Rocket Aviatrix: Woman First in Space?

By Peter Fotis Kapnistos

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Some called her the mother of suicide missions.  Was she the first recorded person in space? She was the first woman to ever fly a helicopter, a jet fighter, and a manned rocket. She was hired to develop “suicide aircraft” and to organize a Nazi project where pilots were to fly warheads and perish during their missions. But her fortune was desolate. 

Her supposed lover, Robert Ritter von Greim, committed suicide only days after becoming the last commander of the Luftwaffe (German Air Force). Her father reportedly killed her mother, her sister, and her sister’s children before committing suicide in the final days of the war. Her name was Hanna Reitsch and she was an eye-catching participant in one of the most inglorious suicide riddles of all time.

Hanna Reitsch was a German aviatrix who was once Adolf Hitler’s personal pilot. “Her flying skill, desire for publicity and photogenic qualities made her a star of Nazi party propaganda.” She was the only woman to receive the Iron Cross First Class medal. 

“Operation Crossbow” (later re-released as “The Great Spy Mission”) is a 1965 spy thriller and World War II film, made from a story from Duilio Coletti and Vittoriano Petrilli. “The film alternates between German developments of the V-1 and V-2 missiles with a German cast speaking their own language and British Intelligence discovery of the weapon. Having problems with the V-1, the Germans make a manned version to find out the flight problems of the missile but all the test pilots are killed flying it. The Germans use a lighter aviatrix, Hanna Reitsch (Barbara Rutting), who successfully flies and lands the V-1 providing valuable information used to mass produce the weapon.” 

On 26 April 1945, Hanna Reitsch and General Ritter von Greim undertook a dangerous flight from a southern lookout to Hitler’s Chancellery bunker, when Soviet forces had reached Berlin. She was one of the last to see the Fuhrer alive. 

In the 2003 book, “The Truth About The Wunderwaffe,” published in Polish as “Prawda O Wunderwaffe” (2000), Igor Witkowski, a Polish former journalist and historian of military and aerospace technology, claimed that a bell-shaped craft was being created by the Nazis and that Hitler wanted the best scientists and engineers at his disposal. 

“The programme, under the command of SS officer Hans Kammler, was said to have made significant breakthroughs with their experiments, says a report in the German science magazine PM. It quotes eyewitnesses who believe they saw a flying saucer marked with the Iron Cross of the German military flying low over the Thames in 1944. At the time the New York Times had written about a ‘mysterious flying disc’ and published photos of the device travelling at high speeds over the city’s high-rise buildings. The magazine says that the Germans destroyed much of the paperwork on their activities but in 1960 in Canada UFO experts managed to recreate the device which, to their amazement, ‘did actually fly.’ The project was called the Schriever-Habermohl scheme. Rudolf Schriever was an engineer and test pilot, Otto Habermohl an engineer. It was based in Prague between 1941 and 1943.” (Allan Hall, “Hitler’s secret flying saucer: Did the Fuhrer plan to attack London and New York in UFOs?” Daily Mail, November 18, 2010) 

According to “The Coming Race,” outlined in 1871 by Edward Bulwer-Lytton, a superior subterranean nation controlled an energy-form called “Vril.” Some Theosophists accepted the manuscript as reality and officially established the Vril or “The All German Society for Metaphysics,” which merged with the Thule Gesellschaft. According to chronicles of the German Vril Society, a historic lodge meeting was held in 1919 where a youthful Maria Orsic (also known as Maria Orschitsch) offered telepathic messages that she claimed to have received from an extraterrestrial civilization. 

Another of the Vril’s female pony-tailed mediums –– introduced only as “Sigrun” –– deciphered Maria Orsic’s “visions” and said they contained directives for building a circular flight machine. For some reason, Sigrun’s true identity remained a protected secret. 

A photo was afterward circulated of the so-called Vril-7 flying saucer at the Brandenburg testing grounds. An attractive young woman in the foreground was said to be Sigrun, attested to in other German war photographs. She supposedly not only supervised the construction of the Vril-7 bell-shaped craft but was also its crack pilot. Was the German “Vril occultist” Sigrun in reality aviatrix Hanna Reitsch, maybe the first recorded person in space? 

