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Robert Ritter von Greim (Robert Greim; June 22, 1892 - May 24, 1945) was a German Field Marshal, pilot and army officer.
Born in Bayreuth, son of a Bavarian police captain, Greim was an army cadet before World War I and initially served in the artillery before transferring to the German Air Service (Fliegertruppe) in 1915. First flying two-seaters, Greim then joined the Jasta (Jagdstaffel, fighter squadron) 34b flyers for a period in 1918, after Jasta 34b had been equipped with 'cast-offs' from Jagdgeschwader (JG) I, the unit which had been commanded by Manfred von Richthofen until his death in action on April 21. Even though the machines were second-hand, they were warmly welcomed by Jasta 34b as being superior to the older Albatros and Pfalz fighters that they had been previously equipped with. In June 1918, von Greim had an encounter with a Bristol Fighter, and his aircraft lost its cowling. This struck and damaged his top wing, along with the lower left interplane strut, but he managed to land the machine successfully.
By the war's end he had scored 28 victories, and had been awarded the Pour le Mérite, and the Bavarian Military Order of Max Joseph (Militär-Max Joseph-Orden). This latter award made him a Knight (Ritter), and allowed him to add both this honorific title and the style 'von' to his name. Thus Robert Greim became Robert Ritter von Greim.
Between the wars
After the war, Ritter von Greim struggled to find a place in the Reichswehr, the 100,000-man army that the Versailles Treaty prescribed to Germany, and was unsuccessful. As a result he decided to focus on attaining a career in law, and even succeeded in passing Germany's rigorous law exams. However, the lure of aircraft and pilots was too strong, and he was asked by Chiang Kai-Shek's government, to come to Canton, China to help build a Chinese air force. Ritter von Greim went with his family to China where he founded a flying school and laid some preliminary measures regarding the development of an air force. He built on these later in his career. Ritter von Greim's opinion of his Chinese pupils was not high, perhaps because of the contemporary belief among Europeans that Asians were unable to operate complicated machinery. He said in a letter that "The Chinese will never make good fliers, they have absolutely no fine touch with the stick". Even before the Nazis came to power, von Greim realized that his proper place was not in the expatriate community in China, but in Germany, and he returned to his native country.
In 1933, Ritter von Greim was asked by Hermann Göring to help rebuild the German Air Force and in 1934 was appointed to the command of the first fighter pilot school, following the closure of the secret flying school established near the city of Lipetsk in the Soviet Union during the closing days of the Weimar Republic. (Germany had been forbidden to have an air force under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles of 1919, so it had to train pilots in secret.)
In 1938, he assumed command of the Luftwaffe department of research. Later, Ritter von Greim was awarded command of Jagdgeschwader 132 Richthofen (later JG 2), based in Doeberitz, a fighter group named after Manfred von Richthofen.
World War II
When the war began, Ritter von Greim was given command of a Luftflotte (Air Wing) and was involved in the invasion of Poland, the Battle for Norway, the Battle of Britain and Operation Barbarossa. Hitler awarded Ritter von Greim the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords (Das Ritterkreuz mit Eichenlaub und Schwertern des Eisernen Kreuzes), which made him one of the most highly decorated military officers.
In late 1942, his only son, Hubert Greim, a Bf-109 pilot with 11./JG 2 "Richthofen" was listed as missing in Tunisia. He was shot down by a Spitfire flown by an RAAF pilot, but bailed out and spent the remainder of the war in a prison camp in the United States.
Ritter von Greim's greatest tactical achievement was his Luftflotte's involvement in the battle of Kursk and his planes bombing of the Orel bulge. It was for this battle that he was awarded the swords to his Knights Cross.
On 26 April 1945, when Soviet forces had reached Berlin and the Reich was all but doomed, Generaloberst (Colonel-General) Ritter von Greim flew into Berlin from Munich with the noted female pilot (and also his intimate companion) Hanna Reitsch, summoned by a radio request from Hitler. Hitler promoted Ritter von Greim to Generalfeldmarschall (Field Marshal), making him the last German officer to achieve that rank, and appointed Ritter von Greim head of the Luftwaffe after Hitler had dismissed Göring in absentia for treason. (Göring had contacted Western Allied forces with the intention of negotiating a ceasefire without Hitler's consent.) Ritter von Greim thus became the second man to command the Luftwaffe. However, with the end of the war in Europe fast approaching, his tenure as Oberbefehlshaber der Luftwaffe would last only a matter of days.
While flying into Berlin, Ritter von Greim was seriously wounded by Soviet anti-aircraft fire. Reitsch landed Ritter von Greim on an improvised air strip in the Tiergarten near the Brandenburg Gate.
On 28 April, Hitler ordered Ritter von Greim to leave Berlin and have Reitsch fly him to Plön so that he could arrest Heinrich Himmler for treason. That night, they only just managed to get away. Later, in an interview, both Ritter von Greim and Reitsch kept repeating: "It was the blackest day when we could not die at our Führer's side." Then they added as tears kept running down Reitsch's cheeks: "We should all kneel down in reverence and prayer before the alter of the Fatherland." When asked what the "Altar of the Fatherland" was, completely taken aback, they responded: "Why, the Fuhrer's bunker in Berlin . . . "
On 8 May, the same day as the surrender of the Third Reich, Ritter von Greim was captured by American soldiers in Austria. Ritter von Greim was to be part of a Soviet-American prisoner exchange program and, fearing torture and execution at the hands of the Soviets, committed suicide in Salzburg, Austria, on 24 May. His final words before taking potassium cyanide were: "I am the head of the Luftwaffe, but I have no Luftwaffe."
After his death, his decorations, which he had put on along with his dress uniform for his almost ritual suicide, were stolen by his US Army guards.
Note regarding personal names: Ritter is a title, translated approximately as Knight, not a first or middle name. There is no equivalent female form.
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