Since World War II, American and British advocates of "strategic" bombing have criticized the Luftwaffe as being "in effect the hand maiden of the German army."1 Such a view does not do justice to the complexity of the rearmament problem faced by the Third Reich in general and the Luftwaffe in particular. It also misses entirely the fact that a significant body within the Luftwaffe's high command were converts to the doctrine of "strategic" bombing before the outbreak of World War II. That Germany was not able to wage a successful "strategic" bombing campaign in 1940 reflected merely the fact that German air strategists in the prewar period, like those in other nations, had considerably overestimated their ability to inflict punishing strategic damage with the weapons at hand. Before the war, the same trends that marked the air forces of Great Britain and the United States also were present in the officer corps of the Luftwaffe. But an important geographic consideration, the fact that Germany was a continental power, had an additional impact on German strategic thinking. In any conceivable conflict involving the military forces of the Reich, Germany faced the probability of land operations at the outset of hostilities. Thus, it would scarcely improve Germany's strategic position if--at the same time that the Luftwaffe launched aerial attacks on London, Paris, and Warsaw--Germany's enemies defeated the Wehrmacht on the border and overran Silesia, East Prussia, and the Rhineland.


Constraining and guiding the course of German rearmament throughout the 1930's was an economic situation considerably different from that which determined British or American rearmament.2 The only raw material possessed by Germany in any abundance was coal.3 All other raw materials required for the continued functioning of the German economy, not to mention the successful prosecution of war, had to be imported to one extent or another. Imports of oil, rubber, aluminum, and other critical materials necessary for the continued functioning of the Luftwaffe and the Wehrmacht were all subject to blockade. Moreover, in peacetime the Germans had to use a substantial portion of their industrial production to export goods in order to earn the foreign exchange necessary to pay for these strategic raw material imports needed for rearmament.

Symptomatic of this German economic vulnerability was the situation in the petroleum industry. In order to maintain an increasingly motorized economy and to cut down on dependence from foreign sources, the Germans pushed construction of synthetic fuel plants (i.e., plants that used coal to make petroleum products).


Nevertheless, in spite of substantial investments in a synthetic fuel industry, synthetic production never caught up with demand during the 1930's. While the percentage of synthetic fuel in terms of consumption steadily increased in this period, Germany imported more fuel in 1937 than she had at the beginning of the decade.4 Demand had simply increased faster than production.5 The fuel situation in the summer of 1938 reflects the extent of the problem. In June of that year, supplies in storage tanks could cover only 25 percent of mobilization requirements--on the average, four months of full wartime needs. Supplies of aviation lubricants were as low as 6 percent of mobilization requirements.6 This was, of course, a reflection of Germany's inherent inability to meet petroleum requirements from her own resources and her considerable problem in earning foreign exchange to pay for strategic raw material imports.

In fact, the most serious constraint on German rearmament in the 1930's was the lack of foreign exchange. Without hard currency to cover imports, German industry could not reach the level of armament production demanded by the Wehrmacht and Hitler. Indeed, the Reich experienced increasing difficulties in acquiring these raw materials required for military production. A series of more difficult economic crises, caused by a lack of foreign exchange, marked the course of German rearmament throughout the 1930's.7 Beginning in 1930, a worldwide depression had caused a sharp dropoff in the value of German exports that continued through 1934. Thereafter, only a marginal recovery took place. As a result, holdings of foreign exchange steadily dwindled, and this shortage of hard currency in the thirties set definite limits on the level of raw material imports available to support rearmament.8

As early as the fall of 1934, the German cotton industry held reserves for no more than two weeks' production, rubber plants for two months, and the petroleum industry for three to three and one-half months. Moreover, foreign suppliers already were becoming doubtful as to the liquidity of the German economy and, as a result, would not deliver on credit.9 By 1935, this situation had caused significant portions of German industry to draw down stockpiles. From March to December 1935, stockpiles of major industrial raw materials fell dramatically; and for the remainder of the 1930's, the German economy lived a hand-to-mouth existence, scratching to find sufficient foreign exchange to pay for imports.

By 1937, the German economy was suffering serious shortages of steel because of a lack of ore imports, while the industry itself was operating at barely 83 percent of capacity.10 These economic difficulties affecting rearmament most likely played a role in pushing Hitler into the confrontations of 1938. Here again, despite substantial financial gains made by the Anschluss with Austria, efforts to expand the rearmament program, to build up synthetic and munition industries, to begin the massive construction of the Westwall project, and to mobilize for the Czech crisis severely strained the German economy. In November 1938, Hermann Göring admitted that the German economic infrastructure had reached a point of maximum economic distress.11 As a direct result, the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW), the German armed forces high command, made major reductions in steel and raw


material allocations to armament production.12 Continuing difficulties led Hitler to announce to the Reichstag on January 30, 1939, that Germany must wage an "export battle" (Exportschlacht) to raise foreign exchange. Simultaneously, he announced further reduction in Wehrmacht allocations: steel, 30 percent; copper, 20 percent; aluminum, 47 percent; rubber, 14 percent.13

Problems stemming from both insufficient foreign exchange and raw materials guided the course of the German rearmament. Neither were available in sufficient quantity to build a massive "strategic" bombing force. Moreover, the army, given Germany's strategic position as a continental power, laid claims to resources that any rearmament program had to meet. Finally, the country's doubtful access to foreign supplies of petroleum products raises the question as to whether Germany could support an independent "strategic" bombing offensive. Thus, it is clear that definite economic constraints limited German air planners in the creation of the Luftwaffe, and the force they molded both before and during the war was influenced by different strategic factors than those guiding either the British or the Americans.


The Germans faced considerable difficulties in the creation of an air capability with the onset of rearmament in 1933. Given the fact that no German air force survived from the Great War except as a camouflaged planning staff within the army and that the capacity for civil aircraft production was largely inadequate for military purposes, the development of the Luftwaffe was an enormously complex and difficult task. Considering the fact that within six and a half years this force would go to war and render vital support in the early campaigns, the Germans were most successful in their efforts.

The first strategic problem on Hitler's ascension to power in January 1933 was the perception that a still disarmed and vulnerable Reich faced the possibility of a preventive war, waged by her neighbors to stop the resurrection of Germany as a military power. As Hitler told his generals shortly after he had come to power, if France possessed any statesmen, she would wage war in the immediate future.14 Thus, whatever theoretical advantages might accrue to Germany through the possession of a "strategic" bombing force in the late 1930's, the Third Reich faced the possibility of an imminent war. Future "strategic" bombing capabilities would do nothing for present military difficulties, while the tactical potential of a less sophisticated, more conventional air force would be more quickly realized for utilization in a contemporary military confrontation.

German interest in a "strategic" air weapon goes back to the early days of the First World War. Frustrated at the imposition of a distant blockage in 1914 by the Royal Navy, German naval strategists looked for a means to strike at the British Empire. As early as August 1914, Rear Admiral Paul Behncke, Deputy Chief of the Naval Staff, urged that the navy's Zeppelins attack London, the heart of the British Empire. Such attacks, he argued, "may be expected, whether they involve London or the neighborhood of London, to cause panic in the population which may


possibly render it doubtful that the war can be continued."15 Grand Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz noted in a letter of November 1914 that:

The English are now in terror of the Zeppelin, perhaps not without reason. I contend here . . . . I go for the standpoint of "war to the knife," but I am not in favor of "frightfulness . . . . . . Also, single bombs from flying machines are wrong; they are odious when they hit and kill old women, and one gets used to them. If [however] one could set fire to London in thirty places, then what in a small way is odious would retire before something fine and powerful.16

When the Zeppelin campaign failed, the Germans attacked London with the heavier-than-air bomber. That campaign, even if it did not achieve great material damage, did lead to the creation of the Royal Air Force.17

The defeat of 1918 and the conditions of the Versailles Treaty eliminated aircraft from the German arsenal. Not only was Germany denied access to new technology as represented by the submarine, the airplane, and the tank, but the peace also severely limited the size and capability of Germany's military services. The victorious Allies, however, could not prevent the Germans from thinking about their experiences and the weapons of the last war.

Hans von Seeckt, father of the Reichswehr, insured that the miniscule army left to Germany included a small body of officers (180) who had had experience in the conduct of the air battles in the Great War. As was the case with the development of motorized/mechanized warfare, Seeckt showed considerable prescience with respect to airpower18 and saw to it that its advocates possessed at least some voice within the army.19 Limitations imposed by Versailles forced German aviation into a narrow framework. Nevertheless, extensive subsidies to civil aviation contributed to the survival of Germany's aviation industry, and preparations for air rearmament during the Weimar Republic played a significant role in the establishment of the Luftwaffe during the Nazi period.20 Germany's lead in civil aviation was such that by 1927, German airlines flew greater distances with more passengers than their French, British, and Italian competitors together.21 This experience in long-distance flying, navigation, and instrument flying obviously had a positive impact on developing the Luftwaffe in the interwar period.

