Luftwaffe (Wehrmacht)

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air force

COA Luftwaffe eagle gold.svg
active March 1, 1935 to May 8, 1945
Country German Reich NSGerman Reich (Nazi era) German Empire
Armed forces Balkenkreuz.svg Wehrmacht
Type Armed forces ( air forces )
Strength 400,000 (1939)
High command Reich Ministry of Aviation /
High Command of the Air Force (Berlin)
Commander in chief Hermann Göring
Robert Ritter von Greim
cockade fuselage and wings
( Balkenkreuz )
Identification mark of the air force
cockade tail
( swastika )
Identification mark of the air force

The Air Force of the Armed Forces was 1935 to 1945 alongside the army and the navy of the three branches of the armed forces in the Nazi Reich . In the Second World War she was an air force and anti-aircraft force , in addition she also provided ground forces ( air force field divisions , paratrooper divisions and parachute armored corps Hermann Göring ) to support the army .

Organization and leadership

High command

Hermann Göring in conversation with Erhard Milch, 1940

The Commander-in-Chief of the Air Force had been Hermann Göring from its establishment until Adolf Hitler dismissed him shortly before the end of the war and was replaced by Robert Ritter von Greim . The supreme command came from the Reich Ministry of Aviation ; in April 1944, a high command of the air force was formed as the commanding authority.

The first chief of staff, Walther Wever, was also important for the strategic direction of the newly created air force . In this position since March 1935, he had previously been Head of the Air Command Office in the Reich Aviation Ministry from September 1, 1933, and played a key role in the development of the Air Force in the early years. On June 3, 1936, he was killed in a plane crash.

During the entire period of its existence, the State Secretary in the Reich Aviation Ministry and Air Force officer Erhard Milch ( Field Marshal General from 1940 ) was Inspector General of the Air Force. After Wever's death, Göring's confidante Ernst Udet was appointed as the successor to Wilhelm Wimmer as head of the technical office in the Reich Ministry of Aviation. On February 1, 1939, this post was converted into the newly created post of general air master. Udet was a passionate aviator, but hardly a capable organizer and quickly proved to be overwhelmed at the post. He committed suicide in November 1941, after which Milch took over the vacant position of general air master until 1944.

The Chief of Staff of the Air Force, Colonel (later Colonel General) Hans Jeschonnek , who had been in office since February 1, 1939, also committed suicide when his replacement was discussed after the heavy air raids on Hamburg . General Günther Korten was his successor .

Air fleets and air district commandos

Before the war, the Air Force was divided into four air fleets , which the Air District Headquarters were under as territorial areas. The Air Fleet 1 ( Berlin ) was subordinate to the I., III., And IV. Luftgaukommando, while the Luftflotte 2 ( Braunschweig ) the Luftgaukommandos VI. and XI. commanded. In the southwest of Germany the Luftflotte 3 ( Munich ) stood with the VII., XII. and XIII. Luftgaukommando, while Luftflotte 4 ( Vienna ) with the VII. And XVII. Luftgaukommando covered the southeast.

The Luftgau commandos of the Luftwaffe were similar to the military districts of the Army, which took on certain territorial tasks. These were primarily the maintenance of all Air Force facilities and airfields in the respective areas and the training of personnel replacement. As of September 1, 1939, there were ten Luftgaukommandos in Germany, which were designated with Roman numerals. The numbering was not continuous, as some Luftgau Kommandos had previously been merged.

Later in the war, the air fleets, which rose to seven from 1940 to 1944, commanded the Luftwaffe units at the front. The air fleets were numbered from 1 to 6 and were each relocated to the various theaters of war. There was also the Reich Luftflotte , which was responsible for the Reich territory. The Luftwaffe also set up Luftgau Commandos and Feldluftgau Commandos in the occupied countries, which performed the same tasks as the Luftgaue at home.

Organization and designation of the squadrons

The air force's flying units were organized into squadrons , groups and squadrons : A squadron usually consisted of a swarm of four to six aircraft and two to four groups of 30 to 40 aircraft each. The group was usually divided into three to four squadrons of usually twelve aircraft. Smaller tactical units were the chain with three (especially with fighter pilots), the swarm with four and the gang with two aircraft (especially with the fighter pilots).

The names of the associations are made up of the abbreviation for the type of operation as well as Arabic numerals for the squadron and the squadron and Roman numerals for the group. The squadron designation for units set up before the start of the war resulted from the location of the squadron. If this was in the area of ​​Air Fleet 1, it was labeled with a number from 1–25. It was the same for locations in the area of ​​Luftflotte 2 (numbers 26–50), Luftflotte 3 (numbers 51–75) and Luftflotte 4 (numbers 76–100). For example, Jagdgeschwader 1 was designated JG 1, I. Group of JG 1 with I./JG 1 and 1st Squadron of JG 1 with 1./JG 1. There were Kampfgeschwader (KG), Jagdgeschwader (JG), Sturzkampfgeschwader (StG), Destroyer Squadron (ZG), Night Fighter Squadron (NJG), Battle Squadron (SG), Schnellkampfgeschwader (SKG), Lehrgeschwader (LG) and Transportgeschwader (TG). For special types of operations, where a division into squadrons did not make sense, independent flying groups were set up. There were combat groups (Kgr), coastal aviation groups (KüFlGr), reconnaissance groups (AufklGr) and night battle groups (NSG). There were also independent aviation units at the level of the squadron, particularly in the area of ​​reconnaissance, courier and liaison aircraft.

Junkers Ju 88 of the training squadron 1

With the exception of the single-engine fighter units, the aircraft in the squadron were marked with a squadron identification. This was attached in front of the cross on the aircraft fuselage and under the wings and consisted of a number and a letter. The bar cross was followed by a two-digit letter combination that describes the position of the aircraft within the squadron. This resulted in a four-digit number / letter combination that was only assigned once per aircraft at a certain point in time.

Usually a (squadron) commodore was responsible for a squadron, a (group) commander for a group and a (squadron) captain for a squadron. These are not ranks, but positions of the Air Force. The squadron commodore was usually a lieutenant colonel (or in exceptional cases a colonel ), while the group commander was usually a major or captain . A squadron was usually commanded by a first lieutenant or lieutenant . In the tactical unit of the Rotte , the more experienced pilot was in charge as the Rottenführer. His Rottenflieger - also called Kaczmarek in the parlance of the aviator - could well be of a higher rank. He had to support the Rottenführer in his plans, for example to provide cover in the event of an attack.

Aircraft inventory

Aircraft type August 26, 1939 May 4th 1940 April 26, 1941 April 30, 1942 April 30, 1943 April 30, 1944 April 9, 1945
Fighter planes, destroyer planes, night fighter planes 1230 1736 1757 1807 2234 2571 2581
Warplanes 1210 1758 1476 1319 1711 1201 184
Dive-fight aircraft, attack aircraft 400 466 461 530 876 1242 1157
Reconnaissance aircraft 661 666 803 703 756 682 653
Transport aircraft 544 531 768 896 807 892 unknown
other aircraft 243 411 542 564 767 1044 150
total 4288 5568 5807 5819 7151 7632 4725


Branch of service Early summer 1939 Late autumn 1939 May 20, 1941 December 1, 1941 July 1, 1942 November 1, 1943
Air force 208,000 366,000 526,000 588,000
Anti-aircraft artillery 107,000 258,000 500,000 571,000
Air Intelligence Force 58,000 138,000 243,000 296,000
Air Force Building Units --- 118,000 153,000 146,000
State rifle units --- --- 36,000 38,000
total 373,000 880,000 1,458,000 1,639,000 1,900,000 2,089,000

The workforce on November 1, 1943 was all soldiers. In addition there were 430,000 air force helpers ( flak helpers , intelligence workers) and 475,000 other civilians who were in the service of the air force.


After the First World War

Although Germany was forbidden to maintain an air force after the demobilization of the imperial air force by the Peace Treaty of Versailles , in the Weimar Republic of the 1920s and early 1930s, training centers disguised as civilian facilities and secret flying units were created for military pilots entertained, so the German Aviation Schools , the Hanseatic Aviation School or the German Aviation Weather Service .

First, the flight students were trained in light training aircraft at civilian training centers in Germany. In order to give the pilots the opportunity to gain flight experience in combat aircraft, Germany's Reichswehr sought help from the Soviet Union (see also: Treaty of Rapallo ). A secret training air base was established near the Russian city of Lipetsk in 1924 and operated until 1933. Overall, this school, which was officially designated as the 4th Aviation Department of the 40th Squadron of the Red Army , used a number of Dutch, Russian and also German aircraft. A total of around 220 German pilots were trained there and new aircraft designs developed in Germany were tested.

