German Army Center Military History
Luftwaffe (Arma Aérea» en alemán) era la fuerza aérea de Alemania en la época nazi. Creada en 1924, reorganizada tras la llegada de los nazis al poder y oficialmente desvelada en 1935 en clara violación del tratado de Versalles, su propósito era apoyar la guerra relámpago de Adolf Hitler a través de Europa. Los aviones que iban a servir en la Luftwaffe alemana eran de una nueva era y técnicamente superiores a la mayoría de las aeronaves de otras naciones en los años 1930. Modelos como el Junkers Ju 87 Stuka y el Messerschmitt Bf 109 pasaron a simbolizar el poder aéreo alemán. Probada en combate en la Guerra Civil Española, la Luftwaffe era una de las fuerzas aéreas más fuertes, doctrinalmente avanzadas y más experimentadas en combate del mundo en el momento que estalló la Segunda Guerra Mundial en Europa en septiembre de 1939.2
La Luftwaffe se convirtió en un componente esencial en las campañas militares alemanas. Operando en apoyo de las fuerzas terrestres, ayudó a que los ejércitos alemanes conquistaran la mayor parte del continente europeo en una serie de cortas y decisivas campañas en los nueve primeros meses de la guerra. Sufrió su primera derrota contra la Fuerza Aérea Real (RAF) británica durante la Batalla de Inglaterra en 1940. A pesar de este revés la Luftwaffe siguió resultando formidable y en junio de 1941 se embarcó en la búsqueda de Hitler de un imperio en Europa oriental por medio de la invasión de la Unión Soviética (Operación Barbarroja), con un gran éxito inicial. Sin embargo, las victorias de la Luftwaffe en la Unión Soviética se vieron frenadas en el invierno ruso de 1941-1942.
Habiendo fallado en la consecución de la victoria sobre la Unión Soviética en 1941 o 1942, la Luftwaffe se vio envuelta en una gran guerra de desgaste que se extendía hasta el Norte de África y el Frente del Canal. Con la entrada de los Estados Unidos en la guerra y el resurgimiento del poder ofensivo de la RAF se creó el frente en terreno alemán, conocido como «Defensa del Reich». La fuerza de la Luftwaffe se fue erosionando lentamente y a mediados de 1944 prácticamente había desaparecido de los cielos de Europa Occidental dejando al Ejército alemán sin apoyo aéreo. No obstante la Luftwaffe continuó luchando hasta los últimos días de la guerra con una nueva generación de aviones propulsados por motores de reacción turborreactor como los Messerschmitt Me 262 y Heinkel He 162, e incluso con aviones cohete como el Messerschmitt Me 163.
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" (e.g. 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 the 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
One of the forerunners of the Luftwaffe, the Imperial German Army Air Service, was founded in 1910. After the defeat of Germany in WWI, the service was dissolved in 1920 under the conditions of the Treaty of Versailles. During the interwar period, German pilots trained in violation of the treaty in secret. By the summer of 1939, the Luftwaffe had 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 with mainly the Heinkel He 111 and the Dornier Do 17Z and four Sturzkampfgeschwader (dive bomber wings). The Luftwaffe's Condor Legion experimented with new doctrine and aircraft during the Spanish Civil War. 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.
When the Second World War began, the Luftwaffe was one of the most technologically advanced air forces in the world. From the start of the war till its end, it was engaged in war crimes and atrocities, starting with strafing civilian refugees to human experiments. In the summer of 1940, the Luftwaffe contributed to the unexpected success in the Battle of France. During the Battle of Britain, the Luftwaffe, despite causing severe damage to the Royal Air Force's infrastructure and British cities during the subsequent Blitz, did not achieve air superiority. The 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 in January 1945 failed. After the Bodenplatte effort, the Luftwaffe had ceased to be an effective fighting force.
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 military aircraft of Germany.
