The Rise and Fall of the German Air Force (RAF at War)


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The GAF fighter army was a major obstacle opposing the Allied strategic air offensive. Its history is marked with periods of temporary successes which were turned to eventual defeat by the effective measures of the Allies. When the full onslaught of the Allied offensive was felt, the GAF could not mount a defense in the strength for which it planned and worked so desperately.

This was partly due to faulty decisions in the early years of the war which contributed to the deterioration of the GAF when faced with a major opponent.

It was primarily due to the aggressiveness of the Eighth and Fifteenth AFs in the. A review of the record of the years - brings this into focus. As a guide to this review, a chart is furnished Figure 1 showing the comparative losses of the German fighter force over these years. It will be noted that the tempo of the air war, expressed in losses of German single-engine fighters[1], increased moderately through , spurted ahead in , and sky-rocketed in It is apparent also that the war on the Eastern Front involved a fairly steady attrition of the German single-engine fighter force which was never so excessive as to become a source of alarm to the German High Command.

Hi is Is revealed in German aircraft production plans for the years and Figure 2 when fighter losses on the Eastern Front constituted a high percentage of the total German losses. These plans called for virtually no increase in production until the daylight strategic bomber threat began to be appreciated in the latter half of At this time, the German Air Ministry In a study dated 16 December , called for a tripling of fighter production in Figure 2.

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With mounting losses in the air and on the ground, successive studies demanded further increases in production. These were not accomplished in time to cope with the greater expansion of the Allied air forces. The cycle which underlay the deterioration of the OAF worked in this manner: When more pilots were killed In than the Gorman High Command has anticipated, pressure was put upon the fighter training schools to speed the output of replacements.

But Germany's fuel situation, Inherently weak, required careful allocation of all oil products, especially aviation gasoline. Increased fuel allocation for pilot training was very difficult for the schools to obtain. The alternatives were either to fall short of the number of replacements or to cut hours of training so that fuel allocations would be sufficient to train the requisite number of pilots. The Germans chose the latter course, with the result that replacements arrived at combat units subnormally trained Reference Note 1. As skilled and experienced pilots we're killed, they were replaced with pilots with no battle experience and insufficient training.

Thus, the average level of experience fell, reducing the tactical capabilities of the force. The rising tempo of combat worked cumulatively against the OAF. The deterioration of pilot quality was first really apparent about March The cycle had undoubtedly been operating all through , since the first large cut in total training hours of German pilots came late in , followed by a similar cut in mid, and much greater cut in mid Figure 3.

The last reduction in training hours of German pilots came at a time when oil targets in Germany were given first priority fop Allied strategic bombing. Then the inadequate allocations of fuel which the fighter schools had received could no longer be delivered. The early decision to skimp on gasoline allocations to training schools was turned painfully against the GAF planners who were now unable to ward off the attacks on oil. This was doubly painful because it occurred at a time when German fighter production was increasing.

The GAF situation was recognized by General Fieldmarschall Hugo von Sperrle who stated that the Luftwaffe was most seriously handicapped by a dearth of experienced pilots. This became extremely patent early In In July of he canvassed his command and found that, with rare exceptions, only group and squadron commanders had combat experience exceeding six months. A small percentage of other personnel had an average of three months of combat duty, while a majority of pilots had seen active service for periods as low as between eight and thirty days. In the autumn of , disorganization and deterioration of the Luftwaffe began.

Lack of fuel, shortages of pilots and a decreasing number of replacements hampered efficiency Reference Note 2. Critical losses of German fighter pilots were indirectly caused by the overpowering pressure applied by the USAAF on daylight missions. This pressure was carried deeper into enemy territory as a result of a series of Improvements In US fighter aircraft and their tactical exploitation. These are listed chronologically because of their great importance. May As US pilots gained experience in the handling of their aircraft and In air warfare, the P pilots extended the range of their penetrations beyond that to which the Spitfires could go.

Because of increased escort range, the bombers made somewhat deeper penetrations with the result that air fights increased in Intensity - the P's giving an excellent account of themselves. July The use of the tanks gave the Ps tactical surprise over the enemy for a few missions, resulting in an increase In the number of kills.

The enemy's twin-engine rocket fighter, so deadly to Allied bombers, was no match for the P and learned early to stay beyond its range. August One hundred and eight gallon belly tanks became available. This gave the P a further extension in range, with the result that, after reaching the point where the enemy's twin-engine fighters had expected them to turn back, the Ps attacked and shot them down instead enemy lose rates rose. September The attack was a complete surprise; a great many enemy aircraft were destroyed on the ground and only a few rose to give combat.

