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Posted Monday, July 18, 2005

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London, March 17, 1974

Göring's Shadow

THE RISE AND FALL OF THE LUFTWAFFE by David Irving: Weidenfeld & Nicholson £5.95, pp 451

by David Divine

A YEAR before the outbreak of the First World War Erhard Milch, a lieutenant of artillery, applied to his commanding officer for flying training and was told, brusquely, that "officers are too valuable for such tomfoolery." Three years before World War II Hitler declared in a speech, "Two names are ineradicably linked with the birth of our Luftwaffe -- "Göring and Milch."

The history of flying is intrinsically eccentric. David Irving's remarkable exploration of the mind of Milch is presented against the grand design of his achievement in the German air. It is inevitably a history of failure -- Milch was sentenced to life imprisonment at Nuremberg -- but it is a history of a failure that was always close to success and failed only because of the even greater eccentricities of others.

A non-flying intelligence officer at the end of the First World War, Milch was invited to establish a Police Air Squadron at Königsberg which he used to collect illicit aircraft. Progress from there to precarious one plane aircraft companies led to the turbulent emergence of Lufthansa. Barely eight years later Göring invited him to be state secretary of a newly created Air Ministry and effectiveIy to be the creator of a new German Air Force, with its fantastic potentials of triumph and disaster.

In January 1943 Field Marsha1 Milch was ordered to save the Sixth Army, which the Fuhrer's stubbornness, Paulus's docility and Goring's vanity had trapped in Stalingrad

He was still moderately optimistic when he arrived at von Richthofen's headquarters at Taganrog, and the Stalingrad chapter chronicles movingly his efforts to solve a disaster of incompetence, ignorance and the insanities of high command.Encased in plaster (his car had been involved in a collision with a train), he continued the struggle until it ended in a nightmare of failure, with the loss of Stalingrad and 300,000 men.

It is possible at that point to feel sympathy for him; but not in relation to Irving's sustained attack on the indignities which Milch suffered at Nuremberg, The indignities need not be questioned; and it is true that, at Nuremberg, Milch said: "I can think of nothing crueller and more objectionable than air raids on civilian populations." But it was the same Milch who gleefully recorded in his diary how he had reported to Hitler that his personal brainchild, the Flying Bomb, was ready:

"I suggested to him that we ought to open fire on his birthday and then not as an annihilating attack but as the most evil torture you can imagine ... one falling every half-hour and nobody knowing where the next one will fall."
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