Robert Ritter von Greim

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Robert Ritter von Greim
Greim, Robert Ritter von - Generalfeldmarschall.jpg
Field marshal Robert Ritter von Greim in January 1939; the Ritterkreuz was subsequently added by retouching.
Born 22 June 1892
Bayreuth, Kingdom of Bavaria
Died 24 May 1945(1945-05-24) (aged 52)
Salzburg, Austria
Buried at Kommunalfriedhof (community cemetery) in Salzburg
Allegiance German Empire German Empire (to 1918)
Germany Weimar Republic (to 1933)
Nazi Germany Nazi Germany
Years of service 1911-1918, 1934-1945
Rank Generalfeldmarschall
Commands held Luftwaffe
Battles/wars World War I
World War II
Awards Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords
Pour le Mérite
Military Order of Max Joseph

Robert Ritter von Greim[Note 1] (22 June 1892 – 24 May 1945) was a German Field Marshal, pilot, army officer, and the last commander of the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) during the Second World War.

Early years[edit]

The remains of the first aircraft shot down by Greim

Born on 22 June 1892 in Bayreuth, Kingdom of Bavaria, son of a police captain, Greim was an army cadet from 1906 to 1911. He actually joined the Imperial German Army before World War I, on 14 July 1911. After completion of officer training, he was posted to Bavaria's Field Artillery Regiment Nr. 8 on 29 October 1912. His acceptance into the officer's ranks as a Leutnant came on 25 October 1913. He commanded a battery in fighting at the Battle of Lorraine and around Nancy, Epinal, Saint-Mihiel, and Camp des Romains in France. He became a battalion adjutant on 19 March 1915. On 10 August 1915, he transferred to the German Air Service (Fliegertruppe).[1]

While flying two-seaters in FFA 3b as an artillery spotter observer, Greim claimed his first aerial victory: a Farman, on 10 October 1915. He also served with FAA 204 over the Somme. After taking pilot training Greim joined FA 46b on 22 February 1917.[1]

Greim then joined Jagdstaffel 34 in April 1917. He scored on 25 May 1917, the same day he received the Iron Cross First Class. On 19 June, he rose to command Jasta 34. Greim became an ace on 16 August 1917, when he shot down a Sopwith 1 1/2 Strutter. By 16 October, his victory tally totaled 7. There was a lull in his successes until February 1918. On the 11th, he had an unconfirmed victory and on the 18th he notched up number 8.[1]

On 21 March 1918, the day of his ninth credited victory, he became Commanding Officer of Jagdgruppe 10. He flew with them until at least 18 June, when he notched his 15th success. On 27 June 1918, while Greim engaged a Bristol Fighter, his aircraft lost its cowling. The departing cowling damaged his top wing, along with the lower left interplane strut, but Greim managed to land the machine successfully.[1]

By 7 August 1918 he was commanding Jagdgruppe 9, and scored his 16th victory. On 23 August, he cooperated with Vizefeldwebel Johan Putz in what was arguably the first successful assault by aircraft on armored tanks.[2][3] On 27 September, he scored number 25 while flying with Jagdgruppe 9.[1]

He returned to Jasta 34 in October 1918. The Jasta had been re-equipped with 'cast-offs' from Richthofen's Flying Circus, Jagdgeschwader 1. The new equipment was warmly welcomed as being superior to the older Albatros and Pfalz fighters that they had been previously equipped with. Greim's final three victories came during this time, while he was flying Albatros D.Vs, Fokker Triplanes, and Fokker D.VIIs.[1]

By the war's end he had scored 28 victories, and had been awarded the Pour le Mérite on 8 October, as well as the Bavarian Military Order of Max Joseph (Militär-Max Joseph-Orden).[1] This latter award made him a Knight (Ritter), and allowed him to add both this honorific title and the style 'von' to his name. Thus Robert Greim became Robert Ritter von Greim.[4]

Between the wars[edit]

After the war, Ritter von Greim was unsuccessful in finding a place in the Reichswehr, the 100,000-man army that the Versailles Treaty permitted Germany. As a result he focused on a career in law, and succeeded in passing Germany's rigorous law exams. However, he was asked by Chiang Kai-Shek's government to come to Canton, China to help build a Chinese air force. Ritter von Greim went with his family to China where he founded a flying school and initiated measures for the development of an air force. Ritter von Greim's opinion of his Chinese pupils was not high, perhaps because of the contemporary belief among Europeans that Asians were unable to operate complicated machinery. He said in a letter that "The Chinese will never make good fliers, they have absolutely no fine touch with the stick". Even before the Nazis came to power, von Greim realized that his proper place was not in the expatriate community in China, but in Germany, and he returned to his native country.

