What accounts for the inability of the Luftwaffe to reestablish air superiority in 1944?
In 1944 and 1945 the Luftwaffe was unable to reestablish air superiority. It is amazing that after the successes of France and Poland that the Luftwaffe could lose superiority. Yet there were underlying reasons that made the Luftwaffe ineffective. Three reasons are commonly given for its demise. First, that the training system was defunct. Second, no fuel was available to conduct operations. The final proposed reason is that its state of aircraft development although advanced had difficulties.
The first proposed reason for failure was pilot training. The Luftwaffe did not reestablish air superiority after failing to keep the number of quality pilots needed to sustain an effective airforce. Their emphasis on short term goals overrode all but the most obvious long term goals in training new aircrew and keeping old aircrew properly trained.
The father of modern military aviation, General Billy Mitchell, says in 1925 of training, ``After about a year's training the pilot is capable of joining the regular organization... An additional year, however, is required before a pilot really becomes the expert he should be'' (Mitchell, p 175). Thus it was well established even in 1925 that pilots take massive amounts of time to train properly as with any military force. Yet, the leaders of the Luftwaffe systematically prevented the emergence of effective pilots by denying good training. ``the average German fighter pilot enjoyed a training period of 160 flying hours, completed in aircraft which sometimes bore very little resemblance to the fighters which he would later be required to fly'' (Suchenwirth, p 28). In contrast to the average training of a Luftwaffe pilot was the training the Allied and especially the American pilots received. Dick Bong, a USAAF trainee, says in a letter, ``I now have about 595 hours... I've got about 90 hours in the P-38 now [the aircraft he later flew in combat]'' (Bong p. 17). Dick Bong's skills later served him in becoming the high scoring American Ace. The highest scoring pilot in the world, Erich Hartmann, talks of the replacement pilots he received into his Luftwaffe squadron. ``I get young men coming to my squadron in Russia with less than sixty hours' total flying time, and only twenty hours of that in the Me-109. They have to fly combat with such slender training. This accounts for most of our Eastern Front fighter losses... They can barely get the Me-109 up and back safely as it is, without fighting'' (Tolvier p. 146). Heinz Knoke, a German fighter pilot on the Western front, gave his opinion of the Luftwaffe training system as, ``With the exception of a Flight Sergeant who came from the Eastern Front, where he had been awarded the Iron Cross, they are all young N.C.O.s without experience, posted to us directly upon completion of courses at training schools which are altogether inadequate for operational requirements.'' (Knoke 152). To supplement the less than desired training, many of the front line pilots were engaging in the training of new pilots while at the front. ``I myself take them up for about 120 training flights. Two veteran combat pilots also give them instruction in blind flying. In addition, they receive advanced instruction in bombing and gunnery'' (Knoke 152). However much of a waste of the expert pilots flight time and wear on the front line aircraft this impromptu training was, the new pilots clearly were receiving training that would keep them alive. To those new pilots entering squadrons that did not have the expert pilots with the skill necessary to effectively train, the new pilots were expected to pick up well known maneuvers and tactics on their own or by studying their opponents superior flying. Clearly the system had failed.
The heads of the Luftwaffe had been told in 1939 that the war would not last long so that there was no need to worry about training replacements. This attitude was held in favor in the early parts of the war but by 1944 that view was obviously wrong. However, the persistence of the quick war types had made the training branch of the Luftwaffe small and not politically powerful and as a result could never reach a point of decent training especially during a war. The fatal mistakes that killed training were not supplying the training squadrons with aircraft and not keeping proven instructors.
There was a general lack of training aircraft in sufficient numbers. ``When the war broke out, the ratio [of combat to non-combat aircraft] was 57 to 43... and in 1944 it reached 88 to 12'' (Mitcham p. 223). This was combined with the lack of gasoline due to not being able to stop the Allied bombing of oil refineries. ``the allocation [of gasoline] to the Chief of Training was restricted so tightly that only certain categories of personnel (and these only in limited numbers) could be trained'' (Suchenwirth p. 27). Worse still, the heads of the Luftwaffe regularly robbed the training squadrons of aircraft to deal with any sort of crisis.
