There is a substantial amount of evidence available about events in the air over Southern France on 30 and 31 July 1944, including precise references to the shooting down of an Allied aircraft on the former date. This evidence comes from both sides and even if the German material had been suppressed or doctored back in 1944, the Allied files would have been beyond their reach.
My own opinion is that, after all the Luftwaffe had done — and been proud of — in the war up until then, it is implausible to suggest that killing this one individual would have brought on a sudden attack of embarrassment.
The Luftwaffe was officially concerned with individual scores to a degree not seen in the RAF and USAAF. Units obsessively recorded their cumulative, collective tallies and those of the individuals in their ranks, reporting them up the chain of command. When pilots were transferred, their victories were listed against their names. The number of aircraft a fighter pilot shot down determined the award of medals via a points system. As time went on it influenced who led a formation. By the last months of the war, with fuel scarce, it even determined who got to fly at all. In this climate, how likely is it that a pilot or his commanders would have suppressed all mention of a victory when these were increasingly hard to come by? There are records of victory claims by JGr. 200 throughout July and for its final operations in August 1944 but none for 31 July.
Practicalities also militate against a "suppressed" victory: any claim would have been passed to higher authority days before the Luftwaffe learned Saint-Exupéry was missing. The Jafü's daily report of 30 July was filed 6 hours after Herbert Guth shot down Gene Meredith. Intervals of 6–8 hours seem to have been typical whereas the Allied broadcast that Saint-Exupéry was missing came over the distress frequency on 2 or 3 August, according to Georg Pemler (see below). If Horst Rippert claimed a P-38 on the morning of 31 July, there is good reason to expect that a report would have gone up the chain of command that afternoon or evening. The downed pilot's identity was not broadcast until 2–3 days later, so how might the German pilot, however conscience-stricken, have withdrawn a claim that the Allies had just confirmed?
The diary of the highest Luftwaffe command in France recorded only missions against ground targets in Southern France on 31 July.
Allied Signals Intelligence daily monitored the radio traffic from the unit's pilots, their contacts with hostile formations, their losses and victories. No contacts were recorded on 31 July.
I 'd like to emphasise that I could be wrong. My main effort to research the disappearance of Saint-Exupéry was when I was in contact with Georg Pemler 15 or so years ago. I was interested in the Luftwaffe's response to the Allied landings on the Riviera in August and he asked what I could find out for him in the British archives. He had been involved in an inquiry in 1944 and had been well placed to debunk a post-war story that one of his NAG 13 comrades, Robert Heichele, had shot the Frenchman down.
What's here is what I had when the Rippert story broke, supplemented by radio monitoring reports first released in 2001 and a day’s archival research in September 2008 (using files not released in the 1990s) but it's pretty clear where it points. There is one piece of the jigsaw that I didn't find for Pemler or since: a deciphered operations report for 31 July from Jafü Süd. I have not found it in the National Archives’ DEFE3 file series nor in HW5: I may have missed it or it may simply not exist. If it turns up and it it records a combat with a Lightning then I will gladly stand corrected.
Like other researchers, I look forward to seeing what contemporary documentary evidence Lino von Gartzen's two years of research unearthed. I don't think I'm alone in believing that something more substantial is needed than one man's memory of events 64 years ago.
I've given file references for all my source material so that anyone who wants to can check it out for themselves. If you want to look for the elusive Jafü Süd daily report for 31 July 1944, I'd expect it to be in one of the following at the National Archives: DEFE3/64, DEFE3/65 or DEFE3/112. If it exists, that's where it should be, unless it was only deciphered after an exceptional delay (material from Southern France was typically broken within a day at this time). Alternatively, try files HW5/547 – HW5/550: I have found Jafü Süd decrypts for 30 July and 2 August in those files but drawn a blank where 31 July and 1 August are concerned.
For German speakers there is Luftwaffen-Revue issue 1/93 (March 1993) and the article »Träume und Wirklichkeit: Das Ende von Antoine de Saint-Exupéry« by Georg Pemler. (= "Dreams and Reality: the end of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry").
Pemler recounts the enquiries that were made in NAG 13 and with JGr. 200 and Flak units when an Allied message was heard, in clear, over the emergency frequency alerting listeners to watch out for a missing P-38 and naming the pilot. (Pemler knew Saint-Exupéry from reading some of his books). There were sighting reports from German ground echelons of a high-flying reconnaissance aircraft but nobody made any claim of shooting it down.
In France, you could check out Le Fana de l'Aviation No. 297 (August 1994) for an article by Thierry Thomassin, "Le P-38 de Saint Exupéry n'est probablement pas là où on le cherche" (= "Saint-Exupéry's P-38 is probably not where they are looking for it").
In the Czech Republic, Jan Bobek had an article published on 29 March 2008 entitled "Saint-Exupéryho nikdo nesestřelil, vyplývá z archivních dokumentů." Jan points out:
"Rippert worried about his link to death of Saint-Exupéry soon after the war. About 5 years after the war he came to conclusion that he had nothing to do with it. He was still under this impression 10 years ago."
Aero Journal Nº 6 (October–November 2008) features an article by Guy Julien, commenting on the points made here and advancing arguments in favour of Horst Rippert's claim.
So many aircraft were lost to causes other than enemy action throughout the war (and so many seemed just to have vanished) that there is just no need for Saint-Exupéry to have fallen victim to a German fighter. The limitations of 1940s aviation technology and the cumulative demands on the airmen of all nations made flying quite dangerous enough without anyone shooting at them.
PART FIVE AND FINAL
Some conclusions and suggestions for further reading or research.