Hanna Reitsch

Hanna Reitsch

Hanna Reitsch (29 March 1912 – 24 August 1979) was a German aviatrix who was once Adolf Hitler's personal pilot, and was the only woman awarded the Iron Cross First Class and the Luftwaffe Combined Pilots-Observation Badge in Gold with Diamonds during World War II. She is perhaps best remembered for her desperate flight to reach Hitler in his bunker during the Battle of Berlin at the end of World War II. Reitsch was the first female to fly a helicopter, fly a rocket plane, fly a jet fighter and fly a glider across the Alps. She set over forty aviation altitude and endurance records during her career, both before and after WWII, and several of her international gliding records are still standing to this day.

Early life

Reitsch was born in Hirschberg, Silesia. Her father was an ophthalmologist who wanted her to become a doctor. She was interested in aviation, thought she might become a flying doctor in North Africa and even studied medicine for a time. Reitsch began flying in 1932 with flights in gliders and was soon breaking records, earning a Silver C Badge No 25 in 1934. She flew from Salzburg across the Alps in 1938 in a Sperber Junior.cite journal
last = Slater
first = AE
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = Obituary
journal = Sailplane & Gliding
volume = 30
issue = 6
pages = 302
publisher = British Gliding Association
date = December 1979/January 1980
url =
doi =
id =
accessdate =

Early career

In 1937 Reitsch was posted to the Luftwaffe testing centre at Rechlin-Lärz Airfield by Ernst Udet. She was a test pilot on the Junkers Ju 87 "Stuka" and Dornier Do 17 projects. Reitsch was the first female helicopter pilot and one of the few pilots to fly the Focke-Achgelis Fa 61, the first fully controllable helicopter. Her flying skill, desire for publicity and photogenic qualities made her a star of Nazi party propaganda. In 1938 she made nightly flights of the Fa 61 helicopter inside the "Deutschlandhalle" at the Berlin Motor Show.

With the outbreak of war in 1939 Reitsch was asked to fly many of Germany's latest (and by some accounts, increasingly desperate) designs. Among these were the rocket-propelled Messerschmitt Me 163 "Komet" and several larger bombers on which she tested various mechanisms for cutting barrage balloon cables. After crashing on her fifth Me 163 flight Reitsch was badly injured but reportedly insisted on writing her post-flight report before falling unconscious and spending five months in hospital. Reitsch became Adolf Hitler's favourite pilot and was one of only two women awarded the Iron Cross First Class during World War II. Reitsch became close to former fighter pilot and high ranking Luftwaffe officer Robert Ritter von Greim who became her life partner. In 1944 Reitsch learned of the atrocities in concentration camps through Peter Riedel who was air attaché in Sweden. [Martin Simons, "Peter Riedel, a Full Life", 1988]


The film "Operation Crossbow" began a popular myth that early guidance and stabilization 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, Meine Liebe" Reitsch recalled other test pilots had been killed or gravely injured while trying to land the piloted version of the V1 (known as the Reichenberg), so she made test flights late in the war to learn why and found the craft's extremely high stall speed was thwarting test pilots, who had no experience landing at extremely high speeds. Reitsch's background with the very fast Me163 along with simulated landings at a safe high altitude led her to a successful landing of the Reichenberg, but only at over 200 km/h.


During the last days of the war Reitsch was asked to fly her intimate companion Colonel-General Robert Ritter von Greim into embattled Berlin to meet with Hitler. Red Army troops were already in the downtown area when Reitsch and von Greim arrived on 26 April in a Fieseler Fi 156 "Storch". With her long experience at low altitude flying over Berlin Reitsch landed on an improvised airstrip in the Tiergarten near the Brandenburg Gate (Greim was wounded in the leg when Red Army soldiers fired at the light aircraft during its approach). They made their way to the Führerbunker where Hitler promoted von Greim to Hermann Goering's former command of a now wholly defunct Luftwaffe. During the intense Russian bombardment, Hitler gave Reitsch a vial of poison for herself and another for von Greim. She accepted the vial willingly, fully prepared to die alongside her Führer. [William L. Shirer "The Rise And Fall of The Third Reich", p.1454] On Hitler's orders, she escaped Berlin with von Greim during the evening of 28 April, flying the last German plane out of Berlin, shortly before the fall of the city, by flying out through heavy Soviet anti-aircraft fire.


Reitsch was soon captured along with von Greim and the two were interviewed together by American military intelligence officers. [cite news |first= |last= |authorlink= |coauthors= |title=Hitler's Woman Pilot Seized |url=http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F10817FF3B5416738FDDA90994D8415B8588F1D3 |quote=The question whether Adolf Hitler is dead or alive may be answered by the testimony of Hanna Reitsch, woman Luftwaffe pilot, who was in a Berlin bomb shelter with him a few hours before the Russians captured it. She was arrested in the United States zone of occupation today and is being interrogated. |publisher=New York Times |date=October 10, 1945 |accessdate=2008-07-07 ] When asked about being ordered to leave the Fuhrerbunker 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..." [Page 234, "The Decline and Fall of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan", Hans Dollinger, Library of Congress Catalogue Card Number 67-27047] She was held and interrogated for eighteen months. Her companion, von Greim, committed suicide on 24 May. Her father killed her mother, her sister, and her sister's children, before killing himself during the last days of the war after expulsion by the Polish from their hometown of Hirschberg.

