The Luftwaffe[N 2] (German pronunciation:
[ˈlʊftvafə] ( listen)) was the aerial warfare branch of
the combined German
Wehrmacht military forces during World War II.
Germany's military air arms during World War I, the Luftstreitkräfte
of the Army and the Marine-Fliegerabteilung of the Navy, had been
disbanded in May 1920 as a result of the terms of the Treaty of
Versailles which stated that Germany was forbidden to have any air
During the interwar period, German pilots were trained secretly in
violation of the treaty at Lipetsk Air Base. With the rise of the Nazi
Party and the repudiation of the Versailles Treaty, the
officially established on 26 February 1935. The Condor Legion, a
Luftwaffe detachment sent to aid Nationalist forces in the Spanish
Civil War, provided the force with a valuable testing ground for new
doctrines and aircraft. Partially as a result of this combat
Luftwaffe had become one of the most sophisticated,
technologically advanced, and battle-experienced air forces in the
World War II
World War II broke out in 1939. By the summer of 1939,
Luftwaffe had twenty-eight Geschwader (wings). The
Fallschirmjäger paratrooper units.
Luftwaffe proved instrumental in the German victories across
Poland and Western Europe in 1939 and 1940. During the Battle of
Britain, however, despite inflicting severe damage to the RAF's
infrastructure and, during the subsequent Blitz, devastating many
British cities, the German air force failed to batter the beleaguered
British into submission. From 1942, Allied bombing campaigns gradually
destroyed the Luftwaffe's fighter arm. From late 1942, the Luftwaffe
used its surplus ground, support and other personnel to raise
Luftwaffe Field Divisions.
In addition to its service in the West, the
Luftwaffe operated over
the Soviet Union, North Africa and Southern Europe. Despite its
belated use of advanced turbojet and rocket propelled aircraft for the
destruction of Allied bombers, the
Luftwaffe was overwhelmed by the
Allies' superior numbers and improved tactics, and a lack of trained
pilots and aviation fuel. In January 1945, during the closing stages
of the Battle of the Bulge, the
Luftwaffe made a last-ditch effort to
win air superiority, and met with failure. With rapidly dwindling
supplies of petroleum, oil, and lubricants after this campaign, and as
part of the entire combined
Wehrmacht military forces as a whole, the
Luftwaffe ceased to be an effective fighting force. After the defeat
of Germany, the
Luftwaffe was disbanded in 1946. During World War II,
German pilots claimed roughly 70,000 aerial victories, while over
Luftwaffe aircraft were destroyed or significantly damaged. Of
these, nearly 40,000 were lost entirely. The
Luftwaffe had only two
commanders-in-chief throughout its history:
Hermann Göring and later
Generalfeldmarschall Robert Ritter von Greim. The
Command was involved in Nazi medical experiments.
2 Preparing for war: 1933–39
2.1 The Wever years, 1933–36
2.2 A change of direction, 1936–37
2.4 Mobilization, 1938–41
3.2 Organization and chain of command
5 Spanish Civil War
6 World War II
7 Omissions and failures
7.1 Mistakes in command: the lack of aerial defence
7.2 Mistakes in development and equipment
7.3 Production failures
7.4 Critical engine development problems
7.5 Personnel and leadership
Luftwaffe ground forces
9 War crimes
9.1 Aerial bombing as alleged war crimes
9.2 Human experimentation in military aviation
10 See also
12 External links
Luftstreitkräfte and Aviation in World War I
Manfred von Richthofen
Manfred von Richthofen with other members of Jasta 11, 1917 as part of
Imperial German Army
Imperial German Army Air Service was founded in 1910 with the name
Die Fliegertruppen des deutschen Kaiserreiches, most often shortened
to Fliegertruppe. It was renamed
Luftstreitkräfte on 8 October
1916. The air war on the Western Front received the most attention
in the annals of the earliest accounts of military aviation, since it
produced aces such as
Manfred von Richthofen
Manfred von Richthofen and Ernst Udet, Oswald
Boelcke, and Max Immelmann. After the defeat of Germany, the service
was dissolved on 8 May 1920 under the conditions of the Treaty of
Versailles, which also mandated the destruction of all German military
Treaty of Versailles
Treaty of Versailles forbade Germany to have an air force,
German pilots trained in secret. Initially, civil aviation schools
within Germany were used, yet only light trainers could be used in
order to maintain the façade that the trainees were going to fly with
civil airlines such as Deutsche Luft Hansa. To train its pilots on the
latest combat aircraft, Germany solicited the help of the Soviet
Union, which was also isolated in Europe. A secret training airfield
was established at Lipetsk in 1924 and operated for approximately nine
years using mostly Dutch and Soviet, but also some German, training
aircraft before being closed in 1933. This base was officially known
as 4th squadron of the 40th wing of the Red Army. Hundreds of
Luftwaffe pilots and technical personnel visited, studied and were
trained at Soviet air force schools in several locations in Central
Russia. Roessing, Blume, Fosse, Teetsemann, Heini, Makratzki,
Blumendaat, and many other future
Luftwaffe aces were trained in
Russia in joint Russian-German schools that were set up under the
patronage of Ernst-August Köstring (de).
The first steps towards the Luftwaffe's formation were undertaken just
Adolf Hitler came to power. Hermann Göring, a World War
I ace, became National Kommissar for aviation with former Luft Hansa
Erhard Milch as his deputy. In April 1933 the Reich Aviation
Ministry (Reichsluftfahrtministerium or RLM) was established. The RLM
was in charge of development and production of aircraft. Göring's
control over all aspects of aviation became absolute. On 25 March 1933
German Air Sports Association
German Air Sports Association absorbed all private and national
organizations, while retaining its 'sports' title. On 15 May 1933, all
military aviation organizations in the RLM were merged, forming the
Luftwaffe; its official 'birthday'. The National Socialist Flyers
Corps (Nationalsozialistisches Fliegerkorps or NSFK) was formed in
1937 to give pre-military flying training to male youths, and to
engage adult sport aviators in the Nazi movement. Military-age members
of the NSFK were drafted into the Luftwaffe. As all such prior NSFK
members were also Nazi Party members, this gave the new
strong Nazi ideological base in contrast to the other branches of the
Wehrmacht (the Heer (Army) and
Kriegsmarine (Navy)). Göring played a
leading role in the buildup of the
Luftwaffe in 1933–36, but had
little further involvement in the development of the force after 1936,
and Milch became the "de facto" minister until 1937.
