Luftwaffe

Luftwaffe
COA Luftwaffe eagle gold.svg
Emblem of the Luftwaffe (variant)
Active1933–46[N 1]
CountryNazi Germany Nazi Germany
TypeAir force
RoleAerial warfare
SizeAircraft 119,871[2] (total production)
Personnel 3,400,000 (total in service at any time for 1939–45)[3]
Part ofWehrmacht
EngagementsSpanish Civil War
World War II
Commanders
Notable
commanders
Hermann Göring (1933–45)
Robert Ritter von Greim (1945)
Insignia
Balkenkreuz (fuselage and wing undersurfaces)[4]Balkenkreuz fuselage underwing.svg
Balkenkreuz (upper wing surfaces)[5]Regulation WW II Upperwing Balkenkreuz.png
Hakenkreuz (swastika) (fin flash 1939–1945, white border omitted during late war)[6]Luftwaffe swastika.svg
Luftwaffe review, 1937

The Luftwaffe[N 2] (German pronunciation: [ˈlʊftvafə] (About this sound listen)) was the aerial warfare branch of the combined German Wehrmacht military forces during World War II. Germany's military air arms during World War I, the Luftstreitkräfte of the Army and the Marine-Fliegerabteilung of the Navy, had been disbanded in May 1920 as a result of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles which stated that Germany was forbidden to have any air force.

During the interwar period, German pilots were trained secretly in violation of the treaty at Lipetsk Air Base. With the rise of the Nazi Party and the repudiation of the Versailles Treaty, the Luftwaffe was officially established on 26 February 1935. The Condor Legion, a Luftwaffe detachment sent to aid Nationalist forces in the Spanish Civil War, provided the force with a valuable testing ground for new doctrines and aircraft. Partially as a result of this combat experience, the Luftwaffe had become one of the most sophisticated, technologically advanced, and battle-experienced air forces in the world when World War II broke out in 1939.[9] By the summer of 1939, the Luftwaffe had twenty-eight Geschwader (wings). The Luftwaffe also operated Fallschirmjäger paratrooper units.

The Luftwaffe proved instrumental in the German victories across Poland and Western Europe in 1939 and 1940. During the Battle of Britain, however, despite inflicting severe damage to the RAF's infrastructure and, during the subsequent Blitz, devastating many British cities, the German air force failed to batter the beleaguered British into submission. From 1942, Allied bombing campaigns gradually destroyed the Luftwaffe's fighter arm. From late 1942, the Luftwaffe used its surplus ground, support and other personnel to raise Luftwaffe Field Divisions. In addition to its service in the West, the Luftwaffe operated over the Soviet Union, North Africa and Southern Europe. Despite its belated use of advanced turbojet and rocket propelled aircraft for the destruction of Allied bombers, the Luftwaffe was overwhelmed by the Allies' superior numbers and improved tactics, and a lack of trained pilots and aviation fuel. In January 1945, during the closing stages of the Battle of the Bulge, the Luftwaffe made a last-ditch effort to win air superiority, and met with failure. With rapidly dwindling supplies of petroleum, oil, and lubricants after this campaign, and as part of the entire combined Wehrmacht military forces as a whole, the Luftwaffe ceased to be an effective fighting force.

After the defeat of Germany, the Luftwaffe was disbanded in 1946. During World War II, German pilots claimed roughly 70,000 aerial victories, while over 75,000 Luftwaffe aircraft were destroyed or significantly damaged. Of these, nearly 40,000 were lost entirely. The Luftwaffe had only two commanders-in-chief throughout its history: Hermann Göring and later Generalfeldmarschall Robert Ritter von Greim for the last two weeks of the war. The Luftwaffe was deeply involved in Nazi war crimes. It ran dozens of concentration camps dedicated to aircraft, armaments, and synthetic oil production.[N 3] By the end of the war, a significant percentage of aircraft production originated in concentration camps, an industry employing tens of thousands of prisoners.[N 4] The Luftwaffe High Command also organized Nazi human experimentation.

Origins

Manfred von Richthofen with other members of Jasta 11, 1917 as part of the Luftstreitkräfte

The Imperial German Army Air Service was founded in 1910 with the name Die Fliegertruppen des deutschen Kaiserreiches, most often shortened to Fliegertruppe. It was renamed Luftstreitkräfte on 8 October 1916.[10] The air war on the Western Front received the most attention in the annals of the earliest accounts of military aviation, since it produced aces such as Manfred von Richthofen and Ernst Udet, Oswald Boelcke, and Max Immelmann. After the defeat of Germany, the service was dissolved on 8 May 1920 under the conditions of the Treaty of Versailles, which also mandated the destruction of all German military aircraft.