Ritter von Greim was a participant in the 1923 putsch; as a convinced Nazi he "remained utterly committed to Hitler to the very end of the war".[5]

In 1933, Ritter von Greim was asked by Hermann Göring to help rebuild the German Air Force and in 1934 was appointed to the command of the first fighter pilot school, following the closure of the secret flying school established near the city of Lipetsk in the Soviet Union during the closing days of the Weimar Republic. (Germany had been forbidden to have an air force under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles of 1919, so it had to train pilots in secret.)

In 1938, he assumed command of the Luftwaffe department of research. Later, Ritter von Greim was awarded command of Jagdgeschwader 132 Richthofen (later JG 2), based in Döberitz, a fighter group named after Manfred von Richthofen.

World War II[edit]

When the war began, Ritter von Greim was given command of a Luftflotte (Air Wing) and was involved in the invasion of Poland, the Battle for Norway, the Battle of Britain and Operation Barbarossa.

In late 1942, his only son, Hubert Greim,[Note 2] a Bf-109 pilot with 11./JG 2 "Richthofen" was listed as missing in Tunisia. He was shot down by a Spitfire flown by a Royal Australian Air Force pilot, Flt.Lt. Robert Maxwell Brinsley, but bailed out and spent the remainder of the war in a prison camp in the United States.

Ritter von Greim's greatest tactical achievement was his Luftflotte's involvement in the battle of Kursk and his planes' bombing of the Orel bulge. It was for this battle that Adolf Hitler awarded Ritter von Greim the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves (Das Ritterkreuz mit Eichenlaub des Eisernen Kreuzes), which made him one of the most highly decorated military officers.

The end of the war[edit]

On 26 April 1945, when Soviet forces had encircled Berlin and the Reich was all but doomed, Generaloberst (Colonel-General) Ritter von Greim flew into Berlin from Rechlin with the noted female pilot Hanna Reitsch, in response to an order from Hitler. Initially they flew from the town of Rechlin to Gatow (a district of south-western Berlin) in a Focke Wulf 190. As the cockpit only had room for the pilot, Reitsch flew in the tail of the plane after entering through a small emergency opening.[6] Having landed in Gatow, they changed planes to fly to the Chancellery; however, their Fieseler Storch was hit by anti-aircraft fire over the Grunewald. Ritter von Greim was wounded in the right foot. Hanna Reitsch took over the aircraft and landed on an improvised air strip in the Tiergarten near the Brandenburg Gate.[7]

Hitler promoted Ritter von Greim to Generalfeldmarschall (Field Marshal), making him the last German officer to achieve that rank, and then appointed him head of the Luftwaffe to replace Hermann Göring. Hitler had recently dismissed Goering in absentia for treason. Von Greim thus became the second man to command the German Air Force during the Third Reich. However, with the end of the war in Europe fast approaching, his tenure as Oberbefehlshaber der Luftwaffe lasted only days.

On 28 April, Hitler ordered Ritter von Greim to leave Berlin and have Reitsch fly him to Plön so that he could arrest Heinrich Himmler for treason. That night, they only just managed to get away, taking off from the Tiergarten strip in a small Arado Ar 96 aircraft, before the eyes of soldiers of the Soviet 3rd Shock Army - who initially feared they had just seen Hitler's escape. Later, in an interview, both Ritter von Greim and Reitsch kept repeating: "It was the blackest day when we could not die at our Führer's side." Then they added as tears kept running down Reitsch's cheeks: "We should all kneel down in reverence and prayer before the altar of the Fatherland." When asked what the "Altar of the Fatherland" was, completely taken aback, they responded: "Why, the Fuhrer's bunker in Berlin...."[8]

Death[edit]

On 8 May, the same day as the surrender of the Third Reich, Ritter von Greim was captured by American soldiers in Austria. Ritter von Greim was slated to be part of a Soviet-American prisoner exchange program but, fearing torture and execution at the hands of Joseph Stalin's secret police the NKVD, committed suicide in Salzburg, Austria, on 24 May.[9] His final words before taking potassium cyanide were: "I am the head of the Luftwaffe, but I have no Luftwaffe."[10]

Dates of rank[edit]

Awards and decorations[edit]

Portrayal in the media[edit]

Robert Ritter von Greim has been portrayed by the following actors in film and television productions.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Regarding personal names: Ritter is a title, translated approximately as Knight, not a first or middle name. There is no equivalent female form.
  2. ^ The title bestowed on Robert Ritter von Greim was not hereditary, so his son remained just Greim.
  3. ^ According to Scherzer Swords awarded on 27 August 1944.[12]

