German women pilots at war, 1939 to 1945.
Today it is almost unknown that women pilots actively contributed to Germany's war effort during World War II, other than perhaps Hanna Reitsch (1912-1979), the exceptional test pilot of the 1930s and 1940s. But she was not the only German woman pilot flying between 1939 and 1945. At the onset of the war, women pilots had trained alongside men to become ferry pilots for the paramilitary NS Flying Corps (Nationalsozialistisches Fliegerkorps, NSFK). The Flying Corps also employed women pilots as managers of its aircraft repair yards, and in other auxiliary functions. Towards the end of the war, at least five women worked as ferry pilots within the Luftwaffe, holding a captain's rank and wearing uniforms. Women also worked as company test pilots, and two of them were experimental test pilots, receiving their assignments from the Luftwaffe. They performed stunning flights to test novel dive brakes, cut the cables of barrage balloons, test pilot visibility, and improve bombing accuracy. In 1944, after the Luftwaffe had lost the air superiority contest, at least sixty women were recruited by the NS Flying Corps and were employed as glider instructors to advance training for Luflwaffe recruits. By war's end, in May 1945, many more women were still in instructor training, waiting for their chance not only to be employed, but also to regain access to flying--a privilege they had been denied since the war had started in September 1939.
The number of German women involved in aerial warfare seem meager when compared to their American counterparts. But in the context of the National Socialist state which had long tried to cement traditional gender role assignments, and to relegate women strictly to the functions of wives and mothers, these numbers are significant. (1) The story of the German women's readiness, their employment and motivation sheds an interesting light not only on the military history of World War II, but also on the workings of gender issues, in Nazi Germany as well as in traditionally "male" fields of technology, aviation, and the military.
Reconstructing the history of German women pilots in World War II presents some difficulties. The most significant one, of course, is the dearth of sources. German women sport pilots had made many headlines in the years around 1930. But by the mid-1930s, most of them faded out of public awareness and sank into obscurity, as a direct result of gender role pressure by the Nazi regime. Also, they were replaced in media headlines by the newly founded Luftwaffe, which better represented Germany's eager militaristic agenda than did smiling women pilots. (2) For war purposes, the potential of female pilots was mostly ignored; no serious effort was made to utilize it until very late in the war. Few records regarding concepts and practices of the deployment of women pilots survived. Most of these records were lost due to Allied bombing and their destruction by Luftwaffe at the end of the war. The Deutsche Dienststelle/Wehrmachtsauskunftsstelle in Berlin, in charge of maintaining the documents of all former members of the German Armed Forces until 1945, and the German Federal Military Archive (Bundesarchiv-Militararchiv) in Freiburg, contain almost no information on women's activities with or for the Luftwaffe. Also lost is all documentation of the NS Flying Corps in the framework of which women had worked as ferry pilots and glider instructors. After the war, the exceptional position of wartime women pilots, so contrary to their traditional gender stereotypes, was quickly forgotten: The professional claims and accomplishments of women pilots were outdated in an era that was dedicated to the restoration of traditional gender roles. But while women pilots were afraid to be stigmatized as "Nazi aviatrixes," male pilots found new employment in the re-founded Luftwaffe of 1957, where their talents were needed to restore Germany's military power within the framework of the Western alliance: the "Cold War" was on the rise. Like their counterparts in the U.S., Great Britain, and the USSR, German women pilots fell victim to a "cultural amnesia" that quickly obscured their involvement in the air war during World War II. While the women remained behind in the age of propeller planes, men took off into the jet era.
This is a first attempt to tell the story of German women pilots during World War II, based mostly upon interviews with the few surviving women pilots, as well as upon rediscovered and unpublished diaries, notebooks, and the only five still extant flight logs of women pilots.
Preparation for War
By 1935, the Reich Labor Service Law (Reichsarbeitsdienst-Gestz) had prepared the voluntary mobilization of German women in case of war, assigning them to inferior, civilian administrative tasks that did not require any special knowledge or abilities. (3) In 1936, with a foreword by Generaloberst Werner von Blomberg, Reich war minister and Commander-in-Chief of the Wehrmacht, Marie Elisabeth Liiders (1878-1966) published her study Das unbekannte Heer (The Secret Army), an analysis of women's war service based on experiences with the employment of women in World War I. (4) Luders. who was very active in the German "bourgeois women's movement" and a popular author, concluded that as modern wars became increasingly more technological, the inclusion of women into the war effort was unavoidable. To organize and train women in peacetime would be the most efficient way to use them during the war--as "comrades" beside the men. but still in specifically assigned "female" fields of employment. Accordingly, the secret "Guidelines for the Employment of Women in War." developed in fall 1938. by the Reich Economic Ministry, stated that in wartime women should not be employed in areas that required technical understanding. (5) Instead. they should be employed in areas deemed appropriate to their "female virtues"--welfare, nursing, civil air defense, undemanding administrative tasks, and the armament industry.
Throughout the 1930s young German women had been prepared for their forthcoming roles as housewives and mothers, which ultimately meant their exclusion from the battlefield. Yet at the same time. within the framework of the Bund Deutscher Madel (League of German Girls. BDM). they underwent a rigid paramilitary training that often included training with hand weapons. Similar ambivalence applied in the case of women pilots. The NS Flying Corps, founded in 1937, did not accept women as full members. Even when they were actively flying, they were only allowed to be "supporting members" (fordernde Mitglieder), in accordance with the roles ascribed to them--to support their flying husbands and sons. Yet, the League of German Girls planned to have 500 female BDM-leaders trained in gliding. This would have created the cornerstone of a female glider movement, which was to bring the physical and emotional virtues of gliding to an even larger number than the thousands who were already active in gliding clubs all over Germany. It would also have formed a distinctive, National Socialist branch of the German women's gliding movement. Due to the war, however, these plans were not realized and the contradictions continued. While women were seriously discouraged from taking up flying careers, and directed towards only menial positions in aviation, the Luftwaffe utilized the talents of two of them, Hanna Reitsch and Melitta Schiller-yon Stauffenberg (1903-1945), for highly specific research tasks, and the Nazi state made Reitsch a poster child of its propaganda efforts.
Therefore, it might also not come as a surprise that, although German efforts to utilize the female labor force for war purposes obviously had begun early, until the end of the war female employment to a large degree took place in an improvised, uncoordinated manner far below the women's actual level of professional training and capabilities. The mobilization of German women for the war remained far below its potential, last but not least because Adolf Hitler himself refused to order their mobilization. One exception was the Luftwaffe. Even before the outbreak of World War II, in spring 1939, the Reich Air Ministry began to organize the employment of women in the Luftwaffe's air space surveillance (Luftwaffeu-und Flugmeldedienst). Thus, over the course of the war, the Luftwaffe became the largest employer of female auxiliary forces among all three branches of the military--about 130,000 women were employed in non-flying positions as employees, workers, and female Luftwaffe assistance specialists (Luftwaffehelferinnen). (6)
At the outbreak of the war in September 1939, there were no plans to tap into the considerable potential of women pilots. At the time, in Germany, about eighty women held sport pilots' (or A2-) licenses and some 1,000 women were glider pilots with different degrees of skill. The Luftwaffe did not bother to consider this potential, mainly for three reasons. First, at the onset of World War II, the Luftwaffe saw no need to request the services of women. Contrary to the Allies, Germany had a large number of young, well trained pilots eager to fight--although the official numbers claimed by Germany in 1938-39 should be read with care. Therefore, the Luftwaffe's general staff had never considered the actual employment of women pilots, or, as a well-informed German journalist put it in much glossier terms in 1940, "There are no female war pilots in Germany, and there will never be because this ... is incompatible with the ethos of the new German." (7) Later on in the war, when Luftwaffe sustained increasing losses, it was too late to register and recruit women pilots efficiently. Secondly, there were too many rival institutions--Luftwaffe, NS Flying Corps, Reich Youth Leadership, League of German Girls, to only mention a few--competing for their share in recruiting additional pilots, and also blocking each other's efforts. And thirdly, there was--as compared to the U.S., USSR, and Great Britain--no women pilots' organization and no prominent aviatrix (such as the Americans Jackie Cochran or Nancy Harkness Love) who might have been instrumental in suggesting and implementing the employment of female pilots for war-related purposes. None of the available German women pilots had the professional expertise, the political significance, and the personal ambitions necessary to create an organized employment of German women pilots during wartime.
