German air force chief and field-marshal who demonstrated great skill as an army commander in World War II, particularly during the defensive campaign in Italy.
Commissioned in the Bavarian artillery in 1906, Kesselring served as a captain during World War I and remained in the army until, in 1933, he joined Hitler's Air Ministry to help create the Luftwaffe – the German air force. He was later appointed chief of general staff. At the outbreak of war, Kesselring was given command of Luftflotte 1, operating in Poland, and in 1940 was moved to head of Luftflotte 2, comprising about half the German air force.
Directing German air attacks on Britain in 1940, Kesselring supported the tactical error made by Goering in switching from raids on RAF bases to civilian targets and cities. This enabled the RAF to recover and eventually regain control of British air space. On 1 December 1941, after some six months directing Luftflotte 2 in the Soviet offensive, Kesselring was promoted to commander-in-chief (south) with control over both air and land forces. Kesselring saw the forces of his colleague, Erwin Rommel, take Tobruk from the British in 1942, then falter, starved of adequate supplies. By May 1943, the Axis forces had been defeated in North Africa. The retreat of Kesselring's forces from Sicily in July marked the start of a great tactical defensive campaign on the Italian mainland. Using the mountainous terrain to great advantage, Kesselring ensured that the Allied advance was a slow and costly business. In March 1945, Hitler appointed Kesselring commander-in-chief (west), replacing von Rundstedt in an attempt to salvage the already hopeless position. Kesselring surrendered to US forces on 6 May 1945. He was tried by a British military court in Venice in 1947 and sentenced to death for his culpability regarding the shooting of 335 Italian civilian hostages. The sentence was commuted to life imprisonment and he was released in 1952 because of ill health. He later served as president of the ex-serviceman's association, Stahlhelm.
Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945) — Second World War.