Massive Mass Murderer Hermann Goering
There is no more enigmatic figure in the Third Reich's hierarchy than Herman Goering (Göring in German, we will use the American spelling because this is an American site). War hero, mental patient, romantic lover, vicious and pitiless mass murderer, insightful strategist, inept bungler - Goering was all of these, and much, much more. The sad part about Goering - one of the sad parts - is that he seems to have understood the strategic realities of World War II Germany all along, but was absolutely ineffective at affecting that nation's inexorable march toward madness and ultimate dissolution.
A classic enabler, Goering is more difficult to pin down the more you learn about him. There's no question, though, where he stood on certain defining questions like the Holocaust, no question whatsoever. He was a bad guy who had no remorse, sheer brutality and ruthlessness concealed to some extent by a somewhat foppish demeanor and some almost feminine predilections.
My aim in writing these summaries of well-known historical figures is to be as even-handed as possible. When I read a biography, I want to see the facts, and then draw my own conclusions. I do not want someone else telling me how I should react to the facts - I find that insulting and distracting. Thus, if the neutral tone on this blog is a bit off-putting, that is the reasoning behind it, for better or worse.
If you are a reasonable person, I'm not going to make you more reasonable, and if you're not, I'm not going to change you into one. I trust people to draw the appropriate conclusions on their own without having to be told "This is good" or "he was evil." That should be evident from the facts themselves. I do let adjectives creep in when something is particularly heinous given the subject's norm.
|Hermann Goring marked the completion of his pilot’s qualifications by posing in his training aeroplane at Freiburg.|
Goering's father, Heinrich, was a former cavalry officer who held various diplomatic posts in Germany's colonies and elsewhere when Hermann was a boy. His mother Franziska returned to Germany from one such assignment in order to give birth to Hermann, then abruptly left him behind under the care of others while she returned to the sunny Caribbean. His godfather was Jewish Dr. Hermann Epenstein, a wealthy man who owned a castle, Veldenstein. The Goering family lived in Veldenstein while Franziska consorted with Epenstein in an open arrangement.
Rumors abounded later as to who fathered who - Hermann's brother Albert, an anti-Hitler protester throughout his life, was a favorite subject of such talk, Hermann himself occasionally. It was an odd arrangement, but it meant that Hermann grew up in a setting infused with Teutonic legends of German knights, which kindled in him an enthusiasm for a military career at a young age.
World War I
After graduating from a military academy, Hermann joined the 112th Infantry Regiment in 1912, stationed at Mulhouse in Alsace near France. Stricken with rheumatism in the trenches, he was visited by friend Bruno Loerzer, who spoke glowingly of the new German Air Force (Luftstreitkräfte).
After Goering's request for a transfer to this daring arm of the German Army was turned down, Goering started flying missions with Loerzer anyway. The Army gave up and finally approved the transfer, and Goering and Loerzer flew reconnaissance and bombing missions together. This brought them both the Iron Cross, first class. Loerzer remained tight with Goering to the end, one of Goering's cronies with whom he could "share a drink."
|Goering during World War 1, wearing his Iron Cross but no Pour le Mérite yet.|
Goering wasn't happy being just a passenger, so he completed the pilot training course and began flying fighters for Jagdstaffel 5. After a hip injury that took a year to heal, he was reassigned to Jagdstaffel 26, now led by Loerzer.
|Hermann was a World War I ace|
It turned out that Hermann had a talent for air combat, and his victories started mounting up. In later years he would speak disparagingly of pilots who "lied for each others' medals," but there is no evidence that his aerial victories were anything but genuine - and the German officers always required some kind of corroboration before awarding anyone victories, be it the downed enemy plane itself or testimony from fellow pilots. They were quite strict about it. Subsequent comparisons to Allied losses confirmed all but a few of Goering's claims, meaning Goering was honest about his claims.
|Oberleutnant Hermann Goring, wearing his Pour le Merite, standing by a Fokker D.VII, possibly 324/18, with which he scored his twentieth aerial victory.|
As his victories mounted, Goering was given command of Jagdstaffel 27, and he won a steady progression of awards. In May 1918, Goering had Loerzer put him in for the ultimate award, the Pour le Mérite or "Blue Max," which he won. By the summer of 1918, Goering was one of the most famous fighter pilots in the world, and he assumed command of the deceased Manfred von Richthofen's "Flying Circus," Jagdgeschwader 1. A bit full of himself now, Goering was disliked by the wily veterans of the Geschwader, and after the war he was not retained in the 100,000 army.
Goering had trouble scratching out a living after the war. He wound up flying for a Swedish airline and hiring himself out on the side. One of these private flights was to a frozen lake beside a Swedish castle owned by Count Eric von Rosen. Staying the night, Goering met Baroness Carin von Kantzow, Rosen's sister-in-law who had a young son and was estranged from her husband. After Carin got a divorce, the two got married on February 3, 1922. Carin was the love of Goering's life, and he paid tribute to her long after her untimely death at a young age.
Around the time of his marriage to Carin, Goering met a young firebrand named Adolf Hitler. Goering joined Hitler's Party and moved near Munich, the party's headquarters. While Goering was entranced by Hitler's speeches as much as anybody, the decision was a good way to get a paying job, too.
|Goering in the early days.|
Goering was quickly appointed commander of the SA (Sturmabteilung), the Party's pseudo-military arm. Carin was extremely important in Goering's rise, serving as the unofficial Pary hostess.
|Goering was especially useful in dealings with Sweden because of his marriage to Carin. Here he is with King Gustav and the Crown Prince|
The SA was just a mob of men, but Goering was clever and began the process of organizing it along paramilitary lines. The failed Beer Hall Putsch on November 8-9 1923, though, interrupted things when Hitler was arrested and Goering was shot in the 'leg' (it was later rumored that he could no longer have children as a result, so that pretty much locates the precise area). Goering avoided arrest when Carin drove him off in a car to Innsbruck, where he had his leg treated.
|Goering's tenure as head of the SA is often forgotten. Goering was jokingly referred to as Hitler's "bouncer" until joking about him became hazardous to your health.|
During this operation, Goering was given morphine for the pain, which began a life-long addiction. With Hermann now a wanted man, the Goerings had to flee to Italy. They spent time in Venice, Florence, Sienna and Rome, and Goering managed to wrangle an audience with the new Italian strongman, Benito Mussolini. However, with the Party in ruins, Hermann had no income, and the Goerings survived only on the kindness of strangers. It was a time of great humiliation for Hermann, who barely managed to arrange a brief meeting with Mussolini after weeks of waiting.
|Carin and Hermann Goering, likely during the 1920s|
Goering now was taking morphine for the pleasure of it, and it made him violent and uncontrollable. During a visit back to Sweden to Carin's family, Hermann wound up in an insane asylum in Långbro on September 1, 1925. Once he was off the morphine, his condition improved, though this took some time and Goering was completely out of control in the interim. While the circumstances of his confinement are murky, upon his discharge Hermann demanded a document showing that the confinement had been voluntary. It most likely wasn't.
