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Hanna Reitsch

Hanna Reitsch
Hanna Reitsch greets well-wishers with the Hitler Salute in her hometown of Hirschberg (Jelenia Góra); April 1941. Karl Hanke, Gauleiter of Lower Silesia, is at left.
Born 29 March 1912
Hirschberg, Silesia
(Jelenia Góra, Poland)
Died 24 August 1979 (aged 67)
Frankfurt am Main, West Germany
Nationality German
Ethnicity German
Known for

Aviatrix
Only woman in World War II awarded:

Religion Protestant

Hanna Reitsch (29 March 1912 – 24 August 1979) was a German aviatrix, test pilot, and the only woman awarded the Iron Cross First Class and the Luftwaffe Pilot/Observer Badge in Gold with Diamonds during World War II. She set over forty aviation flight altitude records and endurance records during her career, both before and after World War II, and several of her international gliding records still stood in 2012. In the 1960s she founded a gliding school in Ghana, where she worked for Kwame Nkrumah.

Contents

  • Early life 1
  • Third Reich 2
  • V-1 3
  • Führerbunker 4
  • Capture 5
  • Postwar flying career 6
  • Career in Ghana and relationship with Nkrumah 7
  • Last interview 8
  • Death 9
  • List of awards and world records 10
  • Books by Hanna Reitsch 11
  • In popular culture 12
  • See also 13
  • References 14
  • External links 15

Early life

Reitsch was born in Peter Riedel, and Heini Dittmar.[1]:64–65 While in Argentina, she became the first woman to earn the Silver C Badge, the 25th to do so among world glider pilots.[1]:75 Reitsch became a member of the Deutsche Forschungsanstalt für Segelflug (DFS) in June 1934[1]:76 and one of her first tasks was flying the Heinkel He 46 on night meteorogical flights,[1]:88 before becoming a test pilot in 1935 for the DFS Kranich[1]:101 and the DFS Seeadler.[1]:105 Following another flying expedition to Finland Reitsch enrolled in the Civil Airways Training School in Stettin, where she flew a twin-engine on a cross country flight and aerobatics in a Focke-Wulf Fw 44.[1]:78–87 In May 1935 she participated in the International Air Display at the Lisbon "Festivas Lisboa".[1]:89 Reitsch was given the honorary title of "Flugkapitan" by Ernst Udet in 1937, after successfully testing Hans Jacobs' divebrakes for gliders.[1]:108–11 She flew from Salzburg across the Alps in May 1937 in a DFS Sperber Junior.[1]:111[2]

Reitsch in 1936 at Wasserkuppe
Adolf Hitler awards Hanna Reitsch the Iron Cross 2nd Class in March 1941

Third Reich

In September 1937 Reitsch was posted to the Luftwaffe testing centre at Rechlin-Lärz Airfield by Ernst Udet.[1]:117 She was a test pilot on the Junkers Ju 87 Stuka and Dornier Do 17 barrage balloon-cable fender projects, for which she received the Iron Cross, Second Class, from Hitler on 28 March 1941.[3]:166, 170–171

Reitsch was the first female

  • Hitler's Heroes: Hanna Reitsch (video) on YouTube
  • The last interview on YouTube where she exclaims about Hitler's understanding in avionics: "I was deeply astonished about his interests"
  • First woman test pilot on YouTube
  • Hanna Reitch 1941 on YouTube testing the Me 163 jet plane
  • Hanna Reitch on YouTube as depicted in the Downfall
  • The first women astronaut (Woman Pilot Magazine website)

External links

  •  

Further reading

  •  
  • Ziemke, Earl F. (1969), Battle for Berlin End of the Third Reich Ballantine's Illustrated History of World War II (Battle Book #6),  
  • Lomax, J., (1990), Hanna Reitsch: Flying for the Fatherland, John Murray Publishers Ltd., ISBN 9780719545719

