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Albert Kesselring, 30 November 1885 – 16 July 1960, was a German Luftwaffe Generalfeldmarschall during World War II. In a military career that spanned both World Wars, Kesselring became one of Nazi Germany’s most skillful commanders, being one of 27 soldiers awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds. Nicknamed “Smiling Albert” by the Allies and “Uncle Albert” by his troops, he was one of the most popular generals of World War II with the rank and file.
Kesselring joined the Bavarian Army as an officer cadet in 1904 and served in the artillery branch. He completed training as a balloon observer in 1912. During World War I, he served on both the Western and Eastern fronts and was posted to the General Staff, despite not having attended the War Academy. Kesselring remained in the Army after the war but was discharged in 1933 to become head of the Department of Administration at the Reich Commissariat for Aviation, where he was involved in the re-establishment of the aviation industry and the laying of the foundations for the Luftwaffe, serving as its chief of staff from 1936 to 1938.
During World War II he commanded air forces in the invasions of Poland and France, the Battle of Britain and Operation Barbarossa. As Commander-in-Chief South, he was overall German commander in the Mediterranean theatre, which included the operations in North Africa. Kesselring conducted an uncompromising defensive campaign against the Allied forces in Italy until he was injured in an accident in October 1944. In the final campaign of the war, he commanded German forces on the Western Front. He won the respect of his Allied opponents for his military accomplishments, but his record was marred by massacres committed by troops under his command in Italy.
After the war, Kesselring was tried for war crimes and sentenced to death. The sentence was subsequently commuted to life imprisonment. A political and media campaign resulted in his release in 1952, ostensibly on health grounds. He was one of only three Generalfeldmarschalls to publish his memoirs, entitled Soldat bis zum letzten Tag (A Soldier to the Last Day).
Erhard Alfred Richard Oskar Milch, 30 March 1892 – 25 January 1972, was a Jewish-German field marshal who oversaw the development of the Luftwaffe as part of the re-armament of Nazi Germany following World War I. During World War II, he was in charge of aircraft production; his ineffective management resulted in the decline of the German air force and its loss of air superiority as the war progressed. He was convicted of war crimes during the Milch Trial held before the U.S. military court in 1947.
Hugo Sperrle, 7 February 1885 – 2 April 1953, was a German field marshal of the Luftwaffe during World War II. His forces were deployed solely on the Western Front and the Mediterranean throughout the war. By 1944, he had become Supreme Commander of the Luftwaffe in the West but was subsequently dismissed when his heavily outnumbered forces were not able to significantly hamper the Allied landings in Western Europe.
Robert Ritter von Greim
Robert Ritter von Greim, 22 June 1892 – 24 May 1945, was a German Field Marshal, pilot, army officer, and the last commander of the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) during the Second World War.
Wolfram Freiherr von Richthofen
Wolfram Freiherr von Richthofen, 10 October 1895 – 12 July 1945, was a German Generalfeldmarschall (General Field Marshal) of the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) during the Second World War. Born in 1895 to Prussian nobles, Wolfram grew up in wealthy surroundings. After attending school, he opted to join the German Army at the age of 18, rather than choose an academic career. He joined the army’s cavalry arm in 1913.
On the outbreak of the First World War, he fought on the Western Front, winning the Iron Cross Second Class. He was redeployed to the Eastern Front in 1915, where he stayed until 1917. The von Richthofen family produced several notable personalities that would become famous during the First War. His cousins, brothers Lothar and Manfred von Richthofen, both became flying aces and they encouraged him to join the Luftstreitkräfte (German Imperial Air Service). He did so and joined Manfred’s Geschwader (Wing), Jagdgeschwader 1 (Fighter Wing 1). Manfred, known as the Red Baron, was the highest claiming ace of the war with 80 victories. On his first mission with his cousin, Manfred was killed in April 1918. Wolfram continued flying and went on to claim eight aerial victories before the armistice in November 1918. His other cousin, Lothar, survived the war but was killed in a flying accident in 1922.
After the war, Richthofen resumed civilian life and discharged himself from the army. He studied Engineering at University before rejoining the Reichswehr, the German armed forces in the Weimar Republic era. In 1933 Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party seized power in Germany, and the Reichswehr was formed into the Wehrmacht. Wolfram joined the new Luftwaffe. He served as part of the Condor Legion which supported the Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War. During this time, he recognized the need for close air support in military campaigns. He championed the dive bomber, particularly the Junkers Ju 87 Stuka. He also believed in improving ground-air communications, which was put into effect in the Second World War, after his experiences in Spain and Poland. The combination of effective air-ground communications and powerful concentrations of dive bombers would lead to personal success for Wolfram in the first half of the war. By 1941, a high standard of air to ground communications became a uniform facility in the Luftwaffe.
When the Second World War broke out in September 1939, he commanded a specialized ground-attack air unit Fliegerkorps VIII (8th Air Corps), first as a small action unit in the Polish Campaign, and then as full-sized Air Corps in Western Europe, from May to June 1940. The effectiveness of his units proved decisive at certain points in the French Campaign, particularly covering the German thrust to the English Channel. He was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross on 23 May 1940, in view of his achievements. He continued in frontline service during the Battle of Britain and the Balkans Campaign in 1940 and 1941.
Richthofen achieved his greatest success on the Eastern Front. In particular, he achieved notable success in the Crimean Campaigns during 1942. Despite offering vital tactical and operational support to Army Group South, after the defeat at the Battle of Stalingrad he was moved to the Mediterranean Theatre of Operations, where he commanded Luftwaffe forces in the Italian Campaign. He remained in active service until late 1944, when he was retired on medical grounds. Soon after the capitulation of Germany in May 1945, he was taken prisoner by the United States Army but died in captivity of a brain tumor on 12 July that same year.