The Goerings returned to Germany, where Hitler had been released from Landsberg Jail and resumed his political career. Goering resumed his relationship with Hitler, but another man was given command of the SA.
Goering and Hitler still were tight, though, Goering's leg wound at the Putsch having sealed the bond between the two men as a sign of loyalty.
They were as much buddies as they were master and servant, though that was definitely part of the relationship, too. Whereas Hitler was completely cold-blooded about his image and agenda, Goering was a bit more human about the practicalities of life.
|Goering giving one of those "OMG how many more of them are there?" looks, while Hitler keeps that arm rock steady despite the fact it must be tiring to stand like that.|
While the Putsch had failed, the Party somehow had captured the German Zeitgest. Party enrollment shot through the roof during the late 1920s, though it was still very much a minority organization. When national elections were held in May 1928, the NSDAP won 12 seats. Goering took one of them in Bavaria, giving him a steady income and prestige. He was on his way.
|Goering and Hitler at the reburial in Germany of Karin Goering at Karinhall in the 1930s. It is always fascinating to see Hitler giving a Hitler salute.|
While his career was on the upswing, not all was well with the Goerings. Their hard times during the 1920s had consequences. Carin, never very healthy, had come down with epilepsy and Tuberculosis, perhaps partly due to their poor surroundings and poverty. Her condition got worse and and worse, and she passed away from heart failure on October 17, 1931. It was a devastating blow for Hermann, but at least others in the Party could sympathize and commiserate because they all had loved Carin and her tea parties for the top brass. Hitler, of course, had just lost his beloved Geli, so once again the two men had something in common. Never underestimate a woman's special touch in helping a man advance in a very masculine environment.
Goering: Man of Action, Happy Husband
Hitler had come to rely on Goering for special projects, of which there were many during the 1930s. Hitler admired Goering for being cold and pitiless when events demanded it, and it must be said that Goering in fact did display those qualities throughout his life. Shortly after Hitler became Chancellor on 30 January 1933 - the most important date in all of their lives - the suspicious Reichstag fire of February 27, 1933 took place. Goering was in the vicinity, and there is the very good possibility that he and/or his minions set the fire themselves in order to advance their agenda (and General Franz Halder claimed that Goering confessed to it years later).
|Goering on the range. Contrary to legend, he did not just sit around eating bonbons. Well, he might have done that too, but he got outside sometimes.|
However - and conveniently - a somewhat addled young communist, Marinus van der Lubbe, was found at the scene and claimed responsibility. This incident began the quick devolution of the Weimar Republic into the Third Reich. The Reichstag, under pressure from Hitler and Goering, quickly passed a decree (the "Enabling Act") that essentially imposed martial law.
|Goreing hit the bullseye with van der Lubbe.|
Goering used the incident to round up members of the German Communist Party, who had been the Party's main opponents in the Reichstag up until then.
|Goering with wife Emmy, daughter Edda and Hitler|
Was Hermann Goering a Homosexual?
Goering's sexual proclivities are of interest to people for some reason, so this is a good time to look at the eccentricities of Hermann Goering and how that might relate or not relate to his sexuality. If you want to just assume things in this area, well, lots of people do. If you want the truth, though, you have to understand a little bit about the man himself and put everything into context.
|Goering with his pet lion, which he allowed to roam the grounds of Carinhall. Today, we would call him 'eccentric.' He had the funds to indulge his eccentricities.|
It is fashionable for historians - or shall we say, students looking to become Ph.Ds and academics looking to advance their careers - and other people with an agenda to contrive high-concept arguments that arguably could fit sketchy historical facts. This gets them noticed and lots of Brownie points for cleverness. Perhaps the best example of this in the World War II context is historian David Irving 'proving' that there are no known documents connecting Hitler to the Holocaust. It is but one step from there for others (Irving has been extremely careful not to cross this particular bridge, but he still is labelled a Holocaust denier for the general tenor of his writings) to contend that Hitler did not know about the Holocaust and (the argument goes) would have disapproved of it if he had. To state that this is fanciful hogwash is an inadequate way of saying how preposterous any such notion is in context. It is impossible to prove a nullity, and thus in the absence of evidence it is impossible to disprove that Hitler did not know about the Holocaust. But that is a far, far road to travel from establishing that the Holocaust, with camps constructed all across Europe and heavy use of the vital rail system for inmate transport, was somehow a secret from Hitler - who was a master of minutiae and was known to keep track of the movements of individual trains carrying particular cargo. Nothing as grandiose as the Holocaust project could possibly under any reasonable view of the facts have escaped Hitler's attention.
|Goering in traditional hunting garb at Hitler's place|
It is well known that Goering was shot in the 'leg' during the failed Putsch in 1923. He is known to have told associates that this made him unable to father children, so we can guess pretty well the exact location of his injury. This became common knowledge (the top Germans loved to gossip about each other). Thus, after news was released that Goering's wife was going to have a baby in 1938, all sorts of ugly rumors about the baby's parentage arose. One nightclub comedian joked that the child would be named "Hamlet" because 'Sein oder, oder nicht' (which in German translated equally 'To be, or not to be' and 'Is it his, or not his?'). The comedian was sent to a concentration camp for this clever pun. However, there has never been any serious doubt raised that his daughter was, in fact, Goering's progeny (though perhaps some academic will want to make some news).
It also is important to remember that Germans in the first half of the 20th Century had a very odd (to us) view of sexuality. Kaiser Wilhelm, the manliest of men in his public posturing, was known to have wild all-male private parties where he and his top cronies dressed in drag, with extreme sexual connotations to the clothing that extended well beyond simply donning a dress. You think that the Victorians did not know how to party? Think again. Ordinary German soldiers during World War II had a common and apparently wide-spread fetish of getting their girlfriends to cross-dress in their uniforms. This was considered 'funny' (the girls invariably are laughing) and probably also sexual. Thus, the gender lines were weirdly blurred during the Third Reich in ways that are very difficult for us to fully understand. Perhaps it was a case of men being so masculine and authoritative that they got a thrill out of playing the submissive role.
