Milch, Erhard, born 30-03-1892 in Wilhelmshaven, the son of Anton Milch, a pharmacist of Jewish descent, in the Kaiserliche Marine, and Clara Milch, born Rosenau. Milch entered the German Army in 1910, where he rose to the rank of Lieutenant in the artillery. He later transferred to the Luftwaffe and trained as an aerial observer. Although not a pilot, he was appointed to command a fighter wing, Jagdgruppe 6, as a Captain in the waning days of the of the war. Milch resigned from the military in 1920 to pursue a career in civil aviation, and with squadron mate Gotthard Sachsenberg, he died 23-08-1961, age 69, formed a small airline in Danzig under the banner of Lloyd Luftdienst, In 1923, he became managing director of its successor company, Danziger Luftpost when Lloyd Luftdienst merged with its rival firm Aero Union to form Deutsche Aero Lloyd. From there, Milch and Sachsenberg went to work for rival Junkers Luftverkehr, where Sachsenberg had been appointed managing director. Sachsenberg only held the position until 1925, when Milch took over from him. It was in this position that Milch oversaw the merger of Junkers Luftverkehr to his previous firm of Deutscher Aero Lloyd in 1926, making him the first managing director of Deutsche Luft Hansa. In 1933, Milch took up a position as State Secretary of the newly formed Reichsluftfahrtministerium, answering directly to Hermann Goering (did you know). In this capacity, he was instrumental in establishing the Luftwaffe , originally responsible for armament production although Ernst Udet was soon making most of the decisions concerning contracts for military aircraft. He quickly used his position to settle personal scores with other aviation industry personalities, including Hugo Junkers, he died age 75 on 03-02-1935 and Willy Messerschmitt specifically, Milch banned the latter from submitting a design in the competition to choose a modern fighter aircraft for the new Luftwaffe. Nevertheless, Messerschmitt proved an equal in political manipulation skills and managed to circumvent Milch’s ban to successfully submit a design. As the Messerschmitt-designed Bayerische Flugzeugwerke corporate entry, the Bf 109, proved to be the winner, Messerschmitt retained a very high position within the German aircraft industry, until the failure of the Me 210 aircraft. Even after that it was not necessarily Milch as the leader who did not depose of him, but, put him in an inferior position. The personal score against Messerschmitt is one of the likely reasons that Willy Messerschmitt was not allowed to personally acquire the Bayerische Flugzeugwerke until July 1938, resulting in the continued use of the Bf prefix for Messerschmitt aircraft designed before Messerschmitt’s acquisition of the company, hence the “Bf-” prefix being the only one used for the Messerschmitt Bf 109, as one example, in all official German documents throughout the entirety of World War II in Europe, dealing with all pre-July 1938 origin Messerschmitt aircraft designs. In 1935, Milch’s ethnicity came into question because his father, Anton Milch, was rumoured to be a Jew. This prompted an investigation by the Gestapo that Goering suppressed by producing an affidavit signed by Milch’s mother stating that Anton was not really the father of Erhard and his six siblings, and naming their true father as Karl Brauer, her deceased uncle. These events and his being issued a German Blood Certificate, by Adolf Hitler (did you know), prompted Hermann Goering to say famously “Wer Jude ist, bestimme ich” , I decide who is a Jew. At the outbreak of World War II Milch, now with the rank of general, commanded Luftflotte 5 during the Norwegian campaign. Following the defeat of France, Milch was promoted to field-marshal and given the title Air Inspector General.
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Milch was put in charge of the production of planes during this time, and his many mistakes were key to the loss of German air superiority as the war progressed. Due to changing the designs and aircraft requirements frequently, manufacturers like Messerschmitt were unable to focus on aircraft output: additionally, the Germans failed to put their production on a war footing, continuing to run factories only for eight hours a day and failing to include women in the workforce. German aircraft production did not rise as steep as the Allied and especially the Soviet ones, who outproduced the Germans in 1942 and 1943. In 1944 Milch sided with Josef Goebbels (did you know) and Heinrich Himmler in attempting to convince Adolf Hitler to remove Goering from command of the Luftwaffe following the failed invasion of the Soviet Union. When Hitler refused, Göring retaliated by forcing Milch out of his position, For the rest of the war, he worked under Albert Speer. Speer’s reforms were able to increase German military output drastically, including aircraft production, but it was too late by then. Following Hitler’s suicide, Milch attempted to flee Germany, but was captured by Allied forces on the Baltic coast on 4 May 1945. On surrendering he presented his baton to the Commando Brigadier Derek Mills-Roberts,
who was so disgusted by what he had seen when liberating the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp that he broke the baton over Milch’s head. Mills-Roberts died age 71 on 01-10-1980. In 1947, Milch was tried as a war criminal by a United States Military Tribunal in Nuremberg. Milch was sentenced to life imprisonment at Landsberg prison.
His sentence was commuted to 15 years imprisonment in 1951, but he was released in June 1954. He lived out the remainder of his life at Düsseldorf, where he died on 25-01-1972, age 79.
Milch is buried on the Zentral Cemetery in Lüneburg. Close by the graves of the Generaloberst der Flieger, Director General of Equipment for the Luftwaffe, Claus Boie, Generalleutnant der Kavallerie, Commander of the Rear Army Area, Iwan Heunert, Generalleutnant der Infanterie, Commander of the 609th Division, Siegfried Ruff and General der Infanterie, Commander 14th Army, Kurt von Tippelkirch.