The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)
Nuremberg, war crimes, crimes against humanity

The Trial of German Major War Criminals

Sitting at Nuremberg, Germany
12th March to 22nd March, 1946

Seventy-Ninth Day: Tuesday, 12th March, 1946
(Part 7 of 9)

[DR. BOEHM continues his direct examination of State Secretary Paul Koerner]

[Page 24]

Q. Then you also know that Heines could establish this camp merely in his capacity as Chief of Police?

A. Yes, that may be.

Q. Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT: Dr. Stahmer, have you any questions to ask?

DR. STAHMER: I have no further questions to put to the witness.

THE PRESIDENT: Then the witness may retire.

DR. STAHMER: With the permission of the Tribunal I call, as next witness, Field-Marshal Kesselring.

(Witness Albert Kesselring took the stand and testified as follows:)


Q. Will you tell me your name?

A. Albert Kesselring.

Q. Will you repeat this oath after me:

I swear by God the Almighty and Omniscient that I will speak the pure truth, and will withhold and add nothing.

(The witness repeated the oath.)

THE PRESIDENT: You may sit if you wish.


Q. Witness, since when have you served with the Luftwaffe?

A. Since 1st October, 1933.

Q. What rank did you hold on your transfer to the Luftwaffe?

A. Up to that time I was a colonel and artillery commander in Dresden. Then I was retired as air commodore.

Q. You helped to build up the Luftwaffe?

A. During the first three years I was chief of the administrative office, subsequently Chief of the General Staff, and I then served in the Gruppenkommando.

Q. Was the Luftwaffe being built up for defensive or aggressive purposes?

A. The German Luftwaffe was purely a weapon of defence. I must, however, add the comment that the single plane as well as the whole of the Air Arm by its very nature is an aggressive weapon. Even in land fighting, defence alone, unaccompanied by attack, is considered not to lead to any appreciable results or successes. This applies to a still greater degree to air war. The Air Arm covers a wider range, for both defence and attack. This had been realised by the Reichsmarschall and the generals.

It is obvious that when an air force is being built up only light machines are produced, or are the first types to reach the formations. Thus, up to 1936-37 we had only light craft- fighters, Stukas, reconnaissance planes and a few "old sledges" as we called them, such as Ja 52, Do 11 and Do 13 - all obsolete bomber types.

One can hold the view that defence can be successfully conducted with these light craft. On the other hand, I should like to point to the end of the World War, when the German defensive Air Force was smashed by the attacking air force of the enemy.

THE PRESIDENT: Dr. Stahmer, the Tribunal thinks the witness is dealing with this matter in far too great detail.

A. To continue: Up to 1937-38 there was no attacking Air Force, in particular no bombers, and the bombers which were built later had neither the range nor the load capacity necessary for attack. There were no four-engine bombers.

[Page 25]

Q. Did you play any part in the attack on Warsaw?

A. As Chief of Air Fleet No. 1, I led this attack.

Q. Did the military situation at the time justify this attack and how was it carried out?

A. Several attacks were made on Warsaw. In the German view, Warsaw was a fortress, and, moreover, it had strong air defences. Thus, the premises of The Hague Convention for land warfare, which can analogously be applied to air warfare, were fulfilled.

As to the first phase of the attack on Warsaw - according to the operational principle governing the employment of the Luftwaffe, the enemy Air Force and the aircraft factories in the immediate vicinity of the air fields were to be attacked. These attacks were in my opinion fully justified and they comply with the rules.

The second phase concerns the combating of the operational movements of the Poles. I may add that Warsaw is a junction for Northern and Central Poland. When our long-range reconnaissance reported - this was confirmed by the final phase - that the railway stations were crammed with material and, that reinforcements in increasing numbers were moving on Warsaw, the air attack on these movements was ordered and carried out.

It was mainly directed against railway stations and sidings and the Vistula bridges. For the execution of these attacks I detailed Stukas and ground strafing aircraft, because the precision of these machines afforded the guarantee that mainly the military targets would be hit.

The third phase was the shelling of Warsaw. I consider the shelling to be an Army action in which, at the request of the Army, small units of the Air Force were employed against military targets. I myself was over Warsaw and after practically every air attack I consulted with the Army commanders about the execution. From my own experiences and reports I can assert that everything that was humanly possible was done to hit military targets only and to spare civilians.