|Goering showing his, um, unique fashion sense|
German attitudes, incidentally, remain a bit, shall we say, different from the rest of the world to this day. Germans love to talk about 'Scheiße,' and if you understand German and read enough German writing either in the original or in translation, you know what I mean. There are all sorts of common German expressions related to that word, and they remain quite common to this day. Vanity Fair had a hilarious (and controversial) take on his several years ago. Thus, it is extremely dangerous to interpret 1930s German personal styles in a way that makes sense to us, because it was a different culture and they do things differently in Germany. Let's put it this way: as much as we would use a sexual expression to express ourselves in certain contexts ('You Mother____!'), the Germans instead would tend just as often to use some variant of 'Scheiße' (though maybe not in that particular context). It is an idiosyncratic linguistic artifact of the German language and culture. If I offend any of our German friends with this, well, sorry, but it is pretty obvious.
|Hermann Goering at his dressing table, cheeks nicely rouged.|
All right, back to Hermann and his personal oddities. There is no question that Hermann Goering had many foppish habits. He loved to dress in traditional peasant outfits while at home at Carinhall for no discernible reason (nobody else did except perhaps small children and backwoods farmers). The literature is full of people laughing at Goering behind his back because of this (they found his feminine proclivities not quite as humorous for some reason).
|Goering had all sorts of odd habits for a military leader - such as his elaborate model train set in the attic at Carinhall which covered an entire room. Note that he is wearing a traditional leather vest, too.|
There are pictures of Goering dressed in fancy robes and applying rouge to his face in front of an obviously feminine dressing table. Soldiers called in from the Front for award ceremonies and the like reported (in their diaries) being astounded by Goering's openly feminine displays (General der Fallschirmptruppe Hermann-Bernhard Ramcke gave an amusing account of one such incident).
|Goering was not at all self-conscious about wearing multiple armbands and gold chains.|
|Goering greeting a visitor dressed in his fashion of choice|
My own conclusion is that he was heterosexual, but so besotted with his own personal (gluttonous) pleasure that he grew to like soft feminine clothing that accomodated his large figure and cosmetics that he thought flattered him. Normal clothing probably pinched his ample girth in uncomfortable ways - his feminine and peasant garb invariably was loose and easy on the body. That is where the evidence, as opposed to an agenda, leads me.
|Goering with Emmy and his lion at Carinhall. He appears to have applied a bit too much rouge that day. Note the plush surroundings: Goering loved soft things, which was in marked contrast to Hitler, who invariably lived in masculine surroundings.|
With Hitler and the Party firmly in control, Hermann was an eligible bachelor again. He married well-known Hamburg actress Emmy Sonnemann on April 10, 1935, and they had a daughter, Edda, on June 2, 1938. The daughter remained an enduring topic of gossip, because many had assumed that the Beer Hall Putsch injury precluded her. Emmy's own background (actresses then were considered barely a step above prostitutes) also was food for loose talk. Hitler was the best man, but he was unimpressed by Emmy's softness: he later said "She is the cancer within Goering" - this cancer making Goering less cold-blooded and nasty. Yes, real nice guy, that Adolf. Since this was the main thing that Hitler liked about Goering - that Goering was absolutely steely in a crisis and ready to do anything to protect himself and the Party - softness was not a good thing. However, Hitler and Goering remained fast friends until Hitler completely lost his bearings in the final days.
|Goering loved to play with his elaborate trains up in the attic|
Goering as a vain, pompous man. He began acquiring titles and fancy medals, much as Heinrich Himmler was doing at the same time. In fact, the two had a personal association, for Goering hired Himmler as his police chief after Goering became Prime Minister of Prussia. Goering created the Prussian police force on November 30, 1933, calling it the Geheime Staatspolizei, or Gestapo. He gave Himmler command of the Gestapo on Hitler's birthday, April 20, 1934. Goering's plan was to use the Gestapo to rein in the SA, which was rapidly becoming a dangerous power base for it adventurer head, Ernst Röhm, who had Goering's old job. With Himmler showing the necessary support and ruthlessness, Hermann quickly decided to get rid of Röhm once and for all.
They struck on June 30, 1934. In the so-called Night of the Long Knives, Goering secluded himself with Hitler, Himmler, Goebbels and other cronies and used the Gestapo and soldiers to arrest Röhm and, while they were at it, anyone else they didn't like. At one point someone suggested offing a particularly annoying society lady just for the fun of it, and everyone laughed - that was the kind of night it was. It was all completely illegal, basically a group of gangsters taking out all their opponents without even the pretext of legality. Hitler lamely tried to justify it in a speech later as being necessarily to destroy a developing plot against the State, an excuse that could justify just about anything.
|Group shot of Hitler's inner circle around the time of the Night of the Long Knives. Note that Goering stands beside Hitler, unlike in earlier shots when he was off to the side.|
Dozens of people, at least 85, were killed or forced to commit suicide, all key figures who could have hurt the regime in some way or had some harmful knowledge about them (there were a few killed because of cases of mistaken identity and the like, but mistakes will happen!). Everyone else, the ones who were overlooked or not important enough to kill, got the message loud and clear.
With all internal opposition out of the way - and Hitler was always fond of saying that internal opposition was the worst kind - and with President von Hindenburg passing away a few weeks later, the Hitler crowd now had a free hand to do what they liked. Goering, the famous fighter pilot, assumed command of the Air Ministry in May 1933 and began putting together a revival of the (banned) German Air Force. In one of the Third Reich's first floutings of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, Goering in 1935 officially announced the re-creation of an independent German Air Force, now called the Luftwaffe. He was the Reich Aviation Minister, and started creating a powerful force from scratch.
|Goering loved to hunt, and instituted some of Europe's first protections for wild animals. Some of his innovations reportedly are still on the books. This picture also illustrates Goering's famous predilection for native German garb|
Goering's reach extended far beyond the Luftwaffe, however. He was one of the few government officials with a higher education, and Hitler gave him control of the nation's economy as Plenipotentiary of the Four Year Plan. With complete control of the treasury, Goering began the rearmament campaign and spent wildly, incurring huge budget deficits. Later economic theory would later verify that this was an effective way to fight economic hard times.
|Goering having a bite in January 1937, on the fourth anniversary of the seizure of power. (Federal Archive)|
To cement their economic control, Hitler and Goering appointed their stooge Walther Funk as head of the Reichsbank and Economics Minister. This was the last domino to fall in the transition of Germany from a Republic to a police state.
|Photo of Goering showing his decorations, including the rare Pilot's Badge with Diamonds|
Another special project came up a few years after the Night of the Long Knives. Hitler always struggled to gain tighter control over the military, which had a long reputation for integrity and independence.
|Goering quite literally was Adolf Hitler's right-hand man in the 1930s (well, here left-hand man, but you get the idea)|
Goering coveted control over the military himself, so he resolved to solve that problem to his own advantage. He decided to get rid of the War Minister, Field Marshal Werner von Blomberg, and the commander of the Army, General Werner von Fritsch. Then, he hoped, Hitler would appoint him, Goering, in their place.
