Luftwaffe Research


How were German air force resources distributed
between different fronts in the years 1941 to 1943 and what
are the implications of this case study for understanding the
political economy of the period?

by Dan Zamansky



The importance of the Luftwaffe’s operations to the course of the Second World War is widely acknowledged. The participation of the Luftwaffe in individual campaigns of the war has been the subject of a variety of studies. In spite of this, works which have analysed the strategic impact of the Luftwaffe on the war as a whole have been relatively rare. The primary aim of the work presented here is to build towards a substantially new understanding of the role of the Luftwaffe in the war in the critical years from the invasion of the USSR to the end of 1943, by which time Germany had been forced to onto the defensive on all fronts.

The most important finding of the work is that the Luftwaffe was forced to concentrate its resources against the Western Allies, rather than the Soviet Union, from 1942 onwards. This contradicts much established thinking, which emphasises the shift of resources from the Eastern front to the Mediterranean and the Western Front in 1943 or even 1944. Furthermore, new sources found at the German Federal Military Archives in Freiburg im Breisgau show that losses of Luftwaffe aircraft and personnel on the Eastern front accounted for substantially less than half of the losses on all fronts in the period from 1941 to 1943. The picture that emerges is that the Luftwaffe’s initial concentration of forces against the USSR during Operation Barbarossa could not be sustained beyond the first several months of the war in the East, primarily as a result of the growing pressure of Anglo-American air power in the two other theatres of the European air war.

There are several implications of the findings presented in the work. The one that should be emphasised above all others is that the role of Soviet air power in the defeat of the Luftwaffe was smaller than the scale of the ground fighting in the East would suggest. The viability of German air power in the East was compromised less by the steady attrition that it suffered and more by the need to concentrate resources, especially the most effective and hence complex equipment, on confronting the threat from Anglo-American air power. The overall German strategy in the war in the East, to rapidly defeat the USSR by taking advantage of German technological and organisational superiority, was thus compromised and rendered untenable by the pressures of an air war fought on three fronts. The role of the fighting in the Mediterranean, in which the Luftwaffe became involved in earnest from January 1941, emerges as a particularly important factor in this study. This front often absorbed as many German resources as the Western front, and from late summer 1942 onwards it was the scene of a decisive German defeat in the air. This particular period is worthy of a separate study, which will be conducted by the present author in the future.

An unusual feature of this study is that it considers far more than just the flying units of the Luftwaffe. The large anti-aircraft arm and its ammunition consumption, as well as the issue of ammunition consumption more broadly, have been included in the analysis in order to consider the Luftwaffe’s fighting power more broadly. It has been necessary to consult a wide body of original documents from the German archives for this purpose. The use of this source base places the main conclusions of the study on a firm foundation. Nevertheless, many emendations will be necessary over time, as new sources are consulted, including those from other archives. Readers are warmly invited to suggest corrections for any errors or omissions in this work, as well as to comment on the conclusions presented therein. The work currently presented here is an initial version, and further versions, containing improvement based on new research and discussion, will be published over time. It is hoped that a wide discussion of this work will lead to an improved understanding of the importance of Anglo-American air power to the victory of the Grand Alliance in the Second World War. Western air power defeated the Luftwaffe and therefore enabled the USSR to survive, yet this is still insufficiently understood by contemporary historians.


The Study (December 2016)


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