Q. Can you confirm conclusively that these attacks were kept throughout within the limits of military necessity?

A. Absolutely.

Q. Did you play any part in the attack on Rotterdam?

A. As Air Force Chief 2, to which rank I had been promoted, I led on the right flank the attack on Holland, Belgium and France, and the Airborne Corps operated under my command also. The Airborne Corps was commanded by General Student, who asked for his Paratroops to be supported by a bomber attack. General Student had such a comprehensive knowledge of the ground situation that he alone must be considered responsible for preparation and execution of the attack. The Fourth Air Corps was ordered to provide air support, and one group, the smallest unit necessary for this purpose, was employed. The attack was carried out solely in accordance with the tactical requirements and technical possibilities. The orders of General Student reached my command very early. Thus all preparations could be made leisurely according to plan. At the instance of the Reich Marshal the troops were informed of possible changes within Rotterdam and of the approach of Panzer Divisions. The objective set by General Student was quite clear as to extent, central and key points, and occupation. It was not difficult for seasoned troops to grasp the objective. There was radio communication between General Student's command, my staff and other staffs, including C.-in-C. of the Air Force. Any interruption of this communication could only have been a very short one as radio orders were transmitted by me or the Reich Marshal. The technique at that time made it possible to maintain contact, through this radio communication, between the tactical ground station and the flying unit via its ground station. The ground communications usual at that time,

[Page 26]

such as flares, and signal code designations, were maintained at the front according to plan. They functioned without hitch. In accordance with its training and its orders, the formation had sent out a reconnaissance aircraft which kept them informed of the position and the objective. In addition, by order of the Reich Marshal, there followed a General Staff officer attached to my air fleet who had the same mission.

Q. Had the order been given that the situation and the objective ...

A. I myself never had any doubt that the attack had to be carried out, only I was not quite sure whether or not it should be repeated. This was the question to which the signals referred. Judging from my knowledge of General Student and - I stress this particularly - his technique in leading an attack and his clearly stated requirements, I had to expect the attack to be carried out.

The attack was carried out according to plan and time schedule. The report that the target had been accurately bombed came through very quickly together with the message that no further attacks were necessary. During the three days of fighting in Holland the C.-in-C. of the Air Force was kept well informed. Particularly on the third day, i.e., the day I am talking of, the Reich Marshal in his outspoken manner intervened more than usual in the direction of the air fleet and did, in my opinion, everything that could possibly be done from such a leading position. I do not remember any message to the effect that the bomber attack was no longer warranted by the tactical situation.

Q. Bombs are said to have been dropped when negotiations about capitulation had already started.

A. As I said, no message to this effect had been received by the Command, neither had the formation operating over Rotterdam picked up a message from the ground. It may be that some confusion occurred at the Command in Rotterdam itself. I do not know about the agreements reached between General Student and the officer commanding the Dutch troops in Rotterdam. I wanted later to talk with General Student on this question but this was not possible because of his having received a serious brain injury. If (though I am convinced such was not the case) the attack was not warranted by the situation, it was most regrettable. As a soldier of 42 years' standing, as an artillery man, as an airman, as a General Staff officer and as a leader for many years, I wish to make it clear that this was one of those unforeseeable accidents of war which, I am sorry to say, occur in the Armed Services of all countries more frequently than one might think, though the outside world does not know this to be the case.

Q. How do you explain the big fires that kept breaking out in Rotterdam?

A. When I received the report from the formation I was very pleasantly surprised to learn that the effect of the bombing was confined to the target area, but this war has shown that most of the destruction is not caused by the bombs themselves, but by the spreading of fires. Unfortunately, a bomb had hit a margarine or some other factory in Rotterdam, causing oil to run out and the fire to spread. As, after the attack, the capitulation was already effective, it should have been possible to prevent the fires from spreading by bringing in the fire services and the troops.

Q. What were the military consequences of this attack?

A. The immediate consequences of the attack was the surrender of the Rotterdam troops. General Wenninger, who was Air Chief at the time and who later on was attached to my air fleet, told me that in consequence of this attack the whole of the Dutch Army capitulated.

Q. Did you lead the attack on Coventry in November, 1940?

A. As Chief of Air Fleet 2 I took part in this attack. I cannot say now whether Air Fleet 3 took part in it as well, but I did.

