Luftwaffe - Air Force
Fliegerkorps (air corps)
The Luftwaffe reflected the traditions and values of the Prussian officer corps . Like their brother officers in the army, Luftwaffe officers would prove imaginative, innovative, and highly competent in operational and tactical matters . They would, however, prove themselves lost in the higher realms of strategy and grand strategy, and it would be in those realms that the Reich would founder. After the war, the German generals and admirals would rush into print to prove that defeat had been largely the result of Hitler's leadership. In fact, their strategic concepts in the war proved to be as flawed as had the Fiihrer's.
The Nazi seizure of power had a profound effect on German aviation. The Luftwaffe was favored at its birth, however, by the fact that its patron and first leader, Hermann Goring, was Hitler's right-hand man. Goring's political pull insured that the Luftwaffe gained position as an independent service and that it enjoyed a privileged status in interservice arguments over allocation of funding and resources. In the long run, G6ring had a disastrous impact on the Luftwaffe's history and his position as number two in the political hierarchy prevented Hitler from removing him even after his many failures demanded such action.
Hitler's heir-apparent, Hermann Goering, was appointed to the newly created position of Air Minister and assumed control of the covert air force, which immediately began a period of rapid expansion. As his deputy, Goering selected Erhard Milch, director of Lufhansa. Milch began immediately to increase the production of training aircraft. While Goering occupied himself with political matters, Milch did most of the planning work for the new air force. According to Milch's calculations, a period of 8 to 10 years would be necessary to build up an adequate nucleus for the new service. Political considerations were later to require an acceleration of this program. With his well-known passion for uniforms and display, Goering was appointed a General der Infanterie in the ground forces pending the unveiling of the new German Air Force. The clauses of the Versailles Treaty that had disarmed Germany were publicly denounced by Hitler on 16 March 1935.
A subsequent law, of 21 May 1935, brought the Air Force into the open and established it as a separate service. The law of 21 May also set the period of training for conscripts at one year. The Nazis used air power as one of the main ways to extend their influence over Europe and Asia, and indeed, much of the world. The distinctions between civil and military aviation were blurred, as the Nazi swastika, painted on both combat and passenger aircraft, became a powerful symbol of Nazi aspirations. It was a common sight to see Lufthansa aircraft with the swastika emblazoned on their tail fins.
The Luftwaffe by March 1939 was a potent attack force, which would have 4,303 operational aircraft available by the outbreak of hostilities. These would include 1,180 bombers, 336 dive bombers, 1,179 fighters, 552 transports, 721 observation planes, 240 naval aircraft, and 95 miscellaneous airplanes.
Goering's headquarters was known as the Oberkommando der Luftwaffe (OKL), or High Command of the Air Force. The four major subordinate air commands were designated as Luftflotten (air forces), and controlled both tactical and administrative units. This arrangement contrasted sharply with that of the Army, which had separate channels of command for its tactical and administrative components. Tactical air units were dispersed about Germany in eight air divisions. The administrative commands, 10 in number, were known as Luftgaue, similar to the Army's Wehrkreise, and provided the tactical air units with logistical support.
The organization of each air force was arranged to meet the particular needs of its respective mission. As a consequence, organization varied from one air force to the other. In general, each of the four air forces contained all types of aircraft in service, e. g. fighters, bombers', transports, and reconnaissance planes. The First Air Force had its headquarters in Berlin and responsibility for northern and eastern Germany. Braunschweig was the headquarters of the Second Air Force, dispersed over northwestern Germany. The Third Air Force, responsible for southwestern and southern Germany, was located in Munich. Vienna was headquarters for the Fourth Air Force, responsible for Austria and a portion of southeastern Germany. A separate tactical and administrative command of corps size was assigned to East Prussia and retained under OKL control.
Ultimately, however, it failed to deter France and Britain from declaring war in September 1939. Efficient and flexible within its limits, the Luftwaffe was the only one of the three services that made the immediate risks of a two-front war calculable. It promised quick victory in Poland and the simultaneous ability to hold off the air forces of the Western powers. Engaged in a total war, the Luftwaffe's fundamental problem was that it was not prepared to operate independently. Its aircraft and doctrine alike were tailored to support ground forces.
After the war started, German fighter development was somewhat arrested. First, reasoning that development of new designs reduced production, Hitler mandated that no new aircraft be undertaken without the assurance that they could come on the line within two years, thinking that the war would be over by then. According to some of the surviving Luftwaffe veterans, though, when the tide turned, Hitler was taken with the idea that Germany should focus on bombers in order to punish the oncoming Allies.
