Books: Smiling Al

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"A Germanic People." The Battle of Britain brings Kesselring to some of his most controversial thinking about the war itself. He contends 1) that the Luftwaffe was not defeated in the air over Britain, 2) that Operation "Sea-Lion," the invasion of Britain, was thought about but never seriously planned. If the Luftwaffe had been decisively bested in September 1940, argues Kesselring, it could not have continued hitting British industrial targets for the rest of that year and the spring of 1941. German planes were squandered, he admits, when they might better have been saved for a combined assault by sea, air and land; this, according to Kesselring, would have had a fine chance of victory. Why the invasion was not launched still puzzles the field marshal, but he chalks it up to Hitler's grudging fondness for the English and his hopes for a negotiated peace. Once, when the two men were discussing England's plucky defense, Hitler reminded Kesselring: "Of course, they are a Germanic people too."

After working for over three years in active harness with the Italians, Kesselring is bitter about his old Axis partners. The Italians showed "poor fighting quality." They did not take the war "with the seriousness demanded." They hoarded "vast stores of unused war material." Allied assaults on Italian divisions "invariably resulted in loss of the position." Reflecting on the overthrow of Mussolini, Kesselring writes: "It was only to be expected that as the war went on the Italians would try to make things easier for themselves by ratting to the other side." Italian "treachery" notwithstanding, he claims and probably deserves credit for sparing such culturally rich towns as Orvieto, Perugia, Urbino, Siena, Padua, Ravenna and Venice from military destruction. He admits "the destruction of the wonderful [Florentine] bridges across the Arno." As for the famed monastery of Monte Cassino, Kesselring stoutly denies that the German armies ever put it to military use.

Hanging On. On March 8, 1945, Hitler summoned Kesselring and told him he was Von Rundstedt's successor as commander in chief in the West. It is a sign of Hitler's mesmeric hold on his field marshal that with the German front crumbling everywhere, Kesselring can still describe as "lucid" Hitler's analysis of the situation, the gist of which was that the Russians could be crushed, after which the combined German armies would sweep the Americans, British and French from the Continent. Kesselring was determined to "hang on" in the West until the "decision in the East" came. Kesselring was still hanging on at V-E day.

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