Part Five

Luftwaffe Personalities

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Johannes Muller (centre), Director of the AGO Flugzeugwerke in Oschersleben bei Magdaburg, meets Adolf Galland, late 1940. Muller was the father-in-law of Oberleutnant Erwin Axthelm, Battle of Britain pilot with JG51 who was believed to have been shot down over England on 30 August 1940. AGO was used to manufacture both Focke-Wulf and Messerschmitt types under licence. This was necessary to disperse production as widely as possible but also simply to keep up with the demand from the Luftwaffe. Ultimate responsibility for aircraft production rested, until 1944, with the Reichsminister der Luftfahrt (State Minister for Air). The Reichsluftfahrt Ministerium (Air Ministry) which housed the Luftwaffe High Command was the umbrella organisation for both functions. Hermann Göring led both elements almost to the end of the Third Reich with the titles Commander in Chief of the Air Force and the State Minister for Air. (IWM HU38410)

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Generalfeldmarschall Albert Kesselring (left) with Johannes Muller (centre), Director of the AGO aircraft plant. Oschersleben bei Magdaburg 1940. Despite the apparent efficiency of the Nazi war machine, there were serious shortcomings in terms of aircraft production but not just in numbers. Indeed, the numbers of aircraft produced throughout the war remained relatively high for Germany but the types in production were largely developments of the same types that had taken part in the Blitzkrieg against Poland. Germany really lacked the aircraft it needed to wage total war instead of the Blitzkrieg machines that it stuck to so doggedly. Had the Luftwaffe been equipped with long range, fast single-engine fighters and fleets of long range four-engined bombers that could have dropped heavy bombloads on British cities, industry and airfields in 1940 then the Battle of Britain may have taken a different turn. (IWM HU38413)

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Reichsmarshall Hermann Göring addresses a group of Luftwaffe pilots during the Battle of Britain. During these visits he frequently chastised the senior officers if he thought they were underachieving or lacking in fighting spirit. It was during one of these visits to JG26 in September 1940 that Göring was involved in a discussion immortalised in the 1968 film Battle of Britain. When he asked Adolf Galland, CO of JG26 of his requirements for his unit, Galland simply replied, ‘Spitfires’. Behind his back Göring is holding his unique ivory, gold and platinum baton. (IWM MH13382)

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In this photograph taken on 12 September 1940, Göring’s unique dove-grey cap and uniform contrast sharply with the conventional uniforms of his men. The Feldwebel (sergeant) he is addressing wears the Luftwaffe pilot qualification badge and the ribbon of the Iron Cross II Class in his tunic button hole. The NCO’s rank is designated by the braid around his collar and shoulder straps combined with the single shoulder ‘pip’ and three ‘wings’ to his collar patches. (IWM GER1436)

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Hitler pays a visit to the famous fighter group Jagdegeschwader 26 ‘Schlageter’ at Abbeville on Christmas Eve 1940. Here the Führer is seen in conversation with the unit’s Commanding Officer (Geschwaderkommodore), Adolf Galland. Galland had combat experience in the Spanish Civil War, took part in the bombing of Guernica and flew a total of 280 missions. During the Battle of Britain, Adolf Galland became one of the Luftwaffe’s top aces becoming commander of JG 26 on 22 August, a position he held until December 1941. After the death of Oberst Mölders on 22 November 1941, Galland succeeded him as General of the German Fighter arm. The unit was named after Arnold Schlageter, an early Nazi ‘martyr’ executed by the French. (IWM HU74453)

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Generalfeldmarschall von Richthofen (right) with Oberst Oskar Dinort (left), Geschwaderkommodoren of Sturzkampfgeschwader 2 ‘Immelmann’, October 1941. Wolfram von Richthofen, a popular leader, had studied engineering after the First World War before rejoining the German Army. When Hermann Göring announced the formation of the Luftwaffe in 1933, Richthofen immediately joined and become one of the organisation’s chief technical advisors. After the outbreak of the Second World War, Richthofen led the 8th Air Corps and in Poland directed the attempt to destroy Warsaw. He also played an important role in the development of Blitzkrieg tactics and the use of the Stuka. In April 1941, Richthofen provided air support for the German invasion of Greece and then commanded the 2nd Air Force in Italy before being sent to support Field Marshal Erich von Manstein and the Army Group South during the invasion of the Soviet Union. This photo was taken in that period. (IWM HU24784)

