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Posted Tuesday, May 24, 2005

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London, March 14, 1974


The father of the Luftwaffe

The Rise and Fall of the Luftwaffe
The Life of Erhard Milch
By David Irving
(Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £5.95)

IF the Second World War was indeed a struggle between dictatorship and democracy, one would not guess which side was which from the record of the Luftwaffe. All the supposedly classic defects of democracy - divided opinion, indecision, and blurred leader-ship - were more evident in the German air command than the British.

Field Marshal Erhard Milch, named by both Hitler and Adenauer as the man who put a real German presence in the air, was eventually born, down by muddle and intrigue, and it was perhaps fortunate for the Allies that he never achieved undisputed command of the Luftwaffe (something that was at one time very much on the cards, Göring or no Göring).

David Irving shows how Milch, a Great War veteran, went into civil aviation ia 1921, and used every trick to circumvent the edicts of Versailles. Having put Lufthansa emphatically into the skies, Milch gave the Luftwaffe a flying start, enabling the German aviation industry to sprout strong military wings within a year of Hitler's accession. By 1937 the pre-Nazi figure of 4,000 aircraft workers had grown to 230,000.

It seems that the German High Command never did decide what the Luftwaffe was for. To the end of the war the leadership was vague and divided about the strategic concepts and purposes of the air force. Were heavy bombers really needed (or were bombs themselves needed in quantity, for Hitler had ordered their production to cease after: the Polish campaign)? What were the targets? Germany's immediate neighbours? Russian industry? British nerve centres? Even New York was on the visiting list for a while. Were fighters primarily to support ground forces, or to escort German bombers, or to oppose enemy raiders? The mess the political leaders got into with a war in the African sand, a war in the Russian snow, an enduring Western front, and Balkan excursions -- this mess was reproduced with trimmings by the Reich Air Ministry. It says much for the men who made and flew the German machines that despite all vacillations, despite all the corruption and inefficiency, the Luftwaffe, put up such a formidable performance in every theatre.

Using the Field Marshal's hitherto concealed diaries along with other sources, David Irving demonstrates the true importance of Milch, and the profound effect he could have had on the course of the war if he had not been rendered almost powerless for long periods by the jealousy of Göring and Udet, the hostility of the generals, and the opposition of aircraft designers and manufacturers. Even so Milch became increasingly the Luftwaffe's supremo after Udet's suicide in 1941 and, before his own decline in mid-1944 he had spurred German industry into turning out fifteen times as many fighters as three years earlier.

Milch in conference

Irving brings Milch to the centre of the stage as a ruthless, imaginative patriot, narrow but not without humour; a man who caused Britain grievous injury, fought as soldierly a war as most, and refrained from crying "Peccavi" in captivity.

As Irving implies the Field Marshal could hardly complain about humiliations in defeat since he had been happy to accept applause in the day of triumph. There was an element of natural justice about the ten years Milch served as a war criminal even if his trial showed that some Allied judges at Nuremburg -- warriors who fought with shuffling papers -- were appreciative students of the Nazi People's Courts.

After considerable vicissitudes David Irving takes his place in the first rank of historical chroniclers with this magisterial study.

Laurence Cotterell


Free download of David Irving: The Rise & Fall of the Luftwaffe

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