Information

10 Facts About the German Luftwaffe


In 1920, the German air service was dissolved in accordance with the terms of the post-World War One Versailles Treaty. Within just 13 years however, the Nazi regime had formed a new air force that would quickly become one of the most sophisticated in the world.

Here are 10 facts you may not have known about the Luftwaffe.

1. Hundreds of Luftwaffe pilots and personnel trained in the Soviet Union

Following the end of World War One and the Treaty of Versailles, Germany was forbidden from having an air force after 1920 (except for up to 100 seaplanes to work in minesweeping operations). Zeppelins, which had been used in World War One to bomb the UK, were also banned.

Therefore would-be military pilots had to train in secret. Initially this was done at German civil aviation schools, and only light training planes could be used to maintain the façade that the trainees were going to fly with civil airlines. Ultimately these proved insufficient training grounds for military purposes and Germany soon sought help from the Soviet Union, also isolated in Europe at the time.

Fokker D.XIII at Lipetsk fighter-pilot school, 1926. (Image Credit: German Federal Archives, RH 2 Bild-02292-207 / Public Domain).

A secret German airfield was established in the Soviet city of Lipetsk in 1924 and remained in operation until 1933 – the year the Luftwaffe was formed. It was officially known as 4th squadron of the 40th wing of the Red Army. Luftwaffe air force pilots and technical personnel also studied and trained at a number of the Soviet Union’s own air force schools.

The first steps towards the Luftwaffe’s formation were undertaken just months after Adolf Hitler came to power, with World War One flying ace Hermann Göring, becoming National Kommissar for aviation.

He is a German Luftwaffe ace with 81 confirmed victories on the Eastern front. Now a 95-year-old veteran, Hugo Broch will soar into the skies in a Spitfire.

Watch Now

2. A Luftwaffe detachment supported rebel forces in the Spanish Civil War

Together with personnel from the German army, this detachment was known as the Condor Legion. Its involvement in the Spanish Civil War between 1936 and 1939 provided the Luftwaffe with a testing ground for new aircraft and practices, and helped Francisco Franco defeat the Republican forces on the condition that it stay under German command. Over 20,000 German airmen gained combat experience.

On 26 April 1937, the Condor Legion attacked the small Basque city of Guernica in northern Spain, dropping bombs on the town and surrounding countryside for around 3 hours. One-third of Guernica’s 5,000 inhabitants were killed or wounded, prompting a wave of protests.

Ruins of Guernica, 1937. (Image Credit: German Federal Archives, Bild 183-H25224 / CC).

The Legion’s development of strategic bombing methods proved particularly invaluable for the Luftwaffe during World War Two. The Blitz on London and many other British cities involved indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas, but by 1942, all major participants in World War Two had adopted the bombing tactics developed at Guernica, in which civilians became a target.

3. By the start of World War Two the Luftwaffe was the largest and most powerful air force in Europe

This saw it quickly establishing air supremacy during the German invasion of Poland in September 1939 and later playing an important role in helping Germany to secure victory during the Battle of France in the spring of 1940 – within a short amount of time, Germany had invaded and conquered most of Western Europe.

However, the Luftwaffe was unable to achieve air superiority over Britain in the summer of that year – something that Hitler had set as a precondition for an invasion. The Luftwaffe estimated it would be able to defeat the RAF’s Fighter Command in southern England in 4 days and destroy the rest of the RAF in 4 weeks. They were proved wrong.

In the summer of 1940, Britain battled for survival against Hitler’s war machine; the result would define the course of the Second World War. It is known simply as The Battle of Britain.

Watch Now

4. Its paratroopers were the first to ever be used in large-scale airborne military operations

The Fallschirmjäger were the paratrooper branch of the German Luftwaffe. Known as the “green devils” by Allied forces during World War Two, the Luftwaffe’s paratroopers were considered the most elite infantry of the German military, along with the light infantry of the German alpine troops.

They were deployed in parachute operations in 1940 and 1941 and participated in the Battle of Fort Eben-Emael, the Battle for The Hague, and during the Battle of Crete.

Fallschirmjäger landing on Crete in 1941. (Image Credit: German Federal Archives / Bild 141-0864 / CC).

5. Its two most prized test pilots were women…

Hanna Reitsch and Melitta von Stauffenberg were both pilots at the top of their game and both had a strong sense of honour and duty. But despite these similarities, the two women didn’t get on and had very different perspectives regarding the Nazi regime.

6. …one of whom had a Jewish father

While Reitsch was very committed to the Nazi regime, von Stauffenberg – who found out in the 1930s that her father had been born Jewish – was very critical of the Nazis’ world view. In fact, she had married into the family of German Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg and supported his failed assassination plot to kill Hitler in July 1944.

The Women Who Flew for Hitler author Clare Mulley says letters show Reitsch speaking of von Stauffenberg’s “racial burden” and that the two women absolutely loathed each other.

Hanna Reitsch and Melitta von Stauffenberg were two talented, courageous, and strikingly attractive women who fought convention to become the only female test pilots in Hitler’s Germany. Both were brilliant pilots, both were great patriots, and both had a strong sense of honour and duty – but in every other respect they could not have been more different.