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 others 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, provided access to financial resources
and materiel for rearming and equipping the Luftwaffe.
Another prominent figure in German air power construction this time
was Helmuth Wilberg. Wilberg later played a large role in the
development of German air doctrine. Having headed the
staff for eight years in the 1920s, Wilberg had considerable
experience and was ideal for a senior staff position. 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 racial laws of the
Third Reich did not apply to him.
Wilberg remained in the air staff, and under Walther Wever helped draw
up the Luftwaffe's principle doctrinal texts, "The Conduct of the
Aerial War" and "Regulation 16".
Preparing for war: 1933–39
The Wever years, 1933–36
Walther Wever, Chief of the
Luftwaffe General Staff, 1933–1936.
Contrary to popular belief in American and British circles, the
Luftwaffe was not "the handmaiden 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 expected to face ground operations
following any declaration of hostilities.
For these reasons, between 1933 and 1934, the Luftwaffe's leadership
was primarily concerned with tactical and operational methods. In
aerial terms, the army concept of
Truppenführung was an operational
concept, as well as a tactical doctrine. In World War I, the
Fliegertruppe's initial, 1914-15 era Feldflieger Abteilung
observation/reconnaissance air units, each with six two-seater
aircraft apiece, had been attached to specific army formations and
acted as support.
Dive bomber units were considered essential to
Truppenführung, attacking enemy headquarters and lines of
Luftwaffe "Regulation 10: The Bomber"
(Dienstvorschrift 10: Das 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
OKL to focus on limited operations (not strategic operations): the
protection of specific areas and support of the army in combat.
With an effective tactical-operational concept, the German air
power theorists needed a strategic doctrine and organisation. Robert
Knauss (de), a serviceman (not pilot) in the Luftstreitkräfte
during World War I, and later an experienced pilot with Lufthansa,
was a prominent theorist of air power. Knauss promoted the Giulio
Douhet theory that air power could win wars alone by destroying enemy
industry and breaking enemy morale by "terrorizing the population" of
major cities. This advocated attacks on civilians. The General
Staff blocked the entry of Douhet's theory into doctrine, fearing
revenge strikes against German civilians and cities.
In December 1934, Chief of the
General Staff Walther Wever
sought to mould the Luftwaffe's battle doctrine into a strategic plan.
At this time, Wever conducted war games (simulated against France) 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
Under this doctrine, the
Luftwaffe leadership rejected the practice of
"terror bombing" (see
Luftwaffe strategic bombing doctrine).
Terror bombing was deemed to be "counter-productive", increasing
rather than destroying the enemy's will to resist. Such bombing
campaigns were regarded as diversion from the Luftwaffe's main
operations; destruction of the enemy armed forces. The bombings of
Guernica, Rotterdam, and
Warsaw were considered tactical missions in
support of military operations and were not intended as strategic
Nevertheless, Wever recognised the importance of strategic bombing. In
newly introduced doctrine, The Conduct of the Aerial Air War in 1935,
Wever rejected the theory of Douhet and outlined five key points
to air strategy:
To destroy the enemy air force by bombing its bases and aircraft
factories, and defeating enemy air forces attacking German targets.
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
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.
To support naval operations by attacking naval bases, protecting
Germany's naval bases and participating directly in naval battles
To paralyse the enemy armed forces by stopping production in the
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
to develop the so-called "Ural bomber", which could strike as far as
into the heart of the Soviet Union. In 1935, this design competition
led to the
Dornier Do 19
Dornier Do 19 and
Junkers Ju 89
Junkers Ju 89 prototypes, although both
were underpowered. In April 1936, Wever issue requirements for the
'Bomber A' design competition: 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, and his
emphasis on strategic aerial operations was lost. The only design
submittal for Wever's 'Bomber A' that reached production was Heinkel's
Projekt 1041, which culminated in the production and frontline service
as Germany's only operational heavy bomber, the
Heinkel He 177, on 5
November 1937, the date on which it received its RLM airframe
In 1935, the military functions of the RLM were grouped into
Oberkommando der Luftwaffe
Oberkommando der Luftwaffe (OKL; "Air Force High Command").
Following the untimely death of Walther Wever in early June 1936 in an
aviation-related accident, 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 strategic mission. German
doctrine fell between the two concepts. The
Luftwaffe was to be an
organization 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% of the Luftwaffe's aircraft were devoted to ground
support operations, counter to the long-held myth that the Luftwaffe
was designed for only tactical and operational missions.
A change of direction, 1936–37
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
Heinkel He 70 Blitz, ironically on the very day that his "Bomber
A" heavy bomber design competition was announced. After Wever's death
Göring began taking more of an interest in the appointment of
Luftwaffe staff officers. Göring appointed his successor Albert
Chief of Staff and
Ernst Udet to head the Reich's Air
Ministry Technical Office (Technisches Amt), although he was not a
technical expert. Despite this Udet helped change the Luftwaffe's
tactical direction towards fast medium bombers to destroy enemy air
power in the battle zone rather than through industrial bombing of its
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. Udet realised his limitations, and his failures in the
production and development of German aircraft would have serious long
Ernst Udet. Along with Albert 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
Luftwaffe command believed medium bombers to be sufficient power
to launch strategic bombing operations against Germany's most likely
enemies; France, Czechoslovakia, and Poland. The United Kingdom
presented greater problems.
General der Flieger
General der Flieger Hellmuth Felmy,
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
evidence he believed of British weakness. A second reason was
technical. German designers had never solved the issues of the Heinkel
He 177A's design difficulties, brought on by the requirement from its
inception on 5 November 1937 to have moderate dive bombing
capabilities in a 30-meter wingspan aircraft. Moreover, Germany did
not possess the economic resources to match the later British and
American effort of 1943–1944, particularly in large-scale mass
production of high power output aircraft engines (with output of over
least 1,500 kW (2,000 hp). In addition, OKL had not foreseen
the industrial and military effort strategic bombing would require. By
Luftwaffe was not much better prepared than its enemies to
conduct a strategic bombing campaign, with fatal results during
the Battle of Britain.
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. Germany
pushed for synthetic fuel plants, but still failed to meet demands. In
1937 Germany imported more fuel than it had at the start of the
decade. By the summer 1938 only 25% of requirements could be covered.