German Women Motor Pilots
In early 1940, women sport pilots were questioned for the very first time about their possible utilization "in ferrying planes from aviation companies to assembly locations near the frontline." (8) In close cooperation with the Reich Air Ministry, the NS Flying Corps had sent out a "strictly confidential" circular that inquired about their piloting skills and "readiness for action." The women were offered opportunities to ferry planes--provided that they had logged at least thirty flight hours as A2-(sport) pilots. "I don't think I need to describe the cheering which began among us demoted women pilots," Germany's most famous woman sport pilot, Elly Beinhorn (1907-2007), declared, describing the feelings of her comrades at that time. "Of course, they couldn't do it without us, we realized with satisfaction when we received our draft notices." (9)
Since before the war, women pilots had only been allowed to obtain sports pilots' licenses, and were only prepared to fly a very limited range of aircraft. Therefore Beinhorn, like a number of other women pilots, voluntarily attended one of the transition training courses that took place at Berlin-Rangsdorf and other airfields all over Germany. Here, women pilots, but also male pilots who had not yet been drafted into the Luftwaffe, obtained B1/B2 licenses which enabled them to fly, respectively, one-to four-seater planes of 1,000 to 2,500 kilogram weight (B1), or one- to eight-seated airplanes with a weight from 2,500 to 5,000 kilograms (B2). (10) Woman pilot Eva-Essa von Dewitz's (19071989) flight log survived to document the training-program schedule. The future ferry pilots were trained to fly smaller planes such as Bucker Bu 131 Jungmann, Heinkel He 72 Kadett, Siebel Si 202 Hummel and Focke-Wulf Fw 44. (11)
The "Instructions for the Takeover of Aircraft Owned by the Reich from Industry for Ferrying to Luftwaffe Supply Bases by Pilots of the NS Flying Corps," dated March 29, 1940, (12) regulated the organizational linkage as well as the duties and tasks of the retrained pilots. The ferry pilots of the Flying Corps remained civilians flying in a paramilitary environment. They were allowed to fly only during "appropriate" weather conditions and only before dark--clearly an indication that the Flying Corps did not expect too much with regards to the abilities of its pilots. Consequently, very quickly disillusionment set in among the women who had applied, as Elly Beinhorn described: "Not much emerged from the examination. Some of us were found worthy to ferry repaired trainers from the companies to the supply bases where they were taken over by the Luftwaffe.... But nothing really came out of that. Except for a few girls who didn't have anything better to do, all the others disappeared back into their private lives." (13)
Some of the women who had completed transition classes found positions as company pilots where they were hired to replace male pilots. One of them was Charlotte Hogeweg (1898-1986) who, from 1940 to early 1942, was employed as a ferry pilot with the Reich Air Ministry's Supply Office (Nachschubamt), probably in a military or quasi-military function. (14) Lisl Schwab (1900-1967) attended a transition class in Rangdorf in 1939, and then worked as a company pilot with the Letov Company in Olmutz, Moravia and the Bohemian-Moravian Machine Company in Prague, where she also ferried planes as large as the Junkers W 34. In 1943, she was awarded the War Merit Cross, Second Class (Kriegsverdienstkreuz Zweiter Klasse). Until summer 1944, Schwab then worked as chief pilot for the Leichtbau Inc. in Budweis, mainly test-flying the company's Fieseler Fi 156. For the next several months, Schwab served with the ferrying wing at the Commander's Office at the Berlin-Tempelhof air base, and from September 1944 to May 1945, with the Luftwaffe's Ferrying Wing 1, Group South-East, at air bases in Prag-Gbell, Bad Voslau, Linz-Postlingberg, Horsching, and Klagenfurt. (15) In May 1945, Schwab was arrested by U.S. troops, but escaped from captivity in June. (16)
Pilots Beate Uhse (1919-2001) and Thea Knorr (dates unknown) also started out as company test and ferry pilots. Both women ferried various types of light airplanes, mainly Klemm and Bucker aircraft and the Fieseler Storch, from production sites and repair yards to and from airbases near the front line. As the surviving flight logs of Uhse and Knorr prove, the employment of women pilots was irregular and inefficient. Both women worked only a few days per month, completing test flights that lasted between five and less than twenty minutes. Sometimes both women, at least according to their records, did not fly for months. Knorr's flight log (whose entries are most likely incomplete) shows 214 flights between June 11, 1940 and October 8, 1944, including test flights as well as ferry flights. Obviously, female pilots were not needed to a degree that would have required their daily services. Persistent rumors that large aviation companies such as Junkers and Messerschmitt employed dozens of female company and ferry pilots, seem rather unlikely in light of these research results.
Women pilots who had been retrained to fly B1/B2 planes also found other niches open to them, mainly within the NS Flying Corps. In most cases, they worked at or headed repair yards that provided aircraft supply for the Luftwaffe. In all of these positions, they replaced male pilots who had been drafted. In 1939 renowned aerobatic pilot Vera von Bissing (1906-2002), employed by the NS Flying Corps since 1937, became the head of a regional repair yard of the NSFK Group 6, Eschwege, with approximately 100 planes. After the war, she described her job as follows: "I test-flew all planes which were due for repair or overhaul, was in charge of arranging the materiel supply for the yard, of keeping the records of aircraft cabins and engines, of distributing and checking parachutes, and headed a so-called ferrying center the task of which was to ferry smaller air craft (A2 and B1 planes) from the production sites to the Luftwaffe supply parks. Mainly, we ferried K1 32, He 72, Fw 52, and Fieseler Storch." (17) Von Bissing fulfilled her job eagerly and dutifully, commanding about 100 male ferry pilots. (18) For ferrying 1,000 planes without a single accident, von Bissing was decorated in 1944 with the War Merit Cross. Like Schwab, she was arrested in 1945 by Allied troops, but released within a few days.
Woman pilot and flight mechanic Anneliese Lieben-Hoppner (1910-1989) held a similar position as a civilian employee at the Luflwaffe's air service unit (Luftdienstkommando) 1/6 at Munster-Loddernheide, where starting in 1943 she worked as a pilot and head of aircraft maintenance. Her field of activity consisted of the "execution of technical matters affairs, concerning aircraft maintenance, test flights and anti-aircraft target shooting practice." and her superior stated, "Reich Employee (Reichsangestellte) Hoppner has many years of experience in flying and can put all her experiences to use as the head of maintenance (Wartungsleitung)." (19) The fleet of Lieben's Luftdienstkommando consisted of at least thirty-five planes: four Heinkel He 111, one Junkers Ju 86, twelve Dornier Do 17, one Focke-Wulf Fw 58, one Focke-Wulf Fw 190, one Messerschmitt Bf 108, eleven Klemm K1 35, one Junkers W 34 and three Avia B 71. (20) As the head of maintenance flight mechanic Lieben was in charge of maintaining that complex stock of airplane types. However, Lieben's case proves that there was no imperative need for female services even in the middle of the war In August 1943, the Luftwaffe reduced Lieben's working hours to six five-hour days per week; and shortly thereafter accepted her request to quit her job because she was getting married.
