Fighting Through Innovation the Nazi Luftwaffe

Innovation is a key competent to the success of any military throughout history. At the dawn of civilization the empire with the most advance technology and strategy was to be feared. A classic example of an empire with superior technology defeating an empire with inferior technology occurred in 480 BC. The Battle of Salamis is today one of the most defining moments in world history. Not only did it contribute to the survival of Western Culture but also for historians Salamis is a classic example of superior technology winning on the battlefront against all odds. This epic naval battle consisted of Greek triremes out maneuvering Persian triremes. "The Persian triremes, apparently constructed for combat on the open sea, would find maneuvering virtually impossible in the narrows. They were heavier than those of the Greeks and sat higher in the water while carrying up to 30 infantrymen or archers as opposed to 14 aboard the Greek vessels." [1] Against superior numbers the Greeks were able to decisively defeat the Persians on that historic day in history. The Nazi regime faced similar odds against the allies. Although they had less numbers the superior technology created by their top scientist and engineers would allow the Nazi regime to face off against a united front with far greater numbers. The Luftwaffe with their superior weapons however, would not be able to hold off the evitable advance of the allies forever. Without the air support of the Luftwaffe the Hitler's Third Reich would have never lived past the early days of the Second World War. Superior innovation therefore is the essential to military success.

In the bleak battlefields of the War to End All Wars the nations of Europe fought themselves to a standstill. The Great War saw unprecedented advances in the technology of destruction. A young impressionable Adolf Hitler was amid the soldiers on the battlefield witnessing these advance-killing mechanisms. The machines would have a profound effect on Hitler's impression of the war. He would see the potential of the weapons and this would affect his war planning in the future. Among the weapons created that would impress Hitler the aircraft would begin to play a role in his wartime strategy. Air warfare did not create a major impact during the First World War. The new technology did have immense potential. The decades following World War One would see a rapid increasing importance put towards air power. The warplane would effectively be able to bring devastation to great cities without having to put a single troop on the ground. Furthermore a nation on the offensive would not have to go through months of grueling campaigns to advance into a great city. Germany would be neutered however from advancing their air capacity. The Treat of Versailles, "Germany was obliged, in 1920 to demobilize the whole of her Flying Corps and to surrender all aeronautical material to governments of the Allied and associated powers. She was further forbidden to manufacture or import aircraft, aero engines of their components parts." [2] These restrictions would not only prove to be ineffective they would also create bitterness among the German people. Furthermore the Treaty of Versailles gave the German people a desire to once again forge a proud air fighting force. Some relief would come in the Paris Air Agreement of 1926. This arrangement would allow Germany to manufacture any and all civil aircraft. This would be one of the key stepping-stones to legitimizing the Luftwaffe.


The Luftwaffe would be breed through deception and lies throughout the 1920s and 1930s. Even during the Weimer age secret-training expeditions would take place. Therefore it was not just Hitler and Goering who pushed for an armed military. It is generally believed however that they were the key architects to the highly evolved and deadly fighting force. The Luftwaffe used German companies to manufacture their weapons of death. Weimer had begun the process of rearming Germany as early in the 1920's. "The Ordnance Office organized a camouflaged company, Statistische Gesellschaft (Stega), under the dictatorship of Geheimrat Dr. von Borsig, to conduct a statistical survey of industry for rearming." [3] Here one begins to see that Nazi Germany was not the only German government breaking the treaties of Versailles. Planning had begun far before that under the Weimer Republic to rearm in the ear future. German was renowned for their emphasis on military prestige; a simple treaty never would have been enough for the Weimer to suspend their war making capabilities. Bavarian Motor Works or Bayerische Flugzeugwerke as it was known before switching to BMW was among one the German companies that had to seize aeronautical engine production after World War One. BMW would however be instrumental in the rearmament, which would not have occurred, if not for the Paris Air Agreement of 1926. Later on during the war the Luftwaffe would even test a jet engine on the Me. 262 made by BMW before later moving to a Junkers engine. One can see Hitler was not only proud of German engineering he was adamant to use the industry as a tool to conquer the world as was Borsig under Weimer leadership. The beginning of the innovations made in aerial combat for Germany occurred under the Reichswehr plan. Lipetsk was an airbase within the Soviet Union where Germany would be safe to test aeronautical weaponry advancement. Both countries would benefit from technical sharing during this time period. The base a Lipetsk would be immensely important to the Germans during the 1920s. The collaborations at Lipetsk would allow the Germany military to create a fighter manual 1929 based off of experience from World War One and from military exercises in the Soviet Union. The secrecy would be brought to an end by the early 1930s however; improving relations in the western world would allow Germany to proceed without the roadblocks in the Soviet Union. By 1933 Hitler would stop collaborating in Lipetsk entirely.

