History of the Luftwaffe - Airplane Videos and Airplane Pictures

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History of the Luftwaffe Aircraft Information

Luftwaffe eagle and Hakenkreuz. This symbol was worn on all Luftwaffe uniforms.

The German Luftwaffe was one of the strongest, most doctrinally advanced, and most battle-experienced air forces in the world when World War II started in Europe in September 1939.[1] Officially unveiled in 1935, in violation of the Treaty of Versailles, its purpose was to support Adolf Hitler's "Blitzkrieg" across Europe. The aircraft that were to serve in the Luftwaffe were of a new age and technically superior to that of most other nations in the 1930s. Types like the Junkers Ju 87 Stuka and Messerschmitt Bf 109 came to symbolize German air power.

The Luftwaffe became an essential component in the "Blitzkrieg". Operating as a tactical close support air force, it helped the German armies to conquer the bulk of the European continent in a series of short and decisive campaigns in the first nine months of the war. It experienced its first defeat by "The Few" of the Royal Air Force (RAF) during the Battle of Britain in 1940 as it could not adapt into a strategic role.

Despite this setback the Luftwaffe remained formidable and in June 1941 embarked on Adolf Hitler's quest for an empire in eastern Europe by invading the USSR, with much initial success. However, the Luftwaffe's striking victories in the Soviet Union were brought to a halt in the Russian winter of 1942-1943.

Having failed to achieve victory in the Soviet Union in 1941 or 1942, the Luftwaffe was drawn into a war of attrition which extended to North Africa and the Channel Front. The entry of the United States into the war and the resurgence of the RAF's offensive power created the Home Front, known as Defense of the Reich operations. The Luftwaffe's strength was slowly eroded and by mid 1944 it had virtually disappeared from the skies of Western Europe leaving the German Army to fight without air support. It continued to fight into the last days of the war with revolutionary new aircraft, such as the Messerschmitt Me 262, Messerschmitt Me 163 and the Heinkel He 162, even though the war was already lost.

The Luftwaffe Balkenkreuz (beam cross) was carried on the upper and lower wings and the fuselages.

Origin of Luftwaffe

The NSFK pennant. Members helped form the nucleus of the Luftwaffe in 1933
Flag of the Deutschen Luftsportverbands (DLV), German Airsports Association.

The origins of the Luftwaffe were born just months after Adolf Hitler came to power. Hermann Göring, a World War I ace with 22 victories and the holder of the Orden Pour le Merite, became National Commissar for aviation with former Lufthansa employee Erhard Milch as his deputy. In March 1933 the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (RLM - Reich Air Ministry) was established. The RLM was in charge of development and production of aircraft, and soon afterwards the test site at Rechlin became its testing ground. Göring's control over all aspects of aviation became absolute. On 25 March 1933 the Deutschen Luftsportverband (DVLA) (German Air Sport Association) absorbed all private and national organizations, whilst retaining its 'sports' title. The merging of all military aviation organizations in the RLM took place on 15 May 1933, which became the Luftwaffe's official 'birthday'.[2] Many members of the Nationalsozialistisches Fliegerkorps (National Socialist Flyers Corps - NSFK) transferred to the Luftwaffe. As all such prior NSFK members were also Nazi Party members; this gave the new Luftwaffe a strong Nazi ideological base in contrast to the other branches of the German military. Göring had played a leading role in the build up of the Luftwaffe in 1933-1936, but played little further part in the development of the Luftwaffe until 1936, and Milch became the de facto minister until 1937.[3]

The absence of Göring in planning and production matters was fortunate. Göring had little knowledge of current aviation, had last flown in 1922, and had not kept himself informed of latest events. Göring also displayed a lack of understanding of doctrine and technical issues in aerial warfare which he left to the more competent. The Commander-in-Chief left the organisation and building of the Luftwaffe, after 1936, to Erhard Milch. However Göring, as a part of Hitler's inner circle, was to provide enormous financial materials for rearming and equipping the Luftwaffe.[4]

Another prominent figure in German air power construction this time was Helmuth Wilberg. Wilberg was to play a large role in the development of German air doctrine. Having headed the Reichswehr air staff for eight years in the 1920s, Wilberg had considerable experience and was ideal for a senior staff position.[5] Göring considered making Wilberg Chief of Staff (CS). However, it was revealed Wilberg had a Jewish mother. For that reason Göring could not have him as CS. Not wishing his talent to go to waste, Göring ensured the laws of the Third Reich did not apply to him. Wilberg remained in the air staff and helped draw up the principle doctrine The Conduct of the Aerial War and its Regulation 16 under Walther Wever.[6]

Preparing for war: 1933–1939

The Wever years, 1933 - 1936

Contrary to popular belief in American and British circles, the Luftwaffe was not "the hand maiden of the German Army". The German officer Corps was keen to develop strategic bombing capabilities against its enemies. However, economic and geopolitical considerations had to take priority. The German air power theorists continued to develop strategic theories, but emphasis was given to Army support, as Germany was a continental power and would likely face ground operations immediately following any declaration of hostilities.[7]