In steel materials, industry was operating at barely 83% of capacity,
and by November 1938 Göring reported the economic situation was
serious. The Oberkommando der
Wehrmacht (OKW), the overall command
for all German military forces, ordered reductions in raw materials
and steel used for armament production. The figures for reduction were
substantial: 30% steel, 20% copper, 47% aluminium, and 14% rubber.
Under such circumstances, it was not possible for Milch, Udet, or
Kesselring to produce a formidable strategic bombing force even had
they wanted to do so.
The development of aircraft was now confined to the production of
twin-engined medium bombers that required much less material, manpower
and aviation production capacity than Wever's "Ural Bomber". 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." The premature
death of Wever, one of the Luftwaffe's finest officers, left the
Luftwaffe without a strategic air force during World War II, which
eventually proved fatal to the German war effort.
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 to
five times its earlier size. 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). and only grouping them together into dedicated
cargo and personnel transport wings (Transportgeschwader) during that
year. In March 1938, as the
Anschluss was taking place, Göring
ordered Felmy to investigate the prospect of air raids against
Britain. Felmy concluded it was not possible until bases in Belgium
Netherlands were obtained and the
Luftwaffe had heavy bombers.
Fortunately it mattered little, as war was avoided by the Munich
Agreement, and the need for long-range aircraft did not arise.
These failures were not exposed until wartime. In the meantime German
designs of mid-1930s origin such as the Messerschmitt Bf 109, Heinkel
Junkers Ju 87
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
Dornier, which fulfilled the Luftwaffe's requirements for bombers that
were faster than 1930s-era fighters, many of which were biplanes or
Despite the participation of these aircraft (mainly from 1938 onward),
it was the venerable
Junkers Ju 52
Junkers Ju 52 (which soon became the backbone of
the Transportgruppen) that made the main contribution. During the
Spanish Civil War
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."
Junkers Ju 87
Junkers Ju 87 D's over the Eastern Front, winter 1943–44
Poor accuracy from level bombers in 1937 led the
Luftwaffe to grasp
the benefits of dive-bombing. The latter could achieve far better
accuracy against tactical ground targets than heavier conventional
bombers. Range was not a key criterion for this mission. It was not
always feasible for the Army to move heavy artillery over recently
captured territory to bombard fortifications or support ground forces,
and 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 four
times the accuracy. This led to Udet championing the dive bomber,
particularly the Junkers Ju 87.
Udet's "love affair" with dive bombing seriously affected the
long-term development of the Luftwaffe, especially after General
Wever's death. 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
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
Dornier Do 17 before a proper
evaluation was made. The Ju 86 was poor while the He 111 showed most
Spanish Civil War
Spanish Civil War convinced Udet (along with limited
output from the German munitions industry) that wastage was not
acceptable in munition terms. Udet sought to build dive bombing into
Junkers Ju 88
Junkers Ju 88 and conveyed the same idea, initiated specifically
by OKL for the
Heinkel He 177, approved in early November 1937. 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 merely conveyed OKL's own dive bombing capability
request to Ernst
Heinkel concerning the He 177, who vehemently opposed
such an idea, which ruined its development as a heavy bomber.
Göring was not able to rescind the dive bombing requirement for the
He 177A until September 1942.
By the summer of 1939, the
Luftwaffe had ready for combat nine
Jagdgeschwader ("fighter wings") mostly equipped with the
Messerschmitt Bf 109E, four 'Zerstörergeschwader ("destroyer wings")
equipped with the Messerschmitt Bf 110 heavy fighter, 11
Kampfgeschwader (bomber wings) equipped mainly with the
Heinkel He 111
and the Dornier Do 17Z, and four Sturzkampfgeschwader ("dive bomber
wings") primarily armed with the iconic Junkers Ju 87B Stuka. The
Luftwaffe was just starting to accept the Junkers Ju 88A for service,
as it had encountered design difficulties, with only a dozen aircraft
of the type considered combat-ready. The Luftwaffe's strength at this
time stood at 373,000 personnel (208,000 flying 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.
Polish civilian strafed by German dive bombers, September 1939
However, even by the spring of 1940, the
Luftwaffe still had not
mobilized fully. Despite the shortage of raw-materials,
Ernst Udet had increased production through
introducing a 10-hour working day for aviation industries and
rationalizing production. During this period 30 Kampfstaffeln and 16
Jagdstaffeln were raised and equipped. A further five
Zerstörergruppen ("Destroyer groups") were created (JGr 101,
102,126,152 and 176), all equipped with the Bf 110.
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
In April and May 1941, Udet headed the
Luftwaffe delegation inspecting
Soviet aviation industry in compliance with the Molotov–Ribbentrop
Pact. Udet informed Göring "that Soviet air forces are very strong
and technically advanced." Göring decided not to report the facts to
Hitler, hoping that a surprise attack would quickly destroy the
USSR. Udet realized that the upcoming war on Russia might cripple
Germany. Udet, torn between truth and loyalty, suffered a
psychological breakdown and even tried to tell Hitler the truth, but
Göring told Hitler that Udet was lying, then took Udet under control
by giving him drugs at drinking parties and hunting trips. Udet's
drinking and psychological condition became a problem, but Göring
used Udet's dependency to manipulate him.
Main article: Organization of the
Nuremberg trials. Defendants in the dock. The main target of the
Hermann Göring (at the left edge on the first row of
benches), considered to be the most important surviving official in
Third Reich after Hitler's death.
Throughout the history of the Third Reich, the
Luftwaffe had only two
commanders-in-chief. The first was Hermann Göring, with the second
and last being
Generalfeldmarschall Robert Ritter von Greim. His
appointment as commander-in-chief of the
Luftwaffe was concomitant
with his promotion to Generalfeldmarschall, the last German officer in
World War II
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
suggested to Hitler that he take over leadership of the Reich.
Hitler ordered his arrest and execution, but Göring's SS guards did
not carry out the order, and Göring survived to be tried at
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.
He died in
Munich in 1953.
Organization and chain of command
Main article: Organization of the
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. Luftflotten were also responsible for
the training aircraft and schools in their operational areas.
A Geschwader was commanded by a Geschwaderkommodore, with the rank of
Oberstleutnant (lieutenant colonel) or
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.
