*** World War II Axis country air campaigns Germany 1939-45

World War II Air Campaign: Country Campaigns--Germany (1939-45)

German air war
Figure 1.-- If ever a fighter looked like a killer, it was the German Me-262 jet. And it lived up to its loos. Here is one on disply at the Wright Patterson Air Base in America after the War were they were studied. Germany wasin the unusual position of having the modern airforce at the beginning and end of the War, but not during the crucial years when the War was decided (1942-43), but at the end of the War. Notice the plane behind the Me-262. We believe it is probably an He-177 variant. (Plese let is know if you can suggest a better candidate.) Wright Patterson is now the location of the U.S. Air Force Museum where many of these aircraft are on display.

The Versailles Treaty prohibited Germany from having an air force. As a result, there was no air planning during the 1920s or early-30s. Hitler had to coble together an air force as he began his massive rearmament program. There were no trained air commanders. They had to be recruited from the Heer. Germany during World War I had begun strategic bombardment with long range air craft. The new Luftwaffe was very different. With all the Heer officers. the Luftwaffe from the beginning had a grojund support orientation. Not that the new Lufwaffe did not want heavy bombers as well. But Germany had neither the finances or the industrial capacity to build both a tactical and strategic air force at the same time. So the choice was a tactical, ground support force. This also aligned itself with political environment of the Reich. Building one and two engine aircraft meant that the Germans could build far more aircraft than if they had built four engine heavy bombers. Luftwaffe Chief Göring to impress the Führer with aircrsft production numbers. This and British Primeminister Chamberlain's decision not to match German rearmament spending, meant that the German Luftwaffe began the War with the world's most advanced air force and the Luftwaffe played a major role in the early German successes, devestating Warsaw and other Polish cities. The Luftwaffe was an important part of the success of the Wehrmacht's stunning Blitzkrieg victories. The Luftwaffe failed, however, in the Battle of Britain. Hitler's calculation in laubching World War II was that Germany could win the War despite materal inadequacies through superior technology. But in first year of the war, German technology failed. This should have given Hitler and Göring pasuse, it did not. Aand while scoring major successes in the Soviet Union, the Luftwaffe utlimately failed. And the Luftwaffe failed to even protect the Reich as promissed by Göring from the Allied bombers that demolished German cities and the NAZI war effort. Hitler's irrational decesion to declare war on America shocked the Luftwaffe which becuse of Lend Lease had already began planning for the need to deal with American war production. A major initative was to adopt U.S. mass production methods. Fortunately for the world, by the time these projects came on line, the aircraft they were producing like the Me-109 was being outclassed by Allied planes. And Luftwaffe design teams failed to produce effective new propeller types. Their efforts like the Me-110 were largely failures. The Germans did begin deploying jet aircraft, but Hitler's mismanagement of the program and the Allied strategic bombing campign delayed production and prevented the second generation jets that if produced in quantity could have had a real impact on the war.

World War I

Germany gave considerable emphasis to Zeppelins before the War. Thus the Germans did not give as much attention to fixed wing aircraft as either the British and French. The Germans had 230 aircraft at the onset of the War, but only about 180 were of any real use (1914). The Germans were slower than the Allies in synchronizing firing through propellers. The Germans began deploying the Fokker E.I. (August 1915). It had a "synchronization gear" (commonly called an "interrupter gear") which enabled the pilot to fire his machine gun through the propeller without hitting the blades. This gave the Germans an important advantage over other Allied aircraft. The Fokker E.I and successors, the Eindecker ("Monoplane"). This allowed the Germans to join battle on the Western Front with some success. The Germans were this able to achieved air superiority (Late-1915). This curtailed Allied aerial reconnaissance flights. The first German aces began to pileup notable kills. The first German ace was Max Immelmann.

Aviation Industry

Germany did not have Europe's dominant aviation industry before the NAZI takeover (1933). The three major European powers (France, Germany, and Britain) all had small and roughly comparable aircraft industries in the early 1930s. Germany was restricted by the Versailles Treaty from having military aircraft. At first the aviation industry in general was resticted. The Allies eased those constraints (1921-22). As a result, ab aircract industry building light-aircraft industry grew. The remaining restrictions on civilian aircraft were eliminated (1926). The restrictions on military aircraft remained. Several companies developed sizeable operations: Arado, Dornier, Focke-Wulf, Junkers, and Heinkel. Germany's emphasis on commercial air transpott helped these companies develop. The German military evaded the Vesaailles restrictions partially through contracts in other countries, esprecially the Netherlands. With the NAZI take over, huge expenditures began for military aircraft. This was first done in secret. After Adolf Hitler abd the NAZIs seized power (1933), sizable funds began to be channeled into the development of military aircraft at the existing civilian aircradt companies. German aircraft companies obtained 84 million Reichsmarks for civilian projects (1927-31). The NAZIs pumped 980 million marks in aircraft projects, mostly military projects (1936 alone). Göring and Hitler made the new Luftwaffe public (1935). The lavish German spending soon made the German aircraft industry the most advanced in the world by the time that the Munich crisis occurred (1938). Luftwaffe planners had to make a major decesion at an early stage. Germany's limited industrial capacity meant that they could not build a sizeable tactical and strategic air force. The Luftwaffe planners, mostly officers frawn from the Heer, decided to build a tactical force to support ground operations. The massive expenditures enabled NAZI Germany to get a major lead on France and Britain by the time World War II broke out (1939). Many of most important Luftwaffe aircraft types were developed prior to the War (Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter, the Junkers Ju 87 dive bomber, and the Heinkel He 111 medium bomber, Messerschmitt Bf 110 twin-engined heavy fighter and the Junkers Ju 88. Dornier also built bombers. Messerschmitt and Focke-Wulf focused on fighters. The German aircraft industry proved much less successful in introducing improved types. Two exceptions were the FW-190 fighter and the innovative Me-262 jet fighter. The German aircraft industry's failure was in part due to its limited capacity, but also due to the Luftwaffe's mismanagement. They sponsored so many projects that they squandered scarce resources and delayed the introduction of new aircraft types. Hitler personally delayed the production of jet aircraft so that the Me-262 arrived to late to affect the outcome of the air war.