The first steps towards the Luftwaffe's formation were undertaken just months after Adolf Hitler came to power. Hermann Göring, a World War I ace with 22 victories and the holder of the Orden Pour le Mérite, became National Kommissar for aviation with former Deutsche Luft Hansa director Erhard Milch as his deputy. In April 1933 the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (RLM – Reich Air Ministry) was established. The RLM was in charge of development and production of aircraft, and soon afterwards the test site or Erprobungsstelle at Rechlin became its testing ground, a military airfield that had been first established in August 1918. Göring's control over all aspects of aviation became absolute. On 25 March 1933 the Deutschen Luftsportverband (DVLA) (German Air Sport Association) absorbed all private and national organizations, whilst retaining its 'sports' title. The merging of all military aviation organizations in the RLM took place on 15 May 1933, which became the Luftwaffe's official 'birthday'. Many members of the Nationalsozialistisches Fliegerkorps (National Socialist Flyers Corps –NSFK) transferred to the Luftwaffe. As all such prior NSFK members were also Nazi Party members, this gave the new Luftwaffe a strong Nazi ideological base in contrast to the other branches of the German military. Göring had played a leading role in the buildup of the Luftwaffe in 1933–1936, but played little further part in the development of the Luftwaffe until 1936, and Milch became the "de facto" minister until 1937.
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, was to provide enormous financial materials for rearming and equipping the Luftwaffe.
Another prominent figure in German air power construction this time was Helmuth Wilberg. Wilberg was to play a large role in the development of German air doctrine. Having headed the Reichswehr air staff for eight years in the 1920s, Wilberg had considerable experience and was ideal for a senior staff position. 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 helped draw up the principle doctrine "The Conduct of the Aerial War" and its "Regulation 16" under Walther Wever
Preparing for war: 1933–39
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 the First World War, air units had been attached to specific army formations and acted as support. Dive bomber units were considered essential to Truppenführung; destroying Headquarters and lines of communications. 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 the 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, a serviceman (not pilot) in the Luftstreitkräfte during the First World War, 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 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 Luftwaffe 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 the French) in a bid to establish his theory of a strategic bombing force that would, he thought, prove decisive by winning the war through the destruction of enemy industry, even though these exercises also included tactical strikes against enemy ground forces and communications. In 1935, "Luftwaffe Regulation 16: The Conduct of the Air War" was drawn up. In the proposal, it concluded, "The mission of the Luftwaffe is to serve these goals."
Within 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 terror attacks.
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:
1. To destroy
the enemy air force by bombing its bases and aircraft factories, and defeating
enemy air forces attacking German targets.
Wever began planning for a strategic bomber force and sought to incorporate strategic bombing into a war strategy. He believed that tactical aircraft should only be used as a step to developing a strategic air force. In May 1934, Wever initiated a seven-year project for the "Ural Bomber", the bomber that would take the Luftwaffe's bombing campaign into the heart of the Soviet Union. In 1935, this led to the Dornier Do 19 and Junkers Ju 89 prototypes, although both were underpowered. In April 1936, Wever ordered a requirement for 'Bomber A' which would have a range of 6,700 km (4,163 mi) with a 900 kg (1,984 lb) bomb load. However Wever's vision of a "Ural" bomber was never realised, and his emphasis on strategic aerial operations was lost, with the only design submittal for Wever's 'Bomber A' that would reach production being Heinkel's Projekt 1041, which became officially known on 5 November 1937 as the Heinkel He 177.
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 organisation capable of carrying out broad and general support tasks rather than any specific mission. Mainly, this path was chosen to encourage a more flexible use of air power and offer the ground forces the right conditions for a decisive victory. In fact, on the outbreak of war, only 15% of the Luftwaffe's aircraft was devoted to ground support operations, exposing a long-held myth that the Luftwaffe was designed for only tactical and operational missions.