Building the Air Force

Pennant of the German Air Sports Association (DLV)

After the seizure of power by the National Socialists, the provisions of the Versailles Treaty were still in force. Therefore, the Reichswehr continued the training projects in secret. On January 30, 1933, Hermann Göring was appointed Reich Commissioner for Aviation and on May 10, 1933 he took over the newly created Reich Aviation Ministry (RLM). In its air command office, Colonel Walther Wever , who later became the first chief of the OKL ( High Command of the Air Force ), planned the construction of the air force, which was initially still a secret.

Winter Relief Organization badge of the German Air Sports Association with Hermann Göring's slogan "The German people must become a people of aviators", 1934

The limited training opportunities in the Soviet Union ceased to exist in autumn 1933, as the new Reich Chancellor Adolf Hitler forbade any further cooperation with the Communist Soviet Union for ideological reasons. For this purpose, training centers and flying units disguised as civilian were expanded and new ones founded, such as the German Air Sports Association (DLV) under Bruno Loerzer . In this, the Reichswehr trained prospective pilots, initially with gliders. Since they had previously been released from the Reichswehr, the restrictions of the Versailles Treaty were adhered to - formally. The members of the DLV already wore the uniform of the later Luftwaffe and used their future badges as "link badges". The DLV “members” were given special names to pretend that the association was more of a civil aviation club than an organization associated with the Reichswehr. In the German commercial aviation schools, the pilots then continued their training until the end. Lufthansa pilots were also given short military training. By the end of 1934 there were five combat, three hunting, three long-range reconnaissance, two close-up reconnaissance and one fall combat squadron. At the end of 1934 there were a total of 41 military aviation units in Germany disguised as civil organizations. The Luftwaffe was officially founded on March 1, 1935, and the foundation stone for airports had already been laid in 1934. On February 26, 1935, Hitler had asked Göring to build up an air force despite the prohibition set out in the Versailles Treaty.

Hermann Göring is said to have personally chosen an emblem ( national emblem ) for the Air Force that was different from that of the other branches of the armed forces. The eagle , the symbol of the German Empire, was preserved, but in a different position. Ever since the NSDAP came to power , the eagle held the party's symbol, the swastika , which was usually surrounded by a wreath of oak leaves. Goering rejected the old heraldic eagle for the German Air Force, which looked very stylized, very static and very massive, and chose a "younger", more natural and light eagle with wings spread in flight position, which corresponded more to an air force. While the Wehrmacht eagle held the symbol of the party with both fangs, the Luftwaffe eagle only held the swastika with one catch , while the other clenched a fist.

Luftwaffe anti-aircraft regiment during training, 1940

On March 14, 1935, the first squadron, the "Richthofen" fighter squadron, was set up in Berlin-Staaken . At that time, 90 percent of all airmen were still in training. With the reintroduction of compulsory military service , the basic personnel was secured; the air force grew steadily. In the summer of 1939 it already had 373,000 soldiers. The material armament of the Luftwaffe proceeded quickly thanks to the diverse air armaments industry in Germany. The most important aircraft factories were Junkers in Dessau, Heinkel in Warnemünde, Dornier in Friedrichshafen and the Bayerische Flugzeugwerke in Augsburg (from 1938 Messerschmitt AG ).

By the beginning of the Second World War , the Air Force had become one of the strongest air forces in the world. The combat aircraft fleet comprised 1610 aircraft, including the Stukas, plus 1230 fighters (including night fighter and destroyer aircraft) and 661 reconnaissance aircraft. Around 2600 heavy anti-aircraft guns (8.8 cm) and around 6700 medium and light anti-aircraft guns (3.7 and 2 cm) were available to repel enemy air attacks.

With the Goering program of June 23, 1941, the Luftwaffe was supposed to be quadrupled to fight the Western powers.

Spanish Civil War

To support the military uprising led by Francisco Franco against the elected government, Hitler sent the Condor Legion under the command of Major General Hugo Sperrle to Spain. The new machines of the types Bf 109 , He 111 , Ju 86 and Ju 87 were used there for the first time. This deployment in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) was also used to test crews, aircraft, weapons and tactics under operational conditions.

Germany's support for Franco's putsch was kept in strict secrecy. The German participants were released as soldiers and wore civilian clothes, the aircraft wore a black "X" ( St. Andrew's cross ) on a white background on the rudder and a black round disk with an "X" on the wings. The fuselage marking consisted of a number that identified the model, followed by a black circular disc and a consecutive number. Occasionally, personal identification or relay badges were used in the black disk. The aircraft of the Spanish Ejército del Aire still carry the symbol on the rudder today, on the fuselage there is now a cockade in the colors red, yellow, red. All units of the Condor Legion were numbered 88: Jagdgruppe 88 (J / 88) for the fighters, combat group 88 (K / 88) for the combat aircraft, reconnaissance squadron 88 (A / 88) for the reconnaissance aircraft and the naval squadron 88 (AS / 88) for reconnaissance at sea.

Guernica, destroyed by the Condor Legion

On April 26, 1937, a group of German and Italian planes bombed the Basque city of Guernica in northeastern Spain. The almost complete destruction of the city caused worldwide horror and was condemned by many nations. The actual events and the number of victims are still controversial today. Pablo Picasso immortalized this crime against humanity in the painting " Guernica ".

The Italian strategist General Giulio Douhet had formulated his theories on "strategic air bomb attacks" in the interwar period. The basic idea behind the theories was that a war could be won by constant, powerful air bomb attacks against the industrial centers of the opponent. The morale of the civilian population will consequently sink so much that the governments of the attacked (and suffering) nations will be forced to ask for peace. These tendencies and such publications created a deep fear of an imminent, very cruel war with effects like in Guernica, especially in Europe, and soon provoked protests. The British George Kennedy Allen Bell , Bishop of Chichester, publicly opposed such measures in 1939. The destruction of Guernica is still considered a premonition all over the world - and not just the coming war that broke out in Europe just a few months after the end of the Spanish Civil War.

attack on Poland

The first bombs of World War II fell about an hour before German troops crossed the Polish border at 4:45 a.m. on September 1, 1939. Two air force dive squadrons attacked the small Polish town of Wieluń in three attack waves . 1200 civilians were killed and around 70 percent of the city was destroyed. The attacking pilots later reported that they had "no special enemy observation".

That destroyed Wieluń

During the attack on Poland, the Luftwaffe deployed Luftflotte 1 (Commander in Chief General of the Aviators Albert Kesselring ) in the area of Army Group North and Luftflotte 4 (Commander in Chief General of the Aviators Alexander Löhr ) in the area of Army Group South . In these two air fleets, 1302 aircraft were ready. In addition, a further 133 aircraft were directly subordinate to the Commander-in-Chief of the Air Force, 288 as reconnaissance aircraft to the army units and 216 fighters to the Homeland Air Defense East. Of these 1939 aircraft, 1538 were operational in the east of the German Reich at the beginning. The Polish Air Force , on the other hand, had only 277 fighters, 203 multi-purpose aircraft, 66 bombers and 199 close-up reconnaissance aircraft to deploy.

The German air force mainly supported the army directly. To this end, the fighter and dive fighter associations attacked the enemy on the battlefield or in the artillery position. Opportunities for the enemy to retreat (bridges, railway lines, roads and others) were systematically destroyed and columns flowing back were attacked.

On September 8th, the first German troops reached the outskirts of Warsaw , but could not take them due to the strong defense of the city. Then it came to the battle for Warsaw . On September 9, five Stuka groups launched a first air raid on an artillery position in the Praga district . On September 12th, 183 German planes attacked the northwest part of Warsaw. On the morning of September 25, 370 aircraft dropped 560 tons of high explosive and 72 tons of incendiary bombs, including 1,000 kg bombs, on Warsaw in two or three missions. They caused heavy losses among the civilian population and in the cityscape. Thereupon the Polish commander in Warsaw offered General Juliusz Rómmel surrender negotiations on September 26th. Warsaw unconditionally surrendered on September 27th. The last Polish troops surrendered at Kock on October 6th .

The German Air Force lost 285 aircraft as a total loss. 734 Luftwaffe soldiers died, were wounded or went missing.

Norway campaign / case of the Weser exercise

Western campaign

On May 10, 1940 at 5:35 a.m., the western campaign began with the first deployment of German paratroopers and airborne troops . In the Netherlands they took unscathed possession of the important bridges over the Hollandsch Diep near Moerdijk , over the Noord near Dordrecht and the New Maas near Rotterdam . Only the bridge near Arnhem was blown up in time. In Belgium airborne troops were able to conquer Fort Eben-Emael by landing on its roof with gliders .