In winter 1943, German losses mounted, especially after the battle of Stalingrad, and led to the proclamation of "total warfare," which among other things resulted in a compulsory registration of women between the ages of 17 and 45 (later 50) for labor. (The measure was restricted to registration and was never fully put into practice.) In the context of this measure, for the first time the potential of women motor and glider pilots was seriously considered. The women were asked whether they were qualified and interested in serving as auxiliary pilots. (21) But, as a result of different entities and agencies competing for the employment of women pilots, no clear plan existed, suggesting whether to use the women in a civilian or military capacity, or what kinds of tasks they would have to perform. Most likely, women were planned to be utilized as ferry pilots, and as pilots of cargo gliders that delivered supplies, but also troops to the frontlines. In spring and summer of 1944, those women who had taken the initiative to apply, were "drafted" and enlisted as members of the ferrying units of the Luftwaffe. The names of eight women ferry pilots are confirmed by records. Five of them--Liesel Bach (1905-1992), Lieselotte Georgi (1920-1982), Thea Knorr, Lisl Schwab and Beate Uhse--served among the forty pilots of the Ferrying Wing 1 of Central Ferrying Group (Uberfuhrungsgruppe Mitte) which was stationed in Berlin-Tempelhof. (22) Wearing uniforms and holding the rank of captain, they worked under the same conditions as male Luftwaffe pilots. (23)
As Uhse describes in her memoirs, the women were originally assigned to the third squadron of the ferrying wing which ferried trainers, but--like their American counterparts, the WASPs--quickly moved to more challenging tasks. Within five months, Uhse switched to the second squadron which ferried fighter planes. However, Beate Uhse's and Thea Knorr's flight logs--the only surviving logs of women ferry pilots in the Luftwaffe--show that the overwhelming majority of their ferry flights were short-distance, with daily flight times of only a few hours. Ferrying flights to areas outside the 1939 borders of the Reich were extremely rare. Uhse ferried about sixteen different types of planes, including the Klemm K131, K132, K135 and K136, Bucker Bu 131, Bu 133, Bu 180 and Bu 181, Siebel Si 104 and Si 202, Heinkel He 72, Focke-Wulf Fw 44 and Fw 190, Messerschmitt Me/Bf 108 and 109 as well as Junkers Ju 87. She had at last one training lesson on the new fighter jet Me 262--on April 30, 1945, one week before the end of the war. Knorr ferried K1 25, K1 35 und Bu 181. In all, she flew significantly fewer missions than Uhse.
Although the women were only supposed to ferry planes, and were not trained for combat, often their flights were performed under wartime conditions, in the midst of enemy air supremacy. Liesel Bach recollects: "Our flights towards the end of the war, mainly in western Germany, were almost always suicide missions. [...] It is true that my plane was armed for cases of emergency. But it wasn't our task to shoot and to get into air battles. We had to deliver the airplanes safe and sound and to avoid any contact with the enemy. Most of the time, I accomplished this by flying my plane at low altitude above the trees. And when I saw an enemy plane, I disappeared in the next tree line." (24) Beate Uhse adds:
ferrying flights had become dangerous missions. We were chased by enemy fighters. My airplane was fully armed. But I was well aware that, without any fighter training, I could only lose in an air battle with a 'Spitfire.' Therefore, it was better to disappear. I flew as low as possible, below the tree lines. At this low altitude it was hard to see me. But one danger remained: Instead of being shot down, I could crash into a hill, a pole, or a building. (25)
Two women had crossed deeper into male territory: Hanna Reitsch and Melitta Schiller-von Stauffenberg became experimental test pilots. (26) While they remained civilians, their work was performed in close cooperation with the Luftwaffe. Despite their marked personal differences, Reitsch and Schiller shared some similarities: Both women moved seamlessly from civilian to military research, both were awarded high military decorations, and both were honored with the prestigious title "Flight Captain."
Although Hanna Reitsch did not possess the requisite professional qualification--an engineering degree or training in aeronautics--as did most of her male colleagues, she became a military experimental test pilot in 1937, when she was sent to the Luftwaffe's Flight Test Center in Rechlin. Here she tested a variety of aircraft. Among her tasks were test flights in the cargo glider DSF 230. Reitsch not only proved the full potential of this plane, but also became instrumental in developing guidelines for the training of cargo glider pilots--an achievement which significantly contributed to the battlefield success of this plane, especially during the battle for the Belgian fortress Eben Emael in 1940, where the cargo gliders and their pilots succeeded spectacularly. Reitsch also performed dangerous tests in cutting the cables of barrage balloons with tools attached to the wingtips of planes, such as the Dornier Do 17 and Heinkel He 111. In 1942, she test-flew the Messerschmitt Me 163B, a version of the world's first rocket-powered interceptor, and one year later the other version, the Me 163A. (27) While Reitsch was not one of the originally designated experimental test pilots for the Me 163 [these were Heini Dittmar (1911-1960) and "Rudy" (also: Rudi) Opitz (born in 1909), she flew the Me 163 at least eight times during transition training flights and company test flights. At least one of these flights was a powered flight. (28) Both Opitz and Dittmar had suffered severe injuries flying the Me 163, and Reitsch did not fare better: After a severe crash, she spent the next five months in a hospital, and her future as a pilot looked grim. After her recovery, in 1943, Reitsch successfully tested a manned version of the V-1 robot bomb (a cruise missile). Reitsch received prestigious military decorations, among them the Iron Cross Second and First Class and the Golden Military Flying Medal with Diamonds in a Special Setting. Towards the end of the war, she was instrumental in trying to form a unit of German Kamikaze pilots, a project which was never fully realized. In 1945, Reitsch was arrested by U.S. troops and interrogated. (29)
Melitta Schiller's talents as a physicist, flight engineer and pilot, were also put to full use. As a pilot at the Rechlin Test Center, and, from 1942 on, at the Luftwaffe's Technical Academy in Berlin-Gatow, Schiller's research focused on the continuous improvement of the efficiency of German bombing methods. For that purpose, Schiller performed more than 2,500 dangerous dives, mainly with Junkers Ju 87 and Ju 88, sometimes up to fifteen per day, starting at about 4,000 meters and diving down to less than 1,000. Quite often she was attacked by Allied planes entering the air space over Berlin. In 1944, Melitta Schiller became the head of the newly-founded Experimental Center for Aircraft Special Devices (Versuchsstelle fur Flugzeug-Sondergerat e. V) in Berlin-Adlershof. Her tasks now included the research on automated triggers for dropping bombs on tanks, on dive-bombing and level-bombing aiming devices, on blind bomb release, night fighter and visual night landing procedures, and on aiming devices for attacking massive bomber formations. For her work, Schiller was awarded the Iron Cross Second Class and the Military Flying Medal in Gold with Diamonds and Rubies. She was also recommended for the Iron Cross First Class, but was shot down by Allied planes during a ferrying flight in April 1945, and died before she was able to receive this prestigious medal.
Very late in the war, in November 1944 and January 1945, the High Command of the Luftwaffe established guidelines for the selection and employment of women as aircraft technical personnel--no doubt in response to the enormous loss of male pilots and other personnel at that time. (30) Again, no plans were made to utilize the potential of female pilots more efficiently. The guidelines included among others the recruitment of fifty women for the Chief of Supply (Chef Nachschub), where they probably were to be trained among others as ferry pilots, most likely to follow the footsteps of above-mentioned Charlotte Hogeweg. An even greater number of women were to be trained as "assistant chemical technicians" (Hilfs-Cherno-Technikerinnen), a term which most likely included training as aircraft mechanics as well as aircraft technical and operational personnel. At that stage of the war, the Luftwaffe also made plans to recruit about 150,000 suitable women to replace 112,000 of Luftwaffe's regular enlisted men. By March 1945, fifty percent of the airplane mechanics and thirty percent of the air engine mechanics (Flugmotorenschlosser) were to be replaced by women. This way, younger soldiers could be released for battle. At the same time, soldiers less fit for war, who had not stood the test as "aircraft technical personnel" were to be replaced by the women "most suited for this employment ... who voluntarily had decided to do this job." However, the High Command's plans stretched much further, as was announced early in 1945: "For the long term it is planned to train the best of the female employees as special personnel. For that purpose, special courses will be established at the technical flight schools (fliegertechnische Schulen)." (31) Although the wording of the decree indicates that these plans might also have regarded the training as ferry pilots, the final collapse of the Reich meant that none of the ideas were pursued further.
