The Luftwaffe was the official Nazi air force during World War II and The Luftwaffe Fighter Force features thirty-four accounts of its missions given by pilots and members of its flight crews. Stories included give a rarely heard perspective on the war and Luftwaffe members are frank in revealing the difficulties they encountered and what they believe led to their downfall.
The Luftwaffe pilot and crew members featured in this unusual collection divulge what was once highly-confidential information, including fighter tactics, aircraft technology and operations, how they received their commands, and what the chain in carrying out their orders was. Also included are thirty rarely seen photographs and five maps and diagrams. Images feature things such as uniformed Luftwaffe officers, close-up shots of fighter planes, and the boundaries the planes were authorized to carry out their missions in.
This unique volume was compiled by acclaimed military historian David C. Isby and is extraordinarily comprehensive. To make it, Isby poured over accounts of the war given by members of the Luftwaffe shortly after the events they describe. Much of the information in the book has been shared for the first time within it, and after a limited print run nearly twenty years ago, is finally, seventy years after the Luftwaffe missions, finally back in print.
Skyhorse Publishing, as well as our Arcade imprint, are proud to publish a broad range of books for readers interested in historybooks about World War II, the Third Reich, Hitler and his henchmen, the JFK assassination, conspiracies, the American Civil War, the American Revolution, gladiators, Vikings, ancient Rome, medieval times, the old West, and much more. While not every title we publish becomes a New York Times bestseller or a national bestseller, we are committed to books on subjects that are sometimes overlooked and to authors whose work might not otherwise find a home.
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About the Author
David C. Isby has been working as a military historian since 1970. He has worked on a wealth of war simulations, and is the author of a number of military books, including G.I. Victory, Afghanistan: Graveyard of Empires, Leave No Man Behind, Weapons and Tactics of the Soviet Army, and Ten Million Bayonets. He lives in Arlington, Virginia.
Read an Excerpt
History and Developments of GAF Fighter Commands
Interrogation of Generalleutnant Adolf Galland and Generalfeldmarschall Milch
At Kaufbeuren, Germany, 1–4 September 1945
Before the War
When fighter units were set up in 1935–36 they came under the Luftgau for purposes of administration, supply, and operations. The emphasis on defense in organization at the time was due, in Galland's opinion, to the fear in Germany that other lands might take military action to interfere with her rearmament program. Since no operations took place in this period, it is impossible to judge the rectitude of the idea of having the fighter units controlled by geographical commands, the Luftgau.
The Spanish Civil War, Poland and France
Germany's fighter superiority, proved in the Spanish War and corroborated by intelligence reports, led to a much more aggressive type of organization shortly before the Sudetenland incident. All the fighter units were taken from the Luftgau and put under the Fliegerkorps (and the one Nahkampfkorps VIII under Richthofen). Those Fliegerkorps controlled all kinds of flying units. One Gruppe of J.G. 1 stayed under the control of a Luftgau on the Frisian Coast, but all the other Luftgau had no more to do with the fighter units operationally, except for control of the home bases of the various units where a small detail of men from each Gruppe stayed behind to keep contact with home matters and do housekeeping.
The organization of the Fliegerkorps was very flexible. Each was headed by a General, usually a veteran of World War I who had a younger General Staff Officer as his Chief of Staff. Fighter Geschwader under a Korps might take their operational orders directly from the Korps Staff Operations Section, which also gave out orders to all the bomber, recce, ground attack, and dive-bomber units under the Korps. In some Korps a Fliegerfuhrer (operational command) might be set up to control all the fighters, or all the bombers, and so on. This officer was often merely the senior Geschwader Kommodore of the Geschwader in the Korps, and therefore had no elaborate staff. His function was merely to implement the general battle missions passed down to him by Korps.
In some cases the Korps had under it a number of Fliegerdivisionen each with bombers, fighters and other types under it. Each division had a large staff and simply relieved the Korps of the burden of detailed work. In all these organizational set-ups, supply and repair units were controlled by the Luftgau, which merely expanded their boundaries to take in any new territories which Germany overran.
This type of organization with Fliegerkorps, Fliegerdivisionen, and Fliegerfuhrer controlling at different levels of command all different types of units, without separating the control of fighters from bombers and so on, was continued in the West until the end of the French campaign in Summer 1940 and in Russia until 1944. The great evolutionary changes in fighter command organization took place in the West and in Germany itself from Fall of 1940 up to the end of the War. Russian front organization remained fairly static because the role of the Luftwaffe there as a ground support arm did not change much through the war.
The West – The Battle of Britain and 1941
After the campaign in France, the Luftwaffe forces in France arrayed against England were under Luftflotte 2 and Luftflotte 3. Luftflotte 2 had under it Fliegerkorps II, and Luftflotte 3 had Fliegerkorps VIII and IX. There were no Division headquarters at the time in France.