For these reasons, between 1933 and 1934, the Luftwaffe leadership was primarily concerned with tactical and operational methods. In aerial terms, the Army concept of Trüppenfuhrung was an operational concept, as well as a tactical doctrine. In the First World War air units had been attached to specific Army formations and acted as support. Dive bomber units were considered essential to Trüppenfuhrung; destroying Headquarters and lines of communications.[8] Luftwaffe Regulation 10, The Bomber (Dienstvorschrift 10: Der Kampfflugzeug), published in 1934, advocated air superiority and approaches to ground attack tactics without dealing with operational matters. Until 1935, the 1926 manual Directives for the Conduct of the Operational Air War continued to act as the main guide for German air operations. The manual directed the OKL to focus on limited operations (not strategic-operations); the protection of specific areas and support of the Army in combat.[8]

With an effective tactical-operational concept[9], the German air power theorists needed a strategic doctrine and organisation. Robert Knauss, a serviceman (not pilot) in the Luftstreitkräfte during the First World War, and later an experienced pilot in Lufthansa,[10] was prominent theorist of air power. Knauss promoted the Giulio Douhet theory that air power could win wars alone by destroying enemy industry and morale by "terrorizing the population" of major cities. This advocated attacks on civilians.[11] The General Staff blocked the entry of Douhet's theory into doctrine fearing revenge strikes against German civilians and cities.[12]

In December 1934, Chief of the Luftwaffe General Staff Walther Wever sought to mold the Luftwaffe's battle doctrine into a strategic plan. At this time, Wever conducted war games (simulated against the French) in a bid to establish his theory of a strategic bombing force that would, he thought, prove decisive by winning the war through the destruction of enemy industry, even though these exercises also included tactical strikes against enemy ground forces and communications. In 1935, "Luftwaffe Regulation 16: The Conduct of the Air War" was drawn up. In the proposal, it concluded "The mission of the Luftwaffe is to serve these goals".[13]

Walther Wever, Chief of the Luftwaffe General Staff, 1933-1936.

Within this doctrine, the Luftwaffe leadership rejected the practice of "terror bombing" (see Luftwaffe strategic bombing doctrine).[14] Terror bombing was deemed to be "counter-productive", increasing rather than destroying the enemies will to resist.[15] Such bombing campaigns were regarded as diversion from the Luftwaffe's main operations; destruction of the enemy armed forces.[16] The bombings of Guernica, Rotterdam and Warsaw were considered tactical missions in support of military operations and were not intended as strategic terror attacks.[17]

Nevertheless, Wever recognized the importance of strategic bombing. In newly introduced doctrine, The Conduct of the Aerial Air War in 1935, Wever rejected the theory of Douhet[18] and outlined five key points to air strategy:

1. To destroy the enemy air force by bombing its bases and aircraft factories, and defeating enemy air forces attacking German targets.
2. To prevent the movement of large enemy ground forces to the decisive areas by destroying railways and roads, particularly bridges and tunnels, which are indispensable for the movement and supply of forces
3.To support the operations of the army formations, independent of railways, i.e, armoured forces and motorised forces, by impeding the enemy advance and participating directly in ground operations.
4. To support naval operations by attacking naval bases, protecting Germany's naval bases and participating directly in naval battles
5. To paralyze the enemy armed forces by stopping production in the armaments factories.[19]

Wever began planning for a strategic bomber force and sought to incorporate strategic bombing into a war strategy. He believed that tactical aircraft should only be used as a step to developing a strategic air force. In May 1934, Wever initiated a seven year project for the Ural Bomber, the bomber that would take the Luftwaffe's bombing campaign into the heart of the Soviet Union. In 1935, this led to the Dornier Do 19 and Junkers Ju 89 prototypes, although both were underpowered. In April 1936, Wever ordered a requirement for 'Bomber A' which would have a range of 6,700 km (4,163 mi) with a 900 kg (1,984 lb) bomb load. However Wever's vision of a "Ural" bomber was never realised,[20] and his emphasis on strategic aerial operations was lost.[21]

By the late 1930s the Luftwaffe had no clear purpose. The air force was not subordinated to the army support role, and it was not given any particular stratgic mission. German doctrine fell between the two concepts. The Luftwaffe was to be an organisation capable of carrying out broad and general support tasks rather than any specific mission. Mainly, this path was chosen to encourage a more flexible use of air power and offer the ground forces the right conditions for a decisive victory. In fact, on the outbreak of war, only 15 percent of the Luftwaffe's aircraft was devoted to ground support operations, exposing a long-held myth that the Luftwaffe was designed for only tactical and operational missions.[22]

A change of direction, 1936 - 1937

Wever's participation in the construction of the Luftwaffe came to an abrupt end on 3 June 1936 when he was killed along with his engineer in a Heinkel He 70 Blitz. After Wever's death Göring began tasking more of an interest in the appointment of Luftwaffe staff. Göring appointed his successor Albert Kesselring as CS and Ernst Udet head the Reich's Air Ministry Technical Office (Technisches Amt), although he was not a technical expert. Despite this he was appointed to and helped change the Luftwaffe's tactical direction towards producing fast medium bombers that were to destroy enemy air power in the battle zone rather than through industrial bombing of its aviation production.[13] Kesselring and Udet did not get on. During Kesselring's time as CS, 1936–1937, a power struggle developed between the two as Udet attempted to extend his own power within the Luftwaffe. Kesselring also had to contend with Göring appointing "yes men" to positions of importance.[23] Udet himself realised his limitations, and his failures in the production and development of German aircraft would have serious long term consequences.[24]