German Women Glider Pilots
Gliding had had a longstanding tradition among German women, with the first women's glider clubs established around 1930. Over time, an extensive infrastructure developed, with women's gliding clubs founded in many German cities, and probably training thousands of women. After 1933, all support, and all material supply were gradually transferred to men's gliding as it provided future Luftwaffe pilots. Although women such as Hanna Reitsch, Liesel Zangemeister (died 1935), Inge Wetzel (1912-?) and Feodora"Dolly" Schmidt (1914-1997) had established European and world records, women's gliding in Germany became enormously restricted, and ceased to exist with the outbreak of the war in September 1939. After that time, the women's clubs were reduced to social functions only. (32)
In 1943, women gilder pilots, like women motor pilots were asked about their interest in supporting the Luftwaffe in an auxiliary function. The women's employment was intended to help solve the Luftwaffe's recruiting problems, by aiding in the efforts to pre-train new recruits in gliding. This substantially shortened the general training time for pilots, a measure meant to counterweigh the losses of Luftwaffe pilots which increased monthly.
The demand to train more pilots was accompanied by attempts to increase aircraft production. In response to the emergency created by the Allied Combined Bomber Offensive, on March 1, 1944, the Armanents and Air Ministries created the Fighter Staff (Jagerstab) program, (33) which was to produce between 1,000 and 4,000 fighters per month; in early 1945 production was to be increased to almost 10,000 planes a month. In this context, desperate plans like the "People's Air Militia" (Volkssturm der Lufte) were born. Young male pilots, all of them members of the Flying Hitler Youth (Flieger-HJ), were to be pre-trained to fly simple, but often very difficult to maneuver planes against the enemy. Among these planes were the Me 163 B, the Me 328, the manned version of the Fieseler Fi 103 (V1 Reichenberg), and the Heinkel He 162 People's Hunter (Volksjtiger), a jet plane with a plywood fuselage. All these planes presented enormous technological and piloting difficulties, such as erratic performance at takeoffs and landings, extremely high speeds, and difficult maneuverability. Many utilized enormously volatile fuels, and were tremendously hard to fly even for experienced pilots. Experts such as the Chief of Fighter Forces, General Adolf Galland (1912-1996), and the Chief of Bomber Forces, General Werner Baumbach (1916-1953), therefore steadfastly protested the idea of training members of the Flying Hitler Youth as "fighter recruits for special purposes." (34) However, in the quarrel of competencies among the NSDAP, the Reich Youth Leadership, the Fighter Staff, the Luftwaffe, competing ministries, and other institutions, the NS Flying Corps saw the pre-training of Luftwaffe recruits in gliding as an opportunity to prove its raison d'etre, and to gain significance within the framework of the German war effort. Therefore, it ruthlessly continued its efforts which were halted only by the end of the war.
The Flying Corps' immense demand in flight instructors was to be met by the inclusion and training of women, mostly women glider pilots, as gliding flight instructors and flight instructor assistants. But, as in the case of the women motor pilots, it took more than a year to develop any concrete plans. In summer 1944, all eligible women who had expressed interest were contacted, and in July 1944 were "drafted" by the Flying Corps at their own initiative. (35) The training of the first class of women gliding instructors started in August 1944 at the gliding school in Grunau, Silesia. The class consisted of fifty German (and formerly Austrian) women glider pilots. Up to the end of the war, more classes followed. At least one more unit with 120 women is known for fall 1944 in Grunau, (36) and a class with twenty to twenty-five female participants in the fall at the Wasserkuppe/RhSn. Most likely, additional classes were formed at other locations. Not all participants were experienced glider pilots, although the latter seem to have formed the majority in the first classes. Other participants were motor pilots or had been instructors of the NS Flying Corps already before the war, such as Elisabeth Hartmann (1897-?), mother of renowned fighter pilot Erich Hartmann (1922-1993).: (57) Largely following a Reich Air Ministry guideline stating that only unmarried women should be assigned to war services, and married women only on a voluntary basis, and if they had no children, the NS Flying Corps drafted women who were unmarried, or widowed, and usually childless. (38)
The women wore the blue uniform of the NS Flying Corps and were trained for two months in close cooperation with the Luftwaffe. The training was conducted almost exclusively by men, and included lessons in aviation, aerodynamics, navigation, instruments, reading and handling of instruments, meteorology, air traffic law, splicing, welding, and wood and metal processing. The women also had gliding lessons at three different levels: beginners, advanced and experts, in one- and two-seated gliders. (39)
The graduates were sent to various schools in Germany, to each "teach flying to two or three dozens of 'rascals'," as Margaret Schmidt (dates unknown), one of the instructors, described it. (40) None of the women felt as if they were discriminated against by their male superiors, colleagues, or flight students. All insisted that instead they were treated with respect and appreciation. "We were fully accepted, and nobody tried to stop us in any way," reports glider pilot Marga H. (born 1914), who in 1945 attended one of the last training classes for female gliding instructors. (41) However, at their duty stations, women instructors always had to work in close cooperation with male instructors, and were never on their own. Marie-Luise Muller-Maar (1911-2001), a graduate of the first women's class at Wasserkuppe, described her duties at the gliding school as follows:
there was one principal, one flight instructor, two of us from the Wasserkuppe group, and furthermore two girls in the kitchen and about forty-five flight students between the ages of 14 and 47. The boys were all nice and enthusiastic about flying. We rose early, early morning exercise, breakfast, and then up the hill. The planes were pushed out of the hangar and the starts began. Singing, we marched down the hill for lunch, one hour of rest, and then up the hill again until dinner. Each had a group of about fifteen boys, and the comradeship was excellent. After dinner, we had an hour of theory, and then there was some written homework to do, until we went to bed early.... (42)
Due to the approaching end of the war, the female instructors were not employed efficiently anymore; neither were the overwhelming majority of their students. Evacuated away from the approaching enemy and sent from flight school to flight school, the women's final job became releasing the students and destroying the gliders--but they did not always follow the latter order. By the end of April 1945, the last women instructors were dismissed, and often arrested by the Allied troops since their uniforms seemed to indicate an affiliation with the Luftwaffe. However, members of the NS Flying Corps--as long as they were not simultaneously members of the Luftwaffe--were legally considered members of a corporation under public law, and thus were non-combatants. Thus, women gliding instructors were usually released within days. Their contributions to the war effort, no doubt, were considered insignificant by the Allies.
Women Pilots' Motivation and Gains
It is obvious that while their number was insignificant, the quality of the employment of German women pilots in World War II was substantial. In no branch of the German armed forces were women able to rise professionally as they did with the Luftwaffe. They became company and experimental test pilots, ferry pilots, heads of repair yards or gliding instructors in para-military services. As the youngest and most innovative branch of the Armed Forces, the Luftwaffe had experimented early on in the war with the employment of women for specific tasks and had gradually increased its demands. As more and more male pilots were drafted or were killed, more and more niches opened up for women. And while the need for innovative approaches to fill war-created gaps was the Luftwaffe's motivation to open up to women, women pilots had their own reasons to involve themselves. Their reasons were threefold: the opportunities offered to them by an affiliation with the Luftwaffe's needs, the women's patriotic feelings, and their attempt to prove equality with men--not only in the air, but in society in general. I will analyze each in turn.