|Fritsch and Bloomberg|
Goering worked with Himmler to trump up sexual misconduct charges against them, and they both resigned. It was incredibly easy, using that old reliable standby, sexual allegations. Bloomberg was a lonely man who had a lovely 24-year-old blonde secretary (perhaps a plant?) who he promptly knocked up. She pressured him into marrying her, which provided Himmler's opening. Blomberg's wife turned out to be a prostitute (according to Himmler's evidence, which in this case apparently was accurate). Blomberg was forced to resign and sent on an around-the-world honeymoon cruise to get him out of the way, and Hitler ignored his later attempts at reinstatement.
|Goering for some reason favored white uniform jackets, and since he could design his own outfits, that is what he often wore at formal occasions|
Fritsch (who would have replaced Blomberg), on the other hand, was accused of homosexuality. He manifestly was not a homosexual, as the evidence produced was actually for another man named Fritsch, but the damage was done. Fritsch wound up purposefully exposing himself to enemy fire after the outbreak of war with Poland due to his humiliation. Make no mistake, Blomberg and Fritsch were no angels (Fritsch in particular was anti-Semitic), but they were taken out in heavy-handed manner with extreme prejudice.
|Goering looking quite pleased about something, trailed by Ernst Kaltenbrunner (happy), Hermann Fegelein (serious), and Heinrich Himmler.|
Goering now thought he would get command of the whole Wehrmacht, but Hitler simply consolidated both positions into his own powers. Hitler did make Goering a Field Marshal as a consolation prize for all his hard work in ruining two men.
|Jews in Vienna forced to scrub the streets for laughing Germans after the Anschluss|
With rearmament in full swing, Goering came to realize uncomfortably that Germany was dependent upon its often-unfriendly neighbors for key strategic resources. This was the real reason, aside from pure ideology and imperialism, for Germany's turn toward taking over neighboring countries. Virtually all the new weapons required iron, and Austria had vast iron ore and coal deposits. After negotiations between Hitler and and Austrian Chancellor, Kurt Schuschnigg, broke down, Hitler put Goering in charge while he headed down to Austira with the troops. Goering quickly made some threatening phone calls and put his operatives in Vienna into motion. Schuschnigg obligingly resigned on March 11, 1938, the new government approved an Anschluss or "indissoluble union," and Germany invaded the next morning without a shot being fired.
|Anschluss enabled Goering to expand his own personal industrial empire. Here he is shown entering his new factory in Hitler's home town. The Hermann Goering Works became the largest industrial conglomerate in Europe|
Goering's vile anti-Semitism was on full display as Germany expanded its borders, as he gave this speech warning the Austrian Jews to leave:
The city of Vienna can no longer rightfully be called a German city. So many Jews live in this city. Where there are 300,000 Jews, you cannot speak of a German city. Vienna must once more become a German city, because it must perform important tasks for Germany in Germany's Ostmark.
These tasks lie in the sphere of culture as well as in the sphere of economics. In neither of them can we, in the long run, put up with the Jew. Jews must get out not because of hatred for them, but because we cannot live with them. This, however, should not be attempted by inappropriate interference and stupid measures but must be done systematically and carefully.
As Delegate for the Four Year Plan, I commission the Reichsstatthalter in Austria jointly with the Plenipotentiary of the Reich to consider and take any steps necessary for the redirection of Jewish commerce, i.e., for the Aryanization of business and economic life, and to execute this process in accordance with our laws, legally but inexorably. "Goering also was involved in negotiating with Great Britain and other nearby nations. Quietly working behind the scenes, he set the stage for the divvying up of Czechoslovakia with Poland, Hungary and Italy, and he had various back-channel discussions with British Prime Minister Chamberlain. As Goering liked to say then and throughout the war, he always had contacts with Great Britain through which he could send messages within hours. During those pre-war years, Goering was very much Hitler's right-hand man and did a lot of diplomatic work that set the stage for Hitler's successes. He also enjoyed the fruits of his successes, building Karinhall, his hunting lodge, on a 100,000 acre state park he set aside in the giant Schorfheide Forest north of Berlin. It was named after his dead first wife, Carin.
|Goering delivering a radio address in 1935|
While he had demonstrated his ruthlessness and cruelty during the Night of the Long Knives, Goering also understood the importance of the sizzle as well as the steak. Showmanship was as much a part of politics as warfare, and far less costly. When showing foreign Generals around Germany, he would casually ask his cronies in their presence about non-existent factories and production plans. A lot of Germany's success in expanding its borders during this time was due to bravado and reputation, and Goering knew how to exploit foreigners' fears about the Germany of the past to Germany's present advantage. For example, during the assistance given to Franco during the Spanish Civil War, the bombing of Guernica ignited fear of the Luftwaffe around the world, which helped give Hitler bargaining leverage with other potential victims.
Goering, as leader of the economy (Four-Year Plan), also was the one man in Germany who understood the actual limitations on the German recovery. During the 1930s, he considered and rejected Luftwaffe plans for four-engined strategic bombers of the kind that the Allies were building: "Hitler does not ask me how big my bombers are, just how many I have," he would say. Instead, he focused on designing and building medium bombers that could give the troops ground support. Goering understood the limitations of the German military-industrial complex and was not deluding himself: he wanted war with neither Poland nor the Soviet Union, but Hitler would not listen. Goering had to resign himself to leading the Luftwaffe, his military domain since the service's reinstitution in 1935, as capably as he could. But he does not get enough credit for building the Luftwaffe from nothing (its "birthday" was May 15, 1933) into a fearsome force of destruction that wreaked havoc across the face of Europe. It was an incredible accomplishment.
It is easy - and wrong - to simply classify Goering as just another war-monger, thirsting for war and enthusiastic about Hitler's agenda of death and destruction at every turn. Contrary to popular opinion, the Party leadership was not just a uniform gang of pro-war schoolboys anxious to plunge the world into war, and Goering was the supreme example of that diversity of opinion. Events in early 1939, the key period that determined the subsequent fate of millions of people, illustrate this nicely. Goering had gained the reputation from his moderate counsel during the 1938 Czechoslovakia incident as being against Hitler's adventurous military provocations.
|I think that is a He 111|
Where this impulse originated is hard to say now, but it probably stemmed at least in part from his knowledge of the Luftwaffe's weakness and his simple desire to enjoy life as an unchallenged ruler of Germany. Remember that the Goerings had lived in abject poverty during the 1920s, and Goering appreciated his luxurious new surroundings. Goering went on vacation to San Remo in March 1939, and it was during his absence that Hitler finished off what remained of Czechoslovakia and also took Memel from Lithuania, the last German land grab before the Polish invasion. Hitler respected and needed Goering, but Hitler also did not want his second-in-command urging restraint when he, the Fuhrer, had decided what to do. Hitler referred to Goering privately as an "old woman" for his inclinations toward peace during this period, aspersions that Goering always had to fear because of his shaky position as Hitler's likely successor. If something had happened to Hitler and Goering had taken over by some time in 1939, the future of Europe would have been vastly different. Goering was forced by his own ambition at every major decision point ultimately to fall in line and further Hitler's agenda, and that is wherein lies his true guilt: as a classic enabler.