Still, the problems facing the Nazis in January 1933 in the creation of an air force that could serve as an effective tool of diplomatic and military policy were enormous. Only a tiny cadre of experienced officers existed within the army and navy; Lufthansa experience was not directly convertible into a military force; and the German aircraft industry, weakened not only by the depression but also by internecine quarrels amongst its almost bankrupt firms, was not prepared for massive expansion.

The Luftwaffe was favored at its birth, however, by the fact that its patron and first leader, Hermann Göring, was Hitler's right-hand man. Göring's political pull insured that the Luftwaffe gained position as an independent service and that it enjoyed a privileged status in interservice arguments over allocation of funding and resources. While funding did not represent a problem in the early days of


rearmament, by the late thirties serious economic difficulties impacted on all services--but on the Luftwaffe least of all because of Göring's position. Unfortunately, however, for the efficient functioning of the German command system, Göring, as Minister of Aviation, refused to subordinate himself to the Minister of War, Werner von Blomberg. Thus, Blomberg faced the impossible task of coordinating and controlling the three services. His problems were further compounded by the fact that Göring, as Commander in Chief of the Luftwaffe, went around him at every opportunity.22

In the long run, Göring had a disastrous impact on the Luftwaffe's history and his position as number two in the political hierarchy prevented Hitler from removing him even after his many failures demanded such action. Initially, Göring's political tasks as Hitler's chief aide during the consolidation of power (the establishment of the Gestapo, the savaging of the Communists, and the purge of Ernst Röhm and the S.A.) absorbed a substantial portion of "der Dicke's" time.23 Thus, while Göring as Reich Air Minister and after March 1935 Commander in Chief played at the role, at least until 1936 others made the substantive decisions creating the new force. Göring's mental framework was that of a squadron-level fighter pilot which he had been in the First World War; and throughout his tenure as Luftwaffe commander, he remained largely ignorant of supply, logistics, strategy, aircraft capabilities, technology, and engineering--in other words, just about everything having to do with airpower. Compounding his ignorance was the fact that Göring took a rather loose view on the subject of hard work, and his visits to the Air Ministry were sporadic at best. In July 1938, during an address to aircraft manufacturers, Göring even admitted that he saw Ernst Udet, at this time in charge of all the Luftwaffe's technical departments, only once a week.24 The long-range implications of such leadership spelled disaster. Nevertheless, in the short term, Göring's political pull was of great use in the establishment of an independent air arm.

Göring was particularly fortunate in his leading subordinate. Erhard Milch, Göring's and Hitler's selection for the position of State Secretary in the new Air Ministry, possessed tremendous drive, a thorough knowledge of the production capabilities of the German aircraft industry, a detailed understanding of its managers and designers, and, perhaps most importantly, excellent connections within the political leadership of the newly established Third Reich.25 Milch's brashness and arrogance eventually led to conflict with more conventional Luftwaffe officers who had remained professional soldiers during the Weimar period. Those regular officers never forgot that Milch had left the military after the war to become the eventual head of Lufthansa.

The other senior officers of the Luftwaffe came from the Reichswehr. Of particular note here is Blomberg's contribution to the establishment of the new service's officer corps. In 1933, on the occasion of the founding of the Air Ministry, Blomberg commented that the new Luftwaffe would require an elite officer corps with "a tempestuous spirit of attack."26 More to the point, he insured that the army transferred first-class officers to the new service. Significantly, not only personnel with flying experience moved to the Air Ministry but also highly trained officers


from the army's general staff transferred to the Luftwaffe. Blomberg offered Göring a choice between Walther Wever and the future Field Marshal Erich von Manstein for the position of Chief of Staff of the Luftwaffe; Göring chose the former. When Wever died in an aircraft crash in 1936, Blomberg initially considered offering Göring the future chief of the army's general staff, General Franz Halder, as a replacement.27 Along with Wever, other army luminaries such as Albert Kesselring and Hans Jeschonnek transferred to the Luftwaffe. Jeschonnek, among other accomplishments, had finished first in his class at the Kriegsakademie, usually a sure sign of promise for a quick rise to the top of the military profession.28 By October 1933, 228 officers up to the rank of colonel had transferred from the older services. By January 1939, a further 70 had followed along with 1,600 noncommissioned officers (NCOs) and enlisted men. Blomberg demanded that individuals selected for transfer represent the "best of the best."29

The high quality of these officers should not obscure the fact that the Luftwaffe's officer corps and general staff, never in their short careers, reached a level of homogeneity and competence that the army officer corps and general staff enjoyed. The simple mechanics of expansion alone ruled out such a possibility. From 1933 to 1935, the Luftwaffe developed a personnel strength of approximately 900 flying officers, 200 flak (antiaircraft) officers, and 17,000 men. In addition to the army, the officer corps came from widely different sources; many pilots entered the Luftwaffe directly from civil aviation, while veterans of the First World War further fleshed out the officer corps. From this mixture, the Luftwaffe expanded to a strength of 15,000 officers and 370,000 men by the outbreak of the war.30 Within the officer corps alone, the sheer magnitude of the expansion resulted in an entirely understandable lack of coherence and a notable lack of strategic competence. Shortly after the surprise Japanese attack on Hawaii when Hitler asked his military staff for the location of Pearl Harbor, none, including his Luftwaffe officers, could locate the American naval base.31 Luftwaffe officers, understandably given the shortness of their service's lifespan, had an immense task of catching up and maintaining currency in the technical aspects of their service. The result was that they became at best technocrats and operational experts with limited vision.32 Thus, with perhaps the exception of Wever and to a lesser extent Milch, the officer corps showed a lack of understanding of the larger issues revolving around the interrelation of airpower to national strategy, defects which may, indeed, have been nothing less than fatal.

At the outset of rearmament in 1933, German planners faced the problem as to what role the Luftwaffe would play within the larger framework of national strategy. In May 1933, Milch, the key figure in the Luftwaffe's organization and development in the 1933-36 period, received a major study from one of his Lufthansa subordinates, Dr. Robert Knauss, on the strategic concept for the new air force.33 Knauss' report contained major elements of Douhet's "strategic" bombing philosophy, Tirpitz's "risk theory," and what would today be regarded as "deterrence" doctrine. He believed that the purpose of the regime was the "restoration of Germany's great power position in Europe" and argued that since


Poland, and particularly France, would resist such a development, Germany faced the immediate possibility of a preventive war waged by those two powers. To overcome German military weakness through rearmament, thereby re-establishing Germany's great power status, Knauss suggested the rapid creation of a strong air force. The decisive element in this force would be the deterrent effect of a fleet of 400 four-engine bombers. Knauss argued that modern industrialized society offered targets which, when destroyed, would halt the enemy's industrial production and that population centers offered the possibility of breaking the enemy's morale. Naturally, he felt that the newly created totalitarian society of Germany could endure the pressures of bombing better than the fractured societies of the British and French democracies. Thus, if Germany possessed a "strategic" bombing fleet, her putative enemies--Poland and France--would think seriously before incurring the risk of air attack on major population centers. Above all, Knauss argued that the creation of such a bombing fleet offered a greater possibility for affecting the European military balance than did the establishment of army divisions or the construction of naval surface units.

The creation of such a bomber force aborted for several reasons. First, the army was hardly enthusiastic about such a strategic conception. Colonel Konrad Gossler, head of the Truppenamt's operation section, argued that a clear separation between the homeland and the combat front no longer existed. Thus, both opposing air forces possessed the same opportunity to attack their enemy's homeland. Moreover, since the beginning of time, Gossler argued, each new weapon had led many to conclude that the old weapons of war were no longer needed. This had simply not happened. Finally, he objected that such a conception, if realized, "might destroy war by making it impossible for both sides." Such arguments would lead inevitably to pacifism!34

More decisive for the actual establishment of the Luftwaffe was the discovery that German aircraft industry lacked the designers, industrial capacity, or experience to build such a "strategic" bombing fleet. During the summer of 1933, Milch and his planners found that they could barely squeeze 1,000 aircraft out of industry for the first production program. Most of that effort consisted of training aircraft to expand the flying base.35 The "combat" aircraft hardly deserved that characterization. From a January 1933 industrial base of 4,000 workers, the aircraft industry expanded to 16,870 workers in 1934 and to 204,100 workers by the fall of 1938.36 To a great extent, this represented Milch's great triumph as an organizer and bureaucrat.

