Hanna Reitsch: Hitler's Female Test pilot
a diorama by Bjørn Jacobsen
Hanna Reitsch flying to
Berlin 26th April 1945
On April 26, 1945, Hanna Reitsch was in the narrow cockpit of
a small Fieseler Fi-156C Storch together with Luftwaffe
Generaloberst Ritter von Greim.
Underneath was Berlin, burning and in ruins and completely
encircled by the Russian armies.
They were on their way to meet with Hitler who intended to
appoint von Greim as a new chief of the Luftwaffe, but they
also planned to persuade Hitler to fly out with them and
escape to Bavaria.
von Greim was at the controls of the small STOL reconnaissance
aircraft and Reitsch crouched behind him.
Flying low over the burning city and through a hail of Soviet
anti-aircraft fire, the plane was hit in the engine and fuel tank.
An armour-piercing bullet smashed von Greim's right foot,
and he passed out.
How Hanna managed to take control of the Storch is short of a
The seats in the Fi-156 are placed behind each other and there
is no room to get around the seats. With the pilot unconscious,
there is normally no space to switch places – but the person in
the back seat was a small woman (5 ft) and she managed to
crawl over to the front seat, take control of the plane and
continued towards the centre of Berlin.
The Fi-156 did not need more than 21m (70ft) of landing space
but the streets in Berlin was filled with demolished houses,
wrecks and barricades and there was hardly any place to land.
But Hanna Reitsch managed to put the Storch down on the war
During intense Russian bombardment, they both made it to
Hitler's bunker, where they stayed for two days.
Hitler would not listen to their pleading. He would not leave the
On the 28th April, Hitler ordered them to flee Berlin and in the
final hours of the Russian assault on the city, von Greim and
Reitsch escaped in an aircraft (Arado Ar 96) hidden near the
She was the last person to get out of the beleaguered Berlin,
and the return trip should on any rational basis have been
Two days later, Hitler committed suicide and the war was over.
On May 9, Hanna Reitsch was taken into custody by the Americans.
The rumours said that she had flown Hitler to freedom and she was, therefore, interrogation by US intelligence personnel. In the end, Hanna Reitsch was exonerated of guilt from war crimes and finally released from prison after 15 months.
The diorama will show the Fieseler Storch and the two pilots on the ground at the Brandenburger Tor while the war rages around them and German soldiers desperately try to stem the Soviet armies.
You can read more about Hanna Reitsch at the bottom of this page
The Branderburger Tor.
Picture taken shortly after the war
The Reichtag (the Parliament) at the end of April 45
Brandenburger Tor will be part of the background in this diorama.
As you can see of the picture taken after the war, (see above)
the place in front of the famous Gate was not in the best state,
and when Hanna Reitsch landed there, it was obvious much
worse with intense bombardment from the Soviet Armies all
around - and closing in.
The building of the Gate was easy enough, just some wooden
sticks as columns and cardboard and Polystyrene as building
material for everything else.
Then everything painted with acryl.
The damages were extensive, it was a wonder the Gate was
standing while most of the surrounding buildings were just piles
Behind the Gate, I put up some buildings in ruins, put a lot of
debris on the ground all around and painted it dark and dirty.
Then I painted a dark smoke-filled background of a burning city.
It all became rather hostile and intimidating. Just as I
imagined the situation would be in Berlin in the terrible
days in late April 1945
Hanna Reitsch and
Robert Ritter von Greim
I had to make the two main characters in this drama out of bits
and pieces of 1:48 figures in my toolbox.
von Greim was wounded in his right foot and after he had gained
consciousness after the landing, Hanna had to help him on their
way to the Führerbunker which was not far from Brandenburger
The picture to the right:
The rear entrance to the Führerbunker.It was not far from here
that the Ar 96 was hidden which they used to escape from Berlin
The Arado Ar 96
At the Boulevard in front of Brandenburger Tor, there would be
all kind of debris, ruins, soldier, burned out vehicles etc.
I, therefore, build some Wehrmacht Soldiers, a bullet ridden
Sd.Kfz.10 German half-track and a Citroen staff car plus a
damaged, but still working Flak 30 (20mm) canon.
I also build some ruins out of Polystyrene and painted with acryl.
These will be placed around the square.
The model of the Storch is from Tamiya. Scale 1:48
There are a lot of glasses around the cockpit and all
these had to be masked before painting.
The camouflage colours was standard
70-71-65 splinter (Black Green/Green/Light Blue)
Fieseler Fi-156C Storch
The picture to the right is the only picture of Hanna’s
Fi-156 which I have found.
It shows the Storch placed behind the Brandenburger Tor (you can see the Siegessäule in the background) and guarded by a British soldier.
The plane was badly damaged when the picture was taken.
In addition to the damages inflicted by Soviet AAA, it was most probably hit several times when parked on the ground.
And obviously, souvenir looters also had a field day before the picture was taken.
The plane on the picture is therefore not representative.
In fact, the Storch which Hanna Reitsch flew to the
entre of Berlin on the 26th April 1945, went through an unbelievable barricade of Soviet AAA.
They were lucky, normally; a slow flying plane like the Storch should never have reached its destination.