First, an affiliation with Germany's air war needs proved fruitful for those women who took advantage of it. Flying for the Luftwaffe or the NS Flying Corps allowed women pilots access to aircraft that otherwise would have been completely out of reach, and increased their number of flight hours tremendously. Ferry pilot Beate Uhse declared after the war: "My sport flying had become impossible due to the war.... Therefore, I gratefully seized the opportunity offered to me by Luftwaffe, to be deployed in a ferrying wing. To fly all the aircraft types there which one never could have accessed otherwise.... With this variety of experience, and all these hours logged, I thought back then, one would have great chances in professional and sport aviation after the war." (43) Pragmatically, Liesel Bach argued: "The most important thing was that we were able to fly, and [that] we were allowed to continue flying during the war. As far as flights to the frontlines were concerned, we were allowed to make our own decisions. All opportunities were opened up to US." (44)
The gains in flight experience are documented in the women's flight logs: Before the war, between 1937 and 1939, Lisl Schwab had logged in 166 flight hours, including the 1939 transition training in Rangsdorf where she--in addition to Klemm light planes (KI 25 and Kl 31) she had flown before--learned to fly the Me/Bf 108. During the war, Lisl Schwab participated in more than 3,000 missions, flying all kinds of planes from Me/Bf 109 and Fw 190 up to transport planes. She not only increased her number of flight hours enormously, but also gained considerable experience flying a broad variety of aircraft. Pilot Beate Uhse's flight log shows 686 flights during her career as company and test pilot between August 1937, and the outbreak of the war on September 1, 1939. For the wartime era, until April 30, 1945, the flight log registers 1,072 entries, comprising of test flights as a company pilot, transition flights and ferrying frights with the Luftwaffe. (45) Uhse flew a wide diversity of aircraft, including the aforementioned training/conversion flight on the Messerschmitt Me 262. The flight logs also show a wide variety of tasks assigned to the pilot, including ferrying, weather and demanding test and control flights. Uhse's expectation to gain enormous experience in her wartime employment was definitely not disappointed.
Glider pilots were eager to seize the opportunity to take up flying again. "When so many German pilots had died that even the last available gliding instructor had been drafted," glider pilot Margret Schmidt wrote in her memoirs, "then, suddenly, the higher-ups remembered us demoted flying girls.... And, unfortunately, they hadn't been wrong." (46) As instructors, the women gained enormous knowledge in the theoretical and practical aspects of soaring, and had access to many advanced gliders which otherwise they would never have been able to fly. Furthermore, the women--according to their own statements--had not only been longing to soar, but also cherished the company of their old friends and instructors. They had known each other from training courses and competitions before the war, and had cultivated an intense social life that had stretched far beyond soaring. By applying for instructor classes and being drafted, they saw a chance to renew their personal relationships, to escape from the rather harsh wartime reality that kept them in mediocre and boring jobs far away from their interests and friends. (47) Consequently, women sometimes even signed up in groups for instructor training. Experiencing once more the long-missed sense of community that is so common among glider pilots, and engaged in a rigid schedule, most women glider pilots lived in a world of illusion towards the end of the war: They enjoyed flying, the comradeship, and the sense of being needed even as their world fell into ruins. True to their patriotic mission, not one of them seemed to have questioned their mission.
Secondly, patriotism: For most of the women pilots, patriotism--or rather, misguided nationalism--was an important source of motivation. Patriotic and nationalistic feelings had been central to German aviation since the end of World War I, when the Treaty of Versailles had placed heavy restrictions on Germany in general, and on aviation in particular. With the outbreak of World War II, patriotic feelings peaked in many Germans, male and female. In 1940, woman glider pilot Karin Mannesmann (1908-1942) wrote into her diary, unaware that she was referring to a completely false rumor: "It is so very disappointing that I can experience this time only as a spectator. Today, somebody spoke about a Canadian woman pilot who was shot down over Berlin and who had lost both her legs. Allegedly, she asked if she had hit [the] Siemens [factory] because then she could die in peace. What a pity that among us there are no opportunities for such employment." (48)
When offered the chance to show their patriotism, women were more than eager to do so. For some of them, their actions were just a continuation of prewar activities that went along with their political beliefs, an outlet for their nationalist and/or National Socialist beliefs. Liesel Bach, who had been an ardent follower of Adolf Hitler since 1932, stated that she would rather work dangerous missions as a ferry pilot than suffer passively the air raids on German cities. (49) And pilot Lisl Schwab, who had pursued all her flying career in close connection with Nazi state leaders and institutions, and who had ferried wounded Wehrmacht soldiers from Hungary to Germany towards the end of the war, after the war expressed great satisfaction about this humanitarian mission which she considered a matter-of-course action for every true German. (50)
But political statements that confirm the women pilots' patriotic intentions and efforts are rare. The overwhehning majority of women--glider and motor pilots alike--kept silent after the war with regard to their contributions and the details of their employment: They were afraid of being stigmatized as "Nazi aviatrixes" and feared to be held responsible for their involvement with the regime. Rather, they claimed that their intentions had been completely apolitical. The attempt to disconnect one's biography from the political context can also be found in the memoirs of ferry pilot Beate Uhse, who wrote, "I let myself be deceived--like millions of others, too..... As a German, one did his duty in this horrible war. Depending where one had been put, as a mother, a farmer, a soldier, a pilot. That's the way I thought, like millions of others." (51) Vera von Bissing used the same strategy of exculpation when summarizing her wartime activities as head of a ferrying yard during her denazification trial in 1947: "This was, in short, my area of activities, obviously completely focused only on aviation. I have never been politically active.... Except for a few newspaper articles which I had read about the relationship between Adolf Hitler and Leni Riefenstahl, and which were not taken seriously, I have never heard anything." (52)
This strategy of depoliticizing one's actions was common among Germans after World War II: In self-explication, one's individual actions became the result of external influences for which one was not responsible, and which one could not have changed. Conditions and consequences of one's actions therefore can be separated from one's responsibility. Such escape from reality camouflages, diminishes, and blurs the women's role in the war effort. But it also camouflages, diminishes, and blurs the third factor: the functioning of gender in the role of women pilots during the war.
The influence of the gender aspect on German women pilots at war cannot be underestimated. German wartime women pilots found themselves at the heart of areas considered almost or exclusively male domains: technology, aviation, and the military/warfare. Living in a patriarchal dictatorship that assigned rather strict gender roles to men and women, women pilots' intrusion only became possible due to the demands of war. Yet working side by side with men, they still did not experience gender equality; traditional--and even more so, Nazi--gender role assignments remained powerful. This is shown by attempts to regulate the exclusion--at least in theory--of women from combat and combat-like conditions according to the non-combatant status the Nazis had reserved for their female auxiliary forces. In practice, women ferry and experimental test pilots' worked under combat-like conditions, in planes that often were fully equipped with weapons and ammunition and flown in a sky in which the enemy held air supremacy. But even then women were strictly forbidden to engage in combat. To kill in combat, remained a strictly male privilege. There is no doubt that the official emphasis on the "non-combatant" deployment of women and the orders not to shoot at the enemy, indeed to avoid any direct enemy contact, was a farce that revealed the regime's paternalist character: The state proved its allegedly protective intentions towards women, while at the same time manifesting the exclusively male privilege to kill. (53)
German women pilots accepted their exclusion from combat, as well as they had always accepted any condescending attitude of male colleagues. In fact, German women pilots flying before World War II had acknowledged their inferior status in aviation to a much larger degree than their American and British counterparts. Most women pilots declared that issues of the "Fatherland" were more important than attempts to achieve emancipation in the air, especially since emancipation was seen as a very unpatriotic attitude. (54) During the war, the women continued and intensified this approach. Thus, all their attempts were directed towards assimilating into their male military environment. They wanted to prove their values as worthy comrades who could take the male environment, including the exposure to air battle, "like a man."