“When Hanna met Heinrich Himmler, she, still a believer in God, found that Himmler was not. But soon her faith began to shift from God to the Fatherland.” In the words of Dennis Piszkiewicz who documented Wernher Von Braun’s career, her faith changed “from humble acceptance of God’s blessings to a perverted patriotism in support of the Nazi cause.” (Dennis Piszkiewicz, “From Nazi Test Pilot to Hitler’s Bunker: The Fantastic Flights of Hanna Reitsch,” 1997) 

* * *

Some called her the mother of suicide missions. But they did not know what to say as her outline glided clear of the Finow Canal. It was the blackest day. Did an indistinct flying aircraft disc soar above the Brandenburg Gate on April 26, 1945, when Soviet armed forces trampled Berlin and the Third Reich was all but finished? Or was it nothing more than a trance of shell shock, through a chimera of light and shadow, which reflected next to the Fieseler Storch fuselage hit by anti-aircraft fire? The blazing wings of the aircraft folded back along the vehicle. 

The fastest she flew was in a top secret German rocket plane. Could she not pilot a crossing to the moon, and beyond? Did a bizarre bell-bottomed aircraft set down vertically on a makeshift airstrip in the Tiergarten Park? Or were the ragtag units that advanced under General Steiner’s command delirious and confounded without combat weapons? It was a black day in Berlin. Prisoners were being moved. 

A panel of the aircraft opened and General Ritter von Greim descended, wounded in the leg. Steiner’s waiting forces formed a rigid pincer column to envelop the craft before the last transfer took place. A male body wrapped in a blanket was quickly carried the length of the convoy –– from one bear hug to another. “The child is dead,” each one said and passed the burden on. At the end of the line up, encrusted canisters leaked out gasoline where foul rags fermented in a shell hole crater, waiting for a careless cremation in the Chancellery garden. 

“See these eyes so green

I can stare for a thousand years

Colder than the moon

It’s been so long

And I’ve been putting out fire

With gasoline.” 

(“Cat People: Putting Out Fire,” David Bowie, 1982)

* * *

In 1943, the body of a Royal Marines captain washed ashore on the coast of Spain. A briefcase handcuffed to his wrist contained the Allied invasion plans for Europe. The Germans believed what they found. But little did they know that the body was really that of Glyndwr Michael, a homeless alcoholic Welsh suicide who had been packed in dry ice and dropped from a submarine as part of one of the most detailed hoaxes of the war. 

“After three months on ice in Hackney Morgue, his body was shipped off to the coast of southern Spain for an elaborate plot to fool the Nazis. Intelligence officers Charles Cholmondeley and Ewen Montagu had painstakingly transformed the corpse into a soldier –– the fictitious Major William Martin –– for whom they had spent months creating a plausible backstory.” (Megan Lane, “Operation Mincemeat: How a dead tramp fooled Hitler,” BBC News Magazine, December 3, 2010) 

A factual account of the fictional officer was turned into a Hollywood film, “The Man Who Never Was,” in the 1950s, after Montagu wrote a book about the stratagem. The war hoax also became the subject of a 1998 BBC documentary called “The Corpse that Fooled the Axis.” Based on the discovery of the captain’s body, the Germans mistakenly concluded that the Allies planned to attack Greece, rather than Sicily. They misguidedly moved an entire panzer division –– 90,000 soldiers –– to Greece. 

The fake soldier marked a major turning point in the war and signalled the final downfall of Axis power and control over Fortress Europe. Since the Allied forces used a dead body to dupe and overcome Germany, it may have been a tit for tat retaliation, to repay in kind, for a Gestapo team to do just the same thing with the real Adolf Hitler’s corpse. 

But the cadaver of the look-alike cook was also an illusory focal point. A reliable image of Adolf Hitler’s dead body was most likely needed to circulate for strict top-ranking Germans who would have certainly desired legitimate details of his death while deceiving the Allied inquiry. 

* * *

Here is where Heinrich Hoffmann’s photographic trickery came into play. A familiar portrait of the Fuhrer was printed in reverse, as a mirror image from left to right, and placed on the body of the real Adolf Hitler lying dead somewhere in the German Southern Redoubt shelter.  

The corpse’s death scene was carefully photographed in the Redoubt and also printed (duplicated on film) in reverse. The Fuhrer’s portrait on Hitler’s body would now appear normal again, with its left and right orientation restored to the correct original view.  

