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Gunther Plüschow

 

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Adventurer, Aviator
and Explorer

Born Munich, Germany

February 8, 1886—January 28, 1931

 

Early Years

Gunther Plüschow was born on February the 8th, 1886 in Munich, Germany. In January 1896, at the age of 10, he entered the Military School and in 1901 he joined the German Marines as a naval cadet. Through discipline and conscious effort, he stood out in his studies. During his training, Plüschow came across a postcard of a steamship anchored off the coast of  Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire). This awoke his lifelong interest in exploring the southernmost tip of South America and would be the main motive for his subsequent achievements.

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Gunther Plüschow outside the walls of Tsingtao (see comments below), China with the Etrich Rumpler Taube he flew early in WW I.

In 1905, Gunther Plüschow now a marine in the Imperial German Army, made his first cruise aboard the ship Luitpolt Prince and then the S-87 where he stood out in both duty assignments. His buried daring and restless spirit drove him to enter the Rumpler Aviation School. Upon graduation, he was posted to Tsingtao, China, (at that time a German Possession on a 99-year lease similar to Hong Kong) as a Marine Reconnaissance Aviator.

 

German Possession Of Tsingtao, China

Tsingtao came under siege shortly after the outbreak of World War I in August, 1914. Heavily outmanned 13 to 1 and outgunned, Gunther flew reconnaissance missions in his Etrich Rumpler Taube around Tsingtao. As the war escalated, Japan's militarism was awakened and sent forces to join the British against the Germans. Plüschow, now a Lieutenant, flew his aircraft against 9 Japanese Army and Naval aircraft and was unofficially credited with shooting down a Maurice Farman aircraft (an aviation first). He was given the name Dragon Master due to the dragon tattoo found on his left arm.

As conditions deteriorated during November, 1914, Plüschow was ordered to escape in what was to become a nine month odyssey.   After escaping, he was interned by the Chinese and escaped while making his way through Peking to Shanghai (see comments below).   Gunther caught a ship to San Francisco, made it overland across the United States, boarded another vessel to cross the North Atlantic where he was captured and again interned, this time by the British in Gibraltar. Plüschow once again miraculously escaped and became a stowaway to London. He made his way across the English Channel to Holland and then by train back to his homeland, Germany, in 1915. Gunther was almost arrested again upon his arrival, this time as a spy. Once the story of his perilous journey home became known, he was recognized as a hero by his people. Gunther was the only person to successfully escape from besieged Tsingtao.

 

In The Land Of Fire

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Plüschow in his Taube, the world's first fighter, prior to leaving on a solo reconnaissance mission around Tsingtao.

In November, 1927, Gunther Plüschow returned to his dream. He set out from the port of Busum for Tierra del Fuego aboard his sailing vessel, Feuerland. On his voyage, he passed through Tenerife, Bahía, Río de Janeiro, Santos, Montevideo, and Buenos Aires. After almost a year of vicissitudes, hardships, and adventures where he continually had to fall back on his wit and never-ending willpower, he arrived at the Straits of Magellan. Along the way he wrote articles for the press, took photographs, and did a great deal of cinematography.

During December, 1928, Plüschow became the first man to fly over Tierra del Fuego in his BMW-powered Heinkel HD-24 which he had named the 'Silver Condor'. When he landed on Ushuaia Bay, he was welcomed as a hero by the local inhabitants. Word of Gunther's exploits spread and he became admired world-wide.

Gunther continued his risky exploration of the region until 1931, flying over the Paine Region and the Perito Moreno Glacier. He documented his explorations of this, then untouched region of the world in words, photos, and movies. He wrote of the beauty and hypnotic attraction of the landscapes, as well as the warmth and cooperation of the people, who, in a devoid region, gave him all the help they could.

On January 28, 1931, Gunther Plüschow made a forced landing on a lake boxed-in by glaciers where he broke a float [on one of his landing gear].  Under extremely cold conditions and without the proper tools, he and his assistant Ernest Dreblow attempted to repair the aircraft.  During the next three days they made many futile attempts to depart. Finally they made it out and on the way back to their base encampment a wing failed. Plüschow jumped with a parachute, but it did not open and he perished. Dreblow fell into Rico Lake near the Perito Moreno Glacier and somehow managed to swim ashore. Unfortunately, the cold had been too much [for him to bear] and he also passed away a few hours later. Plüschow's flight diary survived to document their troubled efforts.

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The Heinkle HD-24 'Silver Condor' at Bahía Sarmiento, near the Paine Mountains in Patagonia.

Plüschow and his mechanic Dreblow during the reassembly of the Heinkle after its journey from Germany.