Germany's female experimental test pilots are a case in point for this assimilationist behavior. Hanna Reitsch always presented herself as a comrade of the flying man who was on equal terms with him. She left no doubt that she was willing to do her duty--like all the (male) soldiers fighting on the front lines. Whether she was test-flying, visiting troops at the Eastern Front, or fulfilling propaganda assignments, Hanna Reitsch stressed her equality with men, and her belonging to the chosen group of--male-citizens fighting for the fatherland--an aspect which became an important part of her identity. Referring to her tasks as an experimental test pilot, she stated for instance: "These test flights fulfilled me and thrilled me spiritually like almost no other task before, because I knew that I flew every test for the lives of my comrades who did their duty." (55) On another occasion, she said about her test-flying assignments: "Here, for the first time, I was given a task which had been an exclusively male privilege. Even when this task only temporarily had the character of soldiership, it seemed to me a patriotic obligation the weight and responsibility of which meant more to me than any honor or rank could have." (56)
The effort not to be judged by gender, but by merit, is even more obvious in the case of Reitsch's competitor, Melitta Schiller Brought up as a Protestant and German nationalist, but considered a "quarter Jew" by the Third Reich's racial standards, Schiller found herself in a precarious position. The more the persecution of Jews in Germany increased, especially during the war, the riskier Schiller's test flight projects became. Officially, the racial background of Germany's most professional female experimental test pilot was never discussed, and in 1944 Schiller was rewarded her "equalization with Aryan people", a legal document which "expunged" her "Jewish" heritage and awarded her the rights and privileges of "Aryans." Schiller herself never mentioned her background, instead focusing on the contributions she made to the German war effort. In a lecture in 1943, she stated: "I believe that I am able to say this in the name of all German women pilots, that in us the hierarchy of the values of all womanhood in no way has been altered and that aviation never [was] a thing of making a sensation or even of emancipation: We women pilots are no suffragettes." (57) And she distanced herself even more from her gender by declaring herself to be a "messenger of my 'people in arms,'" whose work was only possible because she was willing to give "the final--one might say, soldierly--effort, even if it were sacrificing my life." (58) Schiller's 1936 marriage into the Stauffenberg family whose members for centuries had held high-ranking positions in the German military and public service, had served two purposes: to show her devotion to the Fatherland, and to stabilize her racial status in society. The Stauffenberg family turned out not to be the best protection either, when her brother-in-law Claus Graf Schenk von Stauffenberg, organized the 1944 conspiracy to kill Adolf Hitler--a plan Melitta intimately was involved with. After the assassination attempt failed, the conspirators were killed, and their families arrested. Melitta Schiller was arrested, too, but six weeks later, with almost all of her relatives still in prison, she returned to her dive bombing job which she continued until her death in April 1945.
The attempt of the women to blend into their male environment took the edge off their intrusion into the male sphere. Since the women acted "like men" (and were expected to act "like men"), their achievements took on a male connotation. By way of meritocracy, the women were integrated into the male world--not as representatives of their gender, but as rare exceptions who willingly subordinated themselves into their role as female tokens in a male world. This way, the contribution of women to aviation in general and to military aviation in particular, was even more marginalized, and this seemed to confirm the traditional gender role ascriptions: men fly, women don't; men fight, women don't. Instead of helping to lift traditional hierarchical attributions of gender and authority, women pilots' accomplishments during the war cemented them even more.
The question of whether the patriotism of Germany's women pilots served as a camouflage for their attempts to achieve emancipation cannot be N fully answered yet. However, Germany's women pilots and their actions cannot be interpreted as emancipated or feminist in the way we understand it today--a conscious decision to achieve the equality of both genders, for all men and all women. By integrating themselves into the male world they secured exceptional positions for themselves, but surrendered any progress they--perhaps--might have made for their gender.
But there was also a second aspect in the women's attempt to act "like men." When Hanna Reitsch presented herself as a pilot equal to the men fighting on the front, and Melitta Schiller declared herself to be a "messenger of her 'people in arms", and when women pilots felt proud to have been "drafted," all of them, despite their disregard for emancipation, laid claim to a privilege that women had been denied for centuries. For many female pilots, service to the state was a way to prove their value as citizens in a society that considered them second-class citizens. Since the rise of bourgeois society, constitutions had partly based men's citizenship on the right and duty to serve in the military. Women had been excluded from this privilege of citizenship, and had thus been excluded from being actively involved in many aspects of their nation's development and politics. For them, questions of gender and nation had become closely intertwined. Both are artificially constructed in a process of inclusion and exclusion, by the promise of participation and the threat of omission--all these factors shaping the existence of the individual. For men, gender identity and national identity had been intertwined in their identities as citizens, and soldiers. For women, this connection was not as obvious. Since they did not have citizenship rights or acquired them only gradually over time, they had to prove their identity as citizens much more than men. Again, I would argue, this was more a political than emancipatory approach. Serving their state at a time of need seemed to be an opportune way for women pilots to show their loyalty, and to lay claims on being respected as fully responsible citizens who wanted to contribute their share to their nation's needs--no matter what their actual gender was. Although this motivation has emancipatory undertones, it has to be seen primarily in the light of the political events that shaped Germany during the first half of the twentieth century.
Unfortunately, the experiment of German women pilots at war failed to have a lasting influence. With the end of World War II, the women's efforts and accomplishments were ignored and quickly forgotten when Germany wanted to do away with its Nazi past. In a rather brief and cursory process of denazification, dictated by the needs to integrate both German states into the frontlines of the "Cold War," the political and military past of the women pilots was declared insignificant. Only Hanna Reitsch, who had been especially prominent during the Hitler era, was singled out as a "Nazi criminal" in the public process of dealing with the past (Vergangenheitsbewaltigung): Biographical elements, dynamic power structures, the ideological mechanisms of manipulation, not to mention the complex individual and societal entanglements of guilt that defined the Nazi regime, were completely neglected. The other women pilots simply disappeared into oblivion. The question of whether they were (co-)perpetrators in the crimes of the Third Reich, and if so, to what extent, still remains largely unanswered. Although there is no doubt today that the Nazi regime was an ensemble of men and women, and a "broad spectrum of multiple amalgamated activities, which together made the National Socialist dictatorship happen," (59) the exemplary role of women pilots during the Nazi era, and their contribution to our understanding of gender roles, is still completely understudied.
Yet, the fact that women pilots had been able to master military aircraft as well as men--that they had performed their missions under combat-like conditions--was quickly forgotten because of the gender aspects involved. The threatening knowledge that women could master military aircraft and risk their lives in war and combat as well as men was not welcome in the late 1940s and 1950s, when both German societies returned to more conservative family and gender values. Male pilots, even those with a compromising Nazi era career, were needed in the newly founded Luftwaffe of 1956; women were not. And while the men took off into the jet age, society defined a new "dream job in the air" for young German women--that of a stewardess, a "housewife in the air." (60) Only at the end of the twentieth century, more than fifty years after the end of World War II and the accomplishments of their predecessors, two women were accepted into training as military pilots with the Luftwaffe.
(1.) For a detailed comparison on the development of women's aviation in the U.S., Great Britain and the USSR between 1918 and 1945, see the author's "Schneidige deutsche Madel." Fliegerinnen zwischen 1918 und 1945, Gottingen: Wallstein-Verlag 2007, chapter 2 (in German).
(2.) For more information on the pre-war activities of German women pilots, see author's article "'The Holy Desire to Serve the Poor and Tortured Fatherland': German Women Motor Pilots of the Inter-War Era and Their Political Mission," in: German Studies Review, vol. XXX, no. 3, October 2007, pp. 579-596. For a more detailed study covering the years 1918 to 1945, see author's publication [footnote 1].
(3.) See here especially Jeff M. Tuten, Germany and the World Wars, in: Nancy Loring Goldman (ed.), Female Soldiers--Combatants or Noncombatants. Historical and Contemporary, Perspectives, Westport London: Greenwald Press 1982, pp. 47-60.