But the small background details of the Southern Redoubt floor’s surface would be seen the other way around, and on no account match correctly with Allied intelligence files. Although there might be a slight increase of image contrast, no one would suspect tampering. A valid identification photo of Hitler’s death could therefore be released for Reich leaders to refer to as a conclusive fact without failing lie detector tests. But the details of the Redoubt killing floor would never be compromised or shown plainly to doubtful Allied investigators.  

To complete the cover-up, all that was left to do was to reconstruct the same mirror image scene using Hitler’s look-alike cook lying on scattered debris in the Berlin ruins for Russians to discover. Of course, the Fuhrer’s well-known portrait would also be placed noticeably among the rubble, as a deceptive “clincher.” Soon enough, the cremated remains of the real Adolf Hitler would turn up in the Chancellery garden, nowhere near the Southern Redoubt stronghold, which according to rumors was the home of Heisenberg’s uranium engine. (For more on the uranium engine see: )

* * *

Some historians were convinced that the Berlin decoy chef’s corpse was “spruced up” by photo stylists and craftily laid down among the Chancellery ruins. The absurd presence of a Hoffmann poster on the dead doppelganger for the purpose of identification was almost an outright confession of photographic hocus-pocus. Anton Joachimsthaler wrote:  

“One wonders just who it was who made that poor unfortunate up to look like Hitler, laid him out in the Chancellery, surrounded him with finger-pointing Russian soldiers and allowed him to be filmed and photographed.” (Anton Joachimsthaler, “The Last Days of Hitler: The Legends, the Evidence, the Truth,” 1996) 

 As if to celebrate imposture, during the very last days of the war, Germany launched “Operation Greif” (Skorzeny’s Panzer Brigade 150) with its men outfitted in American uniforms and driving captured American tanks, trucks and jeeps. Consequently thousands of US soldiers as far away as Paris had to be stopped by Allied military police and asked to prove their nationality by telling who won the baseball World Series. Himmler was later caught trying to pass through British and American lines between Hamburg and Bremerhaven with his mustache shaved, wearing a black patch over his left eye. 

Shortly before Adolf Hitler’s alleged suicide, some Berlin bunker guests began to suspect that the Fuhrer was an impostor. According to reports, all his movements were those of a physically infirm man who appeared to be around 70 years old, somewhat older than his actual age of 56.  

The family of Joseph Goebbels, Reich Minister of Propaganda, had been temporarily living in the Fuhrerbunker. In a sniveling craze, Goebbels determined to poison his six children. An unidentified SS orderly afterward killed Goebbels and his wife with two shots in the garden, seemingly at their request. The rest of the bunker personnel made panic-stricken efforts to escape along the subway. 

The Fuhrer supposedly ordered General Ritter von Greim and Hanna Reitsch to fly into embattled Berlin for a bumbling reason: he wanted to make Robert Ritter von Greim’s acquaintance. Hanna apparently tried to persuade Hitler to leave the devastated German capital in the haunting hours of the Battle of Berlin. But the Fuhrer mulishly refused. 

Instead, he appointed Ritter von Greim as the commander of the German Air Force to replace traitor Hermann Goering, and politely sent them off again. Ritter von Greim had one leg injured by anti-aircraft fire over the Grunewald Forest during his entry flight to Berlin and was still aching: 

“On 28 April, Hitler ordered Ritter von Greim to leave Berlin and have Reitsch fly him to Plon so that he could arrest Heinrich Himmler for treason. That night, they only just managed to get away, taking off from the Tiergarten strip before the eyes of soldiers of the Soviet 3rd Shock Army –– who initially feared ‘they had just seen Hitler’s escape.’ 

“Later, in an interview, both Ritter von Greim and Reitsch kept repeating: ‘It was the blackest day when we could not die at our Fuhrer’s side.’ Then they added as tears kept running down Reitsch’s cheeks: ‘We should all kneel down in reverence and prayer before the altar of the Fatherland.’ When asked what the ‘Altar of the Fatherland’ was, completely taken aback, they responded: ‘Why, the Fuhrer’s bunker . . .’” (Hans Dollinger, “The Decline and Fall of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan,” Library of Congress Catalogue Card Number 67-27047) 

* * *

It was a black day in Berlin. Prisoners were being moved. A mysterious aircraft lingered on a makeshift airstrip in the Tiergarten Park near the Brandenburg Gate.

