Adolf Hitler addresses the Reichstag in 1938. Above him sits Herman Göring. It was these two men who were responsible for the decision that led to the expansion of the Luftwaffe.
Like the autumn leaves of red and gold the German Flying Corps fell with the cold wind of the armistice of the 11th November 1918. Defeat in the First World War and the subsequent restrictions of the Versailles Treaty meant the Nazis faced a daunting task with regard to creating a modern air force. But deception and determination worked wonders if not miracles.
The halcyon days that preceded the First World War in Europe saw the armies of those European Nations becoming more resplendent in their uniforms. Since 1853 and the Crimean War there had not been a real war to fight. The only other major conflagration had been the Franco-Prussian War and this had been a German unequivocal victory over the French and the French had suffered not only a rout but also a humiliating defeat. So the generals and admirals of the armed forces, who were of the “General Blimp” brigade, had to content themselves with designing evermore-flamboyant uniforms and grander pageants to show off their new creations, while the administrative and boffin types busied themselves with new military inventions. So bizarre and crazy were some of these inventions and ideas that, for instance, the Russian navy designed round battleships to fight the Japanese in the war in which they were engaged in 1904.
While the generals busied themselves with their preoccupations, the junior officers amused themselves with cafe society in the broad boulevards of Paris, linden lined Strasses of Berlin and the Gentlemen’s Clubs of St. James’ in London. While these aspirant young officers were not involved in this cafe society, they were possibly on an exchange visit to one another’s respective countries, perhaps enabling themselves to collect another jubilee medal or gong for the service of just being there! It was to this climate of military ineptitude that two major revolutionary military advancements emerged. The first being that of the submarine, the more junior, that of flight.
“War in the air,” Dog fight over the lines. “Recalls the olden times, when Knights rode forth to battle and won honour and glory by their deeds of personal heroism”. The fledgling military air services of the First World War had little trouble finding volunteers for a life that promised “Romance, action, adventure and opportunities for glorious achievements.”
At the turn of the century all of Europe was taken up with the fantasies and hysteria of powered flight and no little interest was shown in Germany. To such an effect that a system of pilots licences was introduced in 1910 by the German Aviation Association and the Inspectorate of Transport for Military Troops and Civilian Pilots. The first individual to gain one of these licences was August Euler on the 1st February 1910. To reward military pilots and to give an outward recognition of their prowess the Kaiser introduced, on the 27th January 1913, the Military Pilots Badge.
In 1907 German Aero clubs were established under the Kaiser’s sponsorship. Competitions were established for flight enthusiasts. Their desire for completion was stimulated by rather large money prizes. In 1910 the first flying schools were established.
Hauptmann de le Roi assumed command of the provisional flying school at Döbertiz on the 8th July 1910. A week later he along with Oberleutnant Geerdtz, and Leutnants Mackenthun and von Tarnoczy, the four formed the Flying Command Döbertiz, began their flying instruction under Albatros instructor Brunnhumber. By the middle of December, the next 6 officers completed their course of instruction. The war office, impressed by the promising results of the flying school, allocated a sum of 110,000 Marks for the purchase of aircraft, thus the first step toward a German air force was taken.
The suggestion by the General Staff to give the military aviation system its own organisation under a specially designated department was turned down as premature by the War Office.
German aircraft were to be tested for the first time during a military exercise in the Autumn Flying Week in Johannisthal to determine once more their practicality for use during military operations. Only four aircraft performing observation flights participated in the exercise, but with great success. The completion of this flying week stimulated considerable interest among international pilots and the German aircraft manufacturers in particular. However, it was the French who captured the early lead in aviation. There were 200 French pilots who held international flying licences, while only 46 Germans could boast this claim. Additionally, the German aviation system also suffered from technological inferiority.
On the 19th January 1911 the War Minister, General von Herringen, gave a report about the results of the pilot training program and the necessity of new organisational steps to be taken for the development of the flying program. The result of this report to the Kaiser was the changing of the Military Transport Inspection to a “General Inspection of all Military Systems”. Inclusive in this inspectorate was the “Inspection of the Military Air and Motor Vehicle Transport Systems”. Under this reorganisation, the flying squadron at Döbertiz was assigned 14 officers and eight aircraft, three Farman biplanes, two Albatros-Farman biplanes, one Sommer biplane, one Aviatik biplane and one Etrich-Rumpler-Taube. Of the 8, half were already outdated. The aircraft were required by new regulations to undergo 2 tests. The first consisted of 2 flights including the figure “8” manoeuvre with two landings. The second consisted of a glide from a 100m (330ft) altitude, and a one hour flight overland at a 50m (165ft) altitude, with a technical examination involving aeroplane construction. Pilots and Observers alike had to pass the same tests. In the spring of 1911 an Aviatik-Farman biplane piloted by Leutnant Mackenthun with Oberleutnant Erler as observer made the first German long-range cross country flight of 750 km (469 miles) lasting ten and a half hours.
The flying school at Döbertiz continued to turn out new certified pilots. The fledgling flying corps proved to be very effective during the Kaiser Manoeuvres of 1911, and received considerable praise from the General Staff during the closing ceremonies of the exercise.
A turn in foreign political events, to include the Moroccan Crisis of 1911, warranted an expansion of the training and mobilisation programs of the flying corps. It was suggested that aircraft could be used during war, but this was considered impractical for “reasons of state”. It was further suggested by Major Ludendorff to “increase the means for the new aviation system at the expense of those set aside for airships and aerial navigation”. This suggestion received favourable consideration. However, the War Office and General Inspection continued to place emphasis on airships rather than favouring the development of the aviation system. A response to a petition to the General Staff to change this direction was rejected formally on the 15th September 1911. Thus, the development of German military aviation was slowed considerably for the next few years.
