Germany / Biography
Hanna Reitsch was a famous female test pilot in Nazi Germany, who among a few women was awarded with both classes of the Iron Cross. In April 1945, she managed to fly over the encircled Berlin to the Führerbunker to transport the new commander-in-chief Robert Ritter von Greim to Hitler and then to fly out of Berlin again.
Hanna Reitsch was born on 29 March 1912 in Hirschberg (now Jelenia Góra, Poland). Dreaming of becoming a pilot since she was a young child, she often visited local air clubs. Although she studied medicine, she managed to get a pilot license in 1932 and later decided to leave medical school to become a professional test pilot. In the following years, she tested various civil and military airplanes before and during the war, which led to several accidents and injuries. For her successes she – among only a few German women – was awarded with both classes of the Eisernes Kreuz (Iron Cross) and became a propaganda star in the Third Reich.
Her political attitude towards National Socialism could be described merely as ‘naïve’, although she proposed the idea of ‘self-sacrificing’ pilots in 1944, which was nevertheless rejected by Hitler. After Hermann Göring was suspended of his duties as the Luftwaffe commander-in-chief on 23 April 1945, Reitsch flew the German Luftwaffe Field Marshal Robert Ritter von Greim to Berlin on 26 April 1945, so that Greim could be appointed the new commander-in-chief of the Luftwaffe by Hitler personally. During their flight over Berlin, which was already encircled by the Red Army, their airplane came under anti-aircraft fire with Greim wounded in the right foot and Reitsch taking control and landing it in Tiergarten.
After staying for a couple of days in the Führerbunker, they flew from the Ost-West-Achse in the night from 28 to 29 April on the last airplane to the headquarters of Karl Dönitz in Northern Germany and later to Tyrol. After the war, Hanna Reitsch continued her career as a test pilot winning several contests and organizing aviation schools in India and Ghana. She died in Frankfurt am Main on 24 August 1979.