Snoopy and the Red Baron: a Christmas Message for the Ages
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Snoopy and the Red Baron: a Christmas Message for the Ages

In 1966, the 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.” 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--per the Christmas Truces that actually occurred during World War I.

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.

Image Credit

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).

Image Credit

"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.

Image Credit

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.

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(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.

References:

Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited.

http://www.ocala.com/article/20100904/ENTERTAINMENT/100909873

Von Richthofen's autobiography: Early battlefield experiences. Richthofen.com. Retrieved: Dec. 19, 2011.

 Images via Wikipedia.org unless otherwise credited.

Thumb via: http://toonbarn.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2008/11/snoopy.jpg

Visit JAMES R. COFFEY WRITING SERVICES AND RESOURCE CENTER for more information.

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Comments (10)

Thanks for the history behind the story and this is one of my favorite Christmas songs! Loved your article!

Another great one, James!

Very interesting historical topic.......really enjoyed reading it.Thanks Sir

Many thanks Sandy, Pat, and Adbel-moniem. I very much appreciate your readership and comments!

El Capitan

Hey guys, the "Ol' Captain" here, fan club president for the band, "The Royal Guardsmen". We very much appreciate you showing them a little love, since they're actively playing and recording again, and we're trying to get the fan base kick started.

Obviously, they're known for the big 3 hits they had, (Snoopy vs.Red Baron, Return of the Red Baron, and Snoopys Christmas) but they're also good musicians and really nice guys, too. Like most bands, their best stuff isn't whats played on the radio.

If it's cool with you, we'd love anyone interested to come on over to facebook and "like" The Royal Guardsmen, and from there you can stay current regarding news, tour dates and we even have semi monthly giveaways, one should be coming up soon.

I think I speak for the group when I say a great big thanks for this, have a great day, guys!

Here's the link, www.facebook.com/theroyalguardsmen , hope to see you there!

Thanks, El Capitan. Glad to join the Guardsmen Brigade! Hope you'll promote this link for our mutual benefit!

El Capitan

Hey Mr. Coffey! Gladly!

I deeply appreciate you allowing me to post our message here, and fair being fair, I posted your link on our facebook page. Hopefully some of our readership will journey on over to your page and spread the love. I also very much like the use of the word "brigade" in this case, for our fans, so much, maybe the record label will let me do that, I'll credit you for that as well.

Happy holidays, and thanks again!

EC

Thank you kindly, El Capitan. As as old touring musican myself from the 70s, I'm happy to contribute to the cause in any way I can! Season's Greetings to you and yours!

Luanne Hunt

Awesome article, James! I am the manger for The Royal Guardsmen and we are so thankful that you chose to blog about their songs this holiday season. You're a great writer with a real flair for words. Kudos, my friend.

I see you've already met our fan club president El Capitan. He's the best!

Happy, Happy Holidays!

Luanne Hunt

Thank you, Luanne, for your most generous compliments. I am quite happy to do my part to help remind readers of the significance these icons played in American pop culture. If I can be of further assistance, either personally or professionally, please feel free to contact me via my writing site: http://james-r-coffey-writing-services.blogspot.com/ Best luck with the “Brigade” and have a very “Snoopy” Christmas!

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