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General von Richthofen salutes the Reichsmarschall (left) during Göring’s visit to the Air Fleet commanded by the Red Baron’s cousin. It was during this phase of his career that Richthofen was tasked with supplying General von Paulus and his 6th Army trapped at Stalingrad. Over a seventy-two day period the Luftwaffe delivered 8,350 tons of supplies. Casualties were high with 488 aircraft and over 1,000 crewmen lost. Meanwhile the 6th Army was decimated by enemy action or cold thanks to the ill-conceived strategies of Göring and Hitler which von Richthofen did his best to overcome. On 17 February 1943, Adolf Hitler made Richthofen Germany’s youngest field marshal but by 12 July 1945 Richthofen was dead, not in combat but through a brain tumour. (IWM HU24785)

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Generalfeldmarschall Wolfram Freiherr von Richthofen pictured during an inspection visit to Sturzkampfgeschwader 2 ‘Immelmann’ in the autumn of 1941. As commander of Fliergerkorps VIII, von Richthofen built his reputation in close support air operations with the successful use of the Junkers Ju87 dive bomber. Von Richthofen’s uniform tells of his First World War career – he wears the Great War honour title (Kriegserinnerungsband) at his right sleeve indicating previous service with his legendary cousin Manfred’s distinguished fighter squadron during which he achieved eight victories. The title reads Jagdgeschwader Frhr v. Richthofen. Nr.1 1917/18. Subsequently he was the last commander of the Legion Kondor in Spain. (IWM HU24782)

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Reichsmarschall Göring pictured during a visit to Sturzkampfgeschwader 2 ‘Immelmann’. The steel-helmeted soldier is Göring’s personal standard-bearer and is seen carrying the Reichsmarschall’s standard which is encased within its waterproof frame. The large Iron Cross symbolises that Göring was the only recipient of the Grand Cross of the Iron Cross during the Third Reich. The standard was introduced in July 1940. At the end of the war Göring was tried for war crimes, conspiracy, crimes against peace and against humanity. Found guilty, he was sentenced to be hanged but committed suicide on 15 October 1946. (IWM HU24783)

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Generalfeldmarschall Albert Kesselring boarding the personal Siebel Fh104 Hallore he used to travel around France in 1940. Despite the failure of the Luftwaffe to achieve air superiority over Southern Britain in 1940, Kesselring’s career did not suffer, which said much about this shrewd soldier’s political skills. In 1941 he assumed command of German air forces in North Africa, where, with Rommel, he took the Allies to the brink of defeat. In Italy, from 1943, Kesselring showed himself to be a brilliant military commander. With overall command of air and ground forces, he managed to delay the Allied advance by a year. Convicted of war crimes, Kesselring was imprisoned for five years after the war and was released in 1952. (IWM HU38405)

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Kesselring (left) with other officers inspecting an airfield occupied by JG 27 in early 1940. Bavarian born Kesselring served with the artillery in the First World War and became involved with aviation late in his career, transferring to the Luftwaffe in 1933. At the beginning of the Second World War Kesselring commanded the Luftflotte (air fleet) responsible for supporting the Army invading Poland. After this invasion and those of Norway and the Low Countries, he was given command of the northern of the two air fleets facing Britain. Luftflotte II was much larger than the southern Luftflotte III, and was the nearest command to Britain, such was the faith in Kesselring. The white stripes on Kesselring’s uniform trousers indicate the rank of General – note also the Luftwaffe officer’s dagger he wears. (IWM HU38406)