Hitler invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, and the Luftwaffe sprang into action. Warsaw was bombed into submission after the Luftwaffe took care of the weak Polish Air Force. When Hitler turned west in the following May, the Luftwaffe's paratroopers (Fallschirmjäger) scored major victories in Belgium and Holland. Many consider their effcient capture of Fort Eben-Emael in Belgium one of the finest operations of the entire war. The Luftwaffe ably supported the advancing troops and bombed cities that did not surrender quickly enough. This created the term "terror bombing," though it was nothing compared to what the Allies would do a few years later.
The Luftwaffe ably supported the troops in Poland, France and the subjugation of the Scandinavian countries, but the first technical problems began to become apparent. Hitler, worried about finishing off what was left of France, was concerned about risking his troops in a pitched battle with the all-but-defeated British Expeditionary Force around Dunkirk. Goering promised that his Luftwaffe would defeat them by itself.
|Goering in uniform, prominently displaying his Pour le Mérite|
Battle of Britain
Hitler did not hate the British: in fact, in a July 1940 speech, after having taken over the entire Continent, he publicly offered to call the war off, saying "there is no reason that this war should continue." Great Britain, of course, would have none of it. Accordingly, Hitler half-heartedly called for an invasion plan of England (Operation Sea-Lion). As this plan developed, it called for a multi-division descent upon England's southern coast, sort of a "D-day" in reverse. All plans, though, required two prerequisites: control of the sea and of the air. Since the British Navy could be suppressed by air attack and there was no hope of the German Navy doing it, the prospects for Operation Sea Lion boiled down to one confrontation, that between the Luftwaffe and the Royal Air Force (RAF).
Hitler got right to it. France was not even conquered yet, but he was thinking ahead. His War Directive No. 13, dated 24 May 1940, when the British evacuation from Dunkirk had not yet even started, stated that "as soon as enough units become available, the Luftwaffe should embark upon its independent mission against the British homeland." The first deliberately planned attacks against the British homeland were recorded from 3 July, 1940. Many think that the Luftwaffe was bombing London throughout 1940, but that is not the case.
At first, the Luftwaffe attacked only military targets despite pleas from some such as Luftwaffe Genaloberst Hans Jeschonnek to effect terror bombing. Hitler demurred, but then things spiralled out of control. Mistakes happen in warfare: the first civilians killed by the RAF in World War II were two Danish neutrals on 4 September 1939 when a Wellington mistakenly bombed Esbjerg in Denmark. A Luftwaffe crew in turn mistakenly bombed a south London residential suburb on 24 August 1940, and in retaliation the RAF bombed Berlin the next night. After taking a couple of weeks to mull it over, Hitler ordered full-scale terror bombing of London on 4 September, commencing the 'Blitz.'
Unfortunately for the Germans, the Battle of Britain was a battle they couldn't win. Due to decisions made by Goering years before, the Luftwaffe only had medium bombers suitable for troop support, not long-range heavy bombers that could effectively engage in a strategic bombing campaign. In addition, there weren't enough of them. However, that was not the real reason for the failure of the Germans during the Battle of Britain, and in fact had little actual effect. The Heinkel 111s and Dornier 17s that Goering could throw at the British caused great damage, but they also showed the limits of the Luftwaffe's - or any contemporary air force's - abilities. Bombing accuracy was terrible due to inadequate available technology, not weaponry. The Navy, for its part, was nowhere near ready for a seaborne invasion at any point, so the whole thing was pointless. Instead of purpose-built landing craft, the best the Navy could do was assemble generic barges, which the RAF promptly bombed in to splinters. It simply wasn't going to happen, and anyone possessing the facts knew that.
|German bombers flying in at wavetop height toward Britain|
There was no way out. The German Navy (Kriegsmarine) did not have nearly enough ships or submarines to take on the British Navy directly until the Royal Air Force was subdued, and no matter how many British Hurricanes and Spitfires the German Messerschmidt fighters shot down, the British could always build more and import other effective fighters from America via Lend-Lease. Downed RAF pilots immediately returned to action, while German ones wound up as POWs. Through it all, inexhaustible American aid was the ace in England's pocket and could not be stopped. The United States won the Battle of Britain because Britain would have starved otherwise, something Churchill always tacitly acknowledged. This is the main reason why Hitler portrayed American President Franklin Roosevelt as a great war criminal, and to his way of thinking, that was true. The United States' 'illegal' support of Great Britain festered a great hatred in Hitler's mind for the United States, a nation which he considered with contempt to be fit only to manufacture refrigerators and toasters. This undoubtedly contributed to his otherwise inexplicable decision to declare war on the US on 11 December 1941.
Still, the Germans made progress despite losing more planes at roughly a 2-1 clip on many days. By attacking Britain's new radar installations and airfields, the Luftwaffe came close to achieving operational freedom over England, though they were still losing too many planes to make good use of it. The futility of it was obvious - it was an aerial version of the Verdun mincing-machine of World War I, in which endless numbers of planes would be fed in only to be ground up and replaced by further planes, with no progress made and the enemy constantly emboldened simply by their ability to survive the onslaught. The Luftwaffe could shoot down every British plane in the air, but there would always be more kept in reserve or coming out of the factories and off the ships in Liverpool to come out the next day. It was a bit like throwing rocks at a house - sure, you cause some damage, but also quickly wear yourself out.
|Leaflets dropped on London by Germany in July 1940. History books gloss over this, but Hitler was the only one who wanted peace.|
|Lord Halifax to Germany: 'Get lost.'|
Goering dutifully responded by launching several grandiose attacks, including the famous "Adler Tag" (Eagle Day) offensive, August 13, 1940, which instigated full-scale commitment. However, the manner of his attacks had the air of a man putting on a show for his boss and the world, not an actual, committed strategy to grinding down a committed enemy. (Goering had a habit of doing this throughout the war, such as the grandly named "Goetz von Berlichingen" Luftwaffe attacks against Leningrad shipping in April 1942 that accomplished nothing.) He had the example of Dunkirk before him, where his entire Luftwaffe couldn't even shut down one port, and now he was being tasked to shut down an entire nation. The daylight attacks (directed by Hitler on July 16) continued for barely a month before it was obvious to everyone that they were getting nowhere.