After the war many Luftwaffe generals argued that they were kept in the dark about Hitler’s grand strategy. Since they were not privy to the Fuhrer’s ultimate goals, they did not know what kind of air force to build. Should it be built to war against France, or should it be built to attack England or Rússia? Obviously that would make a difference. Without guidance by the political leadership, the Luftwaffe just grew — battling h the army and navv for a bigger share of the limited resources but without a clear idea of operational requirements. That the Luftwaffe performed so well in the blitzkrieg mode was largelv accidental, and by the time the Luftwaffe concentrated on a blitzkrieg type of operation the blitzkrieg was a thing of the past.
Probably as important as structure and doctrines, the Luftwaffe was saturated with an "offensive-minded” ideology that persisted during the war. The feeble efforts at night fighting early in the war and the slowness in switchingover to fighters later in the war are two examples of this persistence of offensive-mindedness that cost the Luftwaffe dearly.
For its part, German industry provided the Luftwaffe with some of the most advanced operational aircraft of the day. The British and French Air Forces were larger, but a considerable number of their aircraft were obsolete or obsolescent. The Luftwaffe lacked airframe and engine replacements for sustained operations, however. Repair facilities, though well organized, were not nearly extensive enough for a major war effort.
At the outset of World War II, the Luftwaffe was, undoubtedly, the world's supreme air force. It had the most advanced fighter and bomber aircraft and the best trained crews.
The Luftwaffe of 1939 was a tactical air force, given the technological and economic realities of the period. The leadership of the Luftwaffe planned a balanced air force consisting of strategic as well as tactical forces, but time ran out. The Luftwaffe had decided to skip development of the first generation of heavy bombers in favor of an advanced bomber and the interim solution of dive-bombing. In 1938 it was decided to concentrate production on four aircraft: the Bf 109, Me 210, Ju 88. and the He 177.
The Luftwaffe suffered severe losses during the course of the war. Its loss can be attributed to several factors, not the least of which was its inability to take advantage of, or maintain, the technological superiority enjoyed at the outset of hostilities. The technological superiority was not limited to aircraft fielded during the war but included interesting technical innovations that arose during the war but not fielded by the Luftwaffe.
Just as the French seem a step behind the Germans in 1940, the Germans seemed a step behind the Allies during the second half of the war. The Germans were too slow in building their night fighter force, even slower in gearing-up their production. Hard pressed on all fronts, German leadership turned conservative, preferring “a bird in the hand to two in the bush” approach. As a result, older proven aircraft were kept in production longer than thev should have as the leadership was aíraid to gamble on newer, more-advanced models. Of course, given their disappointing experience with the Me 210 and the He 177, this cautious approach is understandable.
The German Air Force in 1939 would experience no immediate problem insofar as personnel was concerned. The Luftwaffe's training program had turned out a sufficient number of pilots and air crews to man an expanded wartime Air Force. Equipment was not the only area in which quality suffered. As the war progressed, training for pilots was cut almost in half, primarily because of the need to have replacements for pilots lost in combat. The result was pilots significantly less skilled than earlier groups that entered combat.
In Killer Incentives: Status Competition and Pilot Performance during World War II (NBER Working Paper No. 22992), Philipp Ager, Leonardo Bursztyn, and Hans-Joachim Voth examine the victory scores of thousands of German fighter pilots during the Second World War and find that official praise of a pilot led to significantly better performances by his former squadron peers. However, this extra achievement came at a lethal status-competition cost: Non-ace pilots strove to overachieve and sometimes paid the price with their lives. When a former squadron peer is mentioned, the very best pilots tried harder, scored more victories, and died no more frequently, but average pilots won only a handful of additional victories and died at a much higher rate than their peers.
Poorly trained pilots, flying inferior equipment against a determined enemy on two fronts, was a sure recipe to create an even greater need for replacement pilots. In short, the German economy and industry could not keep up with the demands of a two-front, widely flung war and elected the desperation strategy of throwing everything it had into the fray, regardless of training or expertise. The result was the 1,000-year Reich lasted a mere 12 years.
The organizational structure and training of the Luftwaffe’s leadership created a mentality that lent itself to disaster. The doctrine, training, and, of course, the promotions to higher ranks encouraged the development of a Luftwaffe mentality that emphasized combat over all else. Technological and industrial requirements were downgraded just as the officers who served in these areas were handicapped by the system.
Edward L. Homze as noted "The Nazi system, freewheeling, disjointed, personality dominated, without clearly defined goals (except for racism and expansion) had a devastating effect on the economy as well as the military of Germany. Under the Nazis, there just was no overall guiding concept for the air industry or the Luftwaffe. The Nazis' scorn of methodical approaches. their impatience with experienced experts, and their incessant search for easy, "quick-fix" Solutions had a corroding effect on the Luftwaffe during the war. The Nazis' flair for activism and improvisation may have been a success in the political realm, but it was a failure in the more prosaic realm of build ing an industry and an air force to fighi a world war."
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