The Air Force continued the 2nd Air Fleet (Commander Luftwaffe General Albert Kesselring ) in support of Army Group B one. For this purpose the IV. And VIII. Fliegerkorps, the Fliegerkorps z. b. V., the II. Flak Corps , the 7th Flieger Division ( paratroopers ) and 22nd Airborne Division , as well as the command of Fighter Pilot 2.

In Luftflotte 3 (Commander General der Flieger Hugo Sperrle ), which had the task of supporting Army Group A , the I, II and V Fliegerkorps, the I Flak Corps and the command of the Fighter Pilot 3 were combined. In these two air fleets there were around 900 fighters, 220 destroyer planes, 1,100 fighter planes, 320 dive fighter planes and 45 attack planes.

On the other hand, the Luftwaffe had to deal with four different air forces, which were equipped differently and had different operational principles.

  • The Dutch Koninklijke Luchtmacht owned around 140 aircraft in the Netherlands in May 1940.
  • The Belgian Aviation Militaire Belge consisted of 154 light reconnaissance bombers, 69 fighters, 16 single-engine bombers and around 100 observation and training aircraft of various types.
  • The British Royal Air Force (RAF) was divided into Jagdwaffe ( Fighter Command ), Bomber ( Bomber Command ) and Naval Aviation ( Coastal Command ). At the beginning of the western campaign, 456 machines (262 fighters, 135 bombers and 60 reconnaissance aircraft) were deployed on the continent.
    Photo of Rotterdam after the bombing and subsequent clearing of the rubble (taken in 1942)
  • At the beginning of the western campaign, the French Armée de l'air had 2400 fighters, 1160 bombers and 1464 reconnaissance planes, thus over 5026 machines.

The German Air Force, which had gained control of the air after a few days, was again used mainly as an army support weapon, directly assisting the armored spearheads in the event of resistance from the air or destroying the enemy’s traffic routes. As part of the bombing of cities, the bombing raid on Freiburg erroneously took place on May 10, 1940 , in which 57 people were killed.

When the Dutch city commander of Rotterdam, Colonel Scharroo, refused to surrender the city on May 14, an air strike on the city was threatened. When fighter planes from Kampfgeschwader 54 were already approaching the city, the city commandant gave in. On the German side it was only possible to stop the second wave of attacks, so that 57 fighter planes dropped 97 tons of high explosive bombs, mainly on the old town. 814 people were killed ( bombing of Rotterdam 1940 ).

At the Battle of Dunkirk , parts of the Air Force tried from May 25 to prevent trapped Belgian, French and British troops from evacuating to England. Despite heavy air strikes, it was not possible to prevent the transfer of 338,226 Allied soldiers.

The Franco-German armistice came into effect on June 25 at 1:35 a.m. The Luftwaffe's personnel losses in May / June 1940 amounted to more than 6,000 men, of which 3,290 were dead and missing.

The Luftwaffe had 1236 aircraft as total losses.

Battle of Britain

Do 17 and Spitfire in aerial combat over England, 1940

The Battle of Britain developed from the German goal of gaining air supremacy over England in order to then be able to invade the island ( Operation Sea Lion ). When this became utopian, the Air Force attempted to destroy the defense industry by air raids on British industrial centers. On the German side, August 13, 1940, the so-called "Eagle Day", is regarded as the actual start of the operations. The first structural problems arose on the German side.

The German Messerschmitt Bf 109 E fighter aircraft had too little range to adequately protect the fighter units. The Messerschmitt Bf 110, which was specially developed for long-range use, proved to be inferior to the agile British fighter aircraft. The Luftwaffe could never achieve the same conditions of air control over England as it had over Poland or France. Without adequate fighter protection, therefore, many fighter planes were lost, something that would later be repeated on the Allied side during the USAAF's first flights into Reich territory in 1943. The Stuka units in particular suffered very high losses and had to be withdrawn from the air battle.

Here it became very clear that without heavy long-range bombers the opposing armaments industry could not be disrupted in the long term. Since many German aircraft crews had to jump off or make an emergency landing over England or the Canal, the Luftwaffe lost valuable pilots who had been thoroughly trained during the peacetime. During the Battle of Britain, the inadequacies of armaments in fighter aircraft production and in the scope of pilot training became apparent for the first time: at the beginning of the war there was only one school for fighter pilots.

By May 1941, when the air raids practically ceased due to the impending attack on the Soviet Union, the Air Force had lost 2,000 Air Force personnel as dead and 2,600 Air Force personnel as missing or in captivity. In addition, there were 2,200 aircraft as a total loss.

Balkan campaign

Destruction in Belgrade, 1941

The Balkan campaign began on April 6, 1941 with the German air raids on Belgrade . 484 fighter planes threw 440 tons of incendiary and fragmentation bombs on the city. The aim of the attack on the Yugoslav capital was to destroy the administrative and logistical center of Yugoslavia. Thousands of civilians died and large parts of the historic city center were destroyed.

On the side of the Luftwaffe, Luftflotte 4 (Commander in Chief General der Flieger Alexander Löhr) took part in this campaign with 1153 aircraft.

The focus of the air strikes in Greece was on helping the army break through the Metaxas Line and bombing ports, particularly that of Piraeus , to prevent British troops from moving to Crete.

The Yugoslav forces surrendered on April 17th, while mainland Greece continued until April 23rd.

Airborne battle for Crete

Under the leadership of Luftflotte 4, the conquest of the Greek Mediterranean island of Crete from the air began on May 20, 1941 . The in the XI. Fliegerkorps (Commander Lieutenant General Kurt Student ) united around 10,000 paratroopers and landed on the island in several waves of attack after a bombardment by the German Air Force. After high losses, the paratroopers and the mountain fighters, who were followed by air transport and on ships , managed to completely conquer Crete by June 1, 1941. The German losses amounted to 3714 dead and 2494 wounded as well as 271 transport aircraft as a total loss. A significant part of the other transport machines were badly damaged.

Due to the VIII. Air Corps, especially Sturzkampfgeschwader 2 and Lehrgeschwader 1 , the Royal Navy suffered high losses in the air / sea battles off Crete, mainly during the evacuation. So three cruisers ( HMS Gloucester , HMS Fiji and HMS Calcutta ) and five destroyers ( HMS Kelly , HMS Greyhound , HMS Kashmir , HMS Hereward , HMS Imperial ) were sunk as well as six cruisers, five destroyers, three battleships and the only aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean Part badly damaged.

Attack on the Soviet Union

On June 22, 1941, the Luftwaffe, whose squadrons had fought in the Battle of Britain or the Balkans until May, began the attack on the Soviet Union . The air force was divided into three air fleets that worked together with the three army groups.

The Luftflotte 1 (Commander-in-Chief Colonel-General Alfred Keller ) was supposed to work with Army Group North and advance towards Leningrad . In addition, it had 592 aircraft (including 203 fighters, 271 fighter planes) in its units. With her subordinate pilot in the Baltic Sea, she was also responsible for monitoring the airspace and fighting the enemy on the eastern Baltic Sea.

The 2nd Air Fleet (Commander Field Marshal Albert Kesselring) associated with the Army Group Center was working, was the most numerous of the three air forces. It was under 1367 aircraft (including 384 fighters, 299 fighter planes, 425 dive fighters), which should support the army in the advance towards Moscow . The I. Flak Corps, which was subordinate to it, was mainly used for fighting tanks, as the heavy anti-aircraft guns against the heavy Soviet tanks were sometimes the only means of deployment that were promising.

The Air Force 4 (commander Colonel General Alexander Loehr) should cooperate with the Army Group South in the Ukraine and towards the Black Sea march. In addition, 887 aircraft (including 366 fighters, 360 fighter planes) were subordinate to it. Her II. Flak Corps was also used mainly for fighting tanks.

At the start of the attack, a total of 3664 aircraft were available together with aviation units that were directly subordinate to army units.

As in previous campaigns, the air force began bombing airfields in order to destroy the bulk of the Soviet air force on the ground. The first wave of attacks, targeting 31 airfields in the border area, destroyed 890 Soviet aircraft (222 of them in aerial battles). The attacks on enemy airfields were expanded to a total of 123 airfields over the next few days. By the end of June, 4616 enemy aircraft (1438 of them in aerial battles) had been destroyed, and by July 12th as much as 6857. The Luftwaffe had lost 550 aircraft as a total loss and had to repair 336 damaged aircraft. Judging by the strength of the operations at the beginning, this was also a heavy loss in the first three weeks of the war.

After that, the air force began to adopt the well-known tactics of indirect (attacks on transport movements) and direct army support (troop assemblies, artillery positions, etc.). Exceptions to this were the air raids on Moscow from July 21st, 1941. On the night of July 21st to 22nd, 195 fighter planes attacked and dropped 104 tons of high-explosive bombs and 46,000 incendiary bombs. By April 5, 1942, another 75 attacks on Moscow had been flown, but only in the first three more than 100 fighter planes took part. A total of 1,088 people died in Moscow as a result of German air raids.