The success of this attack marked a turning point in the air war in the Mediterranean; thereafter losses of Allied bombers to enemy aircraft declined to a marked degree.

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November Ps with two gallon wing tanks became available for escort in the Eighth AF and although mechanical difficulties marred their utility, their range was great enough to reach well into Germany. With the increase in bomber penetrations into Germany, the enemy attacked savagely, and the escort had all the targets it could desire.


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German losses continued to rise. Mid-December Fs now made their appearance in England. Their range without external tanks was nearly as great as the P with the two gallon wing tanks. Their four calibre machine guns gave formidable firepower and flight characteristics were excellent Reference Note 3.

Early successes were so great that an increase in the number of Ps was eagerly awaited. December This move increased the capabilities of penetration of US bombers and fighters, bringing within range many vital German and Balkan targets which could not be reached from North Africa. Fifteenth AF fighters included Fs and Ps using gallon belly tanks. January At this juncture, a change in the tactical employment of US fighters took place which was more far-reaching in its effects than any of the increases in range.

Up to this point, because of the limited number of escort fighters available, they had operated under the strict Injunction that their duty was to "protect the bombers. It placed US fighters in a defensive position, leaving the initiative to the enemy.

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US pilots spent all their time "looking over their shoulder. With the increased strength of fighter escort, tactics were changed to more fully exploit the characteristics of fighter aircraft. The fighters were now charged with the primary duty of "pursuing and destroying the enemy. Upon sighting the enemy, this "ranging escort" would attack and pursue him wherever he fled. The enemy soon lost the initiative. He was hunted and harassed wherever he flew. Enemy losses began to rise sharply. Lieutenant General Karl Koller, Chief of Staff of the Luftwaffe, stated in this connection that the American long-range fighter cover came as something new and fatal to Germany.

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Air Power On the Western Front in 1918

Without this cover, Koller had hoped to be able to inflict losses as high as 30 per cent upon un-escorted bombers which, in his opinion, would have made the continuation of the attacks impossible. He laid considerable stress on the fact that neither the British nor the Germans thought of fighters except in terms of the last war and of narrow ranges associated with land warfare in Europe. The German aircraft industry had claimed that an effective long-range fighter could not be built Reference Note 4.

While the bombers attacked airfields and aircraft repair depots from high level, the escort formed an "umbrella" which held down most of the Axis fighters, resulting in serious losses to the Germans on the ground. Those enemy fighters which were able to rise in interception were engaged by the US escort and many were destroyed. Air opposition in Italy to strategic day missions virtually ceased after this date. February In this month gallon belly tanks became available for the Fs based in England, extending their range another 50 miles, and later in the month, two gallon external tanks were fitted to the wings of the Fs, adding still another 50 miles of range.

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Ps received an addition of 60 gallons internally, extending their range of effective escort beyond Berlin; Ps became available in somewhat greater numbers. The result of all this increase in Allied fighter capabilities was the dispatch, in the fourth week of February, of a series of missions against the German fighter aircraft factories as deep into Germany as Leipzig.


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During this phase of transition from evasion of the enemy to forcing the battle, the task forces of US bombers and fighters became bolder and more provocative. Actually, a month later, the Allied day bombers began to fly selected routes to force the GAF to fight. Enemy fighter loss rates, in planes and pilots, mounted rapidly, and replacement difficulties multiplied at a time when Allied air power was being increased and reinforced.


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March With two gallon wing tanks, the P could escort far beyond Berlin and even Prague. With two gallon external wing tanks, escort, if desired, could be flown beyond Vienna.

The Rise and Fall of the German Air Force (RAF at War) The Rise and Fall of the German Air Force (RAF at War)
The Rise and Fall of the German Air Force (RAF at War) The Rise and Fall of the German Air Force (RAF at War)
The Rise and Fall of the German Air Force (RAF at War) The Rise and Fall of the German Air Force (RAF at War)
The Rise and Fall of the German Air Force (RAF at War) The Rise and Fall of the German Air Force (RAF at War)
The Rise and Fall of the German Air Force (RAF at War) The Rise and Fall of the German Air Force (RAF at War)
The Rise and Fall of the German Air Force (RAF at War) The Rise and Fall of the German Air Force (RAF at War)
The Rise and Fall of the German Air Force (RAF at War) The Rise and Fall of the German Air Force (RAF at War)

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