The German politician and air force commander Hermann Wilhelm Göring (1893-1946) was second in command to Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany.
Hermann Göring was born in Rosenheim, Bavaria, on Jan. 12, 1893, son of the consul general of the German Empire in Haiti. He was educated in the Kadettenkorps (military school), where he performed outstandingly and earned a commission in the army in 1912.
After the outbreak of World War I, Göring moved to the newly created air force and in October 1915 became a fighter pilot. The daring young flier quickly distinguished himself and by 1918 had been shot down once and had won all the important military distinctions, including the highest award of the German army. After the famous Manfred von Richthofen ("Red Baron") was killed in the spring of 1918, Göring was chosen to succeed him in his former command.
After the German defeat the young captain left the Republican Army in disgust and went to Denmark to fly as a private pilot. In 1922 he returned to Germany, where he met Hitler. He immediately offered his services to the Nazi party and in short order became commander of the Nazi storm troopers (SA) in Munich. In the unsuccessful Beer Hall Putsch by the Nazis in November 1923, he received a painful injury which brought on his first drug addiction. He had to flee Germany and once again took up work abroad as a pilot and airplane demonstrator.
In 1927 Göring returned to Germany and in 1928 successfully ran for the Reichstag (lower house of the legislature) as a National Socialist. He was reelected in July 1932 and became president of the Reichstag. With the election of Hitler to the chancellorship in January 1933, Göring joined the Cabinet as minister without portfolio and, more importantly, became minister of interior in Prussia. In the latter position he quickly brought the Prussian police under his control by co-opting SA troops and created the Nazi secret police, which he later turned over to the command of Heinrich Himmler for use in the Roehm purge of 1934.
In the fall of 1933 Göring became prime minister of Prussia and minister of air travel in the central government—an office he used for the illicit creation of a new air force whose commander in chief he officially became in 1935. From 1936 on he also directed the economic Four-Year Plan, which was above all a plan for stepped-up rearmament. In this position he acquired considerable power in the economic life of Germany, especially in the steel industry. He ordered extensive economic reprisals against Jews from 1938 on and engaged in considerable plunder for personal profit in occupied areas during the war years.
As commander in chief of the air force and, after the outbreak of World War II, as chairman of the War Cabinet, Göring played a vital role in promoting the policy of senseless aggression and destruction pursued by Hitler. After the initial victories in Poland and on the western front, he received the additional title of marshal of the Reich. As the war wore on, however, he proved increasingly wasteful in the use of the air force and incapable of maintaining its strength in spite of the massive and ruthless use of foreign slave workers in the air industry. His exaggerated promises of air strength caused frequent miscalculations which had serious consequences for the German war effort.
In the critical days at the end of the war Göring made several attempts to negotiate with the Allies and on April 23, 1945—as officially designated successor to the Führer— suggested to Hitler that he (Göring) assume the leadership of the Nazi state immediately. Hitler reacted with Göring's dismissal from all of his offices and expulsion from the party. Arrested on May 21, 1945, by the Americans, he was tried and sentenced to death at the Nuremberg Trials but committed suicide on Oct. 15, 1946, the night before his scheduled execution.
Further Reading on Hermann Wilhelm Göring
The best, most carefully balanced biography of Göring in English is Roger Manvell and Heinrich Fraenkel, Goering (1962). The other recent biography, by Charles H. Bewley, the fiercely anti-Communist former Irish minister in Berlin, is a favorable account based on family records, Hermann Göring and the Third Reich (1962). Other studies are H. W. Blood-Ryan, Göring: The Iron Man of Germany (1938), portraying Göring as a formidable yet thoroughly sincere and personally loyal German nationalist; Erich Gritzbach, Hermann Göring: The Man and His Work (trans. 1939); Kurt Singer, Goering: Germany's Most Dangerous Man (1940), a bitterly accusing war-time biography; Ewan Butler and Gordon Young, Marshall without Glory (1951), a more popularized, somewhat sensational account; and Willi Frischauer's interesting The Rise and Fall of Hermann Goering (1951).
Additional Biography Sources
Butler, Ewan, The life and death of Hermann Göring, Newton Abbot, Devon: David & Charles Publishers; New York, NY: Distributed in the United States by Sterling Pub. Co., 1989.
Irving, David John Cawdell, Göring: a biography, New York: Morrow, 1989.
Overy, R. J., Göring, the "iron man", London; Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1984.