In the meantime, the French continued to make considerable strides in the development of their own air arm. Foreign developments made it imperative that Germany undergo a change in their aviation direction. First, the question of flight training was taken up by the responsible governmental agencies, with the result that on the 10th January 1912 the War Office agreed on different training for pilots and observers. Observers had to have especially good tactical knowledge, but it was deemed no longer necessary for them to earn a pilot’s certificate. Secondly, the status of the air arm underwent a total re-evaluation. During this time experiments had been undertaken to use aircraft as aerial artillery-spotting platforms, and general tactical reconnaissance. France had already achieved a lead in this field. Thus the German General Staff realised that Germany must take steps to close the technological and tactical gap. However, a difference of opinion between the General Staff and the War Office only made such developments more difficult; at a time when mutual agreement and understanding was necessary. It took intervention on the part of the Kaiser to orient thinking back to the direction of military aviation development. Insistence on renewed pressure on the speedier completion of training of the flying squadron was an immediate off-shoot. Demands were levied for more airfields and more flying personnel. In January 1912 it was further decided to organise the flying squadron to be effective by the 1st October of the same year. The plan provided for the following:
1. An instruction and experimentation plant was to be established by the 1st April.
2. Two flying stations (airfields) were to be set up with locations at Metz and Strasburg.
3. From April until June, five Field Flying Units were to be established, each with four aircraft. Unit 1 was to be located at Köln, Unit 3 at Trier, Unit 3 at Neu-Breisach, Unit 4 at Saarburg and Unit 5 at Metz. Effective the 1st October another flying station was to be established at Darmstadt.
According to regulations, each flying squadron would consist of two field-grade officers, four Captains, 15 first Lieutenants/Lieutenants, one doctor, 56 non-commissioned officers and 250 other ranks. In March 1913 the number of Field Flying Units was increased to 11, with an increase to 6 aircraft projected for each unit. The planes called for still further increases in the number of flying stations on the western border, and fortified stations on the eastern border. Because of organisational problems, the firms that built the aircraft under military contract were also charged with the training of the pilots. The firms were responsible for the successful passing of the first examination, while the individual Flying Station to which the new pilot was assigned was responsible for the second battery of tests. Financial constraints considerably slowed the progress of the planned development. The Kaiser interceded, stating, “We must move ahead with our organisation of the Air Forces”. As a result, the General Inspection of the Military Transportation System designed a program that would reach to the year 1914. According to this plan, 18 Field Flying Units would be established, each with eight aircraft, or as an alternative, 20 units, each with six aircraft. Four reserve units were also planned, and were to be in effect by the 1st April 1914. In keeping with its Royal Reserve Rights, Bavaria had to create three separate Field Flying Units. The General Staff was to withhold its final determination of the reorganisation plan until after the Kaiser Manoeuvre of 1912.
The manoeuvre took place between the 8th and the 12th September 1912. The exercises clearly demonstrated that the aeroplane was capable of surpassing the then existing limitations placed on reconnaissance, and was able to penetrate deep into enemy territory. On the 26th September the General Staff submitted a requisition to the War Office asking for the creation of 34 Field Flying Units, eight for the Army High Command, and the remainder for the Arm Corps. It further requested the establishment of eight Army Aeroplane Parks, and the establishment of the location for 13 fortified Flying Units in Köln, Mainz, Diedenhofen, Metz, Strasburg, Germersheim, Neu-Breisach, Breslau, Posen, Thorn, Graudenz, Lötzen and Königsberg. Additionally, eight substitute or reserve units were to be established; all by the 1st April 1914. It was further suggested that the Military Aviation System be made independent from the General Inspection of the Military Transportation System. All these changes and proposals were regarded as necessary to compensate for the lead by the French that was already held over the Germans.
On the 1st October 1912 the government created the Royal Prussian Flying Troop. Its first commander was Major Lehmann, and the headquarters were at Döbertiz. However, the unit remained part of the General Military Transportation System. Major Siegert commanded the flying stations at Metz and Strasburg.
Continued lack of adequate funding further delayed the intended development of the German Air Force. Despite many efforts, the money was slow in being allocated. What money that was made available was directed toward the purchase of only the most critical material. While Germany was plagued with financial constraints which hindered the growth of the aviation system, France, on the other hand, continued to make significant strides in her program.
The Military Pilots’ Badge. To reward military pilots and to give an outward recognition of their prowess, the Kaiser introduced the Military Pilots’ Badge on 27th January 1913.
Prince Henery of Prussia, the brother of the Kaiser and a qualified pilot himself, realised that steps must be taken to correct the slow development of the fledgling German aviation system, and to close the gap created by the French advances. On the 21st April 1912 he called for a country-wide public contribution to raise money to fund the aviation program. As a result 7.5 million Marks were raised in a 6 month period, with industrial concerns contributing still more to the program. Prizes were established for the best aircraft engine design, and land throughout Germany was contributed for the future construction of airfields. However, the monies collected in 1912 were not to have an immediate major impact, but did serve to stimulate aircraft construction. A new aircraft was designed and tested for the purpose of providing an improved aerial platform for artillery observers. Improvements were made in the instructional program developed for observers. Furthermore, the General Staff insisted that the Flying Units be equipped with five and ten kg bombs, which were supplied to the units by the middle of 1913.
At the end of 1913 Major Roethe took over the organisation for the further enlargement of the flying squadron. During that year the new flying station was opened at Köln in April and in July at Posen. Construction had begun on the station at Königsberg, Graudenz, Freiburg in Breisgau and Hannover. The increase in the number of flying stations brought about a corresponding increase in the number of officers and men required. For the first time night flights were initiated into the training program. Majors Canter and Böhme successfully undertook a non-stop flight on the 31st March 1913 from Jüterbog – Küstrin – Stettin – Lübeck, a distance of 595 km (372 miles), which was flown in six hours and nine minutes. While a new German aviation record, it had had considerable military and technical implications. The military quickly responded with a long-range reconnaissance exercise that produced equally satisfactory results.
The training of pilots and observers was accelerated. Their course of instruction lasted 5 to 7 months on an average.
Hearings were held between the War Office, the General Inspection and the General Staff to determine the needs for the further developments of the aviation system. One result was a plan that called for the establishment of 20 squadrons to be operational by the 1st September 1913. Additionally, more Field Flying Units were added to those already existing. A time schedule was established for the Field Flying Units to become operational:
Units 21 through 26 by the 1st April 1914.
Units 27 through 30 by the 1st July 1914.
Units 31 through 36 by the 1st December 1914.
The reconnaissance flights performed during the Kaiser Manoeuvres of 1913 provided valuable evidence as to the future of the aeroplane during the conduct of war. The General Staff was now provided with the combined results of its cavalry reconnaissance and air reconnaissance which would allow corrections to troop dispositions and adjustments to the tactical situation. Realistic training exercises were established between the two information gathering sources. The collaboration between the ground and air reconnaissance elements provided outstanding results.
