Goering: Luftwaffe Bombing

1946 Nuremberg Tribunal: On day 82, defendant Hermann Goering is given vast latitude by the Tribunal to tell his life story. He will be at it for the next few days. No other defendant will be given so much uninterrupted time.

Dr Stahmer: During the last days we have heard here repeatedly about the aerial attacks on Warsaw, Coventry, and Rotterdam. Were these attacks carried out beyond military necessity?

Goering: The witnesses, and especially Field Marshal Kesselring, have reported about part of that. But these statements made me realize once more, which is of course natural, how a commander of an army, an army group or an air fleet really views only a certain sector. As Commander-in-Chief of the Air Force, however, I am in a position to view the whole picture, since I, after all, was the man responsible for issuing orders, and according to my orders and my point of view the chiefs of the fleets received their instructions and directives as to what they had to do.

Warsaw: First of all I should like to make clear the statement that on the first morning of the attack on Poland, a number of Polish cities, I believe the British prosecutor mentioned their names, were attacked. I do not remember their names any more. In my instructions for the first day of the attack on Poland it says specifically, first target: destruction and annihilation of the enemy air force. Once that had been achieved the other targets could be attacked without further delay. Therefore I gave the order to attack the following airfields--I am certain, without having the names at hand just now, that 80 percent of the names mentioned were cities near which there were air bases.

The second main target, which was however to be attacked only to a slight extent on the first day, or with the first main blow, were railroad junctions of first importance for the marshaling of larger troop units. I would point out that shortly before the last and decisive attack on Warsaw, an air attack, about which I will speak in a minute, the French military attaché in Poland sent a report to his government which we are in a position to submit here, which we found later in Paris, from which it can be seen that even this opponent declared that the German Air Force, he had to admit, had attacked exclusively military targets in Poland, "exclusively" particularly emphasized.

At first Warsaw contained only one, two targets, long before--"long before" is the wrong expression because it took place quickly--in other words, before the encirclement of Warsaw. That was the Okecie airfield, where the main enemy Polish air force was concentrated, and the Warsaw railroad station, one of the main strategic railroad stations of Poland. However, these attacks discussed were not the decisive ones; after Warsaw was encircled, it was asked to surrender. That surrender was refused. On the contrary I remember the appeals which urged the entire civilian population of Poland as well as the inhabitants of Warsaw to offer resistance, not only military but also resistance as civilians, which is contrary to international law, as is known. Still we gave another warning. We dropped leaflets at first, not bombs, in which we urged the population not to fight.

Secondly, when the commanding officer persisted in his stand, we urged the evacuation of the civilian population before the bombing. When a radio message was received that the commanding officer wanted to send a truce emissary we agreed, but waited for him in vain. But then we demanded that at least the diplomatic corps and all neutrals should leave Warsaw on a road designated by us, which in fact was done. Then, after it was clearly stated in the last appeal that we would now be forced to make a heavy attack on the city if no surrender took place, we proceeded to attack first the forts, then the batteries erected within the city and the troops. That was the attack on Warsaw.

Rotterdam: In Rotterdam the situation was entirely different. In order to terminate the campaign in the Netherlands as quickly as possible and thereby avoid further bloodshed for a people with whom we had no basic differences, but had to carry through this campaign only for the previously mentioned reasons, I had suggested the use of the parachute division in the rear of the entire Dutch forces deployed against Germany, especially in order to capture the three most important bridges, one near Moerdijk across the Rhine, the other near Dordrecht, and the third near Rotterdam. Thereby from the beginning the way would be paved in the rear of the entire troop deployment and, were we to succeed, the Dutch Army with all its valor could only hold out for a few days. This attack or landing of my parachute division on the three bridges proved entirely successful. While at Moerdijk and Dordrecht resistance was overcome quickly, the unit at Rotterdam got into difficulty.

First it was surrounded by Dutch troops. Everything hinged on the fact that the railroad bridge and the road bridge, which were next to each other, should under all circumstances fall into our hands without being destroyed, because then only would the last backdoor to the Dutch stronghold be open. While the main part of the division was in the southern section of Rotterdam, a few daring spearheads of the parachutists had crossed both bridges and stood just north of them, at one point in the railroad station, right behind the railroad bridges north of the river, and the second point within a block of houses which was on the immediate north side of the road bridge, opposite the station and near the well-known butter or margarine factory which later played an important role. This spearhead held its position in spite of heavy and superior attacks.

In the meantime a German panzer division approached Rotterdam from the outside via the Moerdijk and Dordrecht bridges, and here I would like to correct a misapprehension which arose in the cross-examination of Field Marshal Kesselring by Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe concerning persons involved. Lieutenant General Schmidt belonged to this group which came from the outside and led the panzer troops. General Student led the parachute division which was in Rotterdam, that is, inside, and that explains the fact that at one time there were negotiations for capitulation with the German commander of the troops coming from the outside, and at another time surrender negotiations with the general commanding the parachute troops within the city. Both were later coordinated.

