KESSELRINGA SOLDIER'S RECORD (381 pp.)Albert KesselringMorrow ($5).
To judge by their memoirs, German generals led sheltered lives. Most of them agree that under twelve years of Hitler rule they saw no evil, spoke none and did none. The latest to proclaim his innocence is 69-year-old Field Marshal Albert Kesselring. Loyal enough by his own admission to "enjoy Hitler's unreserved confidence," Kesselring also proved affable and adjustable enough after the war to assist U.S. Army historians and retain his wartime nickname of "Smiling Al."
A Luftwaffe general, Smiling Al Kesselring lacked the dash of a Rommel, the Prussian rigor of Von Rundstedt, or the inventive flair of a Guderian; yet he fashioned a career almost as brilliant as theirs. At war's start he commanded a single air fleet in Poland, later bossed all German air forces in North Africa, took charge of the Mediterranean theater in the slow German retreat up the boot of Italy, and ended the war as commander in chief in the West. As told in Kesselring's foot-slogging style, much of this story borders on a map-room briefing, but through it shines the quiet pride of a good soldier who believes that a soldier's chief duty is to obey orders.
Göring's "Clean Hands." "Above politics" himself, Kesselring felt only one slight qualm about the Nazis in the years before World War II. That was in 1938, when the army's Chief of Staff Werner von Fritsch was railroaded out of his post on trumped-up charges of sexual perversion. Kesselring's conscience was easily salved, however, when his personal boss, Goring, told him with "satisfaction in his eyes . . . how he had succeeded in unmasking the informer." Concludes Kesselring: "I had not the slightest doubt that Göring's hands were clean. I presumed the same of Hitler."
Only one man has unclean hands in Kesselring's book: Ribbentrop. Who was responsible for the war? "I must lay the blame on one man: Von Ribbentrop, who gave Hitler irresponsible advice." What's more, says Kesselring, Hermann Göring agreed. On the day Hitler announced Sept. 1, 1939 as X-day. Göring rang up Foreign Minister Von Ribbentrop and bawled into the phone: "Now you've got your war. It's all your doing!"