Watch Now

7. Medical experiments were carried out on prisoners for the Luftwaffe

It is not clear on whose orders these experiments were carried out or whether air force personnel were directly involved, but they were nonetheless designed for the Luftwaffe’s benefit. They included tests to find ways of preventing and treating hypothermia that involved subjecting concentration camp prisoners at Dachau and Auschwitz to freezing temperatures.

In early 1942, prisoners were used (by Sigmund Rascher, a Luftwaffe doctor based at Dachau), in experiments to perfect ejection seats at high altitudes. A low-pressure chamber containing these prisoners was used to simulate conditions at altitudes of up to 20,000 metres. Nearly half the subjects died from the experiment, and the others were executed.

8. About 70 people volunteered to be suicide pilots for the force

The idea to set up a kamikaze-esque unit of the Luftwaffe was Hanna Reitsch’s idea. She had presented it to Hitler in February 1944 and the Nazi leader had given his reluctant approval.

Hitler awards the Iron Cross 2nd Class to Reitsch in March 1941. (Image Credit: Bundesarchiv, B 145 Bild-F051625-0295 / CC-BY-SA 3.0).

But although testing on aircraft in which suicide pilots could fly was carried out by Reitsch and engineer Heinz Kensche, and adaptations made to the V-1 flying bomb in order that it could be flown by a pilot, no suicide missions were ever flown.

9. Hermann Göring was commander-in-chief of the Luftwaffe for all but two weeks of its history

Göring, who was one of the most powerful members of the Nazi Party and who had been a World War One ace, served in this position from 1933 until two weeks before the end of World War Two. At that point, Göring was dismissed by Hitler and a man named Robert Ritter von Greim was appointed in his place.

Göring is seen here in military uniform in 1918.

With this move, von Greim – who, incidentally, was the lover of Hanna Reitsch – became the last German officer in World War Two to be promoted to the highest military rank of generalfeldmarschall.

10. It ceased to exist in 1946

The Allied Control Council began the process to dismantle the armed forces of Nazi Germany – including the Luftwaffe – in September 1945, but it wasn’t completed until the August of the following year.

By the end of World War Two, the Luftwaffe had around 70,000 aerial victories to its name, but also significant losses. Around 40,000 of the force’s aircraft had been completely destroyed during the war while around another 37,000 had been badly damaged.


Contents

After World War II, German aviation was severely curtailed, and military aviation was completely forbidden after the Luftwaffe of the Third Reich had been disbanded in August 1946 by the Allied Control Commission. This changed in 1955 when West Germany joined NATO, as the Western Allies believed that Germany was needed to counter the increasing military threat posed by the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies. Therefore, on 9 January 1956, a new German Air Force called Luftwaffe was founded as a branch of the new Bundeswehr.

Many well-known fighter pilots of the Wehrmacht's Luftwaffe joined the new post-war air force and underwent refresher training in the US before returning to West Germany to upgrade on the latest U.S.-supplied hardware. These included Erich Hartmann, Gerhard Barkhorn, Günther Rall and Johannes Steinhoff. Steinhoff became commander-in-chief of the Luftwaffe, with Rall as his immediate successor. Another pilot of World War II, Josef Kammhuber, also made a significant career in the post-war Luftwaffe, retiring in 1962 as Inspekteur der Luftwaffe (Chief Inspector of the Air Force).

Despite the partial reliance of the new air force on airmen who had served in the Wehrmacht's air arm, there was no organizational continuity between the old and the new Luftwaffe. This is in line with the policy of the Bundeswehr on the whole, which does not consider itself a successor of the Wehrmacht and does not follow the traditions of any other previous German military organization.

First years Edit

The first volunteers of the Luftwaffe arrived at the Nörvenich Air Base in January 1956. In the same year, the Luftwaffe was provided with its first aircraft, the US-made Republic F-84 Thunderstreak. At first, the Luftwaffe was divided into two operational commands, one in Northern Germany, aligned with the British-led Second Allied Tactical Air Force, and the other in Southern Germany, aligned with the American-led Fourth Allied Tactical Air Force.

In 1957, the Luftwaffe took command of the Army Air Defence Troops located in Rendsburg and began the expansion of its own air defence missile capabilities. The first squadron to be declared operational was the Air Transport Wing 61 at Erding Air Base, followed by the 31st Fighter-Bomber Squadron at Büchel Air Base. In 1958, the Luftwaffe received its first conscripts. In 1959, the Luftwaffe declared the 11th Missile Group in Kaufbeuren armed with MGM-1 Matador surface-to-surface tactical nuclear cruise missiles operational. The same year Jagdgeschwader 71 (Fighter Wing 71) equipped with Canadair CL-13 [5] fighters became operational at Ahlhorner Heide Air Base. All aircraft sported—and continue to sport—the Iron Cross on the fuselage, harking back to the pre-March 1918 days of World War I, while the national flag of West Germany is displayed on the tail.

Cold War Edit

In 1963, the Luftwaffe saw its first major reorganization. The two operational Air Force Group Commands – Command North and Command South were both split into two mixed Air Force divisions containing flying and air defence units and one Support division. Additionally, a 7th Air Force division was raised in Schleswig-Holstein containing flying units, missile units, support units and the German Navy's naval aviation and placed under command of Allied Forces Baltic Approaches.