On the 1st October 1913 the new organisation of the Military Aviation System was initiated. 4 Prussian flying battalions of three companies each and 1 Bavarian battalion were established. Effective from the 1st October 1913 Oberst von Eberhardt assumed command of the newly created Prussian Inspection of the Flying Squadrons, which still remained as part of the Military Transport System. The Prussian battalions were subject to the new organisation, but the Bavarian battalion functioned under its own Inspectorate. Had a unified command and control establishment for aviation been created at this time, far fewer problems would have plagued the German military when war broke out in 1914.
As a result of increasing accidents due mainly to material faults, a special “Aeroplane Testing Commission” for newly delivered aircraft was established. Testing procedures included the aircraft, the engines, the camera system and the instruments.
Problems caused due to insufficient personnel were corrected by the addition of 150 to each flying battalion. Greater emphasis was placed on training of artillery observers at the special Artillery Observation Schools.
In spite of all its efforts to equalise the balance of aerial combat power, Germany still lagged behind the other major European powers. Germany continued its efforts to stimulate public contributions and advancements in the aviation field. From the 15th to the 31st October 1913 Germany allocated 300,000 Marks as an incentive prize for long distance flights of 1000 km (625 miles) to be accomplished in a single day. Victor Stöffler flew over 2200 km (1375 miles). Pilots Schlegel, Caspar, Thelen, Dastner, Geyer and Stiefvatter succeeded in flights of 1000 km (625 miles). All world records except the speed record were now held by German aviators. Reinhold Böhn established the world flight endurance record on the 10th / 11th July 1913 of 24 hours and 12 minutes in his Albatros BII. This record was to stand until Charles Lindberg broke it in 1927. On the 24th July Heinrich Ölerrich established the altitude record of 8150m (26895ft) flying a DFW biplane. These advances gave rise to great enthusiasm within the military establishment at the beginning of 1914.
While the German aviation system boasted considerable gains, the army system was still plagued by faulty support procedures. Delivery of spare parts and replacement equipment and a general lack of experience in the logistical field caused continued problems.
On the 1st June 1914 it was necessary to establish an Aviation Department in the War Ministry. This department continued to call for the vigorous expansion of the aviation system. They studied the problems surrounding industrial mobilisation and resupply in the event of a war. A serious look was taken at the armament of aircraft. It was concluded that the aircraft would be a decisive arm in the military arsenal. Army preparations at this time gave every indication that Germany was talking on a war-footing.
The famed “Red Baron” Rittmeister Manfred Frhr. Von Richthofen, leading German “ace” with 80 confirmed victories, wearing the Military Pilots’ Badge on his left breast and the Pour le Mérite at the neck. He had deeply wanted to become a pilot, but earning his license did not come easily. He experienced a lot of trouble during his training and exam periods, but did finally get his certificate. However, piloting a bomber seemed rather dull for him. It was during another stint of duty in the East that he met Oswald Boelcke, who was returning from his Balkan vacation. It was common knowledge that Boelcke was putting together his fighter squadron for the up-coming summer offensive, but von Richthofen was too modest to ask Boelcke to join. However, it was Boelcke who was to ask von Richthofen to join him. Von Richthofen was later to remark, “All I became, I owe to Boelcke’s schooling.”
On the 17th September 1916, the first day in combat for Boelcke’s new fighter squadron, the unit destroyed an English squadron, with von Richthofen earning his first victory while piloting the Albatros D II. When he had earned his eighth victory, his mentor, Hauptmann Boelcke, was killed in a mid-air collision. After he had achieved his 16th confirmed aerial victory, he was appointed commanding officer of Fighter Squadron II. Two days later, on the 12th January 1917, von Richthofen was awarded the Pour le Mérite. It took twice the number of victories to earn the award than for Boelcke, Immelmann and Berthold. As commander of the new squadron, von Richthofen hit upon the idea of painting his Fokker bright red, which was quickly to become his trade mark. As he scored victory after victory, he earned his English title, the “Red Baron”. He gathered about him other equally talented officers such as his brother, Lothar, Schäfer, Wolff, Festner, Hintsch, and Allmenröder. The reputation of the squadron spread quickly, and it was not long before the British pilots learned the identity of the pilot in the red Fokker. The British were determined to down von Richthofen. Not only did they offer a £1000 reward for his defeat, but they also formed an Anti-Richthofen squadron. As a result, Fighter Squadron II had no lack of combat engagements. Von Richthofen remarked, “I really like it that the customers are coming to me, and I don’t have to go to them”. His brother, Lothar, later shot down Captain Albert Ball, the squadron leader of the Anti-Richthofen Squadron. His service record has become legendary; and on the 20th April 1918 he gained his 79th and 80th victories. The following day fate reached out and removed him from the skies. There is considerable confusion as to the manner of his death. British accounts credit the downing to a Canadian pilot Captain Roy Brown. German accounts indicate that he was brought down by enemy ground fire.
With the outbreak of First World War in August 1914, Germany had 33 Field Flying Units and 8 Fortified Flying Units. These units had a combined strength of 228 manned aircraft. In addition, there were reserve units that could be called upon. There were 600 officers and 220 non-commissioned officers qualified as pilots and 500 officers certified as observers.
The Imperial Army Observer’s Badge. It was introduced on the 27th January 1914. It is represented at its centre by a large square bordered in red enamel in which smaller black and white enamelled squares are situated. A flag using the same design was used in the Imperial German Army as a flag of the commander’s staff to give to dispatchers and couriers as a means of identification during military actions.
A veteran of the First World War, called back to the “Colours”, wearing the Imperial Army Observer’s Badge.
However the importance of aerial warfare was initially overlooked. The general staffs of the combatant nations considered it a toy of dubious use, and those in the infant air services were looked upon as “backsliders” who had found a way of avoiding “real” action. Speaking as Commander – in – Chief, Aldershot, just 1 month before the out-break of war, for example, Sir Douglas Haig, later of the British Expeditionary Force, told a military gathering: “I hope none of you gentlemen is so foolish as to think that aeroplanes will be able to be usefully employed for reconnaissance in the air. There is only one way for a commander to get information by reconnaissance and that is by the use of cavalry”.
German airmen of an AEG CIV prepare for a mission during the First World War. During the last few months of the war German pilots were equipped with parachutes. The use of parachutes by pilots was frowned upon by the British Air Board, which stated: “It is the opinion of the Board that the presence of such an apparatus [a parachute] might impair the fighting spirit of pilots and cause them to abandon machines which might otherwise be capable of returning to base for repair.” Instead of parachutes, the board advocated armour plating to protect aircraft and their crews.
