Both sides prepare


The German Air Force is reborn

The Treaty of Versailles, signed in June 1919, was intended to end German military aviation for ever. The Air Force was disbanded and to the victorious Allies were surrendered over 1,500 aircraft and 27,000 aircraft engines. Peace, like the Charleston, was in the air and in England Geddes of the anti-waste campaign was wielding his axe, reducing the Royal Air Force to a shadow of its former self.

In Germany, however, there was still a Defence Ministry. Here a man of considerable foresight understod the future of air power and determined to see the Air Force reborn. General von Seeckt, Chief of the Army Command, was an infantry soldier by profession, but he could see that one day air power would be of supreme importance in war.

As early as 1921 he began to secrete various promising men in offices of the Reichswehr Ministry in the Bendlerstrasse, Berlin. Their titles were innocuous and to the outside world they were small cogs in the treaty army of 100,000. Three of these officers were destined for high office and their names—Kesselring, Stumpff and Sperrle—were to become unpleasantly familiar in English homes twenty years later as Luftflotten commanders in the Battle of Britain.

Outwardly there was little for the ‘secret Air Force’ to do but watch technical advances in aviation abroad, produce staff papers and wait. The majority of the former Air Force drifted away to other jobs or stod in the unemployment queue. A much decorated young captain named Hermann Göring went as demonstrator and charter pilot to neutral Sweden.

The Defence Ministry, however, was far from wasting its time. One of its first moves to get round the treaty limitations was to send envoys in December 1921 to Russia to discuss aircraft manufacture and military aviation training for German recruits.

In December 1923 a secret agreement was signed covering military co-operation and the establishment of a flying school at Lipezk, about 200 miles south-east of Moscow. Buildings and land were provided by the Russians, but all equipment, aircraft, practice munitions and supplies were brought in secretly from Germany.

Training of the first entry began in 1924, the specially selected individuals being temporarily ‘retired’ from the armed forces and ‘re-enlisted’ on their return. Many have tended in post-war years to denigrate the part played by the Lipezk school, but the fact remains that several hundred crews, mechanics and other specialists, were trained in the nine years of its existence. The records show that the majority of officers who later held high rank in the Luftwaffe were Lipezk graduates.

In addition, the embryo air section at the defence headquarters in Berlin was able to carry out much aircraft and equipment development in Russia with the secret co-operation of the German aircraft industry. It is ironic that the Soviet Union should have provided the original facilities for the rebirth of the German Air Force—an Air Force which in 1941 was to all but destroy the Red air fleets.

Parallel to the Lipezk training, a future generation of pilots was being built up through the Deutscher Luftsportverband. Youths flocked to join this promising organisation which ran large-scale courses in glider instruction under Captain Kurt Student, head of the Reichswehr air technical branch. Later he became prominent as a general in command of parachute trops. From small beginnings in 1920 the Luftsportverband grew in nine years to a membership of 50,000.

German aircraft manufacture, contrary to popular belief, never ceased after World War I. On the morning of November nth, 1918, while the armistice delegates were meeting in the train at Compiègne, Professor Junkers, head of the firm which bore his name, his chief designer Ing. O. Reuter, and a group of engineers, forgathered to survey the future. Junkers informed them that they were to stop all military work and concentrate on the design for a civil transport. Thus, on June 25th, 1919, three days before the signing of the Versailles Treaty, the first post-war German aeroplane tok to the air.

A complete breakaway from biplane types, the F-13, as it became known, was an all-metal, six-seater cabin monoplane. During the 1920s it was the most widely used transport aircraft in the world. Orders were at first few in a market glutted with war-surplus machines, but at the end of 1919 Junkers saved the firm closing by obtaining an order from America for six F-13s.

The Inter-Allied Aeronautical Commission then stepped in. All F-13s being built were confiscated, but after much discussion the Commission relented in February 1920 when it was decided that the F-13 was a genuine transport unsuited for military requirements. Its judgment, as usual, was not particularly sound. Within two years the Russians and Japanese were happily operating F-13s equipped with bomb-racks and machine-guns.

Just over a year later the Disarmament Commission thought again and F-13 production, in common with others, was stopped.


