The Luftwaffe: Pilot Assignment

Luftwaffe pilot assignments
Figure 1.--This young highly, decorated Luftwaffe officer was a Oberleutnant / Flieger-Oberingenieur, meaning First Lieutenant (American) or Flying Officer (British). We see two Iron Crosses, a Flak Gunners badge, and a ground assault badge. The Swastica badge on his right breast pocket is the prestigious Order of the German Cross. Given all the decorarions, we at first thought he must be a fighter pilot, but the nature of the decorations suggest he was part of the Luftwaffe ground units. He is attending a fellow officer's church wedding, perhaps his commanding officer. Click on the image for the full photograph. The boy in front may be his little brother and wearing some of his decorations. Successful pilots like this officer were kept in combat posts rather than being brought back to help train new pilots. As a result of this and other weaknesses in the trainingh program, the quality of Luftwaffe pilots began to decline after 1942. The photograph is undated, but given the decorations was likely taken about 1942 or 43.

The Luftwaffe unlike the American Air Force and Navy kept their aces in combat until they were killed or wounded. The Luftwaffe pilots performed phenomenally in the War. The German aces ran up such large kill numbers and there were so many German aces. Major Erich Hartmann, top Luftwaffe ace, was credited with an incredible 352 victories. There were 35 German pilots credited with more than 150 kills and even more with 100 kills. These numbers are much larger than those achieved by the Western Allies whose top aces had only about 40 kills. The top Soviet ace had some 60 kills. These numbers have led to controversy. Some authors claim that the Luftwaffe tallies were absurdly inflated. This is difficult to assess. This may be part of the reason, but there are other matters as well. The Lufwaffe at the beginninbg of the war was thec premoer air force in the world. They were well trained, had excellnt planes, an effectivec tactical docrine, and as a result of Hitler's intervention in Spain had actual combat experience. The air forces they faced at the onset of the War had either obsolete planes or poorly trained pilots and ineffective tactical doctrine. The Battle of Britain was a rare exception to a string of Luftwaffe victory. German polots ran up their kills during this period, but the onset of Barbarossa turned them loose on the huge Red Air Force with many obsolete aircraft and, thanks to Stalin, was largely on the ground when the Germans struck. So it is very likely that large numbers of German pilots had very substantial kills to therir credit, although we can not speak to the precise numbers reported. Along with these kill tallies came an enormous amount of combat experience. The German practice of keep their aces in combat meant hard-won battle skills were constantly drained from the Luftwaffe as the war progressed. This was especially the case as the Luftwaffe faced increasingly large numbers of effective, high-performance Allied planes manned by well-trained pilots. Th American practice was to bring back the most effective pilots after a tour of duty to help train new pilots, providing the trainee pilots with vital combat knowledge. The Germans did not do this and it was part of the shift in air dominance that began in 1942.


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Created: 11:23 PM 6/12/2013
Last updated: 10:23 PM 7/7/2013