Bibliography

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as at au av aw Reitsch, Hanna (2009). The Sky My Kingdom: Memoirs of the Famous German World War II Test Pilot. Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania: Casemate Publishers.
  2. ^ a b Slater, AE (December 1979 – January 1980). "Obituary". Sailplane & Gliding (British Gliding Association) 30 (6): 302. 
  3. ^ a b Reitsch, H., 1955, The Sky My Kingdom, London: Biddles Limited, Guildford and King's Lynn, ISBN 1853672629
  4. ^ a b wwiihistorymagazine.com, Profiles, May 2005, retrieved 6 May 2008
  5. ^ Shirer, William L., The Rise And Fall of The Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1960, ISBN 978-0-671-62420-0, p. 1454.
  6. ^ The Luftwaffe order differs in different sources: Beevor states it was to attack Potsdamer Platz, but Ziemke states it was to support General Wenck's 12th Army attack (towards Potsdam) – both agree that he was also ordered to make sure Himmler was punished.(Ziemke 1969, p. 118 Beevor 2002, p. 342)
  7. ^ Ziemke 1969, p. 118.
  8. ^ Beevor 2002, p. 342.
  9. ^ "Hitler's Woman Pilot Seized".  
  10. ^ Hans Dollinger with Hans Adolf Jacobsen, tr. Arnold Pomerans, The Decline and Fall of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan: A Pictorial History of the Final Days of World War II, New York: Crown, [1968], OCLC 712594, p. 234.
  11. ^ Piszkiewicz, Dennis, From Nazi Test Pilot to Hitler's Bunker: The Fantastic Flights of Hanna Reitsch, Praeger Publishers, 1997. ISBN 978-0-275-95456-7, from summary by Emerson Thomas McMullen, retrieved 8 January 2010
  12. ^ The school was commanded by JES de Graft-Hayford, with gliders such as the double-seated Schleicher K7, Slingsby T21, and a Bergfalk, along with a single-seated Schleicher K8.
  13. ^ Afua Hirsch (16 April 2012). "Hitler's pilot helped Ghana's women to fly". The Guardian. Retrieved 16 April 2012. 
  14. ^ Jean Allman, "Phantoms of the Archive: Kwame Nkrumah, a Nazi Pilot named Hanna, and the Contingencies of Postcolonial History-Writing", American Historical Review, vol. 118 no. 1 (Feb. 2013) p. 108.
  15. ^ Allman, "Phantoms of the Archive: Kwame Nkrumah, a Nazi Pilot named Hanna, and the Contingencies of Postcolonial History-Writing", American Historical Review, vol. 118 no. 1 (Feb. 2013) p. 116
  16. ^ Reitsch, Ich flog für Kwame Nkrumah (I flew for Kwame Nkrumah), pp. 29–30, quoted in Allman, "Phantoms of the Archive: Kwame Nkrumah, a Nazi Pilot named Hanna, and the Contingencies of Postcolonial History-Writing", American Historical Review, vol. 118 no. 1 (Feb. 2013) p. 114
  17. ^ Allman, "Phantoms of the Archive: Kwame Nkrumah, a Nazi Pilot named Hanna, and the Contingencies of Postcolonial History-Writing", American Historical Review, vol. 118 no. 1 (Feb. 2013) p. 124-6
  18. ^ Shirley Graham Du Bois to Nkrumah, 28 June 1965, box 3 file 57, Nkrumah Papers, quoted in Allman, "Phantoms of the Archive: Kwame Nkrumah, a Nazi Pilot named Hanna, and the Contingencies of Postcolonial History-Writing", American Historical Review, vol. 118 no. 1 (Feb. 2013) p. 122.
  19. ^ Allman, "Phantoms of the Archive: Kwame Nkrumah, a Nazi Pilot named Hanna, and the Contingencies of Postcolonial History-Writing", American Historical Review, vol. 118 no. 1 (Feb. 2013) pp. 104–5.
  20. ^ Ron Laytner, "The first astronaut: tiny, daring Hanna", The Deseret News 19 February 1981, pp. C1+, p. 12C.
  21. ^ "Hanna Reitsch, 67. A Top German Pilot. Much-Decorated Favorite of Hitler Was Last to Fly Out of Berlin Was Cleared by U.S. Hitler Gave Her Iron Cross in Voluntary Suicide Squad.".  
  22. ^ "Hanna Reitsch, Test Pilot for Hitler".  
  23. ^ Eric Brown's Book "Wings On My Sleeve- The World'S Greatest Test Pilot Tells His Story", Pg. 113-114
  24. ^ "Hanna Reitsch (1912–1979)" at monash.edu.au
  25. ^ "Hitler: The Last Ten Days (1973)".  
  26. ^ "The Death of Adolf Hitler (1973) (TV)".  
  27. ^ "Untergang, Der (2004)".  

