Beinhorn, Elly (1907—)

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Beinhorn, Elly (1907—)

German aviator and author who is known as "Germany's Amelia Earhart." Name variations: Elly Beinhorn-Rosemeyer. Born Elly Beinhorn on May 30, 1907, in Hanover, Germany; married Bernd Rosemeyer (a racing driver), in 1936 (died in a racing accident in 1938).

Made a number of dramatic flights, including one to Africa (1931), a Round-the-World Flight (1931–32), for which she was awarded the Hindenburg Cup, a Round-Africa Flight (1933), and a Western Hemisphere Flight (1934–35); as a prolific author, published a number of articles and books; was one of the few women in Nazi Germany to have a widely reported career.

Selected writings:

"Der Flug in das Paradies" in Rhein-Mainsche Wirtschaftszeitung (March 18, 1932); "Weltflug und Zukunftspläne," in General-Anzeiger, Stettin (July 30, 1932); "Meine kulturellen Aufgaben" in Deutsche Zeitung (April 23, 1933); "Südwest von deutschem Geist erfüllt," in Der Tag (Berlin, June 25, 1933); "Warum ich fliege," in Der Tag (Berlin, April 6, 1933); 180 Studen über Afrika (Berlin: Scherl Verlag, 1933); Flying Girl (introduction by Richard Halliburton, translated by Winifred Ray, NY: Henry Holt, 1935); Grünspecht wird ein Flieger: Werdegang eines Flugschülers (Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1935); Mein Mann, der Rennfahrer: Der Lebensweg Bernd Rosemeyers (Berlin: Deutscher Verlag, 1938); 180 Studen über Afrika: Mein Flug zu den Deutschen in unseren ehemaligen Kolonien (Dresden: Neuer Buchverlag, 1937 [Deutsche in aller Welt, 3]); Ich fliege um die Welt (Berlin: Ullstein Verlag, 1952); So waren diese Flieger (Herford: Koehler Verlag, 1966).

The years 1927 to 1935 were a time of extraordinary activity in aviation, and women played a significant role during this period in pushing forward the frontiers of air travel. Although American, British, and French pilots tended to dominate the scene and steal newspaper headlines, women of other nationalities also played active roles in the often dangerous world of pioneer aviation. One of the boldest flyers in this lesser-known group was German aviator Elly Beinhorn. Born in the city of Hanover on May 30, 1907, Beinhorn exhibited an interest in travel and adventure from an early age. After several years of practice in gliders and training planes, by 1930 she secured sufficient financial backing to organize her first major flight. Part of a scientific expedition, this trip began in Berlin in 1931, during the cold and gloomy month of January. Beinhorn's flight received widespread coverage in the German press. At a time when rapidly growing unemployment and the explosive expansion of the Nazi Party had brought many average Germans to the edge of despair, the story of a courageous Elly Beinhorn brought a note of optimism. To many Germans, Elly Beinhorn was their beleaguered nation's Amelia Earhart.

With thousands of miles of desolate terrain to provide few opportunities for surviving an emergency landing, Beinhorn's Africa expedition had the near-legendary city of Timbuktoo as its destination. She reached the city with relatively few problems and returned to Berlin in April 1931, now a veritable national heroine. The American explorer Richard Halliburton, whom she would meet on a later flight, described Beinhorn as "the most celebrated, the most admired, and the most beloved young woman in Germany." Immediately after her return, Beinhorn began to plan for a Round-the-World Flight, which began in December 1931. Once again her luck held, and she completed the flight pretty much according to schedule, flying through the Balkans and Asia Minor, across the Indian subcontinent, stopping to visit Mt. Everest, and then on to Australia. Arriving by ship in Balboa, the Panama Canal Zone, she resumed her epic flight with a grand tour of South America. In June 1932, Beinhorn was awarded the Aviation Cross of Peru in a ceremony in Lima. A little over a week later, she successfully flew over the Andes from Santiago, Chile, to Mendoza, Argentina. On her return to Germany, she was enthusiastically greeted by both press and public.

Beinhorn's next adventure in the air took her to Africa in 1933, the year Adolf Hitler and his Nazi movement seized power in Germany. More than ever before, the German press reported her exploits with almost daily updates on a trip that eventually covered 28,000 kilometers (17,402 miles). Beinhorn, whose own political sympathies were dyed-in-the-wool conservative and nationalistic, had little difficulty accepting the new mood of German manifest destiny evident in the statements of the National Socialist regime. After returning from her second African trip in the summer of 1933, a number of articles written by her appeared in Der Tag and other Rightist newspapers sympathetic to the new Hitler government. Among the subjects she treated in her journalism was a favorite theme of German nationalists, namely the survival of the "German spirit" in former colonies like southwest Africa (now Namibia), a fact that presumably strengthened Berlin's continuing demands for a return of these territories.

Despite occasional journalistic work on political themes, Beinhorn remained primarily a courageous aviator. She departed on her last major trip in 1934, a tour of the United States and Latin America. Although her flying skills were as impressive as ever, on this occasion local enthusiasm had waned markedly, in part because some perceived her to be a symbol of the new dictatorial regime in Germany.

Her flying career essentially over, she updated her memoirs (first published in 1932), which had gone through eight printings in Germany by 1939 (her memoirs appeared in English-language editions in London and New York in 1935). In 1935, she published a book for children, Grünspecht wird ein Flieger, which tells of the adventures of an apprentice aviator. In 1936, she married the race-car driver Bernd Rosemeyer, who was to die in a racing accident two years later. Beinhorn celebrated his short, adventurous life in a best-selling biography that appeared in the year of his death. Like Leni Riefenstahl and Margret Boveri , Elly Beinhorn was among the few women to have a significant career in Nazi Germany. This is likely due in part to the fact that her career began before 1933 and to the emphasis placed on Germany's resuming a leading role in world aviation by the Nazis. In this light, it is not surprising that Beinhorn's account of her 1933 trip to Africa was published in 1939 as a book assigned to soldiers for their recreational reading. Surviving the 1945 bombing of Germany, Beinhorn went on to write more books and to serve as a link with a more innocent and hopeful Germany, one that had already been essentially destroyed by the time she ended her flying career in the mid-1930s.


Beinhorn-Rosemeyer, Elly. Berlin—Kapstadt—Berlin. Meine 28,000-km-Flug nach Afrika. Berlin: Siegismund Verlag, 1939 [Deutsche Soldatenbücherei, C/1].

May, Charles Paul. Women in Aeronautics. NY: Nelson, 1962.

John Haag , Associate Professor, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia