Following the war, Richthofen studied engineering at the Hanover Technical Institute. He joined the Reichswehr in 1923 and proved a capable, intelligent staff officer. Within two years of Adolf Hitler's rise to power, he had transferred to the Luftwaffe and been promoted to lieutenant colonel. In 1936, Richthofen went to Spain as chief of the Development and Testing Branch to observe firsthand the performance of Luftwaffe equipment. Hugo Sperrle, commander of the Kondor Legion, asked Richthofen to remain in Spain, and he eventually became commander of the Kondor Legion as a brigadier general. In Spain, he developed such close-air support techniques as having air force officers serve with ground troops.
Richthofen departed Spain convinced that ground support should be the primary Luftwaffe role. He became the leading advocate in the Luftwaffe for air-ground cooperation. He commanded VIII Air Corps in the invasion of Poland in September 1939, and he directed the aerial destruction of Warsaw. During the invasion of France and the Low Countries in 1940, Richthofen commanded three squadrons of Ju-87 Stuka dive-bombers that provided effective flying artillery support to the advancing German Sixth Army.
Promoted to lieutenant general in May 1940, Richthofen directed VIII Air Corps in the Battle of Britain and in the German invasions of Greece and Crete. In 1942, he assumed command of Luftflotte 4 (Fourth Air Fleet), supporting German forces in the southern Soviet Union and at Stalingrad. Promoted to field marshal in February 1943 (the youngest in the German military), he took command of Luftflotte 2 in Italy in hopes that he could stem the Allied tide on that front.
In November 1944, Richthofen was diagnosed with a brain tumor and medically retired. After Germany surrendered, he was held by the Americans in Austria. He died of his brain tumor on 12 July 1945 in Ischl, Austria.
M. R. Pierce
Bekker, Cajus. The Luftwaffe War Diaries. New York: Da Capo Press, 1994.; Faber, Harold. Luftwaffe: A History. New York: New York Times Books, 1977.; Mitcham, Samuel W. Eagles of the Third Reich: The Men Who Made the Luftwaffe. Novato, CA: Presidio, 1997.