World War II in Europe : The War in the Air

In the early years of World War II, the German LUFTWAFFE contributed considerably to German successes in the BLITZKRIEGs against Poland and France. By having STUKAS (diving fighters) pounding at the enemy's defensive positions, they forced them to keep cover while German tank columns pierced the enemy's lines. The German LUFTWAFFE bombarded cities such as WARSAW and ROTTERDAM to terrify the enemy into submission.
The evacuation of British forces from the beach of DUNKIRK, often descrobed as a miraculous achievement, in fact was a German blunder. Hermann Goering wanted his Luftwaffe to do it alone; they could not deliver, and the British succeeded.

The BATTLE OF BRITAIN proved a decisive event in the war. German warplanes - outnumbering the Royal Airforce 4:1 attacked Britain in wave after wave. A combination of factors contributed to the British victory : the British spitfires were superior to German fighter planes (Hitler personally had overridden German airplane engineers, ordering them to turn designs of fighter planes into bombers); German planes had a limited range (fuel), permitting them only about 30 minutes over Britain; RAF planes, saving the route over the canal, had considerably more time; the RAF was assisted by those parts of the Polish and Czech airforce that had made it to Britain; the German air force command was overridden by Hitler who ordered to bomb British cities rather than crush the RAF first.
After the Battle of Britain, Britain and Germany, the US and the USSR invested heavily in the production of planes.

Table : German production of fighters and bombers, 1939-1944
Source : Kinder/Hilgemann, Penguin Atlas of World History Vol.2, (1966) 1978 p.200



jet fighters


Although the Battle of Britain was discontinued, German air raids on Britain (the BLITZ) and British air raids on German-held territory continued. These were coordinated actions by bomber squads, defended by fighter escorts, attempting to deliver their payload of bombs to the target; air reconaissance planes later would establish the damage done. Over time, the raids undertaken by the RAF proved to be much more damaging.
Germany responded by establishing anti-aircraft artillery (ACK-ACKs), manned with verteran soldiers and high school boys, as well as by ordering DARKOUT. The British airforce, since Dec. 1941 joined by the US Air Force, attempted to evade ack-ack fire by flying in high altitude, over 5,000 m.
The most damaging air raid in the European war was that on DRESDEN on Feb. 13th-15th 1945. The historic inner city was turned into an INFERNO; an estimated 60,000 to 200,000 persons died.

The air force played also a crucial role in supplying the resistance in German-held territories with equipment and arms, to land agents such as the Czech partisans who assassinated REINHARD HEYDRICH.
The Allied air forces were crucial in covering invading forces in Sicily and Italy in 1943 and in Normandy in 1944, and in deciding the BATTLE OF THE BULGE in Dec. 1944.

German engineers had developed the JET FIGHTER (Strahlenflugzeug, employed by the Luftwaffe since 1944. These jets were faster than allied warplanes, but required a huge amount of fuel. Lack of fuel was a critical factor on the German side; jet fighters were pulled to the runway by oxen or horses - to serve as much fuel as possible. The main German fuel supply were the oil fields of PLOESTI in Rumania; when Ploesti was bombarded and went up in flames, critical damage was done. Ploesti was occupied by the Red Army in late August 1944.

With the RAID ON THE MOEHNE DAM in 1943, the RAF introduced precision bombing. The RAF bombers had to deliver an especially designed bomb from a very low altitude at precisely the calculated distance behind the dam in order to burst it, causing a massive flooding of major industrial regions as well as a disruption of fresh water and electricity supplies.

VIDEOS Battle of Britain, 1969, cc; Dam Busters, 1954, 119 min., a British production featuring the Moehne Dam raid, unfortunately poor sound quality

This page is part of World History at KMLA
Last revised on February 15th 2002

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