Ernst Udet. Along with Kesselring, Udet was responsible for establishing the design trend of German aircraft. Udet's focus was on tactical army support air forces

The failure of the Luftwaffe to progress further towards attaining a strategic bombing force was attributable to several reasons. Many in the Luftwaffe command believed medium bombers to be sufficient power to launch strategic bombing operations against Germany's most likley enemies; France, Czechoslovakia and Poland.[25] The United Kingdom presented greater problems. General der Flieger Hellmuth Felmy, commander of Luftflotte 2 in 1939, was charged with devising a plan for an air war over the British Isles. Felmy was convinced that Britain could be defeated through morale bombing. Felmy noted the alleged panic that had broken out in London during the Munich crisis, evidence he believed of British weakness. A second reason was technical. German designers had never solved the issues of the Heinkel He 177 design difficulties. Moreover, Germany did not possess the economic strength and resources to match the British and American effort of 1943-1944. In addition, the OKL had not foreseen the industrial and military effort strategic bombing would require. By 1939 the Luftwaffe was not much better prepared than its enemies to conduct a strategic bombing campaign[26], with fatal results during the Battle of Britain.[27]

The German rearmament program faced difficulties acquiring raw materials. Germany imported most of its essential materials for rebuilding the Luftwaffe, in particular rubber and aluminium. Petroleum imports were particularly vulnerable to blockade. The Germans pushed for synthetic fuel plants, but still failed to meet demands. In 1937 Germany imported more fuel than at than it had at the start of the decade. By the summer 1938 only 25 percent of requirements could be covered. In steel materials, industry was operating at barely 83 percent and by November 1938 Göring reported the economic situation was serious.[28] The Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW) ordered reductions in raw and steel materials for armament production. The figures for reduction were substantial: 30 percent steel, 20 percent copper, 47 percent aluminium and 14 percent rubber.[29] Under such circumstances, it was not possible for Milch, Udet or Kesselring to produce a formidable strategic bombing force even had they wanted to.[30]

The development of aircraft was now confined to the production of twin-engined medium bombers that required much less material and manpower than Wever's 'Ural Bombers'. German industry could build two medium bombers for one heavy bomber and the RLM would not gamble on developing a heavy bomber which would also take time. Göring remarked, "the Führer will not ask how big the bombers there are, but only how many there are"[31]. The premature death of one of the Luftwaffe's finest officers, one that left the Luftwaffe without a strategic air force during World War II, eventually proved fatal to the German war effort.[13][32][33]

The lack of strategic capability should have been apparent much earlier. The Sudeten Crisis highlighted German unprepardness to conduct a strategic air war (although the British and French were in a much weaker position), and Hitler ordered the Luftwaffe be expanded by five times.[34] OKL badly neglected the need for transport aircraft; even in 1943, transport units were described as Kampfgeschwadern zur besonderen Verwendung ("Bomber Units on Special Duties", KGzbV).[35] In March 1938, as the Anschluss was taking place, Goring ordered Felmy to investigate the prospect of air raids against Britain. Felmy concluded it was not possible until bases in Belgium and the Netherlands were obtained and the Luftwaffe had heavy bombers. Fortunately it mattered little, as the British betrayed the Czechs, war was avoided, and the need for long-range aircraft did not arise.[36]

These failures were not exposed until wartime. In the meantime German designs such as the Messerschmitt Bf 109, Heinkel He 111, Junkers Ju 87 Stuka, and Dornier Do 17, performed very well. All first saw active service in the Condor Legion against Soviet-supplied aircraft. The Luftwaffe also quickly realized the days of the biplane fighter were finished, the Heinkel He 51 being switched to service as a trainer. Particularly impressive were the Heinkel and Dornier, which fulfilled the Luftwaffe's requirements for bombers that were faster than fighters.

Despite the participation of these aircraft (mainly from 1938 onward), it was the venerable Junkers Ju 52 (which soon became the backbone of the Transportgruppen) that made the main contribution. During the Spanish Civil War Hitler remarked, "Franco ought to erect a monument to the glory of the Junkers Ju 52. It is the aircraft which the Spanish revolution has to thank for its victory".[37]


Poor accuracy from level bombers in 1937 led the Luftwaffe to grasp the benefits of dive-bombing. The later could achieve far better accuracy against small mobile tactical targets than heavier, conventional bombers. Range was not key criteria for these tasks and it was not always viable for the Heer to move heavy artillery over recently captured territory to bombard fortifications or support ground forces when faster dive-bombers could do the job more quickly. Dive-bombers, often single-engine two-man machines, could achieve better results than larger six or seven-man aircraft, at a tenth of the cost and a quarter of the accuracy. This led to Ernst Udet championing the dive-bomber, particularly the Junkers Ju 87.[38]

