- Albert Kesselring
Infobox Military Person
died=death date and age|1960|7|16|1885|11|30|df=y
Marktsteft, Kingdom of Bavaria, German Empire
Bad Nauheim, West Germany
German Empire(to 1918)
Weimar Republic(to 1933)
Nazi Germany(to 1945)
branch="Deutsches Heer" (1904-1922)
Army Group C
World War I World War II
Battle of Britain(1940)
*Siege of Malta (1940-42)
North African Campaign(1941-43)
*Italian Campaign (1943-1945)
Central Europe Campaign(1945)
awards=Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds
Albert Kesselring (30 November 1885 - 16 July 1960) was a
Luftwaffe" Generalfeldmarschall" during World War II. Nicknamed "Smiling Albert", [The nickname "Smiling Albert" seems to have been bestowed on Kesselring by the Allies. It is not used by German writers. It was used during the war; see [http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,711818,00.html Time magazine. "Up the Boot" — Monday, June 19, 1944] .] he was one of the most skilful generals of Nazi Germany. He commanded air forces in the invasions of Poland, France, the Battle of Britainand Operation Barbarossa. As Commander-in-Chief South, he was overall German commander in the Mediterranean theatre, which included operations in North Africa. Later, he conducted a stubborn defensive campaign against the Allied forces in Italy. In the final campaign of the war, he commanded German forces on the Western Front. After the war he was tried for war crimes and sentenced to death but the sentence was subsequently commuted to life imprisonment. He was released in 1952, after having been elected federal leader of the neonazi association " Stahlhelm, Bund der Frontsoldaten" while still in prison. ["Bund der Frontsoldaten' wahlt Kesselring zum Prasidenten", National Zeitung, 8 August 1952.] Although never a member of the Nazi Party, [Gellately (ed), "The Nuremberg Interviews", p. 319] he never dissociated himself from the crimes perpetrated by his command during the war, nor disowned his loyalty to Adolf Hitler, [ [http://www.dhm.de/lemo/html/biografien/KesselringAlbert/index.html Albert Kesselring profile at the Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin] .] He was one of only two "Generalfeldmarschalls" to publish his memoirs, entitled "Soldat Bis Zum Letzten Tag" (A Soldier To The Last Day).
Albert Kesselring was born in
Marktsteft, Bavariaon 30 November 1885, [Macksey, "Kesselring - The Making of the Luftwaffe", pp. 15. Some references erroneously give his birthdate as 20 November. However, Kesselring testified under oath that it was 30 November 1885. Some sources incorrectly give his first name as Albrecht instead of Albert, and occasionally one adds a 'von' to his name; this is plain wrong. However, he did sometimes spell his name with an eszett.] the son of a schoolmaster and town councilor, Karl Kesselring and his wife Rosa.cite web | title = Deutsches Historisches Museum | url = http://www.dhm.de/lemo/html/biografien/KesselringAlbert/index.html | language= de | accessdate = 2007-11-03]
He matriculated from the Classical Grammar School in
Bayreuthin 1904 and joined the German Army as an officer cadet("fahnenjunker") in the 2nd Bavarian Foot Artillery Regiment. Based at Metz, this regiment was responsible for the forts there. He was to remain with this regiment until 1915, except for periods at the Military Academy from 1905 to 1906, at the conclusion of which he received his commission as a lieutenant, and the Artillery School from 1909 to 1910. [Kesselring, "The Memoirs of Field Marshal Kesselring", p. 15]
He married Luise Anna Pauline Keyssler (d. 26 January 1957) in 1910. The couple adopted Ranier, the son of his second cousin Kurt Kesselring in 1913. [Macksey, "Kesselring - The Making of the Luftwaffe", pp. 13, 243]
Kesselring was transferred to the 1st Bavarian Foot Artillery, which formed part of the Sixth Army, in 1915. In 1916 he was transferred again, to the 3rd Bavarian Artillery. In 1917, he was posted to the
General Staff, serving on the Eastern Front on the staff of the 1st Bavarian " Landwehr" Division. In 1918, he returned to the Western Front as a staff officer with the II and III Bavarian Corps. [Kesselring, "The Memoirs of Field Marshal Kesselring", pp. 17-18]
During the Great War, Kesselring frequently smoked up to twenty cigars per day. He quit smoking in 1925. He drank sparingly. [Gellately (ed), "The Nuremberg Interviews", p. 320]
Between the Wars
At the conclusion of the war, Kesselring was involved in the demobilisation of III Bavarian Corps in the
Nurembergarea, at the conclusion of which a warrant was issued for his arrest for his alleged involvement in a putsch against the command of III Bavarian Corps. [Kesselring, "The Memoirs of Field Marshal Kesselring", p. 18]
From 1919 to 1922, he served as an
artillery batterycommander. He joined the " Reichswehr" on 1 October 1922 and was posted to the Military Training Department at the "Reichswehr" Ministry in Berlin. He remained at this post until 1929, when he returned to Bavaria as commander of Wehrkreis VII. In his time with the "Reichswehr" Ministry, Kesselring was involved in the organisation of the army, trimming staff overheads to produce the best possible Army with the limited resources available. He was involved in the reorganisation of the Ordnance Department, laying the groundwork for the research and developmentefforts that would produce new weapons. After another, brief, stint at the "Reichswehr" Ministry, he spent two years in Dresdenas a lieutenant colonelwith the 4th Artillery Regiment. [Kesselring, "The Memoirs of Field Marshal Kesselring", pp. 19-26]
Against his wish, Kesselring was discharged from the army on 1 October 1933 and became head of the Department of Administration at the Reich Commissariat for Aviation ("Reichskommissariat für die Luftfahrt"), the forerunner of the
Reich Air Ministry. As chief of administration, he had to create his new staff from scratch. He was involved in the re-establishment of the aviation industry and the construction of secret factories, forging alliances with industrialists and aviation engineers. [Kesselring, "The Memoirs of Field Marshal Kesselring", pp. 25, 31-33]
At the age of 48, he learned to fly. Kesselring believed that a first-hand awareness of all aspects of aviation was crucial to being able to command airmen, although he was well aware that latecomers like himself did not impress the old pioneers or the young aviators. [Kesselring, "The Memoirs of Field Marshal Kesselring", pp. 31-33] He qualified in various single and multi-engined aircraft and continued flying three or four days per week until March 1945. [Gellately (ed), "The Nuremberg Interviews", p. 320] At times he flew over the concentration camps at
Oranienburg, Dachau, and Buchenwald. [Macksey, "Kesselring - The Making of the Luftwaffe", p. 44]
Following the death of Walther Wever in an air crash, Kesselring became Chief of Staff of the
Luftwaffeon 3 June 1936. As chief of staff, Kesselring oversaw the expansion of the "Luftwaffe", the acquisition of new aircraft types such as the Bf 109and Ju 87, and the development of paratroops. His main operational task was the support of the Condor Legionin the Spanish Civil War. However, his tenure was marred by personal and professional conflicts with his superior, General Erhard Milch, and Kesselring asked to be relieved. [Kesselring, "The Memoirs of Field Marshal Kesselring", pp. 35-36]
The head of the "Luftwaffe",
Hermann Göring, acquiesced and Kesselring became the commander of Air District III in Dresden. On 1 October 1938, he was promoted to "General der Flieger" and became commander of "Luftflotte" (Air Fleet) 1, based in Berlin. [Kesselring, "The Memoirs of Field Marshal Kesselring", p. 37]
World War II
In the Polish campaign, Kesselring's "
Luftflotte 1" operated in support of Army Group North, commanded by "Generaloberst" ( Colonel General) Fedor von Bock. Although not under von Bock's command, Kesselring worked closely with Bock, and considered himself under Bock's orders in all matters pertaining to the ground war. Kesselring strove to provide the best possible close air support to the ground forces, and used the flexibility of air power to concentrate all available air strength at critical points, such as during the Battle of the Bzura. He attempted to cut the Polish communications through air attacks against Warsaw, but found that even 1,000 kg bombs could not guarantee that bridges would be destroyed. [Kesselring, "The Memoirs of Field Marshal Kesselring", pp. 44-46]
Kesselring was himself shot down over Poland by the Polish Air Force. In all, he would be shot down five times during World War II. [Macksey, "Kesselring - The Making of the Luftwaffe", p. 16]
For his part in the Polish campaign, Kesselring was personally awarded the
Knight's Cross of the Iron Crossby Adolf Hitler. [Kesselring, "The Memoirs of Field Marshal Kesselring", pp. 44-46]
Luftflotte 1" was not involved in the preparations for the campaigns in the West, remaining in the East on garrison duty, establishing new airbases and an Air Raid Precautionsnetwork in occupied Poland. However, after an aircraft made a forced landing in Belgiumwith copies of the German invasion plan, "Generalfeldmarschall" Hermann Göring relieved the commander of "Luftflotte" 2, "General der Flieger" Hellmuth Felmy, of his command, and appointed Kesselring in his place. Kesselring flew to his new headquarters at Münsterthe very next day, 13 January 1940. As Felmy's chief of staff had also been relieved, Kesselring brought his own chief of staff, "Generalmajor" Wilhelm Speidel, with him. [Kesselring, "The Memoirs of Field Marshal Kesselring", pp. 49-51]
Arriving in the West, Kesselring found "
Luftflotte 2" operating in support of von Bock's Army Group B. He inherited from Felmy a complex air plan requiring on-the-minute timing for several hours. While initial air operations against the Netherlands went according to plan, and Kesselring's fighters and bombers soon gained the upper hand against the small Dutch air force, the paratroopers ran into stiff opposition. On 14 May 1940, responding to a call for assistance from "General der Flieger" Kurt Student, Kesselring ordered the carpet bombing of Rotterdam city centre, leveling it and leaving around 80,000 people homeless. As result of this terror bombing, aimed at crushing the resistance of a city while it was about to surrender anyway, the British immediately abandoned the policy they had adopted earlier, which limited RAFair bombing to strictly military targets.