A section of the vehicle opened and General Ritter von Greim jumped in. In a few days, the last commander of the Luftwaffe would commit suicide with cyanide after being detained by the Allies. 

Another man leisurely stepped into the top-secret aircraft. The Gestapo mole was a hairless old gentleman, dressed as a white-robed SS orderly. He pondered the nightfall and listened to the approaching Soviet troops. “Nothing remains,” he resentfully reasoned. “Every wrong has already been done.” 

The shadowy vehicle abruptly lifted into the twilight and vanished from view. The last transfer had been done. The suicide mission was accomplished. Soviet fighters broke through the German lines and suspected they had just seen the Fuhrer’s escape. 

“The child is dead,” the bald man thought to himself. “Long live Pope Six Sixty-Six.” 

* * *

Trevor-Roper’s official inquiry into Hitler’s suicide did not lay enough emphasis on the fact that there were two supposed Hitler cadavers: the fake bad double and the real burnt corpse. How far were they moved? Finding the real Hitler’s corpse cremated in the Chancellery garden did not positively prove that he died in the Berlin Fuhrerbunker. Indeed, one of the Hitler bodies was most likely ditched at its final location during the passing mayhem, perhaps with the huge troop deployment in the southern suburbs of Berlin by General Steiner. Were the cadavers evidently switched? 

John Toland wrote: “Skeptics wondered why Stalin had spread the story in 1945 that Hitler had escaped when he knew the body had been found.” The Soviet correspondent Bezymenski said Moscow made the decision to hold the forensic details “in reserve” in case someone might try to slip into the role of “the Fuhrer saved by a miracle.” 

In other words, conceivably one more “Hitler double” was potentially on the loose –– and possibly responsible for brutal war crimes. Even so, a psychologically unstable impostor need not make the same decoy-mistake twice. He could incite ethnic cleansing and mesmerize populations once more by way of a white supremacist skinhead’s guise, for instance, rather than an old-fashioned comic moustache. 

“There’s a killer on the road.

His brain is squirming like a toad.

Take a long holiday,

Let your children play.

If you give this man a ride,

Sweet memory will die.

Killer on the road.”

(“Riders on the Storm,” Doors, 1971)

 * * *

In 2009, Hubert Czerepok, a well-known Polish artist, re-examined the myths of Nazi technology in an exhibition at the site where the infamous V-2 missile was secretly manufactured in the German coastal city of Peenemunde.  

“The exhibition is entitled Haunebu, one of several names for the alleged flying saucer project, which are also referred to as Reichsflugscheiben (‘Reich flying discs’), Vril discs or V-7s. According to believers, the disks were up to 71 meters (230 feet) in diameter and could reach speeds of up to 5,000 kilometers per hour (3,100 miles per hour). 

“Peenemunde is an appropriate location for exploring such topics, given that it was where the German V-2 rockets were developed during World War II; some ufologists believe the Haunebu project was an offshoot of the V-2 program. In fact, many aspects of the UFO conspiracy theories in circulation are inspired by real events relating to the V-2 –– such as the idea that the Allies seized the flying saucer technology at the end of the war and took the Nazi scientists to the United States to continue their work in secret.” (David Gordon Smith, “Third Reich from the Sun: Artist Explores Myths of Nazi UFO Technology,” Spiegel Online, Feb. 12, 2009)

The eccentric Vril and Thule societies purportedly agreed to seek financial support to build the German flying saucer from wealthy industrialists who were also members of occult groups. It is said that in 1922, they jointly produced a flight machine that in effect was a refined engine, bench tested on a concrete tether. 

“During the occupation of Germany, at the beginning of 1945, Americans discovered photographs of the Haunebu II and the Vril I crafts as well as of the Andromeda device –– the 300 foot cigar shaped craft –– in the secret archives of the SS. But their most precious find were two prominent scientists, Viktor Schauberger and Wernher von Braun, who were ushered into the US under the now unclassified Project Paperclip. It’s no wonder that a certain American air and space developer is reported to have confessed before he died, ‘If the public ever learns that we have had this technology all these years, they will never forgive us for keeping it secret.’” (Dan Eden, “Vril Women of WWII,” Viewzone, 2011)

Peter Fotis Kapnistos

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