Since the Treaty of Versailles forbade Germany to have an air force, German pilots trained in secret. Initially, civil aviation schools within Germany were used, yet only light trainers could be used in order to maintain the façade that the trainees were going to fly with civil airlines such as Deutsche Luft Hansa. To train its pilots on the latest combat aircraft, Germany solicited the help of the Soviet Union, which was also isolated in Europe. A secret training airfield was established at Lipetsk in 1924 and operated for approximately nine years using mostly Dutch and Soviet, but also some German, training aircraft before being closed in 1933. This base was officially known as 4th squadron of the 40th wing of the Red Army. Hundreds of Luftwaffe pilots and technical personnel visited, studied and were trained at Soviet air force schools in several locations in Central Russia.[11] Roessing, Blume, Fosse, Teetsemann, Heini, Makratzki, Blumendaat, and many other future Luftwaffe aces were trained in Russia in joint Russian-German schools that were set up under the patronage of Ernst August Köstring.

The first steps towards the Luftwaffe's formation were undertaken just months after Adolf Hitler came to power. Hermann Göring, a World War I ace, became National Kommissar for aviation with former Luft Hansa director Erhard Milch as his deputy. In April 1933 the Reich Aviation Ministry (Reichsluftfahrtministerium or RLM) was established. The RLM was in charge of development and production of aircraft. Göring's control over all aspects of aviation became absolute. On 25 March 1933 the German Air Sports Association absorbed all private and national organizations, while retaining its 'sports' title. On 15 May 1933, all military aviation organizations in the RLM were merged, forming the Luftwaffe; its official 'birthday'.[12] The National Socialist Flyers Corps (Nationalsozialistisches Fliegerkorps or NSFK) was formed in 1937 to give pre-military flying training to male youths, and to engage adult sport aviators in the Nazi movement. Military-age members of the NSFK were drafted into the Luftwaffe. As all such prior NSFK members were also Nazi Party members, this gave the new Luftwaffe a strong Nazi ideological base in contrast to the other branches of the Wehrmacht (the Heer (Army) and Kriegsmarine (Navy)). Göring played a leading role in the buildup of the Luftwaffe in 1933–36, but had little further involvement in the development of the force after 1936, and Milch became the "de facto" minister until 1937.[13]

The absence of Göring in planning and production matters was fortunate. Göring had little knowledge of current aviation, had last flown in 1922, and had not kept himself informed of latest events. Göring also displayed a lack of understanding of doctrine and technical issues in aerial warfare which he left to others more competent. The Commander-in-Chief left the organisation and building of the Luftwaffe, after 1936, to Erhard Milch. However Göring, as a part of Hitler's inner circle, provided access to financial resources and materiel for rearming and equipping the Luftwaffe.[14]

Another prominent figure in German air power construction this time was Helmuth Wilberg. Wilberg later played a large role in the development of German air doctrine. Having headed the Reichswehr air staff for eight years in the 1920s, Wilberg had considerable experience and was ideal for a senior staff position.[15] Göring considered making Wilberg Chief of Staff (CS). However, it was revealed Wilberg had a Jewish mother. For that reason Göring could not have him as CS. Not wishing his talent to go to waste, Göring ensured the racial laws of the Third Reich did not apply to him. Wilberg remained in the air staff, and under Walther Wever helped draw up the Luftwaffe's principle doctrinal texts, "The Conduct of the Aerial War" and "Regulation 16".[16][17]

Other Languages
العربية: لوفتفافه
azərbaycanca: Lüftvaffe
беларуская: Люфтвафэ
eesti: Luftwaffe
Esperanto: Luftwaffe
Gaeilge: Luftwaffe
한국어: 루프트바페
Հայերեն: Լյուֆտվաֆե
lietuvių: Liuftvafė
Bahasa Melayu: Luftwaffe
Mirandés: Luftwaffe
português: Luftwaffe
română: Luftwaffe
Scots: Luftwaffe
slovenščina: Luftwaffe (Wehrmacht)
српски / srpski: Луфтвафе (Вермахт)
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Luftwaffe
українська: Люфтваффе