Of Norman origin, the Banfields were an Irish family in the 16th century. The ancestor Thomas Banfield, an officer in the British army, while in Bavaria married an Austrian noblewoman. He took part in the Crimean War and died after the taking of Sevastopol. His son Richard Banfield, born in Vienna in 1836 and educated in Austria, chose Austrian citizenship, became an officer of the k.u.k. Kriegsmarine and took part in the Battle of Lissa as one of the commanders on Wilhelm von Tegetthoff's flagship, the Erzherzog Ferdinand Max.
Banfield was born 6 February 1890 in Castelnuovo, which is situated in the Bay of Cattaro and was the homeport of an Austrian fleet. His father was a British subject, but the boy Gottfried took Austrian nationality.
He attended the Military secondary-school in Sankt Pölten, and the Naval academy in Fiume: on 17 June 1909 he emerged as cadet. In May 1912 he was promoted to frigate-Lieutenant. One month later he began pilot training in the flying school in Wiener Neustadt, and in August he obtained his flying licence. Enthused with aviation like his older brother, who had already become a well-known aviator, he was chosen to be among the first pilots of the Austrian navy, and went off to perfect his training at the Donnet-Lévèque pilot school in France, where his trainer was the company's chief pilot, the naval lieutenant Jean-Louis Conneau, a pilot famous at the time for having won many air contests under the pseudonym of Beaumont. On the Pola Naval Air base of Santa Caterina island he trained in seaplanes. As a result of a forced landing in 1913 he broke a leg so badly that the foot was barely saved. He was not airborne again until the outbreak of war.
At the start of the First World War, Banfield was posted to fly the Lohner flying boat E.21 allocated to the pre-dreadnought battleship SMS Zrínyi for aerial reconnaissance. He took part in the first aerial actions against Montenegro from the base of Cattaro. In the period following he worked as a test pilot and instructor at the airfield on the island of Santa Catarina off Pola. Once the Italians entered the war he was commissioned with building up a larger seaplane station near Trieste, and after its completion was named as its commanding officer. He retained his command until the end of the war. He won his first air-battles in a Lohner biplane seaplane against the Italians and their French allies in the gulf of Trieste in the month of June 1915, downing a balloon on the 27th. Even coming up against his old teacher Jean-Louis Conneau (better known as André Beaumont) in September 1915. Experimenting with a monoplane seaplane early in 1916, he won many victories and for a time held first place among the Austrian aces. He was wounded in combat in 1918.
Banfield's 9 confirmed and 11 unconfirmed air-kills make him the most successful Austro-Hungarian naval airplane fighter, and he holds a place among the most successful flying aces of Austro-Hungary. It was because he made most of his expeditions over the northern Adriatic, and therefore many of his attributed air-victories could not be confirmed, that accounts for his high tally of unconfirmed air-conquests. For his military services he was in 1916 decorated with the Large Military Merit Medal with Swords. Founded on 1 April 1916, this honour was intended for the "highest especially praiseworthy recognition" and was awarded only 30 times. 28 of its recipients were officers of general's rank; the other two were the cryptologist Hermann Pokorny (1918) and Banfield himself. On 17 August 1917 Banfield was further honoured when he received the Military Order of Maria Theresa. Individuals who received the order and were not already members of the Austrian nobility were ennobled and received the hereditary title of 'Freiherr', meaning 'Baron' to their family name. At the time of his death in 1986, Freiherr von Banfield was the last living Knight of the Military Order of Maria Theresa.
After the First World War, the city of Trieste was annexed by Italy, and Freiherr von Banfield was for a time imprisoned by the occupation police. In 1920 he emigrated to England and became a British subject. He married the Contessa Maria Tripcovich of Trieste (d. 1976). They settled in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, where their son Raphael Douglas, known to the world as the composer Raffaello de Banfield Tripcovich, was born in 1922. In 1926, Gottfried took Italian nationality and returned to Trieste to become Director of the Diodato Tripcovich and Co. Trieste Shipping-Company, which he took over from his father-in-law. Trieste Company ships then sailed under the Italian flag. Banfield became a celebrity of the city, usually called "Our Baron", Il nostro Barone, even winning a local tennis championship in 1927. Serving as the Honorary Consul of France at Trieste, he was decorated with the Legion d'Honneur in 1977. Freiherr von Banfield died in Trieste 23 September 1986, at the age of 96.
As a memorial the 1990 graduating year's class of the Theresa Military academy in Wiener-Neustadt, the greater number of whom had begun their foundation military service in the year of Freiherr von Banfield's death, called itself the 'Banfield Class.'