colonel Raymond Collishaw noted on an April visit that Brown looked exhausted: he had lost 25 lb (11 kg), his hair was prematurely turning grey, and his eyes were bloodshot and sunken. Also contaminated rabbit had left him severely sickened with gastritis. Against Collishaw's suggestions, Brown refused to quit flying, and shot down another two aircraft on 11 and 12 April.
On 1 April 1918, the RFC and RNAS were merged into the Royal Air Force. Brown's No. 9 Squadron RNAS became No. 209 Squadron RAF.
Fighting The Red Baron
On the morning of 21 April, No. 209 was on patrol when they became engaged in combat with fighters of Jagdstaffel 11, led by Manfred von Richthofen, the "Red Baron". A newcomer to No. 209, Brown's school friend, Lt. Wop May, had been instructed to stay clear of any fight and watch. May noticed an enemy pilot doing the same thing. That pilot was the Red Baron's cousin, Lt. Wolfram von Richthofen, who had been given the same instructions as May. May attacked Wolfram and soon found himself in the main fight, firing at several fleeting targets until his guns jammed. May dived out of the fight, and Manfred von Richthofen gave chase down to ground level. Brown saw May in trouble and dived steeply in an attempt to rescue his friend. His attack was necessarily of fairly short duration, as he was obliged to climb steeply to avoid crashing into the ground, losing sight for the moment of both Richthofen and May.
What happened next remains controversial to this day, but it seems highly probable that Richthofen turned to avoid Brown's attack, and then, instead of climbing out of reach of ground fire and prudently heading for home, remained at low altitude and resumed his pursuit of May, who was still zig-zagging, as he had not noticed that Richthofen had been momentarily distracted. It should be noted that it would have been physically impossible for Richthofen to have done this had he already received the wound from which he died. May and Richthofen's route now took them at low level over the heavily defended Allied front line. Franks and Bennett have suggested that Richthofen had become lost, as the winds that day were blowing the "wrong way", towards the west, and the fight had drifted over to the Allied side. The front was also in a highly fluid state at the time, in contrast to the more common static trench lines earlier in the Great War, and landmarks can be confusing in very low level flight.
Australian Army machine gunners on the ground fired at Richthofen, who eventually crashed near the Australian trenches. His initial combat report was that the fight with Richthofen was "indecisive" - this was altered by his commanding officer to "decisive". Modern historical consensus suggests that Australian anti-aircraft gunner Sergeant Cedric Popkin is the person most likely to have been responsible for the shot that actually downed the Baron.
At the time, however, Brown was officially credited with the kill by the RAF, shortly after receiving a Bar to his DSC, at least partly in recognition of this feat. The citation read:
- Lieutenant (Honorary Captain) Arthur Roy Brown, DSC.
- "For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. On 21 April 1918, while leading a patrol of six scouts he attacked a formation of 20 hostile scouts. He personally engaged two Fokker triplanes, which he drove off; then, seeing that one of our machines was being attacked and apparently hard pressed, he dived on the hostile scout, firing all the while. This scout, a Fokker triplane, nose dived and crashed to the ground. Since the award of the Distinguished Service Cross he has destroyed several other enemy aircraft and has shown great dash and enterprise in attacking enemy troops from low altitudes despite heavy anti-aircraft fire."
- Miller, Dr. Geoffrey (1998). "The Death of Manfred von Richthofen: Who fired the fatal shot?". Sabretache: Journal and Proceedings of the Military History Society of Australia. XXXIX (2).
- "Who Killed the Red Baron?". Nova. Season 31. Episode 2. October 7, 2003. PBS.
- The London Gazette: . 18 June 1918.
Nine days after the combat with von Richthofen, Brown was admitted to hospital with influenza and nervous exhaustion. In June, he was posted to No. 2 School of Air Fighting as an instructor. He was involved in a bad air crash on 15 July, and spent five months in hospital.
He left the RAF in 1919 and returned to Canada where he took up work as an accountant. He also founded a small airline and worked for a while as editor of Canadian Aviation. When World War II started, he attempted to enlist in the Royal Canadian Air Force, but was refused. He instead entered politics, losing an election for the Ontario legislature in 1943. He later purchased a farm near Stouffville, Ontario.
Brown died on 9 March 1944, of a heart attack, in Stouffville, Ontario shortly after posing for a photograph with a current flying ace, George Beurling. He was 50 years old. He is buried, with his wife, Edythe, in the Toronto Necropolis.
Memorials, tributes and relics
Some time in 1918, Brown acquired the seat of the Fokker triplane in which Richthofen made his final flight; in 1920 he donated his souvenir to the Royal Canadian Military Institute.
A memorial plaque titled "Captain A. Roy Brown, D.S.C. 1893-1944", was erected at the Carleton Place Public Library by the Ontario Heritage Foundation, in memory of Brown.
In November 2012, the town of Carleton Place further paid tribute to Brown with a prominent mural on the town's main street. Town Councillor Rob Probert told those assembled for the official unveiling, that, as he beheld the mural, he knew, "this was a work of consequence and not just a piece of art dressing up a piece of the main street."
A museum dedicated to Brown was also opened in Carleton Place.
Brown in film and fiction
He was portrayed by Don Stroud in the 1971 film Von Richthofen and Brown. He is depicted as a cynical, cocky, ruthless rebel without a cause who doesn’t believe in honour. He bullies his way to leadership and has his squadron hunt in packs with a plane as bait. This movies depicts Brown being responsible for Richthofen's death.
In the 2008 film The Red Baron, British actor Joseph Fiennes plays a character based on Captain Brown. The film has little if any connection with historical events - for example Brown is depicted as having been shot down by Richthofen in 1916 and subsequently escaping from a German Prisoner of War camp. There is also a later scene in which Brown and Richthofen crash in no man's land and share a friendly drink.