Creating the Luftwaffe (1935)

The Versailles Treaty prohibited Germany from having an air force. As a result, there was no air planning during the 1920s or early-30s. Hitler had to coble together an air force as he began his massive rearmament program. There were no trained air commanders. They had to be recruited from the Heer. Germany during World War I had begun strategic bombardment with long range air craft. The new Luftwaffe was very different. With all the Heer officers. the Luftwaffe from the beginning had a grojund support orientation. Not that the new Lufwaffe did not want heavy bombers as well. But Germany had neither the finances or the industrial capacity to build both a tactical and strategic air force at the same time. So the choice was a tactical, ground support force. This also aligned itself with political environment of the Reich. Building one and two engine aircraft meant that the Germans could build far more aircraft than if they had built four engine heavy bombers. Luftwaffe Chief Göring to impress the Führer with aircrsft production numbers. This and British Primeminister Chamberlain's decision not to match German rearmament spending, meant that the German Luftwaffe began the War with the world's most advanced air force and the Luftwaffe played a major role in the early German successes.

Hitler Youth Flieger HJ

oon after Hitler's appointment as chancellor, the Hitler Youth organization (HJ) seized control of the German youth movement. An air division, the Flieger program, was establlshed within the HJ. It proved to be a very popular program. Older HJ boys began working with gliders. Thus when Hitler formally announced the creation of the Luftwaffe (1935), a program was in place that was producing recruits with aeronautical experience for the Luftwaffe. The program was very popular with HJ boys. World War II accounts of the air war generally focus on the planes involved. Less well covered is the preparation of the pilots. The German Luftwaffe began the War with the bestvtrained as most effective pplots and air crews of the War. (The one exception was the small elite pilots of the Japanese First Air Fleet.) Part of the reason for this was the experience of the Luftwaffe in Spain. But a major reason was the large Flieger HJ program which meant that the Luftwaffe had access to large numbers of young men with basic aviation experience.

Spanish Civil War (1936-39)

The Germans beginning in 1936 were also active in Spain helping Franco establish a Fascist regime. Fighting began in Spain in July 1936. Spanish Generals Francisco Franco and Quiepo de Llano revolted against a new left-wing Republican Government elected in Madrid. Franco appealed for help. Hitler immeduately ordered Luftwaffe transport plans to transport Franco's loyalist troops in Morroco to participate in the fighting. He saw a left-wing government in Madrid as harmful to the Reich, aiding the French policy of encirclement. [Davidson, pp. 57-58.] Both Italy and Germany were soon sending arms and men to the loyalists and provided important air elements. Whole units were deployed to Spain. It was in Spain that the aerial bombardment of cities began. The defenseless Basque village of Guernica was the first European city to be destroyed by the Luftwaffe. The democracies and League of Nations respnded with an arms embargo. Only the Soviets aided the Republic.


The British political leadership even before Chamberlain became primeminister with the rise of the NAZIs in Germany adopted the policy of appeasement. The British as a result did not respond approptriateky with Hitler launched a massive rearmament program, including a new airforce. Chamberlain explained to intimates that what Churchill and his friends did not understand was that Britain did not need to match the Germans, only to have a defense estblishment that was caable of hurting Germany. He believed that would be sufficent to disuade Hitler. The focus of the Royal Air Force (RAF) in an era of limited budgets before the War was to build a strategic bomber force with the assumption that the 'bomobers would always get through'. The idea was that this would disuade the Germans from launching another war. In the Hoiuse of Commons debates, it was Churchill that largely focused in the Luftwaffe and Chamberlain's failure to keep up with the Geramsn. Others focused in the Royal mNaby and Army. Chamberlain has in many ways been treated unfairky, given what his options were, but one daming inductment is the extent to ewhich he kept the facts about German rearmament from the British public.

Pre War Force

The Royal Air Firce in the inter-War era put a lot of their limited resources into building bombrers. Fewer resources were put into fighter development to the point that Britain nearly entered the War with canvas body bi-planes fighters that would have been totally outclassed by the advanced German all-metal mono-wing Me-109. (The Royal Navy did have to enter the war with bi-planes.) The need for fighters to escort the bombers was not understood by the British. The investment in bombers proved a tragic mistake. Prime Minister Chamberlain and the French declined to use them as they would invited German retaliation on French cities. In addition the British bombers had limited capabilities. They were slow and poorly armed. German Me-109s fighters cut them to pieces during the day and the bombers did not have the navigational capabilities to bomb at night. The RAF came very close to enterring World War II with bi-plane fighters. The Hurican was basically a biplane fixed with a mono-wing. The Spitfire was Britain's first true mono-wingb fighter.


The Luftwaffe would prove an essential component to Blitkrieg. German artillery, in many cases move by horses, could not keep up with the Panzers. The Luftwaffe could. Military commanders and the public around the world failed to understand what had occurred in Poland and the doctrine around which the Luftwaffe was constructed. Great attention was focussed on the Luftwaffe bombing of civilan populatuion centers, especially Warsaw. This had been the great fear pf the public, bombing of cities. Not well seen was the fact that the Luftwaffe was a tactical force composed of fighters and light and medium bombers. It was built around the tactical concept of Blitzkrieg. The Luftwaffe was created to provide aerial support for rapidly moving panzers and motorized infantry. The fighters established air superority. Light bombers like the Sturzkampfflugzeug (Stuka) Ju-87 dive bombers could be used as highly mobile precession artillery support. Göring explained, "... all other countries split up their air power between their armies and their navies, and planes were regarded as mere auxiliary weapons. For this reason they lacked a weapon with which they could deliver concentrated attacks: an operative air force. But in Germany we had worked from the startalong such limes." This became more apparent in the Western Offensive, but too late to prevent the fall of France (June 1940). Even so, it was not until El Alemaine (July-October 1942) that the British successfully adopted the principles worked out by the Germans before the War. The weakeness of the Luftwaffe as a strategic force became apparent in the Battle of Britain (July-September 1940). Although the Luftwaffe was highly successfuil in Openeration Barbarossa (June 1941), the lack of a strategic bombing force made it impossible to target Soviet arms production.