The beginning of the Nazi regime would see a huge step forward in the rearming of Germany. Herman Goering, a pilot in WWI, would be influence the development of the Luftwaffe. Goering would be promoted to head of Reich Commission for Aviation. During 1933 the German aviation industry expanded swiftly, it grew four times in a matter of a single year. When one remembers 1933 was during the Great Depression the growth is even more astounding. The Nazi government was putting forth a large sum of money to rearm Germany during a time when civilians could barely put bread on the table. The establishment of Reich Air Ministry or (RAM) in May of 1933 furthered Nazi spending and escalated the importance of aviation within the country. Junkers would be one of the success stories of rearmament, "Junkers controlled the manufacturing methods, operations sequences, machining methods, and engineering design; maintained proper quality control; supplied the basic tools and jigs; and even took care of materials and facilities requirements."[4] This complex system spearheaded by the Air Ministry would prove to be successful in the development of aircraft in a starved German economy. Industry in the Rhineland would increase capacity to accommodate the monthly average of airplanes being created. By 1935 265 aircraft would be made per month. An astonishing feat when one considers only five years before France had occupied the Rhineland. European powers were of course not blind to this increasing German industry. Nazi Germany made public a fighter squadron in 1934. The aircraft was a biplane design called the Bücker Bü 131. The 131 were not the most up to date aircraft in the world however it did represent credible concern for Europe. A war wary continent did not condemn the Germans who were violating the Treaty Of Versailles. The nations even lacked the will stop to Germany from producing an air force in 1935. This policy of appeasement by the western powers is one of the greatest mistakes in the world's history. When one imagines living through the era however it was a plausible approach to the armament in Nazi Germany. Europe was still trying to rebuild from WWI furthermore the nations were not willing to sacrifice a generation once again to another war. Conversely Hitler's Volksgemeinschaft was a powerful community that was willing to bare hardship and sacrifice. The German people, poisoned by Nazi propaganda, were willing to sacrifice meals to allow the Luftwaffe to be the pride of the nation.


The Volksgemeinschaft would not be disappointed in their air force. A new technological generation of aircraft was in the works. Revolutionary designs were forming within the top-secret industry of Germany in the mid 1930s. The Luftwaffe was rapidly growing to be one of Goering's greatest successes. Without the concentrated efforts of Junkers, Daimler-Benz, or BMW it would not have been possible. These three companies would become the titans of the aircraft engine making industry. On the eve of the war their aircraft engines along with other companies would be put in roughly 700 aircraft per month.[5] One of the warplanes being produced at this time was the Bf. 109. This Messerschmitt single engine fighter aircraft was extremely modern during the era. Producing over a 1000hp with the Daimler-Benz engine in the E-series this aircraft was the pride of the nation. Later on in the war the Benz engines in the K-series of the Bf. 109 produced almost 2000hp. [6] The Bf. 109 was a very capable fighter, "There is no doubt that in 1939 the Me. 109 was superior to any Allied fighter except the Spitfire which, however, was only available to the R. A. F in small numbers." [7] The innovations brought forth by German manufacturing were perhaps one of German's greatest victories. By the end of the war Germany produced over 33,000 Bf. 109 fighters. While the Germans would not have the industrial capacity of the allies their superior warplanes at the beginning of the war are greatly responsible for brining Europe to her knees. Bombers played a significant role in the destruction of much of Europe.


The crippling devastation of the Ju.88 would render the landscape in Europe unrecognizable in some areas. The Ju. 88 would play a large part in the terror bombings of the Luftwaffe. Sometimes called the, "Wonder bomber"[8] the Ju. 88 was a high performance bomber. "Known as the "Star of the Luftwaffe" for its role as a fighter, bomber, and photo reconnaissance aircraft, the Ju. 88 offered the airmen a cruising speed of 243 mph and a range of up to 1,550 nautical miles—enough performance, they hoped, to see them to safety."[9] The groundbreaking design of the Junkers bomber was world class when it was introduced into combat. The bombers of WWII evolved rapidly and the Ju. 88 would eventually be outclassed by Allied warplanes.

