Robert Ritter von Greim

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Robert Ritter von Greim
File:Greim, Robert Ritter von - Generalfeldmarschall.jpg
Field marshal Robert Ritter von Greim in January 1939; the Ritterkreuz was subsequently added by retouching.
Born 22 June 1892
Bayreuth, Bavaria, Germany
Died 24 May 1945(1945-05-24) (aged 52)
Salzburg, Austria
Kommunalfriedhof (community cemetery) in Salzburg
Allegiance  German Empire (to 1918)
 Weimar Republic (to 1933)
 Nazi Germany
Years of service 1911–18
Rank 70px Generalfeldmarschall
Commands held Luftwaffe
Battles/wars First World War
Second World War (POW)
Awards Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords
Pour le Mérite
Military Order of Max Joseph

Robert Ritter von Greim[Note 1] (22 June 1892 – 24 May 1945) was a German Field Marshal, pilot, army officer, and the last commander of the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) during the Second World War.

Early life and education

File:Farman reck.jpg
The remains of the first aircraft shot down by Greim

Born on 22 June 1892 in Bayreuth, in the Kingdom of Bavaria, a state of the German Empire, the son of a police captain, Greim was an army cadet from 1906 to 1911. He joined the Imperial German Army on 14 July 1911, some years before the First World War. After completion of officer training, he was posted to Bavaria's 8th Field Artillery Regiment on 29 October 1912 and commissioned as a Lieutenant (Leutnant) a year later, on 25 October 1913. After war broke out in August 1914, he commanded a battery in fighting at the Battle of Lorraine and around Nancy, Epinal, Saint-Mihiel, and Camp des Romains in France. He became a battalion adjutant on 19 March 1915, and on 10 August 1915 he transferred to the German Air Service (Fliegertruppe).[1]


On 10 October 1915, while flying two-seaters in FFA 3b as an artillery spotting observer, Greim claimed his first aerial victory: a Farman. He also served with FAA 204 over the Somme. After undergoing pilot training, Greim joined FA 46b on 22 February 1917.[1]

Greim transferred to Jagdstaffel 34 in April 1917. He scored a kill on 25 May 1917, and on the same day he received the Iron Cross First Class. On 19 June, he rose to command Jasta 34. Greim became an ace on 16 August 1917, when he shot down a Sopwith 1 1/2 Strutter. By 16 October, his victory tally totaled 7. There was a lull in his successes until February 1918. On the 11th, he had an unconfirmed victory and on the 18th he notched up aerial victory number 8.[1]

On 21 March 1918, the day of his ninth credited victory, Greim became Commanding Officer of Jagdgruppe 10. He flew with them until at least 18 June, when he notched up his 15th success. On 27 June 1918, while Greim was engaging a Bristol Fighter, his aircraft lost its cowling. The departing cowling damaged his top wing, along with the lower left interplane strut, but Greim managed to land the machine successfully.[1]

By 7 August 1918 he was commanding Jagdgruppe 9, and scored his 16th victory. On 23 August, he cooperated with Vizefeldwebel Johan Putz in what was arguably the first successful assault by aircraft on armored tanks.[2][3] On 27 September, he scored kill number 25 while flying with Jagdgruppe 9.[1]

He returned to Jasta 34 in October 1918. The Jasta had been re-equipped with 'cast-offs' from Richthofen's Flying Circus, Jagdgeschwader 1. The new equipment was warmly welcomed as being superior to the older Albatros and Pfalz fighters that they had been previously equipped with. Greim's final three victories came during this time, while he was flying Albatros D.Vs, Fokker Triplanes, and Fokker D.VIIs.[1]

By the war's end he had scored 28 victories and had been awarded the Pour le Mérite on 8 October, as well as the Bavarian Military Order of Max Joseph (Militär-Max Joseph-Orden).[1] 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.[4]

Between the wars

After the war, Ritter von Greim returned to Bavaria and rejoined his regiment (8th Bavarian Artillery) and for 10 months ran the air postal station in Munich. This was the key turning point in his career, as in 1920 he flew the up-and-coming German army propaganda instructor Adolf Hitler to Berlin as an observer of the failed Kapp Putsch. Many other people from Hitler's years in Bavaria immediately after WW1 also rose to prominence in the National Socialist era. Greim then focused on a new career in law and succeeded in passing Germany's rigorous law exams. However, Chiang Kai-Shek's government offered him a job in Canton, China, to help to build a Chinese air force. Greim accepted the offer and took his family with him to China, where he founded a flying school and initiated measures for the development of an air force. His opinion of his Chinese pupils was not high, perhaps because of the belief among Europeans at the time that Asians were unable to operate complicated machinery. He wrote 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, Greim realized that his proper place was not in the expatriate community in China, but back home in Germany, and he returned to his native country.