Battle for Poland (1939)

Aircraft played only a minor role in World War I. It was mostly dashing yoing men fighting it out in dog fights over the trenches of the Western Frnt. Air warfare would play auch darket role in world War II with massive strategic bombing. And it all began in Poland. The Luftwaffe launched World War II with an attack on the town of Wieluń, near Łódź--at the time in southeastern Poland. The town was virtually obliterated and more thn a thousand civilins klled. The Luftwaffe was in 1939 the most powerful air force in the world and struck from the North, East, and South making any Polish air defense impossible. The Luftwaffe was an important component of the Blitzkrieg tactics that the Germans unleased on Europe. The Me-109 fighter and the Ju-87 Stuka dive bomber would dominate the air campaign. And combined with fast-moving Panzer forces, the Polish Army was quickly defeatted in sweeping pinzer movements. The small Polish Ait Force put up a valiant defense, but did not have the planes to resist the Luftwaffe or support the beligered Polish Army. They did manage to bloody the Luftwaffe, shooting down nearly 300 planes. A year later in the skies over Britain, Polish pilots would show what they were capable of when flying modern fighters. The Poles put up a stiff resisance for a few days, but after the first week, the Polish Air Force was destroyed and no longer a factor in the campaign. the Luftwaffe could then focus entirely on the battered Polish Army. There were ground support actions as well as terror attacks. The Lufwaffe would end the Polish campaign wth the nassive terror bombing of Warsaw, confirming the worse fears of the European public as aesult of the bombing of Spanish cities. The Germans later in the War would complain bitterly about Allied bombing of their beautiful meieval cities, but beginning with the Polish campaign the Germans wer convinced that the mighty Luftwaffe could bomb cities throught Europe at will and no bombs would fall on their own cities. Only when the bombs began falling on German cities did their attitude toward bombing civilians began to change.

Terror Bombing

It was the Germans who began bombing civilian populations rather than military targets as a terror tactict calculated to destroy civilian morale. Visionary military planners in the 1930s built the world's most advanced air force at the time--the Luftwaffe. [Corum] Germany was the first World War II combatant to use bombers to terrorize urban populations. This began even before World War II during the Spanish Civil War. The Luftwaffe experimented with the bombing of Guernica in 1937 and other Spanish cities were targeted. At the onset of World War II began the tactic was used on Warsaw and other Polish cities (September 1939). One historian writes, "The bombing of Warsaw early in the war made it clear to the Allies how Hitler intended to fight his war. It was to be Schrecklichkeit ('frightfulness') with no regard for the civilian population." [Snyder] Actually the avowed purpose was to cause civilian casualties. The Luftwaffe demolished the Polish Air Force on the first day of the War and for 6 days 400 bombers pounded the unprotected Polish capital day and night with no pretense of targetting military or industrial targets. The same tactic was employed in Germany's western campaign in 1940. This time it was Rotterdam (May 1940). The Luftwaffe targetted the Dutch seaport of Rotterdam AFTER the city had surrendered. Screaming Stuka dive-bombers leveled the center of the city. Luftwaffe bombers on May 13-14 concentrated on Rotterdam without regard for civilian casualties. Hitler describes the tactic as "Schrecklichkeit" (frightfulness), the use of terror to break a country's will to resist. It worked in the Netherlands. The terror bombing of Rotterdam and threats of similar bombings of other Dutch cities convinced the Dutch that resistance was futile. The Dutch Army surrendered on May 15. It proved a disaster against the British. The success of this strategy in Poland and the Netherlands had convinced Hitler, who had a predelection for massive destruction, that it could be successfully employed in the upcoming Battle of Britain instead of following the strategy devised by the Luftwaffe. Hitler's insistance that the Luftwaffe switch to terror bombing of British cities was a crucial element in the eventual German loss of the battle as well as a major swing in Ameican public opinion. Hitler was, however, not deterred from the tactic. He ordered the terror bombing of Belgrade in 1941, calling it "Operation Punishment". Some authors challenge the common perception that the Luftwaffe itself embraced terror bombing of civilian populations. Terror was Hitler's preferred tactic, not the Lufwaffe's strategic doctrine. Actually the Americans and British were more interested in startegic bombing than Luftwaffe planners. It was Hitler that decided to use the Luftwaffe for terror bombing. [Corum] The British Royal Air Force (RAF) in contrast were very reluctant to use it bombers during the opening phase of World War II. RAF bombers actually dropped leaflets on German cities, but that was to change after the Blitz.

Battle for France (1940)

The Germans proceeded to conquer virtually all of Western Europe. After a few months of the 'Phony War', France's turn came. The Germans struck on a wide front against the neutral Netherlands, Belgiym, and Luxemburg. The terror bombing of Rotterdam convinced the already hard-pressed Dutch Army to surrender. The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) rushed north to aid the Dutch. The Germans then struck in the Belgian Ardenes which allowed them to avoid the formidable Maginot Line. The French and Belgians considered the Ardenes impassable to tanks. The Germans managed to easily penetrate the rough terraine, crossed two substantial rivers, and the XIX Panzer Corps rapidly reached the English Channel--cutting the BEF off from the French and rendering the Maginot Line uselss. The Luftwaffe played a key role in the German offensive. RAF Fighter Command was not totally neglected, primarily because the need for fighters to intercept bomber raids picked up by the Chain Home Network was understood. Limited financing, however, limited fighter development. British fighters faired poorly in the initial fighting in France (1939-40). The Luftwaffe outclassed the British and French fighters in the Battle for France. It was, however, not because of the quality of the fighrers--it was alrgely due to tactics. Pilot and command inexperience and the lack of radar to protect air fields were some of the problem. The Britisha and French pursued defensive tactics, flying patrols which without radar was a failed strategy. Even so, they shrt down quite a number of German planes. Unfortunately the French as part of the armidtice, turned them all back over to the Germans. With the fall of France, German cities were largely out of effective range to British bombers.