In 1960, the Luftwaffe received its first Lockheed F-104 Starfighter jets. The Starfighter remained in service for the entire duration of the Cold War, with the last being taken out of service in 1991. The Luftwaffe received 916 Starfighters, 292 of which crashed, resulting in the deaths of 116 pilots. The disastrous service record of the Starfighter led to the Starfighter crisis in 1966 as a reaction to 27 Starfighter crashes with 17 casualties in 1965 alone. The West German public referred to the Starfighter as the Witwenmacher (widow-maker), fliegender Sarg (flying coffin), Fallfighter (falling fighter) and Erdnagel (tent peg, literally "ground nail").

On 25 August 1966, the German Defence Minister Kai-Uwe von Hassel relieved the Inspekteur der Luftwaffe Generalleutnant Werner Panitzki, and transferred Colonel Erich Hartmann, commanding officer of the 71st Fighter Squadron, as both had publicly criticized the acquisition of the Starfighter as a "purely political decision". On 2 September 1966, Johannes Steinhoff, with Günther Rall as deputy, became the new Inspekteur der Luftwaffe. Steinhoff and his deputy Günther Rall noted that the non-German F-104s proved much safer. The Americans blamed the high loss rate of the Luftwaffe F-104s on the extreme low-level and aggressive flying of German pilots rather than any faults in the aircraft. [6] Steinhoff and Rall went to America to learn to fly the Starfighter under Lockheed instruction and noted some specifics in the training (a lack of mountain and foggy-weather training), combined with handling capabilities (rapidly initiated, high G turns) of the aircraft that could cause accidents. Steinhoff and Rall therefore changed the training regimen for the F-104 pilots, and the accident rates fell to those comparable or better than other air forces. They also brought about the high level of training and professionalism seen today throughout the Luftwaffe, and the start of a strategic direction for Luftwaffe pilots to engage in tactical and combat training outside of Germany. However, the F-104 never lived down its reputation as a "widow-maker", and was replaced by the Luftwaffe with the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II fighter and the Panavia Tornado fighter-bomber in many units much earlier than in other national air forces.


10 things you (probably) didn’t know about the Second World War

When it comes to the Second World War, most people will be able to tell you the important dates and historical facts. But did you know that Britain actually had the least rationing in Europe? Or that Germany had a unique way of treating its flying ‘aces’? Here, historian James Holland reveals several lesser-known details about the conflict

This competition is now closed

Published: August 13, 2019 at 11:00 am

France had more tanks, guns and men than Germany in 1940

It is always assumed that during the Second World War the Germans bludgeoned their way to victory with a highly modern and mechanised army and Air Force that was superior to anything the Allies could muster in May 1940. The reality of WW2 was very different.

On 10 May 1940, when the Germans attacked, only 16 of their 135 divisions were mechanised – that is, equipped with motorised transport. The rest depended on horses and cart or feet. France alone had 117 divisions.

France also had more guns: Germany had 7,378 artillery pieces and France 10,700. It didn’t stop there: the Germans could muster 2,439 tanks while the French had 3,254, most of which were bigger, better armed and armoured than the German panzers.

The priority for manpower in the UK is surprising

Britain had decided before the war began that it would make air and naval power the focus of its fighting capability, and it was only after the fall of France that British powers realised that the Army would have to grow substantially too.

However, right up until the spring of 1944, the priority for manpower in the UK was not the navy, RAF, army, or even the merchant navy, but the Ministry of Aircraft Production. In the war, Britain alone built 132,500 aircraft, a staggering achievement – especially when considering that Fighter Command in the Battle of Britain never had more than 750 fighters.

Allied merchant shipping losses were just 1 per cent

Allied shipping losses in the Second World War in the North Atlantic, Arctic and Home Waters were just 1.48 per cent. Overall, there were 323,090 individual sailings, of which 4,786 were sunk. Of these, 2,562 were British, but on average, there were around 2,000 British ships sailing somewhere around the world on any given day.

Convoys, for the most part, were pretty safe, even though a few suffered terribly. Independent sailings and stragglers from convoys suffered the worst, but faster independent sailings were needed to cut down on unloading time and congestion, which was the drawback of the convoy system.

The Japanese had Kamikaze rockets

It was not only the Germans who put rocket-power aircraft into the air in the Second World War. After their initial victories, the Japanese struggled to pace with US and British technology, but they did develop the Ohka – or ‘Cherry Blossom’, a rocket-power human-guided anti-shipping missile, which was used at the end of the war as a kamikaze weapon.

It had to be carried by a ‘mother’ plane to get within range, then once released would glide towards the target – usually a ship – before the pilot would fire the rockets and hurtle in at up to 600 mph. Ohka pilots were called Jinrai Butai – ‘thunder gods’ – but only managed to sink three Allied ships. It was a lot of effort and sacrifice for not very much.

Britain had the least rationing in Europe

France and Britain began the war without rationing and, while it was modestly introduced in Britain in January 1940, France had still resisted by the time they were defeated in June 1940. Germany, on the other hand, introduced rationing before the war and struggled to feed its armed forces and the wider population from start to finish.

The country’s demand for food from occupied territories led to a lot of hunger for a lot of people, including the urban French. British people never had to go hungry and, although a number of foods were rationed, there were lots that were not. Certainly, by 1945, Britain had it very easy compared with the rest of Europe.