By December 27, 1941, the Luftwaffe had lost 2,505 aircraft as total losses. In addition, there were aircraft damaged in 1895, which only partially returned to the front. 3,010 flight personnel were lost.

After some Luftwaffe units (Staff Luftflotte 2, II. Fliegerkorps) were withdrawn in the winter of 1941/42 and the loss rate remained high, the number of aircraft still on the Eastern Front on February 14, 1942 sank to 1,545 aircraft, 615 of which were operational .

By the start of the German summer offensive , this number had risen to 2,635, of which 1,873 were operational aircraft. Since the focus of the offensive was in the south of the Eastern Front, the Air Fleet 4 responsible here was significantly reinforced. There were 1593 aircraft in it, including 325 fighters, 480 fighter planes, 192 dive fighter planes and others.

In the Air Force Command East responsible for Army Group Central and Air Fleet 1 responsible for Army Group North there were only 1042 aircraft. This meant that these areas were largely exposed to aircraft in favor of the south.

From February 8, 1942 to April 21, 1942, the Red Army succeeded in enclosing the II Army Corps in the Demyansk pocket. The six enclosed divisions were supplied from the air by parts of Air Fleet 1. This had to fly 200 tons of supplies into the boiler every day and lost 488 aircraft and about 1,000 flight personnel.

The main focus of the air force deployment in the spring and summer of 1942 were the major offensives of Army Group South, such as the conquest of the Kerch peninsula and the Sevastopol fortress, where the 8th Air Corps with 460 aircraft, moved from the center of the Army to Air Fleet 4, provided support.

The companies Fridericus I and Fridericus II followed in the Isjum and Kupjansk area, in which large front indentations of the Red Army were removed.

During the advance in the direction of Stalingrad , it was again the 8th Air Corps that supported the army units, while the 4th Air Corps advanced in the direction of the Caucasus. On August 23rd and 24th, Stalingrad was attacked for the first time by German airplanes and the suburbs with their wooden houses in particular were badly damaged. Civilian losses were in the tens of thousands.

After the 6th Army was encircled in Stalingrad after a Soviet counter-offensive on November 22nd, the largest air supply operation of the war began. The army needed up to 500 tons of supplies a day to survive. The 8th Air Corps was only able to fly in on average 94 tons due to the weather, anti-aircraft and fighter attacks. By the end of the boiler in late January / early February 1943, the Luftwaffe had lost 495 aircraft here. But there were also air force units in the boiler, including large parts of the 9th Flak Division and the ground organization of the air bases .

Battle of Malta

Bomb damage in Valletta

The British crown colony of Malta posed a constant threat to the German-Italian ship convoys on their way to North Africa . Therefore, at the end of 1941, under the name " Operation Hercules ", the plan was born to conquer the Mediterranean island by paratroopers from the air, similar to the attack on Crete. For this purpose, Luftflotte 2 (Commander-in-Chief General Field Marshal Albert Kesselring ) was moved from the Eastern Front with the II. Air Corps to southern Italy and Sicily .

After air raids on Malta in January and February 1942, intensified air raids on Malta began from March 30 to April 28. 200 to 300 German and Italian planes attacked the island every day. By mid-April it was possible to destroy all British aircraft on the island with the exception of six fighters and to force the British submarine fleet to withdraw temporarily from Valletta's Grand Harbor . After that, the German-Italian supply convoys made it through to North Africa undisturbed for a while. The planned air landing did not take place because the company appeared too risky and was no longer considered necessary.

The provided German and Italian parachute units were instead relocated to North Africa to support the Panzer Army Africa in the planned attack on Alexandria . The renunciation of the conquest of Malta turned out to be a serious miscalculation, as the Allies made the island the basis of their operations again some time later and severely disrupted the German supplies to Africa.

Approximately 4,500 people were injured and over 1,000 killed in the air strikes in Malta.

Battle of the Atlantic

The first planned actions by the Air Force against the British fleet took place just 26 days after the outbreak of war. The crew of a Do-18 flying boat sighted four British battleships, an aircraft carrier, a cruiser and a destroyer. The first group of KG 26 and part of KG 30 were immediately assigned to attack. This first "battle" turned out to be a total failure. A single bomb hit the British battle cruiser “ Hood ”, but did not explode because the ignition mechanism failed.

The quality of this "prelude mission" reflected the course of the entire Atlantic battle. Most of the attacks in the course of 1939 and 1940 achieved only mediocre success and did not play a decisive role in the war. A much more important point was the close and long distance reconnaissance, with the help of which the Navy was supplied with important information about convoys , etc. It was not until 1941 that the cooperation between the Navy and the Air Force was intensified. For example, on February 9, 1941, at least five British ships with a total of over 60,000 GRT were sunk. The aircraft of the KG 40 were guided to their destination by German submarines and so did not need to waste fuel looking for the ships.

In the two war years of 1941/1942, the air force's target area shifted from the waters around southern England to the North Sea , where numerous convoys supplying the Soviet Union were attacked. In the spring and summer of 1942 the battle for the northern sea convoys PQ 13 , PQ 15 , PQ 16 , PQ 17 and PQ 18 took place. A total of 4100 vehicles, 580 tanks and 270 aircraft with their cargo ships sank before they could reach the Soviet Union. Again, it was German submarines that provided target information for the aircraft and also worked closely with the Luftwaffe during the attack. This fight was more or less the most successful operation of the Air Force against convoys of the North Sea.

In the following years the Allies protected their convoys with more and more destroyers, so that the stronger air defense prevented any approach by German bombers. The shortage of fuel and the lack of modern aircraft led to the cessation of operations in the North Sea, and the Navy with its submarines was left on its own in the last years of the war.

The four-engine Focke-Wulf Fw 200 “Condor” proved itself as a maritime reconnaissance aircraft in the Atlantic , where it was supposed to interrupt the supply of food, weapons and other goods to Great Britain by sinking cargo ships in cooperation with submarine units.

Defense against the Allied bomber offensive

Boeing B-17 "Flying Fortress"

The United States Army Air Forces (USAAF), whose Commander-in-Chief was General Henry H. Arnold , set up a bomber command with the 8th Air Force in England in 1942 , the purpose of which was to bomb strategic (industrial) targets deep in the Reich. The British RAF Bomber Command has pursued the same goal since the beginning of the war. From 1943, their efforts were coordinated in the Combined Bomber Offensive .

In order to protect the American bombers, they were escorted by long-range fighters from 1943 - initially mainly as far as the border with the Republic P-47 , over the Reich territory by the Lockheed P-38 , and from the beginning of 1944 until the long-range fighter North American P, which was also superior in aerial combat -51 was introduced. In the European theater of war, the P-38 proved to be just as unsuitable as an escort fighter as the German Bf 110 had previously over England. The P-47 was used as a fighter-bomber and as a ground combat support aircraft until the end of the war.

The night bombings were largely flown by the British bombers without protection from the fighter. The RAF Bomber Command suffered a heavy defeat on the night of March 30th to 31st, 1944, when the German night fighter pilots and anti-aircraft units succeeded in removing 95 of the 795 four-engine Lancaster bombers , whose task was to bomb Nuremberg was to shoot down.

Capricorn company

Houses in London destroyed in an air raid

At the end of 1943 the Luftwaffe was working out plans to intensify the fight against Great Britain. Until then, only disruptive attacks with up to 30 aircraft took place. The attacks should have the character of retaliatory attacks. It was therefore not a matter of hitting military targets, but of causing casualties among the population.

To enable the new offensive, were now in the IX. Fliegerkorps (Commander Colonel Dietrich Peltz ) summarized combat pilot associations, which were withdrawn mainly from the Mediterranean area. A total of 524 aircraft were available on January 20, 1944, 462 of which were operational. There were a total of 270 Junkers Ju 88, 121 Dornier Do 217, 35 Junkers Ju 188, 46 Heinkel He 177, 27 Messerschmitt Me 410 and 25 Focke-Wulf Fw 190 in combat squadrons 2, 6, 30, 40, 54, 66 , 76, 100 and in Schnellkampfgeschwader 10 were present.

On the night of January 21st to January 22nd, 1944, the first attack on the British mainland was flown as part of the Steinbock company. 447 German planes attacked London in two waves. Few planes reached London and dropped 30 tons of bombs. The German losses were also high in the next attacks. Up to April 18, 14 air strikes were carried out on London, followed by more on coastal cities such as Portsmouth , Bristol , Weymouth and Falmouth by May 29 . After that, the air strikes were ended due to unsuccessfulness.

Approximately 1,500 people died in the air strikes. The Luftwaffe lost 329 of its 462 aircraft.