Battle of Britain (1940-41)

Fortuntely for the British, the Channel stopped the Panzers. Thus the campaign shifted to the air. And the RAF with the support of radar was able to score the first Allied victory of the War--the Battle of Britain. It was widely covered at the time, including nighly briacasts from America on the Blitz. The result was not just that the Luftwaffe was damaged, but it undermined the whole NAZI swar effort. Hitler's strategy was victory in the West so that he could turn all his effort on the Soviet Union. Viuctory in the West woyld make availanle vast resources. But the failure to defeat the British meant that not only could the Germans not immport the supplies thry needed, especioally oil, but they had to devote vast rsources to fight the war in the West, especially after Hitler broufgt America into the war. Much of HGermany's induisdtrial output was used to fight the war in the West. It did not take much industry to fight the Ostkrieg. Most of the Ostheer was unmotorized infantry on foot with horse-frawn carts for supplies. In terms of manpower, the German effort was primarily in the East, but German industry was primarily diverted to the West. The war in the West in cintrast required vast industrial inputs. Hitler understood when he launched taht Germany would never be able to match his targets numerically, but he bet on the technological superiority of German industry. But not even 1 year into the War, the Bayyle of Britain showed that Germann technologu was being matched by the British. The British victory was of greater importance than generally recognized. It did even more than just saving Britain. It wasv avital stepmin saving Western Civilization.


One of the fascinating phenomenon of World War II is that Germany not only began the War with the most modern and effective aircraft in the world aircraft, but also ended the War with the most modern aircraft. But during the War when it really counted, Germany was an aviation black hole. The only plane of real importance that Germany introduced was the FW-190, a superb fighter which for a short period threatened to reverse the Allied developing air superiority (1942). How is it possible that Germany technology was so advanced at the beginning and end of the war, but not during the War. It all comes back to primarily one person Reich Marshall Herman Göring. He was Hitler's closest intimate and given to of the most important jobs that would determine the success of failure of the German war effort--command of the Luftwaffe and management of the German economy meaning the Four Year Plan. (Economic management also affected the air war in that industrial introduction was a major part of who wold win the air war.) Either of those assignments would have been a mind-boggling undertaking for any individual, Göring spent much of his time regaling in his wealth. During the critical Battle of Britain, he devoted much if his attention to stealing art from terrified French Jews. His failure in both assignments was arguably the primary reason that Germany lost the War. Germany lat first led in modern aircraft because the pre-NAZI government gave considerable attention to the civilian aircraft industry which was allowed under the terms of the Versailles Treaty. This meant that Hitler had an established aviation industry and considerable technical skills at his disposable. When he became Chancellor (1933) he turned on the money taps . At the same time, the Western democracies were severely restricting military spending. Britain and France tried to appease Hitler rather than even match NAZI spending. The result was that Hitler acquired the most advanced air force in the world, playing major role in the early German victories. It was, however, a very specialized air force, largely focused on ground support. This was a war-wining tactic against Germany' neighbors, however, proved to be a liability as the war evolved and the the Panzers reached the Channel (May 1940). But rather than building on their huge advantage. Hitler after the fall of France believing that he had won the War, decided to reduce development of new aircraft without immediate benefit. Göring did not object, but was responsible for anthrax huge mistake. He appointed a close fiend and another World War I fighter pilot to head the development of new aircraft. Udet was a flashy playboy without the lest understanding of aviation technology. He is arguably the greatest idiot of the War. He was enamored with dive bombing. Dive bombing was important in World War, II but because of the huge stresses involved was only feasible with small aircraft like the Ju-87 Stuka and American Dauntless SBD. Udet incomprehensibly wanted all German bombers to have dive bombing capabilities, including four engine heavy bombers. He severely damaged the promising Ju-88, but the He-177s and Me-210s were real disasters. (The Me-210 fighter actually required a fighter escort.) When Göring eventually recognized the damage he had done, turned on him. Udet committed suicide (November 1941). (Of couse Udet in a suiside note blamed his demise on the Jews.) His influence on auircrft development meant that the Germans had almost no new aircraft in the critical period when the outcome of the War was decided (1942-43). But even Udet could not destroy the tremendous technical expertise of German aviation companies. As a result Germany led in the development of jets. Hitler delayed the process, but at end if the War, Germany had effective jet fighters and bombers, fortunately for mankind, it was too late. In part t because of the Allied strategic bombing campaign and shortage of raw materials, Germany could not produce aircraft in the numbers needed to have any real impact on the War.

Strategic Bombing Campaign (1939-45)

After the Blitz, the British set out to build a modern strategic bomber force to bring the war to the Germans. The result was the iconic Avro Lancaster which began reaching RAF squadrind (March 1942). The Lanc had the range to reach German cuties and carried a substantial bomb load. It was used preinarily for night time raids. A huge portion of the British war economy was devoted to building a strategic bombing force which the British hoped could win the war without the huge infantry losses of World War I. A the same time Arthur Harris assumed command of Bomber Command. He ardenbtly brlieved that strategic bombing could win the war. The American Eighth Air Force would join Bomber Command in the around the clock bombardment of NAZI Germany, the Americans by day and the British by night. The Americans and British differed oin bombing tactics. The British were rught that even the hgeavilybarmed B-17 Flying Fortress could not fight their way into German airspace without unacceptable losses. Fortunately for the Amerrticans, the long-range P-51 Mustang fighers arrived to escort the bombers (December 1943). And within months they had largely destroyed the Luftwaffe--making the D-Day landings possible. Strategic bombing alone did not win the War, but it played a more important role than admitted by many. many of those who criticise the strategic bombing campaign do so for ehat they call humanitarian reasons rather than the facts involved. In addition to the damage to German war induistries, the bombing forced the Germans to divert huge resources from the Ostkrieg as wella as to withdraw the Luftwaffe from the East and France to protect German cities.