Udet's "love affair" with dive-bombing seriously effected the long-term development of the Luftwaffe. The tactical strike aircraft programs were meant to serve as interim solutions until the next generation of aircraft arrived. In 1936 the Junkers Ju 52 was the backbone of the German bomber fleet. This led to a rush on the part of the RLM to produce the Junkers Ju 86, Heinkel He 111 and Dornier Do 17 before a proper evalutation was made. The Ju 86 was poor while the He 111 showed most promise. The Spanish Civil War convinced Udet (along with limited output for the German munitons industry) that wastage was not acceptable in munition terms. Udet sought to build dive-bombing into the Junkers Ju 88 and Heinkel He 177. In the case of the Ju 88, 50,000 modifications had to be made. The weight was increased from seven to twelve tons. This resulted in a speed loss of 200 km/h. Udet applied the same principle to the He 177, ruining its development as a heavy bomber.[39]

Mobilisation, 1938 - 1939

By the summer of 1939, the Luftwaffe had nine Jagdgeschwader mostly equipped with Messerschmitt Bf 109, four 'Zerstörergeschwader equipped with the Messerschmitt Bf 110 heavy fighter, 11 Kampfgeschwader equipped with mainly the Heinkel He 111 and the Dornier Do 17Z, and four Sturzkampfgeschwader.[40] The Junkers Ju 88 had encountered design difficulties, as a result only 12 were available when hostilities commenced. The Luftwaffe's strength at this time stood at 373,000 personnel (208,000 parachute troops, 107,000 in the Flak Corps and 58,000 in the Signals Corps). Aircraft strength was 4,201 operational aircraft; 1,191 bombers, 361 dive bombers, 788 fighters, 431 heavy fighters, and 488 transports. Despite deficiencies it was an impressive force.[41]

However, even by the spring of 1940, the Luftwaffe still had not mobilized fully. Despite the shortage of raw-materials Generalluftzeugmesiter Ernst Udet, had increased production through introducing a 10 hour working day for aviation industries and rationalizing of production. During this period 30 Kampfstaffeln and 16 Jagdstaffeln were produced. A further five Zerstorergruppen were created (JGr 101, 102,126,152 and 176), all equipped with the Bf 110.[42]

The Luftwaffe also greatly expanded its aircrew training programs by 42%, to 63 flying schools. These facilities were moved to eastern Germany, away from possible Allied threats. The number of aircrew reached 4,727, an increase of 31%. However, the rush to complete this rapid expansion scheme resulted in the deaths of 997 personnel and another 700 wounded. 946 aircraft were also destroyed in these accidents. The number of aircrew completing their training was up to 3,941, The Luftwaffe's entire strength was now 2.2 million personnel.[43]Luftwaffe organization

Luftwaffe commanders

Hermann Göring. Göring was commander-in-chief of the Luftwaffe until April 1945.

Throughout the history of the Third Reich, the Luftwaffe had only two commanders-in-chief. The first was Hermann Göring, the second was Generaloberst Robert Ritter von Greim as the second (and last) commander-in-chief of the Luftwaffe, concomitant with his promotion to Generalfeldmarschall, the last German officer in World War II to be promoted to the highest rank. Other officers promoted to the second highest military rank in Germany were Albert Kesselring, Hugo Sperrle, Erhard Milch, and Wolfram von Richthofen.

At the end of the war, with Berlin surrounded by the Red Army Göring sent a telegram to Hitler suggesting he take over leadership of the Reich.[44] Hitler interpreted this an ultimatum and coup. Hitler ordered his arrest and execution. Göring's SS guards did not carry out the order and he was arrested by the United States Army in Bavaria on 9 May 1945. Göring was prosecuted at the Nuremberg Trials after the war. He was sentenced to death by hanging. He appealed to the court requesting to be shot as a soldier. The court refused. However, Göring defied the sentence and committed suicide by taking potassium cyanide.[45]

Sperrle was prosecuted at the OKW Trial, one of the last twelve of the Nuremberg Trials after the war. He was acquitted on all four counts of all charges. He died in Munich in 1953.

Organization and chain of command

At the start of the war the Luftwaffe had four Luftflotten ("air fleets"), each responsible for roughly a quarter of Germany. As the war progressed more air fleets were created as the areas under German rule expanded. As one example, Luftflotte 5 was created in 1940 to direct operations in Norway and Denmark, and other Luftflotten were created as necessary. Each Luftflotte would contain several Fliegerkorps (Air Corps), Fliegerdivision (Air Division), Jagdkorps (Fighter Corps), Jagddivision (Air Division) or Jagdfliegerführer (Fighter Air Command). Each formations would have attached to it a number of units, usually several Geschwader, but also independent Staffeln and Kampfgruppen.[46] Luftflotten were also responsible for the training aircraft and schools in their operational areas.[47]

Collar tabs of a major in the Luftwaffe (1935-1945).

