|Born||29 Mar 1912|
|Died||24 Aug 1979|
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
ww2dbaseDaughter of an ophthalmologist, Hanna Reitsch's father wanted her to become a doctor as well. Reitsch complied, studying medicine, but especially learning to fly gliders in 1932 her passion was in aviation, and she attempted to combine the two by becoming a doctor serving in Africa, flying from one remote town to another. In 1932, she broke women's gliding endurance record by remaining in the air for 5.5 hours. In 1933, she stopped her medical studies upon receiving an invitation from Wolfram Hirth to become a glider pilot and instructor at Hirth's establishment in Hornberg, Baden-Württemberg, Germany. In 1936, she broke women's gliding distance record by flying 305 kilometers; in the following year, she became the first woman to glide across the Alps. As she gained more flight experience, she became involved with the newly established German Air Force, Luftwaffe. In 1937, she was posted to the Rechlin-Lärz Airfield in Rechlin, Pomerania, Germany, where the Luftwaffe conducted tests of new aircraft; she flew early models of Ju 87 Stuka dive bombers and Do 17 horizontal bombers. She was also the first female pilots to fly the first fully controllable helicopter, Fw 61; in 1938, she made nightly flights in the helicopter at the Berlin Motor Show. Also in 1938, she won the German national gliding competition in Silesia. After the war began in Europe in 1939, she continued to serve as a test pilot, fast becoming a center of German propaganda and catching Adolf Hitler's attention. In 1943, she test flew the Me 163, thus becoming the first woman to pilot a rocket-powered aircraft. A crash involving such aircraft, however, resulted in severe injuries that kept her in the hospital for several months; Hitler awarded her the Iron Cross First Class medal as consolation, making her one of only two women to receive the Iron Cross during WW2. In the winter of 1943 to 1944, she played a role in the development of a suicide aircraft, and volunteered to pilot such an aircraft in combat; this unit would be disbanded before it became operational. In Otto Skorzeny's memoir, he recalled her in saying:
ww2dbaseIn 1944, Reitsch became the first woman to pilot a jet aircraft.
ww2dbaseReitsch had a romantic relationship with Generaloberst Robert von Greim, who was named the head of the Luftwaffe during the last days of the war after Hermann Göring was removed from power by Hitler. Reitsch flew Greim into Berlin, Germany, which already saw Soviet troops within city limits, to meet with Hitler. She landed a Fi 156 Storch aircraft in the Tiergarten in Berlin on 26 Apr; during the approach, Soviet small arms fire penetrated the thin skin of the aircraft and wounded Greim in the leg. Greim met with Hitler first; while waiting, she unsuccessfully attempted to convince Magda Goebbels to let her take the Goebbels children to safety. Hitler's telephone switchboard operator Rochus Misch recalled her saying:
ww2dbaseShe was ultimately unable to convince Magda Goebbels, and the children would be murdered by their parents shortly before the parents' suicide.
ww2dbaseHitler sent Greim and Reitsch to meet Admiral Karl Dönitz, whom Hitler was soon to name as his successor. Hitler also gave each Greim and Reitsch a small vial of poison in case of capture. They successfully flew out of Berlin in the evening of 28 Apr. After the war she noted that "[I]t was the blackest day when we could not die at our Führer's side."
ww2dbaseReitsch was captured by the Americans shortly after the war. She learned that her father had killed her mother, her sister, and her sister's children before killing himself to avoid Soviet capture, and on 24 May her lover Greim had also committed suicide. After she was released from captivity, she moved to Frankfurt, Germany and became a glider pilot after the ban of that activity was lifted by the Allied occupation administration. Later interviews would review that she would remain an ardent Nazi for the rest of her life. In 1952, together with Lisbeth Häfner, they won third place in the World Gliding Championships in Spain. In the 1950s, she was invited by Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to help start a gliding center in India. In 1956, she set the German gliding distance record by flying 370 kilometers. In 1957, she broke the German gliding altitude record at 6,848 meters. In 1961, US President John Kennedy invited her to the White House in Washington DC, United States as a guest. Between 1962 and 1966, she started and operated the national gliding school of Ghana, the first in Africa. She continued to break records through her post-war career. She died from a heart attack in 1979.
Rochus Misch, Hitler's Last Witness
Otto Skorzeny, Skorzeny's Special Missions
Last Major Revision: Jun 2011
Hanna Reitsch Timeline
|29 Mar 1912||Hanna Reitsch was born in Hirschberg, Silesia, Germany.|
|28 Feb 1944||German female aviator Hanna Reitsch presented a proposal of a squadron of suicide pilots to Adolf Hitler.|
|26 Apr 1945||Hanna Reitsch attempted to convince Magda Goebbels at the Führerbunker in Berlin, Germany to let her take the Goebbels children to safety, but Goebbels refused to yield. In the evening, Adolf Hitler gave Reitsch a vial of poison before sending her on a mission out of Berlin, in case of her capture by the Soviets.|
|24 Aug 1979||Hanna Reitsch passed away from a heart attack.|
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James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy, 23 Feb 1945