A Jagdgeschwader ("fighter wing", literally "hunting wing") (JG) was a
single-seat day fighter Geschwader, typically equipped with Bf 109 or
Fw 190 aircraft flying in the fighter or fighter-bomber roles. Late in
the war, by 1944-45,
JG 7 and
JG 400 (and the jet specialist JV 44)
flew much more advanced aircraft, with JG 1 working up with jets at
war's end. A Geschwader 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, using a Roman numeral
for the Gruppe number only, and its first Staffel (squadron) was 1./JG
1. Geschwader strength was usually 120 – 125 aircraft.
Each Gruppe was commanded by a Kommandeur, and a Staffel by a
Staffelkapitän. 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 a bomber Geschwader was about 80–90 aircraft.
Luftwaffe personnel structure
Luftwaffe strength during the fall of 1941
Air signal units
Landsturm (militia) units
The peacetime strength of the
Luftwaffe in the spring of 1939 was
370,000 men. After the mobilization in 1939 almost 900,000 men served,
and just before
Operation Barbarossa in 1941 the personnel strength
had reached 1.5 million men.
Luftwaffe reached its largest
personnel strength during the period November 1943 to June 1944, with
almost three million men and women in uniform; 1.7 million of these
were male soldiers, 1 million male Wehrmachtsbeamte and civilian
employees, and almost 300,000 female and male auxiliaries
(Luftwaffenhelfer). In October 1944, the anti-aircraft units had
600,000 soldiers and 530,000 auxiliaries, including 60,000 male
members of the Reichsarbeitsdienst, 50,000
Luftwaffenhelfer (males age
15-17), 80,000 Flakwehrmänner (males above military age) and
Flak-V-soldaten (males unfit for military service), and 160,000 female
Flakwaffenhelferinnen and RAD-Maiden, as well as 160,000 foreign
Spanish Civil War
Main article: Operational history of the
Condor Legion experimented with new doctrine and
aircraft during the Spanish Civil War. It helped the
Francisco Franco to defeat the Republican forces. Over 20,000 German
airmen gained combat experience that would give the
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 raids on
Madrid caused many
civilian casualties and a wave of protests in the democracies. It has
been suggested that the bombing of
Guernica was carried out for
military tactical reasons, in support of ground operations, but the
town was not directly involved in any fighting at that point in time.
It was not until 1942 that the Germans started to develop bombing
policy in which civilians were the primary target, although The Blitz
on London and many other British cities involved indiscriminate
bombing of civilian areas, 'nuisance raids' which could even
involve the machine-gunning of civilians and livestock.
World War II
World War II
World War II began, the
Luftwaffe was one of the most
technologically advanced air forces in the world. During the Polish
Campaign that triggered the war, it quickly established air
superiority, and then air supremacy. It supported the German Army
operations which ended the campaign in five weeks. The Luftwaffe's
performance was as OKL had hoped. The
Luftwaffe rendered invaluable
support to the army, mopping up pockets of resistance. Göring was
delighted with the performance. Command and control problems were
experienced, but owing to the flexibility and improvisation of both
the army and Luftwaffe, these problems were solved. The
to have in place a ground-to-air communication system, which played a
vital role in the success of Fall Gelb.
In the spring of 1940, the
Luftwaffe assisted the
Heer in the invasion of Norway. Flying in reinforcements and winning
air superiority, the
Luftwaffe contributed decisively to the German
In the spring of 1940, the
Luftwaffe contributed to the unexpected
success in the Battle of France. It destroyed three Allied Air Forces
and helped secure the defeat of France in just over six weeks.
However, it could not destroy the British Expeditionary Force at
Dunkirk despite intense bombing. The BEF escaped to continue the
Gun camera film shows tracer ammunition from a Supermarine Spitfire
Mark I of No. 609 Squadron RAF, flown by
Flight Lieutenant J. H. G.
McArthur, hitting a
Heinkel He 111 on its starboard quarter.
Battle of Britain
Battle of Britain in summer 1940, the
severe damage to the Royal Air Force, but did not achieve the air
superiority that Hitler demanded for the proposed invasion of Britain,
which was postponed and then cancelled in December 1940. The
Luftwaffe ravaged British cities during The Blitz, but failed to break
British morale. Hitler had already ordered preparations to be made for
Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union.
In spring 1941, the
Luftwaffe helped its Axis partner, Italy, secure
victory in the Balkans Campaign and continued to support Italy in the
Mediterranean, Middle East and African theatres until May 1945.
In June 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union. The Luftwaffe
destroyed thousands of Soviet aircraft, yet it failed to destroy the
Red Air Force
Red Air Force altogether. Lacking strategic bombers(the very "Ural
bombers" that General Wever had asked for six years before) the
Luftwaffe could not strike at Soviet production centers regularly or
with the needed force. As the war dragged on, the
eroded in strength. The defeats at the
Battle of Stalingrad
Battle of Stalingrad and Battle
of Kursk ensured the gradual decline of the
Wehrmacht on the Eastern
British historian Frederick Taylor asserts that "all sides bombed each
other's cities during the war. Half a million Soviet citizens, for
example, died from German bombing during the invasion and occupation
of Russia. That's roughly equivalent to the number of German citizens
who died from Allied raids."
Luftwaffe continued to defend German-occupied Europe
against the growing offensive power of
RAF Bomber Command
RAF Bomber Command and,
starting in the summer of 1942, the steadily building strength of the
United States Army Air Forces. The
Defence of the Reich
Defence of the Reich campaign
gradually destroyed the Luftwaffe's fighter arm. Despite its belated
use of advanced turbojet and rocket propelled aircraft for bomber
destroyer duties, 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. After
the Bodenplatte effort, the
Luftwaffe ceased to be an effective
German day and night fighter pilots claimed roughly 70,000 aerial
victories during World War II. Of these, about 25,000 were British or
American planes, about 45,000 were Soviet aircraft, and a few thousand
were French, Belgian, Polish, or other Allied nationalities. 103
German fighter pilots shot down more than 100 enemy aircraft for a
total of roughly 15,400 aerial victories. Roughly a further 360 pilots
claimed between 40 and 100 aerial victories for round about 21,000
victories. Another 500 fighter pilots claimed between 20 and 40
victories for a total of 15,000 victories. It is relatively certain
that 2,500 German fighter pilots attained ace status, having achieved
at least five aerial victories. These achievements were honored
with 453 German day and Zerstörer (destroyer) pilots having received
the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross. 85 night fighter pilots,
including 14 crew members, were awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron
Cross. Losses on the other hand were very high as well. The
estimated total number of destroyed and damaged for the war totaled
76,875 aircraft, of which 40,000 were total losses and the remainder
significantly damaged. By type, losses totaled 21,452 fighters, 12,037
bombers, 15,428 trainers, 10,221 twin-engine fighters, 5,548 ground
attack, 6,733 reconnaissance, and 6,141 transports.
