Pilot who shot down French literary hero identified

18th March 2008, Comments 0 comments

A former German fighter ace who shot down French literary hero Antoine de Saint-Exupery in 1944 said Saturday he would have held his fire had he known who his victim was.

   BERLIN, March 18, 2008  - A former German fighter ace identified as
the man who shot down French literary hero Antoine de Saint-Exupery in 1944
said Saturday he would have held his fire had he known who his victim was.
   "If I had known it was Saint-Exupery I would never have shot him down,"
Horst Rippert, 88, told AFP, adding that the Frenchman had been one of his
favourite authors.
   Rippert said he had been flying a Messerschmitt Me-109 over the
Mediterranean near Toulon on July 31, 1944, when he spotted Saint-Exupery's
twin-tailed Lightning.
   "He was below me," Rippert said. "I saw his markings and manoeuvred myself
behing him and shot him down."
   Rippert, who scored 28 victories during the war, became a radio sports
journalist after the war, said he only found out for sure recently who it was
he had killed.
   The former fighter pilot was tracked down by a French diver, Luc Vanrell,
and the founder of an organisation researching aircraft shot down during the
war, Lino van Gartzen.
   The results of their findings are recounted in a book, "Saint-Exupery, the
last secret," to be published in French on March 20.
   For many years mystery surrounded the disappearance of Saint-Exupery, 44, a
pioneer aviator known for his books about flying and his children's fantasy
"The Little Prince."
   He was serving at the ripe age of 44 with a Free French air force
reconnaissance squadron based in Corsica when he failed to return from a
mission to prepare for the landing of the allies in southern France.
   Two years after a bracelet belonging to him was found in a fisherman's net
off Marseille in 1998, diver Vanrell found remains of the Lightning, which
were brought to the surface and identified from its serial numbers.

AFP 

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