3 Fun Facts About The Crazy-Slow Plane That Saved Benito Mussolini

The Fieseler Fi 156 Storch was a German liaison aircraft which is probably more known for its laid-back reputation as a STOL performer than for the daring rescue of the Italian Dictator from a snowy mountain peak.

The Storch was equipped with a 237-hp engine that produced a maximum speed of  93 miles per hour – specifications that hardly come to mind as an aircraft that would fetch Mussolini from his inevitable capture. The Storch’s unremarkable performance, however, was also its biggest advantage.

That, and three more things that made the Storch a fascinating aircraft.

1. Field Marshall Erwin Rommel used the Storch extensively during the North African campaign.

The Desert Fox needed a personal plane that could land anywhere the German Afrika Korps encountered problems – especially places with no airstrips.

The Storch had an excellent Short Takeoff and Landing (STOL) performance which made it one of the best observation aircraft in all fronts of the war.

It was an aircraft that could really go anywhere. It served the Luftwaffe not only in the scorching desserts of North Africa, but also in the frozen terrains of the Arctic and the Russian front.

2. The Storch was NOT even the first option for Mussolini’s rescue.

A Focke-Achgelis Fa 223 helicopter was originally deployed to extract Mussolini, but it broke down before he even boarded.

Suddenly, the Storch’s time to shine had arrived.

Luftwaffe pilot Gelach flew the seriously overloaded plane and deftly extracted the dictator just a tad short from the edge of a cliff. It proved to be the perfect aircraft with outstanding short and vertical takeoff capabilities.

3. The Storch was instrumental in General Robert Ritter von Greim’s appointment as Hermann Göring’s successor.

In April 26, 1945, Hitler summoned General von Greim into Berlin to formally appoint him as the new Commander-in-Chief of the Luftwaffe.

The new commander arrived in the Storch, and he was accompanied by the famous aviatrix and Nazi Test Pilot Hanna Reitsch – the first German woman to earn a captain’s license.