The first post World War I German aircraft, the Ju F-13, a six-seater cabin monoplane, which flew in June, 1919. Production was stopped by the Inter-Allied Aeronautical Commission, but later resumed. Widely used commercially, the F.13 was later adapted for military use by Russia and Japan

This did not deter Professor Junkers, who expected just such an edict. A former naval pilot, Gotthard Sachsenberg, Junkers’ travelling salesman, with his assistant, Erhard Milch, former air force officer, set about organising other facilities for the F-13. The problem of operating F-13s in the Reich was overcome by selling them to the Danzig Air Transport Company —whose manager also happened to be Erhard Milch.

Other German manufacturers had similar problems with the Disarmament Commission regulations but quickly found methods of circumventing them.

Claude Dornier produced a cabin flying-boat in 1919 and then promptly transferred development and production to Switzerland and Italy. Ernst Heinkel in 1922 began building an aircraft works at Warnemünde on the Baltic coast and also set up a factory in Sweden. In 1924 Heinrich Focke and Georg Wulf jointly founded the Focke-Wulf Company at Bremen. The following year Herr Messerschmitt bought out the Bavarian Aircraft Company and immersed himself in the design and production of high-speed sports aircraft.

Aircraft production went hand in hand with the development of Germany’s civil air services. Both were closely surveyed by the small band in the Defence Ministry.

On January 8th, 1919, the Reich Aviation Office licensed a new company, Deutsche Luftreederei, to operate air transport services. These began on February 5th with converted L.V.G. biplanes carrying mails between Berlin and Weimar.

Luftreederei grew at home and abroad where it co-operated with K.L.M., the Danish airline D.D.L. and the British company Daimler Hire. Its success and the subsidies granted by the state led to the mushrom growth of small airlines. By 1923 Luftreederei, with private capital, began the concentration of resources into two main companies, Deutscher Aero-Lloyd and Junkers Luftverkehr.

Professor Junkers found the operation of various airlines worthwhile for his factory. He sold more aircraft and the regular reports of trained pilots and sevice engineers allowed him to embody operating experience into designs.

Deutscher Aero-Lloyd and Junkers Luftverkehr made considerable progress but they lacked financial backing. The Government, seeing its subsidies being lost, insisted on amalgamation. Accordingly, on January 6th, 1926, Deutsche Lufthansa came into being with 37½ per cent of its shares in Ministry hands.

Behind the formation of Lufthansa was the astute Erhard Milch (later to become Field Marshal) who was appointed chairman of the airline. He wasted no time. Within one year Lufthansa flew four million miles and possessed a fleet of 120 aircraft. Highlights of the year included night passenger services between Berlin and Königsberg, connecting with Deruluft (Deutsche-Russische Luftverkehr) flights to Moscow, the flight of three tri-motor G-24s from Berlin to Peking via Russia, and the dispatch of a Dornier Wal flying-boat to investigate the route to Brazil.

Of even greater significance was the effort put into night and blind flying aids. In this first year these included beacon-lit airways for night operations and the provision of thirteen aviation ground radio stations. Lufthansa, from these small beginnings, was to provide the background and orders for the development of the German aviation electronics industry. Its navigation techniques became standard for the Luftwaffe and its fostering of the Lorenz beam approach system for airports led directly to the ‘X’ and ‘Y’ bombing beams of 1940 and 1941 which citizens of Coventry and elsewhere have reason to remember.

To Milch such ideas would have appeared ludicrous in 1926. He was intent on making Lufthansa the leading European airline. In the period from 1926 to 1928 the foreign-route network was expanded and the Baltic and the Alps were covered.

In 1928, however, a financial crisis hit the budding airline. Government subsidies were reduced from between fifteen and sixteen million Reichsmarks to little over eight and many of the Lufthansa staff were dismissed. Milch lobbied Reichstag deputies to press his case for more funds. One deputy, the thick-set former commander of the famous Richthofen Circus, Hermann Göring, lent a sympathetic ear.

Göring, then one only twelve Nazi Party deputies in the Reichstag, successfully pursued the cause of Lufthansa. He also told Milch in private that when the Nazis came to power they would create a new German Air Force. Thus was born a friendship which was to have far-reaching effects on Germany’s military future in the air.

At the Defence Ministry von Seeckt was not idle during these years. He was anxious to gain as much experience as possible from civil aviation and accordingly in 1924 managed to get his nominee, Captain Brandenberg, appointed to the post of head of the Civil Aviation Department of the Ministry of Transport, thus ensuring co-operation on civil development and ultimately its direction by the Defence Ministry.