Battle of the Beams (1940-45)

As strategic bombing targetting distant sites became an important feature of World War II, the beligerant countries began developing navigational signals. The resulting technological effort became what is now called the Battle of the Beams or as Chufrchill phrased it--the Wizzard War. Here the Germans were even more ahead of the British than on radar. The German Freya radar was more advanced than anything in the Chin-Home Netwirk. And in this case were the first to develop a usable system. This is rather curious because the Germans had developed a largely tactical airfirce. It was the British that had ficused in bimbers, almost entering World War II with biplane figters, (Actually the Navy wsas still using biplanes well into the War.) The Luftwaffe began working on navaigational beams for bombers (1939). There first system was Knickebein (Crocked Leg), using a system of interesting beams. This was not at first of major importance to the Germans because the Luftwaffe was developed as a tactical air force. Its inintial assignments were daylight operations in support of ground forces. The German pilots and crews could over relatively short distances navigate by land marks or revive directions from ground spotters. This changed with the Battle of Britain, specificalkly the Blitz. When the Germans were forced to bomb at night because of day light losses, the began to use Knickebein which could direct the Luftwaffe bombers to the cities whuch were targetted. The system was not precise, but good enough to get the bombers to the targetted city at night. The British did not beliece that sych a system was possible because oif the vcuriuture of the earth. Thankfully British intelligence picked up some warmings and R.V, Jineses in Air Ministry (Intelligence) managed to detect the signals and develiop counter measures. What followed was a cat and mouse operatiin with tge Gerans developing new systens and the British counter measures. This declined in importance as the Luftwaffe withdrew most of their fighter and bomber squadrons to support the Barbarossa invasion of the Soviet Union (March 1941). It is at this point that the Battle of the Beams shifted primarily to British navigational beams. ncredably, RAF Bomber Command had no such systemns at the outbreak of the War. RAF bombers were susposed to find targers using celestial navigation. There was no effort to test the effectiveness of such findings which birders in sheer lunacy. Not surprisingly, early raids were not only inaccurate, but often could not even find whole cities. The British as a result, well after the War began, commenced working on navigational signals of their own. The British early in the War had found that their bombers could not attack during the day because of Luftwaffe fighter defenses and even when penetrating fighter defenbses, cloud cover often obscured ground land marks. Bomber Command thus has to shift to night bombing. They thus faced the same problem the Luftwaffe faced--navigation. Thus the Briish developed navigation beam systems pf their own: Gee and Oboe were developed. Gee-H eventually proved so precise that RAF Bomber Command could bomb more accurately at night than the Americans during the day with their Nordon Bombsights.

Western Desert: Air War (1940-43)

The RAF began the War with adesperate effort toi deal weith the Luftwaffe in France and then over Britiain itself. There were few resources available for British outposts in the Mediterranean, especially when they were under no immediate threat. Thus cahnged wh Missolini eager to latch on to the German victories declared war. This brought Egypt and Malta into the fronr kine of the War (June 1940). At the time Malta had three obsolete biplanes for an air defebnse--chrudtened Faith, Hope, and Charity. The Bruitish dirces guarding the Suez Canal in Egypt was in only slightly better shape. This was the origins of the Desert Air Force (DAF) with many other names., It was created from No. 204 Group RAF under RAF Middle East Command in North Africa (1941). It was tasked with providing close air support to the British Eighth Army against the Gernan Afrika Korps. The DAD, at the time called the Western Desert Air Forces had 16 squadrons of aircraft (nine fighter, six medium bomber and one tactical reconnaissance) and fielded approximately 1,000 combat aircraft (October 1941). A year later, for the Second Battle of El Alamein, the RAF fielded 29 squadrons (including nine South African and three USAAF units) flying Boston, Baltimore and Mitchell medium bombers; Hurricane, Kittyhawk, Tomahawk, Warhawk and Spitfire fighters and fighter-bombers (October 1942). This totaled 1,500 combat aircraft, more than twice Axis contingent. And the DAF had all the fuel they needed while Axis dorced were being starved of fuel. The RAF began the War with a ineffective tactical docrtrune for aeweial combat. This was recyfied diring the Nattle of Britain. The RAF still had no close air aupport dictrine which the Geramns had from the beginning of the war in Poland. It was only in the Wester Desert that the DAF behan to develop close airt dsuppoort tactivs. (The Ameriucans foicused ion strategic bomving alsi did not have a close air support dictrine.) Furher advances were made in Utaly (1943-44). Allied clodse-air support would not be fully develooped until D-Day. The DAF consisted of squadrons from the Royal Air Force (RAF), the South African Air Force (SAAF), the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) and other Allied units.

Battle of the Atlantic: Luftwaffe Cooperation with the Kriegsmarine (1940-44)

The Battle of the Atlantic began with engagements netweem a few poorly armed escorts and U-boats. Gradually more escorts appeared and more advanced weaponty was developed. The key to deating the U-boats, however, was air cover. The U-bpats could not operate with aircraft overhead, especially aircraft with effective weaponry. A critical area in the Battle of the Atlantic was the Western Approaches, meaning British costal warters which concoys had to enter to reach many of the country's larger shipping ports, like Glasgow and especually Liverpool. With the fall of France, all of the Wesern Approaches fell within the range of German bombers. A few FW-200 Condors were committed, but Göring did not like the idea of sharing ant success with the Kriegsmarine and severely limited the number of aircraft made available. More than that he managed to quash the Kringsmrine's efforts to develop an naval air arm.

