A member of the Richthofen Fighter Squadron during World War I, Goering was a flying ace who had shotdown 22 planes. He was a welcome recruit to the Nazi Party in 1992 and took part in the Munich putsch in November 1933. On HITLER’s accession to power he became Minister of the Interior in Prussia, organized the Gestapo and built up Germany’s new Air Force. He was the only Nazi leader with upper-class pretensions: he had an estate, called Karinhall after his first wife, which he ran as a model for conservationist policies, where he entertained politicans with hunting and shooting parties. Nevile Henderson, who accompanied Goering on some of these hunts, said of him ‘of all the Nazi leaders, Hermann Goering, was for me by far the most sympathetic.. .I had a real personal liking for him.’
In 1939 Goering’s fortunes reached their peak when Hitler named him Reichsmarschall and his successor. However Goering was not the best choice for leadership of the Luftwaffe. He lacked concentration and was given to making extravagant claims for the Air Force which it was unable to match. During the Polish campaign in 1939, the Luftwaffe had demonstrated its power, but Goering took risks and commited all available aircraft, never keeping sufficient reserves. In May 1940 Goering convinced Hitler that the Luftwaffe could finish off the encircled British Expeditionary Force at Dunkirk. This was his biggest mistake and Hitler found difficulty in forgiving him. The Luftwaffe managed to sink a few British ships but 338,226 British and French troops were successfully evacuated, when the Wehrmacht’s tanks could have easily achieved encirclement and the surrender of the mass of the BEF. Goering’s next mistake of judgment was in the Battle of Britain; just as his fighters were on the point of destroying Fighter Command, he switched the attack from the airfields to London. While it dented civilian morale, the Luftwaffe lost the initiative and Hitler was forced to cancel Operation Sealion, the invasion of Britain. Goering’s next miscalculation was at Stalingrad, where he promised to supply PAULUS’ Sixth Army with 500 tons of fuel and food per day. This was an impossible task to fulfill and it was the last time Hitler allowed himself to rely on Goering’s judgment.
Goering withdrew from active participation in High Command decisions and turned to drugs and fantasies. He blamed his subordinates, MILCH and JESCHONNEK, for the continuing failures of the Luftwaffe, but the fatal weakness of the Luftwaffe dated from before the war when Goering neglected the possibilities of longer-range aircraft and only commissioned aircraft which could be used to aid ground operations. Living in his dream world Goering re-emerged in the final days of the war when, conscious of his position as Hitler’s heir, he sent the Fuhrer a telegram in which he suggested that he should assume power in the event of Hitler’s death or capture. Hitler was furious and ordered Goering’s immediate arrest. Soon after he was captured by the Americans and was put on trial at Nuremberg, where his old vigor returned. He conducted himself with great dignity assuming responsibility for all crimes. However, a showman to the end, he cheated the hangman by poisoning himself on the eve of his execution.