Protection of oil production

There were some hunting units in Romania that were responsible for protecting the strategically important oil refineries in the city of Ploesti . For example, in 1942 the first group of a later fighter squadron (the I./JG 4 with four squadrons) was set up in Romania to protect Ploesti. It emerged from the earlier "Ploesti Oil Protection Squadron". From Ploesti, the German Reich was supplied with petroleum products that it needed to keep the war going.

First operational jet aircraft

Night fighter Messerschmitt Me 262 B-1a / U1, captured by the British at the end of the war and tested in the USA in 1946

The German air force was the first air force in the world to set up and deploy operational jet fighter units. The twin -engine Messerschmitt Me 262 , which was far ahead of its time in terms of concept and armament ( 30 mm automatic cannons and R4M missiles ), served as a standard fighter here. However, Hitler's direct intervention prevented the rapid and, above all, extensive use as a fighter plane. Hitler saw in the aircraft type primarily a lightning bomber. It was not until late that Hitler allowed the Me 262 to be tested as a fighter aircraft. First, the Me 262 was used as a fighter aircraft for testing in the Nowotny Command . Other Me-262 units were later set up, such as Jagdverband 44 (also known as the Expert Staffel) under the command of Adolf Galland , the general of the fighter pilots who had initially been deposed by Göring at the beginning of January. The jet engines of the Axis powers were operational, but not reliable for various reasons, especially due to material problems.

Other jet aircraft used were the Arado Ar 234 "Blitz" as a twin-engine high-speed bomber and reconnaissance aircraft, the Heinkel He 162 , known as the Volksjäger , driven by a single BMW turbine and the rocket -powered Messerschmitt Me 163 .

At the end of the war in May 1945, a number of other advanced aircraft types were either in the experimental stage or in production, for example the flying wing Horten Ho 229 (Horten H IX), which was to be manufactured in the aircraft factory of the Gothaer Waggonfabrik .

Novel weapons

A new type of weapon was also developed for the Air Force - the Fieseler Fi 103 (V1) : the world's first cruise missile. The unit A4 (V2) , the first long-range missile , however, was developed under Wernher von Braun in the army. Due to the use of raw materials that are also important for aircraft construction, the production of the A4 was only possible at the expense of aircraft production.

Furthermore, the first remote-controlled missile ( Fritz X ) was used by the Air Force .

Company floor slab

The Bodenplatte company took place on January 1, 1945. It was supposed to secure the success of the Battle of the Bulge , which was seriously threatened by the Allied air domination . About 850 German aircraft, mainly single-engine fighters, attacked Allied airfields in the Netherlands, Belgium and northern France and destroyed 290 Allied aircraft on the ground and in the air. The Luftwaffe itself lost 336 aircraft and 213 pilots who either fell in the attack, were captured or fell victim to their own flak on the return flight, which had not been informed of the operation and therefore often considered the German aviators to be enemies. The high losses of trained pilots within just one day could no longer be replaced. The Allies, who lost only a few pilots, were able to make up for their aircraft losses in a very short time. The Luftwaffe's last attempt to achieve local air superiority with the Bodenplatte company failed.

Fliegerforstschutzverband (Test Command 41)

The air force maintained with the test command 41 under Colonel Hans Christoph v. Borstell, a unit that specialized in airborne chemicals. The focus was initially on forest protection (Göring was also Reichsforstmeister). Cooperation with the SS science institution Ahnenerbe was added later. This was involved in the development of chemical and chemical weapons, but also in malaria prevention (Department M of the Institute for Defense Research). Tests were carried out with the spraying of chemicals against malaria mosquitoes, but also with the dropping of Colorado beetles, which should destroy British crops if successful. When the unit was to be dissolved and its 14 employees, v. Borstell and the special aircraft transferred to other units, Ahnenerbe managing directors Sievers and Kurt Blome intervened several times. Finally Sievers suggested that the unit should be transferred to the Waffen SS. However, it was finally dissolved at the end of May 1944.


The Luftwaffe's defeat was the result of a war of attrition. A major factor for the wear and tear was the lack of raw materials (especially the lack of aluminum, which is important for the construction of aircraft), and from the end of 1944 also the lack of fuel caused by the Allied air raids. There was also a lack of trained pilots.

On March 1, 1944, the Armaments Ministry and the Reich Aviation Ministry set up a crisis team, the so-called " Jägerstab ", which was supposed to achieve an increase in production in aircraft construction with extensive powers. The SS began with large bunker and tunnel construction projects to move the aircraft industry underground to protect against Allied air raids ( U-relocation ). Himmler planned to increase the number of concentration camp prisoners already deployed in the air armament from 36,000 to 190,000; Hungarian Jews in particular should be included. From May 1944, the Luftwaffe was the first part of the Wehrmacht to deploy soldiers for the camp guards.

Military branches

Air force

Day hunter

In terms of numbers, the day hunt associations were the second largest armed force in the air force after the fighter pilots. As a defensive weapon, it was in the shadow of fighter pilots and dive fighter pilots in the offensive leadership of the air force. This only changed in 1944 under the impact of heavy Allied air raids.

Even before the official exposure, the Luftwaffe set up the first fighter squadron on April 1, 1934. The squadron initially called Jagdgeschwader 132 (JG 132) was later renamed JG 2 Richthofen .

At the beginning of the Second World War, around 770 fighter planes were ready in eight fighter squadrons. In the course of the war another twelve fighter squadrons were set up, but not all of them reached their full strength and some of them disbanded after a short time. The highest number of fighter aircraft with around 2500 pieces was reached in 1944.

In the first years of the war the Messerschmitt Bf 109 was the standard fighter of the day-hunting associations in different versions. Later, from 1941, the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 was added in various versions. Both fighters formed the backbone of the fighter units. Others like the Messerschmitt Me 262 came to the front shortly before the end of the war and in small numbers.

The fighter units were deployed on all fronts of the Luftwaffe to fight for and defend air supremacy over the operational area. For this purpose, the hunters roamed over the operational area in free hunt, which means that individual squads, chains or squadrons fought enemy aircraft where they encountered them. Often the hunters also protected combat or fall combat units by accompanying them. From 1943 at the latest, strong units had to be stationed in the German Reich in order to disrupt the daytime incoming US bombers.

Overall, the Jagdwaffe succeeded in destroying around 70,000 enemy aircraft in the air or on the ground between September 1, 1939 and May 8, 1945. 38,977 fighters were lost on the part of the Luftwaffe. 8,500 pilots died and 2,700 were captured or went missing.

The most experienced and successful German fighter pilots were called "experts" in Air Force jargon. The most successful fighter pilot of all time was Erich "Bubi" Hartmann with 352 aerial victories, followed by Gerhard Barkhorn with 301 aerial victories (both Eastern Front ). The kill numbers cannot be compared with each other, as there were different conditions on each front (number of operations and number of enemy aircraft). A total of 104 fighter pilots in the Luftwaffe had 100 or more kills and over 5000 fighter pilots five or more.

The shooting figures mentioned in the Wehrmacht report were, however, often excessive after 1942, as an examination of the actual successes took a long time and attempts were made to conceal the constant retreats through propaganda reports. To date, there are no reliable sources for exact figures.

  • Most kills during the Spanish Civil War: Werner Mölders 14 victories
  • Most kills on the Eastern Front: Erich Hartmann 352 aerial victories
  • Most kills on the Western Front: Hans-Joachim Marseille 158 victories
  • Most kills with the jet fighter (Me 262): Kurt Welter 25 aerial victories
  • Most of the kills of bombers (day fighters): Herbert Rollwage 102 victories (of which 44 bombers)
  • Most bombers shot down (night fighters): Heinz-Wolfgang Schnaufer 121 victories (including 115 bombers)
  • Most kills in one mission: Erich Rudorffer 13 victories
  • Most kills in one day: Emil Lang 18 victories
  • Best kill average per mission: Günther Scheel 71 victories (in 70 missions)

Compared to this, the Allies had nothing comparable to show, because with them (except for the Red Army) the pilots were exchanged cyclically so that the maximum number of enemy flights was not too high and the most successful pilots were retained as instructors in the long term. The high number of fires is offset by increasing wear and tear of the pilots of the hunting rifle through uninterrupted use on all fronts. The most successful Allied fighter pilot was Ivan Nikitowitsch Koschedub with 62 victories.

Night fighter

Although the concept of night combat flight had already been established in the First World War, the tactics of night hunting were redeveloped when the Royal Air Force bombers attacked industrial and civil targets in Germany in large numbers at night from 1940 onwards. At this point in time there were two experimental squadrons (10./JG 2 and 11./LG 2) in the Luftwaffe for night hunting.

These even more experimental units, equipped with normal Bf-109 and Bf-110 aircraft, were expanded with the increasing air raids in the course of the war.

