Friday, February 28, 2014

This Day in WWII History: Feb 28, 1944: Test pilot Reitsch pitches suicide squad to Hitler

 File:Bundesarchiv Bild 183-B02092, Hanna Reitsch.jpg

Hannah Reitsch, the first female test pilot in the world, suggests the creation of the Nazi equivalent of a kamikaze squad of suicide bombers while visiting Adolf Hitler in Berchtesgaden. Hitler was less than enthusiastic about the idea.

Hanna Reitsch was a strong and yet still feminine German woman, who I learned about from Carolyn Yeager.


Reitsch was born in 1912 in Hirschberg, Germany. She left medical school (she had wanted to be a missionary doctor) to take up flying full time, and became an expert glider pilot--gliders were motorless planes that the Germans developed to evade strict rules about building "war planes" after WWI. In addition to gaining experience with gliders, Reitsch also did stunt flying for the movies. In 1934, she broke the world's altitude record for women (9,184 feet). An ardent Nazi and admirer of Hitler, she was made an honorary flight captain by the Fuhrer, the first woman to receive such an honor.

 Fa 61 with pilote Hanna Reitsch, Deutschland-Halle in Berlin

 File:Bundesarchiv Bild 183-W-0801-512, Rhön, Hanna Reitsch beim Segelflug-Wettbewerb.jpg

 In 1937, the Luftwaffe, the German air force, put her to work as a test pilot. Reitsch embraced this opportunity to fly as part of what she called Germany's "guardians of the portals of peace." Among her signal achievements was the testing of a proto-helicopter in 1939.

Hanna Reitsch with a DFS Habicht glider during an air show in Kassel-Waldau, Germany, 17 Jul 1938

Reitsch came closer than any other woman to seeing actual combat during World War II, depositing German troops along the Maginot Line in France during the Germans' 1940 invasion by glider plane. She won an Iron Cross, Second Class, for risking her life trying to cut British barrage-balloon cables (the balloons were unmanned blimps, tethered in one place, from which steel cables dangled so as to foul the wings and propellers of enemy aircraft). Among the warplanes she tested was the Messerschmitt 163, a rocket-power interceptor that she flew 500 mph. While testing the ME 163 a fifth time, she spun out of control and crash-landed (even though she was injured during the crash, she nevertheless managed to write down exactly what happened before she passed out from her injuries). For this, Hitler awarded her an Iron Cross, First Class.


 File:Bundesarchiv B 145 Bild-F051625-0295, Verleihung des EK an Hanna Reitsch durch Hitler.jpg

It was while receiving this second Iron Cross from Hitler in Berchtesgaden in 1944 that she pitched the idea of a Luftwaffe suicide squad of pilots who would fly specially designed versions of the V-1. Hitler was initially put off by the idea, only because he did not think it an effective or efficient use of resources. But Reitsch's commitment persuaded him to investigate the prospect of designing such planes, at which point she put together a Suicide Group and was the first to take the following pledge: "I hereby...voluntarily apply to be enrolled in the suicide group as a pilot of a human glider-bomb. I fully understand that employment in this capacity will entail my own death." The squad was never deployed.

Reitsch was one of the last people to see Hitler alive. On April 26, 1945, she flew to Berlin with Gen. Ritter von Greim, who was to be given command of the Luftwaffe. Greim was wounded when Reitsch's plane was hit by Soviet antiaircraft fire. After saying farewell to the Fuhrer, tucked away in his bunker, she flew Greim back out of Berlin.



After the war, Reitsch was captured and interned by the U.S. Army. She testified to the "disintegration" of Hitler's personality that she claimed to have witnessed during the last days of the war. When released, Reitsch continued to set records, including becoming the first woman to fly a glider over the Alps.

 Great Hanna Reitsch

In 1951, she published her autobiography, Flying Is My Life, and from 1962 to 1966 she was director of the national school of gliding in Ghana. She died in 1979, at 65 years old, only one year after setting a new women's glider distance record. In her career, she set more than 40 world records for flying powered and motorless planes.

 Helicopter Competition

Taken from: [28.02.2014]

Thursday, February 27, 2014

This Day in WWII History: Feb 27, 1942: U.S. aircraft carrier Langley is sunk

File:USS Langley 43-1193M.jpg

On this day, the U.S. Navy's first aircraft carrier, the Langley, is sunk by Japanese warplanes (with a little help from U.S. destroyers), and all of its 32 aircraft are lost.

File:Jupiter. Collier 3. Starboard bow, 10-16-1913 - NARA - 512992.jpg

 File:CV-1 May1921 NorfolkNS NAN12-70.jpg
File:USS Langley (AV-1).jpg

The Langley was launched in 1912 as the naval collier (coal transport ship) Jupiter. After World War I, the Jupiter was converted into the Navy's first aircraft carrier and rechristened the Langley, after aviation pioneer Samuel Pierpoint Langley. It was also the Navy's first electrically propelled ship, capable of speeds of 15 knots.

 File:Samuel Pierpont Langley.jpg

File:Godfrey Chevalier in cockpit.jpg

On October 17, 1922, Lt. Virgil C. Griffin piloted the first plane, a VE-7-SF, launched from the Langley's decks. Although planes had taken off from ships before, it was nevertheless a historic moment.

File:CV-1 Langley insignia.png

After 1937, the Langley lost the forward 40 percent of her flight deck as part of a conversion to seaplane tender, a mobile base for squadrons of patrol bombers.

 1927 - the USS Langley (CV-1) is practicing maneuvers with a smokescreen. Named after American astronomer, physicist, inventor, and aviation pioneer Samuel Langley, it was the US Navy’s first aircraft carrier. 
Photo from the J.M.F. Haase collection.

On December 8, 1941, the Langley was part of the Asiatic Fleet in the Philippines when the Japanese attacked. She immediately set sail for Australia, arriving on New Year's Day, 1942.

On February 22, commanded by Robert P. McConnell, the Langley, carrying 32 Warhawk fighters, left as part of a convoy to aid the Allies in their battle against the Japanese in the Dutch East Indies.


On February 27, the Langley parted company from the convoy and headed straight for the port at Tjilatjap, Java. About 74 miles south of Java, the carrier met up with two U.S. escort destroyers when nine Japanese twin-engine bombers attacked. Although the Langley had requested a fighter escort from Java for cover, none could be spared.

File:AV-3 near miss 27Feb42 NAN5-81.jpg

The first two Japanese bomber runs missed their target, as they were flying too high, but the Langley's luck ran out the third time around and it was hit three times, setting the planes on her flight deck aflame. The carrier began to list. Commander McConnell lost his ability to navigate the ship.

File:USS Langley (AV-3) sinking 1942.jpg

McConnell ordered the Langley abandoned, and the escort destroyers were able to take his crew to safety. Of the 300 crewmen, only 16 were lost. The destroyers then to sank the Langley before the Japanese were able to capture it.

Taken from: [27.02.2013]