Welcome to the WWII Forums! Log in or Sign up to interact with the community.

Could the Luftwaffe win their air war?

Discussion in 'What If - European Theater - Western Front & Atlan' started by T. A. Gardner, Apr 7, 2008.

  1. T. A. Gardner

    T. A. Gardner Genuine Chief

    Joined:
    Aug 5, 2003
    Messages:
    5,945
    Likes Received:
    760
    Location:
    Phoenix Arizona
    During the entire period of the second world war, from September 1939 to the surrender of Germany (and beyond) was there any way that the Luftwaffe could actually win their air war against the various opponets they faced?

    The Luftwaffe won against a number of second and third rate powers like Poland and Yugoslavia. They were able to defeat the French and British (along with the smaller nations involved) in the Low Lands campaign in the spring of 1940.
    After that, the Luftwaffe at best was able to do no better than manage temporary draws in aerial campaigns; eventually losing every one of them. Starting with the Battle of Britain, the Luftwaffe was unable to come up with a winning strategy. Then in the Mediterrainian they lost to the combined Commonwealth/US effort. Initially very successful in Russia the Luftwaffe could not turn their decisive strategic victory into an aerial win. Then the following Bomber Campaign did nothing but drain German resources while slowly grinding the Luftwaffe into ineffectiveness.

    Given history, what could have been changed in the Luftwaffe's strategy to make them successful, if anything?
     
    John Dudek and mikebatzel like this.
  2. Falcon Jun

    Falcon Jun Ace

    Joined:
    Oct 2, 2007
    Messages:
    1,281
    Likes Received:
    85
    The Luftwaffe was unable to keep up with all the demands of the various fronts. It was forced to spread itself thin and things worsened because of a supply nightmare.
    It also functioned basically as an aerial artillery for the ground forces. If it was able to evolve a better doctrine, the Luftwaffe could've been more effective. For the short term, I'd say the Germans needed an effective fighter that had an extended loitering capability (very useful over England during the Battle of Britain) and a deep penetration long range bomber (useful in at least hampering the production sites of the USSR), plus a proper doctrine for its use. Of course, a better commander than Goering would be needed.
     
  3. Vanir

    Vanir Member

    Joined:
    Apr 5, 2008
    Messages:
    186
    Likes Received:
    27
    The Luftwaffe was conceived as a very modern air force in the mid-thirties. Production of highly developed aero engines began immediately and as typical a number of specific functionaries were considered. Part of the construction of the Luftwaffe was strategic.
    Firstly the widely accepted manner in which to win wars was by strategic bombing operations. The purpose of the fighter type was to allow bombers to operate over enemy territory.
    The Luftwaffe added two entirely new elements to this general understanding, at least they were the first to implement them. One was a dedicated tactical air force. The other was a special operations transportation group (elite paratroops).

    It is very important to understand this was not the typical thinking on air force deployment. Most militaries still regarded the air force as a singular entity and an extension of either Army signals or artillery departments (independent tactical operations). Roughly a third the entire Luftwaffe was designed specifically to work in close Army support, no other air force in the world followed this doctrine at the time.

    The Luftwaffe had a relatively small number of short range tactical dive bombers (about 200) when the war began, supported by a strong force of high performance short range fighters. These would secure air superiority over the battlefield and allow what has become known as the Blitzkreig tactics which were so successful in Europe.

    The main force was still strategic bombers, in keeping with thirties doctrine these were medium range, fast twin engine bombers with excellent performance and equipment. Another fresh idea was cast for their protection, Göring decided to implement a heavy long range fighter which would sweep deep into enemy territory ahead of the bombers to strafe airfields and attack enemy interceptors before they could gain altitude. He called this concept the Zerstörer, fielded by the Me-110 and one should note the only reason this wasn't successful in Britain was due to radar. Unfortunately the heavy fighter's performance at his stage of development was sluggish compared to single engine fighters and the Me-110 suffered heavily until it was reassigned as a ground attack warplane.

    So in truth the Luftwaffe was very well conceived indeed for the period 1939-40. Its development implementation had been bluffed before then, and lived on the run following due to a basic industrial inadequacy for which Hitler had been ridiculously complacent in his foreign policy (crossing the bridge from politician to madman). But in 1939-40 the Luftwaffe was arguably the best air force in the world, hands down.