Omissions and failures
Mistakes in command: the lack of aerial defence
The failure of the
Luftwaffe in the
Defence of the Reich
Defence of the Reich campaign was
a result of a number of factors. The
Luftwaffe lacked an effective air
defence system early in the war. Adolf Hitler's foreign policy had
pushed Germany into war before these defences could be fully
Luftwaffe was forced to improvise and construct its
defences during the war.
The daylight actions over German controlled territory were sparse in
1939–1940. The responsibility of the defence of German air space
fell to the Luftgaukommandos (air district commands). The defence
systems relied mostly on the "flak" arm. The defences were not
coordinated and communication was poor. This lack of understanding
between the flak and flying branches of the defence would plague the
Luftwaffe throughout the war. Hitler in particular wanted the
defence to rest on anti-aircraft artillery as it gave the civilian
population a "psychological crutch" no matter how ineffective the
Most of the battles fought by the
Luftwaffe on the Western Front were
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 the invasion of the Soviet Union. The
"peripheral" strategy of the
Luftwaffe between 1939 and 1940 had been
to deploy its fighter defences at the edges of Axis occupied
territory, with little protecting the inner depths. 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". The Luftwaffe's technical edge was slipping as the
only formidable new aircraft in the German arsenal was the Focke-Wulf
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 18 September 1941 that the new next
generation aircraft had failed to materialize, and production of
obsolete types had to continue to meet the growing need for
The buildup 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 fighter
wings in existence in 1939. No further units were formed until 1942,
and the years of 1940–1941 were wasted. OKL 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 squadrons, formed to replace the
increasingly ineffective twin-engined Zerstörer twin-engined heavy
fighter wings as the primary defense against USAAF daylight raids. The
Sturmböcke flew Fw 190A fighters armed with heavy 20 mm and
30 mm cannon to destroy heavy bombers, but this increased the
weight and affected the performance of the Fw 190 at a time when the
aircraft were meeting large numbers of equal if not superior Allied
Daytime aerial defense against the USAAF's strongly defended heavy
bomber forces, particularly the
Eighth Air Force
Eighth Air Force and the Fifteenth Air
Force, had its successes through the calendar year of 1943. But at the
start of 1944, Eighth AF commander Jimmy Doolittle made a major change
in offensive fighter tactics, which defeated the Luftwaffe's day
fighter force from that time onwards. Steadily increasing numbers of
North American P-51 Mustang
North American P-51 Mustang single-engine fighter,
leading the USAAF's bombers into German airspace defeated first the Bf
110 Zerstörer wings, then the Fw 190A Sturmböcke.
Mistakes in development and equipment
The most troublesome of all German designs during WW II — both in
development and in service — was the He 177A Greif heavy bomber.
In terms of technological development, the failure to develop a
long-range bomber and capable long-range fighters during this period
Luftwaffe unable to conduct a meaningful, strategic bombing
campaign throughout the war. However, Germany at that time
suffered from limitations in raw materials such as oil and aluminium,
which meant that there were insufficient resources for much beyond a
tactical air force: given these circumstances, the Luftwaffe's
reliance on tactical mid-range, twin engined medium bombers and short
range dive-bombers was a pragmatic choice of strategy. It
might also be argued that the Luftwaffe's
Kampfgeschwader medium and
heavy bomber wings were perfectly capable of attacking strategic
targets, but the lack of capable long range escort fighters left the
bombers unable to carry out their missions effectively against
determined and well organised fighter opposition.
The greatest failure for the Kampfgeschwader, however, was being
saddled with an aircraft intended as a capable four-engined heavy
bomber: the perpetually troubled
Heinkel He 177, whose engines were
prone to catch fire in flight. Of the three parallel proposals from
Heinkel engineering departments for a four engined version of the
A-series He 177 by February 1943, only one, the He 177B, emerged in
the concluding months of 1943. Only three airworthy prototypes of the
B-series He 177 design were produced by early 1944, some three years
after the first prototype flights of the Avro Lancaster, the most
successful RAF heavy bomber.
Arguably, one of the greatest tactical failures was the neglect of
naval aviation in the western theatre, 1939–1941. (pictured is a
Focke-Wulf Fw 200
Focke-Wulf Fw 200 C Condor)
Another failure of procurement and equipment was the 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 Göring in support of
such proposals. The early-war twin-engined
Heinkel He 115 floatplane
Dornier Do 18
Dornier Do 18 flying boat were too slow and short-ranged. The
then-contemporary Blohm & Voss BV 138 trimotor flying boat became
the Luftwaffe's primary seaborne maritime patrol platform, with nearly
300 examples built; its trio of
Junkers Jumo 205
Junkers Jumo 205 diesel engines gave
it a 4,300 km (2,670 mi) maximum range. Another Blohm und
Voss design of 1940, the enormous, 46-meter wingspan six-engined Blohm
und Voss Bv 222 Wiking maritime patrol flying boat, would see it
capable of a 6,800 km (4,200-mile) range at maximum endurance
when using higher-output versions of the same
Jumo 205 powerplants as
used by the Bv 138, in later years. The
Dornier Do 217
Dornier Do 217 would have been
ideal as a land-based choice, but suffered production problems. Raeder
also complained about the poor standard of aerial torpedoes, although
their design was the responsibility of the
military's naval arm (the Kriegsmarine), even considering production
of the Japanese Type 91 torpedo used at Pearl Harbor as the
Lufttorpedo LT 850 by August 1942. (See:
Heinkel He 111 torpedo bomber
Without specialised naval or land-based, purpose-designed maritime
patrol aircraft, the
Luftwaffe was forced to improvise. The Focke-Wulf
Fw 200 Condor airliner's airframe – engineered for civilian airliner
use – lacked the structural strength for combat maneuvering at lower
altitudes, making it unsuitable for use as a bomber in maritime patrol
duties. The Condor lacked speed, armour and bomb load capacity.