A Geschwader was commanded by a Geschwaderkommodore, with the rank of either Major, Oberstleutnant (Lieutenant Colonel) or Oberst (Colonel). Other "staff" officers within the unit with administrative duties included the adjutant, technical officer, and operations officer, who were usually (though not always) experienced aircrew or pilots still flying on operations. Other specialist staff were navigation, signals and intelligence personnel. A Stabschwarm (headquarters flight) was attached to each Geschwader.[48]

Jagdgeschwader (Fighter wings) (JG) was a fighter Geschwader (literally "hunting wing"), typically equipped with Bf 109 or Fw 190 aircraft flying in the fighter or fighter-bomber roles. It consisted of groups (Gruppen), which in turn consisted of Jagdstaffel (fighter squadrons). Hence, Fighter Wing 1 was JG 1, its first Gruppe (group) was I./JG 1 and its first Staffel (squadron) was 1./JG 1. Geschwader strength was usually 120 - 125 aircraft.[48]

Each Gruppe was commanded by a Kommandeur, and a Staffel by a Staffelkapitãn. However, these were appointments, not ranks, within the Luftwaffe. Usually, the Kommodore would hold the rank of Oberstleutnant (lieutenant colonel) or, exceptionally, an Oberst (colonel). Even a Leutnant (second lieutenant) could find himself commanding a Staffel.

Similarly, a bomber wing was a Kampfgeschwader (KG), a night fighter wing was a Nachtjagdgeschwader (NJG), a dive-bomber wing was a Stukageschwader (StG), and units equivalent to those in RAF Coastal Command, with specific responsibilities for coastal patrols and search and rescue duties, were Küstenfliegergruppen (Kü.Fl. Gr.). Specialist bomber groups were known as Kampfgruppen (KGr). The strength of Geschwader was about 80 - 90 aircraft.[48]

Operational History

The Ju 87 was a symbol of German air power in the early war years

The Luftwaffe's Condor Legion experimented with new doctrine and aircraft during the Spanish Civil War. It helped the Falange under Francisco Franco to defeat the Republican forces. Over 20,000 German airman gained combat experience that would give the Luftwaffe an important advantage going into the Second World War. One infamous operation was the bombing of Guernica in the Basque country. It is commonly assumed this attack was the result of a "terror doctrine" in Luftwaffe doctrine. The Luftwaffe did not have a policy of terror bombing in which civilians were deliberately targeted. The bombing of Guernica was carried out for military tactical reasons, in support of ground operations. It was not until 1942 that the Germans started to develop bombing policy in which civilians were the primary target.[14]

When the Second World War began, the Luftwaffe was one of most technologically advanced Air Forces in the world. During the Polish Campaign that triggered the war, it established air superiority, and then air supremacy, quickly. It supported German Army (Heer) operations which ended the campaign in five weeks. The Luftwaffe's performance was as the Oberkommando der Luftwaffe had hoped for. The Luftwaffe had rendered invaluable support to the Army[49], mopping up pockets of resistance. Goring was delighted with the performance.[50] Command and control problems were experienced, but owing to the flexibility and improvisation of both the Army and Luftwaffe, these problems were solved. The Luftwaffe was to have in place a ground-to-air communication system, which played a vital role in the success of Fall Gelb.[51]

In the spring of 1940, the Luftwaffe assisted the Kriegsmarine and Heer in the daring invasion of Denmark and Norway, Operation Weserübung. Flying in reinforcements and winning air superiority, the Luftwaffe contributed decisively to the German conquest and expulsion of the Western Allies from Scandinavia.[52] In the summer of 1940, the Luftwaffe contributed to the unexpected success in the Battle of France. It helped destroy three Allied Air Forces and secure the defeat of France in just over six weeks.[53] However, during the Battle of Dunkirk it experienced its first failure. Despite intense bombing, it could not deliver Goring's promise to destroy the British Expeditionary Force, which escaped to continue the war.[54]

During the Battle of Britain, the Luftwaffe experienced its first defeat. Despite causing severe damage to the Royal Air Force's infrastructure and British cities during the subsequent Blitz, it failed to achieve the air superiority Hitler demanded for Operation Sealion.[55] The invasion was cancelled in December 1940, when Hitler ordered preparations to be made for Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union. The following spring, the Luftwaffe helped its Axis partner, Italy secure victory in the Balkans Campaign and continued to support the Italians in the Mediterranean, Middle East and African theatres until May 1945.

Me 262 A, circa 1944/45. The Luftwaffe produced advanced fighter aircraft in an effort to turn the tide of the air war in 1944 and 1945

In June 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union. The Luftwaffe achieved huge operational successes, destroying thousands of Soviet aircraft. But it failed to destroy the Red Air Force. Due to a lack of Strategic bombers, the Luftwaffe could not strike at Soviet production centers regularly or with the needed force.[56] As the war dragged on, the Luftwaffe was eroded in strength. The defeats at the Battle of Stalingrad and Battle of Kursk ensured the gradual decline of the Wehrmacht on the Eastern Front.

