When Göring ordered to shoot down 500 B-17s in one day: why the Reich Marshal mad rages were Luftwaffe fighter pilots’ worst enemies

When Göring ordered to shoot down 500 B-17s in one day: the Reich Marshal mad rages were Luftwaffe fighter pilots’ worst enemy

By Dario Leone
Mar 6 2024
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Hermann Göring

Hermann Göring began his military career as a Lieutenant in the 112th Infantry Regiment. Ill health gave him the opportunity to transfer to the Army Air Service early in 1915. His skill as a fighter pilot gained him command of the Jagdgeschwader 1; Manfred von Richthofen’s old unit.

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Late in 1922 he met Hitler, joined the National Socialist German Workers’ (Nazi) Party and was given command of the SA Storm Troopers. After the Nazi’s abortive coup in 1923 against the Bavarian State Government Göring fled abroad. The 1927 amnesty permitted Göring to return to his homeland and re-establish his ties with the Nazi party.

When the Nazis came to power in 1933 Göring reaped the benefits of his loyalty to Hitler. So many honours and offices were bestowed upon him that his time was fatally divided between then all.

Göring Overestimated the Luftwaffe potential

In 1935 he was made Commander-in-Chief of the Luftwaffe but he lacked the technical knowledge and strategic forethought necessary to develop the German Air Force’s full potential.

Not only did he overestimate the Luftwaffe’s potential, he underestimated the strategic intelligence of his opposition.

In fact, in their official history of the USAAF in World War II, Professors Wesley F. Craven and James L. Cate write that, ‘The true mission of the Eighth Air Force was to weaken Germany by hitting directly at its war potential – industrial, military and moral – although this required the previous destruction of German air power.’

As told by Robert Forsyth in his book Fw 190 Sturmjäger Defence of the Reich 1943–45, on Oct. 4, 1943 155 B-17s, with strong P-47 escort, were assigned the industrial regions of Frankfurt and Wiesbaden, as well as the city of Frankfurt itself, as their targets. Towards 1100 hrs, Fw 190s of II./JG 1 intercepted and attacked a group of about 100 B-17s at an altitude of 8000m over the Eifel/ Wiesbaden area. Their first attack was from behind and at an angle, and was mounted without success. Four Focke-Wulfs were damaged by the defensive fire. While the Gruppe was reorganising itself for a second pass, it was joined by pilots from I./JG 1. During the attack four more Fw 190s were hit, but eight B-17s were shot down.

When Göring ordered to shoot down 500 B-17s in one day: why the Reich Marshal mad rages were Luftwaffe fighter pilots’ worst enemies
Hermann Göring

Göring mad rages

Oberleutnant Rudolf Engleder, the Staffelkapitän of 1./JG 1, recalled that day:

‘A tough encounter unfolded at an altitude of 9000–10,000m. Once again, the imposing American fighter escort engaged us in a cloudless sky. The bombardment no doubt hit the Hanau industries hard, because those responsible for its defence and the Gauleiter of Frankfurt visited Göring and protested strongly about his fighters:

“How is it possible that American bombers can fly over the city in almost parade ground fashion? And further, German fighters were seen at altitude, not attacking!”

‘Göring went into one of his mad rages in which he thought he knew the answer, and he despatched the following orders to all the fighter units responsible:

1. There are no meteorological conditions which will prevent fighters from taking off and engaging in combat.

2. Every fighter pilot who lands in a machine not showing any sign of combat, or without having recorded a victory, will be prosecuted by a court-martial.

3. In a case where a pilot uses up his ammunition, or if his weapons are unusable, he should ram the enemy bomber.”

B-17 formation
B-17 bombers

Göring orders the Luftwaffe to bring down 500 B-17s next time

As a priority, Göring wanted, understandably, the weight of effort directed against enemy four-engined bombers.

By the autumn of 1944, the Luftwaffe daylight fighter force defending the German homeland – the Reichsverteidigung – was caught in the effects of a perfect storm. Not only did its commanders and pilots have to fight a more powerful external enemy, but increasingly there was an enemy within; his name was Hermann Göring.

From mid-1944 Göring, whose reputation, along with that of the Luftwaffe, in the eyes of Hitler was tarnished and withered, refused to accept any reasoning or realities associated with the air war over the Reich. His priority was to salvage his prestige. As far as he was concerned his fighter formations were poorly led. At a meeting of his Reichsverteidigung commanders at the headquarters of Luftflotte Reich at Berlin-Wannsee on Oct. 26 he allegedly exclaimed:

‘I want 500 B-17s brought down next time or I’ll have you transferred to the infantry! The Allies know how to put up a good show at fighter protection – use them as an example’!

This temperament overlooked certain realities which the Reichsmarschall perhaps preferred not to see.

Fw 190 Sturmjäger Defence of the Reich 1943–45 is published by Osprey Publishing and is available to order here.

When Göring ordered to shoot down 500 B-17s in one day: why the Reich Marshal mad rages were Luftwaffe fighter pilots’ worst enemies
This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. B-17G Flying Fortress – 42-31076, LG-V “Chief Sly’s Son” 91st BG, 322nd BS – 1944

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force, Lucasfilm


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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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