Sometimes the fuselage literally "broke its back" or a wing panel
dropped loose from the wing root after a hard landing. Nevertheless,
this civilian transport was adapted for 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 – particularly maritime patrol
aircraft with long range, like the aforementioned diesel-powered
multi-engine Blohm & Voss flying boats – Germany might well have
been in a position to win the Battle of the Atlantic. However, Raeder
Kriegsmarine failed to press for naval air power until the war
began, mitigating the Luftwaffe's responsibility. In addition, Göring
regarded any other branch of the German military developing its own
aviation as an encroachment on his authority and continually
frustrated the Navy's attempts to build its own airpower.
The absence of a strategic bomber force for the Luftwaffe, following
General Wever's accidental death in the early summer of 1936 and the
end of the
Ural bomber program he fostered before the invasion of
Poland, would not be addressed again until the authorization of the
"Bomber B" design competition in July 1939, which sought to replace
the medium bomber force with which the
Luftwaffe was to begin the war,
and the partly achieved
Schnellbomber high-speed medium bomber concept
with more advanced, twin-engined high speed bomber aircraft fitted
with pairs of relatively "high-power" engines of 1,500 kW
(2,000 hp) output levels and upwards each as a follow-on to the
Schnellbomber project, that would also be able to function as
shorter range heavy bombers.
Oberst Edgar Petersen, the head of the Luftwaffe's Erprobungsstellen
network of test facilities late in WW II
The spring 1942
Amerika Bomber program also sought to produce useful
strategic bomber designs for the Luftwaffe, with their prime design
priority being an advanced trans-oceanic range capability as the main
aim of the project to directly attack the
United States from Europe or
the Azores. Inevitably, both the
Bomber B and
Amerika Bomber programs
were victims of the continued emphasis of the
military's insistence for its
Luftwaffe air arm to support the
Wehrmacht Heer (the regular German Army) as its primary mission, and
the damage to the German aviation industry from Allied bomber attacks.
The RLM's apparent lack of a dedicated "technical-tactical"
department, that would have directly been in contact with combat
pilots to assess their needs for weaponry upgrades and tactical
advice, had never been seriously envisioned as a critically ongoing
necessity in the planning of the original German air arm. The RLM
did have its own Technisches Amt (T-Amt) department to handle aviation
technology issues, but this was tasked with handling all aviation
technology issues in the Third Reich, both military and civilian in
nature, and also not known to have ever had any clear and actively
administrative and consultative links with the front-line forces
established for such purposes. On the front-line combat side of the
issue, and for direct contact with the German aviation firms making
the Luftwaffe's warplanes, the
Luftwaffe did have its own reasonably
effective system of four military aviation test facilities, or
Erprobungstellen located at three coastal sites – Peenemünde-West
(also incorporating a separate facility in nearby Karlshagen),
Tarnewitz and Travemünde – and the central inland site of Rechlin,
itself first established as a military airfield in late August 1918 by
the German Empire, with the four-facility system commanded later in
World War II
World War II by
Oberst (Colonel) Edgar Petersen. However, due to lack
of co-ordination between the RLM and OKL, 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. The "ramp-up" to production levels required to
fulfill the Luftwaffe's front-line needs was also slow, not reaching
maximum output until 1944. Production of fighters was not given
priority until 1944;
Adolf Galland commented that this should have
occurred at least a year earlier. Galland also pointed to the
mistakes and challenges made in the development of the Messerschmitt
Me 262 jet – which included the protracted development time required
Junkers Jumo 004
Junkers Jumo 004 jet engines to achieve reliability. German
combat aircraft types that were first designed and flown in the
mid-1930s had become obsolete, yet were kept in production, in
particular the Ju 87 Stuka, and the Bf 109, because there were no
well-developed replacement designs.
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. 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%, while
the Germans remained 40% "behind" target by the summer 1940. In fact
German production in fighters fell from 227 to 177 per month between
July and September 1940. One of the many reasons for the failure
Luftwaffe in 1940 was that it did not have the operational and
material means to destroy the British aircraft industry, something
that the much-anticipated
Bomber B design competition was intended to
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. Erhard Milch's reforms expanded production rates.
In 1941 an average of 981 aircraft (including 311 fighters) were
produced each month. In 1942 this rose to 1,296 aircraft of which
434 were fighters. 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 1941–42
just 39% of the fighter force was operational and possessed just 60
more combat aircraft than it did in June 1941 despite its increased
commitments. Throughout 1942 the
Luftwaffe was out produced in
fighter aircraft by 250% and in twin-engine aircraft by 196%.
The appointment of
Albert Speer as Minister of Armaments increased
production of existing designs, and the few new designs that had
originated from earlier in the war. However the intensification of
Allied bombing caused the dispersion of production and prevented an
efficient acceleration of expansion. 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.
The failure to maximize production immediately after the failures in
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, as so many other
factors had for the
Luftwaffe – and for the entire Wehrmacht
military's weapons and ordnance technology as a whole – late in the
war, it was "too little, too late".
Critical engine development problems
By the late 1930s, airframe construction methods had progressed to the
point where airframes could be built to any required size, founded on
the all-metal airframe design technologies pioneered by Hugo Junkers
in 1915 and constantly improved upon for over two decades to follow
– especially in Germany with aircraft like the
Dornier Do X
Dornier Do X flying
boat and the
Junkers G 38
Junkers G 38 airliner. However, powering such designs was
a major challenge. Mid-1930s aero engines were limited to about
600 hp and the first 1000 hp engines were just entering the
prototype stage – for the then-new Third Reich's
Luftwaffe air arm,
this meant inverted. liquid-cooled V12 designs like the Daimler-Benz
United States had already gotten its start towards this goal by
1937 with two large displacement, twin-row 18-cylinder air-cooled
radial engine designs of at least 46 litres (2,800 in2) displacement
each: the Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp and the Wright
Nazi Germany's initial need for substantially more powerful aviation
engines originated with the private venture
Heinkel He 119 high-speed
reconnaissance design, and the ostensibly twin-"engined" Messerschmitt
Me 261 for maritime reconnaissance duties - to power each of these
designs, Daimler-Benz literally "doubled-up" their new, fuel-injected
DB 601 engines. This "doubling-up" involved placing two DB 601s
side-by-side on either side of a common vertical-plane space frame
with their crankcases' outer sides each having a mount similar to what
would be used in a single-engine installation, creating a
"mirror-image" centrifugal supercharger for the starboard-side
component DB 601, inclining the top ends of their crankcases inwards
by roughly 30º to mate with the space-frame central mount, and
placing a common propeller gear reduction housing across the front
ends of the two engines. Such a twin-crankcased "power system"
aviation engine crafted from a pair of DB 601s resulted in the 2,700
PS (1,986 kW) maximum output DB 606 "coupled" engine design for these
two aircraft in February 1937, but with each of the DB 606 "coupled"
engines weighing in at around 1.5 tonnes apiece.
