|Antoine de Saint Exupéry
|Antoine de Saint Exupéry
June 29, 1900
|July 31, 1944 (aged 44)
Offshore, south of Marseilles, France
|Autobiography, Belles-Lettres, Children's Literature
|Consuelo Gómez Carillo de Saint Exupéry, (1931-death)
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (June 29, 1900—July 31, 1944) was a French writer and aviator. He is most famous for his novella The Little Prince, and is also well known for his books about aviation adventures, including Night Flight and Wind, Sand and Stars.
Antoine Jean-Baptiste Marie Roger de Saint Exupéry was born in Lyon to an old family of provincial nobility, the third of five children of Marie de Fonscolombe and Viscount Jean de Saint-Exupéry, an insurance broker who died before his son was even four.
After failing his final exams at preparatory school, Saint Exupéry entered the École des Beaux-Arts to study architecture. In 1921, he began his military service with the 2nd Regiment of Chasseurs (light cavalry), and was then sent to Strasbourg for training as a pilot. The following year, he obtained his license and was offered transfer to the air force. Bowing to the objections of the family of his fiancée—the future novelist Louise Leveque de Vilmorin—he instead settled in Paris and took an office job. The couple ultimately broke off the engagement, however, and he worked at several jobs over the next few years without success.
By 1926, Saint Exupéry was flying again. He became one of the pioneers of international postal flight, in the days when aircraft had few instruments. Later he complained that those who flew the more advanced aircraft had become more like accountants than pilots. He worked on the Aéropostale between Toulouse and Dakar.
Saint Exupéry's first story, "L'Aviateur" ("The Aviator"), was published in the magazine Le Navire d'Argent. In 1929, he published his first book, Courrier Sud (Southern Mail); his career as aviator was also burgeoning, and that same year he flew the Casablanca/Dakar route. He became the director of Cape Juby airfield in Río de Oro, Morocco. In 1929, Saint Exupéry moved to South America, where he was appointed director of the Aeroposta Argentina Company. This period of his life is briefly explored in Wings of Courage, an IMAX film by French director Jean-Jacques Annaud.
In 1931, Vol de Nuit (Night Flight) —the first of his major works and winner of the Prix Femina—was published and made his name. It covers his experiences with the Aéropostale. That same year, at Grasse, Saint Exupéry married Consuelo Suncin (née Suncín Sandoval), a widowed Salvadoran writer and artist. It would be a stormy union, as Saint Exupéry traveled frequently and indulged in numerous affairs, most notably with the Frenchwoman Hélène (Nelly) de Vogüé. De Vogüé became Saint Exupéry's literary executrix after his death, and also wrote a Saint Exupéry biography under the pseudonym Pierre Chevrier.
On December 30, 1935 at 14:45 after a flight of 19 hours and 38 minutes Saint Exupéry, along with his navigator, André Prévot, crashed in the Libyan Sahara desert en route to Saigon. Their plane was a Caudron C-630 Simoun n°7042 (serial F-ANRY). The crash site may be the Wadi Natrun. The team was attempting to fly from Paris to Saigon faster than any previous aviators, for a prize of 150,000 francs. Both survived the landing, but were faced with the prospect of rapid dehydration in the Sahara. They had no idea of their location. According to his memoir, Wind, Sand and Stars, their sole supplies were grapes, two oranges, and a small ration of wine. What Saint Exupéry himself told the press shortly after rescue was that the men only had a thermos of sweet coffee, chocolate, and a handful of crackers, enough to sustain them for one day. They experienced visual and auditory hallucinations; by day three, they were so dehydrated they ceased to sweat. Finally, on day four, a Bedouin on a camel discovered them, saving Saint Exupéry and Prévot's lives. Saint Exupéry's fable The Little Prince, which begins with a pilot being marooned in the desert, is in part a reference to this experience.