I do not want to go into details here as to whether clear agreements were arrived at--examining this chronologically one can trace it down to the very minute--and whether it could be seen at all that capitulation would come about or not; this of course, for the time being concerned Rotterdam alone. At that time the group north of the two bridges was in a very precarious and difficult position. Bringing reinforcements across the two bridges was extremely difficult because they were under heavy machine gun fire. To this day I could still draw an exact picture of the situation. There was also artillery fire, so that only a few individual men, swinging from hand to hand under the bridge, were able to work their way across, in order to get out of the firing line--I still remember exactly the situation at that bridge later on.

It had been ordered that the batteries standing north of the station, and also the Dutch forces on the road leading north between the station and the butter factory, which presented a great handicap to our shock troops, were to be bombed. For at that moment the parachute troops had no artillery, and bombing was the only sort of artillery available for the parachute troops, and I had assured my parachutists before the venture that they would under all circumstances receive protection by bombers against heavy fire. Three groups of a squadron were used. The call for help came over the radio station of the paratroopers in Rotterdam, which did not function as well as has been claimed here, and also from the clearly exhibited and agreed upon ground signals which the reconnaissance planes brought back. These were signs such as arrows, indicators, and letters which intimated to the reconnaissance fliers: "We are pressed by artillery from the north, east, south, et cetera." Thereupon I ordered the air fleet to use one squadron.

The squadron started in 3 groups, about 25 to 30 or 36 planes. When the first group arrived, as far as I know, the surrender negotiations were in progress, but to no clearly defined end. In spite of that red flares were sent up. The first group did not grasp the significance of these flares but threw their bombs as agreed upon, exactly in that area, as had been ordered. If I remember the figures correctly, there were at the most 36 twin-motored planes that released mainly 50-kilo bombs. The second and third groups that followed understood the red signals, turned around, and did not drop their bombs.

There was no radio connection between Rotterdam and the planes. The radio connection went from Rotterdam by way of my headquarters, Air Fleet 2, to the division, from division to squadron ground station, and from there there was a radio connection to the planes. That was in May 1940, when in general the radio connection between ground station and planes was, to be sure, tolerably good but in no way to be compared with the excellent connections which were developed in the course of the war. But the main point was that Rotterdam could not communicate directly with the planes and therefore sent up the signals agreed upon, the red flares, which were understood by Groups 2 and 3, but not by group 1.

The great amount of destruction was not caused by bombs but, as has been said, by fire. That can best be seen from the fact that all the buildings which were built of stone and concrete are still standing in the ruined part, while the older houses were destroyed. The spread of this fire was caused by the combustion of large quantities of fats and oils. Secondly--I want to emphasize this particularly--the spread of this fire could surely have been prevented by energetic action on the part of the Rotterdam fire department, in spite of the storm coming up.

The final negotiations for capitulation, as far as I remember, took place not until about 6 o'clock in the evening. I know that, because during these surrender negotiations there was still some shooting going on and the paratroopers' general, Student, went to the window during the surrender negotiations and was shot in the head, which resulted in a brain injury. That is what I have to say about Rotterdam in explanation of the two generals and their surrender negotiations, one from within and one from without.

Coventry: After the period from 6 or 7 September to November, after repeating warnings to the English Government, and after the Fuehrer had reserved for himself the right to give the order for reprisal attacks on London--and had long hesitated to give this order--and after German cities which were not military objectives had been bombed again and again, then London was declared a target for attack. From 6 and 7 September--the first attack was on the 6 September in the afternoon--the German Luftwaffe pounded London continuously. Although this seemed expedient for reasons of retaliation and for reasons of political pressure on the part of the political leadership, I did not consider it of ultimate value. I do not wish to be misunderstood when I say that I knew from the First World War that the people of London can take a great deal and that we could not break their military resistance in this manner. It was important to me, first of all, to prevent an increase in the defense power of the British Air Force. As a soldier or, better said, as Commander-in-Chief of the German Luftwaffe, the weakening and elimination of the enemy air force was a matter of decisive importance for me.

Although the Fuehrer wanted, now as before, to see London attacked, I, acting on my own initiative, made exact preparations for the target of Coventry because, according to my information, there was located in and around Coventry an important part of the aircraft and aircraft accessories industry. Birmingham and Coventry were targets of most decisive importance for me. I decided on Coventry because there the most targets could be hit within the smallest area. I prepared that attack myself with both air fleets, which regularly checked the target information--and then with the first favorable weather, that is, a moonlit night, I ordered the attack and gave directions for it to be carried out as long and as repeatedly as was necessary to achieve decisive effects on the British aircraft industry there. Then to switch to the next targets in Birmingham and to a large motor factory south of Weston, after the aircraft industry, partly near Bristol and south of London, had been attacked.

That was the attack on Coventry. That here the city itself was greatly affected resulted likewise from the fact that the industry there was widely spread over the city, with the exception of two new plants which were outside the city, and again in this case the damage was increased by the spreading of fire. If we look at German cities today, we know how destructive the influence of fire is. That was the attack on Coventry.