Notes

References

See also

Reitsch has been portrayed by the following actresses in film and television productions.

In popular culture

  • Fliegen, mein Leben. 4th ed. Munich: Herbig, 2001. ISBN 3-7766-2197-4 (Autobiography)
  • Ich flog in Afrika für Nkrumahs Ghana. 2nd ed. Munich: Herbig, 1979. ISBN 3-7766-0929-X (original title: Ich flog für Kwame Nkrumah).
  • Das Unzerstörbare in meinem Leben. 7th ed. Munich: Herbig, 1992. ISBN 3-7766-0975-3.
  • Höhen und Tiefen. 1945 bis zur Gegenwart. Munich: Heyne, 1984. ISBN 3-453-01963-6.
  • Höhen und Tiefen. 1945 bis zur Gegenwart. 2nd expanded ed. Munich/Berlin: Herbig, 1978. ISBN 3-7766-0890-0.

Books by Hanna Reitsch

  • 1932: women's gliding endurance record (5.5 hours)
  • 1936: women's gliding distance record (305 km (190 mi))
  • 1937: first woman to cross the Alps in a glider
  • 1937: the first woman in the world to be promoted to flight captain by Colonel Ernst Udet
  • 1937: world distance record in a helicopter (109 km (68 mi))
  • 1938: the first person to fly a helicopter Focke-Wulf Fw 61 inside an enclosed space (Deutschlandhalle)
  • 1938: winner of German national gliding competition Sylt-Breslau (Silesia)
  • 1939: women's world record in gliding for point-to-point flight.[24]
  • 1943: While in the Luftwaffe, the first woman to pilot a rocket plane (Messerschmitt Me 163). She survived a disastrous crash though with severe injuries and because of this she became the first and only German woman to receive the Iron Cross First Class.
  • 1944: the first woman in the world to pilot a jet aircraft at the Luftwaffe research centre at Rechlin during the trials of the Messerschmitt Me 262 and Heinkel He 162
  • 1952: third place in the World Gliding Championships in Spain together with her team-mate Lisbeth Häfner
  • 1955: German gliding champion
  • 1956: German gliding distance record (370 km (230 mi))
  • 1957: German gliding altitude record (6,848 m (22,467 ft))

List of awards and world records

In his book Wings On My Sleeve - The World's Greatest Test Pilot Tells His Story, Former British test pilot and Royal Navy Officer Eric Brown mentions that he received a letter from Hanna to his utter surprise at the beginning of August 1979 in which she said they (Hanna and Eric Brown) had a common bond in love of flying and of danger, but neither Eric nor anyone outside Germany really understood her passionate love of the Fatherland (Germany). This letter was short and finished with the words "It began in the bunker, there it shall end." These words (in German) puzzled Eric and only the news of her death in Frankfurt on 22 August 1979 gave Eric a possible key to this mystery. It was well known that Hitler gave Hanna and Von Greim each a cyanide pill before dismissing them from the bunker on 28 April 1945. Hanna always considered that she and Von Greim had made a binding pact to commit suicide, one after another, but with an intervening period to prevent rumour of a love affair. Von Greim swallowed his pill on 24 May while under arrest in hospital at Salzburg. It is known that Hanna had managed to retain her cyanide pill throughout these years, and then again news of her death was not made public until a fortnight after demise. Also there appears to have been no post mortem made on her body, or at least no such report is available. Anyway, Eric sent Hanna's letter to her brother Kurt, whom Eric knew in the post-war German Navy, but received no acknowledgement. Eric wondered if Hanna was honoring her pact with Von Greim many years after Von Greim's suicide.[23] Eric received Hanna's final letter to him just few weeks before her death as mentioned above. Based on this calculation, Von Greim made the pact with Hanna in the bunker which was long before she even found out anything about the death of her family. Hanna's book "The Sky My Kingdom" acknowledges that she and Von Greim's stay in Adolf Hitler's bunker was before finding out about the death of her family.