However, the esprit de corps of the fledging air forces of the two opposing alliances, which was engendered by their “Knights of the Air” and “Riders of the Skies”, proved their military worth, especially with the technical breakthrough of synchronised machine guns that were able to fire through the propellers of their machines. So much so, that by the end of the First World War new fighting forces on both sides had been welded together in the forges of aerial combat and burning wreckage of crashed warplanes.
British Sopwith Camels engage the Fokker D. VIIs of Germany’s celebrated “Flying Circus” in a dogfight typical of those that filled the skies over France in 1918.
When at last the fearful bloodletting of the conflict, with its 10,000,000 dead and 20,000,000 wounded was over, there seemed good reason to believe that the First World War would indeed be the “War to end all Wars”. Unfortunately, it culminated with an uneasy peace. On the 11th November 1918, after four years of costly and fruitless war the guns fell silent. Germany had little choice but to accept an Armistice. With French, British and, increasingly, American forces closing in from the west and revolution spreading from the east, it was obvious that the end was near.
The Allies that had finally succeeded in destroying Germany’s formidable war machine, had then imposed conditions on her in the peace treaty agreed at Versailles, in 1919, conditions designed expressly to make it impossible for the world again to be disturbed by German militarism. For their part, the Allies were determined to prevent a German resurgence.
A jasta (squadron) of Fokker D. VII single-seater fighters stands ready for inspection as part of the Armistice agreement in November 1918. The D. VII was a formidable machine in its day.
The Armistice proposals were harsh, not least in terms of German airpower. Germany’s army was to be reduced to 100,000 men and her navy to 15,000, she was forbidden to possess armour. The German air force was banned, its planes confiscated or broken up and the production of aero engines by her, prohibited. According to Clause IV, Germany was to “surrender in good condition 1700 fighting and bombing aeroplanes”, including all Fokker D. VII fighters and the entire night-bombing fleet. By the 12th December 1918, the new Republican Government in Berlin announced that it had complied, but according to Allied records only a paltry 516 landplanes and 58 seaplanes had been surrendered in all. It was a pattern of duplicity that was soon to become the norm. Despite the official disbandment of the Lufftsteitkrafte, the German Army’s air and air-defence arm, in January 1919, the German forces still had over 9000 aircraft in their inventories and had no intention of sacrificing air capability meekly. There were safeguards to ensure that she was not able to build up a hidden military reserve. The Treaty of Versailles was, with the benefit of hindsight, draconian. Though at the time it may have been regarded as justifiable, it sowed the seeds of many future grievances.
The destruction of the German Air Force was undertaken in 1919.
The shell of a German Gotha aeroplane on the 14th February 1919. The destruction of German aircraft took place with increasing haste in accordance with the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles.
These grievances first manifested themselves in the new Republican Government in Berlin. There were a number of ways to circumvent the Armistice terms. As Germany descended into civil unrest, the army raised Freikorps, Free Corps, units from among demobilised soldiers to fight the encroaching Communists, and they were given air squadrons to help them. About 35 Freikorps squadrons were raised, fielding some 250 - 300 aircraft between them, and were used to drop leaflets and even bombs on the civilian population within Germany. The threat subsided, but the squadrons were retained, being absorbed into the newly formed Reichswehr, the army of the Weimar Republic. At the same time, the government boosted civil aviation, supporting the use of wartime aircraft to carry mail throughout Germany, while many aircraft factories continued to satisfy orders placed with them before the Armistice. It looked as Claus IV had failed.
The terms of the Versailles Treaty
The situation changed on the 28th June 1919 when the German delegation at the peace talks in Paris was presented with the terms of the Versailles Treaty and forced to sign. The Allies were now much more insistent: prohibiting all military aircraft manufacture in Germany and giving the government 3 months in which to hand over all air force equipment. An attempt to disguise air capability by raising squadrons to support the civil police failed, chiefly because the Allies confiscated German civil aircraft until the government complied. Indeed, the 140 civil aircraft permitted to the Germans soon became the only means of flight within the country, and even they were severely restricted in terms of speed (169kmph – 105 mph), ceiling (3962m – 13,000ft) and range (200km – 125 miles). As a result, the air industry virtually ceased to exist, with factories closing and workers made redundant. This only added to the worsening economic plight of the country.
Circumventing the treaty
But the Germans did not give up. By 1924 General Hans von Seeckt, Chief of the Armed General Staff, had ensured that a rump of air officers was retained in the Reichswehr (180 out of the 3800 officers permitted) and had appointed Captain Ernst Brandenburg to head the Air Office of the Ministry of Transport, so creating close links between civil aviation and the armed forces. In addition, official support was given to the new sport of gliding, with many future Luftwaffe “Aces” gaining their first experience of flight through the government backed Deutschen Luftfahrt-Verbande. V, which was set up in 1920. Sports clubs sprang up all over Germany, which undertook to teach the aeronautically minded Germans the art of flying. Under the direction of this organisation the members learned the 3 main aeronautical skills, that of balloon, glider and powered flight, by the end of the 1920’s it boasted a membership in excess of 50,000 making Germany one of the most air-minded nations in the world.
An example of Germany’s first post First World War fighter, the Dutch-manufactured Fokker D.XIII. Powered by a licence-built British Napier engine, the D.XIII was the aircraft most widely used at the secret training ground at Lipetsk in the Soviet Union, helping to produce pilots and observers for the future, which ironically included the attack on Russia in June 1941.
Of even more significance was the development of military links with Russia. Both Germany and Russia were worried about the Poles; both were “pariah” states which were forced together in response to widespread hatred and distrust. However the Reichswehr, fearing that it was being left behind in its capacity to defend itself, secretly negotiated with the Red Army early in 1923 and finally an agreement was signed on the 16th April 1922, the Treaty of Rapallo. This normalised relations between Berlin and Moscow. It also created a framework for secret air and military cooperation, based on a Russian need for German technology and a German need for training facilities beyond the gaze of the Allies. 3 years later, an agreement was signed to allow the Germans to build an airbase at Lipetsk, 483km (300 miles) to the southwest of Moscow, and Dutch-built Fokker D.XIII fighters were secretly shipped out. By then, the aircraft manufacturing firm of Junkers had set up a factory at Fili, to the south of Moscow, with the intention of producing its own designs for both the Russians and the Lipetsk base. In the event, the Junkers factory was a failure, but the training of German pilots – both “Old Eagles” wartime officers on refresher courses, and “Young Eagles”, the new recruits, this combination did help to keep alive the esprit de corps and the very spirit of German military aviation. Lipetsk was to remain open until 1933, by which time over 120 pilots had graduated from the base. The emphasis of their training was firmly on close air support to ground units, no bomber pilots were produced at all, but the opportunity was taken to experiment with new equipment and to train ground crew. It was a successful enterprise.
