Berlin, Germany · March 1, 1935

On this date in 1935 Adolf Hitler appointed World War I air ace Her­mann Goering, last com­mander of the famous “Red Baron” Richt­hofen Fighter Squad­ron, to the posi­tion of Luft­waffe Com­man­der-in-Chief. Goering held the post until the final days of the Third Reich. A faith­ful Nazi from the earliest days of the National Socialist party, Goering was wounded in the upper right thigh by a high-velo­city 7.9mm slug during Hitler’s botched attempt to seize political power in Bava­ria (the Beer Hall Putsch) in Novem­ber 1923. Treated with mor­phine to relieve the ter­rible pain caused by the wound, Goering developed a life­long addic­tion to the drug, not to men­tion per­ma­nent changes to his metab­o­lism: he quickly doubled his weight, bal­looning to more than 320 pounds. Never­the­less, he per­formed yeo­man duties for the party, becoming Pre­si­dent of the Reichs­tag (German Par­lia­ment) in August 1932.

After the Nazis came to power in national elec­tions at the end of Janu­ary 1933, Goering assumed the post of Prus­sian Minis­ter Pre­si­dent. While in office he founded and briefly ran the Ge­stapo, the national Secret State Police, which was modeled on the long-standing Prus­sian Secret Police. In 1934 Goering handed the reins of the Ge­stapo to another top Nazi, Hein­rich Himm­ler, a singu­larly evil character who directed the killing of six million Jews and count­less more victims in death camps he built and over­saw.

Meanwhile, Luftwaffe chief Goering, officially designated Hitler’s successor on Septem­ber 1, 1939, the day World War II broke out in Europe, directed the buildup of the air force and later the air cam­paigns against Poland and France. On June 19, 1940, he was promoted to Reich Marshal, a military position second to none.

Goering was cun­ning, bru­tal, cor­rupt, and ambi­tious, and for much of the war he remained gen­u­inely popular with the German people, who regarded him as manly, honest, and more acces­sible than the Fuehrer. Despite his popu­lar­ity, servile de­pen­dence on Hitler, and poli­tical power (in marked decline begin­ning in September 1940 due to his mili­tary errors in the air war against Eng­land), Goering was not among the inner circle of Hitler inti­mates. In April 1945 Hitler dis­missed him igno­mi­niously from all his posts and ordered his arrest. On May 9, 1945, he became a prisoner of the U.S. Seventh Army.

Adolf Hitler’s Luftwaffe Chief and Heir Apparent Hermann Goering, 1893–1946

Adolf Hitler and Hermann Goering, Berlin, March 1938Hermann Goering, Hitler, and Albert Speer, August 1943

Left: With Anschluss (union between Germany and Austria) awaiting only a sham plebis­cite in both countries, Hitler and Goering greet admirers from the balcony of the Reich Chan­cellery in Berlin following their triumphal return from Vienna, the Austrian capital, on March 16, 1938.

Right: Goering, Hitler, and Minister of Armaments and War Pro­duc­tion Albert Speer meet for discus­sions at Hitler’s forward head­quarters in East Prussia, August 10, 1943. Inter­est­ingly, it was Speer, deep in the bowels of the Fuehrerbunker in late April 1945, who called on a unit of the Luft­waffe, JV-44, that flew the Me 262 fighter jets to place Goering under house arrest. Gen. Adolf Galland, JV-44’s chief with an intense per­sonal and profes­sional dis­like of Goering, declined, so it fell to the Nazi Party’s Protec­tion Squad, the SS (Schutz­staffel), to take Goering into custody.

Hitler declaring war on U.S., December 11, 1941Hermann Goering (far left) in the Nuremberg dock

Left: Goering, in his capacity as Reichstag Presi­dent, sits in the high-back chair directly behind Hitler, who stands at the podium delivering his declara­tion of war against the United States, Decem¬ber 11, 1941. Sitting next to the empty chair (left center) is Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop.

Right: Defendants in the dock at the Nuremberg Trials, 1945–1946. Front row (l–r): Her­mann Goering, former Deputy Fuehrer Rudolf Hess, Joachim von Ribben­trop, and Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, one of two men (the other was Col. Gen. Alfred Jodl) who surren­dered Nazi Ger­many to the Allies on May 7 and 8, 1945. Goering and Hess com­mitted sui­cide years apart (1946 and 1987, respec­tively), and Ribben­trop, Keitel, and Jodl were hanged on October 16, 1946, as war criminals.

Luftwaffe Commander in Chief and Reichsmarshall Hermann Goering