After the surrender of the Netherlands, "
Luftflotte 2" attempted to move forward to new airfields in Belgium while still providing support for the fast moving ground troops. Hitler's decision to halt the " panzertruppen" left the burden of stopping the Allied evacuation of Dunkirk to Kesselring's fliers, who were hampered by poor flying weather and staunch opposition from the British Royal Air Force(RAF). [Kesselring, "The Memoirs of Field Marshal Kesselring", pp. 59-60]
For his role in the campaign in the west, Kesselring was promoted to "Generalfeldmarschall" (Field Marshal) on 19 July 1940. [Kesselring, "The Memoirs of Field Marshal Kesselring", p. 64]
quote=Results will demonstrate an officer's fitness to be a field marshal, and no one will then ask about his origins, whether he came from the army or the air force. But one piece of advice I will give to all air field marshals: do not become a one-sided technician, but learn to think and lead in terms of all three services.
source=Albert Kesselring [Kesselring, "The Memoirs of Field Marshal Kesselring", p. 64] |
Battle of Britain
Following the campaign in France, Kesselring's "Luftflotte" 2 was committed to the
Battle of Britain. " Luftflotte 2" was initially responsible for the bombing of southeastern England and the Londonarea but as the battle progressed, command responsibility shifted, with "Generalfeldmarschall" Hugo Sperrle's " Luftflotte 3" taking more responsibility for the night-time "Blitz" attacks while the main daylight operations fell to " Luftflotte 2". He was involved in the planning of numerous raids, including the Coventry Blitzof November 1940. [ [http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/imt/proc/03-12-46.htm Nuremberg Trial Proceedings Vol. 9, Seventy Ninth Day, Tuesday, 12 March 1946] ] Kesselring's fliers reported numerous victories, but failed to press home its attacks and achieve a decisive victory. Instead, the "Luftwaffe" employed the inherent flexibility of air power to switch targets. [Kesselring, "The Memoirs of Field Marshal Kesselring", pp. 65-84]
Invasion of the Soviet Union
Although earmarked for operations in the east, "
Luftflotte 2" remained in the west until May 1941, partly as a deception measure, and partly because new airbases in Poland could not be completed by the 1 June 1941 target date, although they were made ready in time for the actual commencement of Operation Barbarossaon 22 June 1941. [Kesselring, "The Memoirs of Field Marshal Kesselring", p. 85] Kesselring established his new headquarters at Bielany, a suburb of Warsaw. [Plocher, "The German Air Force versus Russia, 1941", p. 28]
Luftflotte 2" operated in support of Army Group Centre, commanded by von Bock, continuing the close working relationship between the two. Kesselring's mission was to gain air superiority, and if possible air supremacy, as soon as possible while still supporting ground operations. [Kesselring, "The Memoirs of Field Marshal Kesselring", p. 89] For this he had a fleet of over 1,000 aircraft, about a third of the "Luftwaffe"'s total strength. [Plocher, "The German Air Force versus Russia, 1941", pp. 33-35] The German attack caught large numbers of Soviet Air Forceaircraft on the ground. Faulty tactics - sending unescorted bombers against the Germans at regular intervals in tactically unsound formations - accounted for many more. Kesselring reported that in the first week of operations " Luftflotte 2" had accounted for 2,500 Soviet aircraft in the air and on the ground. Even Göring found these figures hard to believe and ordered them to be re-checked. As the ground troops advanced, the figures could be directly confirmed and were found to be too low. [Plocher, "The German Air Force versus Russia, 1941", pp. 42-43, 85] Within days, Kesselring was able to fly solo over the front in his Focke-Wulf Fw 189. [Kesselring, "The Memoirs of Field Marshal Kesselring", p. 90]
With air supremacy attained, "
Luftflotte 2" turned to support of ground operations, particularly guarding the flanks of the armoured spearheads, without which the rapid advance was not possible. When enemy counterattacks threatened, Kesselring threw the full weight of his force against them. [Plocher, "The German Air Force versus Russia, 1941", p. 89] Convincing the army that air support should be concentrated at critical points took time, as units were all to inclined to call for air support. [Plocher, "The German Air Force versus Russia, 1941", p. 97] Kesselring strove to improve army-air cooperation with new tactics and the appointment of Colonel Martin Fiebigas a special close air support commander. [Plocher, "The German Air Force versus Russia, 1941", p. 93] By 26 July, Kesselring reported the destruction of 165 tanks, 2,136 vehicles and 194 artillery pieces. [Plocher, "The German Air Force versus Russia, 1941", p. 98]
In late 1941, "
Luftflotte 2" supported the Operation "Typhoon". Raids on Moscow proved hazardous, as the Moscow had good all-weather airfields and opposition from both fighters and anti-aircraft guns was similar to that encountered over Britain. [Kesselring, "The Memoirs of Field Marshal Kesselring", pp. 94-95] The bad weather that hampered ground operations from October on hampered air operations even more. Nonetheless, " Luftflotte 2" continued to fly critical reconnaissance, interdiction, close air support and air supply missions. [Plocher, "The German Air Force versus Russia, 1941", pp. 233-234]
The Mediterranean and North Africa
In November 1941, Kesselring was appointed
Commander-in-ChiefSouth and was transferred to Italy along with his " Luftflotte 2" staff, which for the time being also functioned as his CinC South staff. Only in January 1943 did he form his headquarters into a true theatre staff and create a separate staff to control " Luftflotte 2". [Howe, "Northwest Africa: Seizing the Initiative in the West", p. 369] As a theatre commander, he was answerable directly to OKWand commanded ground, naval and air forces, but this was of little importance at first as most German units were under Italian operational control. In October 1942, Kesselring was given direct command of all German armed forces in the theatre except for "Generaloberst" Erwin Rommel's German-Italian "Panzer" Army in North Africa, including "General der Infantrie" Enno von Rintelen, the German liaison officer at "Commando Supremo". Kesselring's command also included the troops in Greece and the Balkans until December 1942, when "Generalfeldmarschall" Wilhelm Listwas appointed CinC South East with responsibility for this area. [Garland and Smyth, "Sicily and the Surrender of Italy", p. 33]
Kesselring strove to organise and protect supply convoys in order to get the German-Italian "panzer" army the resources it needed. He succeeded in creating local air superiority and neutralising Malta. Through various expedients, Kesselring managed to deliver a greatly increased flow of vital supplies to the "