The most blatant example of taking training aircraft for front line operations was during the airlift at Stalingrad in the winter of 1942. Due to the Red Army surrounding the German 6th army at Stalingrad, Goering proposed using the Luftwaffe to supply the trapped army with supplies. The amount needed meant that ``it would take 1050 Ju-52s [the standard transport]... At that time there were only about 750 Ju-52s in the entire Luftwaffe'' (Mitcham p 186). To make up the difference, the Luftwaffe would have to suddenly create 300 transport aircraft. ``Goering reacted to the situation in his typical manner: he stripped the Training Command of 600 aircraft, plus its best instructors and crewmen'' The gamble did not work and in any attempt the worst was still to come. The Russian ground advances and fighter attacks meant that the trainer aircraft along with transport aircraft were slaughtered. ``It lost 488 transport aircraft alone... Germany had lost well over half of its Ju-52 transport fleet, as well as the majority of its experienced crews and many of its instructor pilots'' (Mitcham p. 193). This was no way to keep any type of a training system active.
Also bothersome to the training of new pilots was the almost omnipotent Allied air force. At many of the research and training sites the airfields were constantly targeted by stratigicly motivated Allied planners. At one of the sites of the German jet fighter training bases, ``The base was bombed early every morning, and flying could not start until after the runway was patched... Flying was only possible for about an hour and a half, because at 12:30 every afternoon formations of USAAF P-38's swept in at treetop level and hosed the base down with gunfire'' (Toliver p. 157). With the limited numbers of aircraft and the even more limited time for training, no significant number of new pilots could be trained to resupply the Luftwaffe.
More than any other major Airforce of World War 2, the Luftwaffe refused to keep expert pilots alive other than with their skills in combat. In contrast to American pilots who were rotated on combat after achieving a certain number of missions or kills, a German pilot flew until he was either captured, killed or wounded. In the case of the American training system, expert pilots were given additional training while giving training to others. In the Pacific, Dick Bong had been rotated out of duty for a while. ``Kenney [Bong's commander] wanted Dick to serve as an instructor and pass along the gunnery information he had obtained'' (Bong p. 95). In this way, the expert pilots were able to teach an increasingly greater number of new pilots on how to fly effective combat. ``But if the man you are assigned to fly with does not give you a chance to develop this acumen-to find yourself as a combat pilot-you will be shot down for sure'' (Toliver p. 43). In Germany, small groups of expert pilots were surviving in combat while massive numbers of ill-trained and new pilots were quickly becoming casualties because of a lack of proper training.
The Luftwaffe's failure to keep air superiority in 1944 and 1945 was partially due to a failure of training. Once the war started, aircraft and men were requested to the front. Thus, new pilots were not properly trained and were therefor unable to sustain the combat losses .
A second reason for the failure to keep air superiority was a lack of fuel. In May 1944, the allies started concentrating their strategic bombers on Germany's oil industry. Without supplies of oil, the Luftwaffe could not put its planes into the air regardless of how many aircraft or trained crew available.
The Russian advances in eastern Europe had reduced the supply of natural oil. To supplement these losses, Germany had developed synthesis for extracting fuels from otherwise militarily useless products. For example, a method was created ``where benzol was derived as a by-product of the coke ovens'' (Boyne p. 346).
From the beginning of the switch, the allies struck hard and systematically at the oil production. ``224 Liberators hit Politz so hard that synthetic oil production there entirely ceased for two whole months... In May the total production of this [aviation fuel] sank by 60,000 to only 120,000 tons- 30,000 tons less than the Luftwaffe's minimum monthly requirements'' (Bekker p. 354). The Allied strategic bombing had finally found a critical industry,oil production, that could be affected by bombing. With a industry below the needed production, Allied bombers could be guaranteed fewer enemy aircraft rising to meet them. A vicious cycle was in the making. These losses also affected the ground troops which with a ever increasing area on the ground controlled by the Allies would mean an ever shrinking supply of oil. Due to reserves, the oil crisis doesn't immediately affect the airforce but on the 10th of September 1944, A Luftwaffe Fighter Squadron Leader writes that``the fuel shortage has become a matter of very grave concern'' (Knoke p. 177). Knoke also writes that necessary ground transportation involved gathering and taking all of the fuel needed for a trip since ``we cannot be certain of obtaining any en route'' (Knoke p 179). Without fuel the entire fighting ability of a mobile force is ruined. Even the research sites and elite formations were affected. ``By the end of the war, the 220,000 tons of bombs rained down on the German oil industry had reduced its output to 5 percent of the previous year's production, resulting in bizarre anomalies like the latest thing in aviation, jet fighters, being towed to their takeoff positions by teams of horses to save on the fuel required for taxiing'' (Boyne p. 346).