Field Marshal Alexander was the most experienced battlefield commander of the war

Field Marshal Alexander was known to every Britain in the country by the war’s end, but he is less well known today. He had an extraordinary career, and was the only officer of the war to lead front-line troops at every rank.

After rising to acting Brigadier in the First World War, he led the Nowshera Brigade on the Northwest Frontier in the 1930s, the First Division in France in 1940, and British forces in Burma in 1942. He commanded Middle East Forces and two army groups before finally becoming Supreme Allied Commander in the Mediterranean.

He was also unique in the British Army for having commanded German troops in Latvia in 1919-20 during the war against Russia.

There was a difference between Allied & German fighter aces

The Luftwaffe had an entirely different approach to their ‘aces.’ Not only were pilots expected to fly on operations longer without breaks, they also actively helped their leading shots get big scores with lesser mortals protecting them while the ‘experten’ did the shooting.

On the Eastern Front they came up against badly armed and trained Soviet aircraft and soon the leading pilots began amassing huge scores. Bibi Hartmann was the leading ace of all time with 352 ‘kills’. The leading Allied ace of the entire war was RAF ace, James ‘Johnnie’ Johnson with 38 kills.

The missing Luftwaffe fighter plane

At the same time as Messerschmitt was developing the Bf109, rival firm Heinkel were also putting forward a new all-metal monoplane fighter, the He112. Early prototypes of each were pretty evenly matched in terms of speed and rate of climb and both the Me109E, as Messerschmitt’s fighter became, and the He112E had speeds of more than 350mph.

The latter could climb to 20,000 feet in 10 minutes. More importantly, it had a very sturdy inwardly-retracting undercarriage that made it easy to land for newly trained pilots, and a phenomenal range of some 715 miles, which was better even than the twin-engine Messerschmitt 110.

The He112 would have been the ideal partner to the Me109 – and its range was an advantage in the battle of Britain and elsewhere. However, while Willy Messerchmitt was a good party man and Göring had a special (and irrational) fondness for the Me110, Heinkel had a whiff of Jewish blood – so the Heinkel fighter was dropped.

The American Parsons Jacket was designed with comfort in mind

The standard and most widely worn US Army field tunic of the war was the M41, better known as the Parsons Jacket. This was introduced in 1941 following trials by the US 5th Division in exercises in the Midwest and Alaska in the summer and autumn of 1940, and was given its name after Major-General Parsons, the divisional commander.

The design, however, was based on a pre-war civilian windcheater: the rapidly expanding US Army recognised that most of its recruits were conscripts and that comfort, durability and practicality were more important than slick military bearing. With a zip and button front, it was a simple, lightweight and warm short jacket that required little tailoring and wasted no material, and which was designed in consultation with Esquire magazine’s fashion desk.

Germany’s motor transport was minimal

German wartime propaganda that the Third Reich had a highly mechanised and modern army is still widely believed, but actually, in 1939, Germany was one of the least automotive societies in the western world, despite the autobahns and Grand Prix victories of Mercedes.

On the outbreak of war, there were 47 people for every motor vehicle in Germany. In Britain, that figure was 14, in France it was eight, and in the USA it was four. This meant the German army was largely dependent on railways, horses and carts and the feet of its soldiers to get around there were only 16 mechanised divisions in the army in May 1940.

More importantly, however, such comparatively low numbers of motor vehicles meant there were fewer factories, fewer workshops, fewer petrol pumps and fewer people who knew how to drive. In other words, it was a shortage that could not be easily rectified.

James Holland is an award-winning historian, writer and broadcaster and author of Normandy ‘44: D-Day and the Battle for France (Bantam Press, May 2019). He is a fellow of the Royal Historical Society and a research fellow at Swansea University, and he hosts a weekly podcast with Comedian Al Murray about the Second World War, ‘We Have Ways of Making You Talk’. You can follow James on Twitter @James1940.

This article was originally published by History Extra in September 2014


German Air Force in WW2: Luftwaffe’s Terror

Five years after introducing the world to the blitzkrieg, in concert with fast-moving panzers, the German air force was being hunted to destruction. In 1939 the Luftwaffe was the world’s strongest air force with modern equipment, well-trained aircrews, and combat experience from the Spanish Civil War. However, from its secretive birth in the early 1930s, it was doctrinally a tactical air arm mainly intended to support the German army. Long-range strategic bombers were largely shunned in favor of single- and twin-engine bombers and attack aircraft capable of functioning as ‘‘flying artillery.’’ The concept worked extremely well in Poland, France, Belgium, and elsewhere in 1939–40. It also achieved sensational success in the early phase of Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of Russia in 1941 (German Air Force ww2). However, during the Battle of Britain and subsequently in Russia, Germany paid for its lack of multi-engine bombers capable of destroying enemy industry.

The dominant figure in the Luftwaffe was Reichmarshall Hermann Göering. A noted World War I pilot and leader, he was also an early political supporter of Adolf Hitler and therefore gained full control of German aviation when the Nazis came to power. However, Göering proved out of his depth as a commander in chief, and his air force suffered under his often irrational leadership. Göering demanded control of everything connected with aviation, and got it: antiaircraft defenses, paratroops, POW camps for Allied airmen, even a Luftwaffe forestry service. Ten percent of the Luftwaffe’s strength was committed to ground units, including the superbly equipped Hermann Göering Panzer Division, which fought with distinction in Africa, Italy, and Russia. Some Allied generals frankly considered it the best unit in any army of World War II.