Ostkrieg:Air War in the East (1941-45)

Most historical accounts of the air war available in the West deal with the Luftwaffe campaigns in the West and the subsequent Allied strtegic bombing campaign. The air war on the Eastern Front is much less studied by Western historians. This is somewhat surprising as Germany and the Soviet Union when the War began had the two most powerful air forces. The Luftwaffe essentially destroyed the Red Air Force during the first few days of Barbarossa. As a result the Red Air Force was not a factor during Barbarossa. The Red Army during the Barbarossa had to fight with virtually no air cover. This graduaally changed and by 1943 the Red Air Force was again an important factor in the War. Several factors were involved here. The Soviets did have a substantial aeronautics industry and the Soviet war plants that had been moved east by 1943 had reached full production. America through Lend Lease was delivering planes to the Soviets. The Allied strategic bombing campaign forced not only forced the Luftwaffe to withdraw assetts from the Eastern Front to defend German cities. In addition the bombing disrupted German production as well as casused substantial lossess in German fighters. Many accounts of the air war do not give sufficent attention to the impact on the Luftwaffe of engaging the Allied bombers even before long-range fighter cover became available.

Air Defense

Göring claimed that the Luftwaffe would provide an impreganable Air Barrier in the west. He assured Germans that, "If English bombs ever fall on Germany, then you can call me Meyer!" Meyer was an obviously Jewisg name. In fact the Allies at first refrained from launching an air war. Here France because her cities were vulnerable resisted British suggestions. The German Western offensive (May-June 1940) was so successful, that German cities were largely out of range from the planes available to RAF Bomber Command. Only in 1942 did Bomber Command get effective long-range planes like the Lancaster that brought German cities in range. By this time the Germans had constructed a forbiddening degensive line beginning with the Netherlands, Belgium, and Northerm France. They had also begun to develop effective night fighters. The Americans joined the British stategic bombing campaign, bombing by day while the British bombed by night, hoping to overstress the German defenses. The Americans found that only contrary to expectations that the havily armed bombers could not fight through the German defenses without havy losses. German defenses took a terrible toll on Allied bomber formations until 1944 when long-range fighter escorts became available. The Luftwaffe could in most cases carefully consider engagements. Here it was rise to resist the American bombers are allow them to pulverize their cities. The bombers essentially forced the Luftwaff to give battle to protect German cities. The bombers and especially the escorts also took a heavy toll on the Lufwaffe. Here in the skies over Germany the 8th Air Force essentially destoyed the Luftwaffe,

Pilot Training

One of the reasons that the Luftwaffe performed so well in the early years of the War was a very effective pilot training program. This began early, even before the Luftwaffe was created. A Hitler Youth unit air unit was formed--the Flieger HJ. Boys began learning about how to build gliders and fly them. As a result when the Luftwaffe was created, there was already a sizeable body of young people that had basic familiarity with flying. twaffe was created, older Hitler Youth (HJ) boys were funneled into the military. As part of the Hilter Youth program a boy could select specific services and one of the options was the Flieger HJ which prepared boys for Luftwaffe service. The early German victories were not solely due to better aircraft types and a larger force. The Luftwaffe also had an enormous advantage of well-trained pilots with a well-defined tactical doctrine. There was, however, only one pilot training school. The Luftwaffe like the Wehrmacht was built around a strategic doctrine of campaigns against individual countries which could be quickly overwealmed. No one imagined that the F�hrer would taken on not onlt the British and French, but without completing the war in the West, the Soviet Union and the United States as well. One pilot training school might have suficed with the British and French, but not when the Soviet Union and the United States was added to Germnany's foes. Successes in the first 2 years of the War did not lead Luftwaffe planners to question this assessment. Hitler by December 1941, however, had involved Germany with an emensely powerful coalition including, America, Britain, and the Soviet Union with enormous indistrial and scientific resources. The German advantage disapated as the War continued. The Americans and British turned out ever larger numbers of competent air crews. The Luftwaffe unlike the Americans kept their aces in combat until they were killed or wounded. This meant in practoice that hard won battle skills were constantly drained from the Luftwaffe. American practice was to bring back the most effective pilots after a tour of duty to train new pilots. Incredibly, the Luftwaffe did not open new pilot schools untill 1944. At first they modified the pilot training program to push more pilots through more quickly. Besides the limited capacity, the Luftwaffe training program failed to make use of the expertise of fighter aces. They were kept on station until they were killed or wounded. This is one reason that German aces racked up higher scores than Allied aces who were rotated. This had predictable results. Not only were cadets lost in the training program, but the new pilots produced had to face effectively trained Allied pilots in increasingly capable aircraft. The Luftwaffe training program by 1944 was severly impaired by increasing shortages of aviation fuel. In the last phase of the War, there were still planes availble, but the Luftwaffe had difficulty finding competent pilots. During the Battle of Brutain, the RAF had to send out pilots with minimal training--many of who did not survive their first few sorties. By the end of the War it was the Luftwaffe that was throwing pilots into battle with minimal training.

Aircraft Construction

Not fully understood during the Battle of Britain was that British aircraft coinstruction actually exceeded that of German construction. When Hitler invaded the Soviet Union (June 1941) and declared war on the United States (December 1941) it meant that Germany was facing enemies that were producing far larger numbers of modern aircraft than Germany was producing.

Occupied Europe

Churchill and Roosevelt in 1940 were concerned that Hitler and the NAZIs would turn the industrial and scientific potential of occupied Europe into an unbearable war machine. While the occupied countries were bled dry for raw materials, food, and labor, as far as we can tell, thevindustrial and scientific potential was not fully utilized. We doknow that the Czech Skoda indusyrial complex was used, we have no information showing that ythevindustrial and scientific potential of France, the Netherlands and other countries to expand Luftwaffe research and production.

Strategic Bombing Campaign

The greatest weakness of the German war plan was the fact that Germany had no domestic oil fields. The Germans relied on Romanian fields and as the War progressed, synthretic fuel plants in the Ruhr which used coal. If Barbarossa had succeeded, Germany would have had the Caucassian oil fields, but after the Soviets counter-attacked at Stalingrad, the Germans were forced to withdraw from the Caucassess. The Allies then targeted the Romanian oil fields at Ploiesti, p[erhaps the most well protected target other than Berlin. The strategic bombing also targeted aircraft production and ball bearings. The cost on Allied air crews was grevious, but there were aklso heavy losses of Luftwaffe fighters. When the Allies introduced long-range figher esorts were added in 1944, Luftwaffe losses became critical. The final defeat of the Luftwaffe came with attacks on the synthetic fuel plants. This destroyed the Luftwaffe as an effective fighting force.