    The Luftwaffe very nearly did win the Battle of Britain and certainly it was capable of it. Even with all the blunders and poor leadership at the top, it missed out on winning that war through simple attrition by about three weeks. The problem was getting accurate military intelligence at that stage, neither side knew how losses were affecting the other and the whole affair was a strategic guessing game. Göring didn't know if attacks on radar stations were having any affect, if more damage was being done attacking factories to the north or airfields to the south, how much damage he was doing to the British Merchant Fleet. None of it. If his men said they shot down 20 RAF fighters for a loss of 10, the RAF would claim 30 German aircraft were shot down for a loss of 5. Plus for most of the Battle OKL still thought strategic bombing and not fighter combat was going to win the battle, yet totally lacked any quantification of just how much damage a Heinkel or Dornier full of bombs really did to ground structures and loss of life. Prewar estimates of strategic bomber effectiveness were tremendously overrated all around the world, as can be seen by the sheer numbers of Allied bombers required to bomb modern industrial nations like Germany and Japan into submission at the end of the war.

    The Luftwaffe also secured air superiority in the Mediterranean during the Balkan campaign and again at the beginning of the African one. Complete air supremacy was gained over the Eastern Front by the end of 1941. Air superiority was again attained in the USSR through most of 1942 and the tide only changed in early 1943 at the Kuban.

    Sheer Allied numerical superiority harrassed the sporadic and limited Luftwaffe deployment in the Mediterranean, complicated by the tremendous efforts of Allied codebreakers in that arena. Entire flight plans of sluggish fuel transports were handed to interceptor squadrons, even their Me-109G and MC-202 escorts could do nothing, busy with Mark VIII Spitfire problems of their own.

    Next the strategic arm of the Luftwaffe was completely abandoned by 1943 due to the pre-eminent need for fighters to combat overwhelming numerical superiority on every Front. Air superiority was and is, simply necessary to successful ground operations, this fact written into the new US military field manual of 1943. The Luftwaffe by late 1943 could barely even win local air superiority and was forced to abandon the air war utterly and do nothing other than Army close support and defend the Reich from bombers. There were just no numbers for anything else, and no strategic footing to work with.

    Ultimately yes the Luftwaffe could easily have won the war, but at the same time it really had no chance. It was crippled by poor leadership at the top and German industrial capabilities and population limits, but was conceived brilliantly, even by Hermann the madman Göring (who tested a 140 IQ by the way).
     
  4. Tony Williams

    Tony Williams Member

    Joined:
    Jul 28, 2002
    Messages:
    1,006
    Likes Received:
    23
    I agree with much of what you say, but this part (while commonly reported) is incorrect. In fact, it was the Luftwaffe which was suffering much more heavily from attrition during the BoB than the RAF. This was discussed on another board long ago and I kept a copy of the statistics quoted there, as follows:

    Luftwaffe fighter strength (109s)

    End June 1940
    Established strength 1171
    Actual strength 1107
    Serviceable 856

    End September 1940
    Established strength 1132
    Actual strength 920
    Serviceable 712

    End December 1940
    Established strength 1162
    Actual strength 829
    Serviceable 586

    Established strength is how many planes they should have had, actual strength is how many they did have, serviceable is how many were fit for use at the time.

    109 Pilots fit for duty:

    1st June 906
    1st August 869
    1st Sept 735
    1st Nov 673

    As you can see, Luftwaffe strength was decreasing throughout the battle. They were producing only 150 - 200 109s a month, compared to British Spitfire and Hurricane production of 400 - 500 a month.

    RAF aircraft strength never fell below established strength, due to high production and substantial reserves. In fact, established and actual strength went up during the battle, from something over 500 Spits and Hurricanes at the start to over 800 towards the end.

    RAF Fighter Command pilot strength,
    including "reserves" (note the Luftwaffe had no pilot reserves)

    30th June 1,200
    27th July 1,377
    17th Aug 1,379
    31st Aug 1,422
    14th Sept 1,492
    28th Sept 1,581
    19th Oct 1,752
    2nd Nov 1,796

    As you can see, RAF strength, both in planes and pilots, increased throughout the battle, apart from a brief period in late August/Early Sept, where it began to decline. Luftwaffe strength decreased throughout the battle.