The Paris Air Agreement of 1926 provided a setback to von Seeckt’s planners, as it heavily restricted the number of army and navy men who were permitted to fly. To overcome this stumbling-block arrangements were made through Captain Brandenberg to train military pilots in special sections of the Lufthansa commercial flying schools.

While the work of the air section of the Defence Ministry went on with varying degrees of success, the Nazi Party was fighting its way—with its own particular methods—to the top. Milch maintained his contacts with Göring until in 1931 he met Hitler. In the following year Göring invited Milch to throw in his lot with the Nazis but he preferred to wait and watch. On January 28th, 1933, Göring called on Milch and told him that the Nazi Party was about to seize power and pressed him to join. Still Milch held back. Two days later, on the morning of January 30th, Hitler was summoned to meet President Hindenberg and within two hours was Chancellor of the Third Reich.

Göring, trusted friend of Hitler, found himself right-hand man in a dictatorship. His devotion in the lean years of the ’twenties was rewarded with no less than four posts—one of which was Special High Commissioner for Aviation.

On his accession to power Hitler personally intervened in an attempt to persuade Milch to accept office. The latter’s wish to remain head of Lufthansa was met by his being appointed Göring’s deputy as Reichskommissar for Air while retaining the office of chairman of Lufthansa.

In April 1933 the Commissariat fr Air was upgraded to the status of Air Ministry with Göring as Minister and Milch as Secretary of State. Milch was also secretly nominated by Hitler’s order as Göring’s successor in the case of the latter’s death.

The die was cast and the wheels had been set irrevocably in motion for the re-formation of the German Air Force. Henceforward military and civil aviation in the Reich moved as one, Lufthansa being the instrument for training air crew, developing aids and proving new aircraft. Göring with his various offices, and fighting the Communists, was far to busy to concern himself with aviation. The task therefore devolved on Milch.

Milch’s first step was to create the fabric of an Air Ministry organisation out of the old commissariat with additional departments removed from the Transport Ministry. A central administration department was created with five offices and inspectorates as follows:

1 An office run by an Army Oberst, but later directly under Milch. In this unit the Navy and Army, previously separate, were brought together and gradually became an air operations staff. In the latter part of 1933 Oberst Wever was appointed chief, and in 1935 he became the first Chief of Air Staff.

2 A technical and production office under Oberst Wimmer.

3 Civil aviation and meteorology under Ministerialdirigent Fisch, a department taken over from the Ministry of Transport.

4 Administration, finance, fod and clothing including a works department responsible for airfield construction under Kesselring.

5 Personnel was at first headed by a civilian but later by a military commander, Stumpff.

The ‘empire’ which Milch inherited seemed unimpressive on the surface but the years of secret work had not been wasted. A hard core of army and navy officers with flying experience was immediately available within the Defence Ministry. A large pol of enthusiastic young men learned the elements of aviation in the gliding clubs and the aircraft industry was still healthily in being although on a small scale.

That 20,000 men were included in the new Air Force from its inauguration in 1935 was the result of the Russian training centre and the gliding and sports flying movements. The National Sozialistische Flieger Korps (National Socialist Flying Corps or N.S.F.K.) run by Oberst Bruno Lörzer showed little result, but this organisation tok in large numbers of the gliding-school members. The pick of these were sent to the Verkehrsflieger Schule, the German airline pilots’ school which before Hitler’s accession to. power had bases at Brunswick, Warnemünde, Schieissheim and List. The school also continued the work of the Lipezk centre, having special courses for Reichswehr officers temporarily ‘discharged’ from military service.

Small batches of the civilian trainees at the Verkehrsflieger Schule were sent on short military training courses held at Schleissheim. There they attended lectures on basic military subjects and were given twenty-five hours flying on Albatross and Heinkel biplanes which included combat aerobatics and some air-to-ground firing practice. One of the pupils who graduated from the gliding schools to the airline pilots’ school and thence to Schleissheim was a young man named Adolf Galland, later to become known as the Generaleutnant, Inspector of Luftwaffe Fighters.

In May 1933 about seventy Verkehrsflieger Schule pupils were sent to Italy for fighter training but the five months spent on this were almost useless and the experiment was not repeated.

Hitler, during 1933 and 1934, was anxious to consolidate his position and allay any foreign fears on German rearmament. Thus work had to be continued in the utmost secrecy.