Afrika Korps" in Libya. [Kesselring, "The Memoirs of Field Marshal Kesselring", pp. 103-118] With his forces thus strengthened, Rommel prepared an attack on the British positions around Gazala, while Kesselring planned an airborne attack on Malta with the "Folgore" Parachute Division and Ramcke Parachute Brigade. [Kesselring, "The Memoirs of Field Marshal Kesselring", pp. 109, 128]
Battle of Gazala, Rommel divided his command in two, taking personal command of the mobile units while leaving the infantry of the Italian X and XXI Corps under "General der Panzertruppe" Ludwig Crüwell. This command arrangement went awry on 29 May 1942 when Crüwell was taken prisoner. Lacking an available commander of sufficient seniority, Kesselring assumed personal command of "Gruppe Crüwell". Flying his Fieseler Fi 156to a meeting, Kesselring was fired upon by an enemy force astride Rommel's line of communications. An air strike by every available "Stuka" and "Jabo" followed in short order. Kesselring attributed the failure of the initial infantry assaults to capture Bir Hakeim to faulty ground-air coordination but he was more impressed with the results of the attack on Tobruk, for which Kesselring brought in additional aircraft from Greece and Crete. [Kesselring, "The Memoirs of Field Marshal Kesselring", pp. 126-127]
In the wake of the victory at Tobruk, Rommel persuaded Hitler to authorise an attack on Egypt instead of Malta, over Kesselring's objections. [Kesselring, "The Memoirs of Field Marshal Kesselring", pp. 124-125] The parachute troops assembled for the Malta operation were sent to Rommel. [Kesselring, "The Memoirs of Field Marshal Kesselring", p. 129] Things went well at first but, just as Kesselring had warned, logistical difficulties mounted and the result was the disastrous
First Battle of El Alamein, Battle of Alam el Halfaand Second Battle of El Alamein. [Kesselring, "The Memoirs of Field Marshal Kesselring", pp. 130-136]
Kesselring considered Rommel to be a great general leading fast-moving troops at the corps level of command, but felt that he was too moody and changeable for high levels of command. For Kesselring, Rommel's nervous breakdown and hospitalisation for depression at the end of the African Campaign only confirmed this. [Gellately (ed), "The Nuremberg Interviews", p. 321]
The Allied invasion of French North Africa precipitated a crisis in Kesselring's command. He ordered
Walther Nehring, the former commander of the Afrika Korpswho was returning to action after recovering from wounds received at the Battle of Alam el Halfa, to proceed to Tunisiato take command of a new corps (XC Corps). Kesselring ordered Nehring to establish a bridgehead in Tunisia and then to press west as far as possible so as to gain freedom to manoeuvre. [Howe, "Northwest Africa: Seizing the Initiative in the West", p. 261] By December, the Allied commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhowerwas forced to concede that Kesselring had won the race; the final phase of Operation Torchhad failed and the Axis could only be ejected from Tunisia after a prolonged struggle. [Howe, "Northwest Africa: Seizing the Initiative in the West", p. 344]
With the initiative back with the Germans and Italians, Kesselring hoped to launch an offensive that would drive the Allies out of North Africa. At the
Battle of the Kasserine Passhis forces gave the Allies a beating but in the end strong Allied resistance and a string of Axis errors stopped the advance. [Howe, "Northwest Africa: Seizing the Initiative in the West", pp. 477-479] Kesselring now concentrated on shoring up his forces by moving the required tonnages of supplies from Sicilybut his efforts were frustrated by Allied aircraft and submarines. An Allied offensive in April finally broke through, leading to a collapse of the Axis position in Tunisia. Some 275,000 German and Italian prisoners were taken. Only the Battle of Stalingradovershadowed this disaster. In return, Kesselring had held up the Allies in Tunisia for six months, forcing a postponement of the Allied invasion of northern France from the northern summer of 1943 to that of 1944. [Howe, "Northwest Africa: Seizing the Initiative in the West", p. 666]
Kesselring expected that the Allies would next invade
Sicily, as a landing could be made there under fighter cover from Tunisia and Malta. [Garland and Smyth, "Sicily and the Surrender of Italy", p. 46] Kesselring reinforced the six coastal and four mobile Italian divisions there with two mobile German divisions, the 15th "Panzergrenadier" Division and "Hermann Göring Panzer" Division, both rebuilt after being destroyed in Tunisia. [Garland and Smyth, "Sicily and the Surrender of Italy", pp. 80-82] Kesselring was well aware that while this force was large enough to stop the Allies from simply marching in, it could not withstand a large scale invasion. He therefore pinned his hopes on repelling the Allied invasion of Sicilyon an immediate counterattack. Although his troops gave the Americans "quite a battering" and the "Luftwaffe" destroyed a Liberty shipfilled with ammunition, the counterattack failed to destroy the Allied position. [Garland and Smyth, "Sicily and the Surrender of Italy", p. 174]
Kesselring flew to Sicily himself on 12 July to survey the situation and decided that no more than a delaying action was possible and that the island would have to be evacuated. [Kesselring, "The Memoirs of Field Marshal Kesselring", p. 163] Nonetheless, he managed to delay the Allies in Sicily for another month. In the end, the evacuation was perhaps the most brilliant action of the campaign. In spite of the Allies' superiority on land, at sea, and in the air, Kesselring was able to evacuate not only 40,000 men, but 96,605 vehicles, 94 guns, 47 tanks, 1,100 tons of ammunition, 970 tons of fuel, and 15,000 tons of stores. He was able to do so because he was able to achieve near-perfect coordination between the three services under his command while his opponent, Eisenhower, was not. [Garland and Smyth, "Sicily and the Surrender of Italy", pp. 409-417]
Allied Invasion of Italy
With the fall of Sicily, OKW feared that Italy would withdraw from the war but Kesselring remained confident that the Italians would continue to fight. [Blumenson, "Salerno to Casino", p. 61] OKW regarded Kesselring and von Rintelen (who spoke fluent Italian) as too pro-Italian and began to bypass him, sending Student to Rome, where his I Parachute Corps was under OKW orders to occupy the capital in case of Italian defection, and Rommel to northern Italy [Blumenson, "Salerno to Casino", pp. 67-68] .
Benito Mussoliniwas removed from power on 25 July 1943, and Italy did withdraw from the war on 8 September. Mussolini was rescued by the Germans in "Operation Oak" (" Unternehmen Eiche"), a raid planned by Kurt Student and carried out by " Obersturmbannführer" Otto Skorzenyon 12 September. The details of the operation were deliberately, though unsuccessfully kept from Kesselring. "Kesselring is too honest for those born traitors down there" was Hitler's assessment [Kesselring, "The Memoirs of Field Marshal Kesselring", p. 171] . Italy now effectively became an occupied country, as the Germans poured in troops.
