Snoopy and the Red Baron: a Christmas Message for the Ages
As most Peanuts fans know, one of Snoopy's most famous alter-egos is as the "World War I Flying Ace" (first appearing in the strip on October 10, 1965), who is often seen battling his arch-enemy, Manfred von Richthofen, aka, the “Red Baron.”
True-life World War I German ace von Richthofen (1892--1918), widely known as the “Red Baron,” was a fighter pilot with the Imperial German Army Air Service (Luftstreitkräfte), and considered the “ace-of-aces” of that war, officially credited with 80 air combat victories--more than any other pilot from any nation.
When assuming his "World War I Flying Ace" persona and taking to the sky in pursuit of his arch-nemesis, Snoopy dons the requisite goggles of the era, a flying helmet and scarf, and climbs atop his doghouse which he imagines is a Sopwith Camel, a British WWI single-seat biplane fighter introduced on the Western Front in 1917. Like other adult figures in the Peanuts comic strip and TV specials, the Red Baron is never actually seen, his presence simply indicated by the bullet holes that riddle Snoopy’s doghouse--ahhh . . . Sopwith Camel--with Snoopy shaking his tiny fist as if to say, "Curse you, Red Baron!" as his trusty aircraft plummets to earth after taking the hit.
In 1966, this ongoing rivalry between "World War I Flying Ace" and the “Red baron” was immortalized in song by the Florida-based American rock band the Royal Guardsmen with their hit, "Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron,” which made it to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 during the week of December 31, 1966, #6 on the UK chart in February of 1967, and #1 in Australia for five weeks in February/March of 1967 (where the word "bloody" was conservatively censored).
"Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron” begins with a background commentary in German: Auchtung! Wir werden jetzt zusammen die Geschichte jenes Schweins-köpfigen Hunds Snoopy und des beliebten Roten Barons singen, meaning: "Attention! We will now sing together the story of that pig-headed dog Snoopy and the beloved Red Baron," and features the sound of a German sergeant ("eins, zwei, drei, vier" after the first verse), and an American sergeant (after the second verse) counting off in 4s; a fighter plane; machine guns; and a plane in a tailspin (at the end of the last verse).
This popular tribute was followed by two more aerial rematches between the two pilots extraordinaire in "The Return of the Red Baron” in 1967, and most famously, "Snoopy's Christmas," in which the two foes temporarily set aside their differences for a Christmas toast--in keeping with the Christmas Truces that actually occurred during World War I.
A phenomenally popular song when first released, it quickly became a seasonal mainstay, and only added to the mounting Snoopy mystique. Even after almost 45 years, "Snoopy's Christmas" continues to be a holiday favorite on many oldies radio stations. Undoubtedly, if you're cruising the radio airwaves this holiday season, you'll hear an update on Snoopy and the Red Baron's ongoing rivalry--as well as their annual Christmas message for all.
(Note: Schulz and United Features Syndicate sued the Royal Guardsmen for using the name Snoopy without permission or an advertising license. UFS won the suit, the penalty being that all publishing revenues from the song would go to them. Schulz did allow the group to write more Snoopy songs.)
In the 1990s, Snoopy's relentless persuit of the Red Baron was again recognized, this time by the 20th Tactical Air Support Squadron (the former name of the 20th Reconnaissance Squadron), a unit of the United States Air Force currently assigned to the 432d Wing at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada.
20th Tass Emblem
Its original term of service overlapped World War II and was inactivated in 1949 following the war but reactivated again in 1965, 1973, and again in 2011, sporting Snoopy, aka "World War I Flying Ace," as their unit's emblem.
Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited.
Von Richthofen's autobiography: Early battlefield experiences. Richthofen.com. Retrieved: Dec. 19, 2011.
Images via Wikipedia.org unless otherwise credited.
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