Herman Goering in the First World War

Herman Goering in the First World War

Hermann Goering was born in Rosenheim, Bavaria on 12th January 1893. The son of a senior army officer, he was educated at a military school and became a member of the Prussian Cadet Corps.

Goering joined the German Army in June, 1912. He served with the infantry during the first few months of the First World War but was hospitalized with rheumatoid arthritis of the knees. After recovering, he transferred to the German Army Air Service.

At first Goering was an observer for his friend and war ace, Bruno Loerzer, but eventually became a fighter pilot and scored his first victory on 16th November 1915. After the death of Manfred von Richthofen Goering became the leader of his JG 1 squadron. By the end of the war Goering had achieved 22 victories and had been awarded the Iron Cross and the Pour le Merite for bravery.

After the war, Goering earned his living as a pilot working for the Fokker company based in Holland. While there he met and married Baroness Karen von Fock-Kantzow.

Goering returned in 1923 and after hearing Adolf Hitler speak joined the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP). He later admitted: "it was political love at first sight". Hitler also admired Goering and appointed him as head of Sturm Abteilung (Storm Section). The SA (also known as stormtroopers or brownshirts) were instructed to disrupt the meetings of political opponents and to protect Hitler from revenge attacks. Captain Ernst Roehm of the Bavarian Army played an important role in recruiting these men.

On 8th November, 1923, the Bavarian government held a meeting of about 3,000 officials. While Gustav von Kahr, the leader of the Bavarian government was making a speech, Goering, Hitler and the SA entered the building. Hitler jumped onto a table, fired two shots in the air and told the audience that the Munich Putsch was taking place and the National Revolution had began.

Leaving Goering and the SA to guard the 3,000 officials, Adolf Hitler took Gustav von Kahr, Otto von Lossow, the commander of the Bavarian Army and Hans von Seisser, the commandant of the Bavarian State Police into an adjoining room. Hitler told the men that he was to be the new leader of Germany and offered them posts in his new government. Aware that this would be an act of high treason, the three men were initially reluctant to agree to this offer. Hitler was furious and threatened to shoot them and then commit suicide: "I have three bullets for you, gentlemen, and one for me!" After this the three men agreed.

Soon afterwards Eric Ludendorff arrived. Ludendorff had been leader of the German Army at the end of the First World War. He had therefore found Hitler's claim that the war had not been lost by the army but by Jews, Socialists, Communists and the German government, attractive, and was a strong supporter of the Nazi Party. Ludendorff agreed to become head of the the German Army in Hitler's government.

While Hitler had been appointing government ministers, Ernst Roehm, leading a group of stormtroopers, had seized the War Ministry and Rudolf Hess was arranging the arrest of Jews and left-wing political leaders in Bavaria.

Hitler now planned to march on Berlin and remove the national government. Surprisingly, Hitler had not arranged for the stormtroopers to take control of the radio stations and the telegraph offices. This meant that the national government in Berlin soon heard about Hitler's putsch and gave orders for it to be crushed.

The next day Goering, Adolf Hitler, Eric Ludendorff, and 3,000 armed supporters of the Nazi Party marched through Munich in an attempt to join up with Roehm's forces at the War Ministry. At Odensplatz they found the road blocked by the Munich police. As they refused to stop, the police fired into the ground in front of the marchers. The stormtroopers returned the fire and during the next few minutes 21 people were killed and another hundred were wounded, included Goering, who had two granite splinters (from a building) in his groin.

To avoid arrest Goering fled to Sweden. Goering, who lived in Stockholm for the next four years, was in a poor physical state because of his morphine addiction. He also suffered from obesity and weighed 280 pounds.

In 1927 President Paul von Hindenburg granted Goering an amnesty and he returned to Berlin. The following year he was one of the twelve members of the Nazi Party elected to the Reichstag and on 30th August, 1932, became its president.

When Adolf Hitler became chancellor in January, 1933, he made Goering a cabinet minister without portfolio. Later he became minister of the interior and prime minister of Prussia. He immediately replaced 22 of Germany's 32 police chiefs with SA and SS officers. He also appointed Rudolf Diels as chief of the political police, the Gestapo.