The great fighter activity of the Battle of Britain soon necessitated the setting-up of specialized Fighter Commands under the two Luftflotten. In August 1940 Jagdfliegerfuhrer 2 was set up under Fliegerkorps II and Jagdfliegerfuhrer 3 was set up under Fliegerkorps VIII. (Note that each Jagdfliegerfuhrer was numbered after the Luftflotte which it came under, though this was not a general rule.) (Jagdfliegerfuhrer means fighter leader and is usually abbreviated Jafu; this abbreviation will be used throughout this report.)
The main reason for setting up the Jafu at this time was that fighter operations were becoming so important and complicated that special operational staff work was required. Each Fliegerkorps found it more simple to give orders to its Jafu. During the Battle of Britain there was no Jafu control of fighter units after take-off, because the GAF had at that time no radar that could observe fighter action over England. Instead, the Jafu busied themselves planning the missions, consulting frequently with the Geschwader COs, and developing the signals network which later became the skeleton of the reporting and radar systems in France and the low countries. They reported directly to the Korps and had considerable operational freedom. Usually they were informed of the time when German bombers were to be over the target and were told to provide fighter escort.
In 1941 the fighter force in the West went on the defensive. When the Russian campaign began in June all the Geschwader (except J.G. 2 and J.G. 26) went to the Russian Front. Luftflotte 2 (with its Fliegerkorps II) left France and went to the Eastern front. Fliegerkorps VIII with its fighters left the domain of Luftflotte 3 and also went to the East. Luftflotte 3 now took over command authority over those parts of France and the low countries which had belonged to Luftflotte 2.
That left in the West Fliegerkorps IX which had mostly bombers and no fighters under it. The bombers of Fliegerkorps IX were at this time engaged mainly in night operations where they needed no fighters. Jafu 2 and 3 remained, Jafu 2 now coming under the domain of Luftflotte 3. Since the old Fliegerkorps II and VIII to which they had been subordinated were now in the East and since the one remaining Fliegerkorps in the West, IX, was flying night operations, the two Jafus had no headquarters over them except Luftflotte 3 itself. Jafu 2 controlled J.G. 26, and Jafu 3 controlled J.G. 2. The Jafu continued their signals development work.
In mid-1941 another step in development was taken. The Jafu headquarters began to control the fighters, rather than the headquarters of the individual Geschwader. Ground control intercept radar and a radio Listening Service were now functioning, and fighter control in the air by the Jafu was a reality.
Each Jafu sent a representative to the Geschwader Hq. to work with the Geschwader Kommodore in directing operations. By Autumn 1941, however, it was seen that this practice prevented the Kommodore from leading his unit in combat; so it was discontinued. Control of fighters was exercised directly from the Jafu headquarters.
The Organizing of the Jagddivisionen and Jagdkorps
Up until the latter months in 1941 the largest unit of command for fighters was the Jafu. English night bombing operations over Northwestern Germany had developed to such a point that German night fighter forces had to be considerably enlarged. Fliegerkorps XII under Kammhuber controlled almost all of the night fighters, which were located in Holland, Belgium, and N.W. Germany. Fliegerkorps XII developed, for its night fighting, a fine signals and radar network, which became the finest in Europe. In the Fall of 1942, when the first American daylight raids penetrated into Germany and the Low Countries, Fliegerkorps XII organized a Jafu Holland-Ruhrgebiet as well as continuing the night fighter control work.
The setting-up of other Jagddivisionen continued into 1943 until almost all German fighter units in France, the Low Countries, Germany and Austria came under one of them. J.D. 2 was set up in the Bremen vicinity and J.D. 3 at Berlin. Later the numbering was changed and J.D. 1 and J.D. 3 exchanged numbers. Jafu 2 in France became J.D. 4 and Jafu 3 became J.D. 5. The number 6 was left vacant for a J.D. which was to be set up in Southern France, but never was. J.D. 7 was set up in the Munich vicinity and J.D. 8 was later set up with its headquarters in Vienna.
The fighter units on the Russian front stayed under the control of the simple Fliegerdivisionen and Fliegerkorps until 1944. German fighters in Norway, Italy, Africa, the Balkans and other outlying areas were controlled by newly created Jafu headquarters.