Saint Exupéry continued to write and fly until the beginning of World War II. During the war, he initially flew with the GR II/33 reconnaissance squadron of the Armée de l'Air. After France's 1940 armistice with Germany, he traveled to the United States. The Saint Exupérys lived in a penthouse apartment at 240 Central Park South in New York City and a rented mansion in Asharoken on Long Island's north shore between January 1941 and April 1943, and also in Quebec City for a time in 1942. He wrote The Little Prince in Asharoken in the summer and fall of 1942; the manuscript was completed by October.
Following his nearly twenty-five months in North America, Saint Exupéry returned to Europe to fly with the Free French Forces and fight with the Allies in a Mediterranean-based squadron. Then 43, he was older than most men assigned such duties; he also suffered pain, due to his many fractures. He was assigned with a number of other pilots to P-38 Lightnings, which an officer described as "war-weary, non-airworthy craft."
Saint Exupéry's final assignment was to collect intelligence on German troop movements in and around the Rhone Valley preceding the Allied invasion of southern France. On the evening of July 31, 1944, he left from an airbase on Corsica, and was never seen again. A woman reported having watched a plane crash around noon of August the first near the Bay of Carqueiranne off Toulon. An unidentifiable body wearing French colors was found several days later and buried in Carqueiranne that September.
In 1998, a fisherman named Jean-Claude Bianco found a silver identity bracelet bearing the names of Saint Exupéry and his wife Consuelo and his publishers, Reynal & Hitchcock, hooked to a piece of fabric, presumably from his flight suit.
In 2000, a diver named Luc Vanrell found a P-38 Lightning crashed in the seabed off the coast of Marseille. The remains of the aircraft were recovered in October 2003. On April 7, 2004, investigators from the French Underwater Archaeological Department confirmed that the plane was, indeed, Saint Exupéry's F-5B reconnaissance variant. No marks or holes attributable to gunfire were found, however this was not considered significant as only a small portion of the aircraft was recovered. In June, 2004, the fragments were given to the Museum of Air and Space in Le Bourget.
The location of the crash site and the bracelet are less than 80km by sea from where the unidentified French soldier was found in Carqueiranne, and it remains plausible, but has not been confirmed, that the body was carried there by ocean currents after the crash over the course of several days.
In March 2008, a former Luftwaffe pilot, 85-year-old Horst Rippert, told La Provence, a Marseille newspaper, that he engaged and downed a P-38 Lightning on July 31, 1944 in the area where Saint Exupéry's plane was found. According to Rippert, he was on a reconnaissance mission over the Mediterranean sea when he saw a P-38 with a French emblem behind him near Toulon. Rippert says he opened fire at the P-38, which crashed into the sea.
After the war, Horst Rippert became a television journalist and led the ZDF sports department. Rippert says he came to believe that he had probably shot down Saint Exupéry, a writer Rippert knew of because he had read his books during his youth — Rippert says Saint Exupéry was one of his favorite authors. Rippert has written a forthcoming book discussing the alleged Saint Exupéry shootdown. Horst Rippert is the brother of the singer Ivan Rebroff.
Rippert's story is unverifiable, and has met with criticism from some German and French investigators.
Contemporary archival sources, including intercepted Luftwaffe signals, strongly suggest that Saint-Exupéry was not shot down by a German aircraft. An American Lightning was shot down on 30 July by Feldwebel Guth of 3./Jagdgruppe 200, the unit in which Rippert was serving. Guth’s victory claim is recorded in the lists held by the German Bundesarchiv-Militärarchiv. The progress of the interception was followed by Allied radar and radio monitoring stations and documented in Missing Air Crew Report 7339 on the loss of Second Lieutenant Gene C. Meredith of the 23rd Photographic Squadron. The Mediterranean Allied Air Forces Signals Intelligence Report for 30 July records that “an Allied reconnaissance aircraft was claimed shot down at 1115 [GMT].” By contrast, there is no claim on file from Rippert for a Lightning on 31 July and the RAF’s No. 276 Wing (Signals Intelligence) Operations Record Book notes only: “… three enemy fighter sections between 0758/0929 hours operating in reaction to Allied fighters over Cannes, Toulon and the area to the North. No contacts. Patrol activity north of Toulon reported between 1410/1425 hours.”