A senior air warrior, graduate from the Staff College and a PG in military studies. He is qualified to write on war and allied matters.
War is a dirty business but at the same time it throws up characters and incidents that have romance written all over. One incident that invokes great admiration is the daredevil act of being the last person to fly out of a burning Berlin in April 1945. The credit for this goes to Hanna Reitsch and her close companion(perhaps love) Field Marshal Robert Ritter von Greim. We cannot visualize the daredevilry of this duo who had been called to the Fuehrer's bunker and then escaped at a time when Berlin was burning and the Red Army was remorselessly advancing.
April was a crucial month in the last days of Nazi Germany. This was the period when Reich Marshall Göring sent a telegram to Hitler informing him that if he did not receive a reply back he would take over the leadership of the Reich as per the 1941 order of succession. Hitler was extremely angry at receiving this telegram and he informed Goering that he was a traitor and dismissed him as the Chief of Luftwaffe. He also ordered his arrest.
At the same time in a telegraphic message to General Ritter von Greim, he promoted him as Chief of the Luftwaffe with the rank of Field Marshal with a message that he wanted to meet him in Berlin. This was a very risky thing to do as there was no airfield operational in Berlin. Von Greim confided about Hitler's order to his companion Hannah and she promptly said that she would travel with him.
Both of them took off in a Fieseler Fi 156 Storch light plane. They took off in the plane from Gatow Airport and landed at an improvised air strip in the Tiergarten a broad avenue on 26 April 45. The couple had earlier flown from the Luftwaffe base at Rechlin-Larz in a FW190. While landing the plane was hit and the General was injured in his foot but the two of them made it to Hitler's headquarters.
From all accounts they were very warmly received and Hitler promoted Von Greim to Field Marshal and told him to arrest Goring. It is a tribute to the undying loyalty of the duo that they made it to Berlin in such a precarious atmosphere with the Russians all around. There are reports that Hitler gave the couple two capsules of poison and these were accepted.
The wound of Greim was dressed up in the Chancellery and then both of them professed their desire to remain with the Fuehrer , but Hitler persuaded them to leave.
Entry and Escape
Leaving the plane on the broad Avenue Von Greim and Hannah made it to Hitler's Headquarters. Griem was the last German officer promoted to the rank of Field Marshal.
They remained in the Fuhrer bunker hill until 28th April when it was becoming increasingly dangerous to leave Berlin. In his final order, Adolf Hitler ordered Von Greim to also arrest Himmler as he had made an unauthorized approach to the Western allies for a partial surrender. In the middle of the night with heavy gunfire all around Hannah and Greim left the bunker and headed towards the plane. Hannah was a daredevil pilot. She had been flying planes for many years and was also a test pilot. She put the general in the backseat and took off. Some Russian soldiers saw the takeoff and many assumed that it was Hitler who was escaping. Hannah was able to take off. She was only 33 at the time and in case she had fallen into the hands of the Russians one cannot imagine what would've happened to her. She escaped under the very nose of the Russian 3rd Shock Army.
The escape served a purpose as they got out of the clutches of the Russians but they were soon arrested by the Americans who were perplexed about why they visited the bunker of the Fuehrer. The story ends on a sad note as Von Griem committed suicide in American custody but Hannah did not commit suicide, though many have rumored that they had a suicide pact.
She was kept in custody for 18 months and then released.
A heroine in the true sense
In my book of heroines, Hannah Reitch is in the top bracket. Probably she was so much attached to Von Greim that she did not marry though there are rumors that she did have some liaisons with some influential people. She got back to flying and created many records and that prompted the Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to invite her to Delhi in 1959 when she took him around in a glider.
Hannah visited Ghana and was a guest of the president Dr. Nkrumah who had heard of her visit to Delhi. Some intimate letters are now available between the two. She passed away in 1979 at the age of 67 due to a heart attack.
As an aviator, I can marvel at the flying skill of Hannah who took off from Berlin with gunfire and smoke all around, a scenario that is difficult to imagine now.
© 2022 MG Singh emge