It was the memorable book ‘They went into the air as angels with homesickness – nostalgia.’ From Jan Jacobs Mulder in which I read for the first time about Hanna Reitsch (see my previous book discussions). Next in another book and thus I had to know more about this woman. Who was Hanna? Hanna was born in 1912 and grew up in Hirschberg in Silesia, lying east of Dresden in the nowadays Poland. From an early age on Hanna dreamed about flying and despite that her parents rather had seen her become a doctor, the blood crept where it couldn’t go.
Hanna, a little thin and just about a bit taller than 1.50m started at a young age with a glider course, where she had to, for starters, fight up against the diminishing glances of elder
men, boys and flight instructors, who didn’t want to believe that a young girls as Hanna could possible learn how to fly properly. Her first ‘flight’ in a glider that was pulled up with an elastic almost ended fatally through a stirring mistake, through which she had to stay grounded for a couple of days. After that soon everything went differently.
It occurred that Hanna seemed to have flying hands. She quickly got her brevet.. booked flight records for longer distances, took part in different matches and became a flight instructor. Sturdy detail from her book was her experience to get into a thunder cloud and in the icy cold manage in the end to come upside down uncontrolled out of it again! Because of her passion, perseverance and scrupulousness there was a professor that noticed Hanna and asked her to go on expedition to Brazil and Argentina to study the character of (climbing) airstreams. The same they did later also in other countries.
Because of her qualities Hanna was asked during her trip back per boat from South-America, to become a member of the German Institute for glider research. And that she wanted!. She worked together with designer of airplanes and flew in all kind of types. Next to that Hanna encountered engine airplanes. Not only did she fly with all kinds, but also this small smart lady worked on the engines. Because of her flying qualities, knowledge of the weather, constructions and technique Hanna became a very suitable test pilot. Manufacturers and engineers knew how to find her from that moment on.
In the end Hanna was in 1937 involved by the testing of all sorts of airplanes for the German air force without the fact that she herself as a soldier was part of that air force. Amongst others, she flew as the first woman in the world in a helicopter and tested new developed brake clappers for gliders. She built up an enormous experience, through all the testing she did. Through this experience, because she was a woman and also because she good fly good, she had an exceptional status that, to start with, also with the air force colleagues sometimes gave jealous and ridiculous glances. In war time she flew with racket airplanes (in 1,5 minute to 30.000 feet) and a manned V1 that should have become a suicide airplane. At a crash she was wounded fatally and had to recover for almost a year. Her skull was broken on 6 places. Throughout the time she became a symbol for Nazi Germany and had contacts in the highest regions, under which, with Hitler. In her carrier Hanna received various iron crosses from Hitler.
A very interesting episode from her life – and also from the book! – is the description of the last days of the Second World War, when Berlin was surrounded. Reitsch was asked to fly air force knight Robert von Griem to Berlin. An impossible trip low across the tree tops and between the buildings, in the meantime being shot, landing in the city and then rushing into the bunker of Hitler! It is possible that you can experience this in your flight simulator! Von Greim was then named, Commander-in-Chief of the air force (or what was left of it..) by Hitler. With Von Greim she escaped in the last days for the capitulation by plane from Berlin but got into custody in May 1945 in an American prison camp. After that Hanna became a flight instructor, flew a lot of championships and died in the end in 1979.
The in English written book contains 29 short chapters, an afterword and is easy to read. Hanna writes energetically and very down to earth. It is a broad interested woman and her passion for flying penetrates every chapter. You feel in between the lines her passion for flying. She writes also about her contact with the higher army commanders (Goebbles, Goering, Hitler, etc.) and that makes the book even more interesting. She says in her afterword that she too often has been associated with the Nazi-empire. Let’s keep it in the middle how her ideas at that time were for real.
Now then, this makes it all the highest ranking minus 1 for the fact that she was flying for the wrong side, plus yet 1 to add on, because we need to forget about war. We have to go forward with the life we have on this globe and with our eastern neighbours and another 6 milliard others… makes it still again a score of 5!. Indispensable for your bedside cabinet!
It is also interesting to type in her name on Youtube.com and Wikipedia.com! There are all kind of clips from her test flying time for the Luftwaffe and interviews. And there is a beautiful clip from a as Hanna dressed up man with wig (oh yes!), who in 1978 – a year before her death- repeats her flight of the 715 km’s across the Alps.