Albert Kesselring, the son of school teacher, was born in Bayreuth, Germany, on 8th August, 1881. He joined the German Army in 1904 and became an officer cadet in the 2nd Bavarian Foot Artillery Regiment at Metz.
Kesselring remained in the armed forces and was promoted to major general in 1932. The following year he joined the recently established Luftwaffe where he served under Erhard Miltch. In June 1936, despite the objections of Miltch, Goering appointed Kesselring as the organization's chief of staff.
On the outbreak of the Second World War Kesselring became commander of 1st Air Fleet and provided air support to General Fedor von Bock and Army Group North in the invasion of Poland. The following year he moved to the 2nd Air Fleet and supported the infantry in the invasions of Belgium, Holland and France. Despite criticisms for his performance during the Dunkirk evacuations, Kesselring was made a field marshal on 19th July 1940.
During Operation Barbarossa Kesselring and his 2nd Air Fleet supported General Fedor von Bock and Army Group Centre in the invasion of the Soviet Union. He then moved to be commander of all German land and air forces in the Mediterranean. On 10th May he ordered the mass bombing of Malta. However, he was forced to abandon the campaign eleven days later when Adolf Hitler decided that the Luftwaffe had to concentrate its efforts in the Soviet Union.
Kesselring remained in North Africa where he supported General Erwin Rommel in the Desert War. On 10th November 1942 Kesselring was appointed to serve under Benito Mussolini as deputy commander of Italian forces. In this position he was unable to prevent the loss of Tunisia and Sicily.
In August 1943 Kesselring led the retreat from the southern regions of Italy. In September his troops came close to stopping General Mark Clark establishing a beachhead at Salerno. He also secured all airfields around Rome that resulted in the Allies calling off their planned airborne assault. Throughout the winter of 1943-4 Kesselring successfully contained the Anzio beachhead.
In the winter of 1943 Kesselring withdrew his forces to what became known as the Gustav Line on the Italian peninsula south of Rome. Organized along the Garigliano and Rapido rivers it included Monte Cassino, a hilltop site of a sixth-century Benedictine monastery. Defended by 15 German divisions the line was fortified with gun pits, concrete bunkers, turreted machine-gun emplacements, barbed-wire and minefields.
On 25th October 1944 Kesselring was seriously injured when his car collided with a gun coming out of a side road. He was in hospital for three months and his command in Italy was taken over by General Heinrich Vietinghoff. When he recovered Adolf Hitler named Kesselring as supreme commander in the south of the country.
Kesselring, the only one of the early field marshals not to be sacked by Hitler, was taken prisoner on 6th May 1945. Tried as a war criminal he was found guilty on 6th May 1947 and condemned to death. Soon afterwards this sentence was commuted to life in prison and was released for health reasons in October 1952. The following year he published his autobiography, A Soldier to the Last Day (1953). Albert Kesselring died on 16th July 1960.