References[edit]

Citations
  1. ^ a b c d e f g Franks et al 1993, pp. 119-120.
  2. ^ http://www.overthefront.com/issues/17_3.html
  3. ^ http://www.theaerodrome.com/forum/people/36775-greims-tank-victory.html
  4. ^ The Aerodrome website's page on the Max Joseph http://www.theaerodrome.com/medals/germany/bavaria_momj.php Retrieved 18 February 2013.
  5. ^ Ian Kershaw, The End: The Defiance and Destruction of Hitler's Germany, 1944-1945, London: Allen Lane / New York: Penguin, 2011, ISBN 9781594203145, p. 205.
  6. ^ Hugh Trevor-Roper, The Last Days of Hitler, London: Macmillan, 1947, OCLC 3337797, p. 132.
  7. ^ Hans Dollinger, The Decline and Fall of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan: A Pictorial History of the Final Days of World War II, tr. Arnold Pomerans, Feltham: Hamlyn Odhams / New York: Crown, 1968, OCLC 721310250, p. 228.
  8. ^ Dollinger, p. 234.
  9. ^ Wistrich, Robert S. (2001) [1982]. "Greim, Robert Ritter von". Who's Who in Nazi Germany (3 ed.). Routledge. p. 84. ISBN 978-0-415-26038-1. Retrieved June 24, 2009. 
  10. ^ [1]
  11. ^ a b c d Thomas 1997, p. 219.
  12. ^ a b c Scherzer 2007, p. 347.
  13. ^ Fellgiebel 2000, p. 202.
  14. ^ Fellgiebel 2000, p. 67.
  15. ^ Fellgiebel 2000, p. 45.
  16. ^ "Letzte Akt, Der (1955)". IMDb.com. Retrieved May 8, 2008. 
  17. ^ "Hitler: The Last Ten Days (1973)". IMDb.com. Retrieved May 8, 2008. 
  18. ^ "The Death of Adolf Hitler (1973) (TV)". IMDb.com. Retrieved May 8, 2008. 
  19. ^ "Untergang, Der (2004)". IMDb.com. Retrieved May 8, 2008. 
Bibliography
  • Fellgiebel, Walther-Peer (2000). Die Träger des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939–1945 – Die Inhaber der höchsten Auszeichnung des Zweiten Weltkrieges aller Wehrmachtsteile [The Bearers of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross 1939–1945 — The Owners of the Highest Award of the Second World War of all Wehrmacht Branches] (in German). Friedberg, Germany: Podzun-Pallas. ISBN 978-3-7909-0284-6. 
  • Schaulen, Fritjof (2003). Eichenlaubträger 1940 – 1945 Zeitgeschichte in Farbe I Abraham – Huppertz [Oak Leaves Bearers 1940 – 1945 Contemporary History in Color I Abraham – Huppertz] (in German). Selent, Germany: Pour le Mérite. ISBN 978-3-932381-20-1. 
  • Scherzer, Veit (2007). Die Ritterkreuzträger 1939–1945 Die Inhaber des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939 von Heer, Luftwaffe, Kriegsmarine, Waffen-SS, Volkssturm sowie mit Deutschland verbündeter Streitkräfte nach den Unterlagen des Bundesarchives [The Knight's Cross Bearers 1939–1945 The Holders of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross 1939 by Army, Air Force, Navy, Waffen-SS, Volkssturm and Allied Forces with Germany According to the Documents of the Federal Archives] (in German). Jena, Germany: Scherzers Miltaer-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-938845-17-2. 
  • Thomas, Franz (1997). Die Eichenlaubträger 1939–1945 Band 1: A–K [The Oak Leaves Bearers 1939–1945 Volume 1: A–K] (in German). Osnabrück, Germany: Biblio-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-7648-2299-6. 

External links[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by
Hans-Jürgen Stumpff
Chief of the Luftwaffe Personnel Office
1 June 1937 – 31 January 1939
Succeeded by
Gustav Kastner-Kirdorf
Preceded by
General Ludwig Wolff
Commander of 5. Flieger-Division (1938-1939)
1 February 1939 – 11 October 1939
Succeeded by
V. Fliegerkorps
Preceded by
formed from V. Fliegerkorps
Commander of Luftwaffenkommando Ost
1 April 1942 – 6 May 1943
Succeeded by
redesignated Luftflotte 6
Preceded by
none
Commander of Luftflotte 6
5 May 1943 – 24 April 1945
Succeeded by
Generaloberst Otto Deßloch
Preceded by
Hermann Göring
Commander-in-Chief of the Luftwaffe
29 April 1945 - 8 May 1945
Germany defeated