Digital History Seminar: 20th Century Spain

Staff of the Legion

Sperrle joined the German army in 1903 and flew combat aircraft in World War I. In 1936–37 Sperrle led the Condor Legion, the German air force unit that fought on the side of the Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War. There his forces were responsible for the bombing of Guernica and other Spanish towns. At the outbreak of the World War II, he led the German Luftflotte 3 (Air Fleet 3). This unit saw no action during the Poland campaign, but was committed from May onwards in France, playing an important role as tactical bombing support unit. In July 1940, he was made a Generalfeldmarschall of the Luftwaffe during the 1940 Field Marshal Ceremony. Air Fleet 3, stationed in northern France, played a major role in the Battle of Britain from June 1940 to October 1940, and the Blitz, to May 1941. He stayed with his units in France for the next three years, living in luxury at the Luxembourg Palace. His major part in the war, however, was over. Sperrle was captured by the Allies and charged with war crimes in the High Command Trial at the Subsequent Nuremberg Trials but was acquitted. After the war, he lived quietly and died in Munich in 1953 [1].

In the autumn of 1937, Generalmajor Hellmuth Volkmann participated in the Spanish Campaign as Commander of the Condor Legion. Volkmann took over from Hugo Sperrle. Volkmann was not particularly popular, constantly pressing for the Legion's withdrawal. Volkmann's command lasted about a year and returned to Germany in December 1938. For his action, he receives the medal of the campaign of Spain and the Spanish Cross in gold with swords and brilliant. He returned to the regular army but was killed in a car accident on 21 August 1940 while leading an Infantry Division in France [2].

Wolfram Freiherr Von Richthofen joined the German Army in 1913 and served on both the Western and Eastern Fronts during the First World War. In March of 1918, Richthofen, who was a cousin of Germany's leading flying ace "The Red Baron" Manfred von Richthofen, qualified as a pilot with the German Army Air Service. At the end of the war, he studied engineering before rejoining the German Army in 1927. When the Luftwaffe was formed in 1933, Richthofen joined and immediately became one of its chief technical assistants. During the Spanish Civil War, he served with the Condor Legion and by May of 1938, became its commander, where he developed tactics of close air support for ground units. After the outbreak of World War II, Richthofen would command air units in Poland, Belgium, and France. During the Battle of Britain, his 8th Air Corps had the mission of winning air superiority over the Royal Air Force. Richthofen was surprised that the elite British planes could outmatch German aircraft during the battle. His air corps would also provide air cover for German troops in Greece, Crete, and the Soviet Union. As Commander of the Fourth Air Fleet on the Russian Front, on October 17, 1943, Richthofen became Germany's second youngest Field Marshal. From June 1943 to November 1944, he commanded the Second Air Fleet in Italy. He would develop a brain tumor in mid 1944, which would cause his retirement from active duty. As the war was coming to a close, he was arrested and on July 12, 1945, passed away while in American captivity in Austria [3]. 

Werner Mölders volunteered for service in the Legion Condor and arrived by sea in Cadiz on 14 April 1938. He was assigned to the 3. Staffel (3rd squadron) of Jagdgruppe 88 (J/88) commanded by Oberleutnant Adolf Galland. The unit, stationed at the Valencia–Ebro front, was equipped with the Heinkel He 51, but later switched to the Messerschmitt Bf 109 B-2. Mölders assumed command of the squadron on 24 May 1938, when Galland returned to Germany. Mölders became the leading ace of the Condor Legion, claiming 14 aircraft in Spain. In recognition of his exceptional performance as a commander and fighter pilot, Mölders was promoted to Hauptmann (captain) on 18 October 1938, effective as of 1 October 1938. He claimed his 14th and final confirmed aerial victory of the conflict by downing a Polikarpov I-16 "Rata" near Mola on 3 November 1938.   With the start of World War II, he took part in the "Phoney War", Battle of France, and the Battle of Britain. With his tally standing at 68 victories, Mölders and his unit, the Jagdgeschwader 51 (JG 51), were transferred to the Eastern Front in June 1941 for the opening of Operation Barbarossa, achieving 101 victories by mid-July 1941. Prevented from flying further combat missions for propaganda reasons, at the age of 28 Mölders was appointed Inspector of Fighters. He was inspecting the Luftwaffe units in the Crimea when he was ordered to Berlin to attend the state funeral of Ernst Udet, a Luftwaffe general and World War I flying ace. On the flight to Berlin, the aircraft in which he was traveling as a passenger attempted an emergency landing due to an engine failure. It crashed at Breslau, killing Mölders and two others [4].

Hermann Wilhelm Göring was a German political and military leader as well as one of the most powerful figures in the Nazi Party that ruled Germany from 1933 to 1945. A veteran World War I fighter pilot ace, he was a recipient of the Pour le Mérite ("The Blue Max"). He was the last commander of Jagdgeschwader 1 (Jasta 1), the fighter wing once led by Manfred von Richthofen. After Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in 1933, Göring was named as Minister Without Portfolio in the new government. One of his first acts as a cabinet minister was to oversee the creation of the Gestapo, which he ceded to Heinrich Himmler in 1934. Following the establishment of the Nazi state, Göring amassed power and political capital to become the second most powerful man in Germany. He was appointed commander-in-chief of the Luftwaffe (air force), a position he held until the final days of the regime. Upon being named Plenipotentiary of the Four Year Plan in 1936, Göring was entrusted with the task of mobilizing all sectors of the economy for war, an assignment which brought numerous government agencies under his control and helped him become one of the wealthiest men in the country. In September 1939 Hitler designated him as his successor and deputy in all his offices. After the Fall of France in 1940, he was bestowed the specially created rank of Reichsmarschall, which gave him seniority over all officers in Germany's armed forces. After the war, Göring was convicted of conspiracy, crimes against peace, war crimes and crimes against humanity at the Nuremberg trials. He was sentenced to death by hanging, but committed suicide by ingesting cyanide the night before the sentence was to be carried out [5].

Walter Warlimont Lieutenant-Colonel of the Wehrmacht, he was sent to Spain to liaise between the Reich War Ministry and the nationalist authorities, and also as head of the German volunteers deployed in Spain. He emphasized in his reports the initial superiority of the Republican camp in planes and tanks, and stressed the need to strengthen Franco in these areas by sending an expeditionary force. On his return from Spain, Walter Warlimont continued his career in the Wehrmacht and the OKW. He was wounded in the attack of July 20, 1944. Judged after the defeat and sentenced to life, his sentence was commuted in 18 years of imprisonment. Released in 1957, he published his memoirs in 1964 [6].


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