While Milch played the decisive role in the administrative and industrial tasks of creating the Luftwaffe, Wever played a no-less-important role in formulating the new service's doctrine and strategy. He was not an unabashed advocate of "strategic" bombing but rather argued for a broadly based air strategy. Wever did not believe that the Luftwaffe's existence as a separate service gave it a mission entirely independent of the army and navy. Rather, he argued that its mission should complement those of the other services. Thus, the Luftwaffe's contribution to victory could involve attacks on an enemy's air forces, his army, his fleet, or


even the destruction of his resources and armament industry. The conditions of the general situation and overall national strategy would determine in what form one would wage the air battle. While not denying the possibility of air defense or the importance of fighters, Wever felt that the "decisive weapon of air warfare is the bomber."37

Meanwhile, a careful analysis of Germany's strategic situation raised doubts as to whether "strategic" bombing should be the Luftwaffe's sole mission. A war game conducted during the winter of 1933-34 indicated that a bomber fleet alone could not immediately destroy the enemy's air fleet. The conclusion was that strong fighter forces, as well as antiaircraft guns, were necessary to protect the Reich's industrial and population centers.38

Wever's thinking on the subject of airpower was best summed up in the formulation of German air doctrine that first appeared in 1935: "Conduct of the Air War (Die Luftkriegführung)."39 As with most German military doctrinal statements, this one was a clear, concise formulation. It was not meant to restrict or dogmatize but rather to give air force commanders the widest latitude and to encourage maximum flexibility. Among the chief points enunciated was the reiteration of Wever's point that the employment of the Luftwaffe should reflect the overall framework of national grand strategy. Within grand strategy, the critical tasks of the Luftwaffe would be the attainment and maintenance of air superiority, support of the army and the navy, attacks on enemy industry, and interdiction between front and homeland. "The nature of the enemy, the time of year, the structure of his land, the character of his people, as well as one's own military capabilities" would determine how one should employ airpower.40

Wever's doctrinal statement stressed that air resources should not be used piecemeal nor should frequent changes be made in goals. In all likelihood, however, one could probably not clearly separate the struggle with an enemy air force from support provided to the army and navy. Unlike most airpower theorists, he showed a ready understanding for the fact that air superiority would be a most elusive goal. Changing technical capabilities, new production, and replacement of losses would all combine to allow the enemy to fight another day. While Wever felt that "strategic" bombing attacks on the enemy's industrial and economic sources of power could have an absolute impact, he warned that such an offensive might take too long to be decisive and might thus be too late to help the army and the navy. He emphasized that only the strongest cooperation among the three services could achieve the overall objectives of national grand strategy. The air war against the enemy industrial base should occur only when (1) an opportunity existed to affect quickly the war's course, (2) when land and naval preparations had prepared the way, (3) when a stalemate had occurred, or (4) when a decisive effect could only be achieved through the destruction of the enemy's economic sources of power.

Wever's death in the spring of 1936 was a major blow to the Luftwaffe. However, it did not result in cancellation of the four-engine "strategic" bomber project as some have claimed.41 In 1936, the Air Ministry cancelled the


development of the four-engine Dornier Do 19 and Junkers Ju 89, because suitable engines were not yet available from the German aircraft industry to provide adequate power.* The failure to have a suitable engine available in 1936 and 1937 reflected the fact that German air rearmament had only begun in 1933. As a result, German engine research and development was in some important respects behind what was occurring in Great Britain and the United States. Moreover, the long lead-time required for engine development constrained German aircraft design throughout the 1930's. The Germans did embark on the He 177 project in 1937 in the belief that Heinkel could design and build a long-range "strategic" bomber by the early 1940's. The design of the He 177, in effect, represented an effort to shortcut the development process of a high-powered engine for a heavy bomber by placing four engines within two nacelles. Heinkel designers expected that by cutting down on the drag, they would have a bomber comparable to other four-engine aircraft with more powerful engines. Unfortunately for the Luftwaffe, they were never able to overcome the difficulties inherent in the design; hence the failure of the program reflected the failure of engineering and not a lack of interest in "strategic" bombing.42

Wever's broadly based approach to the question of airpower should not obscure the fact that his writings never denied the possibility that "strategic" bombing could play an important part in air warfare. Moreover, a significant portion of the Luftwaffe's doctrinal thinking remained enamored with "strategic" bombing throughout the thirties. There was an obvious reason why this should be so: The concepts of total war and total mobilization had proved attractive to much of the German military throughout the interwar period. While Seeckt argued for establishment of an elite army, Ludendorff articulated the concept that modern war had become total. Unlike most interwar military thinkers who sought to escape the horrors of World War I's mass warfare, Ludendorff embraced what had happened and argued that Germany must prepare in ruthless fashion during peace for the next war. Among other things, Ludendorff argued that war involved the entire population in the conflict, not just armies. In his view, economic production had become as important as battles on the frontline.43 The 1918 collapse convinced him that Germany required a dictatorship for the next war and, even more importantly, that some method must be found to inspire the national unity that had come apart in the last months of the war.44

From the first, the Nazi Party appeared as a particularly attractive means to insure such a unity of national will. Hitler's popularity with the masses offered the possibility of establishing a national cohesion that the conception of total war demanded.45 Thus, what made the Nazi movement attractive to the military throughout the 1930's was the fact that the Nazis seemingly provided the psychological basis and preparation necessary for total war. "Ein Volk, ein Reich,

* German aircraft designations do not contain a hyphen between manufacture and model number. American designations do. The text will reflect national preferences.


ein Führer" was more than a slogan; in the mass rallies and propaganda displays, it guaranteed that the 1918 collapse would not recur. Thus, Ludendorff's conception of total war and the mass movement of the Nazi Party provided an affinity between the military and the National Socialist movement that helps explain the readiness of the officer corps to serve a party that hardly represented their upper-class attitudes.

Many within the Luftwaffe found in this political and psychological preparation for war a basis to argue that the next war would be a total war of the air and that because of the national unity that the Nazis had created, Germany could better withstand such a struggle. In the May 1933 memorandum discussed above, Knauss argued that "the terrorizing of the enemy's chief cities and industrial regions through bombing would lead that much more quickly to a collapse of morale, the weaker the national character of his people is, and the more that social and political rifts cleave his society." Knauss assumed that a totalitarian society like Nazi Germany would prove more capable of enduring bombing attacks than the fractured societies of Britain and France.46 Such attitudes played an important role in Luftwaffe thinking throughout the remainder of the thirties.

Knauss himself went on from the Air Ministry to become the head of the new Air War College in Gatow. There, under his leadership, the emphasis remained solidly on "strategic" bombing until the outbreak of the war. Nearly all lectures concerned the "strategic" uses of airpower; virtually none discussed tactical cooperation with the army.47 Similarly, the emphasis in the military journals centered on "strategic" bombing. The prestigious Militärwissenschaftliche Rundschau, the new journal of the War Ministry, founded in 1936, published a number of theoretical pieces on future developments in air war. Nearly all discussed the use of "strategic" airpower with some emphasizing that aspect of air warfare to the exclusion of others.48 One author commented that European military powers were increasingly making the bomber force the heart of their airpower. The maneuverability and technical capability of the new generation of bombers were such that "already in today's circumstances the bomber offensive would be as unstoppable as the flight of a shell."49 Major Herhudt von Rohden, eventually the head of the general staff's historical section, went so far as to argue that unlike the army and the navy, only the air force was in the position to attack the enemy in depth and to launch immediately "destructive attacks against the economic resources of the enemy from all directions." Moreover, von Rohden stressed, the Luftwaffe should not be an auxiliary to the other two services. Interservice cooperation did not mean dividing the Luftwaffe up and parceling out its personnel and matériel to support ground or naval tactical purposes. Rather, interservice cooperation meant using the Luftwaffe in "a unified and massed 'strategic' air war" that could provide for better long-range support.50

The failure of the Luftwaffe to progress further towards a "strategic" bombing capability is attributable to several factors. The first is that many within the Luftwaffe thought that they possessed sufficient capability with their twin-engine aircraft to launch "strategic" attacks against Germany's most likely continental opponents--France, Czechoslovakia, and Poland. England presented greater


problems, but even here General Felmy, Commander of Luftfotte 2 and charged with planning of an air war against Britain in 1939, saw possibilities. Concluding the 1939 spring planning effort, Felmy admitted to his subordinates that the Luftwaffe did not yet possess any of the prerequisites for a successful "strategic" bombing offensive against Great Britain. He did suggest, however, that the panic that had broken out in London in September at the height of the Munich crisis indicated that a massive aerial onslaught directed against London might break Britain's powers of resistance.51 A second factor lay on the technical side: The engineers never solved the He 177 design difficulties. Moreover, not only did Germany not possess the economic strength and resources to build a "strategic" bombing force on the scale of the British and American effort of 1943-44 but few airmen of any nation in the prewar period had foreseen the enormous magnitude of the industrial and military effort that "strategic" bombing would require. Thus, it is not surprising that Germany was not much better prepared to launch a "strategic" bombing campaign than Britain in 1939.

As previously mentioned, Wever's death in 1936 was disastrous for the future course of the Luftwaffe but in a sense other than that which most historians have suggested. First, he provided the glue that held the Luftwaffe together in the early rearmament years. He got on relatively well with other Luftwaffe leaders, including Milch, and all respected his qualities of intellect and leadership. Second, and equally important, Wever possessed both a practical military mind and a first-class strategic sense that thought in terms of the long pull and not just immediate operational problems. Given the financial and raw material constraints on rearmament, Wever could not have created a "strategic" bombing force in the thirties in terms of what the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) would have in 1943 and 1944. Nevertheless, his presence would have mitigated the rather haphazard approach that characterized the Luftwaffe in the late thirties and early forties.