The Luftwaffe’s proving ground—Spain. Here early production Me 109Es in Condor Legion colours stand on a Spanish airfield in 1938

Milch, with a free hand, saw in Lufthansa the instrument on which to base a planned expansion without arousing undue outside suspicion. The so-called Lufthansa training schools, two land and two sea, which were financed with military money, were rapidly extended, new airfields were built, and orders placed with the aircraft industry. Air force training continued with the airline and from 1935 Lufthansa crews were on the military reserve. The second pilot’s seats of inland Junkers 52 transports were used to give advanced training to pilots from the elementary flying schools.

Above all Milch wanted a cautious and long-term policy to build up a strategic air force over a period of from eight to ten years. By this time there would be essential continuity of service and a strong cadre of qualified officers to take over senior posts. Some of the Air Ministry staff backed Milch to the full, but they found it impossible to resist Göring, who demanded that a five-year programme be accomplished in twelve months or less, and who roared with laughter at the suggestion that the first two to three years should be devoted solely to training the thousands of air and ground crews.

Göring had tasted the fruits of power. Although with his many appointments he managed to confer with Milch only four times a year he nevertheless sensed that in the new Air Force he would have a weapon of unlimited power which could add further to his laurels.

Any suggestions of steady expansion were ignored. Göring’s demands for immediate results were backed up by Hitler himself, who, while largely ignorant about air matters, believed Göring’s promises for the future Luftwaffe.

The German aircraft industry in 1933 had a labour force of only about 3,500 workers and its monthly average of production of all types of planes was thirty-one. The foresight of the planners at the Defence Ministry, at Lufthansa, and in the firms themselves, however, assured that the design teams were thoroughly up to date. They were able in a remarkably short time to produce sizable batches of trainers, transports, some biplane fighters and the prototypes of modern bombers such as the Heinkel 111 and Dornier 17. The aircraft that were to fight the Battle of Britain were, in fact, in the advanced design stage in 1933—the year Hitler came to power.

After toling-up and expansion in 1933, the industry was ready on January 1st, 1934, to receive Milch’s first full production programme for 4,021 aircraft covering the years 1934–5. This was intended to provide the basis for building up six bomber, six fighter and six reconnaissance Geschwader (wings) to act as operational instruction units for the increasing numbers of air and ground crews.

No less than twenty-five types of aircraft were included in this first programme. Despite this, production expanded at such a rate that from the monthly average of thirty-one in 1933 the figures increased to 164 a month and 265 a month in 1934 and 1935 respectively. No combat types were produced in 1933, but 840 came out of the shops in the following year, and 1,923 in 1935.


Luftwaffe officers tour the Rolls-Royce works at Derby in 1937. Only General Milch realised what the British aviation expansion programme might eventually mean to the Luftwaffe in battle

For these spectacular results the credit must certainly go to Milch, who not only expanded the factories then in existence with the aid of State loans but encouraged industrial undertakings to form aircraft and component divisions. Foremost among these were Blöhm and Voss the shipbuilders, Henschel the locomotive makers, and Gotha who built rolling stock.

Milch planned to allocate by far the largest number of aircraft, 2,168, to training and a further 1,085 to operational units which would have training duties. A further 115 machines were to go to Lufthansa.

The essence of the interim air force programme was to treat modern bombers as the first line and fighters as the second to have some counter to the growing French Air Force. Milch envisaged fighters assuming priority over bombers about 1937, but by that time his star had waned and those who tok over never put the scheme into effect. This had serious consequences in the Battle of Britain.

Things were going so well and output was rising so fast that in January 1935 Milch was able to put into operation a larger and more comprehensive production plan based on the same types of aircraft. This was to raise annual output from 3,183 in 1935 to 5,112 in 1936.

These promising forecasts combined with Hitler’s growing security of position and the milk-and-water attitude of most European governments led, in 1935, to the unveiling to the world of the new Air Force.


Göring inspects a batch of future Luftwaffe officers at the secret Schleissheim flying school in the early thirties. This was a Göring in drab civilian clothes lacking his later gaudy uniforms

On February 26th, 1935, Hitler officially created the German Luftwaffe with Göring as commander-in-chief. General Milch was Secretary of State for Air, and became effectively controller of the restyled Air Force. General Wever, the brilliant officer who had risen from an infantry regiment to head the command division of the Air Ministry, was made the first Chief of Air Staff. Some 20,000 officers and men and 1,888 aircraft were incorporated into the new service—a formidable beginning.

An unsuspecting and lethargic world was informed by Berlin on March 1st, 1935, that the Luftwaffe was a force in being. The work of von Seeckt and the ‘secret Air Force’ had achieved fruition.