|September 15, 1940: a decisive day in world history|
By summer's end the aerial attack on Britain was failing, that much was clear. In mid-September, after a last throw of the dice on the 15th, Goering bowed to the inevitable and switched from daylight confrontation solely to the night attacks which Hitler wanted. The night raids achieved little, but at least cost him fewer losses, kept the British occupied and maintained pressure on them.
|Pilots of the 303rd Polish Fighter Squadron, 1940, Norfolk Airbase. England was loaded with pilots from throughout the Empire and its allies.|
It has become part of the legend of the Battle of Britain that the brave British fighter pilots fended off the Germans, who then blinked and stupidly switched to ineffective night attacks. The Germans, the theory goes, were shocked and rattled by this unexpected resistance and brutally reverted to their natural barbarism right when they were on the cusp of success against British airfields and radar stations. That is the standard formulation that will get you an "A" on your high school exam and remains the standard spiel in war histories. It is far from the truth, and is a variation of the "we didn't just beat you, but we were smarter than you, too" victor's taunt. The reality is that the RAF did impose high costs on the Luftwaffe, but the bombers were getting through. They just weren't producing sufficient results. Air power in the early 1940s was not advanced enough to subdue an entire country by itself, especially one whose losses were being made good via imports. In fact, air power by itself was never enough to subdue any major power at any time during World War II, with the arguable exception of the delivery of the atomic bombs on Japan in 1945.
|Heinkel 111 bombers attacking England|
The Battle of Britain was unwinnable for Germany and never should have been attempted as a Luftwaffe-only effort. Their machines were ill-suited for extended-range missions with limited fighter protection against swarming opposition. The Ju 87 Stuka, for instance, was a war-winning weapon in a ground-support role and absolutely hopeless when used as a medium-range bomber. While they did score minor tactical gains against airfields and radar stations, the Battle of Britain was a strategic campaign which involved no ground support whatsoever - absolutely the reverse of the conditions under which the Stuka excelled. The Wehrmacht needed the Stukas (and, more importantly, their precious trained pilots) as mobile artillery, not faux strategic weapons with tiny payloads. They were quickly withdrawn from the campaign.
|Stukas during the Battle of Britain, 1940|
It is highly questionable how much Hitler really cared about defeating Great Britain anyway; there is a strong line of argument that holds he would much rather have joined the British as a partner and that his heart was never in the war against it. Recall that there were extremely strong ties between Germany and Great Britain, not least through the royal families of each. Hitler, though he usually mis-read history, had a strong appreciation for it, and there is no indication in the literature that his basic war aims included defeating Great Britain except insofar as they became his enemy and were a threat to him.
|A downed JU-88 near the coast being guarded by British home forces. The pilot did a good job getting it down like that in one piece.|
Holding a losing hand, Hermann Goering sucked it up and drew the correct conclusion - painful as it was - over a year earlier than the British: he wisely pulled the plug on daylight attacks. He did make a mistake that day, but it wasn't discontinuing the daylight attacks: it was initiating night attacks. While these vastly reduced the Luftwaffe's losses and hurt the British, it was a doomed strategy. It infuriated the British and caused only easily sustainable damage. Indeed, the attacks boomeranged because they justified to (most of) the British the later colossal devastation of German cities by "Bomber" Harris on a scale many times greater than that of the Blitz (British attacks which many Britons courageously protested as immoral). Only the Americans from 1943 onwards were able to make daylight attacks work, helped by their huge bombers and the revolutionary Norden bombsight - but even they suffered huge losses at times and never really pulled it off until 1945. Goering could not just throw in the towel and stop everything even if he wanted to, for Hitler would have had a fit. But downgrading the effort to inconsequential nuisance attacks after one full month of failed major attacks was a good and timely decision.
|Classic German propaganda photo of the invasion of Crete. Perhaps this was a manufactured photo, but if so, it was a good job.|
In other areas, when handling tasks it could succeed at, the Luftwaffe still performed brilliantly. At Crete, its paratroopers (fallschirmjaeger) under General Kurt Student won a tough and close-run victory in May 1941. The downside was that the Luftwaffe lost a lot of transports in the effort, planes that were not easily replaced. Due to high casualties, Hitler refused to use paratroopers in similar fashion ever again, though the paratroopers themselves continued serving superbly in a ground combat role until the end of the war.
Other Luftwaffe ground troops served with only erratic success. The Hermann Goering Panzer Division (later Corps) was perhaps the finest single German formation of the entire Wehrmacht (though some would violently disagree with that assessment because it tended to be indifferent about normal Wehrmacht procedures, such as starting attacks on time). Other Luftwaffe field divisions, though, were the weak sisters of the line and were attacked first by the Soviets to open holes - such as in the Soviet breakout from the Oranienbaum pocket outside Leningrad through the 10th Air Force Field Division in early 1944. Throughout the war, the Luftwaffe, full of fanatics because it basically was started during the Third Reich era, did what it could. It just wasn't enough.
Attack on the Soviet Union: Barbarossa
Having been defeated over England, Hitler turned to the East and attacked the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941. Goering was against this campaign, as he considered the whole affair too much of a gamble, but Hitler was adamant that it should proceed. As Goering explained at his Nuremberg trial, you did not argue with Hitler once the decision was made.
The Luftwaffe got off to a fast start and destroyed hundreds of Soviet aircraft on the ground and others in the air. The vast majority of the Russian airfleet was from an earlier generation of warfare and posed no threat in the sky. The early days of the invasion (Operation Barbarossa) were fantastically successful. Few forces could stand up to the Wehrmacht once it was set in motion.
|Herman Goering receives a briefing regarding the situation on the Eastern Front sometime in 1942. They appear to be looking at the Caucasus.|
The German retained their superiority over the Soviet Union in the air for quite some time, though the Army (Heer) quickly became bogged down before Moscow and Leningrad. Throughout 1941 and 1942, German aircraft remained supreme. The conquest of the Crimea in mid-1942, for instance was described as a "ground operation with its main effort in the air," and it was successful. By switching planes between their three air fleets on the Russian front, the Germans could apply decisive aerial force to pressure points. This worked well for a year and a half. Eventually, though, there was no surplus on any front to switch to another - they were all fighting for their lives.