By not achieving air superiority in 1944, the Luftwaffe was unable to find the resources needed to sustain both its self and the entire Axis military and was therefore massively hindered in trying to reestablish air superiority. Ironically, the cause and the effect were the same, a lack of superiority. Thus after the initial wave of Allied successes against the Axis air forces, the Axis would be in an ever worsening situation in which the final result would be their military defeat.
The final reason for the failure of the Luftwaffe in 1944 was the state of its aircraft development. Again due the the assumption of a quick and easy war, the Luftwaffe started on the wrong note as early as the 1930's. The final decision of death was slow production and a reliance on the arrival of the secret weapons.
Germany was capable of producing massive numbers of aircraft; however, strangely enough it refused until after the point of no return. A pilot on the Western front bluntly gave a correct assessment. ``We need more aircraft, better engines-and fewer Headquarters'' (Knoke p. 126). Yet somehow the demands for more aircraft were not heeded until 1944.
A bureaucracy had been developed before the war to deal with the upcoming conflicts. ``As early as 1935, specific instructions indicating the steps to be taken in case of war had been issued to the German air armament industry... During 1935 and 1936 the Technical Office carried out test mobilization in a number of factories, and the experience thus gained was of great value'' (Suchenwirth p. 45,46). However, the ability to produce was offset by a reluctance to produce due to over-confidence in future successes. General Walter Warlimont, deputy chief of the Armed Forces Operations Staff, wrote after the war to Suchenwirth (Suchenwirth p. 47)
Germany was capable of building the needed numbers of aircraft but didn't until late in the war. This had several effects all of which hurt its fighting strength. These effects were an increasingly greater number of aircraft needed, a failure to meet the bombers with a strong force and a failure to keep the long range Allied fighters at bay.
Number one, the Luftwaffe was constantly short of aircraft during the struggle in both the east and west. Had more aircraft been available, the Allies would have had a much harder time resisting the initial German onslaught and perhaps would have failed. With these early phases of the war lost, many of the battle such as the aerial Battle of Britain and Russia were that of attrition in which not surprisingly the Allies won. Thus the Allies were able to apply stronger and stronger pressure in the air while the Axis slowly lagged behind. The Luftwaffe lost the battle of production.
Number two, the Luftwaffe could have kept air superiority with the strategic bombers that were to eventually arrive over Germany. When intercepting American strategic bombers, the fighter aircraft's limited range and firepower and the bomber's speed correlated the number of shot down bombers with the number of fighter aircraft available. Since the number of bombers being manufactured was increasing, the Luftwaffe would have needed to either increase the number of aircraft or weapons available to continue with the same losses.``Our aircraft are rigged with...ejection tubes for a kind of eight-inch mortar shell.. At this rate we shall soon find ourselves carrying heavy artillery'' (Knoke p. 110). New weapons such as the rocket increased the firepower of the Luftwaffe but this was after the arrival of bomber escorts which diminished their usefulness. ``The Gustavs [Me-109G] in my Flight are becoming sluggish to handle under the heavy load of stovepipes [rocket launching tubes] as well as everything else that has to be carried'' (Knoke p. 115). Increased firepower was not the perfect answer, due to the multirole use of the fighter aircraft against both bombers and other fighters. The Luftwaffe needed more aircraft to deal with the bombers.
Three, the arrival of long range Allied aircraft would have been made insignificant due to the number of intercepting Axis aircraft. In actuality, German aircraft were unable to attack the bombers for more than a few passes because of the overwhelming numbers of Allied aircraft that would queue up on even the smallest number of German fighters. The bomber crews loved the sight of escorts. ``The P-38s [American long range fighter] came in quite close to us, and the moment they were aware of enemy activity, they were right on the German fighters'' (O'Neill p. 138). After the arrival of even the powerful and long range fighters such as the P-51, the Luftwaffe was even more pressed to meet the Allies in sufficient numbers. Only with the arrival of vastly superior performance planes would the Luftwaffe have a chance at the bombers.
As such, the mobilization of the German aircraft industry occurred too late even though those plans had previously existed and been tried. When in 1944 the Luftwaffe was finally given the planes it needed, the stage had already been set from the previous 5 years of neglect. Without taking into account the deficiencies in training and resources, the sudden mobilization of the Axis aircraft production put the Luftwaffe in a tough situation due to Allied efforts in escorting and production.