Kesselring was ordered to withdraw from southern Italy and consolidate his forces with Rommel's Army Group B in Northern Italy, where Rommel would assume overall command. Kesselring was appalled. This would expose southern Germany to bombers operating from Italy; risked the Allies breaking into the Po Valley; and was completely unnecessary, as he was certain that Rome could be held until the summer of 1944, based on his assumption that the Allies would not conduct operations outside the range of their air cover, which could only reach as far as
Salerno. Kesselring submitted his resignation on 14 August 1943. Hitler refused to accept it. [Blumenson, "Salerno to Casino", pp. 63-66]
Although his command was already "written off" [Kesselring, "The Memoirs of Field Marshal Kesselring", p. 177] , Kesselring intended to fight. At the Battle of Salerno, he launched a full-scale counterattack against the Allied landings there with "Generaloberst"
Heinrich von Vietinghoff's Tenth Army. Once again his forces gave the Allies a beating. His troops failed to throw them back into the sea only because of the decisive support offered to the Allies by their naval artillery, but gained the time that was their actual objective. Already Kesselring, in defiance of his orders, was preparing a series of successive fallback positions on the Volturno Line, Barbara Lineand the Bernhardt Line. Only in November 1943, after much fighting, did the Allies reach his main position, the Gustav Line. According to his memoirs, Kesselring felt that much more could have been accomplished had he had access to the troops held "uselessly" under Rommel's command. [Kesselring, "The Memoirs of Field Marshal Kesselring", pp. 186-187]
In November 1943, Kesselring met with Hitler. Kesselring gave an optimistic assessment of the situation in Italy and gave reassurances that he could hold the Allies south of Rome on the
Winter Line. Kesselring further promised that he could prevent the Allies reaching the Northern Apennines for at least least six months. As a result, on 6 November 1943, Hitler ordered Rommel and his Army Group B headquarters to move to France to take charge of the Atlantic Walland prepare for the Allied attack that was expected there in the Spring of 1944. On 21 November 1943, Kesselring resumed command of all German forces in Italy, combined Commander-in-Chief South, a joint command, with that of Army Group C, a ground command. [Blumenson, "Salerno to Casino", pp. 244-245]
"I had always blamed Kesselring," Hitler later explained, "for looking at things too optimistically... events have proved Rommel wrong, and I have been justified in my decision to leave Field Marshal Kesselring there, whom I have seen as an incredible political idealist, but also as a military optimist, and it is my opinion that military leadership without optimism is not possible." [Blumenson, "Salerno to Casino", pp. 245-246]
According to his own apologetic memories, Kesselring strove tirelessly to avoid the physical destruction of many artistically important Italian cities, including Rome,
Florence, Sienaand Orvieto. He boasts that, in some cases, historic bridges - such as the Ponte Vecchio(literally "Old Bridge") were booby trapped rather than blown. It must be said, however, that all the other historic Florentine bridges were blown on his orders and that, in addition to booby-trapping the old bridge, he ordered the demolition with explosive charges of the ancient historical central boroughs at its two ends, in order to retard the Allied advance across the Arnoriver.
In the same vein, Kesselring noted his support for the Italian declaration of Rome, Florence and
Chietias open cities. In the case of Rome, this was in spite of there being considerable tactical advantages to be had from defending the Tiberbridges. These declarations were never agreed to by the Allies as the cities were not demilitarized and remained centres of government and industry. Despite the repeated declarations of "open city", Rome was bombed more than 50 times by the Allies, whose air forces hit Florence as well. [Among several relevant documents available at the National Archives of the United Kingdom - all of which clarify beyond any doubt that the "open city" status was never operative in Rome - it is of most interest the [http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/catalogue/displaycataloguedetails.asp?CATID=470991&CATLN=6&Highlight=&FullDetails=True folder 8/439] , which contains a number of filed documents about the Allied policy towards Rome. The file n. 400 is a message sent to the Foreign Office by D'Arcy Osborne, Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to the Holy See, in which he transmits the latest German "proposal" for declaring Rome "open city", relayed to him by the German Ambassador in Rome, via the Vatican Undersecretary of State; the message was then urgently retransmitted to Washington, and it's dated 4 June 1944, the very same day General Mark Clark's tanks entered Rome. Till the very last minute, the Germans had used Rome and the diplomatic delusion of the never ending talks about the "open city" in order to take any possible advantage out of it, including using the Italian capital to cover their ordered retreat behind a safer defense line. A large collection of the files in the folder 8/439 is available in Italian translation in Umberto Gentiloni Silveri, Maddalena Carli, "Bombardare Roma - Gli Alleati e la «città aperta» (1940-1944) - Il Mulino - Biblioteca storica, Bologna, 2007, ISBN 978-88-15-11546-1.] . As matter of fact, in response to the Allied landing at Anzio, Kesselring declared Rome - which the Germans had militarily occupied since 10 September 1943 to be "war zone" starting from 22 January 1944, which resulted in the widespread usage of the city bridges at night by German motorized columns headed to the frontline and the imposition of martial law in a city of over a million of inhabitants till its liberation by the US Fifth Army, on 4 June 1944.
Kesselring tried to preserve the monastery of Monte Cassino by avoiding its military occupation (it offered a superb observing point over the battle field) but was unsuccessful, as the Allies never believed the monastery was not being used (or would not be used) to direct the German artillery against their lines. On the morning of 15 February 1944 142
B-17 Flying Fortress, 47 B-25 Mitchelland 40 B-26 Maraudermedium bombers deliberately dropped 1,150 tons of high explosives and incendiary bombs on the abbey, reducing the historic monastery to a smoking mass of rubble, a war crime under Section 56 of Hague Convention (1907) which forbid "all seizure of, destruction or willful damage done to institutions of this character, historic monuments, works of art and science". [ [http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/lawofwar/hague04.htm Laws of War : Laws and Customs of War on Land (Hague IV); October 18, 1907] .] The salvaging of the historical archives, and artworks from the monastery and delivery to safeguard places in Italy - a personal initiative of two officers with the Hermann Göring Division - was duly documented and filmed by German propaganda teams, thus scoring a major propaganda coup once the ancient cloister was destroyed by the Allies, depicted as barbarians. [David Hapgood & David Richardson, "Monte Cassino", Congdon & Weed, Inc., NY, 1984.] Kesselring was aware that some artworks taken from Monte Cassino for safekeeping had wound up in the possession of Hermann Göring. [Gellately (ed), "The Nuremberg Interviews", p. 325]
Kesselring had some German soldiers shot on the spot for looting. [Gellately (ed), "The Nuremberg Interviews", p. 324]
In Rome on 23 March 1944, 33 German-Italian policemen of the "Polizeiregiment Bozen" (from Bolzano-Bozen) and two civilians were killed by a bomb blast. [Although sometimes described as an SS unit, "Polizeiregiment Bozen" was not incorporated into the SS until a month after the 23 March 1944 bombing.] In response, Hitler ordered that ten Italians should be shot for each policeman killed. Kesselring interpreted this to mean the execution of condemned criminals and passed the order on as such to "Generaloberst"
Eberhard von Mackensen, the commander of the Fourteenth Army, who was responsible for the sector including Rome. The task eventually fell to "Obersturmbannführer" Herbert Kappler who, finding there were not so many condemned prisoners available, made up the numbers as he thought best. The result was the Ardeatine massacre.
Other massacres were carried out by the "Hermann Göring Panzer" Division at
Stiain April, Civitella in Val di Chianain June and Buchini in July 1944,cite web | title = Nuremberg Trial Proceedings Vol. 9, 13 March 1946 | url = http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/imt/proc/03-13-46.htm | accessdate = 2007-11-21 ] by the 26th "Panzer" Division at Padule di Fucecchioon 23 August 1944, [cite web | title = La questione dei processi ai criminali di guerra tedeschi in Italia: fra punizione frenata, insabbiamento di Stato, giustizia tardiva (1943-2005) | url = http://www.fisicamente.net/index-1016.htm | accessdate = 2008-01-25 | language = Italian ] and by the 16th SS "Panzergrenadier Division Reichsführer-SS" at in Sant'Anna di Stazzemaand Marzabotto.
