The Fieseler Storch doesn't look impressive when in flight or on the ground. It's a small and slow light aircraft which looks simple and fragile. The only noticeable thing about it are the long and slender 'legs' of its main landing gear, which gave it its name, "Stork" (Storch in German). But when it lands, or when it takes off, then the Fieseler Storch is incredible.
In 1937, the Fieseler Storch was the world's first STOL (Short Take-Off and Landing) aircraft, and even in the 21st century, its ability to land and fully stop over just a few meters, and to leave the ground at take off after just three seconds of slow running, are phenomenal. When there's wind, the Storch can take-off and land almost like a hovering helicopter.
The Storch's genious wing design, so effective yet so simple, which gives it the ability to fly so slow, is just the first part of the story. The Fieseler Storch was designed from the beginning to be a military STOL aircraft for the German armed forces, and it played a key role during World War 2. The Storch's additional military features were:
The Storch was also used for observation over the battlefield, to report enemy locations and movements, and to efficiently direct air strikes and artillery fire at it. Wolfram von Richthofen, who commanded an entire air fleet of the German Air Force in the Russian front, used to personally fly his Storch around the battle front, and to personally direct the attacks of the formations of bombers and other ground attack aircraft under his command. His successes in this innovative method of high-ranking front line personal command of combat air support were much appreciated by the army generals whose forces benefited from it, and von Richthofen was rewarded by Hitler with Knights Cross medals in 1940 and in 1941, and with promotions of rank in 1942 and in 1943, to Field Marshal. Field Marshal Rommel also used his Storch to personally observe the battlefield from the air.
In addition to its main roles as liaison and observation aircraft, the Fieseler Storch was also used, in smaller numbers, for aerial photography, medical evacuation, counter-insurgency reconnaissance (with side door machine guns and small bombs or smoke markers), and anti-submarine warfare (carrying a depth charge).
The most famous flight of a Fieseler Storch during World War 2 was when a force of German elite troops, led by Otto Skorzeny, landed by military gliders near a ski resort on a mountain top in Italy, where the deposed Italian leader Benito Mussolini was held prisoner, and rescued him. The only way to get Mussolini off the mountain and to safety without a battle, was by air. The problem was that the patch of grass on the mountain top which could be used as a runway was short even for a Storch, was also cut in the middle by a ditch, and ended in an abyss. A Storch landed, took both Mussolini and Skorzeny, who squeezed his large body into the Storch's small cargo space behind the single passenger's seat, and started its take-off run. As it reached the ditch, the pilot pulled up to get off the ground for a moment in order to skip past the ditch, then continued to run the remaining few meters, and disappared from the eyes of the watching German troops down the abyss. The pilot flew the Storch down the mountain slope to tree-top level at the valley below, and then flew back to base, safely delivering Mussolini.
The Fieseler Storch remained in production and in use by several air forces for over a decade after World War 2, and many are still being flown in the 21st century, mainly in air shows, demonstating the still phenomenal STOL capability of this great little aircraft.