(4.) Marie Elisabeth Luders, Das unbekannte Heer. Frauen kampfen far Deutschland 1914-1918, Berlin: Verlag yon E.S. Mittler und Sohn 1936, and Marie Elisabeth Ltiders, Volksdienst der Frau, Berlin: Hans-Bott-Verlag 1937.
(5.) Runderlass no. 426/38 ASt. of the Reich Economic Ministry, Richtlinien fur die Beschraftigung von Frauen im Mobfall (Guidelines for the Employment of Women in War), October 10, 1938, in: BA Koblenz, R 13/1/1016. For more information, see Ursula von Gersdorff, Frauen im Kriegsdienst, 1914 bis 1945, Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt 1969, p. 47, and p. 285ff (reprint of the document).
(6.) In 1943/44, about 8,000 female communication aides and about 12,500 female staff assistant specialists (Stabshelferinnen) served in the Field Army and in the occupied areas; and in the Navy including the female Navy aides (Marinehelferinnen) about 20,000 women. The Luftwaffe during the war mobilized approximately 130,000 women. See Ursula von Gersdorff, Frauen im Kriegsdienst, 1914 bis 1945, p. 74 f. In the same source, see also the following documents relevant for the employment of women with the Luftwaffe: "Sehreiben des Reichsbevolamachtigten for den totalen Kriegseinsatz. Wehrmachtersatzprogramm und Wehrhilfsdienstgesetz", Oct. 19, 1944, p. 455 ft.; and "Entwurf einer Anordnung Hitlers. Einsatz von Luftwaffenhelferinnen (Luftwaffenhelferinnen-Einsatzordnung)," Nov. 1944, p. 460 f.
(7.) Rolf Italiaander, Drei deutsche Fliegerinnen, Berlin: Gustav-Weise-Verlag 1940, p. 9.
(8.) See letter of Theo Croneiss, Fuhrer of NS Flying Corps, Group 13, to woman pilot Lisl Schwab, Feb. 19, 1940; copy in author's possession.
(9.) Elly Beinhorn, Ich fliege um die Welt, Berlin: Ullstein-Verlag 1952, p. 204.
(10.) A B1 license enabled pilots to fly one- to four-seated airplanes of 1,000 to 2,500 kilogram weight; B2 licenses allowed access to one- to eight-seated airplanes with a weight range from 2,500 to 5,000 kilogram. A-licenses Sport pilots licenses) comprised of A1 (one- and two-seated planes up to 500 kilogram weight) and A2 (one- to three-seated planes up to 1,000 kilogram weight.
(11.) See flight log of Eva-Essa von Dewitz, copy in author's possession. Von Dewitz's flight log confirms 78 transition training flights in April and May 1940 on four different types of aircraft, but does not indicate if von Dewitz finished her training.
(12.) "Merkblatt fur die Ubernahme von reichseigenen Flugzeugen aus der Industrie zur Uberfuhrung zu den Nachschubdienststellen der Luftwaffe durch Flugzeugfuhrer des NS-Fliegerkorps," copy in author's possession.
(13.) Elly Beinhorn, Ich fliege um die Welt, p. 204.
(14.) Hogeweges service at the Nachschubamt is registered with the Deutsche Dienststelle/Wehrmachtsauskunftstelle in Berlin which indicates that her work was of military character. See letter by Deutsche Dienststelle to author, July 29, 2003.
(15.) According to affidavit by Maria Elisabeth [Lisl] Schwab, Oct. 19, 1966, copy in author's possession, confirmed by various other Schwab documents including salary slips and tax documents. For further information, the author thanks Karl Koessler, Cremlingen, and Stadtmuseum Ingolstadt.
(16.) Affidavit Lisl Schwab, Oct. 19, 1966.
(17.) Spruchkammerakte Vera von Bissing, Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv, call-no Abt. 529 Eg, Nr. 3159, p. 6 (biography).
(18.) For a rare example of the public presentation of a female pilot's contribution to the war effort, see the article about von Bissing in the Archive of the Deutsche Museum in Munich, Germany, collection Luftfahrt--Personlichkeiten--Frauen, letter B (no source for article noted in the collection).
(19.) Luftdienstkommando 1/6, Munster, Major und Kommandofuhrer Wenig, Bitte um Hohergruppierung fur Reichsangestellte/Flugzeugf. [uhrerin] Anneliese Hoppner, Aug. 3, 1943. Interestingly, no official document ever named Lieben as the head of maintenance; the quoted evaluation by her supervisor is the only proof that she was not only one among all flight mechanics, but actually in charge of all maintenance work.
(20.) Startklarmeldung Luftdienstkommando 1/6 Munster-Loddenheide (undated, probably from 1943), copy in author's possession.
(21.) The existence of this questionnaire--and the attempts to employ women pilots, whether in a civilian or military capacity--is confirmed by the statements of women pilots Elly Beinhorn, Eva Gustafson-Mahlkuch-Heise, Marga H., and Rose-Marie S.
(22.) Due to an extremely scarce record situation, the structure and history of the Ferryring Wing 1 of the Ferrying Group Mitte can not be reconstructed. It is not known when exactly this wing was founded and stationed in Berlin-Tempelhof. Neither Bundesarchiv-Militrirarchiv Freiburg, record group RL 10, Fliegende Verbrinde, nor Gemeinschaft der Jagdflieger, Vereinigung der Flieger deutseher Streitkrafte e.V. (according to Colonel [ret.] Wilhelm Gobel, consultant on history, tradition and search services) have any information on record regarding Ferrying Wing 1.
(23.) Based on statements of woman pilot and Luftwaffe captain Beate Uhse in Mit Lust und Liebe. Mein Leben, Frankfurt/Main: Ullstein-Verlag 1992, p. 78.
(24.) Liesel Bach, Den alten Gottern zu, Koln: Greven-Verlag 1954, p. 18.
(25.) Beate Uhse (with Ulrich Pramann), Mit Lust und Liebe, p. 78.
(26.) No substantial academic research has ever been done on Hanna Reitsch. The most comprehensive sources are still her memoirs: Fliegen Mein Leben (covering the era until 1945) and Hohen und Tiefen. 1945 bis zur Gegenwart (covering the period after 1945). Both books were published multiple times by different publishers after the war, and are republished in 2009. Schiller's piloting accomplishments have been studied, mainly under technical and technological aspects, in Gerhard Bracke, Melitta Grafin Stauffenberg Das Leben einer Fliegrin. Hohen und Tiefen eines aussergewohnlichen Frauenlebens, Frankfurt/Main--Berlin: Ullstein 1993.
(27.) See Reitsch's memoirs, Fliegen--Mein Leben, p. 272-283, as well as the introduction to her report by Wolfgang Sprite, from 1942 head of Test Command 16, as such in charge of the practical evaluation of the Me 163 interceptor [Fuhrer des Erprobungs-Kommandos 16 und Typenbeauftragter fur die Entwicklung des Raketenjagers Me 163], in: Wolfgang Spate (ed.), Testpiloten, Planegg: Aviatic Verlag, 1993, pp. 45-47.
(28.) Opitz remembers that Reitsch flew the Me 163B in four transition training flights in Regensburg (the location of the Messerschmitt company) in summer 1942, and the Me 163A four times probably in November/December 1943 in Bad Zwischenahn, the base of Test Command 16; the last flight was a powered flight. (Letter of Mike Opitz, son of Rudy Opitz, to author, January 10, 2009. His recollections can also be found in Jeffrey L. Ethell, Komet. The Messerschmitt 163, New York: Sky Book Press, 1978.) Hanna Reitsch herself claims to have flown both versions "multiple" times, and the Me 163A fully fuelled four to five times. (Hanna Reitsch, letter to "Herr Winter", February 15, 1977, NASM Archive, collection Hanna Reitsch).