Kesselring forced into slave labor the Jews of Rome - as he had earlier done with those of Tunis - on the construction of fortifications. He needed a large labor force, given the magnitude of the logistical challenges he was facing. When ordered to deport the Roma Jews, Kesselring announced that no resources were available to carry out such an order. Hitler then transferred responsibility to the SS. Around 8,000 Jews of Rome were ultimately deported. [cite web | title = Holocaust Denial on Trial, Trial Judgment: Electronic Edition | first= Charles | last = Gray | url = http://www.holocaustdenialontrial.org/trial/judgement/05.018.2 | accessdate = 2007-11-21 ] During the German occupation of Italy, the Germans were believed to have killed some 46,000 Italian civilians, including 7,000 Jews. [Wette, "The Wehrmacht", p. 138]
Cassino and Anzio
The Allied attempt to break through the Gustav Line in the
Battle of Monte Cassinomet with early success, with the British X Corps breaking through the line held by the 94th Infantry Division and imperilling the entire Tenth Army front. At the same time, Kesselring was receiving warnings of an imminent Allied amphibious attack. Kesselring rushed his reserves, the 29th and 90th "Panzergrenadier" Divisions to the Cassino front. They were able to stabilise the German position there but left Rome poorly guarded. Kesselring felt that he had been out-generalled when the Allies landed at Anzio. [Kesselring, "The Memoirs of Field Marshal Kesselring", pp. 192-193]
Although taken by surprise, Kesselring moved rapidly to regain control of the situation, summoning "Generaloberst"
Eberhard von Mackensen's Fourteenth Army headquarters from northern Italy, the 29th and 90th "Panzergrenadier" Divisions from the Cassino front, and the 26th "Panzer" Division from Tenth Army. OKW chipped in some more divisions from other theatres. By February, Kesselring was able to take the offensive at Anzio but his forces were unable to crush the Allied beachhead, for which Kesselring blamed himself, OKW and von Mackensen for avoidable errors. [Kesselring, "The Memoirs of Field Marshal Kesselring", pp. 193-194]
On 11 May 1944 General Sir Harold Alexander launched
Operation Diadem, which finally broke through the Gustav Line and forced Tenth Army to withdraw. In the process, a gap opened up between Tenth and Fourteenth Armies, threatening both with encirclement. For this failure, Kesselring relieved von Mackensen of his command, replacing him with "General der Panzertruppe" Joachim LemelsenFortunately, General Mark Clark, obsessed with the capture of Rome, failed to take advantage of the situation and Tenth Army was able to withdraw to the next line of defence, the Trasimene Line, where it was able to link up with the Fourteenth army and then conduct a fighting withdrawal to the formidable Gothic Linenorth of Florence. There, Kesselring was able to halt the Allied advance. [Kesselring, "The Memoirs of Field Marshal Kesselring", pp. 200-213]
Casualties of the Gothic Line battles included Kesselring himself. On 25 October 1944, his car collided with an artillery piece coming out of a side road. Rumours said that the field marshal was okay but the gun had to be scrapped. Kesselring suffered serious head and facial injuries and did not return to his command until January 1945. [Kesselring, "The Memoirs of Field Marshal Kesselring", pp. 218-219]
quote=Furthermore, we knew that in command of these forces was Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, one of the ablest officers in the Hitler armies. He had served with distinction in the German artillery, the air force and had been on the General Staff prior to the war. Kesselring was well-qualified, both as a commander and an administrator, and he conducted the Axis operations in Italy with great skill for two years, after which he was transferred to the Western Front in Germany. I was glad to see him go. He was quick to reorganise his forces and shift reserves to meet our attacks...
Mark Clark[Clark, "Calculated Risk", p. 184] |
Once recovered from the car accident, Kesselring relieved "Generalfeldmarschall"
Gerd von Rundstedtas Commander-in-Chief West on 10 March 1945. [Kesselring, "The Memoirs of Field Marshal Kesselring", p. 221] On arrival, he told his new staff, "Well, gentlemen, I am the new V-3". [DeGuingand, "Operation Victory", p. 444, referring to the Vergeltungswaffe("vengeance" weapons) and, in particular, to the V-3 cannon, whose prototypes were fired on the western front in late 1944 and early 1945.]
Given the desperate situation of the Western front, this was perhaps not only a sign of Kesselring's proverbial optimism - witnessed by all of his collaborators during the war and till its very end - but also a further evidence of Hitler's hypnotic influence on his Field Marshal: as the Germans were routed everywhere, Kesselring still described as "lucid" Hitler's analysis of the situation, according which the Germans were about to inflict a historical defeat upon the Russians, after which the victorious eastern German armies would be brought west to crush the Allies and sweep them from the Continent. Therefore, Kesselring was determined to "hang on" in the West until the "decision in the East" came [http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,860604-2,00.html Time magazine. "Smiling Al" — KESSELRING—A SOLDIER'S RECORD Recension, Monday, Apr. 19, 1954] .] .
The Western Front at this time generally followed the
RhineRiver with two important exceptions: the American bridgehead over the Rhine at Remagen, and a large German salientwest of the Rhine, the Saar-Palatinate triangle. Consideration was given to evacuating the triangle, but OKW ordered it held. [Kesselring, "The Memoirs of Field Marshal Kesselring", p. 244] When Kesselring paid his first visit to the German First and Seventh Army headquarters there on 13 March 1945 the army group commander, " Oberstgruppenführer" Paul Hausserand the two army commanders all affirmed the defence of the triangle could only result in heavy losses or complete annihilation of their commands. "General der Infanterie" Hans Felberof the Seventh Army considered the latter the most likely outcome. Nonetheless, Kesselring insisted that the positions had to be held. [MacDonald, "The Last Offensive", p. 244]
The triangle was already under attack from two sides by Lieutenant General
George Patton's Third Army and Lieutenant General Alexander Patch's Seventh Army. The German position soon crumbled and Hitler reluctantly sanctioned a withdrawal. [Kesselring, "The Memoirs of Field Marshal Kesselring", p. 244]
Albert Speer, on the night of 18 March 1945 Kesselring was present at a meeting in the "Führer's shelter" (" Führerbunker") below the Reich Chancellery("Reichskanzlei") and informed Hitler that the German civilians in Saarlandwere being a hindrance to his troops movement, as they frequently and desperately tried to prevent the Army from entering their villages, fearing destruction would result during the ensuing battle with the advancing Allies. Hitler then ordered him the immediate, forced evacuation of all civilians from the Region and, when Kesselring objected that he had not trains or others transports available to carry on the order, the Führer ordered him to force them to leave on foot, which Kesselring did without further discussion [As reported in It_icon Arrigo Petacco, "La seconda guerra mondiale - I protagonisti", Armando Curcio Editore, Roma, Vol. 8, p. 199. Kesselring recalled this meeting as having been on the night of 15 March.] .
The First and Seventh Armies suffered heavy losses: around 113,000 Germans casualties at the a cost of 17,000 on the Allied side. Nonetheless, they had avoided encirclement and managed to conduct a skilful delaying action, evacuating the last troops to the east bank of the Rhine on 25 March 1945. [MacDonald, "The Last Offensive", pp. 264-265]
As Germany became cut in two, his command was enlarged to include Army Groups Centre, South and South-East on the Russian Front, and Army Group C in Italy, as well as his own Army Groups G and Upper Rhine.
On 30 April, Hitler had committed suicide in Berlin. On 1 May,
Karl Dönitzwas designated German President ( Reichspräsident) and the Flensburg governmentwas created. One of new President's first acts was the appointment of Kesselring as Commander-in-Chief of Southern Germany, with plenipotentiary powers.
Meanwhile, SS "
Obergruppenführer" Karl Wolffand Colonel General Heinrich von Vietinghoff, heads of the Nazi Police in Italy and Army Group C respectively had almost concluded a preliminary surrender agreement with both the Allies and the Italian Partisans, in partial implementation of the secret Operation Sunrise, arranged since early March 1945 with the OSSchief in Switzerland, Allen Dulles. Kesselring was aware of these negotiations, having previously consented to them, although he did not inform his own staff of them. (He did, however, later inform Hitler.) [Kesselring, "The Memoirs of Field Marshal Kesselring", p. 289] At first he did not accept the agreement and, on 30 April, relieved both Vietinghoff and his Chief of Staff, General Hans Röttiger, putting them at disposition of the OKW. They were replaced by General Friedrich Schulzand his Chief of Staff was named General Wenzel.
