Monday, March 17, 2008

German WWII Pilot Regrets Shooting Down a "Literary Hero"

This is one of those war stories that could probably never happen again now that modern warfare is all about sophisticated weapons fired from long distances and unmanned drones sometimes controlled from half a world away from the action. But in World War II this kind of thing could still happen.

It seems that one WWII German pilot is still filled with remorse about shooting down one of his own favorite authors, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, author of The Little Prince and several books on the early days of aviation. The story comes from The Globe and Mail:
If only he had known. Now, in the winter of his life, an elderly German war veteran has stepped forward to say he believes he shot down his literary idol - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, author of the beloved children's tale, The Little Prince.

"If I had known, I wouldn't have fired - not on him," said the 88-year-old former Luftwaffe fighter pilot Horst Rippert.

The death of the French pilot, who disappeared while on a solo flight for the Allied forces in 1944, had been one of the great mysteries of aviation and 20th-century literature.
Mr. Rippert said he suspected within days that he had shot down the famous writer. But he kept quiet, keeping the secret for more than six decades.

"You can imagine what would have happened to my career if people had known what I had done during the war," he said.

The disclosure came when Mr. Rippert was tracked down following the recovery of Saint-Exupéry's plane off the coast of southern France by a Marseilles diver, Luc Vanrell.
Another great irony of the author's death is that he was piloting an unarmed airplane. There were cameras on board the reconnaissance flight but no guns that could have been used even in self-defense. Even world war can become very personal in the saddest of ways.


  1. How sad to have been responsible for Saint-Exupery's death and to carry such regret for so long. A large part of the regret would have to be the loss of writing Saint-Exupery might have left us.

  2. I suspect that's exactly what this man has always wondered, Jenclair...what a burden to carry for a lifetime.