The caliber of Wever's successors underlines his importance to the Luftwaffe. Albert Kesselring, his immediate successor, was a troop leader par excellence, but overall he was not an effective Chief of Staff and did not get along well with Milch. The back-biting between the two led to Kesselring's replacement by Hans-Jürgen Stumpff within a year.52 The latter proved little better than Kesselring; and in February 1939, Göring named Hans Jeschonnek as Chief of the Luftwaffe's General Staff. Despite his brilliance at the Kriegsakademie, Jeschonnek proved no better than his predecessors. He was arrogant, shortsighted, and had had several bitter run-ins with Milch.53 Moreover, Jeschonnek fell under Hitler's spell and swallowed the line that the Führer was the "greatest commander in history." As a result, he never possessed the independent judgment that his position required. Shortly after Munich, Hitler demanded a fivefold increase in the Luftwaffe by 1942, an impossible goal given the economic constraints and the megalomaniacal proportion of the program. (Such a force would require 85 percent of the world's aviation fuel and would cost 60 million RM, a total equivalent to all German defense spending for the 1933-39 period.) Senior officers correctly concluded that there was no


prospect of accomplishing such a plan. Jeschonnek, however, announced, "Gentlemen, in my view it is our duty to support the Führer and not work against him."54 Such an attitude was not consistent with the traditions of the general staff, but fully conformed to Hitler's belief that his generals were there not to give advice but to carry out orders.55

The almost yearly changes in the position of Chief of Staff from 1936 to 1939 was not the only result of Göring's mishandling of the Luftwaffe. He now severely constrained Milch by balancing the State Secretary with others within the Luftwaffe's bureaucracy. Ernest Udet, a great fighter pilot in World War I and barnstormer of the 1920's, received an appointment as head of the Luftwaffe's technical departments as well as the Office of Air Armament where he controlled research and development for the Luftwaffe. Udet did not possess the technical or engineering skills to handle such responsibilities and was a dreadful administrator. He had no less than 26 separate departments reporting directly to him.56

In sum, Göring possessed neither the ability nor background to run the enormously expanded Luftwaffe. Milch was increasingly isolated from the centers of power; and the other top leaders, such as Kesselring, Udet, and Jeschonnek, did not possess Wever's strategic insight. Long-range planning and strategic thinking went by the boards, and the Luftwaffe increasingly became a force that reacted to day-to-day political and operational pressures.

The result of this increasingly chaotic organizational situation showed up most directly in the production programs of the late prewar period. Even considering their raw material shortages and their economic and foreign exchange difficulties, the Germans undercut the production capacity of their aircraft industry. Waste, obsolete production methods, and bad planning characterized the efforts of even the major manufacturers. Throughout the late 1930's, the Germans produced numerous plans for aircraft production due to constantly changing goals and priorities. By 1939, aircraft production was only 70 percent of stated production goals (goals that were significantly under Hitler's demand for quintupling of the Luftwaffe).57 The following figures in Table I58 reflect the shortfall between planned expansion and actual production figures in the last years of peace.

Planned and Actual Aircraft Output--1938 and 1939

Plan Nos.
All Types Combat      1939
Plan Nos.
All Types Combat

6 5,800 4,129 8 9,957 7,095
7 6,021 3,971 10 8,299 6,051
7/8 6,154 3,710 10/11 8,619 6,357

5,235 3,350 Actual
8,295 4,733


The mobilization plans, done by the general staff under Jeschonnek, and the production plans of Udet's technical experts continued to diverge--the former influenced by pressure from Göring and Hitler (and the real possibility of war), the latter under the impact of the distressing economic situation discussed at the beginning of this chapter. The repercussions of this situation were not immediately apparent since the Luftwaffe's size and strength proved sufficient to meet initial wartime demands in Poland and France. But in long-range terms, this unbridgeable gulf between the general staff and the Luftwaffe's technical departments made industrial planning almost irrelevant in the consideration of German strategy. There was no person or agency, except Göring, in overall charge of strategic planning, force structure, or industrial production. The results led directly to the situation of 1943-44.

Beginning in 1936, but with increasing force in 1937, the Luftwaffe transitioned into its second generation of aircraft. The emphasis from above on statistics complicated an inherently difficult process. As Göring stated, what mattered were numbers "to impress Hitler and to enable Hitler, in turn, to impress the world."59 Milch at least mitigated some of the worst aspects of this numbers craze. In 1935, he recognized that most models in production were obsolescent and refused to increase their production levels. But to stop aircraft production just because nothing better was yet available would have been counterproductive, especially since a national goal was to expand aircraft production capacity. Fortunately for the Luftwaffe, the Ju 52, produced as a bomber during this period, proved an outstanding transport aircraft and formed the backbone of the Luftwaffe's airlift force throughout the Second World War.60 Complicating the introduction of new aircraft were the difficulties experienced by German engine manufacturers in producing engines that met comparable performance standards of American and British industry.61 The fact that the Ju 52 was not an adequate bomber in any respect led to pressure from the bomber units for replacement. As a result, the Air Ministry rushed the Ju 86, He 111, and Do 17 into production before complete evaluation. None of the three was fully satisfactory with the Ju 86 virtually useless, while the He 111 showed the most potential for improvement.62

The 1936 medium bomber program was meant to serve as an interim measure until a third generation of bombers arrived. Udet's growing love affair with the dive bomber disastrously affected that program. In Spain, the Luftwaffe had experienced difficulty in hitting targets accurately from high altitude, while the Ju 87 was most accurate in putting bombs directly on target. From this experience, Udet concluded that every bomber should be a dive bomber. There were sound arguments for the need to achieve more accurate bombing, because the low production capacity of the German munitions industry in the late thirties did not allow for much wastage of bombs.63 But the decision that the next generation of bombers should have the characteristics of dive bombers was manifestly impractical, if not impossible. The results were serious for both the Ju 88 and the He 177. In the case of the Ju 88 prototype, Udet's demand that it possess a dive-bombing capability, along with 50,000 other design changes, increased the aircraft weight from 7 to 12 tons with a


concomitant loss in speed from 500 km/h to 300 km/h. Moreover, these changes delayed actual production by at least a year.64 The additional requirement that the He 177 be able to dive bomb came in the middle of program development and virtually insured that, given an inherently complex engine design, the model would never evolve into an effective heavy bomber.65

Göring's and Hitler's fascination with numbers also served to distort the maintenance and supply system. Theoretically, the Luftwaffe based its approach to airpower on the belief that a flying unit was not combat-ready unless it possessed modern, reliable aircraft backed up by a first-class maintenance organization and supply system. Using this rationale, frontline units had to receive adequate numbers of replacement aircraft and reserves of spare parts. In an "after action" report on the Czech crisis, the chief of the Luftwaffe's supply services reported that these requirements had not yet been met.66 Among other items, he underscored the fact that the number of aircraft engines in maintenance and supply depots represented only 4 to 5 percent of total engines in service. The basic reason why this situation existed was in Göring's refusal to follow recommendations that the Luftwaffe devote 20 to 30 percent of production to provide adequate inventories of spare parts.67 Instead, the Germans assigned production almost exclusively to firstline strength because of the political outlook of the top leaders and their fascination with numbers. This practice continued throughout the war. As a result, the Luftwaffe was chronically short spare parts and had to cannibalize with a direct and negative impact on operational ready rates.


The Luftwaffe's initial strategic purpose had been to deter Poland and France from launching a preventive war against the Reich. It was neither notably successful nor unsuccessful in this role. Hitler's diplomatic skills, particularly the 1934 Non Aggression Pact with Poland, were more important in altering the European diplomatic balance of power. The French, at least in the early period of German rearmament, were somewhat blasé about the implications of the Luftwaffe. As late as September 1937, one military leader told the British that with "a veritable forest of guns" over the Maginot Line, France could prevent the German air force from intervening in the land battle.68 The following month, the French assured the visiting British Chief of the Imperial General Staff that they planned to strengthen the Maginot Line to counter German aircraft superiority and that they believed any "enemy would require an unrealizable supremacy of machines to get over the antiaircraft defenses. . . ."69

If at first the air threat did not impress the French, it certainly upset the British. Stanley Baldwin's remark that the bomber "would always get through" is ample testimony to British fears about the air threat. There is, of course, some irony here, because at least until 1937-38 Hitler did not seriously consider Great Britain as a possible opponent. Nevertheless, British alarms over the "growing air threat" and their hopes of realizing an air limitation agreement between the European powers were a useful diplomatic tool that allowed Hitler to manipulate the island power.


If the threat of the Luftwaffe, along with the army's buildup in the mid-thirties, impressed many Europeans with the resurgence of German military power, the reality was a different matter. The conclusion drawn from an assessment of an April 1936 war game in the Luftwaffe staff warned that German air rearmament thus far was insufficient and inferior to the French air force.70 Not until 1938 did the Luftwaffe begin to realize its potential. Before that point, events in southern Europe had already influenced the Luftwaffe's development.