If WWI was known for the trench warfare WWII it can be argued was known for it's brutal bombings of villages and cities. The Second World War is widely regarded as the first air war. The role of the Luftwaffe was to support the German troop movement. Without the airpower it is unlikely that the German military would have ever had any victories. The blitzkrieg was a fundamental part of the Nazi strategy to win the war and conquer Europe. The devastating power of the Luftwaffe would at times be hampered by the sheer lack of supplies and the distance needed to travel to invade foreign countries. Never was this clearer than in The Battle of Great Britain. The blitz had been extremely successful in conquering most of Western and Eastern Europe. Poland, Belgium, France, Austria, and countless other countries were under the wings of the Third Reich and her Luftwaffe. Yet across a 22-mile span of water The United Kingdom remained. A beacon of democracy Britain was the last remaining hope for freedom of Europe in the west. To conquer this island nation air superiority would first be vital. The Luftwaffe, a success story thus far, would need to conquer the country to allow the land forces to invade. The paramount challenge did not go unrecognized by the Nazi airmen, "We know that England is the hardest nut to be cracked in this war. Our experience on the front has shown us that final victory against England can only be attained by the systematic co-operation of all the arms of the service and the ruthless application of the elementary principle of concentrating all one's strength and efforts at the vital strategic point." [10] A first class radar system in England would prove to be a major issue for the Luftwaffe, as did the immense speed of the Spitfire. " The Ju. 88 the wonder bomber once considered fast enough to elude enemy fighters by sheer speed, was in fact about 100mph slower than the Spitfire."[11] The sheer lack of fuel on the interior lines of the enemy territory made it impossible for the Me. 109 to sufficiently support the bombers in the air. Fuel would prove to be one of the final nails in the coffin for the Luftwaffe. The English utilized their island to the utmost success. Therefore instead of a full on invasion Goering ordered for an economic war against the United Kingdom. Ju.88s and other bombers participated in night raids through most of 1940 and 1941. The bombers would relentlessly drop ordnance on Liverpool, Edinburgh, London, Coventry, and other major cities. This economic war was an effective use of the Luftwaffe but the lose against England in The Battle of Britain showed that the once advance aviation in Germany was perhaps becoming dated.


The Luftwaffe was renowned for their blitzkrieg tactics. Herman Goering's effectiveness in using the Luftwaffe to invade enemy nations and conquer them throughout most of continental Europe cannot go unrecognized. Even the Soviet Union faced great pressure when attempting to fight the Luftwaffe. By 1943 the tides of war were beginning to change. The Luftwaffe and the rest of the Third Reich would move from being on the offensive to the defensive. Stalingrad had demolished most of the Nazi offensive in the Soviet Union, the allies were pushing into Italy, and a combined allied bombing campaign was about to devastate the European continent. For the allies the darkest days of the war were coming to a close, for the axis powers however a positive outcome would soon look very bleak. The fight for Europe would prove to be one of epic proportions. "Fortress Europe" a term coined in Nazi Germany would be powerful propaganda in the Volksgemeinschaft. Hitler realized the paramount importance of the Luftwaffe in these trying times, "One must be clear that there can be no turn for the better in France until we can regain air superiority, even temporarily. So it is my opinion that, however hard it may be at the moment, we must do everything to ensure that in the last resort we can hold the Luftwaffe formations." [12] To support the Luftwaffe and her endeavors the Reich Air Ministry once again turned to the aviation expertise of their world-renowned industry. A scramble to secure the Nazi contract was underway in the Volksgemeinschaft. It would be Junkers and their incredible innovation that would be the key to this next level of aeronautical aviation.