A captured Messerschmitt Bf 110 G-4 night fighter with a "Lichtenstein" radar system built into the nose in Farnborough, England, around autumn 1945

On June 22, 1940, the Nachtjagdgeschwader 1 was set up in Düsseldorf with Captain Wolfgang Falk as commodore. On April 30, 1940, Falk was the first to succeed in finding a bomber during the night with the help of a Freya radio measuring device , dead reckoning and radiotelephone, but he was unable to shoot it down.

From 1940 a chain of Freya radar stations, the so-called " Kammhuber Line " (after Colonel Josef Kammhuber , later Colonel General ), was set up from Norway to the Swiss border. In the Dutch and Belgian territory, the main direction of entry for British bombers, there were 30 kilometers wide headlight bars. From a central control station, nearby night hunting groups were alerted, brought up to the enemy and fought in the sky lit by searchlights. This process was called the light night hunt . As the British tried to bypass the headlight latch, it was widened. All the units necessary for this (night fighters, flight reporting and radio measurement service , flak, searchlights) were combined in the night hunting division (Colonel Josef Kammhuber) set up on July 17, 1940. On July 20, Oberleutnant Werner Streib succeeded in shooting the first night hunting down using the above procedure.

When the new Würzburg radio measuring devices were introduced in the autumn of 1940 , dark night hunting was also possible, i.e. the night hunters could find their targets independently of searchlights. For this purpose, they were equipped with the Messerschmitt Bf 110 and the Junkers Ju 88 with a Lichtenstein radar system built into the aircraft nose.

At the end of 1940, 165 night fighter planes were operational. By 1942 this had increased to 370.

The Heinkel He 219 “Uhu”, introduced in 1943, was one of the best and most successful night fighters in the Air Force. However, the military leadership prevented the timely and, above all, sufficient production and delivery of this type of aircraft. The numbers of this type built were not enough to stop the flow of bombers.

In order to disrupt the increasingly effective German night hunt, allied bombers began to throw metal strips from the aircraft, so-called chaff, which were cut to match the German radio measuring equipment , first during the attack on Hamburg on July 24, 1943 . These are aluminum strips. chaffs , code name window . Until a technical solution could be found against these disruptive measures, the wild boar procedure was introduced. The airspace was illuminated by anti- aircraft floodlights in order to ensure that the single-engine day-fighter aircraft used were able to see similar conditions as during the day. Later, the night fighters succeeded in finding the approaching bombers again conventionally by introducing other radar devices in the aircraft.

An effective weapon of the night fighters was the so-called " weird music ", tried and tested in 1943 and introduced in series from 1944 . This is how the fighter pilots called a rapid-fire cannon that shot diagonally upwards. Night fighters equipped with them flew under the enemy formations and maneuvered in the blind spot of the gunner. The weapon was triggered either manually or by optical sensors.

The most successful night fighter was Heinz-Wolfgang Schnaufer , who shot down over 120 enemy bombers. As a single pilot, he managed to prevent a British air raid on his hometown of Stuttgart . Schnaufer shot the so-called "master of ceremonies", who was responsible for marking the target, out of the enemy unit. Without this, the other bombers had to drop their load indiscriminately into the terrain in what is known as an emergency throw. Another militarily successful night fighter was Helmut Lent , who shot down 110 Allied aircraft until he died in a landing accident in October 1944.

Melee aircraft

Dive fighter aircraft in action in Poland in 1939

Melee pilots were called the dive-fighting, later battle squadrons and night battle groups in the Air Force.

By the beginning of the war, the Luftwaffe had a total of five dive combat squadrons (Stukageschwader 1, 2, 3, 5, 77), all of which were equipped with the Junkers Ju 87 . The main task of the Sturzkampfgeschwader was to provide direct support to the army on the battlefield by attacking enemy troop concentrations, bunkers or artillery positions with bombs and machine guns. The dive squadrons were mostly grouped together in special air corps and were relocated at short notice within the front to the corresponding focal points of the ground combat. As early as the Battle of Britain in 1940 it became apparent that the Junkers Ju 87 was out of date. Nevertheless, she was still used in the squadrons. It was not until autumn 1943 that the Sturzkampfgeschwader began to be converted to the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 . They were renamed Battle Squadrons on October 18, 1943. In addition, the battle squadrons 4, 9 and 10 were set up. Panzerjagd squadrons were combined in the 9th Battle Squadron. These units, which have been on the Eastern Front since 1942, were able to shoot enemy tanks from the air with their Henschel Hs 129 and Junkers Ju 87 due to the 3.7 cm cannons under the wings.

Starting in November 1942, so-called sturgeon combat squadrons and groups were set up on the Eastern Front, whose task it was to attack enemy troops on the front at night. The model was based on the U-2 double-decker aircraft that had been in use on the Soviet side since the beginning of the war and attacked German troops at night. On October 18, 1943, all of these associations were combined and renamed into night battle groups. Aircraft were flown that were out of date for daytime use over the front ( Arado Ar 66 , Gotha Go 145 , Focke-Wulf Fw 58 , Heinkel He 46 , Arado Ar 96 , Heinkel He 50 and others).

Reconnaissance aircraft

Henschel Hs 126

The number of reconnaissance pilots was significantly lower than that of fighter pilots and fighter pilots since the Luftwaffe was established. The Air Force differentiated between long-range, local and sea reconnaissance aircraft as well as weather reconnaissance aircraft. Their main task was the observation of the assigned operational area and the quick forwarding of relevant sightings via radio.

The long-range reconnaissance aircraft used aerial cameras to take pictures. For example, attacks by fighter planes could be prepared or followed up using the images. For the higher and middle command in the army and air force, reconnaissance results from deep inside the enemy were important in order to be able to make operational decisions. Long-range reconnaissance aircraft were usually directly subordinate to the air fleets in squadrons of twelve aircraft. The long-range reconnaissance aircraft were equipped with the Junkers Ju 290 , Dornier Do 215 , Heinkel He 111 , Dornier Do 17 , Junkers Ju 88 and Junkers Ju 188 .

The task of the close-up reconnaissance was mainly for the army in the immediate combat area to clear up the terrain, the deployment and distribution of forces of the enemy, about the preparation, course and termination of combat operations, as well as about movements and facilities. For this purpose, reconnaissance squadrons of twelve aircraft each were formed, which were tactically subordinate to the army groups, armies, tank corps and even individual tank divisions. In the beginning the Henschel Hs 126 , Messerschmitt Me 110 , Donier Do 17, Junkers Ju 88, Focke-Wulf Fw 189 and Junkers Ju 290 were flown, later only single-seat aircraft.

Blohm & Voss BV 138 in flight

The maritime patrols were divided into coastal flight squadrons and groups. Their task was to scout out the seas with several aircraft in so-called fan reconnaissance to track down enemy fleet units or convoys and to keep in touch until their own air or naval forces could intervene. Armed reconnaissance missions were also often flown; that is, the detected convoy was attacked by the reconnaissance aircraft itself with bombs or on-board weapons, and later also torpedoes. Some flying boats like the Dornier Do 18 , Blohm & Voss BV 138 or seaplanes like the Heinkel He 60 , Heinkel He 115 but also land planes were used.

Precisely predicting the weather could have a significant impact on the course of military operations. In order to be able to forecast the weather, however, one needed a lot of weather data from different weather stations and an international exchange about it. Since this was not possible during the war, the air force set up special weather reconnaissance squadrons (Wekusta) with meteorological experts on board.

Transport plane

A Ju 52 in Russia

The transport pilots were grouped together in squadrons or independent groups. b. V. (for special use) were called. They were later renamed Transport Squadrons 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , and 5 . At the beginning of the war, these were mainly equipped with the Junkers Ju 52 . Later the Messerschmitt Me 323 , Junkers Ju 90 and Junkers Ju 290 were added in smaller numbers . One of the tasks of the transport aircraft was to drop paratroopers or airborne troops. The latter were also transported with gliders , a special glider such as the ( DFS 230 or Gotha Go 242 ), and pulled them in tow. Due to this task, transport planes were involved in the occupation of Norway , the occupation of the fortress of Holland and the Belgian fort Eben-Emael in 1940. The largest operation in 1941 was the occupation of the Greek island of Crete from the air. At the beginning of 1942, the army in the Demyansk pocket on the Eastern Front had to be completely supplied from the air. The transport planes suffered the greatest losses in supplying the trapped soldiers in the Stalingrad pocket . 266 Junkers Ju 52s were lost within two months.