Q. What was the object of this attack?

A. According to the target index kept by the archives department of the C.-in-C. of the Air Force, Coventry was an English armament centre: it was

[Page 27]

known as "Little Essen." This index was compiled with meticulous care by experts, engineers and officers, and contained charts, photographs, description of targets, key points, etc. I myself, as well as my men, were fully familiar with these details. Furthermore, I arranged for the above-mentioned General Wenninger and several engineers with the C.-in-C. of the Air Force to give lectures to the troops about targets, in order to make them acquainted with the nature of the targets, their vulnerability and the effects of an air attack. Preparations for an attack were made most conscientiously. I was very often present and the Reich Marshal himself occasionally inspected them. The case of Coventry was extremely simple as, in those November nights, favourable weather conditions prevailed, so that Coventry could be reached without radio navigation. The distribution of the objectives in Coventry was likewise very simple, so that bombs could be dropped without the help of flares, and it was hardly possible to miss the target. But bombs follow the same law as other explosives - in other words, in land and air warfare the dispersion covers a wide range. So with air attack, if strong formations are employed, not the individual target but only the target area as a whole can be aimed at, which naturally causes a deviation from the target itself. By order of the C.-in-C. of the Air Force and on the reconnaissance pilot's own initiative, the photographs showing the hits were checked the following day. The ground visibility was good but, as I already said in the case of Rotterdam, the destruction of the objective was not caused so much by the bombs themselves as by the spreading of fire. I do not know whether I should add anything further. The Hague Convention on land warfare did not provide for the requirements of air warfare. In order to avoid an arbitrary selection of targets the Supreme Command had to go into the question and issue general directives based on the preamble to The Hague Convention, the literature published in the meantime and, finally, the special conditions governing air operations. Only those targets which we considered admissible according to International Law were assigned to the air fleet or formation. This did not exclude the reconsideration and change of targets in individual cases, which were discussed with the C.-in-C. of the Air Force, and we took the responsibility...

THE PRESIDENT: You are speaking too fast.

A. By personal visits and other methods we impressed upon our formations the need to study and apply carefully the preparatory work, the aiming and the meteorological conditions, so that the highest degree of accuracy could be obtained. The case of Coventry was particularly fortunate, as it presents an important military target, so that one could not speak of an attack directed against the civilian population.

DR. STAHMER: I have no more questions.

THE PRESIDENT: Does any other defence counsel wish to ask questions?

DR. LATERNSER (counsel for the General Staff and the High Command).


Q. Witness, since when were you Commander-in-Chief of an Army Group?

A. I became Commander-in-Chief of an Army Group in September, 1943 after I had already served in a supervisory capacity as far as general strategic and tactical questions were concerned.

Q. The Army Group which you led was in Italy?

A. The Army Group was in the Mediterranean area.

Q. Do you know the composition of the Group General Staff and High Command as presented by the prosecution?

A. Yes.

Q. First I have a preliminary question. What is, strictly speaking, understood by the German General Staff of the various Services?

A. The General Staff of the various Services comprises all those officers who assist the Cs.-in-C. of the Services and share their responsibility.

[Page 28]

Q. Would you please state how this group was composed and organised, in the Air Force, for instance?

A. The General Staff of the Air Force was the equivalent of the General Staff of the Army and these organisation were as alike as two peas. The General Staff consisted of the Central Department, called in the Air Force "Operations Staff," headed by the Chief of the General Staff, the operational departments, the organisational groups, the departmental chiefs of the Air Force, the Quartermaster- General, etc. The various commands, from the air fleet down to the division, with the exception of the ground staff and the Luftgaue, have General Staff officers attached to them to assist the direction. The Chief of General Staff no longer bore the co-responsibility, as was previously customary, since this was held to be inconsistent with the "Leadership Principle." These Chiefs of General Staffs and the Chief of the Central Department of the General Staff exercised their influence regarding military and ideological training on all General Staff officers within the Armed Forces without prejudice to the responsibility of the individual military commander.

Q. If I summarise your reply that by General Staff of the Air Force is meant the Chief of General Staff and the regimental staff officers, would I then be describing correctly the composition of the General Staff of the Air Force?

A. Most certainly.

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