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Why The Luftwaffe Lost WW2

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caldrail View Drop Down
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    Posted: 02 Aug 2021 at 08:32
It might seem strange to some that I'm posting about the German Air Force of WW2 in this forum, but my reasons are firstly that we're talking about a service that used machinery to engage in combat or conduct missions, and secondly, because German terminology inherently referred to forces as 'weapons'.

Why did the Luftwaffe lose the air war? Many will have their own pet theories on this based on generic opinions picked up here and there, but I'm going to list some specific issues that led to their downfall.

1 - Experience. We've all heard how the Luftwaffe benefitted from experience in the Spanish Civil War. It is worth pointing out that while this was useful to the Germans, the experience was imparted to a relatively small number of volunteer airmen, not the whole Luftwaffe. Indeed, the Germans don't seem to have made any systematic improvement in training because of it, although some things like the 'finger four' formation were adopted by them. Of course, as casualties began to wither the available pool of airmen so they lost the benefit of that experience. This was especially true of the Bodenplatte operation which pretty well finished the Luftwaffe as an effective force.

2 - Attitude. We are talking about a measure of arrogance here. Early in the war the Germans felt they had the best air force in the world. Understandable really, since they had the better aeroplanes in the initial campaigns and won - bearing in mind that in Poland for instance they lost around 300 aeroplanes and nearly as many again written off from damage. They were still learning. Yet I also note how baffled they were at their inability to crush the RAF. The Luftwaffe kept fighting against all odds as best they could, a notable victory for morale if nothing else.

3 - Training. The best air force in the world naturally has the best training, right? The Germans thought so early on. It was an air minded nation to begin with. Even after the Armistice of 1918 elements of the former Imperial Air Force was active in the Baltic states for two or three years, and many of these veterans went on to help with covert developments held in Russia. The sheer frustration of the Versailles treaty seems to made the Germans much keener to grab any chance to fly again. In the 1930's, youngsters had plenty of opportunity to fly gliders. But as the war wore on cracks began to show. Veterans have spoken in interview about the lack of combat training later on, or what they have come to believe was poor quality training overall. Certainly as the war headed for the final days the Germans regarded training as an expensive luxury, with most flying schools closed in mid 1944 to release experienced aviators for the front line. Nazi ideology came to regard pride and zeal as enough, hence the Emergency Fighter Program envisaged old men and kids flying the new jet 'wonder weapons'. In fact, one Hitler Youth unit was 'operational' with jet aircraft at the end of the war - after a few hours gliding practice.

4 - Coordination. We're used to thinking of the Germans as very efficient, but they could be just as clumsy as everybody else. Even though the Luftwaffe was tailored to support ground offensives, this was also tailored for short term objectives, meaning that they would select specific targets already known to high command prior to conflict. They would prove far less able in actively cooperating with ground and naval assets, and even as the war progressed, politics and lethargy seems to prevented a fully integrated approach.

5 - Strategy. Entire books have been written on small sections of this. The Germans allowed party politics to interfere with procurement and development, so the Germans would waste considerable time pursuing unsuitable projects or indeed preventing capable alternatives from demonstrating their potential. They lacked any strategic bombing capability at all despite sporadic efforts to fill the gap, and Goering even suggested in 1943 that the industry should copy the British Avro Lancaster if nothing could be better developed (and neither circumstance occurred). Truth be told, in general the Germans became increasingly fixated on the idea of a 'wonder weapon' that alone would turn the tide, right to the very end.

6 - Manpower. Although this isn't always appreciated, the Germans became increasingly desperate to find men to fight. Industry was denuded of skilled workers, requiring the use of slave labour more and more. Production was interdicted severely by Allied bombing, and as technicians got drafted, became lower quality. Indeed, competing with American industrial output was a lost cause. The Americans knew about mass production, the Germans relied on skilled technicians.

7 - Resources. The German incentive was underpinned by a looming disaster in resources. They knew their regeneration as a society was going to lead to food shortages (hence the drive through the Ukraine), and oil, hence their drive toward the Caucasus. They were running out of good quality materials toward the end of the war. For all their apparent advancement, German jet turbines were very poor quality using cheap materials and lasted a maximum of 25hrs flying time before they had to throw them away. Cutting edge jet fighters were increasingly turning to wooden manufacture.

Perhaps there's more that could be said. Nonetheless I hope the above has challenged commonly held opinion. Why did the Luftwaffe lose? For the same reasons as everything else in Germany.
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