Gunther Plüschow's flights in Tsingtao and his subsequent escape make for heroic reading today. Surely though, Gunther's main legacy, more evident nowadays than ever, is the emotion and the love with which he described Tierra del Fuego and the Patagonia. Tourbooks today quote Plüschow to describe these near untouched parts of the world:

The First Flight In The Land Of Fire

"The westernmost part of our country is a difficult region; the hard geographical and climatic conditions have converted it into a practically uninhabitable region.  However, its enormous and savage beauty has converted it into a perennial attraction for the most adventurous.  Proof of it is this story that corresponds to the first pilot that saw Tierra del Fuego from the air:
... we rose in spite of the enormous load that we took, and quickly we became lost in the vista of the Earth under our feet. As soon as we arrived at the altitude of 2,000 meters, I look[ed] around and downwards: Incredible and savage beauty!

Now we are here, flying above Tierra del Fuego (Land of the Fire), over the center of the Darwin Mountain Range, almost never visible. We are contemplating what has not been seen by the human eye! That delicious, sensational experience when first feasting your eyes on which, from the creation of the world, had always remained mystery, always covered, and always forbidden to the human view."

From the diary of Captain Gunther Plüschow, 1928.
Provided by Roberto Litvachkes.

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Plane and company in the Land of Fire - Tierra del Fuego.

Exploring the Agostini Glacier, Tierra del Fuego.

 

References:

Litvachkes, Roberto. Private correspondences. Roberto has also provided the images for this page.

Whittaker, Robert. Review of his book referenced below, found at http://www.amazon.com/.

 

Further Reading:

Pluschow, Gunther. Die Abenteuer des Fliegers von Tsingtau. Berlin: Ullstein, 1916. 236 p. Personal narrative of his escape and evasion.

Pluschow, Gunther. SILBERKONDOR ÜBER FEUERLAND: Mit Segelkutter und Flugzeug ins Reich meiner Träume. Ullstein. Berlin. (1929). 2nd impression. 12mo. pp241 + a double page map & plates.

Whittaker, Robert E. DRAGON MASTER - THE KAISER'S ONE-MAN AIR FORCE IN TSINGTAU, CHINA, 1914. 1994, 252 pp, many illus. A detailed study of one of the first uses of air power in WW I. The story of Lt. Gunther Pluschow of the Imperial German Navy, who flew a Rumpler Taube aircraft against 9 Japanese aircraft during the combined Japanese-British siege of the German fortified port of Tsingtao on China's coast, Aug. to Nov. of 1914. Pluschow eventually escaped and made his way back to Germany.

 

A visitor to our site provided the following information:

Dear Sirs,
            I have read in the internet your report on the German airman Gunther Plueschow, who in the autumn of 1914 during the siege of Tsingtao by the Japanese flew a Rumpler-Taube. There are two slight mistakes. For the photo 7 you write: Plueschow's plane in front of the city wall of Tsingtao. Tsingtao had been until 1897 nothing else but a small village, never had a wall, and the village was erased in 1899. The photo 7 shows Plueschow in front of the city wall of Haizhou in the province of Jiangsu, on November 6, 1914. On that day he had escaped the besieged Tsingtao by his plane, and after a flight of ca. 200 km to the southwest, landed at Haizhou, because the plane had no fuel anymore.-
            Secondly you write, that from Haizhou he went to Peking, which is wrong. Peking lies hundreds of miles to the north, why should he have gone there? His aim was, to get to the International Settlement of Shanghai, because there he could not be interned by the Chinese government. So from Haizhou he went by boat via rivers and canals to Nanking, and from there by train to Shanghai.
            Plueschow's book: "Der Flieger von Tsingtau" appeared in 1916. The complete text was translated into English and appeared as book in London 1922, with the title: "My escape from Donington Hall, preceded by an account of the siege of Kiao-chow in 1915 (sic!)", by Kapitaenleutnant Gunther Plueschow, of the German Air Service, translated by Pauline De Chary. - You don't cite this translation in your references, which would be of help for English speaking people.
            In Tsingtao there was a German businessman, called Franz Oster, who in 1911 went to Germany in order to learn how to fly, then he bought a Rumpler Taube and brought it to Tsingtao in 1912. On July 9 th 1913, he made the first flight of an airplane in Tsingtao, and managed to make several flights in and around Tsingtao until August 1914. So he was the first "Flieger von Tsingtau" (airpilot of Tsingtao) - not Plueschow. Plueschow and Whittaker in their books on Tsingtao don't mention Oster at all, which is unfair. I have written a biography of Franz Oster, it is only in typewritten manuscript, 11 pages. I also have a photo of Oster and his plane.
(I was born in Tsingtao and grew up there, therefore I am an expert on the history of Tsingtao.)

Sincerely Yours,
Prof. Dr. Wilhelm Matzat in Bonn, Germany.


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