While the Germans completed the first stages of rearmament, the Spanish Civil War occurred. Hitler willingly provided substantial aid to the rebels, especially in the air, but regarded the war mostly as useful in distracting Europe's attention from the growing danger of Nazi Germany.71 For the Luftwaffe, Spain was a helpful testing ground for its aircraft and tactics. The Ju 52 quickly showed its limitations as a bomber and was soon relegated to its World War II role as a transport; the He 51 biplanes proved inferior to Russian aircraft supplied to the Republic. By 1937, the Germans had introduced the Bf 109 fighter, the He 111, and Do 17 bombers, as well as a few Ju 87 dive bombers. All these aircraft soon indicated their relative worth. On the ground, the 88mm flak gun proved itself effective not only as an antiaircraft weapon but also against ground targets.72 The fighter commander Adolph Galland, however, felt that the combat experience gained in Spain led the Luftwaffe to overestimate the performance of antiaircraft weapons, thereby distorting future programs for the air defense of the Reich.73

Perhaps of greater importance, the Germans learned invaluable combat lessons in Spain which they quickly absorbed into their doctrine. The development of close air support and cooperation with the army came directly from the Spanish Civil War. Wolfram von Richthofen, Manfred's cousin, arrived in Spain out of favor with the Air Ministry in Berlin. His conception of air war upon arrival was not substantially different from most other Luftwaffe officers at that time; in other words, close air support for the army ranked at the bottom of his priorities. However, once in his position as Chief of Staff to the Condor Legion, Richthofen recognized that the theories of airpower and Spanish political realities did not have much in common. The stalemate on the ground, the lack of suitable "strategic" targets, and the great Nationalist weakness in artillery led Richthofen to consider using his forces to support directly Franco's offensive against Bilbao.74

Against considerable opposition and without official sanction, Richthofen developed the technique and tactics of close air support for ground forces in offensive operations.75 None of the elements required for such operations existed within the Luftwaffe before the offensive against the Basque Republic. To begin with, there was an overall lack of experience and technical expertise, for communication between ground and air units (particularly radio) did not yet exist. By the time Richthofen was through developing the concept and tactics, the Germans had recognized the necessity for closer cooperation and improved planning between ground and air units, had established close communication links and recognition devices, and had detailed Luftwaffe liaison officers to serve directly with frontline units. All of this was due to Richthofen's drive and imagination.76


The lessons of "strategic" bombing were more muted. On the one hand, one after action report (Erfahrungsbericht) went so far as to emphasize the impact upon morale of bombing the Republic's work force, i.e., attacks resulting in supposedly bad discipline among the working class. Continuous attacks even by small bombing units against a single city, especially where antiaircraft defenses were insufficient, had "deeply impressed and depressed" the population.77 Nevertheless, the Luftwaffe's yearbook for 1938 suggested that "strategic" air warfare in Spain had not occurred for a variety of reasons. The Nationalists had been in a position to destroy utterly Madrid, Barcelona, and Valencia with incendiaries but had not done so because of the delicate political problems involved in a civil war. Franco had not attacked the major ports because these lay within the "international zone" and had not authorized attacks on armament factories since Spain possessed so few.78

Conversely, Captain Heye of the Seekriegsleitung (naval high command) gained a different impression after talking with Luftwaffe officers during a 1938 visit to Spain. He reported on his return to Berlin:

Disregarding the military success accompanying the Luftwaffe's use in immediate support of army operations, one gets the impression that our attacks on objects of little military importance, through which in most cases many women and children. . . were hit, are not a suitable means to break an opponent's resistance. They seem to strengthen his resistance. . . . The memory of the air attack on Guemica by the (Condor] Legion still today affects the population and permits no friendly feelings for Germany in the population of the Basques, who earlier were thoroughly friendly to Germany and in no manner Communistic.79

Significantly, whatever their attitudes towards the effects of bombing, the Spanish Civil War confirmed in some Germans' minds the belief that fighter aircraft and civil defense measures would be of importance in the coming war. In 1937, Udet increased the proportion of fighters to bombers from the existing 1-to-3 ratio to 1-to-2.80 Moreover, unlike their counterparts in Britain, German airpower experts "believed that civil defense measures could appreciably reduce casualties in an air attack."81

Spain also indicated the difficulties of hitting targets by both day and night. The experience gleaned from night attacks proved generally beneficial, while the problem of hitting targets accurately in daylight missions helped push Udet towards his conception that every bomber should have a dive-bombing capability. At night, the Germans discovered the difficulties not only in finding targets but in hitting them.82 This led to a recognition that navigational aids were critical for bad weather and night operations. In March 1939, Kesselring admitted that even given a high level of technical competence, he doubted whether the average bomber crew could hit their target with any degree of accuracy at night or in bad weather.83 To help overcome this difficulty, Luftwaffe scientists experimented with radio direction systems as an aid to navigation and as a technological answer to the problem of bombing targets in conditions of limited visibility. The "Knickebein" system, first used in the Battle of Britain, was a direct result.84


The introduction of a new generation of bombers and fighters after 1936 caused serious transition problems. High accident rates coupled with low in-commission rates continued to plague the transition program as late as the summer of 1938. At that time, Luftwaffe operational ready rates were surprisingly low. On August 1, 1938, the in-commission rate for bombers was 49 percent, for fighters 70 percent, and for the whole force 57 percent.85 Only after drastically reducing flying and training time could the Luftwaffe bring its in-commission rate to a respectable level by the end of September 1938, shortly before the onset of the planned invasion of Czechoslovakia.86 The level of aircrew training was equally deplorable. In August, the Luftwaffe possessed barely two-thirds of its authorized crew strength, and over 40 percent of the crews on duty were not fully operational. Table II87 helps to point out the extent of the problem.

Aircrew Readiness--August 1938

  Crew Training Status
Type of Aircraft Authorized
Number of Crews

Strat Recon 228 84 57  
Tac Recon 297 183 128  
Fighter 938 537 364  
Bomber 1,409 378 411  
Dive Bomber 300 80 123  
Ground Attack 195 89 11  
Transport 117 10 17  
Coastal and Navy 230 71 34  

TOTAL 3,714 1,432 1,145  

Moreover, the chief of supply services pointed out in an after action report on the Czech crisis that:

In the last months [before Munich], the following special measures were carried through concurrently: (1) equipping of many new units; (2) rearming of numerous units; (3) early partial overhaul for approximately 60 percent of frontline aircraft; (4) replacement of spare parts; (5) rebuilding of numerous aircraft in supply depots, units, and industry; (6) rearmament of many aircraft; (7) accelerated introduction of partially overhauled motors . . . ; (8) establishment of four new air groups and one new airfield . . . ; (10) preparation and resupply of mobilization supplies corresponding to the newly established units, rearmed units, and transferred units . . . . The compression of these tasks into a very short time span has once more and in clear fashion pointed out the known lack of readiness in the maintenance of flying equipment as well as among technical personnel . . . .

The consequence of these circumstances was: (a) a constant and, for firstline aircraft, complete lack of reserves both as accident replacements and for mobilization; (b) a weakening of the aircraft inventory in the training schools in favor of regular units; (c) a lack of reserve engines and supplies for the timely equipment of airfields, supply services, and depots both for peacetime needs as well as mobilization.88


While the Luftwaffe was not prepared to face a military confrontation over Czechoslovakia,89 it had a major impact on British and French diplomacy. Throughout the late 1930's, the British Chiefs of Staff had reiteratively warned their ministers about the German air danger. In late March 1938, they emphasized that in a military confrontation over Czechoslovakia, Germany would dominate the air and, moreover, that the entire Luftwaffe might concentrate on Britain as the most promising method of winning the war. In addition, they warned that while earlier studies had considered a possible air attack in 1939, an air offensive in 1938 would cause more damage because fewer defenses yet existed.90 Upon his return from meeting Hitler at Godesberg, Chamberlain remarked to his Cabinet colleagues that he had just flown up the Thames and had imagined German bombers taking the same course.91

Nevertheless, in the final analysis, fears about the Luftwaffe probably were not decisive in molding the British response to German threats before Munich. In fact, by September 1938 many leading appeasers felt that the West could beat Germany in a war,92 while the British military in late September came around to the view that "the latent resources of our Empire and the doubtful morale of our opponents under the stress of war give us confidence as to the ultimate outcome [of a war]."93 But the terrible costs of World War I lingered in British minds and tempered the response. As the Foreign Minister, Lord Halifax, told the Cabinet he "could not feel we were justified in embarking on an action that would result in such untold suffering."94

The Luftwaffe's effect on the French in 1938 can, at best, be described as causing both panic and a collapse in morale. After the French Chief of Air Staff had visited Germany in mid-August and had been shown a display of aerial might, he returned to Paris to advise his government that the French air force would last barely two weeks against the Luftwaffe.95 The spectacle that the French Foreign Minister, Georges Bonnet, made in warning the German ambassador that an attack on Czechoslovakia would lead to war, while at the same time begging that Germany not put France in a position where she must honor her obligations, reflected desperate French fears concerning the German air threat.96 At the end of September 1938, a senior general told the British military attaché that in a European war, "French cities would be laid in ruins [because] . . . they had no means of defense." He added that France was now paying the price for the years of neglect of her air force.97 There was, of course, no more talk about a forest of guns over the Maginot Line.