The early development of the DB 606 "coupled" engines, was paralleled
during the late 1930s with Daimler-Benz's simultaneous development of
a 1,500 kW class engine design using a single crankcase. The
result was the twenty-four cylinder Daimler-Benz DB 604
X-configuration engine, with four banks of six cylinders each.
Possessing essentially the same displacement of 46.5 litres (2830 in3)
as the initial version of the liquid-cooled
Junkers Jumo 222
Junkers Jumo 222 multibank
engine, itself a "converse" choice in configuration to the DB 604 in
possessing six banks of four inline cylinders apiece instead;
co-incidentally, both the original Jumo 222 design and the DB 604 each
weighed about a third less (at some 1,080 kg/2,379 lb of dry weight)
than the DB 606, but the DB 604's protracted development was diverting
valuable German aviation powerplant research resources, and with more
development of the "twinned-DB 605" based DB 610 coupled engine
(itself initiated in June 1940 with top output level of 2950 PS (2,909
hp), and brought together in the same way - with the same all-up
weight of 1.5 tonnes - as the DB 606 had been) giving improved results
at the time, the Reich Air Ministry stopped all work on the DB 604 in
September 1942. Such "coupled powerplants" were the exclusive
choice of power for the
Heinkel He 177A Greif heavy bomber, mistasked
from its beginnings in being intended to do moderate-angle "dive
bombing" for a 30-meter wingspan class, heavy bomber design - the twin
nacelles for a pair of DB 606s or 610s did reduce drag for such a
combat "requirement", but the poor design of the He 177A's engine
accommodations for these twin-crankcase "power systems" caused
repeated outbreaks of engine fires, causing the "dive bombing"
requirement for the He 177A to be cancelled by mid-September 1942.
A restored DB 610 "power system" engine, comprising a pair of DB 605
inverted V12s - the top of its central space-frame motor-mount
structure can be seen.
BMW worked on what was essentially an enlarged version of its highly
BMW 801 design from the Focke-Wulf Fw 190A. This led to the
53.7 litre displacement
BMW 802 in 1943, an eighteen-cylinder
air-cooled radial, which nearly matched the American Duplex-Cyclone's
54.9 litre figure, and the even larger, 83.5 litre displacement BMW
803 28-cylinder liquid-cooled radial, which from post-war statements
from BMW development personnel were each considered to be "secondary
priority" development programs at best. This situation with the 802
and 803 designs led to the company's engineering personnel being
redirected to place all efforts on improving the 801 to develop it to
its full potential. The BMW 801F radial development, through its
use of features coming from the 801E subtype, was able to
substantially exceed the over-1,500 kW output level.
Only the twinned-up Daimler-Benz DB 601-based, 1,750 kW output
designated the DB 606, and its more powerful descendant, the
2,130 kW output DB 605-based DB 610, each of some 1.5 tonnes
weight apiece, were the only 1,500 kW-plus output level aircraft
powerplants to ever be produced by Germany for its front-line
Luftwaffe combat aircraft, mostly for the powerplants of the
Heinkel He 177A heavy bomber. Even the
largest-displacement inverted V12 aircraft powerplant built in
Germany, the 44.52 litre (2,717 cu. in.) Daimler-Benz DB 603, which
saw widespread use in twin-engined designs, could not exceed the
1,500 kW output level without more development. By March 1940,
even the DB 603 was being "twinned-up" as the 601/606 and 605/610
had been, to become their replacement "power system": this was the
strictly experimental, approximately 1.8-tonne weight apiece,
twin-crankcase DB 613; capable of over 2,570 kW (3,495 PS)
output, but which never left its test phase.
The proposed over-1,500 kW output subtypes of German aviation
industry's existing piston aviation engine designs—which adhered to
using just a single crankcase that were able to substantially exceed
the aforementioned over-1,500 kW output level—were the DB 603
LM (1,800 kW at take-off, in production), the DB 603 N
(2,205 kW at take-off, planned for 1946) and the BMW 801F
(1,765 kW (2,400 PS) engines. The pioneering nature of jet engine
technology in the 1940s resulted in numerous development problems for
both of Germany's major jet engine designs to see mass production, the
Jumo 004 and
BMW 003 (both of pioneering axial flow design), with the
Heinkel HeS 011 never leaving the test phase, as only 19
examples of the HeS 011 would ever be built for development. Even
with such dismal degrees of success for such advanced aviation
powerplant designs, more and more design proposals for new German
combat aircraft in the 1943–45 period centered either around the
failed Jumo 222 or HeS 011 aviation powerplants for their propulsion.
Personnel and leadership
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
schools did not give the fighter pilot schools preference soon enough.
The Luftwaffe, 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. During the Defence of the Reich
campaign in 1943 and 1944, there were not enough commissioned fighter
pilots and leaders to meet attrition rates; as the need arose to
replace aircrew (as attrition rates increased), the quality of pilot
training deteriorated rapidly. Later this was made worse by fuel
shortages for pilot training. Overall this meant reduced training on
operational types, formation flying, gunnery training, and combat
training, and a total lack of instrument training.
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 systematic until 1943, which was far too
late, with the
Luftwaffe already stretched. The
Luftwaffe thus lacked
a cadre of staff officers to set up, man, and pass on experience.
Luftwaffe leadership from the start poached the training
command, which undermined its ability to replace losses, while
also planning for "short sharp campaigns", which did not pertain.