The plane received several hits in the wings and
fuselage which tore up the skin (fabric) in several places, but the plane could still fly.
The fuel tank (in the wing) was hit and so was the
engine cowling and some panels were ripped off, but
the worst was the grenade penetrating the cockpit and wounded von Greim in the leg.
To get it as authentic as possible, I have to build all these damages into the model.
For the visual damages, I made some holes both in the upper and lower wings, glued in the wing panels (which could be seen in the openings) and used thin metal sheets to substitute for the torn fabric in the wings.
The metal was borrowed from a tube with Bacon Cheese.
Then, it's time to put everything together in a diorama:
If you want to know more about Hanna Reitsch:
The woman who would one day become the best-known test pilots of the Third Reich was born on March 29, 1912. She became fascinated with flying at a young age and when she was 14, she had set her sights on becoming a flying missionary doctor in Africa.
She was admitted to the Grunau School of Gliding, but for Hanna, the real goal was flying – not gliding.
Despite the derision of the male students as well as instructors — she was the only woman in her class — she was the first class member to pass the 'A' level beginning course. Authorities were so taken aback when they learned of her rapid progress that they made her retake the test — which she once again passed. She went on to pass the 'B' and 'C' tests before beginning medical school at the University of Berlin.
While studying medicine, she also continues with flying lessons. She soon realised that most pilots knew little if anything about the engines of their planes. That seemed to her to be like a doctor who knew nothing about the heart. Never afraid of hard
work or dirty hands, she started hanging out with the mechanics at the flight school and worked herself
into their favour as they realised she was serious about learning about aeroplane engines.
She managed the flight school with no problems and demonstrated superb piloting skills, even doing
stunt flying for motion pictures.
Glider Test Pilot
In 1934, she travelled to Brazil and Argentina as part of a German research expedition to test-fly gliders in
extreme thermal conditions. Her growing reputation as a pilot resulted in her leaving medical school and
accepting an invitation to become an experimental glider test pilot at the Deutschesforschungsinstitut fur
Segelflug (DFS), the German Research Institute for Sailplane Flight at Darmstadt.
She test-flew the first glider seaplane and evaluated the capabilities of new glider catapult mechanisms.
Hanna Reitsch and Ernst Udet
In 1936 Hanna Reitsch met Ernst Udet, head of the Technical Branch of the Ministry of
Aviation and the highest-scoring German fighter ace to survive World War I. At the time, she
was working on the development of dive brakes for gliders. After demonstrating the use of
dive brakes in a vertical dive before Udet, other Luftwaffe generals and German aircraft
designers, she was awarded the honorary rank of Flugkapitän, the first woman ever so
In 1937 she was designated as a Luftwaffe civilian test pilot, a post she would hold until the
end of World War II
Hanna Reitsch and Robert Ritter von Greim
Reitsch also became close to another former fighter pilot and rising Luftwaffe star, Robert
Ritter von Greim, a Bavarian ace that had scored 25 aerial victories during World War One.
Greim rose to be the most senior officer of Luftwaffe by the end of the war.
In the years leading up to WWII, Reitsch made a name for herself on the international flying circuit. In May 1937, she became one of the first Germans to fly a glider over the Alps. That same year, she set a world long-distance record and won the National Soaring Contest — the only woman entrant.
Luftwaffe Test Pilot
Udet appointed her a civilian test pilot at the primary Luftwaffe research station at Rechlin, she was
allowed to fly almost anything she could lay her hands on, which included most of the high-performance
aircraft in the Luftwaffe inventory.
In February 1938, at Udet's bidding, Reitsch would become the first person to fly a helicopter, the
Focke-Achgelis Fa-61, inside a building, Berlin's Deutschlandhalle.
She also became the first woman to be awarded the Military Flying Medal, thanks to her helicopter flights.
In 1939, she becomes involved in the development of large cargo-, troop- and fuel-carrying gliders.
The work was largely abandoned after the 180-foot wingspan Messerschmitt Me-361 Gigant crashed and
killed the pilots of its three Me-110 tow planes, the Gigant's six-man crew and 110 troops in the glider.
She later undertook a very dangerous assignment involving the development of barrage balloon cable
shears for German bombers.
Flying the Me 163 Komet
In 1942 the operational version of the single-seat rocket-powered bomber interceptor known as the Komet,
the Messerschmitt Me163, was undergoing testing at the research centre at Augsburg. Reitsch became
determined to fly this bullet-shaped plane, driven by a liquid-fueled Walther rocket engine. By the autumn
of 1942, she did three flights in the prototype, Me163A, as well as a flight in the first production model,
Reitsch's last flight in the Me163B nearly ended her life. The flight proceeded uneventfully until Reitsch
moved the control to drop the takeoff undercarriage. The plane immediately began to shudder and
became nearly impossible to control. The undercarriage had not fallen away as it was designed to do.
Reitsch decided to try to land the plane. She nearly succeeded, but at the last instant, the aircraft stalled
and crashed into a ploughed field just short of the runway. She survived the crash but suffered severe
injuries. Her nose was nearly sheared off, her skull was fractured in four places, two facial bones were
fractured, and her upper and lower jaws were misaligned.