The year 1935 was a gala one for the new Air Force. The units secreted in the flying clubs and in various military and para-military organisations were officially incorporated into the Luftwaffe. One of these ‘handovers’ was particularly ostentatious when, on March 28th, 1935, Hitler, accompanied by Göring and Milch, ‘accepted’ the new Richthofen squadron on the old army parade grounds at Berlin-Döberitz. The unit, equipped with He 51 biplanes, was formerly known as a squadron of the S.A. (Storm Trops).

In the same year an air staff college was opened, and anti-aircraft or Flak arm was subordinated to the Luftwaffe, the signals service was developed and the basic regional layout of the Air Force was inaugurated. Germany was divided into four main groups (Gruppenkommandos) with centres controlling flying units at Berlin, Königsberg, Brunswick and Munich. The administration supply and training operations devolved on ten air districts or Luftgaue.


In the mid-thirties Germany developed two promising four-engined long-range bombers, the Dornier 19 and the Junkers 89. The specification called for a radius of action taking in the Urals and the north of Scotland. Both aircraft were capable of long term development and of forming the basis of a strategic bomber force. After the death of Major General Wever in 1936, the big bomber concept was abandoned in favour of larger numbers of much smaller shorter range machines such as the Heinkel 111 and the Dornier 17—a policy which did not pay off. The photograph shows the prototype Do 19 on test

Milch was intent upon training more and yet more air crew. He limited production to trainers and interim combat types such as the He 51 fighter and the Ju 52 transport converted into a bomber, while awaiting assessment of a range of modern prototypes under development in the factories.

The expansion, however, began to get out of hand when Hitler and the General Staff called for the largest striking force in the minimum time. Strategic planning was non-existent. Operations were evolved on the basis of new equipment available until finally aircraft dictated tactics.

The colossal building of the German Air Ministry which rose in the Leipzigerstrasse, Berlin, was to be one of the causes of German defeat. New staffs and sections which appeared daily were accompanied by new arguments and petty jealousies between department heads. Over all this ruled Göring, the First World War pour le Mérite fighter pilot who had no concept whatsoever of strategic air warfare or of up-to-date technical requirements. The ship was under sail but it lacked chart, course and helmsman.

There was one man whose foresight and ability to plan and co-ordinate could have changed the face and fortunes of the Luftwaffe. Major-General Wever was a pilot with an organising brain and an understanding of technology applied to air warfare. As the first Chief of Staff he laid tong-term plans which included the use of heavy four-engined bombers in large numbers. His plans were destined never to mature, for on June 3rd, 1936, he was killed while flying a Heinkel Blitz aircraft which crashed near Dresden.

Wever had been closely associated with an official specification issued in 1935 for a four-engined bomber capable of carrying a sizeable weight of bombs to the north of Scotland and to the Urals from German bases. Prototypes were ordered from Dornier and Junkers. Both these were available for flights trials at the end of 1936. The Dornier 19, with four 650 h.p. Bramo 322 radial engines, had a speed of 199 m.p.h. and a range of 990 miles. Its Junkers counterpart, the Ju 89, had four 960 h.p. Daimler Benz DB600 engines, a top speed of 242 m.p.h. and a range of 990 miles at 200 m.p.h.

The machines required development modification, more tankage and higher-powered engines, but basically one or both could have formed the backbone of the world’s first strategic bomber fleet—and in time for the air war over Britain in 1940. Britain did not issue specifications for four-engined heavy bombers until 1936. At that time the Do 19 and the Ju 89 were already well advanced in the erecting shops, giving Germany a clear lead in Europe.

Wever, however, was dead and with him died Germany’s heavy bomber fleet. Kesselring succeeded to the post of Chief of Staff and proceeded with Göring and others to examine bombers then under development. It was decided to delete the heavy bomber from the programme and to emphasize the fast medium bombers and Stukas.* Kesselring early in 1937 signed the cancellation order for the Do 19 and the Ju 89.

Colonel Wimmer, head of the technical branch, and other Wever supporters protested that at least a few prototypes should be completed and a full evaluation made. Göring remained adamant and when told by Kesselring that he had the choice between three twin-engined or two four-engined aircraft for the same money and production space remarked: ‘The Führer will ask not how big the bombers are, but how many there are.’ Even Milch, who had approved the original specification for the big bomber, sided with Göring and produced statistics to show that factory facilities and raw materials were lacking to build it.

