Hermann Göring and the Luftwaffe

A personal profile

Göring was born at Rosenbaum, Germany and served as decorated fighter pilot during WW1.  After the war he worked as a commercial pilot in Denmark and Sweden where he met the Swedish baroness Carin von Kantzow who divorced her husband and married Göring in February 1923.  Two years later he met Adolph Hitler and became chief of Hitler’s Storm Troops (SA).  In 1923 he took part in the Beer Hall Putch in Munich during which Hitler tried to overthrow the German government.  During the Putch Göring was seriously wounded in the groin but he escaped to Austria.  For almost his whole life he would have been treated with morphine for the pain to which he got addicted to and treated twice for in a rehabilitation centre.

Göring, who was with Hitler heading up the march to the War Ministry, was shot in the leg. Fourteen Nazis and four policemen were killed; many top Nazis, including Hitler, were arrested.  With Carin’s help, Göring was smuggled to Innsbruck, where he received surgery and was given morphine for the pain. He remained in hospital until 24 December. This was the beginning of his morphine addiction, which lasted until his imprisonment at Nuremberg. Meanwhile the authorities in Munich declared Göring a wanted man. The Görings—acutely short of funds and reliant on the good will of Nazi sympathizers abroad—moved from Austria to Venice. In May 1924 they visited Rome, via Florence and Siena. Göring met Mussolini, who expressed an interest in meeting Hitler, who was by then in prison.

Personal problems continued to multiply. By 1925, Carin’s mother was ill. The Görings—with difficulty—raised the money in the spring of 1925 for a journey to Sweden via Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Danzig (now Gdańsk). Göring had become a violent morphine addict; Carin’s family were shocked by his deterioration. Carin, who was ill with epilepsy and a weak heart, had to allow the doctors to take charge of Göring; her son was taken by his father. Göring was certified a dangerous drug addict and was placed in Långbro asylum on 1 September 1925. (Manvell, Roger (2011) [1962]. Goering. London: Skyhorse. P. 61)  He was violent to the point where he had to be confined to a straitjacket, but his psychiatrist felt he was sane; the condition was caused solely by the morphine. Manvell 2011, p. 404.

 

Weaned off the drug, he left the facility briefly, but had to return for further treatment. He returned to Germany when an amnesty was declared in 1927 and resumed working in the aircraft industry. Hitler, who had written Mein Kampf while in prison, had been released in December 1924.] Carin Göring, ill with epilepsy and tuberculosis, died of heart failure on 17 October 1931.

Hitler was jailed after the Putch while Göring stayed in exile until 1927 when he was granted amnesty after which he joined the Nazi Party.  The next year he became president of the Reichstag after the Nazis gained the majority of seat in the July election.  During the Night of the Long Knives in 1934, 85 members of the opposition were murdered and Göring rose next to Hitler to power  to become the second most powerful person in the Nazi Party.  In 1935 he became the commanding officer of the Luftwaffe, a position he would held until the end of the war.

In 1939 Hitler appointed Göring as his successor and promoted him to Marshall of the German Empire.  After the fall of France Göring was honoured with the Grand Cross of the Iron Cross and during 1940 promoted as Marshall of the Bigger German Reich.  This was a special rank that put Göring in a senior position above all Marshalls including the Luftwaffe.  After this Goring was the highest ranking officer in the entire German military machine.

Göring’s father was a former cavalry officer and had been the first Governor-General of the protectorate of South-West Africa, modern day Namibia.  Goring’s stepfather was the wealthy physician and businessman, Dr. Hermann Epenstein who housed the Göring family in a small castle called Veldenstein, near Nuremberg.  Göring’s mother became Epenstein’s mistress and remained so for some fifteen years.