Meanwhile, the Luftwaffe continued to defend German–occupied Europe against the growing offensive power of RAF Bomber Command and the United States Army Air Forces. The Defense of the Reich campaign gradually destroyed the Luftwaffe's fighter arm. Despite using advanced Jet and rocket propelled aircraft, it was overwhelmed by Allied numbers and a lack of trained pilots and fuel. A last ditch attempt, known as "Operation Bodenplatte", to win air superiority on 1 January 1945 failed. Afterwards the Luftwaffe had ceased to be an effective fighting force.
Omissions and failures

Mistakes in Command: The lack of aerial defence

The failure of the Luftwaffe in the Defense of the Reich campaign was a result of a number of factors. The Luftwaffe lacked an effective air defense system early in the war. Adolf Hitler's foreign policy had pushed Germany into war before these defenses could be fully developed. The Luftwaffe was forced to improvise and construct its defenses during the war itself. The daylight actions over German controlled territory were sparse in 1939-1940. The responsibility of the defense of German air space fell to the Luftgaukommandos (air district commands). The defense systems relied mostly on the Flak arm. The defenses were not coordinated and communication was poor. This lack of understanding between the Flak and flying branches of the defense would plague the Luftwaffe throughout the war.[57] Hitler in particular wanted the defense to rest on anti-aircraft artillery as it gave the civilian population a "psychological crutch" no matter how ineffective the weapons.[58]

Most of the battles fought by the Luftwaffe on the Western Front would be against the RAF's Circus raids and the occasional daylight raid into German air space. This was a fortunate position since the Luftwaffe's strategy of focusing its striking power on one front started to unravel with the failure of Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union. The "peripheral" strategy of the Luftwaffe between 1939-1940 had been to deploy its fighter defenses at the edges of Axis occupied territory, with little protecting the inner depths.[59] Moreover the front line units in the West were complaining about the poor numbers and performance of aircraft. Units complained of lack of Zerstörer aircraft with all-weather capabilities and the "lack of climbing power of the Bf 109".[59] The Luftwaffe's technical edge was slipping as the only formidable new aircraft in the German arsenal was the Focke-Wulf Fw 190. Generalfeldmarschall Erhard Milch was to assist Ernst Udet with aircraft production increases and introduction of more modern types of fighter aircraft. However, they explained at a meeting of the Reich Industrial Council on the 18 September 1941 that the new next generation aircraft had failed to materialise, and obsolescent types had to be continued to keep up with the growing need for replacements.[59]

The build up of the Jagdwaffe (Fighter Force) was too rapid and its quality suffered. It was not put under a unified command until 1943, which also affected performance. Of the nine Jagdgeschwader in existence in 1939, no further units were built until 1942, and the years of 1940-1941 were wasted. The Oberkommando der Luftwaffe failed to construct a strategy, instead its command style was reactionary, and its measures not as effective without thorough planning. This was particularly apparent with the Sturmbock units which were armed with heavy 20 mm and 30 mm cannon to destroy heavy bombers. This increase in weight effected the performance of the Fw 190 and Bf 109 at a time when the two aircraft were meeting large numbers of equal if not superior Allied types[60].

Mistakes in development and equipment

A significant failure in terms of technological development was not to develop a long-range bomber and capable long-range fighters during this period leaving the Luftwaffe unable to conduct a meaningful strategic bombing campaign throughout the war.[61] However, this does not take into the account that Germany's economic situation suffered from limited resources - mainly raw materials like oil and aluminium - which did not provide for much beyond a tactical air force. Thus the Lufwaffe's reliance on tactical medium range and short range dive-bombers was a rational option under these circumstances.[62][63] It might also be argued that the Luftwaffe's Kampfgeschwader were perfectly capable of attacking strategic targets, but the lack of a capable long range escort fighter left the bombers unable to carry out their missions effectively against determined and well organised fighter opposition.[64]

Arguably the greatest failure was the neglect of naval aviation in the western theatre, 1939-1941.

Another failure of procurement and equipment was a lack of a dedicated naval air arm. General Felmy had already expressed a desire to build a naval air arm to support Kriegsmarine operations in the Atlantic and British waters. Britain was dependent on food and raw materials from its Empire and North America. Felmy pressed this case firmly throughout 1938 and 1939, and, on 31 October 1939, Großadmiral Erich Raeder sent a strongly worded letter to Goring in support of such proposals. The current Heinkel He 115 and Dornier Do 18 flying boats were too slow and short ranged. The Dornier Do 217 would have been ideal, but suffered production problems. Raeder also complained about the poor standard of aerial torpedoes, although their design was the Kriegsmarine's responsibility. (See: Heinkel He 111 torpedo bomber operations)[65] Without specialised naval aircraft, the Luftwaffe was forced to improvise. The Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor was not suitable as a bomber, lacking speed armour and bomb load capacity. Nevertheless this civilian transport was adapted to the long-range reconnaissance and anti-shipping roles and, between August 1940 and February 1941, Fw 200s sank 85 vessels for a claimed total of 363,000 Grt. Had the Luftwaffe focused on naval aviation, Germany might well have been in a position to win the Battle of the Atlantic. However, Raeder and the Navy failed to press for naval air power until the war began, mitigating the Luftwaffe's responsibility.[64]

The RLM lacked a technical-tactical department, that would combine the two elements for better efficiency.[clarification needed][66] As a result all fighter and bomber development was oriented toward short range aircraft, as they could be produced in greater numbers, rather than quality long range aircraft, something that put the Luftwaffe at a disadvantage as early as the Battle of Britain.[66]. Production was also slow, not reaching maximum output until 1944.[66]. Production of fighters was not given priority until 1944; Adolf Galland commented that this should have occurred at least a year earlier.[66] Galland also points to the mistakes made in the development of the Me 262 jet which could have entered service in 1943 when the outcome of the air-war was still in doubt.[66] Types that were obsolete were kept in production for far too long, in particular the Ju 87 Stuka, and the Bf 109.[66]

