Ernst von Gehringer

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Ernst Wolfram von Gehringer (1889-1948) was not the first head of the Luftwaffe during the Second Great War but he was the most famous.

Gehringer was the only son among three children of a Baron's younger son. He graduated military school with high marks, and by the time of the First Great War had become involved in the fledgeling use of air power. At that time the romance was all about the flying aces and their airplanes but Gehringer himself was an advocate of airships. He himself was part of several raids over London and become convinced that fleets of such craft, with proper advances, could level a modern city. Yet what guaranteed an illustrious future was his friendship with one of the Aces--Conrad von Hessler, younger brother of the future Chancellor.

Conrad brought Gehringer to the Hessler family home, where he was made very welcome. Conrad was even engaged to Gehringer's sister Eva when he was killed in action. Ernst was one of the pallbearers.

But by that time something of a friendship had developed between Adolf and Ernst. Partially this was because of shared tastes--Wagner and the like. Also, Gehringer agreed to spar with Hessler, who as a frail boy had built up his strength with boxing. Hessler actually broke Gehringer's nose in 1920. But their partnership rested on a quirk of the older man's personality. Hessler had an encyclopedic knowledge of military and political history, which he could bring to bear upon nearly any problem that had some kind of precedent. But although he admired the idea of air warfare (Hessler himself was acrophobic) the future Chancellor the Holy Roman Empire did not understand it. When faced with such areas, his way was to find experts he could trust and listen to them.

In Ernst von Gehringer he had found the expert he would need on air power.

As Hessler rose in power, he brought Gehringer with him. There were rumblings of nepotism at this, but Gehringer soon had many advocates of his own. He was a tireless worker, keen of mind and eager to develop the idea of air warships. There was a post-war debate at that time over how the new Luftwaffe should develop. Should faster and stronger airplanes be developed? Or should the airship be the direction pursued? The fact Gehringer was so close to Hessler pretty much guaranteed who would win that argument. But he did not take that for granted. He personally oversaw much of the research and development into the technical details which would later make blitzkrieg possible.

As the War commenced, Gehringer had become one of Hessler's closest associates. The Chancellor even was Best Man at his friend's wedding in 1938. By 1942 he had moved up and become Luftwaffe Chief of Staff. In 1945 Hessler made him a Field Marshal. But in 1947 Ernst von Gehringer had to step down from his post for reasons of health. He died of a brain turmor in 1948. Hessler was a pall bearer. Some theorize that losing the man who was in many ways his best--perhaps only--friend was a contributing factor to Hessler's growing mental problems, triggering a depressive episode in his bipolar cycle.

Gehringer was remembered fondly by most who knew him. Having lost his hair prematurely, his nickname was "The Bald Eagle" (Der Kahle Adler) yet he remained very popular with women. He was a devoted husband, although he did keep a mistress--an opera singer. They were very discreet. A few biographers suspect his death was from advanced syphillis rather than the tumor reported, but there is no solid evidence of this. Neither is there evidence to support the rumor known to have floated around Berlin at one point that he and Hessler were lovers. Although of average height, he was slender enough to seem tall and with a monocle in his right eye he actually cut quite a figure in his perfectly-tailored uniforms.