Who is Little Prince and what happened to him is what almost every human being who read more than one book knows – he was a boy symbolizing child within us we allowed to die. The Little Prince came from another planet and eventually allowed the snake to bite him so he could go back home to his beloved flower. But what happened to the writer of this book remained a mystery for good.
What Happened to Antoine de Saint-Exupery?
Antoine de Saint-Exupery was a passionate pilot and sworn enemy of the Nazis. On July 31, 1944, in P38 Lightning Antoine took off to his last mission. He was supposed to go on a reconnaissance flight over the Rhone valley and collect intelligence on the Nazi troops. His mission was preceding the Allied invasion of Southern France. However, he never came back. An unidentifiable body in remnants of a uniform was found several days after his disappearance in the area south of Marseille. The question of what happened to him remains unanswered. However, there have been more than a few discoveries that produced multiple theories. Those theories can be separated into three kinds:
- Losing control over the plane
- Being shot
Antoine was known as a very undisciplined pilot. During his time in the sky, he would often read novels and write his thoughts. His cockpit was full of crumpled pieces of paper with his thoughts and philosophical overviews inspired by being high above the ground. And it wasn’t a rare occasion that he would even refuse to land so he could finish the novel he was reading. He had wrecked with the plane more than once. His body was full of injuries. When he was going on his last mission he couldn’t even dress a pilot jacket by himself, neither could he turn his head over the left shoulder. He was also used to less sophisticated planes than P38 Lightning was. All these facts imply that he could have easily lost control over his aircraft and wreck into the sea.
The hardest plane crash he survived took place on December 30, 1935, during his attempt to break the speed record on the Paris-to-Saigon race and win the prize of 120 000 franics. Together with his mechanic-navigator Andre Prevot, he walked through the desert for four days. Their maps were simple and ambiguous. There was no way for them to establish their location. Their water supplies were barely enough for one day. Dehydration and hallucinations ensued. At first, hallucinations were not so strong. But under the heat of the desert sun, they soon became more vivid. They roamed through the desert until, on the fourth day, right when they came on the brink of death, a Beduin on a camel stumbled upon them. He was the one that saved their lives. The near encounter with death inspired “Wind, Sand and Stars” that brought Antoine de Saint-Exupery several awards. His desert crash was also a muse to Little Prince and the pilot who also wrecked in the desert and was running low on his supplies.
Antoine suffered from depression. Right after he returned to flying with allies Charles de Gaule, a French general and the future president of the country, publicly slandered his name implying that the writer was collaborating with the Nazis. It only enhanced Antoine’s depression and pushed him into severe drinking problems. The words of his mental state spread across the army and there was even a word about banning him from flying. Besides these facts, to imply his bad psychological state, we have the book he got famous for – Little Prince. While this novel is an outstanding literary whole it’s full of nostalgia and emotional moments that are capable of pulling the tears out from the eyes of even the hardest readers. And that could hardly be written by someone who has not encountered and suffered from grave sadness. When you combine hard illness that ensued from injuries, problems with alcohol, and having his name slandered, it all could lead to him deciding to bring his plane into the sea.
Was He Shot Down?
The theory that he was shot down has multiple arguments. None of them can for sure prove that his plane was brought down by the Nazi military but they still provide us with a decent explanation for his last flight.
Wreckage Found – 1998
In 1998, Jean-Claude Bianco found a silver identity bracelet with names Saint-Exupery, his wife Consuelo and his publishers Reynal and Hitchcock. East of Riou Island south of Marseille. The bracelet was attached to a piece of fabric that was most likely part of Antoine’s pilot suit. The controversy appeared due to the fact that the bracelet was found far from his intended flight path meaning that the aircraft might have not been shot down. Two years later, in 2000, a diver Luc Vanrell found the partial remnants of P38 Lightning on the seabed of the coast of Marseille. Two years later French government finally pulled the wreckages out of the sea. French military confirmed that remnants of the plane’s wreckage were of Antoine’s aircraft. There were no marks or holes from gunfire. But this fact was not significant because it was only a little part of the plane.
War Log From 1948
Herman Korth was a telegrapher of Luftwaffe. He reported that on July 31st, 1944 Focke-Wulf FW-190 brought down P38 Lightning. To make things more clear Luftwaffe was an aerial warfare branch of Wehrmacht. And Wehrmacht was the unified arm forces of Nazi Germany from 1935-1945. However, the veracity of Herman’s log was questionable, to say the least, because it could have also described P38 flown by second lieutenant Gene Meredith who was downed on 30 July south of Nice.
Der Landers Magazine 1972
In 1972 German magazine Der Landers published an old letter from a Luftwaffe reconnaissance pilot Robert Heichele. In the letter, longly deceased Robert claimed to have shot and brought down a P38 on July 31, 1944. He even had a spotter who corroborated his story. The problem with Robert’s story was that he described flying in Focke-Wulf Fw 190 D-9. That variant of a plane did not yet enter the Luftwaffe service. According to military documents, no victory was credited to Heichele or his unit in July nor August 1944. Heichel was shoot on 16th August 1944 and have died five days later.
Horst Rippert 2008
In 2008 a French journalist from La Provence started investigating the death of Antoine de Saint Exupery. He engaged in contact with Luftwaffe pilots who flew in the area around Marseille. His digging resulted in getting an account from Horst Rippert. Ripert turned to be a great fan of Exupery. In his memoirs, he expressed great fear that he was the one who shot down the writer’s plane. In 2003, after learning the location of Exupery’s plane wreckage, the old pilot became certain that he was responsible. Ripert claimed that he reported the kill over the radio. However, there are no survived accounts to verify his story. Ripert’s accounts were followed with both publicity and skepticism. His comrades in arms doubted the veracity of accounts because he kept the story for himself for more than 64 years. As for the military records, they were very low in numbers. Very little German documentation survived the war. Entry and exit points of Antoine’s mission were near Cannes while the wreckage was found south of Marseille.