Like the Anglo-American air forces, the Luftwaffe was built around the basic unit of the squadron (Staffel), equipped with nine or more aircraft. Three or four Staffeln constituted a group (Gruppe), with three or more Gruppen per Geschwader, or wing. German organization was more specialized than that of the RAF or USAAF, as there were Gruppen and Geschwadern not only of fighters, bombers, transport, and reconnaissance units of but dive-bomber, ground attack (mainly anti-armor), and maritime patrol aircraft.

Nomenclature can be confusing when comparing the Luftwaffe to the USAAF and RAF. Although the squadron label was common to all three, what the Germans and Americans called a ‘‘group’’ was an RAF ‘‘wing,’’ while an RAF ‘‘group’’ was essentially a Luftwaffe or USAAF ‘‘wing’’—an assembly of squadrons under one command. The American wing (RAF group) largely served an administrative function, whereas in the Luftwaffe and RAF it was a tactical organization.

Above the wing level, the Germans also maintained Fligerkorps (flying corps) and Luftflotte (air fleet) commands. The Allies had no direct equivalent of a Fliegerkorps, which often was a specialized organization built for a specific purpose. For instance, Fliegerkorps X in the Mediterranean specialized in attacks against Allied shipping, flying Ju-87 Stukas and other aircraft suitable for that mission.

Luftflotten were roughly equivalent to the American numbered air forces but nowhere near as large. They were self-contained air fleets (as the name implies) with organic bomber, fighter, and other groups or wings. However, they seldom engaged in the closely coordinated types of missions common to the U.S. Eighth, Ninth, or Fifteenth Air Forces.

By 1944 the Luftwaffe had been driven from North Africa and the Mediterranean but still fought in Russia, Italy, and western Europe. Spread thin and sustaining horrific losses (as much as 25 percent of fighter pilots per month), Göering’s forces had been worn down by the relentless AngloAmerican Combined Bombing Offensive. The British bombed by night, the Americans by day—the latter escorted by long-range fighters. Though Germany worked successive miracles of production, the experience level of Luftwaffe pilots had entered an unrecoverable spiral.

In preparation for Overlord, Oberkommando der Luftwaffe (OKL) announced that ten combat wings would be committed to the invasion front. However, because of growing Allied air superiority over France and Western Europe, and the increasing need to defend the Reich itself, few aircraft were immediately made available.

Luftflotte Three, responsible for the Channel front, probably had fewer than two hundred fighters and perhaps 125 bombers on 6 June, and few of those were within range of Normandy. The various German sources on that unit’s strength are extremely contradictory, giving figures ranging from about three hundred to more than eight hundred planes. Col. Josef Priller’s postwar history cites 183 fighters in France that number seems more reliable than most, as Priller had been a wing commander who reputedly led the only two planes that attacked any of the beaches in daylight.

Most Luftwaffe sorties were flown against the invasion forces after dark, but few of the promised reserves materialized from the Reich. Luftwaffe bombers made almost nightly attacks on the Allied fleet and port facilities from 6 June onward, but they accomplished little in exchange for their heavy losses.

The U.S. Army Air Forces chief, Gen. Henry Arnold, wrote his wife that the Luftwaffe had had an opportunity to attack four thousand ships—a target unprecedented in history. Accounts vary, but reputedly only 115 to 150 sorties were flown against the Allied naval forces that night. German aircraft losses on D-Day have been cited as thirty-nine shot down and eight lost operationally.

The Luftwaffe fought as long as fuel and ammunition remained, and it produced some unpleasant surprises in 1944–45. The most significant development was the first generation of jet- and rocket-powered combat aircraft, built by Messerschmitt and Arado. But it was a case of too little too late, and the qualitative superiority of the Me-163, Me-262, and Ar-234 proved irrelevant in the face of overwhelming Allied numbers.


War crimes and bombing of non-military targets [ edit | edit source ]

Forced labor [ edit | edit source ]

Concentration camp prisoners forced to work at a Messerschmitt aircraft factory

In 1943 and 1944, aircraft production was moved to concentration camps in order to alleviate labor shortages and to protect production from Allied air raids. The two largest aircraft factories in Germany were located at Mauthausen-Gusen and Mittelbau-Dora concentration camps. 𖏮] Aircraft parts were also manufactured at Flossenbürg, Buchenwald, Dachau, Ravensbrück, Gross-Rosen, Natzweiler, Herzogenbusch, and Neuengamme. 𖏯] 𖏰] In 1944 and 1945, as many as 90,000 concentration prisoners worked in the aviation industry, and were about one tenth of the concentration camp population over the winter of 1944–45. 𖏱] [N 3] Partly in response to the Luftwaffe ' s demand for more forced laborers to increase fighter production, the concentration camp more than doubled between mid-1943 (224,000) and mid-1944 (524,000). 𖏺] Part of this increase was due to the deportation of the Hungarian Jews the Jägerstab program was used to justify the deportations to the Hungarian government. Of the 437,000 Hungarian Jews deported between May and July 1944, about 320,000 were gassed on arrival at Auschwitz and the remainder forced to work. Only 50,000 survived. 𖏻] 𖏼]