1946 Nuremberg Tribunal: On day 84, Hermann Goering is cross-examined by Justice Jackson, the chief US prosecutor.

Mr. Justice Jackson: By the time of January 1945 you also knew that you were unable to defend the German cities against the air attacks of the Allies, did you not?

Goering: Concerning the defense of German cities against Allied air attacks, I should like to describe the possibility of doing this as follows: Of itself ...

Mr. Justice Jackson: Can you answer my question? Time may not mean quite as much to you as it does to the rest of us. Can you not answer "yes" or "no"? Did you then know, at the same time that you knew that the war was lost, that the German cities could not successfully be defended against air attack by the enemy? Can you not tell us "yes" or "no"?

Goering: I can say that I knew that, at that time, it was not possible.

Mr. Justice Jackson: And after that time it was wen known to you that the air attacks which were continued against England could not turn the tide of war, and were designed solely to effect a prolongation of what you then knew was a hopeless conflict?

Goering: I believe you are mistaken. After January 1945 there were no more attacks on England, except perhaps a few single planes, because at that time I needed all my petrol for the fighter planes for defense. If I had had bombers and oil at my disposal, then, of course, I should have continued such attacks up to the last minute as retaliation for the attacks which were being carried out on German cities, whatever our chances might have been.

Mr. Justice Jackson: What about robot attacks [Wunderwaffen]? Were there any robot attacks after January 1945?

Goering: Thank God, we still had one weapon that we could use. I have just said that, as long as the fight was on, we had to hit back; and as a soldier I can only regret that we did not have enough of these V-1 and V-2 bombs, for an easing of the attacks on German cities could be brought about only if we could inflict equally heavy losses on the enemy.

Mr. Justice Jackson: And there was no way to prevent the war going on as long as Hitler was the head of the German Government, was there?

Goering: As long as Hitler was the Fuehrer of the German people, he alone decided whether the war was to go on. As long as my enemy threatens me and demands absolutely unconditional surrender, I flght to my last breath, because there is nothing left for me except perhaps a chance that in some way fate may change, even though it seems hopeless.

Mr. Justice Jackson: Well, the people of Germany who thought it was time that the slaughter should stop had no means to stop it except revolution or assassination of Hitler, had they?

Goering: A revolution always changes a situation, if it succeeds. That is a foregone conclusion. The murder of Hitler at this time, say January 1945, would have brought about my succession. If the enemy had given me the same answer, that is, unconditional surrender, and had held out those terrible conditions which had been intimated, I would have continued fighting whatever the circumstances.

Mr. Justice Jackson: Well, at all events, you continued your efforts and on the 8th of November 1943, you made a speech describing those efforts to the Gauleiter in the Fuehrer building at Munich, is that right?

Goering: I do not know the exact date, but about that time I made a short speech, one of a series of speeches, to the Gauleiter about the air situation, as far as I remember, and also perhaps about the armament situation. I do not remember the words of that speech, since I was never asked about it until now; but the facts are correct.

Mr. Justice Jackson: Well, let me remind you if you used these terms, refreshing your recollection:

Germany, at the beginning of the war, was the only country in the world possessing an operative, fighting air force. The other countries had split their air fleets up into army and navy air fleets and considered the air arm primarily as a necessary and important auxiliary of the other branches of the forces. In consequence, they lacked the instrument which is alone capable of dealing concentrated and effective blows, namely, an operative air force. In Germany we had gone ahead on those lines from the very outset, and the main body of the Air Force was disposed in such a way that it could thrust deeply into the hostile areas with strategic effect, while a lesser portion of the air force, consisting of Stukas and, of course, fighter planes, went into action on the front line in the battlefields. You all know what wonderful results were achieved by these tactics and what superiority we attained at the very beginning of the war through this modern kind of air force.

Goering: That is entirely correct; I certainly did say that, and what is more, I acted accordingly. But in order that this be understood and interpreted correctly, I must explain briefly: In these statements I dealt with two separate opinions on air strategy, which are still being debated today and without a decision having been reached. That is to say: Should the air force form an auxiliary arm of the army and the navy and be split up, to form a constituent part of the army and the navy, or should it be a separate branch of the armed forces? I explained that for nations with a very large navy it is perhaps understandable that such a division should be made.

From the very beginning, thank God, we made the correct, consistent decision to build up a strong--I emphasize the word "strong"--and independent Air Force along with the Army and the Navy; and I described how we passed from a tentative air force to an operative air force. As an expert I am today still of the opinion that only an operative air force can have a decisive effect. I have also explained, in regard to two- and four-engine bombers, that at first I was quite satisfied with the two-engine bombers because, firstly, I did not have four-engine bombers; and secondly, the operational radius of the two-engine bombers was wide enough for the enemy with whom we had to deal at that time. I further pointed out that the main reason for the swift ending of the campaign in Poland and in the West was the effect of the Air Force. So that is quite correct.
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