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Erhard Milch (March 30, 1892 – January 25, 1972) was a Germanmarker Field Marshal who oversaw the development of the Luftwaffe as part of the re-armament of Germanymarker following World War I.

Early life

Milch was born on 30 March 1892 in Wilhelmshavenmarker, the son of Anton Milch, a Jewish Pharmacist in the Kaiserliche Marine, and Clara Milch, née Rosenau.

World War I

Milch enlisted in the German Army in 1910, rising to the rank of Lieutenant in the artillery. He later transferred to the Luftstreitkräfte and trained as an aerial observer. Although not a pilot, he was appointed to command a fighter squadron as a Captain in October 1918.

Interwar

Milch resigned from the military in 1921 to pursue a career in civil aviation, and with squadron mate Gotthard Sachsenberg, formed a small airline in Danzigmarker under the banner of Lloyd Luftdienst, Norddeutscher Lloyd’s union of regional German airlines. The airline, which linked Danzig to the Baltic States was simply called Lloyd Ostflug. In 1923, he became managing director of its successor company, Danziger Luftpost when Lloyd Luftdienst merged with its rival firm Aero Union to form Deutsche Aero Lloyd. From there, Milch and Sachsenberg went to work for rival Junkers Luftverkehr, where Sachsenberg had been appointed managing director. Sachsenberg only held the position until 1925, when Milch took over from him. It was in this position that Milch oversaw the merger of Junkers Luftverkehr to his previous firm of Deutscher Aero Lloyd in 1926, making him the first managing director of Deutsche Luft Hansamarker.

1933-1939

In 1933, Milch took up a position as State Secretary of the newly-formed Reichsluftfahrtministeriummarker ("Reich's Aviation Ministry" - RLM), answering directly to Hermann Göring. In this capacity, he was instrumental in establishing the Luftwaffe, originally responsible for armament production although Ernst Udet was soon making most of the decisions concerning contracts for military aircraft. He quickly used his position to settle personal scores with other aviation industry personalities, including Hugo Junkers and Willy Messerschmitt. Actually Messerschmitt retained a very high position within the German aircraft industry, until the failure with the Me 210/220 aircraft. Even after that it was not necessarily Milch as the leader who did not depose of him, but, put him in an inferior position. The personal score against Messerschmitt is one of the likely reasons that Willy Messerschmitt was not allowed to personally acquire the Bayerische Flugzeugwerke [BFW] until July 1938, resulting in the continued use of the Bf prefix for Messerschmitt aircraft designed before Messerschmitt's acquisition of the company, hence the "Bf-" prefix being the only one used for the Messerschmitt Bf 109, as one example, in all official German documents dealing with all pre-July 1938 origin Messerschmitt aircraft designs.

In 1935, Milch's ethnicity came into question because his father, Anton Milch, was a Jew. This prompted an investigation by the Gestapomarker that Göring quelled by producing an affidavit signed by Milch's mother stating that Anton was not really the father of Erhard and his siblings, and naming their true father as Karl Brauer, her uncle. These events and his being issued a German Blood Certificate prompted Hermann Göring to give his famous quotation "Wer Jude ist, bestimme ich" (I decide who is a Jew). Nonetheless, a further complication is assertions that the Rosenau family of Milch's mother was also Jewish, raising the implication that Milch may have been a full-blooded Jew.

World War II

At the outbreak of World War II Milch, now with the rank of general, commanded Luftflotte 5 during the Norwegian campaign. Following the defeat of France, Milch was promoted to field-marshal (Generalfeldmarschall) and given the title Air Inspector General. Milch was put in charge of the production of planes during this time, and his many mistakes were key to the loss of German air superiority as the war progressed. Due to changing the designs and aircraft requirements frequently, manufacturers like Messerschmitt were unable to focus on aircraft output. Germany produced fewer than 5,000 planes during 1942, whereas Russia increased its aircraft production to over 40,000, leading to a change of superiority on the Eastern Front. Interestingly, during 1944, when Allied bombers were razing German factories and cities, aircraft production moved up to over 40,000, comparable with the Soviets, but too late. In 1944 Milch sided with Joseph Goebbels and Heinrich Himmler in attempting to convince Adolf Hitler to remove Göring from command of the Luftwaffe following the failed invasion of the Soviet Unionmarker. When Hitler refused, Göring retaliated by forcing Milch out of his position. For the rest of the war, he worked under Albert Speer.

Following Hitler’s suicide, Milch attempted to flee Germany, but was captured by Allied forces on the Baltic coast on May 4, 1945. On surrendering he presented his baton to the Commando-Brigadier Derek Mills-Roberts, who was so disgusted by what he had seen when liberating the Bergen-Belsen concentration campmarker that he broke the baton over Milch's head.

Trial and Conviction at Nuremberg

In 1947, Milch was tried as a war criminal by a United States Military Tribunal in Nuremberg. He was convicted of two counts:
  1. War crimes by participating in the ill-treatment and use for forced labor of prisoners of war and the deportation of civilians to the same ends;
  2. Crimes against humanity by participating in the murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, imprisonment, torture, and use for slave labor of civilians who came under German control, German nationals, and prisoners of war.


Milch was sentenced to life imprisonment at Landsberg prisonmarker. His sentence was commuted to 15 years imprisonment in 1951, but he was released in June 1954. He lived out the remainder of his life at Düsseldorfmarker, where he died in 1972.

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