Robert Ritter von Greim, 22 June 1892 – 24 May 1945, was a German Field Marshal, First World War flying ace, army officer, and the last commander of the Luftwaffe during the Second World War. In April 1945, in the last days of World War II, Adolf Hitler appointed Greim Commander-in-chief of the Luftwaffe after Hermann Göring had been dismissed for treason. After the surrender of Nazi Germany in May 1945, Greim was captured by the Allies. He committed suicide in an American-controlled prison on 24 May 1945.
- Born – Robert Greim – 22 June 1892 – Bayreuth, Kingdom of Bavaria, German Empire.
- Death – 24 May 1945 – Age 52 – Salzburg, Allied-Occupied Austria.
- Branch of Service –
- Bavarian Army – 1911-1915.
- Luftstreitkräfte – 1915-1918.
- Luftwaffe – 1934-1945.
- Rank – Generalfeldmarschall.
- Wars – World War I & World War II.
- Major Offices Held –
- 1st Inspector of Fighters – 1 August 1935 – 20 April 1936.
- Preceded by – Established.
- Succeeded by – Bruno Loerzer.
- Commander-in-Chief of the Luftwaffe – 29 April 1945 – 8 May 1945.
- Preceded by – Hermann Göring.
- Succeeded by Office – Abolished till the Re-Creation of the Luftwaffe in 1956.
- 1st Inspector of Fighters – 1 August 1935 – 20 April 1936.
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Born as Robert Greim on 22 June 1892 in Bayreuth, in the Kingdom of Bavaria, a state of the German Empire, the son of a police captain, Greim was an army cadet from 1906 to 1911. He joined the Bavarian Army on 14 July 1911. After completion of officer training, he was posted to Bavaria’s 8th Field Artillery Regiment on 29 October 1912 and commissioned as a Lieutenant a year later, on 25 October 1913.
First World War
When World War One started in August 1914, he commanded a battery in fighting at the Battle of Lorraine and around Nancy, Epinal, Saint-Mihiel, and Camp des Romains in France. He became a battalion adjutant on 19 March 1915.
On 10 August 1915, Greim transferred to the German Air Service (Fliegertruppe). On 10 October 1915, while flying two-seaters in FFA 3b as an artillery spotting observer, Greim claimed his first aerial victory: a Farman. He also served with FAA 204 over the Somme. After undergoing pilot training, Greim joined FA 46b on 22 February 1917. He transferred to Jagdstaffel 34 in April 1917. He scored a kill on 25 May 1917, and on the same day, he received the Iron Cross First Class. On 19 June, he rose to command Jasta 34. Greim became an ace on 16 August 1917, when he shot down a Sopwith 1 1/2 Strutter. By 16 October, his victory tally totaled 7. There was a lull in his successes until February 1918. On the 11th, he had an unconfirmed victory and on the 18th he notched up aerial victory number 8.
On 21 March 1918, the day of his ninth credited victory, Greim became Commanding Officer of Jagdgruppe 10. He flew with them until at least 18 June, when he notched up his 15th success. On 27 June 1918, while Greim was engaging a Bristol Fighter, his aircraft lost its cowling. The departing cowling damaged his top wing, along with the lower-left interplane strut, but Greim managed to land the machine successfully. By 7 August 1918, he was commanding Jagdgruppe 9 and scored his 16th victory. On 23 August, he cooperated with Vizefeldwebel Johan Putz in what was arguably the first successful assault by aircraft on armored tanks. On 27 September, he scored kill number 25 while flying with Jagdgruppe 9.
He returned to Jasta 34 in October 1918. The Jasta had been re-equipped with cast-offs from Richthofen’s Flying Circus, Jagdgeschwader 1. The new equipment was warmly welcomed as being superior to the older Albatros and Pfalz fighters that they had been previously equipped with. Greim’s final three victories came during this time, while he was flying Albatros D.Vs, Fokker Triplanes, and Fokker D.VIIs. By the war’s end, he had scored 28 victories and had been awarded the Pour le Mérite on 8 October, as well as the Bavarian Military Order of Max Joseph (Militär-Max Joseph-Orden). This latter award made him a Knight (Ritter) and allowed him to add both this honorific title and the style von to his name. Thus Robert Greim became Robert Ritter von Greim.
