The Red Baron (real name: Manfred Freiherr von Richthofen) serves as the primary antagonist for Snoopy's battles as the World War I Flying Ace. Snoopy's imaginary battles against the Red Baron began in the comic strip in October 1965 and would continue in it for several decades. Snoopy's make-believe encounters with the Red Baron would also be seen on television and they inspired a novelty record.
In the comic strip and TV specials
Of all of Snoopy's guises, the World War I Flying Ace was perhaps his most notable. Using his doghouse as his "Sopwith Camel" fighter plane, he imagined endless battles with his nemesis. Though never depicted in human form (which went with creator Charles M. Schulz's credo of not picturing grown adults in the comic strip), the Red Baron would sometimes invariably get the best of Snoopy; as seen, for example, in the TV special It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.
The initial sequences involving Snoopy's battles with the Red Baron have been credited as the pinnacle of Schulz's achievement in the comic strip, though this claim bristled Schulz himself. Eventually, he shifted the flying ace subject from battling wars to battling love and lonliness. As he confided to writer Rheta Grimsley Johnson in her 1988 book, Good Grief: "It reached a point where war just didn't seem funny."
The song by The Royal Guardsmen
Snoopy's imaginary battles with the Red Baron inspired the novelty record "Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron", written by Phil Gernhard and Dick Holler and recorded by the Florida based group, The Royal Guardsmen in 1966. The song reached number 2 in the Billboard Hot 100 in December 1966 and number 6 in the British charts in February 1967.
The song was recorded without asking permission to use the name "Snoopy" and without having an advertising license. For that reason, the songwriters were sued by Charles M. Schulz and United Features Syndicate. Schulz and the syndicate won the court case and, as a result, all publishing revenues from the song went to them. The song was subsequently retitled "Squeaky Vs. The Black Knight" for release in Canada. However, Schulz allowed The Royal Guardsmen to record further songs about Snoopy, including "Snoopy's Christmas" and "Snoopy For President".
"Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron" was later re-recorded in Britain as a ska song by the group, The Hotshots. It reached number 4 on the British charts in 1973.
In video and online games
Snoopy vs. the Red Baron is the name of a game for PS2.
In Snoopy Flying Ace, The Red Baron makes a full physical appearance.
The real Red Baron
Freiherr (Baron) of Lower Silesia, his eminence Manfred von Richthofen (May 2, 1892 - April 21, 1918) was a genuine historical figure, an ace fighter pilot for Germany during World War I. A recipient of the Pour le Merite, Richthofen is considered the ace-of-aces of the First World War. With a confirmed kill list of eighty he is considered the best combat pilot of the Great War.
The nickname, The Red Baron, was bestowed upon him by the British Army due to his red colored plane, and his aristocratic lineage. He is now known by the name Der Rote Baron ("The Red Baron") even in Germany, although during his lifetime he was better known there as Der Rote Kampflieger ("The Red Fighterpilot"). He was also known as The Red Knight in English and as Le diable rouge ("The Red Devil") or Le petit rouge ("The Little Red One") in French.
Shot fatally just days before his 26th birthday, Richthofen had only been shot down once before, in 1917, when he was stunned by a British bullet, which tore open his skull. The injury to his head affected his mental judgement, contributing to his death, by causing him to fly across enemy lines. His death was initially credited to the Canadian Royal Air Force pilot, Captain Arthur Roy Brown, but historians now believe that the fatal shot was fired from Australian troops on the ground.