Erhard Milch was one of Hitler’s senior Luftwaffe officers during World War Two. Milch played a key role in building up the Luftwaffe pre-1939 and he took credit for the part played by it during the invasions of Norway and France in 1940.
Milch resigned from the army in 1921 and joined the aviation industry. Milch ran an airline that flew from Danzig to the Baltic states but seemingly many small airlines in northern Germany were after far too few customers. He then worked for Junkers Luftverkehr until 1926 when he became director of Germany’s national airline – Deutsche Lufthansa. Erhard Milch was born on March 30th, 1882 in Wilhelmshaven. After his education, Milch joined the army where he joined the artillery. At the start of World War One, Milch served on the Western Front but transferred to the German Army Air Service. By 1918, he had attained the rank of captain and commanded Flight Squadron 6.
The Treaty of Versailles forbade Germany from having an air force. However, many in Germany saw the terms as far too harsh and even moderate people saw no harm in trying to break these terms – even if it might provoke an international response. Milch joined with Hermann Goering in secretly establishing the Luftwaffe. In 1933, Milch became Goering’s deputy (State Secretary in the Reich Aviation Ministry) and it was his responsibility to manage armament production. In this capacity, he worked with World War One fighter ace, Ernst Udet.
However, the career of Milch was threatened in 1935 when rumours began to be spread that his father, Anton, was a Jew. The Gestapo investigated this rumour, which was only quashed when Goering produced an affidavit from Milch’s mother that the father of Milch was not Anton Milch but her uncle, Karl Brauer. This led to Milch being issued with a German Blood Certificate.
In 1938, Milch was promoted to Colonel General. By the end of the year, the Luftwaffe was seen by many in Europe as a force to greatly fear. The bombing of Guernica had shown many people what could happen to a city – and the bombing had been done by Nazi Germany’s Blue Condor Legion. Linked to this was the fear that poison gas would be dropped. Therefore, Milch received a great deal of credit for transforming the Luftwaffe, though Goering ensured he got the most.
The Luftwaffe played a major part in the successful invasion of Poland in September 1939. An essential part of Blitzkrieg was pinpoint bombing by Stuka dive bombers coupled with more intensive bombing by Dornier 17, Junkers 88’s and Heinkell III’s as tanks and infantry advanced. The Luftwaffe repeated its success in the invasions of Norway and France. For the invasion of Norway, Milch commanded Luftflotte V. Hitler was so impressed with the performance of the Luftwaffe in the attacks on Western Europe, that he promoted Milch to Field Marshal – along with Hugo Sperrie and Albrecht Kesselring. Milch also received the title Air Inspector General in 1941.
Milch’s fall from grace started with Operation Barbarossa. The poor showing of the Luftwaffe in this campaign and the failure to take Moscow combined with subsequent campaigns in Russia caused some to question the leadership of the Luftwaffe. Goebbels and Himmler were joined by Milch in suggesting to Hitler that Goering should be replaced. Hitler refused to do this and in June 1944, Goering used his influence and power to force Milch to resign as Director of Air Armament. Milch had to work under the control of Albert Speer, Minister of Armaments. When the war drew to a close, Milch tried to leave Germany and fled to the Baltic coast. Here he was arrested on may 4th, 1945.
Milch was tried as a war criminal at Nuremberg. He was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment. Milch was released in June 1954 and he spent the remainder of his life in Düsseldorf.
Erhard Milch died on January 25th, 1972.