Almost 1,000 fuselages of the jet fighter Messerschmitt Me 262 were produced at Gusen, a subcamp of Mauthausen and brutal Nazi labor camp, 𖏽] 𖏾] where the average life expectancy was six months. 𖏿] By 1944, one-third of production at the crucial Regensburg plant that produced the Bf 109, the backbone of the Luftwaffe fighter arm, originated in Gusen and Flossenbürg alone. 𖏽] Synthetic oil was produced from shale oil deposits by prisoners of Mittlebau-Dora as part of Operation Desert directed by Edmund Geilenberg in order to make up for the decrease in oil production due to Allied bombing. For oil production, three subcamps were constructed and 15,000 prisoners forced to work in the plant. More than 3,500 people died. 𖐀] Vaivara concentration camp in Estonia was also established for shale oil extraction 𖐁] about 20,000 prisoners worked there and more than 1,500 died at Vaivara. 𖐂]

Manufacture of V-1 cruise missiles and V-2 rockets in the Mittelwerk tunnels, resulting in the deaths of more than 12,000 people

Luftwaffe airfields were frequently maintained using forced labor. Thousands of inmates from five subcamps of Stutthof worked on the airfields. 𖐃] Airfields and bases near several other concentration camps [N 4] and ghettos [N 5] were constructed or maintained by prisoners. On the orders of the Luftwaffe, prisoners from Buchenwald and Herzogenbusch were forced to defuse bombs that had fallen around Düsseldorf 𖐍] and Leeuwarden respectively. 𖐎]

Thousands of Luftwaffe personnel worked as concentration camp guards. Auschwitz included a munitions factory guarded by Luftwaffe soldiers 𖐏] 2,700 Luftwaffe personnel worked as guards at Buchenwald. 𖐐] Dozens of camps and subcamps were staffed primarily by Luftwaffe soldiers. [N 6] According to the Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, it was typical for camps devoted to armaments production to be run by the branch of the Wehrmacht that used the products. 𖏶] In 1944, many Luftwaffe soldiers were transferred to concentration camps to alleviate personnel shortages. 𖐑]

Massacres [ edit | edit source ]

Luftwaffe troops participated in the murder of Jews imprisoned in ghettos in Eastern Europe. For example, they assisted in the murder of 2,680 Jews at the Nemirov ghetto, 𖐛] participated in a series of massacres at the Opoczno ghetto, 𖐜] and helped to liquidate the Dęblin–Irena Ghetto by deporting thousands of Jews to the Treblinka extermination camp. 𖐝] Between 1942 and 1944, two Luftwaffe security battalions were stationed in the Białowieża Forest for Bandenbekämpfung [N 7] operations. 𖐞] Encouraged by Göring, they murdered thousands of Jews and other civilians. 𖐟] Luftwaffe soldiers frequently executed Polish civilians at random with baseless accuastions of being "Bolshevik agents", in order to keep the population in line, 𖐠] or as reprisal for partisan activities. 𖐡] The performance of the troops was measured by the body count of people murdered. 𖐢] Ten thousand Luftwaffe troops were stationed on the Eastern Front for such "anti-partisan" operations. 𖐣]

Human experimentation [ edit | edit source ]

Throughout the war, concentration camp prisoners were forced to serve as human guinea pigs in testing Luftwaffe equipment. Some of these experiments were carried out by Luftwaffe personnel and others were performed by the SS on the orders of the OKL.

In 1941, experiments with the intent of discovering how to prevent and treat hypothermia were carried out for the Luftwaffe, which had lost aircrew to immersion hypothermia after ditchings. 𖐤] The experiments were conducted at Dachau and Auschwitz. Sigmund Rascher, a Luftwaffe 𖐤] doctor based at Dachau, published the results at the 1942 medical conference entitled "Medical Problems Arising from Sea and Winter". 𖐥] Of about 400 prisoners forced to participate in cold-water experiments, 80 to 90 were killed. 𖐤]

In early 1942, prisoners at Dachau were used by Rascher in experiments to perfect ejection seats at high altitudes. A low-pressure chamber containing these prisoners was used to simulate conditions at altitudes of up to 20,000 metres (66,000 ft). It was rumoured that Rascher performed vivisections on the brains of victims who survived the initial experiment. 𖐦] Of the 200 subjects, 80 died from the experimentation, 𖐤] and the others were executed. 𖐥] Eugen Hagen, head doctor of the Luftwaffe, infected inmates of Natzweiler concentration camp with typhus in order to test the efficacy of proposed vaccines. 𖐧]

Aerial bombing of non-military targets [ edit | edit source ]

Bomb-damaged buildings in Belgrade in April 1941

No positive or specific customary international humanitarian law with respect to aerial warfare existed prior to or during World War II. 𖐨] This is also why no Luftwaffe officers were prosecuted at the post-World War II Allied war crime trials for the aerial raids. 𖐩]