Göring used his position to indulge in ostentatious luxury, living in a palace in Berlin and building a hunting mansion named after his first wife Karin where he organized feasts, state hunts, showed off his stolen art treasures and uninhibitedly pursued his extravagant tastes. Changing uniforms and suits five times a day, affecting an archaic Germanic style of hunting dress (replete with green leather jackets, medieval peasant hats and boar spears), flaunting his medals and jewelry.  Göring’s transparent enjoyment of the trappings of power, his debauches and bribe-taking, gradually corrupted his judgment. The “Iron Knight,” a curious mixture of condottiere and sybarite, “the last Renaissance man” as he liked to style himself with characteristic egomania, increasingly confused theatrical effect with real power. Nevertheless, he remained genuinely popular with the German masses who regarded him as manly, honest and more accessible than the Fuhrer, mistaking his extrovert bluster and vitality for human warmth.  (http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Holocaust/goering.html)

Göring worked closely with the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (Reichsleiter Rosenberg Taskforce), an organisation tasked with the looting of artwork and cultural material from Jewish collections, libraries, and museums throughout Europe. Headed by Alfred Rosenberg, the task force set up a collection centre and headquarters in Paris. Some 26,000 railroad cars full of art treasures, furniture, and other looted items were sent to Germany from France alone. Göring repeatedly visited the Paris headquarters to review the incoming stolen goods and to select items to be sent on a special train to Carinhall and his other homes. The estimated value of his collection—numbering some 1,500 pieces—was $200 million. (Manvell, 281)

Göring was known for his extravagant tastes and garish clothing. He had various special uniforms made for the many posts he held his Reichsmarschall uniform included a jewel-encrusted baton. Hans-Ulrich HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hans-Ulrich_Rudel”Rudel, the top Stuka pilot of the war, recalled twice meeting Göring dressed in outlandish costumes: first, a medieval hunting costume, practicing archery with his doctor; and second, dressed in a red toga fastened with a golden clasp, smoking an unusually large pipe. Italian Foreign Minister Galeazzo Ciano once noted Göring wearing a fur coat that looked like what “a high grade prostitute wears to the opera.)He threw lavish housewarming parties each time a round of construction was completed at Carinhall, and changed costumes several times throughout the evenings.  (Manvell 2011, p. 122.)

Göring was noted for his patronage of music, especially opera. He entertained frequently and sumptuously, and hosted elaborate birthday parties for himself.  Armaments minister Albert Speer recalled that guests brought expensive gifts such as gold bars, Dutch cigars, and valuable artwork. For his birthday in 1944, Speer gave Göring an oversize marble bust of Hitler. (Speer, Albert Inside the Third Reich. New York: P. 416-417) Avon  As a member of the Prussian Council of State, Speer was required to donate a considerable portion of his salary towards the Council’s birthday gift to Göring without even being asked. Field Marshal ErhardHYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erhard_Milch” HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erhard_Milch”Milch told Speer that similar donations were required out of the Air Ministry’s general fund.  (Speer 1971, pp. 417–418).

   For his birthday in 1940, Italian Foreign Minister Count Ciano decorated Göring with the coveted Collar of Annunziata. The award reduced him to tears.  ( Mosley, Leonard (1974)P. 280). The Reich Marshal: A Biography of Hermann Goering. Garden City: Doubleday.)

Göring and the Luftwaffe

While the history and traditions of the German navy and army go back to the 17th and 18th centuries, the Luftwaffe was a creation of Hitler as much as the autobahns, the Volkswagen, the race cars of Mercedes-Benz and Audi, the spectacular Nuremberg rallies, the Berlin Olympic Games, the sleek Zeppelins carrying passengers across the Atlantic to New York were.  Add to this that Göring was regarding the Luftwaffe as his personal domain and kingdom when he took command in 1940, senior officers in the army and navy regarded the Nazi leaders as “a collection of social misfits, clowns and sinister thugs.” (Korda, 10)

To Göring the Luftwaffe was his creation and pride, and nothing and nobody would stop him to get what he wanted for the Luftwaffe, much to the displeasure of the army and navy.  Despite his expansive powers, however, he was at all times subservient to Hitler and the latter’s “yes-man” and he also wanted his own ‘yes men” always around him.  Göring was undoubtedly an intelligent, energetic and courageous man, but the Luftwaffe also suffered from flaws in his many faceted character.  One of probably his biggest shortcomings was the fact that his views of air warfare were based on his personal experience as a fighter pilot during WW1 for which he won the most distinguished Pour le Merite, known as the “Blue Max”.