The next morning, 1 May, Röttinger reacted by placing both Schulz and Wenzel under arrest, and summoned General
Joachim Lemelsento take Schulz's place. Lemelsen initially refused, as he was in possession of a written order from Kesselring which prohibited any talks with the enemy without his explicit authorization. By this time, Vietinghoff and Wolff had concluded an armistice with the Allied Commander in the Mediterranean Theatre, Field Marshal Harold Alexander, which became effective on 2 May at 14:00. Lemelsen reached Bolzano, and Schulz and Wenzel got back in control, this time agreeing with the officers pushing for a quick surrender. The German Armies in Italy were now utterly defeated by the Allies, who were rapidly advancing from Garmischtowards Innsbruck.
Kesselring remained stubbornly opposed to the surrender but was finally won over by Wolff only on the late morning of May 2, after a two hour long phone call to the Field Marshall at his headquarters at
Pullach. [ Allen Dulles, "The Secret Surrender", Harper & Row, New York, 1966.] [Frido von Senger und Etterlin, "Krieg in Europa", Verlag Kiepenheuer & Witsch, Köln, 1960.] .
North of the Alps, Army Group G followed suit on 6 May. Kesselring now decided to surrender his headquarters. He ordered SS "Oberstgruppenführer"
Paul Hausserto supervise the SS troops to ensure that the surrender was carried out in accordance with his instructions. Kesselring then surrendered to an American major at Saalfelden, near Salzburg, in Austriaon 6 May 1945. He was taken to see Major General Maxwell D. Taylor, the commander of the 101st Airborne Division, who treated him courteously, allowing him to keep his weapons and field marshal's baton, and to visit the Russian-front headquarters of Army Groups Centre and South at Zeltwegand Grazunescorted. Taylor arranged for Kesselring and his staff to move into a hotel at Berchtesgaden. Kesselering met with Lieutenant General Jacob L. Devers, commander of the Sixth United States Army Groupand gave interviews to Allied newspaper reporters. [Kesselring, "The Memoirs of Field Marshal Kesselring", pp. 290-291]
On 15 May 1945, Kesselring was taken to
Mondorf-les-Bainswhere he was incarcerated.
With the end of the war, Kesselring was hoping to be able to make a start on the rehabilitation of Germany [Kesselring, "The Memoirs of Field Marshal Kesselring", p. 287] . Instead he found himself placed under arrest. At the
Nuremberg Trials, Kesselring testified in the trial of Hermann Göring. Kesselring's offers to testify against Russian, American and British commanders were declined.
By the end of the war, for most Italians the very name of Kesselring had become synonymous with the oppression and the terror which had characterized the German occupation of the Peninsula for almost two years since Italy had signed the armistice on 3 September 1943 and, by declaring war on Germany, had become "co-belligerent" with the Allies on 13 October of the same year [It might be considered symptomatic of the Italian public mood the fact that the Court that tried Kesselring received at least three letters from Italian civilians formally requesting to be included in the firing squad if Kesselring was found guilty. These letters are part of the [http://www.kcl.ac.uk/lhcma/summary/ha20-001.shtml Collection of documents of Sir Edmund Hakewill Smith] , President of the Court, at the Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives.] . The Field Marshal - whose signature became infamous for being reproduced on almost all the posters and printed orders announcing the draconian measures adopted by the German occupation - was at the top of the list of German officers blamed for a long series of atrocities perpetrated by the German forces, which had been so gruesome in some instances to push even
Benito Mussolinito file several protests to Rudolf Rahn, German ambassador to the RSI, stressing that the killings were so indiscriminate to include known fascists among the victims, most of whom were innocent, thus increasing the popular support for the Partisans and the hate for the Germans [It_icon Mimmo Franzinelli, "Le Stragi Nascoste - L'armadio della vergogna: impunità e rimozione dei crimini di guerra nazifascisti 1943-2001", Mondadori, Milano, 2002, ISBN 88-04-51974-6, pp. 59-74 and pp. 317-323.] . Despite the Moscow Declarationsigned during the Moscow Conference on 30 October 1943, had stipulated in its fourth statement on "Atrocities" - largely drafted by Winston Churchill- that "those German officers and men and members of the Nazi party who have been responsible for or have taken a consenting part in the above atrocities, massacres and executions will be sent back to the countries in which their abominable deeds were done in order that they may be judged and punished according to the laws of these liberated countries and of free governments which will be erected therein", and that the same statement expressly mentioned Italy among the countries entitled to put on trial these criminals [ [http://www.ibiblio.org/pha/policy/1943/431000a.html Moscow Declaration] ] , the British did not transfer to the Italian Justice any of the top German officers in their custody - including Kesselring - to account of the atrocities perpetrated under their orders in the Peninsula. In turn, a number of junior officers (all of them below the rank of General, like Herbert Kappler) were transferred to the Italians, who had abolished the death penaltysince 1944.
The British - who had been a driving force in moulding the war crimes trial policy that culminated in the
Nuremberg Trialsince its conception - had concluded their investigations since late 1945 and planned to hold two major trials against the top German war criminals who had perpetrated their crimes during the Italian campaign: one - to be held in Rome- against those accused for the Ardeatine massacre(the commander of the Army Group South, Field Marshal Kesselring, the commander of the Fourteenth Army, General Eberhard von Mackensen, the commander of Rome, General Kurt Mältzer, the Gestapocommanders SS "Obersturmbannführer" Herbert Kapplerand SS "Brigadeführer" Wilhelm Harster), and another - to be held in Venice- against nine Generals (including Kesselring) who participated in a general plan to terrorise the population by reprisals and the shooting of civilians [It_icon [http://newde.camera.it/_dati/leg14/lavori/stenbic/57/2006/0124/pdf029.pdf Italian Parliament. Commission of Enquiry on the Causes of the Concealing of Files about Nazifascist Crimes - Conclusions, draft January, 24 2006. pp. 463-464] ] [It_icon [http://www.storicamente.org/focardi_shoa.htm Bologna University & Gedit Edizioni - Filippo Focardi, "The question of the trials against the German war criminals in Italy, between obstructed punishment, State concealing and belated justice (1943-2005)] ] .
In his memoirs, Kesselring claims that some of these shootings could have been carried out by communist partisans in German or Fascist uniforms. [Kesselring, "The Memoirs of Field Marshal Kesselring", p. 227] In several decades, however, not a single evidence surfaced supporting Kesselring's claim that Italian partisans perpetrated atrocities in German or Fascist uniforms, while the current historiographic research has debunked the myth that the Wehrmacht had "clean hands", and most if not all atrocities had been carried out by the SS and the
Einsatzgruppen[Sönke Neitzel, "Abgehört - Deutsche Generäle in britischer Kriegsgefangenschaft 1942-1945", Propyläen, Berlin, 2005, ISBN 3549072619] [ Richard Overy, "Interrogations: the Nazi elite in Allied hands, 1945", Penguin, 2002, ISBN 0142001589] .
In the middle of the fluid international situation that would eventually bring to the
Cold War, however, the British gradually changed their mind and, as time passed, the initial plan for trials became less ambitious [On 10 December 1947 1947 the Foreign Office officially decided "that no Germans will in future be tried by British Military Courts for war crimes committed against Italian victims".] .The trial for the Ardeatine massacre was convened in Rome only against von Mackensen and Mältzer (both sentenced to death on 30 November 1946, later commuted to life imprisonment [Mältzer died while still in prison; von Mackensen, after having seen his prison reduced to 21 years, was eventually freed in 1952, along with his former commander Kesselring.] ).
The planned major trial for the campaign of reprisals did never take place, and a series of smaller trials was held instead in
Padua[The trials in Padua were held between April and June 1947 for the GestapoGeneral Willy Tensfeld, the 26th Panzer Division's General Edward Crasemannand the 16th SS Panzergrenadier Division Reichsführer-SS's General Max Simon. Tensfeld was acquitted, Crasemann was sentenced to 10 years, and Simon was sentenced to death, but was pardoned almost immediately. Max Simons's trial was the last held in Italy by the British.] .