Hermann Göring, the flamboyant head of the Luftwaffe and confidant of Hitler within the Nazi Party. A First World War air “ace “,Göring had led the famous Richthofen “Flying Circus” in 1918 following the death of the “Red Baron”, and was holder of the Pour le Mérite for bravery. However, he proved weak as an air leader in the First World War. In this pose he is in the uniform of the SA and he wears the Bavarian Commemorative Pilots Badge. The commemorative, memorial or memory badge was given to eligible pilots who were retired or so disabled in combat that they could no longer fulfil their normal flying duties. This “retirement” badge was the first badge of its type awarded by any nation for its airmen.
Meanwhile, the Allies had begun to lift some of the restrictions imposed by the Versailles Treaty, partly as a “reward” for apparent German compliance and partly as a response to the near collapse of the German economy in the face of swingeing reparations, the money paid to the victorious Allies as tribute or compensation for the war. This was most apparent in terms of civil aviation, for no moves were made to prevent the creation of a single airline out of the plethora that had emerged since 1918. On the 6th January 1926 Lufthansa emerged, initially with a fleet of 162 aircraft. Under Erhard Milch as Operations, later Commercial Director, the new airline went from strength to strength, opening up fresh routes and carving itself a leading role in Europe. Many Lufthansa pilots would latter join the Luftwaffe, while the existence of commercial aviation allowed Milch to place orders with German aircraft manufacturers for modern airliners, including the tri-motored Junkers Ju 52. The transformation of airliners into bombers or transports for military use did not prove to be very difficult when the need arose.
Organisation of the Luftwaffe.
Plans for the recreation of a military air force, a Luftwaffe, were already well advanced by the late 1920’s. Working in strict secrecy, staff officers of the Reichswehr had been looking forward to the day when the army might be expanded, it had been restricted by the Versailles Treaty to 100,000 men, and air squadrons were always included. The economic crisis of 1929 – 30, triggered by the “Wall Street Crash”, put paid too many of the initial ideas, but the basic plan remained. The aim was to create a Luftsteitkrafte des Neuen Friedensheeres, Air Corps of the New Peacetime Army, beginning in 1933 – 34, with a frontline strength of about 150 aircraft and 50 reserves. They would be organised into 22 Staffeln, Squadrons, 13 of them dedicated to reconnaissance, 6 to fighters and 3 to bombers. Close support of ground forces was clearly the intention, with the emphasis on providing aerial “Eyes in the Sky’s” and fighter protection to those “Eyes”, with only a limited capability to drop bombs. Moreover, targets for bombing would be chosen specifically to enhance the capability of ground forces, weakening the enemy at the operational and tactical levels rather than going for his cities or domestic industrial base. These plans received official approval on the 10th August 1932, five months before Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of the Reich.
Bruno Loerzer, Leader of the Deutscher Luftsport-Verband. He finished the First World War with a total of 44 victories, ranking him 7th among the elite of German “aces “. He was the second most successful fighter pilot, next to Udet, to survive the war. Herman Göring relied heavily on him during the formative days of the re-establishment of German aviation as well as the structuring of the new Luftwaffe. The two men worked closely, with Göring becoming Commander-in-Chief of the Luftwaffe, and Bruno Loerzer achieving the rank of Generaloberst on the 16th February 1943.
With Hitler’s coming to power on the 30th January 1933 he introduced in that year, the Deutscher Luftsport-Verband. In March 1933, the Deutscher Luftfahrt-Verband incorporated all civilian flying clubs into one organisation titled the Deutscher Luftsport-Verband, with Bruno Loerzer as its commander. He was, in the First World War, commander of Jagdgeschwader 3 and holder of the Pour le Mérite, the “Blue Max”. This organisation was to stimulate air minded young men. The club offered its members, most of whom had been in the armed forces, the active disciplined life for which they yearned, this new organisation aggressively pursued its task of promoting civilian interest in model, glider, balloon and motored aircraft flight. They also educated the youth and schooled them in aviation fundamentals. The DLV was initially divided into 16 Landesgruppen, which included the Free City of Danzig. In September 1933, The DLV also incorporated the former SA and SS “Fliegerstürme”. The Fliegerstürme was formed in November 1931 at München. Eduard Ritter von Schleich was commander of SS Fliegerstaffel Sud. The leaders of the SA and SS Fliegerstürme were invited to attend a meeting on the 21st June 1933. The Reich minister der Luftfahrt Prime Minister Hermann Göring accompanied by Parliamentary undersecretary Milch and DLV President Lorzer were in attendance. The purpose of the meeting called by Göring was to avoid the fragmentation of the German airports. It was felt that by transferring the existing SA and SS flying units into the Deutscher Luftsport–Verband along with other organisations this could be achieved. It remained active until it was absorbed by the Deutscher Luftsport-Verband, in September 1933. Schleich left the SS and returned to the Luftwaffe achieving the rank of General der Flieger.
Eduard Ritter von Schleich, commander of SS Fliegerstaffel Süd. In 1933 he became active with the Nazi Party, and was appointed to the staff of the Reich Youth Leader where he was involved in flight training of the Hitler Youth. He was appointed to the Präsidium of the German Air Sports League, and was elected to the Reichstag. With the creation of the new Luftwaffe, he returned to active military service. He fought in the Spanish Civil War as a member of the “Legion Condor “. Upon his return from Spain, he became the commanding officer of Flight Squadron 132, later designated Fighter Squadron 26, “Schlageter “. He fought actively in the Second World War and was promoted to the rank of Generalleutnant on the 1st September 1943.
Members of the SA and SS, pilots and crew with transport aircraft.
On the 10th November 1933 Hitler introduced for the DLV, a special uniform with rank and trade insignia. In this year Hitler abandoned the school at Lipezk and relied on the DLV to train the new personnel of his clandestine Luftwaffe.