With the demise of the heavy bomber, the German Air Ministry became obsessed by what can only be termed ‘Stuka madness’.

The Junkers Company, established in Sweden as A. B. Flygindustrie, built the first dive-bomber or Stuka, the K 47, in 1928 and continued test work for some years in co-operation with von Seeckt’s staff in the Reichswehr.

After Hitler’s rise to power two biplane dive-bomber prototypes were tested and abandoned, although a third, the Henschel 123, was produced and entered service. The Ministry were at first dubious about the whole concept, largely on the grounds of aircraft structural strength, but in 1934 Junkers in Germany designed a successor to the K 47, designated Ju 87. The prototype of this flew late in 1935, but because of lack of a suitable home-built engine a British Rolls-Royce Kestrel motor was purchased and installed. The aircraft crashed due to tail flutter. Further much modified prototypes were built and sent for test at the Rechlin experimental base.

In the meantime Ernst Udet, Germany’s most famed stunt flyer and World War I colleague of Göring, in 1933 purchased two American Curtiss Hawk dive-bombers with money put up by the embryo German Air Force. Udet became completely converted to the Stuka concept. His lobbying began to take effect in the Ministry.

Göring, anxious to fill the many vacant chairs in the Leipzigerstrasse, drew in all his 1914 to 1918 confreres. As a result, Udet, in January 1936, received a commission as Colonel and Inspector of Fighter and Stuka Pilots. He pressed his dive-bomber views and gave personal demonstrations, while three firms, Heinkel, Arado and Hamburger Flugzeaugbau (Blöhm and Voss), completed prototypes in addition to Junkers.

After four months as Colonel Inspector, Udet was transferred as head of the Air Ministry technical branch in a general reshuffle which tok place after Wever’s death. In his new post Udet was in a position to push the dive-bomber programme through and convince Colonel von Richthofen, the chief sceptic, that the system would work.

During competitive dive-bomber trials at Rechlin on the Baltic in June the field was whittled down to the Ju 87 in its new Jumo-engined form and the streamlined Heinkel 118. On June 27th Udet, through pilot error, crashed the 118; the Ju 87 was awarded the production contract and became the Luftwaffe’s standard dive-bomber.

The summer and winter of 1936 saw Rechlin carrying out an exhaustive evaluation of a series of prototypes which, in developed form, were to be the backbone of the Luftwaffe’s air fleets for the Battle of Britain four years later. The machines were the Me 109 fighter, the He 111 and Do 17 medium bombers, and the Ju 88 high-speed light-medium bomber.

The Heinkel 111 was designed from the outset as a medium bomber, although a civil transport was the first to be announced after the military prototype flew early in 1935. Dornier, who had previously concentrated mainly on flying-boats, produced in 1934 a high-speed six-seat mailplane for Lufthansa. The airline found the type uneconomic. It was only the intervention of an Air Ministry department head that led to a redesign for bombing duties. In 1935 the military version of the Do 17 flew. Its extremely slender fuselage earned it the nickname ‘Flying Pencil’. Both the He 111 and the Do 17 were awarded pre-production or ‘O’ contracts.

The first Ju 88 light bomber was being designed and built in the summer of 1935, the co-designers being Evers, a German, and Alfred Gassner, an American citizen. Both men had been employed in the U.S. aircraft industry and applied American techniques to their work. The Ju 88 did not, however, fly until 1936.

Fighters had a much lower priority than bombers as the whole Air Ministry pressure was on offence. In 1934 a design contract for a high-speed single-seat fighter monoplane was placed with Heinkel, Focke-Wulf, Arado, and with Messeschmitt’s firm, Bayerische Fleugzeugwerke. Messerschmitt’s chances of getting any production orders seemed remote as he had consistently quarrelled with Milch and others in the Air Ministry and, indeed, had been warned that his machine was on a development contract basis only.

Many radical ideas were incorporated into the Messerschmitt design, the Me 109, including automatic wing-slots, a small, light airframe and enclosed cockpit. As in the case of the Ju 87, Junkers could not supply the Jumo engine on time and what was to become one of the world’s most famous interceptors tok to the air in September 1935 powered by the ever-faithful 695 h.p. British Rolls-Royce Kestrel imported from Derby.

The Rechlin fighter trials son cut the competition down to a straight fight between the Me 109 and the He 112. As a final decision could not be made, both firms were awarded contracts for ten machines.