All these trials were held based on the [http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/imt/imtroyal.htm Royal Warrant of June 18 1945] , thus essentially under British Common Military Law, and not under the Charter proposed for the
Nuremberg Trials, including the trial against Kesselring, which began on 10 February 1947 in Venice, the day Italy signed the Paris Peace Treaty, thus resuming its full responsibilities as sovereign state.
The Field Marshal was tried before a British Military Court presided by Major General
Edmund Hakewill Smithand composed by five senior Officers and a Judge, Colonel Stirling. Colonel R.J. Halse - who had already obtained the death penalty for von Mackensen and Mältzer - was the Prosecutor. Kesselring was defended by Hans Laternser, a skillful German lawyer who had represented several defendants at the Nuremberg Trials.
Kesselring was arraigned on two charges: first, the shooting of 335 Italian hostages (the
Ardeatine massacre) in reprisal of the attack of Via Rasella in Rome, in which 33 German-Italian soldiers were killed and second, his command to kill Italian civilians (and to offer cover for the culprits) as reprisals in a number of cases, bringing to 1,413 the total number of the victims he was called to account for.
Kesselring did not invoke the "
Nuremberg defence". Rather, he maintained that his actions were legal.
The verdict was "culpable" on both charges, the court finding Kesselring's actions as criminally unlawful. On 6 May 1947 the Court found him guilty for both charges and sentenced him to death by firing squad. Kesselring had 14 days to appeal against the verdict. The court left open the theoretical and abstract question on the legality of killing of innocent persons as a reprisal. [ [http://www.ess.uwe.ac.uk/WCC/kesselring.htm Case No. 44 The Trial of Albert Kesselring] ]
Death penalty commutation, early pardon, and liberation
Scarce two years after the end of the war, and with the materialization of the
Cold War, Churchill was already and actively undermining the very same policy he had drafted less than four years before with the aforementioned Moscow Declaration, although he had made it clear to Stalinat the time that executions were not what he had in mind. [Minutes of Tripartite Dinner Meeting, 29 November 1943, 8:30 pm, Soviet Embassy, Tehran, "Foreign Relations of the United States: Diplomatic papers: The Conferences at Cairo and Tehran 1943", Washington, DC, United States Government Printing Office, 1961, p. 554]
As soon as the death verdict against Kesselring had been pronounced, Churchill branded it as too harsh and immediately intervened in favour of the Field Marshal by telephoning the Prime Minister,
Clement Attlee. The call was followed by a written complaint to the same effect. Another letter was sent by Harold Alexander, who expressed his favourable opinion of his German colleague on the grounds that, according to him, Kesselring - in the war as a whole - had "fought fairly", and that, for the war crimes, "the real people to blame were the SS of Hitler's Headquarters". (Later Alexander admitted having expressed such an opinion knowing none of the details of the crimes in question.) [Donald Bloxham, "Genocide on Trial - War Crimes Trials and the Formation of Holocaust History and Memory", Oxford University Press, 2003, p. 47 ISBN 0-19-925904-6.] . In his memoirs Alexander paid tribute to Kesselring as a commander who "showed great skill in extricating himself from the desperate situations into which his faulty intelligence had led him". [Alexander "The Alexander Memoirs 1940-1945", p. 125] Although Alexander quoted Kesselring's memoir, [Alexander "The Alexander Memoirs 1940-1945", p. 114] he made no mention of war crimes.
Attlee transferred the pressure coming from such prominent figures onto General Sir John Harding, who had succeeded General Alexander as commander of British forces in the Mediterranean in 1946. Harding elaborated a complex and controversial post-judicial revision of the trial (even arguing that the war criminals judged by the Italian Courts for the same incidents did not face death, as this penalty had been banned in Italian Law since 1944) and commuted the death sentence to life imprisonment on 29 June 1947. [Macksey, "Kesselring - The Making of the Luftwaffe", p. 242] Similar provisions were taken in favour of all the other German Generals who had been sentenced to death, including Mältzer, von Mackensen and Max Simon [It_icon [http://www.storicamente.org/focardi_shoa.htm Bologna University & Gedit Edizioni - Filippo Focardi, "The question of the trials against the German war criminals in Italy, between obstructed punishment, State concealing and belated justice (1943-2005)] ] . In November 1947 he was transferred from
Mestreprison (near Venice) to Wolfsbergin Carinthia and then to Werlprison, in Westphalia, along with von Mackensen and Mältzer, where they worked assembling paper bags [As reported in It_icon Arrigo Petacco, "La seconda guerra mondiale - La resa dei contii", Armando Curcio Editore, Roma, Vol. 7, p. 243.] .
Upon re-gaining the prime ministership in 1951, Winston Churchill gave priority to the quick release of the Nazi war criminals remaining in British custody [Birmingham University Archives, hereafter, 'BUA',FO 800/846, fo. 2, Churchill to Eden, 29 Nov. 1951; fo. 12, Churchill to Eden 8 June 1952, cited in
Donald Bloxham, "Genocide on Trial - War Crimes Trials and the Formation of Holocaust History and Memory", Oxford University Press, 2003, p. 168 ISBN 0-19-925904-6.] , following a policy more discretely pursued since 1947, when he had promptly intervened to save Kesselring's life.
The pressure increased during the summer of 1952, coinciding with the looming question of the ratification by
West Germanyof the European Defence CommunityTreaty. A lobby including Harold Alexander- now Minister of Defence - and Basil Liddell Hartstrove to this end, also echoing the calls in the same direction coming from the German Chancellor Konrad Adenauerand the press campaign orchestrated in West Germany for the liberation of most war criminals. Alexander in particular had gone to great lengths to falsely emphasize health issues and, almost incredibly, the "melancholy" experienced by jailed war criminals to justify their release. [ Donald Bloxham, "Genocide on Trial - War Crimes Trials and the Formation of Holocaust History and Memory", Oxford University Press, 2003, p. 169 ISBN 0-19-925904-6, based on LHCMA, Liddell Hart 11/1952/8, Liddell Hart's notes on london visit 1-3 July 1952.] Anthony Edenwho - as Foreign Secretary - had taken over responsibility after the withdrawal of the British High Commission from the International Military Tribunal, with the clear approval of Churchill, and based on the tactics suggested by Alexander - which included adequately "priming" prison doctors on which medical aspects concentrate on - decided to release Kesselring on 15 July 1952, allegedly because he needed urgent hospitalization for an "exploratory operation" on a throat cancer. A similar path was followed in August for the Field Marshal Erich von Manstein, who needed a cataracts operation.
Following their operations, both were conveniently left at liberty for an indefinite convalescence period, and were not to set foot again in jail or, as the German press proclaimed, in a "dungeon". [PRO, FO, 371/104159, CW 1663/17, Roberts to Strang, 30 Apr. 1953, as cited in
Donald Bloxham, "Genocide on Trial - War Crimes Trials and the Formation of Holocaust History and Memory", Oxford University Press, 2003, p. 169 ISBN 0-19-925904-6.] De_icon Kerstin von Lingen, "Kesselrings letzte Schlacht. Kriegsverbrecherprozesse, Vergangenheitspolitik und Wiederbewaffnung: der Fall Kesselring, Ferdinand Schöningh Verlag", Paderborn 2004, ISBN 3-506-71749-9.] .
To make it more than clear to the German public opinion the path taken by the British government towards the war criminals, however, a more explicit gesture was deemed to be necessary. Therefore, on 24 October 1952 Eden signed an act of clemency.
Kesselring - officially pardoned in consideration of his allegedly ill throat - immediately after his release addressed a rally of veterans (including the fanatic "Green Devils" who had fought under his command at Monte Cassino and a number of former Nazi leaders), calling for the wholesale liberation of all war criminals. Afterwards, he lived an active public life for another eight years, mostly rallying ex-Nazis as leader of the neo-Nazi organization
Stahlhelm, Bund der Frontsoldaten) at the head of which had been elected while still in prison [ Donald Bloxham, "Genocide on Trial - War Crimes Trials and the Formation of Holocaust History and Memory", Oxford University Press, 2003, p. 170 ISBN 0-19-925904-6.] .