The Jagddivisionen based in the western part of Germany and in France were under another type of unit, the Jagdkorps (fighter corps), corresponding to the Fliegerkorps. Jagdkorps II was initiated to control the Jagddivisionen under Luftflotte 3 and Jagdkorps I was formed from Kammhuber's old Fliegerkorps XII, in Germany. It was planned as well to set up a Jagdkorps III for southern Germany but the strength of the fighters there was always too small to warrant it. These Jagdkorps exercised the necessary coordinating functions in the employment of the now much expanded fighter force. The Jagddivisionen were principally interested in the operational functions which involved directing the Geschwader in the air. Matters of policy and supervision had to be left to the higher unit, the Jagdkorps.
By this time the four Luftflotten which had formerly divided Germany between them had now moved into occupied countries to keep up with the fronts, leaving the administration of the Defense of the Reich to the newly created Luftwaffenbefehlshaber Mitte (GAF Commander for the Middle Area), which was renamed Luftflotte Reich. Jagdkorps I therefore came under Luftflotte Reich, while Jagdkorps II came under Luftflotte III now situated in France and the Low Countries.
Each Jagddivision was a definitely bounded geographical area, although boundaries were changed from time to time. All units based in the area of the Jagddivision were responsible to it for operational purposes. This included day fighter, Zerstorer and night fighters. The Division could actually control its Geschwader when they passed beyond its borders during a mission, but on occasions where either the fighters themselves or the enemy forces were outside the range of the Division's radar and R/T, control of the units would, on the Jagdkorps order, be passed over to another Division which was still in touch with the whole situation. This change-over was never accomplished without great difficulty and confusion and was one of the main weaknesses of the Division system. The difficulty arose from the simple physical complexity of the task of establishing communications with all of the units and overloading the staffs of those Divisions which usually had the burden of suddenly assuming operations thrown onto them.
The Jagddivision Headquarters
Each division was under a General officer, usually a World War I veteran, who unfortunately understood little of modern fighter combat. His Chief of Staff was a General Staff officer. The serious shortage of General Staff officers who knew anything about fighters seriously impaired the efficiency of the divisions all through the War. Another handicap was that Goring had a way of replacing the division commanders at the slightest pretext, so they rarely gained experience in their vastly complicated task. Every time in 1943 that an Allied bomber formation accomplished a mission unscathed, the division commanders feared for their positions. In 1944 some younger fighter pilots like Lutzow were put in as commanders and enjoyed considerable success.
The rest of the staff had to be a dual one, with duplicate positions for night and day fighting. Since the headquarters of the unit had to operate on a 24 hour basis, all positions from the highest to the lowest had to be in duplicate. It was really necessary for the Jagddivision commander on duty to be on the job all the time and this was impossible. The absence of any Deputy Commander impaired operations. There were simply too few experienced fighter pilots to provide good deputies. Neither the CO, his Chief of Staff, nor any of their immediate subordinates ever flew on operations, which did not present them with the necessary insights for proper operational control.
The headquarters of the various Divisionen varied considerably, those in Germany itself being the most elaborate. The building was heavily reinforced against bombs and was usually well camouflaged. The Hqs. of J.D. 1 at Doberitz and J.D. 2 at Staade were good examples. The headquarters was the center of all communications for the Division. Each J.D. had a Signals regiment or two attached to it, and the head of the regiment or the senior officer of the several commanding officers was the Nachrichten Fuhrer (Nafu) of the J.D., a very important man. The many signals lines running to the headquarters from all the airfields, Egon and Benito positions, Observer Corps stations, Flak Headquarters, and higher units, made the Division Headquarters very sensitive to bombing attacks and when bombs fell near some of the operations were always partially disrupted.
The Jagddivision Headquarters in Action
In the Division headquarters about 150 people were immediately concerned with operational control were employed for day operations. Courses of friendly and enemy formations were plotted on a large glass map with an amazing array of epidiascopic pencils and light projectors. The procedure was very exact.
At individual desks in front of the map sat Jagerleitoffizier (Fighter Control Officers – J.L.O.) each of which was in contact by R/T with one German Geschwader or Gruppe formation in the air. The Division commander or a substitute, acting as Chief J.L.O. sat in front and gave broad directions to the various J.L.O. about how and where they should lead their formations towards the bomber formations. He usually stated that such and such a Geschwader was to contact the bombers at such and such a point, or that all Geschwader were to be brought up onto such and such a line by a certain time. The J.L.O. then gave out their directions to the various units, which had to follow them at least until contact with the enemy was made. The chief J.L.O. naturally had to do a lot of fast guessing about where the bombers were heading. The Listening Service often gave valuable hints about the depth of penetration. Analyses of past missions by GAF intelligence also helped. Unfortunately, the Listening Service and spoof service could only be controlled from Luftflotte level and the J.L.O. were not able to order special tricks during operations. Galland tried to alter this situation, but Martini, Chief of GAF Signals, resisted all attempts to invade his empire.