Members of the Luftwaffe’s secret officer corps, from the 1st September 1933 until the 28th February 1935 adopted the uniform of the DLV. A short time later other ranks were permitted the uniform and rank title of the Deutscher Luftsport-Verband. The only exception was the epaulets were worn on both shoulders, whereas the DLV wore an epaulet only on the right shoulder. Officers wore a brown “Sam Browne” belt, with double-claw buckle and other ranks wore a black “Sam Browne” belt with rectangular buckle.
A mechanic works on the wing of a German monoplane trainer, possibly an early Focke-Wulf design. The provision of trainer aircraft to the nascent Luftwaffe in the mid-1930’s had to be a priority in order to fulfil flying crew requirements, and this undoubtedly delayed the introduction of more sophisticated fighters as manufacturers satisfied the need.
As the NSDAP, began to feel its political might, Hitler became more confident and on the 26th February 1935 announced the official formation of the new Luftwaffe and all the secrecy that had surrounded it was blown away, as if as a prelude to events that were to come, by the “Winds of War.”
The DLV was disbanded and all its former members encouraged to join the new NSFK that was introduced in its place. In this manner the party brought together under its control, all of the country’s flying clubs into one organisation, which, in fact, was paramilitary. The NSFK could thus operate with the fledgling Luftwaffe and both could grow and gather strength together.
Hitler therefore inherited an embryonic air force, but there can be no doubt that his rise to power gave the Luftwaffe a much needed political and financial boost. Within hours of becoming Chancellor in February 1933, the Nazi leader appointed his close colleague Hermann Göring to be Reichskommissar für die Luftfahrt, Reich Commissioner for Air, regarding his experiences as a First World War “Ace” as vital to future developments. However, Göring was deeply involved in politics and much of the work on creating the Luftwaffe fell to Milch, transferred from Lufthansa in 1933 to become Staatssekretär der Luftfahrt, Secretary of State for Air. He was helped by a vote of 40 million Reich marks about $9.5m in 1933 values, by the Nazi Cabinet to create an air force. This was the beginning of a financial preference that was to see a steady rise in the amount of money devoted to the Luftwaffe. By 1936, more than 38 per cent of the German defence budget would be concentrated on air capability.
Erhard Milch, became an air force pilot in the First World War. After the war he worked for the Junkers factory, developing a vast technical knowledge. A close friend of Göring, Milch was appointed secretary of state for the Luftwaffe in 1933 when Hitler became chancellor. He was the brains behind Göring and skilfully organised the new German air force, rising to the rank of field marshal in 1940. Known as “Baby Face” to his political and military enemies, of whom he had many, Milch planned and executed most of the outstanding military successes of the Luftwaffe, even training the Japanese in the skills that led to the surprise attack on Pearl Harbour. Many rumours circulated on Milch’s possible Jewish origins. This was true, but Göring kept him in place stating to his critics, “It is I who say who is a Jew.” Hitler had also heard these rumours but chose to ignore them.
Erhard Milch’s plans.
Milch was an experienced businessman, used to managing a large budget. One of his first acts as Staatssekretär was to order fighter and bomber aircraft to be produced to boost the ailing aircraft industry and set up production lines. These early designs were only interim, they included the Heinkel He 51 biplane fighter, Junkers Ju 52 bomber conversion and, of necessity, large numbers of trainers. But he needed something to show off to the world once the political decision had been made in May 1933 officially to unveil the Luftwaffe. At the time, Milch’s plan was to produce a 51 – Staffeln force with a frontline strength of 600 aircraft, rising rapidly to 1000 as industrial processes developed, but he could hardly leave it there. While the factories geared up, he began the process of building modern airbases throughout Germany, replete with radio and visual navigation systems, good communications and meteorological facilities. The 36 “aerodromes” that emerged would prove invaluable once Second World War began. The first Luftwaffe fighter school was established at the Deutsche Verkehrsfliegeschule [German Commercial Pilots School], at Schlelssheim.
Heinkel He 51A single-seater fighters prepare for take-oo, 1935. First flown in the summer of 1933, the He 51 was a robust machine but one that soon proved obsolete, especially when committed to the Spanish Civil War. By 1939, it had been largely relegated to the training role.
But problems arose. Of crucial importance was the weak state of the German aircraft industry after 14 years of enforced neglect and stagnation. In 1933, the industry was employing less than 3500 people in 8 widely dispersed factories, and although Nazi interest in air capability soon led to expansion, by mid-1936, nearly 125,000 people were employed; the very speed of that expansion undermined its effectiveness. It took time to train aeronautical engineers and craftsmen, let alone to create factories capable of mass production. Although the results looked good on paper, there were limits to what the industry could do. The situation was not helped by Hitler’s insistence in September 1933 that the air force should field 2000 aircraft, he recognised the potential value of such a large fleet in frightening the Allies into accepting revisions to the terms of the Versailles Treaty, or by poor relations between the men in charge of Luftwaffe affairs. Göring quickly grew to distrust Milch, regarding him as a rival, and although the Chief of the Air Command Office, General Walter Wever, acted as an effective go-between, his death in an air crash in May 1936 left the door open to damaging friction. Although Göring emerged the victor, the friction did little to aid the Luftwaffe’s long-term aims.
The Luftwaffe begins to take shape, albeit still in civilian garb. This photograph, taken at Berlin-Tempelhof airport in 1936, shows a Junker Ju 86 airliner in the foreground, with Junkers Ju 52’s and a selection of light aircraft parked behind. Both of the Junker’s designs could be converted easily into bombers, and the Junkers Ju 52 was widely used in the Second World War.
None of this prevented expansion. While the factories struggled to produce obsolete designs like the He 51, Milch encouraged the development of the next generation of fighter aircraft. Some of these were already on the drawing boards or at prototype stage, as early as July 1932 a requirement had been issued for the building of a high speed medium bomber, initially to be disguised as an airliner, and this was to produce both the Dornier Do 17 and Heinkel He 111, but others were brand new.
Aircrew Badge: The introduction of this badge into service is a little difficult to determine and understand, as is its role in the following order. The known references give its introduction as 1933 and that it had been used for the reward of pilots and observers in the clandestine Luftwaffe or the qualified members of the German Air Sports Association. It however gained official sanction on the1st April 1934 and on the 19th January 1935 became the official Combined Pilots and Observers Badge. It became supplanted by the new version in November 1935 and was removed totally from circulation. However the Luftwaffe Diary for 1942 for use by Luftwaffe personnel as a form of textbook still shows the badge in the order of badges. This gives rise to the assumption of the principle that, like the Army Parachutists Badge, a new badge did not have to be re-sat for and the original could still be worn.