Göring collected as many positions in high offices as he avidly collected awards, decorations and personal wealth to such an extent that it was virtually impossible for him to attend to each, leave alone managing each – this includes the Luftwaffe.  His flamboyant lifestyle resembles that of the corrupt Roman Empires and as he collected the  various awards and decorations he also resembles in full uniform a stout, walking Christmas tree. (Korda, 11)

Göring would also not hesitate to interfere shamelessly and sometimes even brutally into the realms of other ministers of the Reich.  He would almost carelessly delegate some of his work and responsibilities to people who agreed with him and also to old WW1 flying comrades. In this way, for instance, he had plucked Erard Milch from  Lufthansa to play a leading role in the creation of the Luftwaffe.  When it was pointed out to Goring that Milch was half Jewish, Goring replied angrily:  “In Germany it is I who will decide who is a Jew and who is not.”  (Korda, 12)

Göring with his pinkish complexion and overweight body probably reflected his lavish lifestyle in no better and obscene way than by means of his personal train, code named “Asia.”  It was preceded by a pilot train for his staff, with low-loaders cars, and freight cars for Göring’s shopping.  His own carriages were specifically weighted for a smooth ride, and drawn by two of Germany’s most powerful locomotives.  There were bedrooms for himself and his wife, a study, a cinema, a dining car and a command post with a map room.  There were guest carriages for senior commanders such as Erard Milch and light flak wagons at front and rear, although whenever possible the train was halted near a tunnel for protection against air attack. (Len Leighton: Battle of Britain, p. 90)

In the Spring of 1940, the “Iron Man” ordered his train west to Beauvais in France, a suitable command centre for the attack on England which promised to be his great triumph.

Göring, although a man of high intelligence, was not only boastful but also overestimating his own capabilities and those of his beloved Luftwaffe.  After the fall of France the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) had to fall back to Dunkirk.  Göring assured Hitler that it was not necessary to send the Army to attack them there but that the Luftwaffe would attack them on the beaches and would sink British ships that were sent to take the troops back to Britain.  However, Göring could not deliver the successes he promised.  The British sent more than 1000 ships, boats and any floatable object to take more than 300 000 troops back home and in the ensuing air battle above Dunkirk the Germans found themselves confronted by the squadrons of Fighter Command that could stand up to them.  Göring never made an attempt to understand the real nature and limitations of air power and war fare.  He saw combat merely in terms of shooting down as many as possible of the enemy’s air craft. (Leighton, 91)

Nobody could bring the message to Göring’s mind that the Luftwaffe had not been built to give the necessary support and protection for the massive logistics needed for an invasion of Britain (Operation Sea Lion) which was at that stage in the pipeline and eagerly supported by Göring.  He was convinced that the Luftwaffe’s easy victories in Poland, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium and France could be repeated over Britain without keeping in mind that his victories were against considerably weaker air forces and that the Luftwaffe acted as flying artillery rather than long distance strategic weapons.  The belief was still that the “bombers will always get through.”

Göring’s euphoria over the Luftwaffe’s successes in Western Europe and Scandinavia and his belief that he could do the same over the British Canal and south east England would be shattered during the summer of 1940.  He was, in fact, on the point of launching a new war for which the British were better prepared than he could imagine.  His stubborn and arrogant approach and attitude towards advice from senior officers would not in means helped to save the situation.  At the end of the day it would have meant the start of the beginning of his downfall and the loss of the war over the next few years.

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