Albert Field Marshal Kesselring

views updated

Albert Field Marshal Kesselring

Field Marshal Albert Kesselring (1885-1960), one of the most prominent German air and field commanders in World War II, surrendered the southern part of the German troops to the Americans in 1945.

Albert Kesselring was born in Markstedt near Bayreuth, Bavaria, on Nov. 20, 1885. Upon completion of a traditional classical education, he joined the Bavarian foot artillery in 1904 and was commissioned officer in 1906. During World War I and most of the postwar years he served as an army staff officer at the disguised general staff or "Troops Office" and later at the War Ministry. After the Nazi take-over in 1933, he was formally discharged from the army and put in charge of the administration office of the incipient and still undercover air force under the command of his old comradein-arms Hermann Göring.

In June 1936 Kesselring became Göring's chief of staff; one year later he commanded Air Region III (southeastern Germany) and finally, from the spring of 1938 on, commanded Air Fleet I in Berlin. After the outbreak of World War II he first directed the air attacks of Air Fleet I over Poland, then in the summer and fall of 1940 led the operations of Air Fleet II over France, in the air support over Dunkirk, and finally in the Battle of Britain. On June 30, 1940, he was promoted to the rank of field marshal. During Operation Barbarossa of June 1941 he again commanded Air Fleet II on the central Russian front.

In September 1941 Kesselring was transferred to Rome as commander in chief south, with the task of coordinating the Italo-German war effort in the Mediterranean area. From there he shared in the direction of the campaign of Rommel in North Africa and oversaw the defensive battles in Tunis, Sicily, and then on the Italian peninsula. With the defection of Italy in September 1943, he was supreme commander in Italy and the Mediterranean and from 1943 to 1945 directed the steady retreat of the German armies under the onslaught of the Allied troops and Italian partisans. From March 10, 1945, he headed Hitler's last stand on the Rhine. On May 7 he surrendered the southern half of the German forces to the Americans.

Kesselring was tried by a British military court in Venice in May 1947 and was sentenced to death for the shooting of 320 Italian hostages (Ardeatine Caves massacre) in March 1944. In October 1947 the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment; in October 1952 he was released for reasons of ill health. He died in Bad Nauheim, Bavaria, on July 16, 1960.

Further Reading

Kesselring's highly defensive memoirs were published under two different titles in English: The Memoirs of Field Marshal Kesselring (1953) and Kesselring: A Soldier's Record (1954). The documents of Kesselring's trial in Venice were ably edited in a dual-language edition by Lt. Col. A. P. Scotland, Der Fall Kesselring: The Kesselring Case (1952). Interesting sidelights on Kesselring's career and personality are in Siegfried West-phal, The German Army in the West (1950; trans. 1951), by a former military aide to Kesselring who tries to shift the onus for the war from the German army to Hitler. Kesselring's military actions during World War II are analyzed in W. G. F. Jackson, The Battle for Italy (1967); Fred Majdalany, The Fall of Fortress Europe (1968); and Peter Townsend, Duel of Eagles (1970).

Additional Sources

Kesselring, Albert, The memoirs of Field-Marshal Kesselring, Novato, CA: Presidio, 1989, 1953.

Macksey, Kenneth, Kesselring: the making of the Luftwaffe, London: Batsford, 1978. □