Jet power became a necessity to the Third Reich in Fortress Europe. The lose of high performance aircraft during the Second World War in Nazi Germany can be contributed to the allies relentless bombing campaigns. The strain put on the Luftwaffe's industrial partners was paramount. The miracle weapon that would solve the lack of innovation would be the secret development of the Junkers powered Me. 262. The Messerschmitt jet propelled innovation was cutting edge, it was the first ever powered jet aircraft produced. The Me. 262 had a maximum speed of 525mph, which was far faster than anything the allies had at the time; it could travel at 22,000 feet, had an armament of 4 three-centimeter cannons, and had a range of 750 miles. Therefore this was the warplane all pilots feared when it appeared in the skies. To combat the effectiveness of this aircraft allies had to shoot it down during take off or use ground to air weapons in most cases because prop planes were simply outclassed. During 1944, "Hitler, still obsessed with the idea of offensive air warfare, subsequently ordered that the Me. 262's, when they appeared, were to be developed as high-speed daylight bombers." [13] To most of Nazi Germany the Me. 262 represented the perfect fighter, a misinformed and likely desperate Fuehrer was disillusioned when making this fateful decision. This horrible miscalculation by Hitler would be one of his final mistakes and perhaps most deadly. By the time the Me. 262 was introduced in 1944 the Luftwaffe and Third Reich has only a year left in the war. Adolf Galland a senior officer of the Luftwaffe was able to get a fighter squadron of 50 Me. 262s to defend Germany by October of 1944 but by that time the allies strangle on Fortress Europe was almost at an end. In a short time span the Me. 262 effectiveness was impressive with over 500 confirmed kills.

An increase strangle on German oil supplies however would soon spell an end to the Luftwaffe regardless of the innovations made by Junkers and Messerschmitt. The bombing against German oil targets by the allies would be monumental. A noose fell around German fuel production, "By June 22nd the attacks had been so successful that they had brought about a loss of 90 per cent of aircraft fuel production, which fell from 195,000 tons in May to not more than 52,000 tons in June." [14] Eventually only 7,000 barrels were being shipped out every month. These bleak numbers were effectively what led to the end of the Luftwaffe. A shell of its former self the Luftwaffe was reduced to a desperate defensive force to protect Germany. Air superiority in Fortress Europe was lost.


After Nazi Germany finally fell on April 30th 1945 a treasure trove of German innovation remained for the allies taking. It was a race between the allies as to who would find the most valuable assets. While the monuments men looked for paintings the American Government and others looked for scientist. Nazi Germany housed some amazing technological innovations. German engineers, scientist, and craftsmen were in high demand. Operation Paperclip would be a way for the United States government to extract Germans. This extraction would help ready the nation for the Cold War and the Space Race. Viable information such as styling a jet engine off the beak of a falcon's nostril for better breathing at high speeds were all created in Nazi German and used throughout the world after WWII. Landing a man on the moon would not have been possible without innovations first created using V2 rockets. Nazi Germany may not have won the Second World War but they may have won the 20th century. A horrible conflict gave rise to some of the worlds greatest innovations. Regardless of how atrocious it may seem many innovations would not have been possible without the war. The Nazis both directly and indirectly influence the technological the world uses everyday.


  • Baumbach Werner, Broken Swastika The Defeat of the Luftwaffe, ed. 3 (New York, Dorset Press 1992)
  • Bekker Cajus, The Luftwaffe Diaries, ed. 1 US (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company 1968)
  • Hinton Douglas, Restoration: A Desperate Journey (Air and Space Magazine 2001)
  • Hoffschmidt E. J., Tantum W. H IV, Rise and Fall of the German Air Force 1933-1945, ed. 1 (United States: W E inc. publishers 1969)
  • Homze, Edward L. Arming the Luftwaffe, ed. 1 (Nebraska, University of Nebraska Press Lincoln and London 1976)
  • Jorgensen, Christer. Great Battles Decisive Conflict's that have Shaped History, ed. 1 (4 Queen Street House UK: Parragon Publishing, 2007)
  • Messerschmitt Bf 109…

[1] Great Battles Decisive Conflict's that have Shaped History p. 23

[2] Rise and Fall of the German Air Force 1933-1945 p.1

[3] Arming the Luftwaffe p. 23

[4] Arming the Luftwaffe p.77

[5] Rise and Fall of the German Air Force 1933-1945 p. 27

[6] Messerschmitt Bf. 109

[7] Rise and Fall of the German Air Force 1933-1945 p. 22

[8] Luftwaffe War Diaries p. 71

[9] Restoration a Desperate Journey

[10] Broken Swastika p. 77

[11] Luftwaffe War Diaries p. 161

[12] Broken Swastika p. 147

[13] Rise and Fall of the German Air Force 1933-1945 p. 313

[14] Rise and Fall of the German Air Force 1933-1945 p. 349

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