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Gunther Pluschow

Gunther Pluschow was a German aviator, aerial explorer and author from Munich, Bavaria. His feats include the only escape by a German in either World War from Britain back to Germany; and he was the first man to explore and film Tierra del Fuego and Patagonia from the air. He was killed on a second aerial expedition to Patagonia in 1931. As an aviator and explorer he is honoured as a hero by the Argentine air force to this day.

World War I

When the First World War broke out in 1914, Lieutenant Pluschow was assigned to the East Asian Naval Station at Tsingtau, a German colony in China. Two Taube airplanes had been shipped in crates from Germany. After assembly of the planes, he began his duties as pilot and aerial observer . A Japanese ultimatum on August 15th for German evacuation from Kiautschou Bay was ignored, Japan declared war on August 23rd, and Japanese and British forces then conjointly set siege to the German colony. By November of 1914, the military situation at Kiautschou Bay proved untenable, and on the Sixth of that month Pluschow (who had to this time flown reconnaissance and had downed an enemy aircraft) flew out in his Taube, carrying the last dispatches and documents from the governor and bound for Hai-Daschou. After flying about 250 kilometers in his much-repaired airplane, Pluschow plunged into a rice paddy, burnt his airplane, and set off for Germany on foot.

Escape from China

He walked to the city of Daschou, where the local mandarin gave a party for him. He managed to finagle a passport to cross China as well as a junk, which he used to journey down a river, passing dozens of colorful towns along the way, finally arriving safely at Nanking. He soon sensed that he was being watched, even by officials friendly to Germany. After almost being arrested, he leapt in a rickshaw and sped to the railway station, where he bribed a guard and slipped on a train to Shanghai.

In Shanghai, he met the daughter of a diplomat he knew from Berlin, and she obtained for him papers as a Swiss national, money, and a ticket on a ship leaving for the United States via Nagasaki, Honolulu and San Francisco. In January 1915 he journeyed across the continent to New York City. He was reluctant to approach the German consulate there, for fear of being arrested by local authorities for illegal entry into the United States under a false identity. Worse, he read a newspaper report that he was presumed to be in New York.

His luck, not to mention his female friends, saved him again: he met a lady from Berlin who managed to get him travel documents for a ship that left on 30 January for Italy, from where he hoped to reach Germany. However, inclement weather forced his ship to dock at Gibraltar, where the British arrested him, suspecting he was an enemy alien. They then discovered that he was the famous aviator from Tsingtau.

Escape from London

On 1 July 1915 he was sent to a prisoner of war camp in Donington Hall in Leicestershire in England, but three days later during a storm he escaped and headed for London. Scotland Yard issued an alert, asking the public to be on the lookout for a man with a dragon tattoo on his arm.

Now disguised as a worker, Pluschow felt safe enough that he took souvenir photographs of himself at the docks of London. He occupied himself reading books about Patagonia, and at night hid inside the British Museum.

For security reasons, there were no published notices announcing the departure of ships, but a lucky encounter with another of his many lady friends allowed him to obtain the necessary information to get on board the ferry Princess Juliana, bound for neutral Holland. He arrived safely and from there he traveled to Germany, where he was at first arrested as a spy.

Return to Germany

Pluschow was acclaimed as "the hero from Tsingtau," was decorated and promoted and named commander of the naval base at Libau in occupied Latvian Courland. In June 1916, in an airplane hangar at Libau, Pluschow married. There he also wrote his first book, The Adventures of the Aviator from Tsingtau, which sold more than 700,000 copies. In 1918, his son Guntolf was born.

The year 1918 was one of profound crisis in Germany. Wilhelm II, German Emperor, fled to Holland and left his nation in chaos. In 1919 the Treaty of Versailles was imposed on Germany by the victorious Allies, and several military and civil revolts took place, but Kapitanleutnant [lieutenant commander] Pluschow declined to participate. Instead, at age 33, he resigned from the Reichsmarine.

South America explorations

[[File:Bundesarchiv Bild 102-11702, Berlin-Lichterfelde, Beisetzung Gunther Pluschows.jpg|thumb|220px|right|Funeral procession at Parkfriedhof [cemetery] Berlin-Lichterfelde]]

After the war, Pluschow took a number of jobs until he obtained a position on the sailing vessel Parma bound for South America. The ship took him around Cape Horn to Valdivia, from where he traveled across Chile to Patagonia. Upon his return to Germany he published Segelfahrt ins Wunderland [Sailing Journey to Wonderland], the success of which allowed him to proceed with further explorations.

On 27 November 1927 Pluschow took the wooden two-masted cutter Feuerland to Punta Arenas, Chile. His engineer Ernst Dreblow brought his seaplane, a Heinkel HD 24 D-1313 aboard a steamer. By December 1928 the airplane had been fully assembled and the inaugural flight brought the first air mail from Puntas Arenas to Ushuaia, Argentina. In the subsequent months Pluschow and Dreblow were the first to explore by air the Cordillera Darwin, Cape Horn, the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, and the Torres del Paine of Patagonia. In 1929, to get back to Germany Pluschow had to sell the Feuerland. Upon his return, he published his explorations and photographs in the book Silberkondor uber Feuerland [Silver Condor over Tierra del Fuego] and a documentary of the same name.

The following year he returned to Patagonia to explore the Perito Moreno Glacier. There, he and Dreblow had a fatal aerial accident near the Brazo Rico, part of the Lake Argentino, on 28 January 1931.

The 'Gunther Pluschow Glacier' in Tierra del Fuego is named in his memory.

Books by Pluschow

My escape from Donington Hall by Kapitanleutnant Gunther Pluschow, of the German Air Service; published by John Lane, Bodly Head Ltd., London, 1922; autobiographical book telling the story of (full title): My escape from Donington Hall preceded by an account of the siege of Kiao-Chow in 1914.

Escape from England, Gunther Pluschow, Ripping Yarns.com, ISBN 1-904466-21-4, a 2004 English language reprint of My Escape from Donington Hall.

Segelfahrt ins Wunderland, Gunther Pluschow. Berlin: Ullstein Verlag, 1926.

Silberkondor uber Feuerland, Gunther Pluschow. Berlin: Ullstein Verlag, 1929, new edition: Prager Bucher, ISBN 3-92576-907-2

Movies by Pluschow

Gunther Pluschow: Silberkondor uber Feuerland, documentary, 1929.


Ikarus, 1931

Fahrt ins Land der Wunder und Wolken, released after 1931

Literature about Pluschow

Dragon master: ''The Kaiser's one-man air force in Tsingtau, China, 1914, Robert E. Whittaker (1994), ISBN 0-96393101-6

Gunther Pluschow: Una Vida de Suenos, Aventuras y Desafios por una Amor Imposible: La Patagonia! - Ein Leben voller Traume, Abenteuer und Herausforderungen, fur eine unmogliche Liebe: Das unzahmbare Patagonien'', Roberto Litvachkes (2006), German-English-Spanish-Portuguese with a DVD with the original film from G. Pluschow filmed in 1929, 127 minutes duration, ISBN 987-21760-1-9


Story of GP's escape

GP's explorations

External links

Videos of his explorations

The expedition ship Feuerland

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