Nick Name: Smiling Albert, Uncle Albert
Birthday: November 30, 1885
Died At Age: 74
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Born Country: Germany
Born in: Marktsteft, Kingdom of Bavaria, Germany
Notorious As: War Criminal
father: Carl Adolf Kesselring
mother: Rosina Kesselring
children: Rainer Keßelring
Died on: July 16, 1960
place of death: Bad Nauheim, Hessen, West Germany
Who was Albert Kesselring?
Albert Kesselring was a German military officer who served in both world wars, and after the conclusion of the second one, was found guilty of committing war crimes. He was one of the most brilliant, capable, and highly-decorated commanders of Nazi Germany. Originally from the town of Marktsteft, Kesselring enlisted in the Bavarian Army as an officer cadet in 1904 and was part of the artillery branch. During World War I, he saw combat on both Eastern and Western Fronts and served in the general staff. He did not leave the army after the war ended. In 1933, he was relieved of his duties so he could become the head of the Department of Administration at the Reich Commissariat for Aviation. Serving in that position, he rebuilt the German aviation industry and played an instrumental role in the establishment of the Luftwaffe. During World War II, he served as the generalfeldmarschall of the Luftwaffe, taking part in the invasions of Poland and France, the Battle of Britain and Operation Barbarossa, and participated in the Mediterranean theatre as the German overall commander. Kesselring received the admiration of his Allied opponents for his military capabilities. After the end of the war, he was given a death sentence for the Ardeatine massacre, but it was later changed to life imprisonment.
Childhood & Early Life
Born on November 30, 1885, in Marktsteft, Kingdom of Bavaria, German Empire, Albert Kesselring was the son of Rosina and Carl Adolf Kesselring. His father was a schoolmaster and town councillor.
In 1904, he passed the secondary examination from the Christian Ernestinum Secondary School in Bayreuth and subsequently enlisted in the army as a Fahnenjunker (officer cadet) in the 2nd Bavarian Foot Artillery Regiment. He was part of the regiment until 1915, save for the time he spent attending the Military Academy from 1905 to 1906.
In 1912, demonstrating his early fascination with aviation, he finished his training as a balloon observer.
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First World War
When World War I broke out, Albert Kesselring spent some time in Lorraine before he was designated to the 1st Bavarian Foot Artillery in late 1914. In May 1916, he was made Hauptmann (captain). In 1916, he joined the 3rd Bavarian Foot Artillery, superlatively performing at the Battle of Arras in 1917.
Although he never enrolled in the Bavarian War Academy, Kesselring became part of the general staff. As a staff officer with the 2nd Bavarian Landwehr Division, he was assigned to the Eastern Front. What he witnessed here created the foundation of his anti-communist political outlook. In January 1918, he went back to the Western Front as a staff officer with the II and III Royal Bavarian Corps.
After the war, Albert Kesselring was assigned to the demobilisation of III Royal Bavarian Corps in the Nuremberg area. During this period, he was briefly incarcerated for his alleged connection to the coup against the command of III Bavarian Corps. Between 1919 and 1922, he held the post of a battery commander with the 24th Artillery Regiment.
From 1922 to 1929, he served in the Military Training Department at the Ministry of the Reichswehr in Berlin. During his time there, Kesselring played a pivotal role in the reorganization of the army, the introduction of reforms to the Ordnance Department, and setting up the foundation for the research and development efforts that would create new weapons.
As mandated by the Treaty of Versailles, Germany was not allowed to have an Air Force. Instead, they had a civilian agency named the Reich Commissariat for Aviation, the predecessor of the Reich Air Ministry. Kesselring was appointed oberst (colonel) there in 1934.
The official creation of the Luftwaffe took place in February 1935. His role was instrumental in the reformation of the aviation industry and in setting up secret factories and making successful negotiations with industrialists and aviation engineers.
He quickly rose through the ranks of the Luftwaffe, becoming generalmajor in 1934, and generalleutnant in 1936. As with any other general in Nazi Germany, Hitler himself gave him his salary. When he was 48 years old, he became a pilot.
After the death of Generalleutnant Walther Wever, Kesselring was appointed chief of staff of the Luftwaffe in June 1936. Under his leadership, the Luftwaffe experienced rapid expansion. He also became involved in personal and professional conflicts with his superior, General der Flieger Erhard Milch.
He later asked to be transferred to field command and was subsequently put in charge of Luftgau III (Air District III) in Dresden by Hermann Göring. He was appointed as general der flieger in 1937 and commander of Luftflotte 1 in 1938.
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Second World War
In the early stages of World War II, Albert Kesselring led air fleets in Poland (September 1939) and France (May-June 1940), and during the Battle of Britain (1940–41). He had already commanded the bombing operations of civilian population centres like Warsaw and Rotterdam. As a result, he agreed to Göring’s plan to divert Luftwaffe’s attack towards London.
This eventually turned out to be a mistake as the subsequent pause in the attacks on British airfields allowed the Royal Air Force Fighter Command the opportunity to regroup and triumph over the Germans.
After being involved in the Invasion of Soviet Union (Summer 1941), Kesselring was appointed the commander in chief, south (late 1941), to strengthen Italy’s position in North Africa and against Malta. He failed to take control of Malta and was made the Axis commander in North Africa, with Erwin Rommel serving under him.
After the Allied forces breached the shores of Sicily and borders of Italy in the summer of 1943, Albert Kesselring created an exceptional defensive plan that delayed the Allied advance for over a year.
In October 1944, he sustained injuries and subsequently was made commander in chief, west, in March 1945. He substituted Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt but was unsuccessful in preventing the Anglo-American invasion of Germany. Loyal to Hitler to the bitter end, he offered the surrender of the southern half of the German forces on May 7, 1945.
Albert Kesselring received numerous military decorations throughout his career. In July 1944, he became one of the 27 soldiers who received the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords, and Diamonds.
Family & Personal Life
In 1910, Albert Kesselring exchanged wedding vows with Luise Anna Pauline “Liny” Keyssler, whose father was an apothecary from Bayreuth. The union did not produce any children. However, in 1913, the couple adopted Kesselring’s paternal second cousin Kurt Kesselring’s son, Rainer.
Trial for War Crimes & Conviction
Following the conclusion of the war, Albert Kesselring was found guilty of war crimes and was given a death sentence for his instructions to his troops to commit the Ardeatine massacre, in which 335 Italian civilians were killed, as well as for encouraging and commanding his men to murder civilians in response to the Italian resistance movement. The sentence later became life imprisonment.
Later Years & Death
Albert Kesselring was set free in 1952, apparently due to health-related issues following a rigorous political and media campaign. A year later, he released his memoir, ‘Soldatbiszumletzten Tag’ ("A Soldier to the Last Day").
He became the honorary president of three veterans' organisations: the Luftwaffenring, the Verband Deutsches Afrika-Korps, and Stahlhelm, Bund der Frontsoldaten. The first and second ones were veteran organisations for Luftwaffe and Afrika-Korps, respectively. The last one, being a right-wing paramilitary initiative, became a subject of controversy.
After suffering a heart attack, Kesselring passed away in a sanatorium in Bad Nauheim in West Germany, on July 16, 1960. He was 74 years old at the time. He was granted a quasi-military funeral and is interred in Bergfriedhof Cemetery in Bad Wiessee.