The broad principles of tactical employment of fighters were formulated in doctrines issued by the Fuhrungsstab and by Goring. Such principles as attacking bombers before they dropped their bombs, the concentration of fighter forces on one Allied raid a day, and the flying of second missions by fighters were set out in this manner. The Korps and the Divisions elaborated on them and varied them somewhat. The General der Jagdflieger (The General of the Fighter Forces) was responsible for turning these doctrines into more specific tactics. These Tactical Regulations were directed to the Geschwaders after perfunctory checking by the Fuhrungsstab and sometimes by Goring.
The functioning of the Jagddivisionen reached the ultimate in air to ground control and greatly subordinated the battle freedom of formation leaders. Had there been sufficient numbers of good pilots to man the ground posts, the system would have been more successful. Most J.L.O. were pilots unfit for further combat, or very good signals officers who could grasp something of air combat. Galland remembers several occasions when the Division headquarters broke down completely and operations were led from some Geschwader headquarters with meager facilities, and yet results were as good as ever.
The faults of this system were legion. It was designed to make possible the efficient strategic control of all German fighter units, and it certainly did effect the most efficient use of the available signals facilities by both day and night forces. But it was so complicated that the ordinary limits on human mental ability prevented full exploitation of its potential for tactical and operational control. The J.L.O. could see so well what was going on in the air that they assumed roles of air strategists which their experience and ground-bound position did not warrant. They usually failed to appreciate fully the vital factors of altitude, visibility, relative strength of friendly and enemy forces and sun position. The result was that they did indeed usually bring their fighters onto our bombers with their directional orders, but often their fighters found themselves in a very bad position for an attack, or worse still, were set-up for Allied fighters. Moreover, the intricacies of the fighter control system and the game-like nature of the entire trick plotting system made the whole thing seem like sport to the headquarters staffs and they readily lost contact with reality.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Luftwaffe Fighter Force"
Copyright © 1998 Lionel Leventhal Limited.
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Table of Contents
List of Illustrations, Maps and Diagrams 7
Introduction David C. Isby 9
Part 1 The Fighter Force 23
1 History and Developments of GAF Fighter Commands Galland Milch 25
2 The Organization and Function of Fighter Units Galland 36
3 A History of the Twin-Engine Fighter Force Galland Kowalewski Nolle Eschenauer 45
4 German Fighter Pilots: Equipment and Service Galland 57
5 Mobility of Fighter Units Galland Bär 63
Part 2 The Offensive War 67
6 Escort Tactics Galland 69
7 Typical Orders for Fighter Escort to a Geschwader (Battle of Britain) Bär 80
8 Fighter Tactics: The Free Hunt Galland Bär
9 Typical Fighter Sweep Bär 85
10 Fighter Escort for Ship Convoys and Naval Units Galland Bär Dahl Petersen 87
11 Protection of Naval Forces and Convoys by Fighter Forces Galland 93
Part 3 Air-Ground Operations 101
12 Fighter-Bomber Tactics Galland 103
13 Fighters in Ground Attack Gollob 109
14 Typical Ground Attack Mission by a Fighter Geschwader Bär 111
15 Organization of Ground Attack Units Hitschhold 113
16 Principles for the Control of Operations of Ground Attack Units Hitschhold 120
17 Ground Attack Operations Hitschhold 125
18 Ground Attack Tactics Hitschhold 146
19 Tactical Execution of Ground Attack Missions in the FW 190 Hitschhold Jacob 153
20 Mistakes and Omissions in the GAF Ground Attack Arm Hitschhold 165
Part 4 The Defensive War 169
21 The Evolution of the Defense of the Reich Galland Bär Dahl 171
22 Attacks on Heavy Bombers Galland 182
23 Weapons for Combating Four-Engine Bombers by Day Galland Bär Dahl Petersen 183
24 A Typical Fighter Mission Briefing in Defense of the Reich Bär 189
25 A Typical Mission in the Defense of the Reich Dahl 192
26 Conduct of a Company Front Attack Dahl 196
27 Experiences in Combat against the Boeing Fortress II and Consolidated Liberator (1942) Galland 199
28 Tactical Regulations for SE and TE Fighter Formations in Air Defense (1943) Galland 201
29 Air Defense of the Reich: The Fighter Arm (1944) by GAF Operations Staff 205
Part 5 Summing Up 215
30 GAF Opinions of Allied Aircraft Galland Neumann Milch Bär Hitschhold 217
31 Allied Fighters and Equipment Bär 219
32 Allied Aircraft Neumann 221
33 Plans of the German Fighter Force for the Continuation of World War II Galland 223
34 The Most Important Mistakes of the Luftwaffe as Seen from the Standpoint of the GAF Fighter Force Galland Schmid 230