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Posted Tuesday, May 24, 2005

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Army Times
May 15, 1974



THE RISE AND FALL OF THE LUFTWAFFE: The Life of Field Marshal Erhard Milch, by David Irving. Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 443 pages, $12.95.

Reviewed by JIM TICE
Times Staff Writer

AT NURNBERG Field Marshal Erhard Milch was sentenced to life imprisonment for war crimes and crimes against humanity, including charges of using forced labor im aircraft production plants. He was paroled in mid-1955 and died in Dusseldorf in 1972.

WHILE THE EMERGENCE of Nazi Germany in 1939 as a major air power is usually credited to Hermann Goering, it is apparent from this detailed biography that the fortunes of the early Luftwaffe were greatly tied to the leadership of Erhard Milch, State Secretary for Air.

The name of Milch may ring familiar only to serious students of the Nazi era, for despite his being named a field marshal by Hitler, he was never a public figure. Milch was somewhat in the mould of Albert Speer, for if he had not attached himself to the Nazi movement in 1933, he would have been a success in business That he was out of place with the inner circle of Nazi thugs is true, but as demonstrated by Irving it is also true that he was highly nationalistic and mesmerized by Hitlers plans for a "thousand-year Reich."

Milch's association with air-power began during World War I when he was an airman with an artillery reconnaissance unit and a non-flying commander of a fighter squadron. Shortly after the war he was posted to a police air squadron in East Prussia and made quite a sensation when he turned a machine gun on rioting strikers in Konigsberg.

Because of the harsh clauses in the Treaty of Versailles, the Germans were forbidden to produce aircraft of any type. During the 1920s Milch became involved in the operations of a number of semi-secret airline companies that had to operate under the constant harassment of French occupation officials. Later he was employed by Hugo Junkers, the famous aircraft designer, and at the age of 33 he was named one of the directors of the newly-formed state airline, Lufthansa.

While the airline enjoyed rather limited success, the management competence of Milch did not go unnoticed by the Nazi leadership, and in 1933 he was named Goering's State Secretary for Air. Just after taking office, Hitler told his military commanders that his policies would center on Germany regaining its strategic position. Despite the strictures of Versailles, this meant building up the military as a foreign policy instrument. During a cabinet meeting in February 1933, Milch was told that 40 million reichsmarks, an incredible sum were being appropriated for an air force.

Concerning the secret evolution of the Luftwaffe Irving notes that, "Seldom can deception have been practiced on a larger scale: alt over Germany the scars left by the air force construction program were to be seen. Two million workers were building new airfields, emergency landing grounds and ground control stations, flying schools and barracks that the new force would need; hundreds of men were being recruited every week. The new buildings sported nameplates like 'Air transport office of the Reich autobahn', 'Central German Display Squadron', 'Air Depot of Volunteer Service' and 'South German Lufthansa Co.'

Despite this preparation, Irving says that when war broke out in 1939, the Luftwaffe was really not prepared for an extended struggle. Its size was formidable, but its substructure weak. He credits much of the bad management, which included poor coordination between the various services, to poor leadership.

Irving says that the ignominious collapse of the Luftwaffe can be traced to the three men who. had ruled its fortunes -- "Goering who had fathered it, Milch who had created it and Hitler who had used it." The main cause of the defeat, he claims, was not a disadvantage in material or resources but a general unreadiness for battle and command squabbling on how the air arm should be committed to combat

Of the Luftwaffe's two controlling officers, Irving says that

"Goering was characterized by a pathological vanity and hunger for power, while his deputy Milch was motivated by a more congenial alchemy of personal ambition and deep-rooted nationalism. Between them reigned an endless, alternating cycle . . . Milch refusing to recognize his minister's qualities, Goering reluctant to trust his state secretary further than he could throw him."

While Milch could have been a stabilizing element in the "inner circle" he eventually began to rule his subordinates with fear.

Unlike the rest of the Nazi leaders, Milch was not in power at the end of the war. Political in-fighting had become so intense, that he was replaced as aircraft production chief in 1944 by Albert Speer. From that point he faded as a determining factor in the war effort.

At the Nurnberg war trials he was sentenced to life imprisonment. In 1951 the Allies reduced the sentence to 15 years and in mid-1955 he was paroled.

In 1972 he died in Dusseldorf with little public notice, either in Europe or the U.S. His lack of notoriety as one of the Nazi king-pins is not deserved -- no matter how much of a dubious honor that might be.

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