After the Reichstag Fire on 27th February, 1933, Goering launched a wave of violence against members of the German Communist Party and other left-wing opponents of the regime. He also joined with Heinrich Himmler, head of the Schutz Staffeinel, in setting up Germany's concentration camps.

Goering agreed that the Sturm Abteilung (SA) posed a threat to the German Army and in June 1934 arranged the Night of the Long Knives. He also purged Werner von Blomberg and Werner von Fitsch from the high command of the army.

In February, 1938, Goering became head of Germany's armed forces,. The following year he officially became Hitler's deputy and legal heir. He obtained a vast income from his various official posts and converted an old Berlin palace into his official residence. Goering also made money from his own newspaper, Essener National Zeitung and from stock in the aircraft industry.

After the outbreak of the Second World War Goering was placed in charge of the Luftwaffe and took credit for the quick defeat of France, Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg in the summer of 1940. However, he failed to stop the British evacuation of Dunkirk.

Goering organized the German war effort during the Battle of Britain and made the crucial mistake of changing his tactics and launching the Blitz in September, 1940. He was criticized for the failings of the Luftwaffe during Operation Barbarossa.

When the Red Army made advances into Germany, Goering moved his headquarters to Berchesgaden. After the suicide of Adolf Hitler Goering surrendered to the US Army in Austria on 8th May, 1945.

Hermann Goering was found guilty at Nuremberg War Crimes Trial but avoided execution by swallowing potassium cyanide on 15th October, 1946.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) Hermann Goering explained about his role in Hitler's government in his book Germany Reborn (1934)

I became commissioner of the Interior in Prussia and at the same time Minister of the Reich. I had taken on a heavy responsibility and a vast field of work lay before me. It was clear that I should be able to make a little use of the administrative system as it then was. I should have to make great changes. To begin with, it seemed to me of the first importance to get the weapon of the criminal and political police firmly into my own hands. Here it was that I made the first sweeping changes of personnel. Out of 32 police chiefs I removed 22. New men were brought in, and in every case these men came from the great reservoir of the Storm Troops.

I gave strict orders and demanded that the police should devote all their energies to the ruthless extermination of subversive elements. In one of my first big meetings in Dortmund I declared that for the future there would be only one man who would bear the responsibility in Prussia, and that one man was myself. Every bullet fired from the barrel of a police pistol was my bullet. If you call that murder, then I am the murderer.

Finally I alone created, on my own initiative, the State Secret Police Department. This is the instrument which is so much feared by the enemies of the State, and which is chiefly responsible for the fact that in Germany and Prussia today there is no question of a Marxist or Communist danger.

(2) General Franz Halder, provided evidence on the Reichstag Fire at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trial in 1946.

At a luncheon on the birthday of Hitler in 1942 the conversation turned to the topic of the Reichstag building and its artistic value. I heard with my own ears when Goering interrupted the conversation and shouted: "The only one who really knows about the Reichstag is I, because I set it on fire!" With that he slapped his thigh with the flat of his hand.

(3) Hermann Goering provided evidence on the Reichstag Fire at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trial in 1946.

I had nothing to do with it. I deny this absolutely. I can tell you in all honesty, that the Reichstag fire proved very inconvenient to us. After the fire I had to use the Kroll Opera House as the new Reichstag and the opera seemed to me much more important than the Reichstag. I must repeat that no pretext was needed for taking measures against the Communists. I already had a number of perfectly good reasons in the forms of murders, etc.

(4) Hermann Goering, order to Reinhard Heydrich (31st July, 1941)

Complementing the task that was assigned to you on January 24, 1939, which dealt with carrying out by emigration and evacuation a solution of the Jewish problem as advantageous as possible, I hereby charge you with making all necessary preparations with regard to organizational and financial matters for bringing about a complete solution of the Jewish question in the German sphere of influence in Europe.

Whatever other governmental agencies are involved they will cooperate with you. I request furthermore that you send me before long an overall plan concerning the organizational, factual and material measures necessary for the accomplishment of the desired final solution of the Jewish question.