This badge comprises of an oval wreath formed of oak leaves on the right and laurel leaves on the left. An eagle holding a swastika in its talons surmounts it. On the reverse is a horizontal pin. The badge comes in two types, the first and possibly the more common, is in nickel silver. Three ball rivets, one through each wing of the eagle into the wreath and one through the swastika rivets the eagle. The pin is of either a broad blade or a thin needle type. The badge can be totally devoid of any maker’s mark or has the Junker’s trade mark, ‘CJJ’ in a box. The second type is made of aluminium, with the eagle sweated on to the wreath. In this version the wreath and eagle are die stamped. The reverse is formed with two holes, one at either end of the badge. In the holes are countersunk the hinge mounting and the hook mounting. The pin in this type is of a thin needle type.
Aircrew Badge: in Cloth. There is a cloth version of this badge, which comes in cotton thread, white cotton for the wreath and black cotton for the eagle. The fletching on the eagle’s wings is picked out in white cotton.
New aircraft designs.
One of the most important was the Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter, test flown in September 1935; another was the Junkers Ju 87 “heavy dive-bomber” popularly known as the Stuka, a name derived from the German for “dive-bomber”; Sturzkampfflugzeug, which first flew later in the same year. German interest in the potentialities of dive-bombing was founded long before the existence of the Luftwaffe was officially proclaimed in March 1935, the month in which the prototype of the new air arm’s first true dive-bomber, the Henschel Hs 123, made its début. The Swedish plant of the Junkers Flugzeug und Motorenwerke, the A.-B. Flyindustrie at Malmo was instrumental in producing an aircraft ideally suited for the dive-bombing role as early as 1928. This aircraft, the K.47, although ostensibly a two-seat interceptor fighter, was the true progenitor of the Ju 87. It received its airworthiness certificate from the Deutsche Versuchsanstalt für Luftfahrt (German Research Institute for Aviation) on the 5th March 1929. The K.47 was of extremely rugged construction and possessed excellent stability, and the successful outcome of the exhaustive testing carried out with this experimental machine encouraged the Junkers concern to initiate work on a more advanced dive-bomber as a private venture. Owing to the necessity for secrecy due to the restrictions placed upon Germany by the Treaty of Versailles, progress was initially slow, and detail design of the aircraft, the Junkers Ju 87, did not commence until 1934. The project team was headed by Diploma Engineer Pohmann, and construction of the first prototype began early in 1935.
At one time, the abortive testing of the Heinkel He 50 and Heinkel He 66 dive-bombers by the embryo Luftwaffe did not auger well for the future of this type of warplane, but Ernst Udet was an ardent supporter of the dive-bomber, it was largely through his influence that the Henschel Hs 123 single-seat dive-bombing biplane was placed in production for the Luftwaffe’s first Schlachtgeschwader, and despite the lack of official support from the Reichsluftfahrtministerium, and preoccupation with the Junkers Ju 52/3M bomber-transport, and other types, prototype construction progressed rapidly, and the Junkers Ju 87V1 had been completed and had commenced its test programme before the end of 1935.
As the Luftwaffe emerges into the open, priority is given to training the future airmen of the Reich. Here, eager young cadets, now in the uniform of the Luftwaffe, attend a lecture on aerial navigation, essential in the campaigns to come.
Luftwaffe anti-aircraft gunners show off their skills at a Nazi Party rally in 1935. The weapon is the newly developed 37mm Flugabwehrkanone (Flak) 18, produced in small numbers while awaiting the appearance of the more effective Flak 36.
Peering through range-finders, Luftwaffe NCO’s estimate the speed and altitude of Junkers Ju 52s in a training exercise. Despite the apparent obsolescence of the kit, the gunners are learning skills that will be used within less than four years.
Powered by a 640hp Rolls-Royce Kestrel V twelve-cylinder water-cooled engine driving a fixed-pitch, two-blade wooden airscrew, the Junkers Ju 87V1 was an extremely angular monoplane, the cantilever low wing featuring a unique inverted gull configuration. The main undercarriage members were enclosed by immense “trousers”, the tail unit embodied two square fin-and-rudder assemblies, and extremely rugged construction was employed. Special dive brakes had been evolved by Junkers engineers which took the form of slats mounted just aft of the wing leading edges, outboard of the main undercarriage members. It was anticipated that these brakes would reduce diving speeds, enabling the pilot to get closer to his target before pulling out, the bomb thus having a shorter distance to travel and a higher degree of accuracy being attained. Unfortunately, before these brakes could be fitted to the Junkers Ju 87V1, the aircraft crashed and was totally destroyed when tail flutter developed during a steep dive.
Although this accident caused a serious delay in the test programme, and necessitated a complete redesign of the tail assembly, the second and third prototypes, the Junkers Ju 87V2 and Junkers Ju 87V3, had reached advanced stages of construction. Thus in March 1936, the new Luftwaffe Research Establishment at Rechlin was already conducting trials with the Junkers Ju 87V2. The Junkers Ju 87V2 differed appreciably from its predecessor. The twin tail assembly had given place to a large, angular fin and rudder, and a 610hp Junkers Jumo 210Aa twelve-cylinder inverted-Vee liquid-cooled engine driving a Hamilton Standard three-blade controllable-pitch airscrew had supplanted the Kestrel with its two-blade wooden airscrew.
Apart from some slight instability, which was corrected in the Junkers Ju 87V3 by minor redesign of the vertical tail surfaces, the flight trials of the Junkers Ju 87V2 were highly successful, and prior to the dive-bomber trials held at Rechlin in June 1936, the dive brakes had been treated with excellent results. The third prototype, the Junkers Ju 87V3, completed shortly after the second machine, bore the civil registration D-UKYQ, and embodied some redesign of the engine cowling to improve the pilot’s forward view, an enlarged rudder.
In the meantime, the advocates of dive-bomber as a mobile weapon capable of replacing to some extent the use of heavy artillery had increased rapidly, and several other aircraft manufacturers were hastily completing prototypes to compete in the trials to be conducted at Rechlin before Ernst Udet and engineers of the R.L.M. Technical Department. There was still some doubt whether the monoplane or biplane configuration was best suited for dive-bombing, and the Arado Flugzeugwerke, a government – owned concern, had produced a robust, slim two-seat biplane, the Arado Ar 81. The other completion were, like the Junkers Ju 87, monoplanes, these being the Ha 137, a solid single-seater with an inverted gull wing, not unlike that of the Junkers design, developed by Dr. Ing. Richard Vogt of the Hamburger Flugzeugbau, and the beautifully clean two-seat Heinkel He 118, designed by the Günther brothers of the Ernst Heinkel Flugzeugwerke.