Reitsch died in Frankfurt at the age of 67, on 24 August 1979, apparently after a heart attack. She had never married.[21][22]

Death

And what have we now in Germany? A land of bankers and car-makers. Even our great army has gone soft. Soldiers wear beards and question orders. I am not ashamed to say I believed in National Socialism. I still wear the Iron Cross with diamonds Hitler gave me. But today in all Germany you can't find a single person who voted Adolf Hitler into power ... Many Germans feel guilty about the war. But they don't explain the real guilt we share – that we lost.[20]

Reitsch was interviewed and photographed several times in the 1970s, towards the end of her life, by American photo-journalist Ron Laytner. In her closing remarks she is quoted as saying:

Last interview

Contemporary Ghanaian press reports seem to show a lack of interest in her past.[19]

In Ghana, some Africans were disturbed by the prominence of a person with Reitsch's past, but Shirley Graham Du Bois, a noted African-American writer who had emigrated to Ghana and was friendly towards Reitsch, agreed with Nkrumah that Reitsch was extremely naive politically.[18]

She became close to Nkrumah. The details of their relationship are now unclear due to the destruction of documents, but some surviving letters are intimate in tone.[17]

Reitsch's attitudes to race underwent a change. "Earlier in my life, it would never have occurred to me to treat a black person as a friend or partner ..." She now experienced guilt at her earlier "presumptuousness and arrogance".[16]

A part of her postwar career, though one relatively little known in the west, was her work in Ghanaian aviation. Kwame Nkrumah invited Reitsch to Ghana after reading of her work in India. A gliding school was developed at Afienya, and she worked closely with the government and the armed forces. Support was received from the West German government.[14] The project was evidently of great importance to Nkrumah and has been interpreted as part of a "modernist" development ideology.[15]

Career in Ghana and relationship with Nkrumah

Throughout the 1970s, Reitsch broke gliding records in many categories, including the "Women's Out and Return World Record" twice, once in 1976 (715 km (444 mi)) and again, in 1979, (802 km (498 mi)) flying along the Appalachian Ridges in the United States. During this time, she also finished first in the women's section of the first world helicopter championships.[4]

During the mid-1950s, Reitsch was interviewed on film and talked about her wartime flight tests of the Fa 61, Me 262, and Me 163. In 1959, Reitsch (who spoke fluent English) was invited to India by prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru to begin a gliding centre and flew with him over New Delhi.[1]:220 In 1961, Reitsch was invited to the White House by US President John F. Kennedy.[1]:221 From 1962 to 1966, she lived in Ghana, where she founded the first black African national gliding school.[12][13] She gained the Diamond Badge in 1970.[2]

After her release Reitsch settled in Frankfurt am Main. Following the war German citizens were barred from flying powered aircraft, but within a few years gliding was allowed, which she took up again. In 1952, Reitsch won a bronze medal in the World Gliding Championships in Spain; she was the first woman to compete.[1]:220 She became German champion in 1955.[1]:220 She continued to break records, including the women's altitude record (6,848 m (22,467 ft)) in 1957 and her first diamond of the Gold-C badge.[1]:220

Postwar flying career

After having previously been evacuated from Silesia ahead of Russian troops, Reitsch's family took refuge in a chateau, Schloss Leopoldskron, in Salzburg.[1]:202 Hearing a rumour that all refugees were to be taken back to their original homes and not wanting to surrender to the Russians, Reitsch's father shot and killed her mother, her sister[1]:215 and her sister's three children before killing himself on the night of 3 May.[11]

Reitsch was soon captured along with von Greim and the two were interviewed together by American military intelligence officers.[9] When asked about being ordered to leave the Führerbunker on 28 April 1945, Reitsch and von Greim reportedly repeated the same answer: "It was the blackest day when we could not die at our Führer's side." Reitsch also said: "We should all kneel down in reverence and prayer before the altar of the Fatherland." When the interviewers asked what she meant by "Altar of the Fatherland" she answered, "Why, the Führer's bunker in Berlin ..."[10] She was held and interrogated for eighteen months.[1]:219 Her companion von Greim committed suicide on 24 May.