In 1952, while still in prison, he was elected at the head of the extreme right-wing German nationalistic association, the "
Stahlhelm, Bund der Frontsoldaten" [ [http://www.ajcarchives.org/AJC_DATA/Files/1957_10_CentralEurope.pdf American Jewish Year Book Vol. 58 (1957) / Foreign Countries: Central Europe, p. 279] .] , remaining its leader till his death. He was also elected honorary head of ex-servicemen's associations of the "Afrika Korps" and "Luftwaffe".
His memoirs were published in 1953, as "Soldat bis zum letzten Tag" (A Soldier To The Last Day). They were reprinted in English as "A Soldier's Record" a year later. Although written while he was in prison, without access to his papers, the memoirs formed a valuable resource, informing military historians on topics such as the background to the invasion of the Soviet Union. When the English edition was published, Kesselring's contentions that the Luftwaffe was not defeated in the air in the Battle of Britain and that "
Operation Sealion" - the invasion of Britain - was thought about but never seriously planned were controversial, but the latter is widely accepted today. [Citation | title = "Smiling Al" | newspaper = TIME | year = 1954 | date = 19 April | url = http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,860604-2,00.html ] In 1955 he published a second book, "Gedanken zum Zweiten Weltkrieg" (Thoughts on the Second World War).
Interviewed by the Italian journalist
Enzo Biagisoon after his release in 1952, Kesselring defiantly described the Marzabotto massacre- in which almost 800 Italian innocent civilians had been killed - as a "normal military operation". It was the worst massacre of civilians committed in Italy during World War II, and Kesselring's definition caused outcry and indignation in the Italian Parliament. Kesselring reacted by raising the provocation and affirming that he had "saved Italy" and that the Italians ought to build him "a monument". In response, on 4 December 1952, Piero Calamandrei, an Italian jurist, soldier, university professor and politician, who had been a leader of the Resistance, penned an antifascist poem, "Lapide ad ignominia" ("A Monument to Ignominy"). In the poem Calamandrei stated that if Kesselring returned he would indeed find a monument, but one stronger than stone, comprising Italian Resistance fighters who "willingly took up arms, to preserve dignity, not to promote hate, and who decided to fight back against the shame and terror of the world." Calamandrei's poem appears in monuments in the towns of Cuneoand Montepulciano.
As Stahlhelm leader Kesselring incessantly advocated - both in private and in public, even addressing public rallies of veterans - the liberation of all convicted German officers, and reaffirmed his opinion that German officers did not commit any crimes, and that were not criminals, as well as expressed his hope that the
Nuremberg Principleswould be abolished in the interest of "all soldiers of the world" [See for example the [http://www.sandhurstfoundation.org/article.asp?id=187 letter Kesselring wrote to Talbot Henry Bashall] (who, as Lieutenant of the British Army had been in [http://www.sandhurstfoundation.org/article.asp?id=136 charge of the Field Marshal custody during his trial] ) on 13 January 1953 (Source: Sandhurst Foundation).] .
Since his release from prison, Kesselring strongly stigmatized what he regarded as the "unjustly smirched reputation of the German soldier". In November 1953, testifying at a war crimes trial, warned that "there won't be any volunteers for the new German army if the German government continues to try German soldiers for acts committed in World War II." Kesselring enthusiastically supported the EDC, and suggested that the "war opponents of yesterday must become the peace comrades and friends of tomorrow", despite having never disowned
Nazism. On the contrary, Kesselring declared that he found "astonishing" those who believe "that we must revise our ideas in accordance with democratic principles . . . That is more than I can take."
According to Press reports and the
American Jewish Year Book, Kesselring toured Austriain March 1954, again on grounds of alleged health problems, and was warmly welcomed by Neo-Nazi and anti-Semitic groups. As the Field Marshal program included addressing former inmates of an internment camp for Nazis, thus causing embarrassment to the Austrian government, the Interior Minister Oscar Helmer asked him to leave the Country. Kesselring ignored this request and completed his program before leaving, as per his original plan, a week later [ [http://www.ajcarchives.org/AJC_DATA/Files/1955_10_CentralEurope.pdf American Jewish Year Book Vol. 56 (1955) / Foreign Countries: Central Europe, pag. 398] .] . According to the same sources, even in 1958 Kesselring's opinion that executing men who "had endangered the striking power of the Wehrmacht" was not a crime was still quite influential in Germany: on the these grounds, the SS General Max Simon was acquitted before a German Court for having executed German citizens who - during the last days of the war - had disarmed the local Hitler-Jugendmembers in Brettheimer in order to prevent a hopeless last-ditch defense [ [http://www.ajcarchives.org/AJC_DATA/Files/1959_10_CentralEurope.pdf American Jewish Year Book Vol. 60 (1959) / Foreign Countries: Central Europe, pag. 191] ] .
Kesselring died at
Bad Nauheim, West Germany, on 16 July 1960 at the age of 75. He was given a quasi-military "Stahlhelm" funeral. Members of "Stahlhelm" acted as his pall bearers and fired a rifle volley over his grave. His former chief of staff, Siegfried Westphalspoke for the veterans of North Africa and Italy, describing Kesselring as "a man of admirable strength of character whose care was for soldiers of all ranks." General Josef Kammhuberspoke on behalf of the " Luftwaffe" and " Bundeswehr", expressing the hope that Kesselring would be remembered for his earlier accomplishments rather than for his later activities. [Macksey, "Kesselring - The Making of the Luftwaffe", p. 245] . Also present were the ex SS-General Sepp Dietrich(one of the closest men to Adolf Hitler), the ex Chancellor Franz von Papen, the Field Marshal Ferdinand Schörner, the ex "Grossadmiral" and "Reichspräsident" Karl Dönitz, the ex Major and staunch Holocaust denier Otto Remer(who had played a key-role in stopping the 1944 July 20 Plot), the SS-Standartenführer Joachim Peiperand the ex Ambassador Rudolf Rahn[As reported in It_icon Arrigo Petacco, "La seconda guerra mondiale - I protagonisti", Armando Curcio Editore, Roma, Vol. 8, p. 198.] .
Critical assessment of Kesselring's pardon in Germany
War crimes trials, the recent past, and rearmament policies connected to the inclusion of
West Germanyin the NATOalliance were thoroughly worked out before the post-war German public opinion when it came to the question of the moral evaluation of Kesselring, which was characterized by a largely unilateral take in his favour.
The nearly 400-page monograph "Kesselrings letzte Schlacht" ("Kesselring's last battle"), by the
historianKerstin von Lingen, developed from her PhD thesis and first published in 2004, describes in detail how a massive press campaign for his pardon was staged in Germany under the motto "Freiheit für Kesselring!" (Freedom for Kesselring!).
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitungproclaimed that "An Innocent cannot be pardoned". The campaign reached its high point when the magazine Stern joined the effort in 1951, under the slogan "Nicht Gnade, sondern Recht" (Not grace, but Justice). Kesselring's defence of art treasures, and the declaration of Rome as "open city" were focused on, while the extermination of entire Italian villages, including women, children and old people, that was perpetrated based on the order he had issued on 17 June 1944, was suppressed. Fact|No citation that shows this information was suppressed.|date=September 2008
In Adenauer's Germany the "force field of
anti-communismand Cold War" caused reinterpretation "of the war criminal as an honourable man caught in a dungeon". The benign responsiveness of the Allied justice system to the campaign in favour of Kesselring, in its findings, created the false impression of a "victor's justice". Fact|No source provided to show how this conclusion is reached.|date=September 2008
Even among English and American war participants, Kesselring, also known as "Smiling Albert", enjoyed an astonishingly positive reputation for a long time.
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