Moreover, no plans were laid for night fighters. In fact, when
protests were raised, Hans Jeschonnek, Chief of the
General Staff of
the Luftwaffe, said, "First we've got to beat Russia, then we can
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
Battle for The Hague in May 1940, and during
Battle of Crete
Battle of Crete in May 1941. However, more than 4,000
Fallschirmjäger were killed during the Crete operation.
Afterwards, although continuing to be trained in parachute delivery,
paratroopers were only used in a parachute role for smaller-scale
operations, such as the rescue of Benito Mussolini in 1943.
Fallschirmjäger formations were mainly used as crack foot infantry in
all theatres of the war.
During 1942 surplus
Luftwaffe personnel (see above) was used to form
Luftwaffe Field Divisions, standard infantry divisions that were
used chiefly as rear echelon units to free up front line troops. From
Luftwaffe also had an armoured paratroop division called
Fallschirm-Panzer Division 1 Hermann Göring, which was expanded to a
Panzerkorps in 1944.
See also: Bombing of Wieluń
See also: Operation Retribution (1941)
Aerial bombing as alleged war crimes
The bombing of
Wieluń was an air raid on the Polish town of Wieluń
Luftwaffe on 1 September 1939. The
Luftwaffe started bombing
Wieluń at 04:40, five minutes before the shelling of Westerplatte,
which has traditionally been considered the beginning of World War II.
The air raid on the town was one of the first aerial bombings of the
war. It killed an estimated 1,300 civilians, injured hundreds
more and destroyed 90 percent of the town centre. The casualty rate
was more than twice as high as Guernica. Writer Sylwia
Sender Freies Berlin
Sender Freies Berlin director Joachim Trenkner (author
of German 1989 TV documentary about the bombing of Wieluń) stated in
the documentary that there were no military or industrial targets in
the area, except for a small sugar factory in the outskirts
of the town. Furthermore, Trenkner stated that German bombers
destroyed the town's hospital first. Two attempts to prosecute
the attack on the
Wieluń hospital were dealt with shortly by West
German judges in 1978 and 1983, since prosecutors emphatically claimed
that the pilots could not make out the nature of the target in alleged
morning fog.
Operation Retribution (German: Unternehmen Strafgericht) also known as
Operation Punishment, was the April 1941 German bombing of Belgrade,
the capital of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. It occurred in the first
days of the
World War II
World War II German-led Axis invasion of Yugoslavia. The
operation commenced on 6 April and concluded on 7 or 8 April,
resulting in the paralysis of Yugoslav civilian and military command
and control, widespread destruction in the centre of the city and many
civilian casualties. Following the Yugoslav capitulation, Luftwaffe
engineers conducted a bomb damage assessment in Belgrade. The report
stated that 218.5 metric tons (215.0 long tons; 240.9 short tons) of
bombs were dropped, with 10 to 14 percent being incendiaries. It
listed all the targets of the bombing, which included: the royal
palace, the war ministry, military headquarters, the central post
office, the telegraph office, passenger and goods railway stations,
power stations and barracks. It also mentioned that seven aerial mines
were dropped, and that areas in the centre and northwest of the city
had been destroyed, comprising 20 to 25 percent of its total area.
Some aspects of the bombing remain unexplained, particularly the use
of the aerial mines. In contrast, Pavlowitch states that almost
50 percent of housing in
Belgrade was destroyed. After the
invasion, the Germans forced between 3,500 and 4,000
Jews to collect
rubble that was caused by the bombing. General Alexander Löhr,
the officer in charge of the attack, was captured by the Yugoslav
Partisans on 9 May 1945, escaped, and was recaptured on 13 May. He was
intensively interrogated, after which he was tried before a Yugoslav
military court on a number of war crimes charges, one of which related
to his command of Luftflotte IV during Operation Retribution. He was
convicted, sentenced to death and executed.
Human experimentation in military aviation
See also: Nazi human experimentation
A cold water immersion experiment at Dachau concentration camp
presided over by Professor
Ernst Holzlöhner (left) and Dr. Sigmund
Rascher (right). The subject is wearing an experimental Luftwaffe
Throughout the war civilians or prisoners were used as human guinea
pigs in testing
Luftwaffe equipment. It is unclear whether these tests
were carried out by
Luftwaffe personnel or on the orders of OKL. These
illegal tests are classified as war crimes and were carried out on the
In 1941, experiments with the intent of discovering means to prevent
and treat hypothermia were carried out. 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. A
number of crews were also lost to hypothermia during the Battle of
Britain when planes ran out of fuel or were shot down and ditched in
the English Channel. The principal locales for the experiments 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". Approximately 100 people are reported to have died as a
result of these experiments.
In early 1942, prisoners at Dachau 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 rumoured
that Rascher performed vivisections on the brains of victims who
survived the initial experiment. Of the 200 subjects, 80 died
outright, and the others were executed.
Der Adler, Luftwaffe's propaganda magazine
Luftwaffe Signal Intelligence Organisation
Organization of the
Military Ranks of the
List of flags of
Uniforms of the
German Air Fleets in World War II
World War II
World War II military aircraft of Germany
Emergency Fighter Program
Luftwaffe serviceable aircraft strengths (1940–45)
Trial of Erhardt Milch
High Command Trial
World War II
World War II aces from Germany
List of German aircraft projects, 1939-45
List of German
World War II
World War II jet aces
List of German
World War II
World War II night fighter aces
List of weapons of military aircraft of Germany during World War II
German war crimes
Bombing of Guernica
Nazi human experimentation
^ Official dissolution of the Wehrmacht, including the Luftwaffe,
began with Proclamation No. 2 of the
Allied Control Council
Allied Control Council on 20
September 1945 and was not complete until Order No. 34 of 20 August
Luftwaffe is also the generic term in German speaking countries for
any national military aviation service, and the names of air forces in
other countries are usually translated into German as "Luftwaffe"
Royal Air Force
Royal Air Force is often translated as "britische
Luftwaffe"). However, Luftstreitkräfte, or "air armed force", is
also sometimes used as a translation of "air force" for post-World War
I air arms, as it was used as the first word of the official German
name of the former East German Air Force, disbanded one day before
German reunification was achieved in October 1990. Since "Luft"
translates into English as "air", and "Waffe" may be translated into
English as either "weapon" or "arm", "Air Arm" may be considered the
most literal English translation of
Luftwaffe (cf. Fleet Air Arm).
^ "Control Council Law No. 34, Resolution of the
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^ Corum 1997, p. 133
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