    Fighter Command OOB

    1st July 1940
    spitfires serviceable 198
    spitfires un serviceable 95
    hurricanes (total) 459

    1st August 1940
    spitfires serviceable 229
    spitfires unserviceable 75
    hurricanes (total) 466

    1st September 1940
    spitfires serviceable 200
    spitfires unserviceable 74
    hurricanes (total) 475


    British Fighter output June to October 1940 by type, planned/actual

    Month: Beaufighter - Defiant - Hurricane - Spitfire - Whirlwind

    June: 8/2 30/30 300/309 135/103 8/2
    July: 14/5 50/56 220/272 140/160 4/3
    August: 21/25 65/38 270/251 155/163 6/1
    September: 24/15 65/41 280/252 175/156 8/3
    October: 40/21 50/48 300/250 231/149 10/1

    Total British aircraft production in 1940

    January 802, February 719, March 860, April 1,081, May 1,279, June 1,591, July 1,665, August 1,601, September 1,341, October 1,419, November 1,461, December 1,230.
     
  5. Tomcat

    Tomcat The One From Down Under

    Joined:
    Feb 8, 2008
    Messages:
    4,048
    Likes Received:
    266
     
  6. Falcon Jun

    Falcon Jun Ace

    Joined:
    Oct 2, 2007
    Messages:
    1,281
    Likes Received:
    85
    Okay, the Luftwaffe did have an advantage in that period because as have been pointed out, it was already on a war footing while its rivals were not.
    Historically, war is a series of action then reaction. The Luftwaffe had the advantage of initiating the action but failed in due course to answer the Allied and Russian's reaction. Had the Luftwaffe been able to keep up with the war's pace, then maybe something else might have happened.
     
  7. Tomcat

    Tomcat The One From Down Under

    Joined:
    Feb 8, 2008
    Messages:
    4,048
    Likes Received:
    266
    That is good theory, but in practice or in this case, ww2, the Germans could never hope to keep up with the industrial demands put onto them by their armed forces, everywhere was lacking, all the time there was never enough. But in terms of the Luftwaffe, there were not enough planes to hope to take on the Soviet, American, British, French, all the low countries, commonwealth and other support countries after 1944, they need to many planes and not enough were being built to out do the amount lost to combat, mechanical problems and weather.
     
  8. Za Rodinu

    Za Rodinu Aquila non capit muscas

    Joined:
    May 12, 2003
    Messages:
    8,809
    Likes Received:
    371
    Location:
    Portugal
    Tomcat, was it the planes or the fuel to train the pilots and allow them fo fly and fight at will?
     
  9. Twitch

    Twitch Member

    Joined:
    Mar 28, 2008
    Messages:
    79
    Likes Received:
    7
    Since this is a "what if" and we don't have to piddle with actual assets I figured only one way to success- early concentration on aerospace tech and a dedicated will to take GB.

    If Hitler had decided, say in 1936, that Germany would/should invade GB and began designing and engineering landing craft in addition to the ample number of Ju 52s actually on hand around in early 1940 they could have air lifted 10,000 troops in one assault to take a couple airfields and build a parimeter. The Ju 52s then would be making round trips with more troops as fast as possible. Once that happens they could have flown in and carved out a coastal landing zone for amphibious landers.

    If in 1939 Germany had occupied the GB there would be no later "island aircraft carrier" for the Yanks to use and they'd have go back to the drawing boards to get going on future B-32s and B-36s. If they even chose to combat Germany there would be no escorts so they'd suffer greater causlaties as would occupied England's population being bombed by US planes.

    From the time he became Chancellor in 1933 had Hitler immediately taken the Weimar Republic's progress in rockets from the 1920s and seized it for future possibilities he would have been having the success with the V-1 and V-2 in 1936. In actuality the V-2's 1st successful flight was 1941. In 1939 it was finished only awaiting the warhead and rocket engine.

    Our Me 262 design was set in 1939. It flew in 1941 was finished with Reichlin testing with the 1st 15 production examples slated for late 1942. It languished only because of the moritorium on longer term projects at that particular time. The Reichsters believed the war would conclude quickly so why invest in long term hi-tech? So we'll say they didn't feel that way and pursued aerospace tech as soon as Hitler seized power. In pre-war Germany as it was there were a great many advanced aircraft designs being tested in wind tunnels and as small scale gliders.