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Hermann Göring was born in Bavaria on 12 January 1893. The son of a senior army officer, he attended a military school and became a member of the Prussian Cadet Corps. Göring joined the German Army in June 1912 and served with the infantry during the first months of the First World War. After being hospitalised with rheumatoid arthritis in his knees, he transferred to the German Army Air Service. Göring initially served as an observer but later became a pilot flying reconnaissance and then fighter types. He scored his first victory on 16 November 1915 and in July 1918, Göring became commander of his Jagdegeschwader Richthofen. He ended the First World War with twenty-two victories. After the war, Göring worked for a time as a pilot for the Fokker company based in Holland. (IWM HU23749)

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Adolf Galland and Rolf Pingel pictured at Wissant, France during the Battle of Britain in 1940. Galland is sporting his trademark cigar for which he had cigar lighters installed in his personal aircraft. The Luftwaffe were buoyant until the Battle of Britain when they first met widespread opposition from the RAF. German invasion barges assembled in Channel ports, so confident was the German High Command of victory. However, long range fighter cover for Luftwaffe bombers was only partially available from German fighter aircraft operating at their limits from cross-channel bases. On 15 September 1940, RAF defences destroyed 185 German aircraft giving the Luftwaffe the clear message that air supremacy was not achievable over Britain. Both Galland and Pingel are wearing the standard Luftwaffe suede and leather fleece-lined flying boots. (IWM HU37973)

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Luftwaffe fighter ace Adolf Galland, then CO of JG26, pictured in mid-October 1940. The tail of his Bf109 fighter carries forty-five victory symbols, the last being a No 46 Squadron Spitfire near Rochester. Galland is showing his aircraft to Italian Air Force officers which makes this photo part of an often overlooked aspect of post- Battle of Britain history. In late 1940, Italian CR.42 Falco biplane fighters were based in Belgium to escort Italian bomber attacks on Britain. The episode climaxed on 11 November when the only major Italian raid saw the attackers get a severe mauling from defending British fighters. Falcos were no match for Hurricanes or Spitfires. (IWM HU37976)

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Werner Mölders (in the foreground facing camera) returns from combat – he was the leading Luftwaffe fighter ace during the Battle of Britain. Having gained combat experience in Spain, Mölders became a master tactician, pioneering the rotte and schwarm formations in which fighters flew in pairs and fours respectively. His tactics were so well demonstrated that the Luftwaffe fighter force adopted then across the board while other air forces including the RAF were using ponderous wing formations. By the Fall of France Mölders had shot down a total of twenty-five aircraft. During the Battle of Britain, Mölders commanded Jagdeschwader 51, and by mid-October 1940, had shot down forty-five RAF fighters. It was far from plain sailing, however, and RAF ace Sailor Malan raked Mölders aircraft with gunfire during a dogfight, injuring the German ace who survived the crash landing. His victory tally had reached 115 when, on 22 November 1941, he was killed in a crash caused by bad weather. (IWM HU37977)

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Hauptmann Rolf Pingel, Adolf Hitler, and Oberst Adolf Galland, pictured at the Abbeville base of JG26, 24 December 1940. Pingel was a Gruppenkommanduer of I/ JG 26 until he was shot down in his Focke-Wulf Fw190 and taken prisoner on 10 July 1941. At the time of his capture he had flown 550 combat missions, including 200 in Spain, and was credited with the destruction of 28 aircraft. Hitler and Galland were to meet many times over the coming years but under the Führer’s influence, in early 1945, Galland was appointed commander of a new fighter unit flying the Me262 jet, Jagdverband 44. Galland flew his last wartime mission on 26 April 1945 when he shot down his last victim, a Martin B-26 Marauder, bringing his total of victories to 104. (IWM HU37979)

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Reichsmarschall Hermann Wilhelm Göring pictured here with Luftwaffe fighter ace Werner Mölders (right). Göring was a larger than life character who had had a distinguished First World War fighter-pilot career. At his throat Göring wears the unique Grand Cross of the Iron Cross, the Knights Cross and the Pour le Mérite. His unique dove-grey uniform was ordered by him after his elevation to the rank of Reichmarschall der Grossdeutchen Reichs by Hitler following the early victories in the West. The photo was taken after March 1941 when Göring had new collar patches made for the uniform. As the war progressed, Göring’s power waned and in April 1945 he was sacked from his many posts following an attempt to take power from Hitler. (IWM HU4481)

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