By 1944, the Luftwaffe's future was relying on the so called secret weapons development. Impressive aviation firsts and records were made yet these alone do not win air superiority. As a whole, the secret weapons could not succeed due a series of bad decisions.
The Luftwaffe's aircraft developments were nearly doomed from the beginning. Once again due to the commonly held view of a quick success, the heads of the Luftwaffe stopped new aircraft development. ``All technical developments which could not be completed during 1940-41 must be stopped'' (Heinkel p. 197). The stopping of developments was only to devote more attention on current fighter production was illogical given the low production rates were due not to a lack of the ability to produce but instead to a lack of initiative as previously shown. The aircraft manufactors without surprise did not think much of the development stop. ``This halting of technical progress.. robbed the Luftwaffe of the advance it had achieved and could never be made up'' (Heinkel p. 197). In many cases, even when far superior aircraft were developed, the leadership would continue to use and endorse the older design. Later when the Allied production was swamping them, the Luftwaffe's negligence at maintaing the development of new aircraft would evident.
A particularly bad example of the misuse of a promising new aircraft was the He 219. The He 219 was originally designed as a long range recon; however, its best role eventually was that of a night fighter. It had 6 twenty millimeter cannons, an ejection seat, radar and incredible speed. When introduced in 1943 on its first night mission, it shot down 5 Lancaster bombers in 30 minutes (Boyne 330). Later the He 219 had more powerful engines installed that pushed the maximum speed to 450 mph which matched or exceeded most in-service Allied fighter aircraft. For all of the aerodynamic, propulsion and weapons system advances the He219 had incorporated, production was only 268. This lack of production was due to the insistence of adapting the slower and nearing obsolete Ju88 into a night fighter. The German Aircraft designer Heinkel writes about the He 219 in his autobiography. He recalls a question his designers asked during the war ``why the He 219, in view of its great success at the front, had not been mass-produced but instead had virtually been killed. Staff Engineer Beist replied, `The Front prefers the Ju 388''' at which point the designers counter-reply is ```... the Ju 388 has never been at the front. How can the front form an opinion of a plane still in the blueprint stage?'''(Heinkel p 238). Once again, the Luftwaffe leadership failed to understand the principles of production and effectiveness.
By 1944, the success of the Luftwaffe was being diminished and the pilots were begging for new, better and faster aircraft systems. ``We are still waiting for the new `secret weapon'. We fighter pilots in particular are anziosly awaiting the appearance of jet aircraft on operations.'' (Knoke p. 177). Yet even with the overly apparent failure of the Luftwaffe to maintain air superiority, the Luftwaffe was being pressured into more mistakes. ``the first jets to come off the assembly line are to be used only for purposes of `reprisal... We are forbidden so much as to discuss the possibility of effectively using jets on operations'' (Knoke p. 177). Instead of being fighters, the new aircraft were to be modified as bombers. However, ``changing the conception from fighter to fighter-bomber meant a hight takeoff weight, additional drag... and a tradeoff in performance. For a bomber, the airplane lacked.. adequate visibility for dropping bombs with accuracy'' (Wagner p. 122). Nevertheless, the conversion to a bomber proceeded and set operational date for the aircraft back even further. This was time that the Luftwaffe could not afford to waste. In the end, the development of the turbojet powered aircraft outlived the Luftwaffe.
The Luftwaffe failed to develop the necessary types and quantity to achieve success. Newer designs were often not used for the intended purpose if used at all. With the loss of the necessary quantity of a quality air force, the Luftwaffe was not able to survive.
The Luftwaffe was unable to reestablish air superiority in either 1944 or 1945. The failure to maintain air superiority meant the final destruction of the Axis powers not only in the air but also on the ground. In the end, all three reasons contributed to the failure; however, the most critical and dangerous was the lack of fuel. In the other two failures, training and development, the situation would get better with time. Only in the fuel situation would the efforts of the Allies in destroying fuel combine with the Axis in using fuel to create a never ending and ever tightening spiral. All three failure reasons depended upon each other, yet the most critical to both training and production is the availability of energy. Surprisingly, the failures were not caused by isolated events instead by the Luftwaffe leaders in assuming the war would be short.