Anti-aircraft artillery

Listening device for instruction of the heavy flak
Headlights of a headlight battery
12.8 cm flak on the flak tower at the zoo in Berlin
Flak hit, here on a Consolidated B-24

The flak of the Luftwaffe (Flak = anti- aircraft gun ) was the heart of the air defense . After the mobilization in autumn 1939, around 258,000 soldiers served in 151 mixed, 23 light and three railway flak divisions, as well as 60 floodlight and three air lock (balloon) divisions. A total of 5511 light and medium and 2362 heavy anti-aircraft guns were available. In 499 heavy batteries four 10.5 cm flak were used, in 489 batteries with the 8.8 cm flak as well. In 73 medium batteries there were nine 3.7 cm flak each , while 296 light batteries each had twelve 2 cm flak , depending on their nominal strength . In addition, there were 177 batteries with nine flak headlights each and a small number of various other units such as flak machine gun and railway flak batteries. The anti-aircraft weapons also included the nine air barrier batteries with their barrier balloons for obstructing enemy aircraft in their own airspace. Most of these batteries were used in home air defense, so they were stationary and not motorized.

For the western campaign , the flak set up two independent motorized flak corps, each with two to three flak regiments, to support the tank units at the focal points of the ground combat. After the occupied areas in the north and west also had to be secured against air attacks, the Luftwaffe's anti-aircraft batteries were also used there. The home air defense was weakened, although the first RAF bombing raids on German cities took place in the second half of 1940 . In 1940 it took 8,000 rounds for the Flakwaffe to shoot down an aircraft. In the three major cities of Berlin, Hamburg and Vienna, a total of eight pairs of flak guns (one control tower and one combat tower each) were built from 1940 onwards, which were equipped with various light and heavy guns up to 12.8 cm flak .

In 1941 the flak weapon increased again because of the impending attack on the Soviet Union . The heavy batteries were increased from four to six guns, the light batteries from twelve to 15 guns and the headlight batteries to twelve searchlights. The two motorized flak corps were deployed again on the earth front and, with their heavy artillery, were often the last holdup against the heavy armored vehicles of the Red Army.

The main problem of the flak in 1942 was still the inadequate electronic location of enemy aircraft and the resulting high consumption of ammunition. From June onwards, so-called home and alarm flak batteries were set up, which consisted of only a few soldiers and, in the event of an attack, were manned by civilians, for example industrial workers from the company to be protected. The flak was further strengthened in 1942 through such temporary measures.

In 1943 the number of anti-aircraft guns in the heavy flak batteries was increased from six to eight. The further strengthening of the Flakwaffe reached its limits in terms of personnel. Therefore, they made do by using so-called flak helpers. These were members of the Hitler Youth , the BDM , the RAD or prisoners of war who were used as so-called volunteers . In November, for example, 400,000 flak helpers were deployed, 80,000 of them students. Due to this insufficiently trained personnel and a technical inferiority in aircraft location, around 6500 rounds of the light and 4000 rounds of the heavy flak were necessary to shoot down an aircraft at the end of 1943.

From 1944 onwards, anti-aircraft forces were increasingly relocated from the Reich Air Defense to the earth fronts as soon as they approached the German Reich borders. When fighting aircraft, the flak was still struggling with the interference from radio measuring devices and the increasing shortage of ammunition. The personnel situation also continued to deteriorate. At the end of the war there were only ten percent trained soldiers in the flak batteries, the rest were flak helpers.

After the war, the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) announced that German flak had shot down 5,400 US aircraft. About 17,000 enemy aircraft were shot down by flak on the Eastern Front.

year light and medium batteries heavy batteries Headlight batteries
1939 369 988 177
1941 863 1369 263
1942 1237 1568 363
1943 1586 2236 490

Air Intelligence Force

On December 1, 1933, the air intelligence force, then known as the radio station, was founded, still secretly. Wolfgang Martini is considered to be the creator of the military service, officially known as the Luftnachrichtentruppe from March 1, 1935 , who was also the Luftwaffe's general intelligence officer from 1944. The tasks of the air intelligence force included the creation and maintenance of telecommunication connections (radio and telephone) between all military units of the air force and as a connection to the army and navy. Furthermore, she was responsible for the entire airspace surveillance (using radio measurement methods) over German airspace and in countries occupied by the Wehrmacht. In Germany and in occupied Western Europe in particular, it operated flight reporting and fighter control centers to ward off Allied bomber attacks. She was also responsible for air traffic control and radio navigation of the company's own aircraft. Another field of activity was radio reconnaissance of the enemy by means of radio eavesdropping and radio measurement reconnaissance and the resulting interference and deception measures.

At the beginning of the Second World War there were around 70,000 soldiers in the air intelligence service. This number increased to 243,000 by May 20, 1941 and to 500,000 by the summer of 1944. Especially within Germany, for example at the hunter control centers, women were also obliged to serve.

Among other things, the air intelligence service carried out radio reconnaissance for the Polish Air Force at the beginning of the attack on Poland. After the occupation of Norway , she set up a radio network for internal and external connections. The German channel breakthrough was supported by radio measurement in 1942 (by disrupting British radar equipment) and the Allied landing in Dieppe was cleared up. In the occupied territories of the Soviet Union a wire telecommunications network (turnstile telegraph axes with carrier frequency and alternating current telegraphy) was set up and operated. Radio links had to be set up near the basins of Demyansk, Stalingrad or Tunis and to occupied islands.

The gun color of the Air Intelligence Force was brown.

Ground combat units


Paratroopers jump

A unique feature of the German Air Force - in contrast to other independent air forces - was the possession of an organic elite force of paratroopers . It was used in 1940/1941, especially when taking the Belgian fort Eben-Emael (May 1940) and the island of Crete ( Merkur company , May 1941). However, more than 3,700 of the 15,000 paratroopers deployed in Crete were killed. In view of these losses, Hitler prohibited the paratrooper units from carrying out large-scale operations of this kind in the future. Instead, the paratroopers took part in smaller special operations, such as the liberation of the fallen and imprisoned Italian dictator Benito Mussolini in September 1943 ( company Eiche ). In addition, the paratroopers' associations were mainly used in ground combat as elite infantry. Above all, the defense of the monastery of Monte Cassino by German paratroopers became known.

Parachute Panzer Corps Hermann Göring

The parachute armored corps Hermann Göring was formed on October 1st, 1944 with the parachute armored division 1 Hermann Göring and the parachute armored infantry division 2 Hermann Göring . The forerunner was the police department set up in Berlin on April 25, 1933. b. V. Wake up. This was expanded in 1934 to form the General Göring State Police Group. At that time Hermann Göring was Reich Commissioner for the Prussian Ministry of the Interior and thus the highest employer of the police and Reich Commissioner for Aviation. Since Hermann Göring regarded the state police group with his name as his own house and court troops, he took them over to the air force when he was appointed their commander-in-chief. The unit, now called General Göring Regiment , was enlarged to a brigade and then a division in the course of the war. The name parachute was only introduced from February 1944 for propaganda reasons, as jumping was not possible.

Air Force Field Divisions

Due to the poor military situation on the Eastern Front and due to the high personnel losses from the winter war of 1941/1942, the Luftwaffe was supposed to hand over soldiers to the army. Since the Commander-in-Chief of the Air Force Hermann Göring was reluctant to surrender soldiers, from November 1942 surplus Air Force soldiers were deployed in their own Air Force field divisions, mainly on the earth front in the east. These soldiers were inadequately trained in infantry and were led by Luftwaffe officers, some of whom were poorly trained for infantry operations. Therefore, they suffered heavy losses within a very short time and were partly dissolved again. The remaining Luftwaffe soldiers were transferred to the army on November 1, 1943 and thus formally no longer belonged to the Luftwaffe. Of the 250,000 Air Force soldiers deployed, around 90,000 were killed, wounded or missing within one year.


From September 1, 1939 to January 31, 1945, the Luftwaffe lost a total of 138,596 soldiers (including 9,409 officers) as dead, 216,579 (9,367) soldiers as wounded and 156,132 (7,816) soldiers as missing.

Aircraft losses 1939 1940 1941 1942 1943
Total losses 625 4543 4280 5026
no longer repairable 501 2273 2991 2288
Total losses 1126 6816 7271 7314 17,495

The total losses included kills by the enemy, crashes without enemy influence at the front or during training. For example, in 1942 about 40 percent of total aircraft casualties were without enemy action.

"The Eagle"

The Luftwaffe had its own propaganda magazine with the title Der Adler .

post war period

After the end of the Second World War, German aviation was very restricted and military aviation was completely prohibited. It was not until 1956 that air forces were re-established in both German states:

On November 18, 1962 in the Bavarian Fuerstenfeldbruck the memorial of the Air Force opened.