Later flying career

After her release Reitsch settled in Frankfurt am Main. Following the war German citizens were forbidden from flying but within a few years gliding was allowed, which she took up. In 1952 Reitsch won third place in the World Gliding Championships in Spain (and was the only woman to compete). She continued to break records including the women's altitude record (6,848 m). She became German champion in 1955.

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 she was invited to India by prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru to begin a gliding centre. In 1961 Reitsch was invited to the White House by US president John F. Kennedy. From 1962 to 1966 she lived in Ghana where she founded the first black African national gliding school. [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.]

She gained the Diamond Badge in 1970.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) and again in 1979 (802 km) 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 [wwiihistorymagazine.com, " [http://www.wwiihistorymagazine.com/2005/may/col-profiles.html Profiles] ", May 2005, retrieved 6 May 2008] .


Reitsch died in Frankfurt at the age of 67 on 24 August, 1979 following a heart attack. She had never married. [cite news |first= |last= |authorlink= |coauthors= |title=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. |url=http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F50F13F7345D12728DDDA80B94D0405B898BF1D3 |quote=Hanna Reitsch, the leading German female pilot and a much-decorated favorite of Hitler who flew the last plane out of Berlin hours before the city fell in 1945, died Friday at her home in Bonn, West Germany. She was 67 years old. |publisher=New York Times |date=31 August, 1979 |accessdate=2008-07-07 ] [cite news |first= |last= |authorlink= |coauthors= |title=Hanna Reitsch, Test Pilot for Hitler |url=http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/washingtonpost_historical/access/130126652.html?dids=130126652:130126652&FMT=ABS&FMTS=ABS:FT&date=SEP+01%2C+1979&author=&pub=The+Washington+Post&desc=Hanna+Reitsch%2C+Test+Pilot+for+Hitler&pqatl=google |quote=Aviation pioneer Hanna Reitsch, 67, who flew the last plane out of burning Berlin before the fall of the Nazis in 1945, died Aug. 24, the West Germany radio has reported. |publisher=Washington Post |date=September 1, 1974 |accessdate=2008-07-07 ]

Portrayal in the media

Hanna Reitsch has been portrayed by the following actresses in film and television productions.
* Barbara Ruetting in the 1965 film Operation Crossbow
* Diane Cilento in the 1973 British film "".cite web | url = http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0070184/ | title = Hitler: The Last Ten Days (1973) | accessdate = May 8 | accessdaymonth = | accessmonthday = | accessyear = 2008 | author = | last = | first = | authorlink = | coauthors = | date = | year = | month = | format = | work = | publisher = IMDb.com | pages = | doi = | archiveurl = | archivedate = | quote = ]
* Myvanwy Jenn in the 1973 British television production "The Death of Adolf Hitler".cite web | url = http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0283307/ | title = The Death of Adolf Hitler (1973) (TV) | accessdate = May 8 | accessdaymonth = | accessmonthday = | accessyear = 2008 | author = | last = | first = | authorlink = | coauthors = | date = | year = | month = | format = | work = | publisher = IMDb.com | pages = | doi = | archiveurl = | archivedate = | quote = ]
* Anna Thalbach in the 2004 German film "Downfall" ("Der Untergang").cite web | url = http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0363163/ | title = Untergang, Der (2004) | accessdate = May 8 | accessdaymonth = | accessmonthday = | accessyear = 2008 | author = | last = | first = | authorlink = | coauthors = | date = | year = | month = | format = | work = | publisher = IMDb.com | pages = | doi = | archiveurl = | archivedate = | quote = ]

See also

*Leonidas Squadron

External links

* [http://www.ctie.monash.edu.au/hargrave/reitsch.html Hanna Reitsch]
* [http://www.greyfalcon.us/Hanna%20Reitsch.htm Grey Falcon article on Hanna Reitsch]

References and notes

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Hanna Reitsch — (* 29. März 1912 in Hirschberg im Riesengebirge, Schlesien; † 24. August 1979 in Frankfurt am Main) war eine der bekanntesten und erfolgreichsten deutschen Fliegerinnen des 20. Jahrhunderts. Reitsch erflog mehr als 40 Rekorde in allen Klassen und …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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  • Hanna Reitsch — à Hirschberg im Riesengebirge, en avril 1941, aux côtés du Gauleiter Karl Hanke Hanna Reitsch (née le 29 mars 1912 à Hirschberg im Riesengebirge, Silésie ; morte le 24 août 1979 à …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Hanna Reitsch — (1912 1979), aviadora alemana celebre por la optencion de varios récords deportivos y por su afiliación militante al partido nazi …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Reitsch — Reitsch,   Hanna, Fliegerin, * Hirschberg i. Rsgb. 29. 3. 1912, ✝ Frankfurt am Main 24. 8. 1979; stellte als Pilotin im Segel und Motorflug verschiedene Weltbestleistungen auf, gehörte zu den Pionieren des Hubschrauberflugs und wurde 1937 zum… …   Universal-Lexikon

  • Reitsch, Hanna — ▪ German aviator born , March 29, 1912, Hirschberg, Germany [now Jelenia Góra, Poland) died August 24, 1979, Frankfurt am Main       aviator who was the leading female German pilot in the 20th century.       Reitsch originally trained in the… …   Universalium

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