Having settled on the development of two bombers, a dive-bomber, two fighters, several army co-operation types and others, the German Air Ministry began planning for industry expansion to a war-production foting and changeover, in late 1937, from production of obsolete types to massive output of the new machines.

Milch, the tough and brilliant organiser, was not destined to supervise the new expansion programme. For some time Göring had been suspicious of Milch’s ability and his closeness to Hitler who often asked for the Secretary of State’s advice. Milch’s enemies in the Leipzigerstrasse lost no opportunity to foster the idea that he was thinking of usurping Göring’s throne,* while Göring’s many rivals in the Nazi Party hinted openly that the real Air Force commander-in-chief was Milch.

Göring, who had little or no direct hand in the evolution of the Luftwaffe, began to consult and promote others and gradually to divest Milch of his powers, including control of the air staff, the personnel office and the technical department. Göring appointed Udet director of the technical department in charge of production, giving him the rank of Generalmajor.

Göring was not interested in whether Udet was the best man for the job. All he wanted was a trustworthy replacement for Milch. Udet was a first-class pilot, full of humour and the life and soul of any party, but he was no organiser and loathed paperwork. His days were spent flying and visiting factories while lesser lights endeavoured to clear his in-trays as best they could. The German industry, with its deadly rivalries and undercurrents which matched those in the Air Ministry, needed an iron hand to control it. Instead it was presented with a most acceptable velvet glove. By 1939 Udet, far from relinquishing the reins to a more suitable man, had been appointed Luftwaffe Director-General of Equipment in the rank of Generaloberst.

Milch protested bitterly to Göring over his loss of control and demanded the right to return to his own job with Lufthansa. He feared he would continue to be held responsible for any blunders that Göring might make. Göring flatly refused and told him: ‘You are not to retire, I will tell you when that is required.’ As a parting shot Göring warned his Secretary of State not to feign illness but suggested that he was free to commit suicide if he wished.

Such then were developments when an event occurred which was to have a deep and lasting effect on Luftwaffe tactics, equipment and organisation. In 1936 civil war broke out in Spain and the High Command was presented with a heaven-sent opportunity to operate and train the new air force under modern battle conditions.

Initially, Germany sent eighty-five volunteer air and ground crew to Spain with twenty Ju 52 bomber-transports and six He 51 escort fighters. The Ju 52s’ first task, under the guise of a new airline, Hisma AG, was to transport 10,000 Morish trops from Tetuan to Seville. The Ju 52s gave valuable service but the He 51s were found to be markedly inferior to American and Russian interceptors employed by the Republicans.

Large-scale assistance to General Franco with up-to-date equipment was the obvious answer. In November 1936 the Legion Condor came into being with General-major Sperrle in command and Lieutenant-Colonel Wolfram von Richthofen as chief of staff. Volunteers were called for, and shortly afterwards a contingent of 370 pilots in civilian clothes sailed for Spain on the liner Usaramo, ostensibly on a ‘strength through joy’ cruise with the code-name ‘Union’.

When first set up, the Condor Legion had fifty Ju 52s and about fifty fighters, mainly the obsolescent He 51. Its efforts for the first seven or eight months were por. It lacked accuracy and co-ordination, the only landmark being the destruction of fortified positions on the northern front by close support He 51s.

This particular Staffel (squadron), 3./J 88, was commanded by Lieutenant Adolf Galland. The aircraft each carried four 10 kg. bombs and petrol bombs, these being dropped without the use of bomb-sights from 500 feet. Flying in close V formation all pilots delivered their load when the formation leader nodded his head. Crude as such efforts were, they showed remarkable success and were to lead to the sustained close support operations which smashed the defences of Poland and France in 1939 and 1940. Von Richthofen continued through 1938 to develop close-support techniques in Spain, using ground radio control of formations.

In the summer of 1937 the situation of the Condor Legion changed completely with the arrival of early production Me 109s, He 111s and Do 17s to be followed a few months later by the Ju 87. With these aircraft air superiority was achieved. It was found that the new medium bombers could outpace opposing fighters. They suffered few losses although unescorted. The effect of this was to lull the Luftwaffe into a sense of false security until July and August 1940 provided a rude awakening.

As the Spanish war progressed, the High Command established a routine, posting the best officers to Spain and then replacing them, sending the ‘veterans’ to training bases as instructors. Modifications to aircraft and equipment were made in the field and heavier armament such as the 20 m.m. cannon was tested on fighters.