Greim joined the Nazi Party and took part in the 1923 putsch; as a convinced Nazi he "remained utterly committed to Hitler to the very end of the war".[5]

In 1933, Hermann Göring invited Greim to help him to rebuild the German Air Force, and in 1934 he was appointed to command 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 its pilots in secret.)

In 1938, Greim assumed command of the Luftwaffe research department. Later, he was given command of Jagdgeschwader 132 Richthofen (later JG 2), based in Döberitz, a fighter group named after Manfred von Richthofen.

Second World War

When the war began, 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.

In late 1942, his only son, Hubert Greim,[Note 2] a Bf-109 pilot with 11./JG 2 "Richthofen" was listed as missing in Tunisia. He was shot down by a Spitfire flown by a Royal Australian Air Force pilot, Flt. Lt. Robert Maxwell Brinsley, but bailed out and spent the remainder of the war in a prison camp in the United States.

Greim's greatest tactical achievement was his Luftflotte's involvement in the battle of Kursk and his planes' bombing of the Orel bulge during Operation Kutuzov. It was for this battle that Adolf Hitler awarded him the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves (Das Ritterkreuz mit Eichenlaub des Eisernen Kreuzes), which made him one of the most highly decorated German military officers.

The end of the war

On 26 April 1945, when Soviet forces had encircled Berlin and the Third Reich was all but doomed, Generaloberst (Colonel-General) Ritter von Greim flew into Berlin from Rechlin with the notable female pilot Hanna Reitsch, in response to an order from Hitler. Initially they flew from the central Luftwaffe test facility airfield, the Erprobungsstelle Rechlin to Gatow (a district of south-western Berlin) in a Focke Wulf 190. As the cockpit only had room for the pilot, Reitsch flew in the tail of the plane, getting into it by climbing through a small emergency opening.[6] Having landed in Gatow, they changed planes to fly to the Chancellery; however, their Fieseler Storch was hit by anti-aircraft fire over the Grunewald. Greim was wounded in the right foot, and Hanna Reitsch took over the aircraft and landed on an improvised air strip in the Tiergarten, near the Brandenburg Gate.[7]

Hitler promoted Greim from General to Generalfeldmarschall (Field Marshal), making him the last German officer ever to achieve that rank, and then finally appointed him as commander in chief of the Luftwaffe, to replace Hermann Göring, whom he had had recently dismissed in absentia for treason. Greim thus became the second man to command the German Air Force during the Third Reich. However, with the end of the war in Europe fast approaching, his tenure as Oberbefehlshaber der Luftwaffe lasted only a few days.

On 28 April, Hitler ordered Ritter von Greim to leave Berlin and had Reitsch fly him to Plön, so that he could arrest Heinrich Himmler on the charge of treason. That night, the two only just managed to get away from Berlin, taking off from the Tiergarten air strip in a small Arado Ar 96 aircraft, before the eyes of soldiers of the Soviet 3rd Shock Army, who initially feared they had just seen Hitler himself escape. Later, in an interview, both 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 altar of the Fatherland." When asked what the "Altar of the Fatherland" was, completely taken aback, they responded: "Why, the Fuhrer's bunker in Berlin...."[8]


On 8 May, the same day as the surrender of the Third Reich, Ritter von Greim was captured by American soldiers in Austria. His initial statement to his captors was "I am the head of the Luftwaffe, but I have no Luftwaffe".[9] Ritter von Greim was scheduled to be part of a Soviet-American prisoner exchange program, but fearing torture and execution at the hands of Joseph Stalin's secret police, the NKVD, he committed suicide with a cyanide capsule in Salzburg, Austria, on 24 May.[10]

Dates of rank

Awards and decorations

In popular culture

Ritter von Greim has been portrayed by the following actors in film and television productions.