|Heinkel 111's come in on the deck to re-supply the Demyansk pocket. Flying low enabled them to avoid ground fire. Note the absence of any sign of Russian ground troops - the Germans noticed that, too. This encouraged them to liberate the pocket.|
Working on a broad front, though, raised new problems for the Wehrmacht, ones that again tested the Luftwaffe's machinery. With the Soviets fighting back, German troop concentrations increasingly became surrounded and required aerial re-supply. This worked in some situations and not in others. At Demyansk in early 1942, for instance, the Germans were able to keep an entrapped force re-supplied for several months until it could be relieved. This gave Goering confidence that his Luftwaffe could do the same elsewhere when needed, it was only a question of finding the right number of planes to match the supply problem.
|JU-52s resupplying Stalingrad in the dead of winter|
When the German 6th Army was trapped in Stalingrad in late November 1942, therefore, Goering was quick to offer assurances. He improvised by using bombers to carry supplies in addition to cargo aircraft, calculating each bomber's maximum load and then multiplying it by the number of bombers. He assured Hitler that the Luftwaffe could do the job. This justified to Hitler his decision to order the trapped men to remain in the city and not break out to the West.
|The JU-52 was the main German transport aircraft during the Stalingrad airlift|
However, the Soviets controlled a large buffer zone between Stalingrad and the nearest German troops at Kotelnikov. Overflying miles of enemy territory subjected the German planes to immense losses. In addition, the bombers could not carry the amount of supplies Goering assumed that they could - the figures for each bomber were the ones for the size of their bombs on their bomb racks, not the amount of supplies that could fit in each plane. The result was a catastrophe - the Luftwaffe suffered huge losses and the trapped troops received only a fraction of the supplies that they needed. The Army didn't help because despite a relief attempt, it was pushed back all along the line. The trapped troops only lasted for two months, and then surrendered.
|A JU-52 approaching Stalingrad. Note that the guys near the camera are hip-deep in snow.|
Despite this war-turning defeat and huge losses, the Luftwaffe remained strong. The Germans had one more major offensive in store, at Kursk in July 1943. The Luftwaffe, though, was run down and fighting an increasingly intense defensive campaign against the Americans and British by this time. While individual German planes and pilots retained their superiority in the Russian skies, sheer numbers began to tell. For the first time, the Soviet Air Force achieved at least parity with the German effort, dominating some sections of the battlefield, and the German offensive failed.
After Kursk, the Luftwaffe was in retreat everywhere. There were too many enemies, not enough trained pilots, and fuel supplies were a major constraint on training and operations. New pilots had to be sent on missions after only a few hours of training - they knew it meant certain death, but they had no choice. Offensive operations became a thing of the past, and the focus shifted to defending the homeland. The Luftwaffe high command tried various tricks, some working better than others. Along the route of British/American penetration raids the Germans formed the so-called Kammhuber line, which interdicted enemy raids beyond the range of fighter coverage. Day fighters ("Wild Boar") were used at night along with the usual night fighters ("Tame Boar") with fairly good results, but this greatly reduced defensive power during the day. These measures helped, but the Luftwaffe was weakening.
|Goering officiating at the funeral of Luftwaffe General Gunther Korten, killed in the July 20, 1944 attempt on Hitler's life. It is a cheerless affair, in a barren stadium devoid of anything resembling human warmth|
Goering increasingly lost favor with Hitler because of the Luftwaffe failures. As more and more German cities were destroyed, Goering wasn't seen as much in the Fuhrer's company and took on a more ceremonial role, presiding at funerals and the like. This also is when Goering really began putting on serious weight.
In November 1943, the British launched the "Battle of Berlin," a series of raids on the German capital. Heretofore it had not been attacked very often, with barely any raids since 1941. These raids, though, destroyed large parts of the city. Hitler of course noticed the carnage, and to save his reputation Goering had the Luftwaffe fight back over effectively over the huge distances that the Allied bombers had to cross. The Luftwaffe had beefed up its fighter defenses to defend the Reich, including introducing the effective He.219 Uhu ('Owl') sporting the effective Schräge Musik sloping cannon, 'wild boar' day fighters operating at night by the light of the moon and radio direction, and six veteran fighter squadrons recently withdrawn from the eastern front. The Luftwaffe was still in business, and the jet fighters were just around the corner.
The Allied attrition rate rose, and the bombers were redirected targets in France. While this could be characterized as a victory for the Luftwaffe, it also was ominous, because the Western Allies now were targeting infrastructure in preparation for their invasion.
The Luftwaffe remained intact, but losing planes and pilots fast. The one faint hope of recovery was advanced weaponry which would give the Germans superiority in the air once again.
|A German ME-262. It had its share of problems, but for its time was a superior combat aircraft, arguably the best of World War II.|
Jets had been developed before the war, with the first German jet aircraft taking to the skies in a test flight in 1938. Development had proceeded with priority, but such a revolutionary development took time to perfect. It took until 1942 for the Luftwaffe to get a good working prototype of a jet fighter, the ME-262, but there remained problems with the design. Finally, in late 1944, the fighter became operational. It achieved good results and worried Allied planners, but had no effect on the course of the war because of crushing Allied material superiority and the crumbling ground situation.
The Luftwaffe had other advanced aircraft. For instance, they were far along in helicopter development, though these aircraft saw little practical military use during the war. The He-162 "Salamander" was a rush project that came extremely close to succeeding, and it was in large part Goering's own idea, but time already had run out. Too much is made about advanced German aircraft: the truth is that the Allies had them, too. The Allies just didn't need to rush into combat their experimental models, they were winning the war without them. In the end, it was the same story with all the German advanced aircraft: interesting designs with great capabilities, but no actual contribution to the war effort.
|The He 162 "Salamander," a desperate effort that failed|
German aircraft designers, with nothing better to do and trying to stay busy so they wouldn't be handed a rifle and sent to the Russian Front, spent endless hours during the closing months of the war drawing fantastic concepts. Translating those exotic concepts to reality in time was impossible. Some folks pull up these fanciful sketches now and claim that the Germans were about to build revolutionary war-winning aircraft, but most were just idle doodlings by bored designers with nothing better to do and desperate to look busy while engaging in mental masturbation.
Goering was under no illusions. In fact, he was quite bright, a fact the Americans (who owed him no favors) found out when they measured his IQ at a genius-level 138. Among Hitler's stooges, he was the intellectual, and, seen in that light, some of his choices that might otherwise seem simply bizarre make slightly more sense - for instance, his outlandish and much-remarked-upon self-indulgence which, to a man who foresees the doom that awaits, is carpe diem. He made a final appearance at the Berlin bunker under the ruined German Chancellory on Hitler's birthday, April 20, 1945. Then, he scooted south by limousine, just barely avoiding the advancing Americans as he made his way to Bavaria, which was still safe. That was an epic ride, sort of an end-times trip that is forgotten now but almost worthy of legend. Safely ensconced in a castle, he read the dire reports from Berlin and realized that Hitler could not long survive there. Figuring that a nation with millions of men still under arms needed a leader, he sent Hitler a message requesting that the secret decree of 1941 naming him as the Fuhrer's successor be implemented. Hitler, though in the final days of his life, still was in total control in the bunker and highly resented this questioning of his authority. He ordered Goering arrested, and the SS obliged.