Production failures

The failure of German production was evident from the start of the Battle of Britain. By the end of 1940 the Luftwaffe had suffered heavy losses and needed to regroup. Deliveries of new aircraft were insufficient to meet the drain on resources; the Luftwaffe, unlike the RAF, was failing to expand its pilot and aircraft numbers.[67] This was partly owing to production planning failures before the war and the demands of the Army. Nevertheless, the German aircraft industry was being outproduced in 1940. In terms of fighter aircraft production, the British exceeded their production plans by 43 percent, while the Germans remained 40 percent behind target by the summer 1940. In fact German production in fighters fell from 227 to 177 per month between July and September 1940.[67] One of the many reasons for the failure of the Luftwaffe in 1940 was that it did not have the operational and material means to destroy the British aircraft industry.[68]

No effort was made to address the low production output of the German aviation industry to support the expected increased attrition rates. The so-called "Göring program" envisaged the defeat of the Soviet Union in 1941.[69] Erhard Milch's reforms expanded production rates. In 1941 an average of 981 aircraft (including 311 fighters) were produced each month.[69] In 1942 this rose to 1,296 aircraft of which 434 were fighters.[69] Milch's planned production increases were initially opposed. But in June, he was granted materials for 900 fighters per month as the average output. By the winter of 1941-1942 just 39 percent of the fighter force was operational and possessed just 60 more combat aircraft than it did in June 1941 despite its increased commitments.[70] Throughout 1942 the Luftwaffe was out produced in fighter aircraft by 250 percent and in twin-engine aircraft by 196 percent.[71]

The appointment of Albert Speer as Minister of Armaments increased production. However the intensification of Allied bombing caused the dispersion of production and prevented an efficient acceleration of expansion. The German aviation production reached about 36,000 combat aircraft for 1944. However by the time this was achieved the Luftwaffe lacked the fuel and trained pilots to make this achievement worth while.[72] The failure to maximize production immediately after the failures in the Soviet Union and North Africa ensured the Luftwaffe's effective defeat in the period of September 1943 - February 1944. Despite the tactical victories won, they failed to achieve a decisive victory. By the time production reached acceptable levels, it was too little too late.[72]
Mistakes in pilot selection and training

The bomber arm was given preference and received the "better" pilots. Later, fighter pilot leaders were few in numbers as a result of this. As with the late shift to fighter production, the Luftwaffe pilot schools did not give the fighter pilot schools preference soon enough. The Luftwaffe, the OKW argued, was still an offensive weapon, and its primary focus was on producing bomber pilots. This attitude prevailed until the second half of 1943.[66] During the later war years, during the Defence of the Reich campaign, there were not enough commissioned fighter pilots and leaders to meet attrition rates.[66] To meet attrition rates, pilot training deteriorated rapidly. Later this was made worse by fuel shortages for pilot training. Overall this meant a fall on training on operational types, formation flying, gunnery training, combat training and a total lack of instrument training.[66]

Mistakes in leadership

At the beginning of the war commanders were replaced with younger commanders too quickly. These younger commanders had to learn "in the field" rather than entering a post fully qualified. Training of formation leaders was not systematical until 1943, which was far too late, with the Luftwaffe already stretched. The Luftwaffe thus lacked a cadre of Staff officers to setup, man and pass on experience.[66].

Moreover, Luftwaffe leadership from the start poached the training command, which undermined its ability to replace losses,[47] while also planning for "short sharp campaigns",[73] which did not pertain. Moreover, no plans were laid for night fighters.[73] In fact, when protests were raised, Jeschonnek himself said, "First we've got to beat Russia, then we can start training!"[74]

Luftwaffe ground forces

One of the unique characteristics of the Luftwaffe (as opposed to other independent air forces) was the possession of an organic paratrooper force called Fallschirmjäger. These were established in 1938. They saw action in their proper role during 1940–1941, most notably in the capture of the Belgian army fortress at the Battle of Fort Eben-Emael and the Battle for The Hague in May 1940, and during the Battle of Crete in May 1941. However, more than 4,000 Fallschirmjäger were killed during the Crete operation.[75] Afterwards, these forces were only used for smaller-scale operations, such as the successful rescue of Benito Mussolini, the then-deposed dictator of Italy, in 1943. Fallschirmjäger formations were used as standard foot infantry in all theatres of the war. During 1942 surplus Luftwaffe personnel was used to form the Luftwaffe Field Divisions. From 1943, the Luftwaffe also had an armoured paratroop division called Fallschirm-Panzer Division 1 Hermann Göring, which was expanded to a Panzerkorps in 1944.