  1. Regarding personal names: Ritter is a title, translated approximately as Sir (denoting a Knight), not a first or middle name. There is no equivalent female form.
  2. The title of nobility bestowed on Robert Ritter von Greim was not hereditary, so his son remained just Greim.
  3. According to Scherzer Swords awarded on 27 August 1944.[12]



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Franks et al 1993, pp. 119-120.
  2. [1]
  3. [2]
  4. The Aerodrome website's Max Joseph Order page, Retrieved 18 February 2013.
  5. Ian Kershaw, The End: The Defiance and Destruction of Hitler's Germany, 1944-1945, London: Allen Lane / New York: Penguin, 2011, ISBN 9781594203145, p. 205.
  6. Hugh Trevor-Roper, The Last Days of Hitler, London: Macmillan, 1947, OCLC 3337797, p. 132.
  7. Hans Dollinger, The Decline and Fall of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan: A Pictorial History of the Final Days of World War II, tr. Arnold Pomerans, Feltham: Hamlyn Odhams / New York: Crown, 1968, OCLC 721310250, p. 228.
  8. Dollinger, p. 234.
  9. [3]
  10. Wistrich, Robert S. (2001) [1982]. "Greim, Robert Ritter von". Who's Who in Nazi Germany (3 ed.). Routledge. p. 84. ISBN 978-0-415-26038-1. Retrieved June 24, 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 Thomas 1997, p. 219.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Scherzer 2007, p. 347.
  13. Fellgiebel 2000, p. 202.
  14. Fellgiebel 2000, p. 67.
  15. Fellgiebel 2000, p. 45.
  16. "Letzte Akt, Der (1955)". Retrieved May 8, 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. "Hitler: The Last Ten Days (1973)". Retrieved May 8, 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. "The Death of Adolf Hitler (1973) (TV)". Retrieved May 8, 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. "Untergang, Der (2004)". Retrieved May 8, 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  • Fellgiebel, Walther-Peer (2000) [1986]. Die Träger des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939–1945 — Die Inhaber der höchsten Auszeichnung des Zweiten Weltkrieges aller Wehrmachtteile (in German). Friedberg, Germany: Podzun-Pallas. ISBN 978-3-7909-0284-6. Unknown parameter |trans_title= ignored (help)CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Schaulen, Fritjof (2003). Eichenlaubträger 1940 – 1945 Zeitgeschichte in Farbe I Abraham – Huppertz (in German). Selent, Germany: Pour le Mérite. ISBN 978-3-932381-20-1. Unknown parameter |trans_title= ignored (help)CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Scherzer, Veit (2007). Die Ritterkreuzträger 1939–1945 Die Inhaber des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939 von Heer, Luftwaffe, Kriegsmarine, Waffen-SS, Volkssturm sowie mit Deutschland verbündeter Streitkräfte nach den Unterlagen des Bundesarchives (in German). Jena, Germany: Scherzers Miltaer-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-938845-17-2. Unknown parameter |trans_title= ignored (help)CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Thomas, Franz (1997). Die Eichenlaubträger 1939–1945 Band 1: A–K (in German). Osnabrück, Germany: Biblio-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-7648-2299-6. Unknown parameter |trans_title= ignored (help)CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

Military offices
Preceded by
Hans-Jürgen Stumpff
Chief of the Luftwaffe Personnel Office
1 June 1937 – 31 January 1939
Succeeded by
Gustav Kastner-Kirdorf
Preceded by
General Ludwig Wolff
Commander of 5. Flieger-Division (1938-1939)
1 February 1939 – 11 October 1939
Succeeded by
V. Fliegerkorps
Preceded by
formed from V. Fliegerkorps
Commander of Luftwaffenkommando Ost
1 April 1942 – 6 May 1943
Succeeded by
redesignated Luftflotte 6
Preceded by
Commander of Luftflotte 6
5 May 1943 – 24 April 1945
Succeeded by
Generaloberst Otto Deßloch
Preceded by
Hermann Göring
Commander-in-Chief of the Luftwaffe
29 April 1945 - 8 May 1945
Germany defeated