What is surprising, given the predilection of some historians to argue that Munich saved Britain from the Luftwaffe, is the fact that the German air force had made almost no preparation to wage war against the British. In August 1938, a staff officer of Luftflotte 2, responsible in 1938 for operations over the North Sea and against the British Isles, suggested that Germany's current capability to attack Britain would amount to pin pricks.98 In late September, General Felmy, Commander of Second Air Force, warned the high command that "given the means at his disposal, a war of destruction against England seemed to be excluded."99 In


May 1939, Felmy concluded an address by highlighting the lack of preparation for a "strategic" bombing offensive against Britain. He doubted whether the Luftwaffe could achieve more than a limited success in 1940 and admitted that the Luftwaffe would not have one air division fully trained and prepared to attack Britain in the summer of 1939. Considering Second Air Force's equipment, preparations for an air offensive on Britain were totally inadequate (völlig ungenügend).100

This state of affairs was a result of Germany's strategic situation. Luftwaffe planners had to face the fact that their first commitment would be to a major ground war. The conduct and the success of those operations would determine whether Germany would surmount her narrow economic and strategic base and thus be able to fight a protracted world war. If not, the war would end right there. In 1938, "Fall Grün," the proposed attack on Czechoslovakia, would have involved the Wehrmacht in a major land campaign against the Czech Republic, leaving the army with only weak ground forces to protect the Polish and French frontiers. As was the case with "Fall Weiss," the attack on Poland, the Wehrmacht would then have faced a major ground campaign in the west.101

The result of this strategic situation was that the Luftwaffe tied its plans for both 1938 and 1939 closely to the operations of the army. The tasks of the two air fleets assigned to support the invasion of Czechoslovakia were to destroy the Czech air force, to hinder the mobilization and movement of reserves, to support the army's advance, and only then to attack the enemy's population.102 Similarly, the Luftwaffe's general staff underscored that the most important missions in the west would be to attack the French air force and prevent a breakthrough along the Westwall by Allied forces.103 The same pattern repeated itself in 1939, except that this time Hitler refused to allow himself to be robbed on an opportunity to wage his "little war."


In conclusion, several features of prewar Luftwaffe doctrine deserve further elaboration. The first, and most obvious, is that the prevailing historical picture of a Luftwaffe tied closely to the army's coattails is no longer tenable. Most Luftwaffe leaders from Göring through the general staff believed, as did their counterparts in Britain and the United States, that "strategic" bombing was the chief mission of an air force and that in such a role they would win the next war.104 They probably did not consider the twin-engine aircraft at their disposal in 1937 and 1938 sufficient for a campaign against Britain, Russia, or the United States; but within the context of Central Europe, were not such aircraft adequate for attacking Warsaw, Prague, and Paris? Most Germans thought so, and certainly the leaders of the French and British air forces agreed with them. For the long run, the Luftwaffe had begun work on a four-engine bomber for more distant targets. Like most of their contemporaries in other air forces, Luftwaffe officers considerably overestimated the possibilities and potential of "strategic" air war, both in terms of industrial damage and its impact on morale. This was neither surprising nor unique, since there was so little


empirical evidence on which to base predictions. The prevalence of such attitudes within the Luftwaffe's officer corps helps explain Rotterdam as well as the seemingly casual shift from an air superiority strategy to a direct attack on London during the Battle of Britain. Moreover, in their approach to "strategic" bombing, the Germans showed a greater awareness of the difficulties involved in finding and hitting targets at night or in bad weather than did other air forces. For instance, their preparations in developing blind bombing devices like "Knickebein" were further advanced by a full two years than those of the RAF.

When Adolph Hitler launched the Wehrmacht against Poland on September 1, 1939, to begin the Second World War, the Luftwaffe was in a considerably better position than it had been the previous fall. The staff and commanders had solved most of the teething problems that had marked the transition into a new generation of aircraft in 1937 and 1938. Air units possessed modern equipment, and antiaircraft and airborne forces gave the Germans capabilities that other European air forces could not match. In 1939, the Luftwaffe was closer to realizing the potential of the aircraft, while the doctrine of close air support and cooperation with the army placed the German air force in the position to have a decisive impact on the coming battles beside the army's armored forces.

Nevertheless, there were problems. Above all, there were serious deficiencies in the character of the Luftwaffe's leadership since most of those occupying top positions were incapable of thinking for the long pull. On the technical and production side, the Germans appeared well on their way to disaster. By the spring of 1939, British aircraft production was approaching German levels and in 1940 would actually surpass German output.105 The fact that Göring had shunted Milch aside and turned the technical and production side over to Udet insured that this ominous trend would continue. Further exacerbating the Luftwaffe's dangerous position were certain critical research and development decisions taken in the last month before the outbreak of war. In December 1938, Milch pushed through a major reorganization of the production system so that the aircraft industry could concentrate on developing a few superior aircraft.106 In August 1939 shortly before the outbreak of war, Göring along with Udet, Milch, and Jeschonnek decided to constrict development and production. They placed strong development emphasis on the He 177, Ju 88, and Me 210.107 While such emphasis was not meant to halt research and development on the next generation of aircraft, it did tend to slow down experimentation. When the Germans awoke to the danger in 1942, it was already too late; they would fight the great air battles of 1943 and 1944 with basically the same equipment that they had used against Poland.108

As discussed above, there were factors pushing the Germans towards a broader conception of airpower than was the case in Britain and America. Economic reality placed severe limits on the nature and force structure of the Luftwaffe in the prewar period. Even more important than this limiting factor was Germany's general strategic placement in the heart of the European continent. Unlike British and American air strategists, German air strategists faced the prospect of a large-scale land battle from the moment that a war began and were never in a position to ignore


entirely the demands of Germany's ground forces. Simultaneously, most German airmen did believe that "strategic" bombing would be a decisive factor in the coming war. Thus, German air strategy was a combination of these two divergent elements. So with the outbreak of hostilities, German airmen found themselves in quite different strategic circumstances than they had originally envisioned. Unfortunately for the West, the broader based approach of Wever, along with a greater flexibility in Luftwaffe doctrine, corresponded more closely to the combat capabilities of aircraft in the late 1930's than did the almost exclusive "strategic" bombing doctrines of the RAF or the US Army Air Corps.109 The real war of 1939 and 1940 was not the war for which most of the Luftwaffe had prepared, but it was a war in the initial stages to which it could and did adapt, and to which it applied airpower in cooperation with the army to gain an initial, devastating strategic victory that unfortunately, from the German perspective, could not be sustained.



1. For this view, see Dennis Richards, The Royal Air Force, 1939-1945 (London, 1953), p. 29; Asher Lee, The German Air Force (New York, 1946), pp. 16-17; and even surprisingly Sir Charles Webster and Noble Frankland, The Strategic Air Offensive Against Germany (SAOAG), Vol. I, Preparation (London, 1961), p. 125.

2. For a fuller discussion of the impact of the German economic situation on rearmament, see my dissertation: Williamson Murray, "The Change in the European Balance of Power, 1938-1939," Yale University dissertation, 1975, Chapter V.

3. For a discussion of the German coal situation, see: Institut für Weltwirtschaft an der Universität Kiel, "Die Kohlenversorgung Europas durch Grossdeutschland unter den gegenwärtigen kriegswirtschaftlichen Gesichtspunkten," Oct 1939, National Archives and Records Service (NARS) T-84/195/1560466.

4. Abschrift einer Aufstellung der Überwachungsstelle für Mineralöl vom 3.5.38., "Deutschlands Mineralöl nach In- und Auslandsaufkommen in den Jahren 1928-1937 in 1000t," NARS T-77/282/1107267. There is an additional problem present here. The synthetic fuel process and its basic raw material, coal, were not conducive to the production of high-octane gasoline, and the Luftwaffe would have a major problem throughout the war in obtaining sufficient amounts of high-octane aviation fuel.

5. Speech by Korvettenkapitän Haensel, 4.3.39. während des Kriegsspieles des Marinekommandoamtes in Oberhof, p. 13, NARS T-1022/PG49089.

6. OKW Economic Staff, "Die Arbeiten des Wi Rü Amtes an der Mineralöl-Versorgung," p. 37, NARS T-77/282/1107267.

7. For a fuller discussion of these problems, see: Hans-Erich Volkmann, "Aussenhandel and Aufrüstung in Deutschland, 1933 bis 1939," Wirischaft and Rüstung am Vorabend des Zweiten Weltkrieges, ed. by Friedrich Forstmeier and Hans-Erich Volkmann (Dusseldorf, 1975), p. 85.

8. Ibid., p. 89.

9. Ibid.

10. Dieter Petzina, Autarkiepolitik im Dritten Reich (Stuttgart, 1968), p. 103.

11. International Military Tribunal (IMT), Trial of Major War Criminals (TMWC), XXXII, Doc. #3575PSS.

12. Ibid., Doc. #1301PS.

13. J. Dülffer, Weimar, Hitler and die Marine: Reichpolitik and Flottenbau, 1920-1939 (Düsseldorf, 1973), p. 504.

14. Edward W. Bennett, German Rearmament and the West, 1932-1933 (Princeton, 1979), p.324.

15. Douglas H. Robinson, "The Zeppelin Bomber," The Air Power Historian (July 1961), p. 133.

16. Grand Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, My Memoirs, Vol. II (New York, 1919), pp. 271-72.

17. For an excellent discussion of the German "strategic" bombing effort in World War I, see: Francis K. Mason, Battle Over Britain (New York, 1969), Chapter I.

