Melitta Schenk Gräfin von Stauffenberg
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|Melitta Schenk Gräfin von Stauffenberg|
9 January 1903
Krotoschin, Prussia (present-day Krotoszyn, Poland)
|Died||8 April 1945
|Spouse(s)||Alexander Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg
(1937-1945, her death)
|Parent(s)||Michael Schiller, Margaret née Eberstein|
She was the second German woman to be awarded the honorary title of Flugkapitän (English: flight captain) and also flew over 2,500 test flights in dive bombers, the second most of any Luftwaffe test pilot. Von Stauffenberg was awarded the Iron Cross Second Class and the Gold Front Flying Clasp for Bombers with diamonds, for performing over 1,500 test flights in dive bomber aircraft. In 1944, she was arrested with other Stauffenberg family members on suspicion of conspiring with her brothers-in-law to assassinate Adolf Hitler, but she was later released to continue her test flight duties.
Countess von Stauffenberg died after being shot down by an Allied fighter plane on 8 April 1945.
Melitta was born in Krotoschin, Prussia. Her father was Michael Schiller, son of a Jewish fur-trading family, who had become a Protestant while young. Her mother was Margaret Eberstein. She had four siblings: Marie-Luise, Otto, Jutta and Klara. The family moved to Hirschberg in Silesia.
Melitta passed the diploma for university entrance in 1922. There she studied math, physics and engineering, eventually specialising in aeronautical engineering at the Technical University of Munich. In 1927 she graduated cum laude.
Melitta started working for the Deutsche Versuchsanstalt für Luftfahrt (DVL), an experimental institute for aviation, in Berlin-Adlershof in 1928. She also took flying lessons. Because of her Jewish ancestry she was released from the German Luftwaffe in 1936. Working for Askania in Berlin, she developed navigation and steering systems for flying boats such as the Blohm + Voss Ha 139 and the Dornier Do 18. She married the historian Alexander Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg in 1937.
On 28 October 1937, she qualified as a Flugkapitänin, or "aircraft captain", a rank reserved for test pilots in Germany at the time, and became only the second woman in Germany, after Hanna Reitsch, to achieve this. She eventually gained licences for all classes of powered aircraft, the acrobatic flying licence, and the glider licence.
World War II
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At the beginning of World War II, Melitta wanted to work for the Red Cross but was ordered to become a test pilot for the Luftwaffe at the central Erprobungsstelle test facility in Rechlin, Mecklenburg. She did test dives in warplanes, up to 15 times a day, from a height of 4,000 metres. Her work was considered highly important for the war effort, and this saved her and the Schiller family from deportation to concentration camps.
From 1942, Melitta Schenk Gräfin von Stauffenberg continued her test-flights at the Luftwaffe's technical academy in Berlin-Gatow. She was attacked by Allied aircraft, and was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd Class on 22 January 1943. She made her dissertation for her Masters qualification in 1944, and received an A grade. She then became technical chief of the Versuchsstelle für Flugsondergeräte, another test institute, in the same year.
When the coup failed, she was arrested with the rest of the Stauffenberg family. Although her two brothers-in-law were executed and the other adult members were held in concentration camps, she was released on 2 September, because of the military importance of her work. As the name von Stauffenberg was anything but popular among the Nazis, she was now officially addressed as "Gräfin Schenk" instead of "Gräfin Schenk von Stauffenberg". Her husband and her sisters-in-law were confined in concentration camps, and the Stauffenberg children were taken away from their mothers. Melitta used her prominent position to help as much as she could.
On 8 April 1945, while transferring a small Bücker Bü 181 Bestmann trainer to Southern Germany, Melitta Schenk Gräfin von Stauffenberg was shot down by a U.S. fighter near Straßkirchen, Bavaria. She crash-landed the aircraft, but died from bullet wounds a couple of hours later, in Straubing. Germany's surrender was signed on 7 May, to be effective by the end of 8 May.
- Regarding personal names: Gräfin was a title before 1919, but now is regarded as part of the surname. It is translated as Countess. Before the August 1919 abolition of nobility as a legal class, titles preceded the full name when given (Graf Helmuth James von Moltke). Since 1919, these titles, along with any nobiliary prefix (von, zu, etc.), can be used, but are regarded as a dependent part of the surname, and thus come after any given names (Helmuth James Graf von Moltke). Titles and all dependent parts of surnames are ignored in alphabetical sorting. The masculine form is Graf.
- Ernst Probst/Heiko Peter Melle: Sturzflüge für Deutschland: Kurzbiografie der Testpilotin Melitta Schenk Gräfin von Stauffenberg. Grin-Verlag, München 2012, ISBN 978-3-65625-609-0