Capture

During the evening of 28 April von Greim and Reitsch were flown out of Berlin from the same improvised airstrip in an Arado Ar 96 piloted by a Luftwaffe sergeant.[1]:203,213 Von Greim was ordered to get the Luftwaffe to attack the Soviet forces that had just reached Potsdamer Platz and to make sure Heinrich Himmler was punished for his treachery in making unauthorised contact with the Western Allies.[6] Fearing that Hitler was escaping in the plane, troops of the Soviet 3rd Shock Army, which was fighting its way through the Tiergarten from the north, tried to shoot the Arado down, but failed and the plane took off successfully.[7][8]

During the last days of the war Hitler dismissed Hermann Göring as head of the Luftwaffe for what he saw as an act of treason – sending the Göring Telegramme and allegedly attempting a coup d'état. Hitler appointed Generaloberst Robert Ritter von Greim as head of the Luftwaffe, after Von Greim and Reitsch flew from Gatow Airport into embattled Berlin to meet Hitler in his Führerbunker.[1]:205–208 Red Army troops were already in the central area when Reitsch and von Greim arrived on 26 April in a Fieseler Fi 156 Storch.[1]:205,210 With her long experience at low-altitude flying over Berlin and having already surveyed the road as an escape route, Reitsch landed on an improvised airstrip in the Tiergarten near the Brandenburg Gate, after von Greim was wounded in the leg.[1]:206 During the intense Russian bombardment, Hitler gave Reitsch two phials of poison for herself and von Greim.[1]:211 She accepted the capsule, fully prepared to die alongside her Führer.[5]

A Fieseler Fi 156 Storch similar to the one Reitsch landed in the Tiergarten near the Brandenburg Gate during the Battle of Berlin

Führerbunker

The film Operation Crossbow began a popular myth that early guidance and stabilisation problems with the V-1 flying bomb were solved during a daring test flight by Reitsch in a V-1 modified for manned operation. However, in her autobiography Fliegen, mein Leben Reitsch recalled that after two initial crashes she and Heinz Kensche took over tests of the prototype Reichenberg. She made several successful test flights before training the instructors. "Though an average pilot could fly the V1 without difficulty once it was in the air, to land it called for exceptional skill, in that it had a very high landing speed and, moreover, in training it was the glider model, without engine, that was usually employed." [1]:196–198

V-1

In October 1944 she was shown a booklet Peter Riedel had obtained while in the German Embassy in Stockholm, concerning the gas chambers. She claims she believed it to be enemy propaganda, but agreed to inform Heinrich Himmler about it. Himmler asked her if she believed it, and she replied, "No, of course not. But you must do something to counter it. You can't let them shoulder this onto Germany." "You are right," Himmler replied.[1]:184

On 28 February 1944 she presented the idea of Operation Suicide to Hitler at Berchtesgaden, which "would require men who were ready to sacrifice themselves in the conviction that only by this means could their country be saved." Hitler "did not consider the war situation sufficiently serious to warrant them...and...this was not the right psychological moment." He did agree to allow development work to proceed.[1]:189,191–193 Development of the project was the responsibility of Gen. Günther Korten.[1]:193 About seventy volunteers declared, "I hereby voluntarily apply to be enrolled in the Suicide Group as pilot of a human glider-bomb. I fully understand that employment in this capacity will entail my own death."[1]:193 Reitsch and Heinz Kensche finished tests of the Me 328, carried aloft by a Dornier Do 217, by April 1944.[1]:194 By then she was approached by SS-Obersturmbannführer Otto Skorzeny, a founding member of the SS-Selbstopferkommando Leonidas (Leonidas Squadron). They adapted the V-1 into three models, a two-seater, and a single-seater with and without the mechanisms to land.[1]:195–196 The plan was never implemented operationally, "the decisive moment had been missed."[1]:198

After news of the Battle of Stalingrad in February 1943 she accepted an invitation from Col. Gen. Ritter von Greim to visit the Eastern Front. She spent three weeks visiting Luftwaffe units, flying a Fieseler Storch.[1]:185–187

Reitsch was asked to fly many of Germany's latest designs, among them the rocket-propelled Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet in 1942.[3]:173–174 A crash landing on her fifth Me 163 flight badly injured Reitsch, who still managed to sketch the events leading to the crash, before falling unconscious and spending five months in a hospital recovering.[1]:175–179 Reitsch received the Iron Cross First Class a few days after the accident.[1]:179

:155–156[1].Battle of Fort Eben-Emael used at the DFS 230 At the DFS she test flew transport and troop-carrying gliders, including the :139[1]

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