The Luftwaff did not use the term 'aces' like the Allies. The German term was 'Experts'. British and American pilots achieved the elte designation of ace when they achieved their fifth confirmed kill. And few Allied pilots achievedthis destinction. And thse that did rarely wentfar beyondthis number. In shrp cntrast, more than 30 Luftwaffe pilots shot down 50 enemy aircraft or more. [Heaton and Lewis] There of coure were reaons for this. The airforcesfsedby the Germansearlybin the War were poorlyequipped and trained. The Huge Red air Force in particular was ill-prepard nd inckuded a lot of obselete aurcraft. And unlike the allies, Experten were not assigned to trainig programs so they coud saretheir skills and insights. Rather many foughtthe entire 6 years of the War. And of course they had excllent aircraft ans were veery killed.

Destruction of the Luftwaffe (1944)

The air war changed dramatically in 1944. The Luftwaffe had bled Blomber Command and the 8th Air Force in 1943. Neither fotced had achieved the results expected by Round-the-Clock bombing. Considerable damage had been done but the Luftwaffe had not been broken and the German war effort had not been severely impaired. In fact German war production was inccreasing. A series of devlopments in lte 1943 radically changed the situation in the skies over Germmany. First and most importantly, the Allies had solved the fighter escort problem. P-51s by December 1943 were beginning to reach the 8th Air Force in numbers. Second, the Allies had invaded southern Italy (September 1943). The new 15th Air Force was established at Foggia. This brought outhern Germany within in range, complicating the Luftwaffe's problems in defending the Reich. Third was the scale of the Allied build up in England. The 8th Air Force was beginning to reach parity with Bomber Command. The 8th Air Firce by the end of the year had the capability of staging raids composed of over 700 bombers on a sustained basis. The full extent of the change was not completely apparent because the Allies shifted priorities from Germany to France in preparation for the cross-Channel invasion. Here the Luftwaffe was so devestated that they were a non-factor. Once the invasion had succeeded and the liberation of France in Progress, the Allied renewed the strategic bombing campaign with a unimaginable ferocity.

D-Day (1944)

The full extent of the change was not completely apparent because the Allies shifted priorities from Germany to France in preparation for the cross-Channel invasion--Overlord. Eisenhower demanded personal control over both Brish and American air forces. Here the British objected, but when Ike threatened to resign, Churchill capitulted. Eisenhower also was confronted with resistance down the chain of command. Bomber Command and the 8th Air Force had taken a terrible drubbing from the Luftwaffe in 1942 and 43. Npw that they were gettng the upper hand, they wanted to persue the attack over Germany. Harris and Spaatz both argued that they could best contribute to Overlord by continuing th straetegic bombing campaign over Germany. Spaatz in particular wanted to focus on the German petroleum industry. Not only would reducing petroleum production restruct the Wehrmacht, bur the Luftwaffe would have to give battle affording the Allied fighter escorts to destroy the remaining fighter force. The Allied air commanders were opposed by a British civilian, a scientist on the air plnning staff--Silly Zuckerman. He devised the Transportation Plan which sought to essentially destroy the French transpotation system leading to the invasion beaches. The idea was to target 80 railway marshelling and repair centers located in Belgium and northern France. (The targets included the transport system leading to the Pas de Calais as well as Normondy so as not to tip off the Germans as to the location of the invasion.) The Germans could not heavily defend the whole coast. Their ability to defeat the invasion would rest on their ability to rush powerful forces forward and gain control of the invasion beaches before the Allies could land sufficienr forces to exploit their manpower and resource superiority. Zuckerman had the support on one air commander--Air Marshal Tedder. Eisehower decided on the Transportation Plan and backed it even when Churchill expressed concern over possible French civilian casualties. In persuing the Transportation Plan the Allied bombers proved much more uccessful at hitting ground targets than one believed possible. Here the Allies improved their target marking techniques. The supression of Luftwaffe was another high-priority factor factor. Raids on Germany were not entirely ceased. The Luftwaffe by June was so devestated that they were a non-factor.


Advanced Luftwaffe Weapons

The Luftwaffe in the final years of the War deployed some advanced weapons that would dominate future battlefields, but had only a minor impact on the conduct of World War II. Some of these weapons like the V-1 and ME-262 were actually deployed. The V-1 was essentially defeated. The ME-262 was the most effective fighter of the War, but Hitler's interferemce (demanding it be used as a bomber) and the inability of German industry to produce it in the numbers needed. Others like the Americas bomber never entered production, but had amazingly futuristic design elements. The V-2 was the most advanced weapon of all, but was developed by the Heer and not the Luftwaffe.

V Weapons

The NAZI V weapons are sometimes referred to as rockets. Rockets were effectively used in the World War II, but the German V-weapons were not rockets. The V-1 was a unmanned jet bomb or primitive cruise missle. The V-2 was a much more complex weapon system, a balistic missle. The NAZIs in 1944 launched these revolutionary weapons in an old fashioned terror campain against Britain. The V stood for Vergeltungswaffe--vegence. The vegence was retaliation for the Aliied strategic bombing campaign. The Germans were the firt to build and deploy these weapons. These wee extremely innovative weapons system and are today key components of modern militaries. The V-1 or buzz-bomb was a realitively simple weapon, a flying bomb using a ram jet engine. The V-2 balistic missle was very different. It was a technological achievement of the first order. Intelligence played a key role in the Allied response to these weapons. [Keegan] Both weapons are generally dismissed as of little importance and introduced too late to have any real impact on the War. This is not entirely accurate. This was true of the V-2. It was so costly and time-consuming to build that it was not an effective weapon with rhe conventinal war heads the Germans used. The V-1 was, however, a different matter. It was a simple system that could be easily mass-produced in large numbers. Amassive attack on the English Channel ports could have delayed or seriously hampered the D-Day landings.