Iron Cross and Gold Medal for Military Flying
Four days after that accident, in tribute to her skill and bravery in this and other developmental work, Reitsch was
awarded a special diamond-encrusted version of the Gold Medal for Military Flying by Reichsmarshall Göring.
She was also later awarded the Iron Cross First Class.
After five months in the hospital and much plastic surgery, Reitsch was discharged.
Without medical permission she began to fly again, starting with gliders and graduating to powered aircraft and
strenuous aerobatic manoeuvers until she was satisfied that her flying skills were as good as they had ever been.
In August 1943, 10 months after her accident, her surgeon gave her medical clearance to return to normal
activities. Reitsch followed the Me163 development group to its site at Peenemünde-West. There, she learned
the details of the pulse-jet powered V-1 buzz bomb and the V-2 ballistic missile programs.
She survived unscathed the first Allied bombing raid on the complex, which left most of Peenemünde a pile of
The Suicide Missions
Shortly thereafter, when she met with friends in Berlin at a luncheon, the conversation turned to a discussion of what they could do to save Germany from what was now seen as a slide into defeat. The group decided to propose aerial strikes on strategic Allied targets carried out by suicide bomber pilots, a concept dubbed Operation Self Sacrifice.
Her longtime friend Greim approached her with a request to visit him on the Russian Front in an attempt to boost the morale of the troops. During that trip, Reitsch's understanding of the bloody realities of war was driven home with a brutal vengeance. This new reality fueled her determination to press for the formation of a corps of suicide pilots.
Late in 1943, Reitsch took the opportunity to discuss Operation Self Sacrifice directly with Hitler when she was invited to a ceremony at Berchtesgaden to receive her Iron Cross First Class. He parried her efforts to talk about a suicide bomber plan by launching into a long, rambling monologue about how the new twin-engine Messerschmitt Me262 jet fighter would save the day.
Reitsch pressed her case and finally gained the Führer's reluctant permission to go ahead with
experimental work only — with the proviso that he must be spared the details.
Operation Self Sacrifice got underway with a plan to use the Me328B, already in the prototype stage,
as a parasitic 'Sacrificial Fighter.' Reitsch and other pilots carried out experiments with the Me328
flying under its own power as well as functioning as a glider to be launched from a Dornier Do-217E
twin-engine bomber. These plans were abruptly terminated when an Allied bombing raid wiped out
the factory in which the prototype Me328s were being built.
The V-1 Glider Bomb and Fi 103
The planners then adjusted their sights, hoping to use the V-1 guided glider bomb then entering
operational status. Seventy of the V-1s equipped with cockpits for piloted flight were ordered, to be
built by Fieseler and designated as the Fi-103 Reichenberg.
This manned version of the V-1 proved easy to fly but glided like a brick and was tricky to land on its
skid because of its very high landing speed and tendency to ground-loop.
In the Fi-103 test plane, the cockpit was directly in front of the engine intake. It was assumed that in
the event of an emergency during test flights, the pilot would be able to open the canopy and bail out.
In fact, it is more than likely that the existing pilot could not survive if the engine was running. Two of
the seven Fi-103 instructors were killed, and four were injured. Reitsch was the only one of the group
to survive the test program without injury.
Instructor for the Suicide Squadron
Reitsch was designated as an instructor of the volunteer pilots in what was called the Leonidas
Squadron (formally the 5th Staffel of Kampfgeschwader 200)
She encountered numerous difficulties with the project, thanks to the indifference of her high-ranking
Nazi friends. The prevailing attitude among them amid the disastrous military situation in late 1944
was that the very idea of suicide pilots was 'un-German' and that it went against the grain of the
The last months of Reitsch's wartime service involved flying wounded soldiers into hospital airstrips,
carrying urgent dispatches by air and surveying air routes into the rubble of Berlin.
Meeting with Hitler April 26 1945
Her last mission in the war was to fly into Berlin and meet with Hitler on April 26-28 1945.
After the War
For some years after the war, the Allies forbade Germans from participating in gliding.
Reitsch eventually began lecturing in Europe, but she was banned from flying in competitions in
England until 1954.
Throughout the remainder of her life, Reitsch remained a controversial figure, tainted by her ties —
both real and suppositious — to the dead Führer and his henchmen. The circumstances surrounding
her 1945 sojourn in Hitler's Berlin bunker especially haunted her. In a postscript to a new edition of
her memoirs, published shortly before her death from a heart attack in 1979, she wrote that
‘so-called eyewitness reports ignore the fact that I had been picked for this mission because I was a
pilot and trusted friend [of Greim's], and instead call me `Hitler's girl-friend'….
During WWII, Hanna Reitsch devoted her energy and skill to what she considered to be German
nationalism as distinct from Nazism, believing she owed her allegiance to Germany, not to Hitler.
But above all, throughout her life, she remained passionately committed to aviation, especially gliding.
She set more than 40 records during her lifetime, many of them in gliders.
Generaloberst von Greim died by suicide on 24th May 1945
Hanna Reitsch died in Frankfurt by heart attack in 1979
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This diorama will be on display at
the new WWII hanger at