18. For Seeckt's interest in the development of motorized forces and his recognition of their importance for future defense policy, see: Reichswehrministerium, Chef der Heeresleitung, Betr: "Harzübung 8.1.22.," NARS T-79/65/000622.

19. For the best description of Seeckt's contribution to the carrying over of a portion of Germany's World War I air force into the body of the Reichswehr, see: Karl-Heinz Völker, "Die Entwicklung der militärischen Luftfahrt in Deutschland, 1920-1933," in Beiträge zur Militär-und Kriegsgeschichte, Vol. III, (Stuttgart, 1962), pp. 126-27.

20. For a discussion of the historiography surrounding the Weimar period's contribution to the Luftwaffe, see: Edward L. Homze's outstanding study Arming the Luftwaffe, The Reich Air Ministry and the German Aircraft Industry, 1919-1939 (Lincoln, 1976), pp. 40-41. For the other outstanding study of the Luftwaffe after 1933, see: Karl-Heinz Völker, Die deutsche Luftwaffe, 1933-1939: Aufbau, Führung und Rüstung der Luftwaffe Bowie die Entwicklung der deutschen Luftkriegstheorie (Stuttgart, 1967). From the small corps of flying officers within the Reichswehr, 97 army and 19 naval officers would reach general officer rank in the Luftwaffe. In addition, a number of army officers such as Kesselring and Wever would transfer to the Luftwaffe and then learn to fly after 1933. Völker, "Die Entwicklung der militärischen Luftfahrt in Deutschland, 1920-1933," pp. 284-88.

21. Ibid., p. 32.

22. It is worth noting that the army was no more willing to allow the establishment of a joint services high command.


23. For a discussion of Göring's role in the Nazi seizure of power, see Karl Dietrich Bracher, Wolfgang Sauer, and Gerhard Schulz, Die Nationalsozialistische Machtergreifung (Köln, 1960).

24. IMT, TMWC, XXXVIII, Doc. 140-R.

25. For an interesting study of Milch and his contribution to the Luftwaffe, see David Irving's The Rise and Fall of the Luftwaffe, The Life of Field Marshal Erhard Milch (Boston, 1973).

26. Wilhelm Deist, Manfred Messerschmidt, Hans-Erich Volkmann, Wolfram Wette, Das deutsche Reich und der Zweite Weltkrieg, Vol. I, Ursachen und Voraussetzung der deutschen Kriegspolitik (Stuttgart, 1979), p. 478.

27. Homze, Arming the Luftwaffe, pp. 60, 235.

28. Ibid., p. 236. It is worth noting that Jeschonnek had been a pilot in World War I and subsequently served mostly with the air planning staffs within the Reichswehr during the Weimar period.

29. Deist, et al., Das deutsche Reich und der Zweite Weltkrieg, Vol. I., pp. 478-79.

30. Ibid., p. 479.

31. Horst Boog, "Higher Command and Leadership in the German Luftwaffe, 1935-1945," Air Power and Warfare, Proceedings of the Eighth Military History Symposium, USAF Academy, ed. by Colonel Alfred F. Hurley and Major Robert C. Ehrhart (Washington, 1979).

32. Dr. Boog's above cited article is particularly useful in his discussion of the intellectual limitations of the Luftwaffe's officer corps.

33. Bernard Heimann and Joachim Schunke, "Eine geheime Denkschrift zur Luftkriegskonzeption Hitler-Deutschlands vom Mai 1933," Zeitschrift für Militärgeschichte, Vol. III (1964), pp. 72-86.

34. Klaus A. Maier, Horst Rohde, Bernd Stegemann, and Hans Umbreit, Das deutsche Reich und der Zweite Weltkrieg, Vol. II, Die Errichtung der Hegemonie auf dem Europäischen Kontinent (Stuttgart, 1979), p. 44.

35. For a full discussion of the different programs and the industrial and engineering problems that the Luftwaffe faced, see: Homze, Arming the Luftwaffe, Chapter IX.

36. Deist, et al., Das deutsche Reich und der Zweite Weltkrieg, Vol. I, pp. 480-81; see Homze, Arming the Luftwaffe, p. 184, for a detailed breakdown of worker distribution within the aircraft industry.

37. See, in particular, Wever's lecture to the German Air War College, 1.11.35. "Vortrag des Generalmajors Wever bei Eröffnung der Luftkriegsakademie and Lufttechnischen Akademie in Berlin-Gatow am 1. November 1935," Die Luftwaffe (1936).

38. Karl-Heinz Völker, Dokumente und Dokumentarfotos zur Geschichte der deutschen Luftwaffe (Stuttgart, 1968), Doc. #184, p. 429.

39. "Die Luftkriegführung," Berlin 1935; copy made available to the author by Oberstleutnant Klaus Maier of the Militärgeschichtliches Forschungsamt, Freiburg, Federal Republic of Germany.

40. Ibid., paragraph 11.

41. See Herbert M. Mason, Jr., The Rise of the Luftwaffe (New York, 1973), pp. 213-15; Peter Calvocoressi and Guy Wint, Total War (London, 1972), p. 492; Dennis Richards, Royal Air Force, 1939-1945, Vol. I (London, 1953), p. 29; Basil Collier, The Defense of the United Kingdom (London, 1957), p. 121; Telford Taylor, The Breaking Wave (New York, 1967), p. 83; and Webster and Frankland, SAOAG, Vol. I, p. 125.

42. Völker, Die deutsche Luftwaffe, pp. 132-33; and H. Schliephake, The Birth of the Luftwaffe (Chicago, 1972), pp. 38-39. For further amplification on the failure to have a heavy bomber in the later 1930's, see Edward L. Homze's excellent piece, "The Luftwaffe's Failure to Develop a Heavy Bomber Before World War II," Aerospace Historian (March 1977). For a fascinating and groundbreaking work on the problems of engine development, see Edward W. Constant, III, The Origins of the Turbo Jet Revolution (Baltimore, 1980). See also C. Fayette Taylor, Aircraft Propulsion, A Review of the Evolution of Aircraft Piston Engines (Washington, 1971).

43. See the discussion by Hans Speier, "Ludendorff: The German Concept of Total War," Makers of Modern Strategy, ed. by Edward Mead Earle (Princeton, 1943). I would also like to thank Oberstleutnant Klaus Maier of the Militärgeschichtliches Forschungsamt for making available to me his lecture given at the Air War College in September 1980 in Montgomery, Alabama, that clarified the connection and importance of the concept of total war and its relationship to the development of Luftwaffe doctrine.

44. Erich Ludendorff, Kriegsführung und Politik (Berlin, 1922), pp. 328-33.

45. See the interesting discussion of this point in Deist, et al., Das deutsche Reich und der Zweite Weltkrieg, Vol. I, pp. 124-25.

46. Heimann and Schunke, "Eine geheime Denkschrift zur Luftkriegskonzeption Hitler-Deutschlands vom Mai 1933," pp. 72-86.


47. See Air Ministry, The Rise and Fall of the German Air Force (1933-1945), issued by the Air Ministry (ACAS) (London, 1948), p. 42.

48. See, in particular, Oberst (E) Frhr. v. Bulow, "Die Grundlagen neuzeificher Luftstreitkräfte," Militärwissenschgftliche Rundschau (1936); Major Bartz, "Kriegsflugzeuge, ihre Aufgaben und Leistung," (1936); and particularly Major Herhudt von Rohden, "Betrachtungen über den Luftkrieg," also Militärwissenschaftliche Rundschau 4 parts (1937).

49. Bartz, "Kriegsflugzeuge, ihre Aufgaben und Leistung," p. 210.

50. von Rohden, "Betrachtungen über den Luftkrieg," Part I, pp. 198-200.

51. BA/MA, RL7/42, Luftflottenkommando 2, Führungsabteilung Nr. 7093/39 g. Kdos, 13.5.39., Schlussbesprechung des Planspiels, 1939. Those who desire another example of how senior staff officers thought the Luftwaffe would wage an independent "strategic" air war should consult: Chef des Organisationsstabes im Generalstab der Luftwaffe Nr. 50/38 Chefsache, An den Chef des Generalstabes der Luftwaffe, "Organisationsstabee I950," NARS T-971/36/0002.

52. Irving, The Rise and Fall of the Luftwaffe, p. 47.

53. Ibid., p. 69. Although many times, Milch's abrasive personality led him into major conflicts with his fellow Luftwaffe officers, the fault in this case seems to have lain with Jeschonnek.

54. Homze, Arming the Luftwaffe, pp. 223-24.

55. Deist, et al., Das deutsche Reich und der Zweite Weltkrieg, Vol. I, p. 645.

56. Irving, The Rise and Fall of the Luftwaffe, p. 68.

57. R. J. Overy, "German Aircraft Production 1939-1942: A Study in the German War Economy," Cambridge University dissertation, 1977, p. 2; for a discussion of the prewar German production plans, see: R. J. Overy, "The German Pre-War Aircraft Production Plans: November 1936-April 1939," English Historical Review (1975).

