The Sky My Kingdom: Memoirs of the Famous German World War II Test Pilot
by Hanna Reitsch, 2009 edition from Casemate, Philadelphia, Pa., $29.95.
I first read this autobiography sometime in the 1950s, and then again in the 1970s, after having two meetings with Hanna Reitsch. Reading it again brought back many impressions—most, oddly enough, about the conventions of the German military memoir. Education in Germany during Reitsch’s formative years, despite the many hardships, must have been good. She writes in a “formally friendly” style that permits her to cover her accomplishments in a circuitous manner that doesn’t make it seem like she is boasting.
In person, Hanna Reitsch was obviously a smart, clever woman with a personality attuned to her circumstances. The first time I met her, in an office setting, she was correct, inquisitive and forthcoming. In the second meeting, after a couple of drinks, she was very friendly and, in a good-humored way, confiding. She was, after all, a great admirer of Adolf Hitler, and she knew that everyone was aware of this, in part by the way the subject was avoided. However, when she was speaking of airplanes, she spoke with candor and enthusiasm, even when discussing the Messerschmitt Me-328 and the piloted V-1.
The Sky My Kingdom chronicles her rapid rise to prominence in a field denied to women in many countries at the time. Only Melitta Schenk Grafin von Stauffenberg—sister-in-law of Claus—comes to mind as a competitor in Nazi Germany; neither Thea Rasche nor Elly Beinhorn flew with the Luftwaffe. Perhaps the most poignant element of the book is Reitsch’s postscript, which details her reaction to public commentary on her relationships with Hitler and Field Marshal Robert Ritter von Greim, as well as her post war successes in aviation.
Readers who enjoy this book should also look for Judy Lomax’s 1998 biography, Hanna Reitsch: Flying for the Fatherland.
Originally published in the January 2010 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.