1. The pinnacle of his career

When in mid - 1940 Hermann Wilhelm Goring dispatched against England the German Air Force that he had built over two decades, he reached the pinnacle of a career seldom matched in German history. The 3,000 planes of his Luftwaffe made it the most powerful in the world. In addition to leading the air force, Goring, as Reich Marshal of Germany, ranked second only to Hitler in the Nazi hierarchy.

2. A World War I ace

Indeed, Goring regarded himself as the very model of a modern German prince. Bold and vain, he began as a boy to test his strength and daring by climbing mountains. "I have no fear of heights, " he once remarked. "They stimulate me." As a pilot in World War I-swashbuckling to the point of recklessness-he shot down 22 Allied planes and earned Germany's highest decoration for valor. After the war, the princely mask slipped a bit. The veteran pilot had to earn money barnstorming, and he gained notoriety by eloping in 1922 with the wife of a Swedish nobleman.

3. Addicted to Hitler

An early recruit of Hitler's, Goring was wounded at the Munich beer hall putsch. While recovering, he developed an addiction to morphine-a tendency he never completely shook. But his devotion to Hitler was unabated: "If the Fuhrer wants it, " he proclaimed, "two and two make five!" In return for such loyalty, Hitler showered Goring with more and more power-plus titles, medals and other perquisites the vainglorious Goring loved. Goring became President of the Reichstag, titular head of the state of Prussia, Reich Master of the Hunt and Master of the Forest. He built a sumptuous palace in the country, where he lived with an actress he married when his first wife died. There he avidly pursued hobbies ranging from hunting to model trains.

4. The butt of jokes

Inevitably, such self - indulgences-which also included overeating-led to jokes. Bolder wags publicly called Goring Der Dicke (fatty); one Berlin comedian cracked that the Reich marshal had rubber facsimiles of his medals made so he could wear them in the tub. But Goring, secure in his self - image, was unruffled, even ordering the release of an actress arrested for mocking him. "Fools!, " he fumed. "If people make jokes about me, it only proves how popular I am."

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Based on Time-Life Books Inc.