See also


  • Horst Boog : The German Air Force leadership 1935-1945 - leadership problems, top structure, general staff training. Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt , Stuttgart 1982 (= contributions to military and war history. Vol. 21). ISBN 3-421-01905-3 .
  • Lutz Budraß : Aircraft Industry and Air Armament in Germany 1918–1945 (= writings of the Federal Archives , 50). Droste, Düsseldorf 1998, ISBN 3-7700-1604-1 . (2nd edition: 2007).
  • Karl Otto Hoffmann: Ln. - The story of the Air Intelligence Force. (Volume 1: The beginnings of 1935–1939, Volume 2.1: The flight reporting and Jägerleitdienst 1939–1945, Volume 2.2: Wire communication, radio link 1939–1945); Wuppertal 1965, 1968, 1973.
  • Kurt Mehner, Rheinhard Teuber (ed.): The German Air Force 1934–1945 - leadership and troops. (2nd edition), Militair-Verlag Patzwall, Norderstedt 1993 (= series of publications on leadership and troops. Vol. 1). ISBN 3-931533-00-X .
  • Sönke Neitzel : The use of the German air force over the Atlantic and the North Sea 1939–1945 . With a foreword by Jürgen Rohwer . Bernard & Graefe, Bonn 1995, ISBN 3-7637-5938-7 (dissertation, University of Mainz, 1995, 287 pages).
  • Ernst Stilla: The Air Force in the fight for air supremacy. Decisive influencing factors in the defeat of the Luftwaffe in the defensive battle in the West and over Germany in the Second World War with special consideration of the factors “air armament”, “research and development” and “human resources”. Dissertation, Uni Bonn 2005 ( full text (pdf) ).
  • Othmar Tuider : The Air Force in Austria 1938–1945 (= Military History Series . H. 54). Bundesverlag, Vienna 1985, ISBN 3-215-05908-8 .
  • Daniel Uziel: Arming the Luftwaffe. The German aviation industry in World War II , Jefferson, NC a. a. (McFarland) 2012. ISBN 978-0-7864-6521-7
  • Karl-Heinz Völker :
    • The development of military aviation in Germany 1920–1933. Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Stuttgart 1962 (= contributions to military and war history. Vol. 3).
    • The German Air Force 1933–1939 - Development, command and armament of the Air Force as well as the development of the German air war theory. Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Stuttgart 1967 (= contributions to military and war history. Vol. 8).
    • Documents and documentary photos on the history of the German Air Force. Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Stuttgart 1968 (= contributions to military and war history. Vol. 9).

Web links

Commons : Luftwaffe  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Decree of the Führer and Reich Chancellor on the Reich Air Force . In: Files on German Foreign Policy 1918 - 1945 . Series C. Volume III, 2. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1973, p. 943 f . ( [accessed on January 6, 2020]).
  2. ^ A b c Franz Kurowski : The air war over Germany. Neuer Kaiser Verlag, ISBN 3-7043-4061-8 , p. 37.
  3. a b c d e f g Bernhard R. Kroener , Rolf-Dieter Müller, Hans Umbreit: The German Empire and the Second World War . Volume 5/1, dva, Stuttgart 1988, ISBN 3-421-06232-3 , p. 963.
  4. Liaison and courier planes, weather planes, mine sweepers, sea rescue planes and other special planes.
  5. a b c d Bernhard R. Kroener, Rolf-Dieter Müller, Hans Umbreit: The German Empire and the Second World War. Volume 5/1, dva, Stuttgart 1988, ISBN 3-421-06232-3 , p. 909.
  6. ^ Bernhard R. Kroener, Rolf-Dieter Müller, Hans Umbreit: The German Empire and the Second World War. Volume 5/1, dva, Stuttgart 1988, ISBN 3-421-06232-3 , p. 959.
  7. Dieter Jung / Berndt Wenzel / Arno Abendroth: The ships and boats of the German sea pilots. Motorbuch Verlag, Stuttgart 1977, ISBN 3-87943-469-7 , pp. 47, 57, 107, 110, 394.
  8. ^ Herbert Molloy Mason: The Air Force. Origin, high point and decline of the German Air Force until 1945. Wilhelm Heyne Verlag, Munich 1981, ISBN 3-453-00986-X , p. 136.
  9. ^ Karl-Heinz Völker: The German Air Force 1933–1939. Deutsche Verlagsanstalt, Stuttgart 1967, pp. 15f., 229.
  10. ^ Franz Kurowski: The aerial warfare over Germany. Kaiser Verlag, ISBN 3-7043-4061-8 , pp. 23–24.
  11. ^ Franz Kurowski: The aerial warfare over Germany. Kaiser Verlag, ISBN 3-7043-4061-8 , p. 25.
  12. ^ Franz Kurowski: The aerial warfare over Germany. Kaiser Verlag, ISBN 3-7043-4061-8 , p. 26.
  13. ^ Herbert Molloy Mason: The Air Force. Origin, high point and decline of the German Air Force until 1945. Wilhelm Heyne Verlag, Munich 1981, ISBN 3-453-00986-X , p. 136.
  14. The attack on Guernica - background information ,, accessed on February 26, 2020.
  15. ^ Karl Ries Jr .: Markings and camouflages of the Luftwaffe, Volume 1 , 1971, pp. 12, 16
  16. Heiner Wittrock Fliegerhorst Wunstorf Part 1 , p. 61 ff, editor: Stadt Wunstorf 1995
  17. Target destroyed in Zeit online from September 1, 2009, accessed on July 10, 2011.
  18. Horst Rohde: The German Empire and the Second World War. dva, Stuttgart 1979, ISBN 3-421-01935-5 , pp. 130 f.
  19. ^ Cajus Bekker : Attack Height 4000. 1964.
  20. Ulf Balke: The aerial warfare in Europe 1939-1941. Bechtermünz Verlag, ISBN 3-86047-591-6 , pp. 393-396.
  21. Olaf Groehler: History of the air war. Military Publishing House of the GDR, Berlin (East) 1981, p. 246.
  22. Ulf Balke: The aerial warfare in Europe 1939-1941. Bechtermünz Verlag, ISBN 3-86047-591-6 , pp. 401-405.
  23. Ulf Balke: The aerial warfare in Europe 1939-1941. Bechtermünz Verlag, ISBN 3-86047-591-6 , pp. 408-413.
  24. Ulf Balke: The aerial warfare in Europe 1939-1941. Bechtermünz Verlag, ISBN 3-86047-591-6 , pp. 414-415.
  25. ^ Leo Niehorster : The Battle for Crete, Order of Battle German 4th Air Fleet 20 May 1941 , accessed on May 9, 2015.
  26. Ulf Balke: The aerial warfare in Europe 1939-1941. Bechtermünz Verlag, ISBN 3-86047-591-6 , pp. 416-419.
  27. The use of the Me 262 was mainly delayed by the immense difficulties with the BMW jet engines.
  28. Julien Reitzenstein: Himmler's researcher. Defense science and medical crimes in the "" Ahnenerbe "" of the SS. Ferdinand Schöningh GmbH, Paderborn 2014, ISBN 978-3-506-76657-1 , p. 99-101 .
  29. ^ Bertrand Perz : Wehrmacht members as concentration camp guards in: Walter Manoschek (Ed.): The Wehrmacht in Rassenkrieg. The war of annihilation behind the front. Vienna 1996, ISBN 3-85452-295-9 , p. 168 ff.
  30. a b Wolfgang Dierich: The Air Force Associations 1939–1945. Heinz Nickel Verlag, ISBN 3-925480-15-3 , p. 35.
  31. ^ Franz Kurowski: The aerial warfare over Germany. Kaiser Verlag, ISBN 3-7043-4061-8 .
  32. ^ Wolfgang Dierich: The Air Force Associations 1935-1945. Heinz Nickel 1993, ISBN 3-925480-15-3 , pp. 195-266.
  33. ^ Wolfgang Dierich: The Air Force Associations 1935-1945. Verlag Heinz Nickel, 1993, ISBN 3-925480-15-3 , pp. 146-189.
  34. ^ Wolfgang Dierich: The Air Force Associations 1935-1945. Verlag Heinz Nickel, 1993, ISBN 3-925480-15-3 , pp. 276-277.
  35. ^ Wolfgang Dierich: The Air Force Associations 1935-1945. Verlag Heinz Nickel, 1993, ISBN 3-925480-15-3 , pp. 544-546.
  36. ^ Wolfgang Dierich: The Air Force Associations 1935-1945. Verlag Heinz Nickel, 1993, ISBN 3-925480-15-3 , pp. 660-671.
  37. Werner Haupt : The German Air Force Field Divisions 1941-1945. Dörfler Verlag, 2005, ISBN 3-89555-268-2 .
  38. Percy E. Schramm : War Diary of the High Command of the Wehrmacht 1944–1945. Part 2, Bernard & Graefe Verlag, Bonn, ISBN 3-7637-5933-6 , pp. 1509-1511.