    Accelerate the aerospace tech coupled with taking England before any putzing about with Russia or points east and you'd have a great advantage before the US got out of the starting blocks.

    So by 1939-40 we have the first generation jets, Me 262 and Ar 234 plus the A-4 (V-2) program would have been in its next phase of development of a true ICBM with the A-10/A-11 vehicles that could reach the US. It wouldn't matter a bit if missiles were costly or not because Germany would have never had expenses or losses in North Africa or Russia. They would still have the wealth of Europe at any rate. The treasuries of these nations and GB's were substantial enough to best any other one country's.

    If and when the Americans fielded trans-oceanic bombers they would be met by the Luftwaffe's 2nd generation jets and, more importantly, SAMs along with an array of AAMs. And as it was in 1943 radiation-spreading devices could have been deployed we can imagine one delivered to New York by ICBM missile when the uranium commences meltdown. Once the material bores through to the water table a mass of superheated water will arise in a colossal cloud of radioactive steam that will poison the area for decades hence.

    In reality all that would have had to happen is that GB sued for peace with Germany as Hitler imagined they would do. A weak sister like Neville Chamberlain in charge would have really changed things. There'd have been no US presence in Europe. They coulda had fun devoting all their resources and manpower to defeating Japan. What about Russia, and Italy free to develop and build?- are other questions.
     
  10. Sloniksp

    Sloniksp Ставка

    Joined:
    Aug 23, 2006
    Messages:
    6,321
    Likes Received:
    459
    Heres my two cents worth...

    I believe that fuel along with priorities determined the Luftwaffe's fate. Afterall, a country with a limitied supply of fuel can not supply both land and air armies...

    We must not let ourselves forget that the Luftwaffe was on the brink of achieving its goal over the RAF, but switched tactics (without knowing how close they were) and started bombing cities instead.

    Could the Luftwaffe have achieved victory in the skies over Great Britain, if Germany had all the fuel she wanted and was not planning an invasion of the Soviet Union? ;)

    I think that Germany was capable.
     
  11. Tony Williams

    Tony Williams Member

    Joined:
    Jul 28, 2002
    Messages:
    1,006
    Likes Received:
    23
    See my post No.4 - the BoB was hurting the Luftwaffe much more than the RAF. There was a period when 11 Group - which occupied the SE airfields - was coming under a lot of pressure, but there were three other fighter Groups in the UK so plenty of scope for rotating in replacement squadrons.

    To win the BoB Germany would have had to emulate what the USAAF did over Germany in 1945. To do that, they would have had to start preparing specifically for that years before. A fighter with more legs than the Bf 109 would have been needed (using drop tanks also for maximum range) and several times as many of them as they had 109s. The entire Luftwaffe would have had to be designed around the strategy of engaging Fighter Command, on the ground and in the air. They just didn't have the right planes, nor anywhere enough of them, to achieve that.
     
  12. Falcon Jun

    Falcon Jun Ace

    Joined:
    Oct 2, 2007
    Messages:
    1,281
    Likes Received:
    85
    That I think is feasible within the context of this what if but the design and construction of a very large number of landing craft would most probably be noticed by the UK and invite a reaction.
     
  13. Erich

    Erich Alte Hase

    Joined:
    May 13, 2001
    Messages:
    14,439
    Likes Received:
    617
    in simple form to Terry's thread title : ~ NOT a chance ~, the LW was a doomed system from the start just like the KM, with inept leadership, inner quarrelings
     
  14. redcoat

    redcoat Ace

    Joined:
    Aug 24, 2002
    Messages:
    1,521
    Likes Received:
    139
    The French are in the way, not to mention the Royal Navy, RAF, and British army :rolleyes:
     
  15. Vanir

    Vanir Member

    Joined:
    Apr 5, 2008
    Messages:
    186
    Likes Received:
    27
    Tony, thanks for the info, I'll research this aspect more closely. I did indeed quote from a reported source (Walter Boyne, Clash of Wings) and took it at face value. Every other point mentioned throughout the documentary series held excellent voracity, so whilst I trust you implicidly it is honourable that I remain undecided upon this point just for the moment. I trust Mr Boyne's research implicidly too.
    edit: actually going back over the figures and having a flick through my own books I realised the original statement still holds true. You're considering the Battle of Britain to continue into December, when it was over during September, when the Luftwaffe switched bombing attacks to cities. There was no chance from then and the RAF was able to recover but it was in serious trouble earlier, when indeed had the airfield and aircraft facility attacks continued, the Luftwaffe was in a position to win by attrition. Your point is simply, but they didn't. The fact remains, they almost did.

