Antoine De Saint Exupéry and The Lost Prince

60 years after his death, Antoine de Saint Exupéry, author of The Little Prince, solved the riddle of the lost Hereditary Prince Alexis at Bentheim and at Steinfurt by default. This is for once not a ghost story or a conspiracy theory. Instead it is the story of two fighter pilots lost in World War II that never met in real life.

The disappearance of Antoine de Saint Exupéry’s F5-B fighter plane over the Mediterranean near Marseilles was one of the many riddles unsolved for decades after World War II. Finally in 1998, a fisher found a bracelet bearing an inscription identifying it as belonging to the author. The find in the fishing nets gave the clue to pinpoint the place where the plane with Antoine de Saint Exupéry had gone down. The fisher was first disbelieved and then ridiculed by ‘official France’, meaning government agencies and historians. But there were people who believed him.

In a private venture, French and German divers eventually recovered the remains of the author's F5-B at that exact spot, but also parts of a Messerschmitt lying on the ground beside it. The remains of the F5-B have been confirmed as the plane of Saint Exupéry. The Messerschmitt turned out to be that of Prince Alexis. Apart from the location, the two planes had nothing to do with each other except for sharing their watery grave.

Alexis Friedrich Carl Christian Hereditary Prince at Bentheim and at Steinfurt was born the first child of Viktor Adolf Prince at Bentheim and at Steinfurt and Estefania Princess at Schaumburg-Lippe on the 30th of July, 1922. He was shot down by allied planes on the 2nd of December, 1943, on his very first flight. As Antoine de Saint Exupéry had disappeared on the 31st of July, 1944, any connection between the two planes was dismissed. But the recovery team was puzzled that Prince Alexis' body was not in his Messerschmitt. They started a separate investigation to find him.

In 1943, the body of Alexis had been found some days after his crash into the sea on the beaches of the island of Riou, one of the many small Calanques islands that dot the Mediterranean near Marseilles. Locals buried him in an unmarked grave. This unmarked grave was found and opened in the 1960s by a local doctor. In the belief of having found the grave of Antoine de Saint Exupéry, a well-known author as well as a French national hero, he gathered the remains and took them home. And there they remained.

After the death of the local doctor, his daughter emigrated from France. She took everything with her including the box containing the remains of Alexis and his shawl. Her whereabouts were traced by the recovery team and she handed the box with the remains and shawl to German officials for verification. DNA probes have established the identity of Prince Alexis and his interment at the family cemetery at Burgsteinfurt took place in December 2008.

(Photographs of Alexis Friedrich Carl Christian Hereditary Prince at Bentheim and at Steinfurt have been graciously released into the public domain by Christian Prince at Bentheim and at Steinfurt.)

Further reading
The Little Prince
The First Flying Permits of 1909
Princes: Not All That Glitters