A change of direction, 1936–37
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 term consequences
The failure of the Luftwaffe to progress further towards attaining a strategic bombing force was attributable to several reasons. Many in the Luftwaffe command believed medium bombers to be sufficient power to launch strategic bombing operations against Germany's most likely enemies; France, Czechoslovakia and Poland. The United Kingdom presented greater problems. General der Flieger Hellmuth Felmy, commander of Luftflotte 2 in 1939, was charged with devising a plan for an air war over the British Isles. Felmy was convinced that Britain could be defeated through morale bombing. Felmy noted the alleged panic that had broken out in London during the Munich crisis, evidence he believed of British weakness. A second reason was technical. German designers had never solved the issues of the Heinkel He 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 class military aircraft. Moreover, Germany did not possess the economic strength and resources to match the later British and American effort of 1943–1944, particularly in large-scale mass production of high power output aircraft powerplants, those capable of a maximum output of at least 1,500 kW (2,000 hp) apiece. In addition, the OKL had not foreseen the industrial and military effort strategic bombing would require. By 1939 the Luftwaffe was not much better prepared than its enemies to conduct a strategic bombing campaign, 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. The Germans 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% 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 and steel materials 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 Bombers'. German industry could build two medium bombers for one heavy bomber and the RLM would not gamble on developing a heavy bomber which would also take time. Göring remarked, "the Führer will not ask how big the bombers there are, but only how many there are". 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 by five times its earlier size. The 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 and the Netherlands were obtained and the Luftwaffe had heavy bombers. Fortunately it mattered little, as the British betrayed the Czechs, war was avoided, and the need for long-range aircraft did not arise.
These failures were not exposed until wartime. In the meantime German designs of mid-1930s origin such as the Messerschmitt Bf 109, Heinkel He 111, Junkers Ju 87 Stuka, and Dornier Do 17, performed very well. All first saw active service in the Condor Legion against Soviet-supplied aircraft. The Luftwaffe also quickly realized the days of the biplane fighter were finished, the Heinkel He 51 being switched to service as a trainer. Particularly impressive were the Heinkel and Dornier, which fulfilled the Luftwaffe's requirements for bombers that were faster than 1930s-era fighters. many of which were biplanes or strut-braced monoplanes.
Despite the participation of these aircraft (mainly from 1938 onward), it was the venerable Junkers Ju 52 (which soon became the backbone of the Transportgruppen) that made the main contribution. During the Spanish Civil War Hitler remarked, "Franco ought to erect a monument to the glory of the Junkers Ju 52. It is the aircraft which the Spanish revolution has to thank for its victory".
Udet's "love affair" with dive-bombing seriously affected the long-term development of the Luftwaffe, especially after General Wever's untimely 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 was the backbone of the German bomber fleet. This led to a rush on the part of the RLM to produce the Junkers Ju 86, Heinkel He 111 and Dornier Do 17 before a proper evaluation was made. The Ju 86 was poor while the He 111 showed most promise. The 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 the Junkers Ju 88 and conveyed the same idea, initiated specifically by the 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 the 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.
However, even by the spring of 1940, the Luftwaffe still had not mobilized fully. Despite the shortage of raw-materials Generalluftzeugmeister Ernst Udet, had increased production through introducing a 10 hour working day for aviation industries and rationalizing of production. During this period 30 Kampfstaffeln and 16 Jagdstaffeln were being raised and equipped. A further five Zerstörergruppen ("Destroyer groups") were created (JGr 101, 102,126,152 and 176), all equipped with the Bf 110.
The Luftwaffe also greatly expanded its aircrew training programs by 42%, to 63 flying schools. These facilities were moved to eastern Germany, away from possible Allied threats. The number of aircrew reached 4,727, an increase of 31%. However, the rush to complete this rapid expansion scheme resulted in the deaths of 997 personnel and another 700 wounded. 946 aircraft were also destroyed in these accidents. The number of aircrew completing their training was up to 3,941, The Luftwaffe??'?s entire strength was now 2.2 million personnel.
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 will quickly destroy Russia. Udet realized that the upcoming war on Russia may cripple Germany. Udet, torn between truth and loyalty, suffered a psychological breakdown and even tried to tell all the truth to Hitler, 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