By 1919, Greim had returned to Bavaria and rejoined his regiment being the 8th Bavarian Artillery and for 10 months ran the air postal station in Munich. This was the key turning point in his career, as in 1920 he flew the up-and-coming Adolf Hitler to Berlin. Many other people from Hitler’s years in Bavaria immediately after World War I also rose to prominence in the National Socialist era. Greim then focused on a new career in law and succeeded in passing Germany’s rigorous law exams. However, Chiang Kai-shek’s government offered him a job in Canton, China, to help to build a Chinese air force. Greim accepted the offer and took his family with him to China, where he founded a flying school and initiated measures for the development of an air force.
Upon his return to Germany, Greim joined the Nazi Party and took part in the 1923 putsch; as a convinced Nazi he “remained utterly committed to Hitler to the very end of the war”.
In 1933, Hermann Göring invited Greim to help him to rebuild the German Air Force, and in 1934 he was appointed to command the first fighter pilot school, following the closure of the secret flying school established near the city of Lipetsk in the Soviet Union during the closing days of the Weimar Republic. Germany had been forbidden to have an air force under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles of 1919, so it had to train its pilots in secret. In 1938, Greim assumed command of the Luftwaffe research department. Later, he was given command of Jagdgeschwader 132, based in Döberitz, a fighter group named after Manfred von Richthofen.
Second World War
When the war began, Greim was given command of a Luftflotte (Air Fleet) which took part in the invasion of Poland, the Battle for Norway, the Battle of Britain and Operation Barbarossa. His greatest tactical achievement was his Luftflotte’s involvement in the Battle of Kursk and his planes’ bombing of the Orel bulge during Operation Kutuzov. It was for this battle that Adolf Hitler awarded him the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, which made him one of the most highly decorated German military officers.
In late 1942, his only son, Hubert Greim, a fighter pilot with 11./JG 2 was listed as missing in Tunisia. He was shot down, but bailed out and spent the remainder of the war in a prison camp in the United States.
Berlin, April 1945
On 26 April 1945, when Soviet forces had encircled Berlin during the Battle of Berlin, Generaloberst (Colonel-General) Ritter von Greim flew into Berlin from Rechlin with his mistress Hanna Reitsch, in response to an order from Hitler. Initially, they flew from the central Luftwaffe test facility airfield, the Erprobungsstelle Rechlin to Gatow a district of south-western Berlin in a Focke Wulf 190. As the cockpit had room for only the pilot, Reitsch flew in the tail of the plane, getting into it by climbing through a small emergency opening. Having landed in Gatow, they changed planes to fly to the Chancellery; however, their Fieseler Storch was hit by anti-aircraft fire over the Grunewald. Greim was incapacitated by a bullet in the right foot, but Reitsch was able to reach the throttle and joystick to land on an improvised airstrip in the Tiergarten, near the Brandenburg Gate.
Hitler promoted Greim from General to Generalfeldmarschall (Field Marshal), making him the last ever German officer ever to achieve that rank in the entirety of the history of Germany, and then finally appointed him as Commander in Chief of the Luftwaffe, to replace Hermann Göring, whom he had recently dismissed in absentia for treason. Greim thus became the second man to command the German Air Force during the Third Reich. However, with the end of the war in Europe fast approaching, his tenure as Oberbefehlshaber der Luftwaffe lasted only a few days.
On 28 April, Hitler ordered Ritter von Greim to leave Berlin and had Reitsch fly him to Plön so that he could arrest Heinrich Himmler on the charge of treason. That night, the two left Berlin, taking off from the Tiergarten airstrip in a small Arado Ar 96 aircraft. Soldiers of the Soviet 3rd Shock Army feared they had just seen Hitler escape. In a post-war interview, Reitsch said, “It was the blackest day when we could not die at our Führer’s side. We should all kneel down in reverence and prayer before the altar of the Fatherland.” When asked what the “Altar of the Fatherland” was, he or she responded: “Why the Fuhrer’s bunker in Berlin….”
On 8 May, the same day as the surrender of Germany, Greim was captured by American troops in Austria. His initial statement to his captors was reported: “I am the head of the Luftwaffe, but I have no Luftwaffe”. Greim committed suicide in prison in Salzburg on 24 May.