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The Luftwaffe, 1933-45: Strategy for Defeat (Brassey's Commemorative Series, Wwii) Paperback – September 1, 1996
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Again: an outstanding book where the brutal volume of the aerial war -and its losses- comes to the fore.
The author indicates that at the start of the war Germany had an air force of about 3,000 aircraft in total. In 1940 the German high Command set production levels of aircraft production which remained static for a couple of years. The production levels basically were able to keep abreast of loses suffered in France, the Battle of Britain and the first Year of the Russian campaign. The overall level of the force was not however increased. This meant that there was a considerable attrition of pilots and a growing tendency for serving pilots to be less experienced.
Whilst Germany kept aircraft production low in the first few years of the war the allied nations under the impression that the Luftwaffe was bigger than it in fact was greatly expanded aircraft production. This meant that by 1942 the allies had a massive preponderance of aircraft.
The Germans refused to think about the air problem in a strategic way. The argument is in fact similar to one raised by Magenhiemer in his book "Hitler's War". The author suggests that Germany's last throw of the dice was Operation Blue in 1942. The battles of 1941 had depleted the strength of Axis forces. The Luftwaffe was concentrated in this campaign to be used as flying artillery in a last desperate throw of the dice to try to knock Russia out of the war. Whilst this campaign was underway the allies were launching the strategic bombing campaign and operations were about to start in Africa and Italy.
If the Germans had not committed their airforce to Operation Blue then it might have been possible to concentrate forces in the Reich and to destroy the American strategic bomber offensive. Instead of thinking in strategic ways the Germans risked all on long winner take all strategies. Although towards the end of the war it was possible to increase fighter production there was no reserve of experienced pilots. This meant that the day fighters experienced very high attrition rates.
This in the end meant that their air force collapsed in late 1944 allowing for the strategic bombing campaign to destroy their transport system.
The book does however dissect the British area bombing campaign and it shows again that Harris was defeated by the night fighters of the Luftwaffe. The attrition rate of the British bombers was unsustainable and it was only the general collapse of the Luftwaffe in late 1944 which allowed the British to continue operations.
This is a fine easy to understand and readable book. Each argument is supported by extensive tables and sets of statistics. It is an essential research tool for anyone interested in the period.
This book does an excellent job of documenting the major errors made by the Luftwaffe and its creators,to the degree that you are left wondering how they survived for so long. But the many tables (over 70) leave other questions unaswered; the tables that aren't there, such as direct comparisons with allied pilot trainning programs, not just aircraft, through 1943 (1944 a/c production onwards isn't listed). For if the LW trained 3270 fighter pilots in 1943, how many did the Anglo-Americans train in an average month in 1943? Granted that reliable soviet numbers were unavailable in 1985 when this was written, a comparison with the Commonwealth air trainning program, or the vast American system even on a yearly basis would illustrate the huge allied juggernaut being assembled, even more than aircraft production. Similarly, comparisons of monthly bomb tonnage, number of sorties, fuel consumption, trainning a/c produced and wrecked (# of flight hours each)would also help.
While the nazi leadership are shown to be the incompetents they were,I think too much reliance is based upon David Irving's books, though the author is careful with his choice of citations.
The book also has important tables on "the Experten", the 100 plus pilots with over 100 kills each, but does not let them eclipse the general incompetence of the rest; other sources indicate over 93% of LW fighter pilots were killed during the war and the book provides plenty of examples of the poorly trained being more dangerous to themselves than the enemy. Yet again the detailed tables one has come to expect are not there to show breakdowns of LW fighter losses, leaving open to other books the question of how many of the 50K single-engined fighters the germans built, how many were built in the last 12-16 monthes? If half of these were destroyed by the allies, and only 10-12K fighter pilots were trained, does this mean each pilot wrecked 2 or 3? This is probably an understatement regarding the Me109,with its narrow landing track, that made take-offs and landings lethal to the inexperienced. The author makes the point rather strongly that the LW was no longer a factor in the war after the spring of 1944; it could affect allied air losses but not significantly. For example, Operation Bodenplatte (January 1945, where many german histories end) was more costly to the LW than the allies, the allied pilots generally being out of their aircraft when strafed, the a/c being replaced within the week from spares in England; while german flak destroyed more of the pitifully few fighterbombers than the allies, the net losses were prohibitive; estimates range between 80-90%.
Overall, the reader is left wanting more, asking more questions, expecting more details, further answers. Of course a good writer leaves his audience hungry for more.