(29.) For a published version of these interrogations see Office of the United States Chief of Counsel for Prosecution of Axis Criminality, Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression, vol. VI, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1946: Document 3734-PS, October 8, 1945. Summary of interrogation: The Last Days in Hitler's Air Raid Shelter, source: Flugkapitaen Hanna Reitsch, pp. 551-569; as well as Robert E. Work, "Hitler's Dilemma: His last days in his bunker," in: Public Opinion Quarterly, Winter 1946/47, pp. 565-581.
(30.) See "Richtlinien des Oberkommandos der Luftwaffe. Auswahl und Verteilung der fur den Einsatz als fliegertechni-sches Personal vorgesehenen Frauen," Nov. 1, 1944, p. 461 ff. See also attachment "Richtlinien fur die Auswahl und Verteilung der fur den fliegertechnischen und Werfteinsatz vorgesehenen Frauen," and "Erlass des Oberkommandos der Luftwaffe. Ausbildung von Frauen als fliegertechnisches und Funktionspersonal. Erfahrungen im Bereich des Generals der Fliegerausbildung," Jan. 9, 1945, all in: Ursula von Gersdorff, Frauen im Kriegsdienst, 1914 bis 1945, p. 487 ft.
(31.) Ibid., p. 488.
(32.) Members of the Berlin women's gliding club report an interesting story: In Winter 1941/42, due to private contacts of one of their members, the women had the chance to join pilots of the Flying Hitler-Youth during flights in two-seated gliders at the Saarmund training center near Berlin. These planes were usually restricted to the training of military pilots. Quickly, the women and the flight instructor, Mr. Zicke, were denounced: The women were banned from the Saarmund training center, and the flight instructor was told that he would lose his license would he ever allow women access to glider planes again. Based on the recollections of Ruth D. Margot Will, and Charlotte Wittig. For a more detailed version, and photographs of the event, see author's book "Schneidige deutsche Madel," p. 419-421.
(33.) The Jagerstab was founded on March 1, 1944, by agreement between Reich Armament Ministry and Reich Air Ministry. Its task was the creation of all conditions for a significant increase of the production numbers of fighter planes. Beside direct interference with production at the manufacturers' sites, this meant among others the construction of bombproof underground production and assembly facilities, and the utilization of new labor forces, like tens of thousands of concentration camp inmates.
(34.) (Jagdflieger-Nachwuchs fur Sonderzwecke), as the unit was called by Fritz Sam; head of "Jagerstab", according to Georg Cordts, Junge Adler, p. 214.
(35.) The voluntary character of these "drafts" is confirmed in the author's interviews with women pilots Gerda B. and Marga H., and the diary of Marie-Luise Mtiller-Maar, as well as in Margret Schmidt, Madchen am Steuerknuppel, Stuttgart: Kreuz-Verlag 1953, p. 84.
(36.) Margret Schmidt, Madchen am Steuerknuppel, p. 86.
(37.) Erich Hartmann, with 352 aerial kills the most successful fighter pilot of World War II, and his brother Alfred had taken their first lessons in flying (gliding) at a flight school opened by their mother in 1939 in Weil/Schonbuch in Southern Germany.
(38.) See OKW- (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, Wehrmacht Supreme Command) order "Stellung der Frau in der Wehrmacht," Sep. 5, 1944, and attachment "Der Reichsbevollmachtigte fur den totalen Kriegseinsatz, Der Leiter des Planungsausschusses," in: Ursula von Gersdorff, Frauen im Kriegseinsatz, 1914 bis 1945, p. 441 f.
(39.) Author's interview with Marga H., Jan. 30, 2005.
(40.) Margaret Schmidt, Madchen am Steuerknuppel, p. 85.
(41.) Marga H., "Was hat mich bewogen, fliegen zu lethen?" (unpublished), p. 2. See also the recollections of Margret Schmidt about her time as instructor at the gliding school in Rannay near Brtix, in Madchen am Steuerknappel, p. 91.
(42.) Marie-Luise Muller-Maar, "Mein Fliegerleben im Telegrammstil" (unpublished), p. 10 f.
(43.) Beate Uhse, Mit Lust und Liebe, p. 73.
(44.) Liesel Bach, quoted according to A. Richter, Frauensport in Koln--Sechs Lebensbilder, in Gabi Langen (ed.), Vom Handstand in den Ehestand, Koln: Emons-Verlag 1999, p. 86.
(45.) Copy of Uhse's flight log in possession of the author.
(46.) Margret Schmidt, Madchen am Steuerknuppel, p. 83 f.
(47.) See for instance author's interview with Marga H. in January 2005: Marga H. had been informed about the chance to attend instructor classes by one of her former flight instructors, and attended because she was bored of her job as a hospital nurse and wanted to fly again. Marie-Luise Muller-Maar attended because she missed flying and wanted to work closely with her former female gliding friends. (Marie-Luise Muller-Maar,"Mein Fliegerleben im Telegrammstil," p. 6.) See also Margaret Schmidt, Madchen am Steuerknuppel, p. 83f.
(48.) Karin Mannesmann, diary (unpublished), entry for Nov. 13, 1940.
(49.) Liesel Bach, Den alten Gottern zu, p. 18.
(50.) See Christa Niklas, "Therese und Lisl Schwab. Die Malerin und die Pilotin," in: Jahrbuch des Historischen Vereins Ingolstadt, vol. 113 (2004), Ingolstadt 2005, pp. 289-300, esp. p. 298.
(51.) Beate Uhse (mit Ulrich Pramann), Mit Lust und Liebe, p. 73.
(52.) Spruchkammerakte Vera yon Bissing, biography, pp. 6r, and 41.
(53.) For a general analysis of the gender factor in World War II, see the study by D'Ann Campbell: "Women in Combat: The World War II Experience in the United States, Great Britain, Germany, and the Soviet Union," in: The Journal of" Military History, no. 57 (April 1993), pp. 301-323,, which pays special attention to mixed-gender anti aircraft units.
(54.) For more detailed information, see author's article [footnote 2].
(55.) Hanna Reitsch, Fliegen--mein Leben, Frankfurt/ Main--Berlin: Ullstein-Buch 1996, p. 263.
(56.) Ibid. p. 192.
(57.) Quoted after Gerhard Bracke, Melitta Grafin Stauffenberg, p. 40.
(58.) Ibid, p. 150.
(59.) Heinsohn, Kirsten, and others (eds.), Zwischen Karriere und Verfolgung. Handlungsraume yon Frauen im nationalsozialistischen Deutschland, Frankfurt/Main and New York: Campus-Verlag 1997, p. 11.
(60.) See Elly Beinhorn's book Madlen wird Stewardess. Ausbildung und Abenteuer einer Flugbegleiterin auf internationalen Luftlinien [Madlen becomes a stewardess. Training and adventures of a stewardess on international flights], Berlin: Ullstein AG 1954, and media campaigns after the foundation of Germany's Lufthansa airline in 1952.
An historian and journalist, Dr. Evelyn Zegenhagen is currently the Verville Fellow at the National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, D.C., where she is working on a scholarly biography of Hanna Reitsch. Dr. Zegenhagen graduated summa cum laude in 2006, from the University of the German Armed Forces in Munich, Germany. In 2008, she received the Hugo-Junkers Award of the German Aviation Press for her dissertation on German women sport pilots from 1918 to 1945. Her publications include: "Schneidige Deutsche Madel:" Fliegerinnen zwischen 1918 und 1945 ["Dashing German Girls:" Women Pilots between 1918 and 1945], (Gottingen: Wallstein-Verlag, 2007); Deutsche Luftahrtpioniere 1900 bis 1950 [German Aviation Pioneers 1900 to 1950], coauthored with Jorg-M. Hormann, (Bielefeld: Delius-Klasing-Verlag, 2008); and '"The Holy Desire to Serve the Poor and Tortured Fatherland: German Women Motor Pilots of the Inter-War Years and Their Political Mission." German Studies Review: October 2007.
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|Publication:||Air Power History|
|Date:||Dec 22, 2009|
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