58. Ibid., p. 11.

59. Homze, Arming the Luftwaffe, p. 106.

60. Deist, et al., Das deutsche Reich und der Zweite Weltkrieg, Vol. I, pp. 484-85.

61. Homze, Arming the Luftwaffe, pp. 82-87 and 158-63.

62. Ibid., pp. 120-21.

63. For the surprisingly low capacity levels of the German munitions industry in the thirties, see: Bericht des Hewn Professor Dr. C. Krauch über die Lage auf dem Arbeitsgebiet der Chemie in der Sitzung des Generalrates am 24.6.41., NARS T-84/217/1586749.

64. Deist, et al., Das deutsche Reich und der Zweite Weltkrieg, Vol. I, p. 490.

65. Homze, Arming the Luftwaffe, pp. 167-68.

66. Milch Collection, Imperial War Museum, Reel 55, Vol. 57, Der Chef des Nachschubamts, Nr. 3365/38, g. Kdos., Berlin, 3.11.38., Anlage L. E. 2. Nr. 15.222/38 g. Kdos, Berlin, Okt 1938, "Erfahrungsbericht über die Spannungszeit 1938," p. 3270.

67. Richard Suchenwirth, The Development of the German Air Force, 1919-1939 (New York, 1970), p. 148.

68. PRO CAB 23/89, Cab 35(37), Meeting of the Cabinet, 29.9.37., p. 215.

69. PRO CAB 21/575, 15.10.37., "French and German Maneuvers," a note by Field Marshal Sir C. Deverell on his visit. The French, of course, might have been disguising their real fears from a thoroughly unreliable ally. Still, they spent little on their air force until the awakening of 1938.

70. Völker, Dokumente und Dokumentarfotos zur Geschichte der deutschen Luftwaffe, Doc. #196, p. 449.

71. Gerhard Weinberg, The Foreign Policy of Hitler's Germany, 1933-1936 (Chicago, 1970), p. 298.

72. "Einsatz der deutschen Flakartillerie in Spanien," Aus Koehlers Flieger Kalender 1940; "Flakeinsatz während des Feldzuges in Spanien," Auszug aus einer Ausarbeitung von Gen. Lt. Karl Veith vom Mai 194, Karlsruhe Collection, Albert F. Simpson Historical Research Center (AFSHRC); K 113.302.

73. "Auswirkung der Erfahrungen in Spanien," Aus einer Ausarbeitung von Generallt. Galland über die Luftverteidigung des Reiches, 1946. Ibid.

74. Conversation with Generalmajor a.D. Hans W. Asmus, Baden Baden, November 7 and 8, 1980, and letter from General Asmus, February 6, 1981.

75. Air Ministry, The Rise and Fall of the German Air Force, pp. 16-17.

76. "Lehren aus dem Feldzug in Spanien, Einsatz von Schlachtfliegem," aus einer Studie der 8. Abt. des Generalstabes aus dem Jahre 1944; Hans Hennig Freiherr von Beust, "Die deutsche Luftwaffe im spanischen Krieg," 2.10.56., p. 162, AFSHRC: K 113.302.

77. Maier, et al., Das deutsche Reich und der Zweite Weltkrieg, Vol. II, p. 53.


78. Oberst Jaenecke, "Lehren des spanisehen Bürgerkrieges," Jahrbuch des deutschen Heeres, 1938 (Leipzig, 1939).

79. OKM, B. Nr., I. Abt. Skl. Ia 961/38g.Kdos., Berlin, 14.7.38., Geheime Kommandosache, NARS T-I022/2957/PG48902.

80. Homze, Arming the Luftwaffe, p. 172.

81. PRO CAB 63/14, I. O. (S)1., 19.7.37., Air Raid Precautions Department, Intelligence Section, visit to Berlin of Major F. L. Fraser, "Interview with Ministeralrat Grosskreuz."

82. Von Beust, "Die deutsche Luftwaffe im spanischen Krieg," p. 140ff.

83. BA/MA RL 2 II/101, "Zusammenhänge zwischen Meteorologic and Taktik," Vortrag: General der Flieger Kesselring, Chef der Luftflotte 1., 1.3.39., p. 5.

84. See PRO AIR 20/1623, Air Scientific Intellience Report No. 6, "The Crooked Leg," 28.6.40., for a discussion of how British intelligence discovered the German system.

85. Air Historical Branch, Air Ministry, VII, Translations: Luftwaffe Strength and Serviceability Statistics, G302694/AR/9/51/50.

86. BA/MA RL 7/164, Der Kommandierende General und Befehlshaber der Luftwaffengruppe 3., 1.12.38., "Erfahrungsbericht über die Spannungszeit 1938: Teil II."

87. Air Ministry, The Rise and Fall of the German Air Force, 1933-1945 (London, 1948), pp. 19-20.

88. Milch Collection, Imperial War Museum, Reel 55, Vol. 57, Der Chef des Nachschubamts, Nr. 3365/38, g. Kdos., 3.11.38.; Anlage L.E. 2. Nr. 15.222/38, "Erfahrungsbericht über die Spannungszeit," p. 3270.

89. For a fuller discussion of this issue, see my article, "German Air Power and the Munich Crisis," War and Society, Vol. II, ed. by Brian Bond and Ian Roy (London, 1977).

90. Public Record Office (PRO) CAB 53/37, COS 698 (Revise), CID, COS Subcommittee, "Military Implications of German Aggression Against Czechoslovakia," 28.3.38., pp. 150-51.

91. PRO CAB 23/95, Cab 42(38), Meeting of the Cabinet, 24.9.3., p. 178.

92. Neville Henderson admitted that Germany might not last more than "a certain number of months." PRO FO 800/309, Part IV, letter from Henderson to Cadogan, 4.9.38. Halifax told the Cabinet in mid-September 1938 that "he had no doubt that if we were involved in war now, we should win it after a long time." PRO CAB 23/95, Cab 39(38), Meeting of the Cabinet, 17.9.38., pp. 98-99.

93. PRO CAB 53/41, COS 773, COS Subcommittee, "The Czechoslovak Crisis," 29.9.38.

94. PRO CAB 23/95, Cab 39(38), Meeting of the Cabinet, 17.9.38., pp. 98-99.

95. For General Vuillemin's visit to Germany, see: Documents diplomatiques français (DDF), 2nd Series, Vol. X, Doc. #401, 18.8.38., Doc. #429, 21.8.38., and Doc. #444, 23.8.38. For what he told his government, also see: Paul Stehlin, Temoignage, Pour l'histoire (Paris, 1964), pp. 86-91. For Vuillemin's advice at the end of the month, see: DDF, 2nd Series, Vol. XI, Doc. #377, 26.9.38.

96. Akten zur deutschen auswärtigen Politik (ADAP), Series D, Vol. II, Doc. #422, 2.9.38.

97. PRO CAB 24/279, CP 206(38), Colonel Fraser to Phipps, 23.9.38., p. 52.

98. Vortragsnotiz über Besprechung mit to des Befehlshabers der Luftwaffengruppe Braunschweig, 25.8.38., NARS T-1022/2307/34562.

99. L. W. Gr. Kdo. 2., Führungsabteilung, Nr. 210/38, 22.9.38., "Planstudie 'Fall Blau'." Quoted by Richard Suchenwirth, Hans Jeschonnek, pp. 39-40.

100. BA/MA RL 7/42, RL 7/43, Luftflottenkommando 2., Führungsabteilung, Nr. 7093/39, 13.5.39., "Schlussbesprechung des Planspieles 1939."

101. For a fuller discussion of the overall strategic situation at the time of Munich in 1938, see my article: Williamson Murray, "Munich, 1938: The Military Confrontation," Journal of Strategic Studies (December 1979).

102. Concerning Luftwaffe planning for the invasion of Czechoslovakia, see in particular BA/MA RL 7/164, Der Kommandierende General und Befehlshaber der Luftwaffengruppe 3., 1.12.38., "Erfahrungsbericht über die Spannungszeit 1938."

103. IMT, TMWC, Vol. XXV, p. 381.

104. One of the surprising elements in the widespread willingness to accept the legend that the Luftwaffe was the "hand maiden" of the army is the fact that Göring never got along with the army, and it thus seems totally contradictory from what we know of his personality that he would accept a role that subordinated his air force to the army in overall German strategy.

105. Overy, "The German Pre-War Aircraft Production Plans: November 1936-April 1939," p. 796.

106. Milch Collection, Imperial War Museum, Reel 64, Vol. 65, p. 7400: 13.12.38., "Vortragsunterlagen für den Vortrag vor dem Herm Generalfeldmarschall," p. 7419.

107. Homze, Arming the Luftwaffe, p. 229.


108. It should be noted that the Allies also fought these 1940 battles by and large with the aircraft in production or on the drawing boards.

109. See Appendix I for a description of the development of air doctrine in Britain and the United States.


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