Thus, Goering wound up being imprisoned at his home by his own troops as Berlin fell, with Hitler having divested him of all of his positions. Hitler named Admiral Karl Doenitz as his successor instead. After Hitler committed suicide on April 30, 1945, the German government collapsed into chaos, and a passing Luftwaffe anti-aircraft unit freed Goering on May 5. He quickly offered to surrender to the Americans, and he was taken into custody on May 6 after arranging a meeting and driving into the American lines.
|Goering at the infamous "champagne breakfast" immediately after his capture. He appears to have lost some weight from a few years earlier. This may be colorized.|
Goering's first night in "custody" was an odd one. Technically, he was still behind German lines (though that was fluid). The guards at his door were Americans on one side of the doorway in the corridor - and SS on the other. The day after his capture, he was taken outside for a breakfast meeting at which he was served, among other things, champagne. This caused an international furor when it was made known to the public, and the privileged treatment immediately ended.
While technically no longer a member of the German government and armed forces (he was formally - and pointlessly - stripped of all these months after his capture), Goering remained a figure of world interest. Despite events in the last, chaotic weeks of the Third Reich, he remained in Allied eyes the second man of the German government that had fought them for so long.
|Goering at Augsburg. He is wearing his Blue Max from World War I, the Großkreuz (Grand Cross of the Iron Cross) and, aside from the obligatory jacket and cap patches, very little if any insignia. This is most certainly not by accident.|
Temporarily housed in Augsburg, he was soon flown to Mondorf-les-Bains, Luxembourg to be imprisoned with other high-ranking Germans in a temporary prisoner-of-war camp housed in the Palace Hotel. Several months later, he was taken to Nuremberg with the others to stand trial.
|Goering at Mondorf|
The Americans quickly discovered Goering's health problems and drug addiction. They weaned him off the pills that he was popping with regularity (30 a day!) and put him on a diet. This greatly improved Goering's vitality and enabled him to mount a strong defense at Nuremberg.
When the prosecutor accused him of violating rules of war by planning invasions in secret, Goering shot back that he couldn't remember the US ever voluntarily revealing its contingency war plans openly either. Jackson was crushed by the quick-witted Goering and practically had a stroke (he had some kind of breakdown).
|The gold-plated Walther pistol Hermann Goering handed over to the Allies when he surrendered at the end of the Second World War. It was revealed in public for the first time in 2014.|
Goering's testimony was broadcast on loudspeakers to prisoner of war camps across Germany, and the fact that he alone was fighting back strongly in defense of the past impressed many people. It truly was a last stand for the old ways, and many cheered.
|Goering, fighting a cold, takes his seat on the Nuremberg defense bench on February 5, 1946. Note that he comes in before Admiral Doenitz, who is behind him in the doorway. You can be sure that Goering, Doenitz and the other Germans did.|
Goering was extremely cynical about how to manipulate the public and was quite blunt about it. He had this to say at Nuremberg:
“Naturally the common people don’t want war: Neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”However, there was all sorts of damning evidence that could not be denied. The worst was his direction in written form in 1941 that a "final solution" be found for the "Jewish issue." This had led to the famous Wannsee Conference of January 1942 and the implementation of the worst of the Holocaust. It was the most infamous phrase to come out of the entire war, and while one of his deputies probably wrote it, he signed and issued it.
The prosecution showed film of the death camps and their piles of dead bodies. There was no possible defense, though Goering lamely stated that it appeared many of the deaths were likely due to last-minute epidemics and starvation at the camps due to the military situation. The verdict was a foregone conclusion, and it was the same on all four counts of the indictment: Goering was to be hanged with the others who had been convicted of crimes against humanity.
The jailers watched Goering around the clock like a hawk, determined that he should face his fate as ordained by the court. Troops were assembled around the prison to prevent any rescue attempt. Goering (along with several others of the condemned men) requested death by firing squad, considered a more honorable way of death than a simple hanging. The request was denied.
|Goering had nothing to do at Nuremberg, and all sorts of time to think about things. He occupied some hours reading random books from the prison library, including one about tropical birds.|
He found another means to evade his hanging, though: somehow, Goering obtained deadly poison and took it on the scheduled day of his execution, only minutes before his scheduled hanging. He left behind last-minute notes explaining that he would have succumbed to a military firing squad, but nobody could hang a Reichsmarshall.
|Famous death photo of Goering, widely distributed to prove he was dead|
Nobody is certain how he obtained the poison: it is possible that he had it secreted on his body somewhere the entire time. Perhaps it was in his luggage (always kept nearby), and he charmed a guard into getting him his "facial cream" or something of the sort out of it. Others have claimed with varying degrees of believability that one of his jailers smuggled the poison to him either out of compassion or obliviousness - one jailer later even said that he passed to Goering some "medicine" handed to him by a stranger outside the prison. Perhaps Goering's German doctor gave it to him. The head jailers should have been watching Goering less and the other jailers more. We go through the most likely scenario at length here.
|The Hermann Goering display at West Point|
No matter: Goering was dead by his own hand, one way or the other. Goering's body was cremated to avoid creating a shrine for fervent devotees of the regime; his ashes scattered over a death camp.
Hermann Goering's Official Positions
President of the Reichstag
30 August 1932 – 23 April 1945
o Heinrich Brüning
o Franz von Papen
o Kurt von Schleicher
o Adolf Hitler
Minister President of the Free State of Prussia
10 April 1933 – 23 April 1945
Franz von Papen
Acting Reichsstatthalter of Prussia
30 January 1935 – 23 April 1945
Reichsminister of Economics
26 November 1937 – 15 January 1938
Reichsminister of Aviation
27 April 1933 – 23 April 1945
Robert Ritter von Greim
Reichsminister of Forestry
July 1934 – 23 April 1945
Hermann Wilhelm Göring
12 January 1893
Rosenheim, Kingdom of Bavaria, German Empire
15 October 1946 (aged 53)
(Suicide by poison)
National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP) (1922–1945)
o German Army
Years of service
o SA-Gruppenführer (to 1945)
o Generalfeldmarshall (1938–1940)
o Reichsmarschall (1940–1945)
o Iron Cross 1st Class
o Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross
o Zaehring Lion with swords
o Friedrich Order
o House Order of Hohenzollern with swords third class
o Pour le Mérite
o Grand Cross of the Iron Cross