War crimes

In 1941, experiments with the intent of discovering means to prevent and treat hypothermia were carried out on the Luftwaffe's behalf. Freezing/hypothermia experiments were conducted for the Nazi high command to simulate the conditions the armies suffered on the Eastern Front, as the German forces were ill-prepared for the cold weather they encountered. The principal locales were Dachau and Auschwitz. Dr Sigmund Rascher, an SS doctor based at Dachau, reported directly to Heinrich Himmler and publicised the results of his freezing experiments at the 1942 medical conference entitled "Medical Problems Arising from Sea and Winter".[76] Approximately 100 people are reported to have died as a result of these experiments.[77]

In early 1942, prisoners at Dachau concentration camp were used by Rascher in experiments to perfect ejection seats at high altitudes. A low-pressure chamber containing these prisoners was used to simulate conditions at altitudes of up to 20,000 m (66,000 ft). It was rumored that Rascher performed vivisections on the brains of victims who survived the initial experiment.[78] Of the 200 subjects, 80 died outright, and the others were executed.[76]


Note: The name of the book appears next to some author references. The reason for this is that two or more of their sources/works are used for this article, and a distinction is required as readers can then trace the citation to the correct source.

1. Killen 2003, p. 93.
2. Hooton 2007, p. 30. (Luftwaffe at War: Gathering storm)
3. Hooton 2007, p. 31.(Luftwaffe at War: Gathering storm)
4. Corum 1997, pp. 124-125.
5. Corum 1997, p. 125.
6. Corum 1997, p. 127.
7. Murray 1983, p. 1.
8. a b Corum 1997, p. 129.
9. Corum 1997, p. 130.
10. Corum 1997, p. 132.
11. Corum 1997, p. 133.
12. Corum 1997, pp. 133-134.
13. a b c Hooton 2007, p. 34(Luftwaffe at War: Gathering storm)
14. a b Corum 1997, p. 7.
15. Corum 1997, pp. 143–144.
16. Corum 1997, pp. 146.
17. Corum 1997, pp. 6-7.
18. Corum 1997, p. 143.
19. Corum 1997, p. 138.
20. Hooton 2007, p. 33.(Luftwaffe at War: Gathering storm)
21. Corum 1997, p. 224.
22. Buckley 1998, pp. 85-86
23. Corum 1997, p. 225.
24. Corum 1997, p. 227.
25. Murray 1983, p. 10.
26. Murray 1938, p. 11.
27. Overy 1980, p. 31.
28. Murray 1983, p. 2.
29. Murray 1983, p. 3.
30. Murray 1983, p.11.
31. Homze 1976, p. 125
32. Dressel & Griehl 1994, p. 176
33. Bergström 2007, pp. 129-130
34. Ketley,Barry, and Rolfe, Mark. Luftwaffe Fledglings 1935-1945: Luftwaffe Training Units and their Aircraft (Aldershot, GB: Hikoki Publications, 1996), p.3.
35. Ketley and Rolfe, p.7.
36. Hooton 2007, Luftwaffe at War: Gathering Storm, p. 77.
37. Hooton 2007, p. 51.(Luftwaffe at War: Gathering storm)
38. Hooton 2007, p. 38. The Gathering Storm.
39. Murray 1983, p. 14.
40. Hooton 2007, p. 79 (Luftwaffe at War: Gathering storm)
41. Corum 1997, p. 271.
42. Hooton 2007, p. 23. (Luftwaffe at War: Gathering storm)
43. Hooton 2007, p. 24.(Luftwaffe at War: Gathering storm)
44. Killen 2003, p. 291.
45. Killen 2003, p. 300.
46. Luftwaffe Operational Organisation
47. a b Ketley and Rolfe, p.4.
48. a b c Luftwaffe Tactical Organisation
49. Hooton 2007, p. 93.
50. Hooton 2007, p. 91.
51. Buckley 1998, p. 127.
52. Corum 1997, pp. 274-275
53. Corum 1997, pp. 275-277.
54. Killen 2003, pp. 114-116.
55. Killen 2003, p. 149.
56. Killen 2003, pp. 171-184.
57. Caldwell & Muller 2007, p. 42.
58. Murray 1938, p. 132.
59. a b c Caldwell & Muller 2007, p. 46.
60. Caldwell and Muller 2007, p. 286.
61. Bergström 2007, p. 118.
62. Homze 1976, p. 123
63. Bergström 2007, p. 108.
64. a b Corum 1997, p. 282.
65. Corum 1997, p. 281.
66. a b c d e f g h i j Caldwell and Muller 2007, p. 287.
67. a b Overy 1980, p. 32.
68. Overy 1980, p. 33.
69. a b c Murray 1983, p. 133.
70. Murray 1983, p. 138.
71. Murray 1983, p. 139.
72. a b Murray 1983, pp. 253-255.
73. a b Ketley and Rolfe, p.8.
74. Ketley and Rolfe, quoted p.4.
75. Mayer & Taylor, p. 95
76. a b Tyson, Peter. "Holocaust on Trial: The Experiments". NOVA Online. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/holocaust/experiside.html. Retrieved 2008-03-23.
77. Neurnberg Military Tribunal, Volume I · Page 200
78. Cockburn, Alexander (1998). Whiteout:The CIA, Drugs, and the Press. Verso. ISBN 1859841392. http://books.google.com/books?id=s5qIj_h_PtkC&pg=PA149&dq=%22sigmund+rascher%22+brain&sig=hik0GQjMaPj9LF-YDkYdp0S9Otc. Retrieved 2008-01-04.


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