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The Women Who Flew for Hitler by Clare Mulley

The Women Who Flew for Hitler by Clare Mulley
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“Do not be put off by the awful title,” said Keith Lowe in The Spectator. Clare Mulley’s The Women Who Flew for Hitler is not some “seedy excuse to fantasise about women in Nazi uniforms”, but a “serious double biography” of two “remarkable” aviators. Hanna Reitsch and Melitta Schiller were both phenomenally gifted pilots who, despite not being officially allowed to join the Luftwaffe, rose to the “pinnacle of their profession” – Reitsch as a fighter pilot who “flew every plane going”, Schiller as a test pilot who specialised in carrying out “suicidal” nosedives “in the name of research”, and as a designer of night-flying instruments for dive bombers. Yet despite superficial similarities, the two women were very different. The “brash, impatient” and middle-class Reitsch was a “fanatical Nazi” who became close to several leading Third Reich figures, even spending time in Hitler’s bunker. Schiller was a halfJewish countess who was only spared deportation because of her “pioneering” research. In 1944, she “wholeheartedly supported” the plot, devised by her brother-in-law Claus von Stauffenberg, to assassinate the Führer.

Reitsch and Schiller both became addicted to flying thanks to Germany’s flourishing gliding culture of the 1920s, said Giles Whittell in The Times. This was a product, ironically, of the Treaty of Versailles, which “imposed a ban on powered flight, turning the country into a nation of avid gliders”. Though the two women knew of each other, they were never friends, said Anne Sebba in The Daily Telegraph. Reitsch often belittled her rival, whose superior social status she resented, while Schiller considered Reitsch uneducated. Mulley’s book is a “vividly drawn” biography of two captivating (if deeply flawed) women that, in its latter stages, becomes a “thrilling” story of heroism and tragedy.