The Germans developed an effective combat jet, but mismanagement by Hitler meant that it had little impact on the War. Jet propulsion was one of the many weapons systems that the German s were working on. The first successful jet plane was built by Heinkel and flew in August 1939, a few days before the German invasion of Poland. The Germans were so sucessful in 1939-40 that military production was scaled back, especially futuristic weapons that could no immediately help the War effort. In part this reflected Hitler's fear that shortages on the home-front would affect morale and public support for the War effort. Only after the invasion of the Soviet Union and the first major reverses were ome of the new weapn's system given priority. One of the most successful was the ME-262 jet. Both the British and Americans were working on jet planes, but the Germans were several years ahead. The world's first combat jet, the ME-262, was introduced in 1944. There were 1,400 ME-262s built. The Allied bombing did not prevent the the construction of the ME-262, but according to one Messerschmitt enginner, "The bombing slowed us down." If Hitler hadn't delayed development, it could have been available to twart the Normandy Invasion. If it had been used in a coordinated fashion as a fighter, it could have ravaged the Allied bombing campaign. Clearly defending German civilians was not high on Hitler's priorities. Hitler's interference, however, prevented it from being effectively used. Hitler wanted it used as a fast bomber. [Fest, p. 670.] He wanted revenge which meant a bomber. Large numbers of ME-262s were used a tactical bombers rather than fighters. This not only diluted the impact on the Allied air campaign, but it gave the Allies time to develop tactics to use against them. The ME-262 was more sluggish on turns and vulnerable on tackeoffs and landings. American fighters targetted airfiekds where thge ME-262s were based. In addition the air campaign was drastically reducing the supply of aviation fuel. This restricted both operations and pilot training.

Rocket Planes: ME-163B Komet

One of the secret German weapons was the Messerschmitt (ME) 163B rocket plane, the first combat rocket plane. The plane was not ready for comat use as the Allies poured into Germany. The Luftwaffe was, however, desperate and pushed by the NAZIs, deployed it against Allied bombers. The ME-163B Komet was the only operational rocket-powered aircraft of World War II. The plane was capable of spectacular performance, it had higher climb rates and speeds than any other plane deployed in the War. It was also the most dangerous. It used highly combustible rocket fuels and was difficult to land. One especially serious problem was the wheels were part of a undercarriage that was jetesoned after takeoff.

Primitive cruise missle: V-1

The V-1 was essentially a primitive cruise missle, but without a sophisticated targetting mechanism. The Germans begining June 13 used the V-1 to target London and other British cities after the D-Day landings. V stood foer "vengence", retribution for the Allied bombing of Germany. The Germans launched about 13,000 buzz bombs accross the Channel at England. Only about 2,500 of these hit the intended targets, primarily London. The V-1 could not be accurately targeted. They were lucky to hit a city, but even this was difficult because the Luftwaffe at this stage of the War could not even manage air recognisance over Britain. The British were able to deal with the V-1 offensive in a number of ways. In accurate news reports mislead the Germans in how to target the weapns. Anti-aircraft guns were rushed to the Channel coast. The RAF intensified fighter patrols. The even more deadly V-2 campaign was a Wehrmacht weapon taken over by the SS.

Americas bomber

Hitler and Göring dreamed of bombers that initiate a strategic bombing camapign against the British and Americans. The Allied strategic bombing campaign made a massive construction campaign impossible. The Horton brthers created the futuristic HO-18 with amazingly futuristic design elements. NAZI Germany, however was unable to begin construction of the plane.


Hitler used the Luftwaffe to terrorize Britain and France into abandoing Czechoslvakia. He then used the Luftwaffe for a series of victories that gave in control of most of Europe. The Luftwaffe was the most modern airforce in the war and was the first to adopt the effective tactics of close air support. The Luftwaffe deployed the first jet air craft, the first cruise missle, the first guided missles, the first balistic missle, and the first rocket plain. Why then did the Lufwaffe loose control of the skies over Europe and lose the battle with Allied aircraft. Here there are a number of reasons and many relate to Germany's political leadership rather than the Luftwaffe's professional leadership corps. 1) While the Luftwaffe had excellent tactics there strategic doctrine was falty. The force was built to achieve a series of quick victories, not to fight a long war of attrition. The Luftwaffe never deployed long-range heavy bombers in numbes, Two, Germany did not have the industrial capability to outproduce the enemies which Hitler engaged or to provide the Heer the air cover needed. The Luftwaffe was adequate for small-scale battlefields like Poland, Norway, and France. The Soviet Union was very different. The Luftwaffe was just not large enough to provide the needed air cover need over the emense battlefield in the East. And this situation steadily dteriorated as forces had to beshifted west to protect German cities and the Red Sir Force began to rebuild. Three, the German pilot training program had major defects. Germany entered the war with only one pilot training school. Also they did not releave air aces to train new pilots. Four, Germany's political leadership, especially both Reich Marshal Göring and Hitler impaired major operations and set inappropriate goals and priorties. Five, Germany's industrial capacity was poorly utilized for aircraft production.



Davidson, Eugene. The Unmaking of Adolf Hitler (Univesity of Missouri: Columbia, 1996), 519p.

Fest, Joachim. Hitler (Vintage:New York, 1974), 844p.

Harris, Arthur T. Bomber Offensive (New York: Macmillan, 1947).

Heaton, Colin D. and Anne-Marie Lewis. The Germn ces Speak II: WW II Throughthe Eyes of Four More of the Luftwaffe's Most Important Commanders (2014), 304p.

McNab, Chris. Hitler's Eagles: The Luftwaff, 1933-45 (2014), 400p.

Rumpf, Hans. Trans. Edwrd Fitzgerald. The Bombing of Germany (Holt, Rinehart and Wilson: New York, 1962), 256p

Snyder, Louis L. Historical Guide to World War II (1982).


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Created: 10:11 AM 8/9/2022
Last updated: 6:34 PM 8/9/2022