The bombing of Wieluń was an air raid on the Polish town of Wieluń by the Luftwaffe on 1 September 1939. The Luftwaffe started bombing Wieluń at 04:40, five minutes before the shelling of Westerplatte, which has traditionally been considered the beginning of World War II in Europe. The air raid on the town was one of the first aerial bombings of the war. 𖐪] About 1,300 civilians were killed, hundreds were injured, and 90 percent of the town centre was destroyed. The casualty rate was more than twice as high as Guernica. 𖐪] A 1989 Sender Freies Berlin documentary stated that there were no military or industrial targets in the area, 𖐫] 𖐬] except for a small sugar factory in the outskirts of the town. Furthermore, Trenkner stated that German bombers first destroyed the town's hospital. 𖐬] Two attempts, in 1978 and 1983, to prosecute individuals for the bombing of the Wieluń hospital were dismissed by West German judges when prosecutors stated that the pilots had been unable to make out the nature of the structure due to fog. 𖐭] 𖐮]

Operation Retribution was the April 1941 German bombing of Belgrade, the capital of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. The bombing deliberately targeted the killing of civilians as punishment, and resulted in 17,000 civilian deaths. 𖐯] It occurred in the first days of the World War II German-led Axis invasion of Yugoslavia. The operation commenced on 6 April and concluded on 7 or 8 April, resulting in the paralysis of Yugoslav civilian and military command and control, widespread destruction in the centre of the city and many civilian casualties. Following the Yugoslav capitulation, Luftwaffe engineers conducted a bomb damage assessment in Belgrade. The report stated that 218.5 metric tons (215.0 long tons 240.9 short tons) of bombs were dropped, with 10 to 14 percent being incendiaries. It listed all the targets of the bombing, which included: the royal palace, the war ministry, military headquarters, the central post office, the telegraph office, passenger and goods railway stations, power stations and barracks. It also mentioned that seven aerial mines were dropped, and that areas in the centre and northwest of the city had been destroyed, comprising 20 to 25 percent of its total area. Some aspects of the bombing remain unexplained, particularly the use of the aerial mines. 𖐰] In contrast, Pavlowitch states that almost 50 percent of housing in Belgrade was destroyed. 𖐱] After the invasion, the Germans forced between 3,500 and 4,000 Jews to collect rubble that was caused by the bombing. 𖐲]

Trials [ edit | edit source ]

Several prominent Luftwaffe commanders were convicted of war crimes, including General Alexander Löhr 𖐳] and Field Marshal Albert Kesselring. 𖐴]


The Famous Messerschmitt Bf109 – Facts You May Not Know

The most famous German fighter plane of the Second World War, the Messerschmitt Bf109 played a hugely important part in that conflict.

First Flight

The first flight by a Messerschmitt Bf109 took place in September 1935. At the time, Germany was rearming, as it cast off the restrictions imposed in the aftermath of the First World War. The creation of machines like the Bf109 was part of this rearmament.

Bf 109 G-6, 1944. Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-662-6659-37 / Hebenstreit / CC-BY-SA 3.0.

Starting with a British Engine

At the time of the Bf109’s creation, relations between Britain and Germany were still good. Early models were therefore powered by a British engine – the Rolls-Royce Kestrel.

Building on the Bf108

Some features of the Bf109 came from a previous plane, the Bf108. However, their purposes were very different. The Bf108 was a four-seater touring plane, while the Bf109 was a single seat fighter.

Messerschmitt Bf109E

First Deployment

The first Bf109s provided to the Luftwaffe were a set of Bf109Bs delivered in 1937. These went to Jagdgeschwader 132 “Richthofen”, an elite formation named after the greatest fighter ace of the First World War, the “Red Baron” Manfred von Richthofen.

First Combat

The Bf109 first saw fighting in the Spanish Civil War, as a tool of the Condor Legion. This was a German force sent to support General Franco’s coup against the left-wing government.

Messerschmitt Bf 109 KD-VH color 15

The fighting in Spain was invaluable. Pilots gained vital experience flying the Bf109 and engineers gained information that led to improvements in later models. Their work also helped to secure the regime of Franco, and so avoid a left-wing government that might have sided against the Axis in the Second World War.

A Record Breaker

In November 1937, a Bf109 reached a speed of 379.38mph, breaking the high-speed record for a landplane.

Model E

The definitive version of the Bf109 was the model E, affectionately known as the Emil. This fast, maneuverable plane first entered service in 1938. By the start of the Second World War, around 1,000 of them were in use by the Luftwaffe.

Bf-109E-3 at Deutsches Museum. By Arjun Sarup /CC BY-SA 4.0

A Top Early War Fighter

The Bf109E played a prominent part in the early air battles of the war, including during the Blitzkrieg in Poland, the invasion of France, and the Battle of Britain. During this time, it was superior to every enemy fighter except the equally famous Supermarine Spitfire.

Bf109 F at Martuba Africa 1942.

Advantages Over the British: Weapons

Many of the Bf109E’s fiercest fights took place against British planes, in particular the Spitfire and the Hawker Hurricane. These two planes were the best the British had for much of the war and made up the largest part of their fighter fleet during the Battle of Britain.

Spitfire and Hurricane. By Tony Hisgett / CC BY 2.0

The Bf109E won many fights against both Spitfires and Hurricanes. This was possible thanks to two main advantages. One was that it carried cannons, while the British early war planes had only machine-guns firing rifle-caliber bullets. As a result, the Bf109E had a better range and caused more destruction than its opponents.