    When it entered service in 1937 obviously. At that time the star of Europe was the Soviet SB "fast bomber" which was noted for its ability to outrun interceptors of the time, like the Gloster Gauntlet, Bristol Bulldog, Avia 534 and PZL-11, even the contemporary variants of the I-16. These were the major European fighter types in 1937-8 (newer models were still in the development stage and available only in tiny numbers for service evaluation). The Heinkel was the performance equivalent of the SB, but had radio navigation and a very high quality, comprehensive array of instruments. It was also designed very well and noted by pilots for its excellent handling and the ability to travel long distances on one engine. Its only drawback was lacking automatic fire extinguishers in the engine compartments, which was not a common feature until later anyway.

    It was not however suited to a strategic campaign like that against Britain, it even performed somewhat poorly over Poland but this was due to erroneous air force assumptions worldwide on the effectiveness per capita of aerial bombing and the scale required for successful strategic operations. It had nothing to do with the performance of the Heinkel which was a very advanced bomber in 1938 and a comparatively good one in 1940.



    You're talking about a situation wholly derived from the British use of an early warning radar system. German radar was nowhere near as advanced at the time and the Luftwaffe simply lacked an understanding of just what this could mean to a strategic assault.

    Firstly, it doesn't matter if you're flying a Bristol Bulldog: if it's equipped with a bank of cannon and you're diving on a Spitfire who's just taken off and is trying to climb at 180mph whilst you're diving on him at 300mph guns blazing...you have overwhelming combat advantages and he has no second chances.

    This was the entire Zerstörer tactic, it's what the term meant. It was never designed to engage enemy fighters at combat altitude, they were never supposed to get that far, which is why the Zerstörer squadrons were sent in ahead of bomber streams. This worked beautifully in France who, contrary to common belief actually had a very respectable air force with no small number of modern fighters by June 1940. Enough to give a standing fight to the Luftwaffe at any rate. But all told most Dewotines, Morane-Saulniers and P-36 Hawks were destroyed on the ground, by the Me-110. Then the Heinkels and Dorniers bombed French rally points and utterly disrupted any coherent counterattacks (whilst stukas and Me-109's took care of the foward positions and frontal airfield response).

    Göring's concept worked beautifully here, and these were his plans for GB. The RAF would respond to a bomber intercept only to be struck by heavy fighters whilst still on the runway. But as you outlined this didn't happen historically and why is radar.

    It is crucial to understand the Me-110 was not designed to be a fighter like the Me-109 is a fighter, their roles on the battlefield (range and escort duties aside) are completely different. When the destroyer concept failed in the BoB, the Me-110 was reassigned to the independent ground attack role, where it worked very well among contemporaries until technologically obsolete. It also began to substitute into Stuka command squadrons and helped form the basis of the later schlachtgeschwader (along with the stuka and Fw-190).

    English, Italian, French, Czech, Soviet, Japanese and even the Polish air forces were markedly involved in a determined arms race from 1919 to 1938 (I can list the various marques year by year but this post is getting real long). There was however a poor post war world economic state, a Great Depression and public concerns over defence spending, particularly in England and France. English officials in fact fostered the illusion that Nazi Germany had an advanced and dangerous air force in order to secure hard frought defence expenditure. In truth the Luftwaffe was incapable of taking on any of the major air forces before 1939. There was simply no economy or manufacturing and industrial resources for it. All models of the Messerschmitt produced before 1939 were made only in the hundreds and not very many at that. Some stuka geschwader during the invasion of Poland still used Henschel biplanes, whilst none of the Zerstörer squadrons had the Me-110, they used obsolete Me-109C/D models whilst waiting for them. Most Heinkels were the old F models of the Spanish war. But in 1938 it was worse, the majority of Luftwaffe fighters were still He-51 biplanes outperformed by other air forces back in 1935, and the bomber force was a ragtag group of just about everything including a good number of Ju-52's, i.e. not much of one. There weren't even any significant number of aerial bombs in the Luftwaffe arsenal and nearly all of the ones made since 1938 were used up in Poland in 1939.