While the bomber formations were building up a false reputation for invulnerability, the fighter arm was learning tactics which placed them in advance of any other European air force, including the R.A.F.

The whole question of fighter employment was analysed by Lieutenant Werner Mölders who succeeded Galland as commander of 3./J 88. His first step was to stop the close-formation flying of units of three aircraft and to organise lose formations based on an element of two, the Rotte, and of four, the Schwarm. The formations were also flown with elements at varying heights to give mutual cover and vision. Mölders detailed his experiences in Spain in a lengthy report to the General Staff in 1939. German fighter tactics were henceforward based on this document.


Germany’s first Sturzkampfflugzeug-dive-bomber—The Henschel Hs 123 which first flew early in 1935. The type saw service in Spain, but was later superseded by the Junkers 87


The dreaded Stuka, the Ju 87, which wrought havoc in Poland, Belgium, Holland and France, but became an expensive liability over Britain. Illustrated here is the third prototype Ju 87 which flew late in 1935

Also from the Spanish campaign the Luftwaffe learned the value of unit mobility and of an efficient signals network for tactical work. By September 1939 every squadron had one or two Ju 52 transports for carrying supplies and personnel. During large scale high intensity operations such as the invasion of France extra Ju 52s acted as radio or D/F stations.

While the Luftwaffe was being built up on the Blitzkrieg theory for a European land-war, the industry in Germany had changed over to the mass production of new types of aircraft. This entailed complete retoling and reorganisation of most factories with consequent dislocation and a marked fall in output in late 1937 and early 1938.


Pre-war German propaganda stressed the massive output of German aircraft factories which went far to frighten air force chiefs in other European countries. In fact aircraft output was not nearly high enough and did not expand even after war began. Britain outstripped Germany in total aircraft output in 1940. Here Junkers 88 fuselages roll down the line

Obsolescent types in 1937 still contributed to a total production of 5,606 aircraft of which 2,651 were combat aircraft. The monthly average for the year was 467 per month. In 1938 the total production fell by nearly 400 to 5,235 with a monthly average down to 436 although combat types represented 3,350 units.

To provide the necessary forces for a European war production of at least 700 aircraft per month was required. This total was achieved only in the autumn of 1939. The average monthly output was 691 for the whole year. Total production rose to 8,295 in 1939 but this was still not god enough. The proportion of fighters was to low.

After retoling, the industry should have been driven really hard by the German Air Ministry, but the responsible officer, General Udet, was quite unable to do anything about it. The industry, as was shown later in the war, was quite capable of producing nearly five times as many aircraft as it did in 1939, and this under heavy air attack.

In 1938 to 1939 to many modifications were introduced on combat aircraft, the industry manpower figures did not rise and many able young men were called up for national service. As there was no centralised economic and war potential planning with reserved occupations and direction of labour, the manufacturers did largely what they liked with far-reaching consequences from the Battle of Britain onwards. Even in 1940 the industry succeeded in turning out only 10,826 aircraft whereas Britain doubled its production in that year and outstripped Germany by over 4,000 aircraft.*

The actual strength of the Luftwaffe in the Munich crisis period and after was over-estimated by other European countries and this belief was fostered by the German Propaganda Ministry. In fact, on August 1st, 1938, four months after the occupation of Austria, the total strength of the German Air Force was 2,929 aircraft, of which only 1,669 were serviceable. There were serviceable only 453 fighters, 582 bombers and 159 dive-bombers—hardly sufficient to embark upon a world war.

The breathing space provided by the notorious Munich Agreement was as vital to the Luftwaffe as it was to the R.A.F. Air crew training was extended to bases in Austria, fresh recruits were drawn in from the Austrian population and Austrian aircraft engineers were transferred to a new Messerschmitt factory at Wiener Neustadt. By September 1939 this was turning out Me 109 fighters at the rate of about sixteen per month. In March 1939 Germany invaded Czechoslovakia and tok over a fresh batch of airfields and production facilities which were very speedily put to god use. There was, however, little recruiting fodder for the Luftwaffe from the Czech Air Force, and many of the best pilots made their way to France and Britain to become the German Air Force’s bitter opponents.

* Sturzkampflugzeug = dive-bomber

* Milch had been appointed General der Flieger early in 1936, which sharpened the jealousies among his colleagues.

* British aircraft total production in 1939 was 7,940 and in 1940 reached 15,049

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