Advantages Over the British: Engines

The other advantage came from the Bf109E’s Daimler-Benz engine. This had a fuel-injection system that maintained a steady supply of fuel no matter what maneuvers the pilot put the plane through.

Bf109 F Tropical Variant with Engine – 1941

The British fighters, on the other hand, had Merlin engines which would briefly lose their fuel supply if they entered a steep dive. This left British pilots temporarily without power, a serious problem in a frantic aerial battle. The British were forced to develop special maneuvers to avoid this until they got better engines.

Messerschmitt Bf 109 F-4 at the Canada Aviation Museum, Ottawa.

Model F

Though the E was the defining model of Bf109, the version that followed it was the best. The model F’s high speed and all-round top performance made it one of the best planes of the war. It outclassed the Mark V Spitfire, which from 1941 gave the British an edge in aerial battles. The Bf109F also spearheaded the German invasion of the Soviet Union.

Messerschmitt Bf 109 G-2

Model G

The model F was followed in 1942 by the model G. This became the standard version in use by the Luftwaffe and so the most common Bf109. It was a well-armed plane that could be used as an interceptor, ground-attack plane, or fighter-bomber.

While hard-hitting, the model G had a serious disadvantage. It was more difficult to control than its predecessor, taking up more of the pilot’s attention, and it was particularly hard to land well.

Different Versions

A variety of different models of the Bf109 saw service. The E-4/B was a fighter-bomber used during the Battle of Britain. A tropicalized version of the E model fought in North Africa. A wide range of different weapons were fitted to Bf109s to suit them to different circumstances.

Bf109 E 4. Jagdfliegerschule 4 Monchengladbach 1941

Outlasting Its Originator

The Bf109 lasted over a decade longer than the regime that had it built. Czech firm Avia still had a working factory tooled for Bf109s at the end of the war, and so kept them in production. The Spanish built their own, while the Israelis bought Bf109s and used them in combat in 1948. In a moment of stark irony, a Nazi-designed plane was used to defend the Jewish homeland.

German Plane, Spanish Build, British Engine

One of these late versions of the Bf109 was the Buchon, a name meaning pigeon. Built in Spain and featuring a British Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, it was an unexpected creation of all three sides of the former war – Axis plane, Allied engine, and built in a neutral nation. It was still in service in the mid-1950s.

Wrecked Messerschmitt Bf 109E of Afrikakorps, North Africa

End of an Era

The last Bf109 to be built had its maiden flight in 1956. Eleven years after the war that made it famous, this plane was reaching its end.

Bf 109Es with pilots in France.

Thousands of Them

In total, more than 35,000 Bf109s were produced over the course of two decades.


6. One British Marshal reigned supreme on the battlefield

Alexander in command.

Field Marshal Alexander was a major figure in the War, leading troops on the frontlines from a variety of ranks he held over time. Not only was he an acting Brigadier in WWI, but he also commanded the Nowshera Brigade in the 1930s, the first division into France in 1940, and even forces in Burma by 1942. After taking control of the Middle East forces as well, he landed himself in the role of Supreme Allied Commander in the Mediterranean.

This man’s career may be lesser known in history circles today, but his lifelong service will never be forgotten.


The Bombing of the Vatican

The Vatican in Rome is its own independent nation. This was done in a treaty during World War II, because Pope Pius XII wanted to remain safe from military attack under any circumstance, and have the power of a sovereign nation. However, when the Allies landed, it made the Pope very nervous. He began to burn a lot of documentation, and guards were posted outside of the buildings at all times. He wasn&rsquot afraid of the American troops who were now on Italian soil. He knew that the Nazis would be angry, and he was afraid that he would be kidnapped. He had no intention of leaving Rome and abandoning his duties as Pope, but he was constantly on edge, waiting for something terrible to happen.

When the Germans occupied Italy, the Pope increased his personal army from 100 men to a whopping 4,000. He was determined to stop the Nazis from getting anywhere near him. The moment he was waiting for came in November of 1943, when bombs were dropped from a plane on to Saint Peter&rsquos Basilica. Thankfully, no one was killed. But a second bombing happened in March of 1944, and one employee of the Vatican was killed.

Passport photo of Peter Ghiringhelli at 16 years old, after the end of the war. He claimed that he never smiled anymore as a teen. Credit: BBC.


10. A dozen subsequent trials of Nazi war criminals were held at Nuremberg.

Karl Friedrich Brandt, Hitler’s personal doctor, on trial in 1947. (Credit: Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)

While the trial of the 22 high-ranking Nazi leaders before the international tribunal was the most notable of the judicial proceedings held at Nuremberg, 12 additional trials occurred there between 1946 and 1949. Among the nearly 200 other Nazis tried at Nuremberg were doctors accused of conducting medical experiments on prisoners of war, lawyers and judges charged with implementing the Nazis’ “racial purity” program through eugenic and racial laws, military officers accused of atrocities against prisoners of war and concentration camp inmates and industrialists who profited from slave labor and plundered occupied countries. Growing differences among the Allies as the Cold War began caused the subsequent trials to be conducted before U.S. military tribunals instead of once again before a panel of international judges.

The search continues. Watch new episodes of HUNTING HITLER Tuesdays at 10/9c on HISTORY.


Watch the video: Top 10 interesting facts about the Luftwaffe (December 2021).