    The only country which was not gearing up for war since 1935 was the US, who saw it as a money making opportunity. Companies like Curtiss, Douglas and even Grumman forged their empires putting together designs specifically for the European market (though they sought through this, success in the far more lucrative US market and of course in turn, the post-war international airline industry).

    As for Russia, Stalin was racing to re-equip the Soviet military in the late-thirties and in fact began a general armament with his five-year industrial plans of the twenties. This is why the Soviet air force had the highest performing fighters and bombers in the world in 1935. People like Tupolev were not coming out with radical new designs quickly enough however and were sent to prison (where he continued to design warplanes). This inadvertently led to the new design bureaus MiG, Yakovlev, Ilyushin, Petlyakov and Lavochkin which developed the warplanes that finally appeared in 1941. They were about four years behind England and Germany in development, but rushed the effort to get them into service lagging only two years behind actual service entry (but most of these models suffered poor early performance as a result). Stalin definitely knew what was coming, this is well documented yet he went as far as signing the non-aggression pact as a mutual recognition with Germany that they both needed to stall any direct conflict, and would take care of this ideological diametric later (Stalin hoped not before 1942, and Hitler thought not before 1943 until he realised the best time to strike was as quickly as possible, but these figures are speculative).
     
  16. redcoat

    redcoat Ace

    Joined:
    Aug 24, 2002
    Messages:
    1,521
    Likes Received:
    139
  17. Twitch

    Twitch Member

    Joined:
    Mar 28, 2008
    Messages:
    79
    Likes Received:
    7
    If it's "what if" almost anything is possible. What if Neville Chanberlain forged some bigass non-agression treaty with Hitler and Germany didn't have to concern themselves with GB...and vice versa? That's what he imagined anyway. So Hitler takes over in 1933 leaning on his techies and the A-4 is the real deal in 1937 and the 262 is in production by 1939.

    Whatever Hitler does he is unimpeded by GB or the US who has absolutely no business mucking about in European affairs and is wrapped up in the peace movemnents. If he wants to take on Russia he can do it as a one front expedition. All the men and matreriale squandered on the West and Afrika are thrust to the east. I have always found it a reasonable scenario- Germany vs Russia in a death match Germany wins.

    If Germany had mixed it up with Russia and immediately destroyed all of its aircraft as it did anyway, they wouldn't have had the chance to do the fall back to the Urals and build more because a hungry, larger Werhmacht with more weapons and vehicles would have been there to keep pushing.

    And by 1941 we'd have longer range surface to surface missiles and be into a nearly all jet inventory with the likes of the 2nd generation Ta 183.

    Now if they'd a talked real nice to the Japs maybe they'd have done something naughty to the Russkies with that 3 miillion man army.
     
  18. Vanir

    Vanir Member

    Joined:
    Apr 5, 2008
    Messages:
    186
    Likes Received:
    27
    Thanks for the link Redcoat. The study reiterates my claim whilst supporting the perspective of Tony. It concludes that the victory was related to air force doctrines and logistical support. The figures however also support the statement that during September, had the airfield/industry attacks not been switched to cities the Luftwaffe could have defeated the RAF by attrition within weeks (suffering terribly obviously). But that is not a fair fight, it is not a battle on even footing.
    In a fair fight, where you do your thing and I do mine and we fight, which is what happened after September 1940, the RAF clearly kicked Luftwaffe butt. No doubt about that. It was just plain better, sure.

    The question was "could" the Luftwaffe have won and I'll keep going with "it nearly did in the BoB" for the moment.
    Going over all this is specific detail is interesting as always though (I get a sense of deja veus mind you, I'm pretty sure I've had this argument a decade or two ago).
     
  19. redcoat

    redcoat Ace

    Joined:
    Aug 24, 2002
    Messages:
    1,521
    Likes Received:
    139
    I'm sorry, but did you read that article at all ????
    At no point does it back up your theory, the article points out in no uncertain terms that the Luftwaffe was losing the Battle of Britain even before the switch to attacking cities
     
  20. redcoat

    redcoat Ace

    Joined:
    Aug 24, 2002
    Messages:
    1,521
    Likes Received:
    139
    Unless the "what if" is based on historical realities, its totally worthless
     

Share This Page