An Arado Ar 95 two-seater reconnaissance and torpedo-bomber floatplane. Armed with two machine guns for defence and either a torpedo or bombs for attack, the Arado Ar 95 was not a success and few were built.
Focke-Wulf Fw 56 Stösser fighters, 1936. An agile and clean-lined aircraft, the Fw 56 could be armed with one or two machine guns, and was used in early dive-bombing experiments.
Arado Ar 68s, the last fighter biplanes to enter Luftwaffe service. The early pattern fuselage cross dates the photograph as 1938, by which time the Arado Ar 68 was obsolete.
The Junkers Ju 87V2 participated in the Rechlin trials, the Junkers Ju 87V3 being held in reserve and it was soon obvious that the choice rested between this aircraft and the elegant, slender Heinkel He 118. However, during the final series of dives, the Junkers prototype’s performance bested that of its competitors, and the selection of the Junkers Ju 87 seemed almost a forgone conclusion. Udet was not entirely satisfied, and decided to flight test the Heinkel He 118 himself. On the 27th June, Udet took off in the Heinkel He 118 from Marienehe, but his unfamiliarity with airscrew-pitch control resulted in the aircraft shedding its airscrew and subsequently disintegrating. Udet survived the accident, and the Junkers Ju 87 was selected as the Luftwaffe’s standard dive-bomber.
In fact, the emphasis on the Junkers Ju 87 Stuka indicated a growing preference among Luftwaffe planners for dive-bombers rather than level-bombers, it being felt that the former were likely to be much more accurate against pinpoint targets such as troop concentrations or communication networks. This was undoubtedly true, and the Junkers Ju 87 Stuka would soon be feared throughout Europe, but it did divert resources from the development of the so-called “Ural Bomber”, which was planned for strategic attacks on long-range enemy targets. The Luftwaffe may have placed the emphasis on a doctrine of close air support, interdiction of enemy supply and communication lines and selected targeting of enemy air capability, including aircraft factories, but as early as 1936 it was apparent that not all aspects could or would be satisfied. Ominously, the Luftwaffe was already a potentially unbalanced force.
The Junkers Ju 87 V1. This first prototype had been completed and had commenced its flight test programme before the end of 1935. Powered by a 640 hp Rolls-Royce Kestrel V twelve-cylinder water-cooled engine driving a fixed-pitch, two-blade wooden airscrew and original deep radiator, replaced after initial flight tests.
This was not apparent to Germany’s rivals in Europe, who watched with mounting horror as the Luftwaffe grew in size. On the 1st March 1934, Hitler could call on 77 front-line aircraft only including a mere 27 bombers and 12 fighters, but once the factories had recovered and, equally importantly, conscription had been reintroduced, the Luftwaffe took off in every sense. In April 1935, the first German fighter squadron emerged under the command of Major Ritter von Greim, which bore the title “Jagdgeschwader Richthofen 2”. By the 1st August 1935 the fleet had grown to 1833 aircraft including 833 bombers 251 fighters; within less than a year it stood at the awesome figure of 2680 including over 1000 bombers and 700 fighters. This was a powerful deterrent, showing as such on the 7th March 1936 when Hitler openly defied the terms of the Versailles Treaty and marched troops under air cover into the demilitarised Rhineland. The Allies made no move to stop him; already, after only 3 years in power, Hitler had created an air force that seemed to threaten the very fabric of modern society, after all, 1000 bombers would be unstoppable if they were pitched against cities and industrial sites, dropping bombs and gas that would kill or maim countless thousands of people. The fact that Luftwaffe doctrine was specifically proscribing “terror bombing” was, of course, unknown to outside observers. All they could see were the massed squadrons and their own apparently puny defences. Their fears were soon to be increased as the Luftwaffe showed its teeth, not against them but in a civil war that was about to engulf Spain.
The third prototype (V3) of the Junkers Ju 87, coded D-UKYQ, shows the gull-winged lines that were to become so familiar over the battlegrounds of Europe in the Second World War. The V3 differed from earlier prototypes in terms of improved tail surfaces and pilot vision, but the basic design is already apparent.
The fourth prototype (V4) of the Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter, photographed in 1936. The V4 was the first version of the aircraft to be fitted with an engine-mounted machine gun, hence the rather clipped appearance of the propeller boss.
A Messerschmitt Bf 110B long-range Zerstörer (destroyer) fighter in full wartime livery. It was disappointing when committed to battle and was eventually to find a more effective role as a night-fighter.
The sixth prototype (V6) of the Junkers Ju 88 Schnellbomber (quick), widely recognised as the forerunner of the production series. Photographed in early 1940, this particular aircraft has uprated engines with four-bladed propellers and a chin-mounted balloon-cable cutter. The idea of a cable-cutter did not last for long.
Always aware of propaganda, the Luftwaffe used biplane fighters to fly in a swastika pattern over a Nazi Party rally in 1935 in a show of force and intimidation. It was images such as this that helped to persuade potential rivals that Germany had a modern, effective air force. In the late 1930’s, the images conveyed the truth: by 1937 the Luftwaffe could field 1000 fighters and 700 bombers. In comparison, by the time war broke out in 1939 Britain had fewer than 1700 combat aircraft, and France could only field 550 fighters and 400 bombers.
Adolf Hitler takes the salute at a Nazi Party rally in 1935 and his deputy, Rudolf Hess, seated left next to Balder von Schirach smiles at the camera. Hitler’s insistence on a modern Luftwaffe as an instrument of persuasion and deterrence ensured the provision of development funds, but could do little to make up for years of neglect.
“Terror bombing” was not the only tool in Erhard Milch’s arsenal. He also used propaganda and subterfuge to intimidate possible adversaries with the size and strength of the Luftwaffe. France was one such target, an old enemy of the last 2 wars Germany had been engaged in. The commander of the French air force was already thoroughly intimidated by the Luftwaffe. The French commander, General Joseph Vuillemin was a distinguished First World War “Ace” who was “liked “by his troops, but whose own “ceiling” was regrettably lower than that to which his planes could ascend in the skies”. In August 1938, he went, accompanied by Colonel de Geffrièr Commandent (Mejòr) Jacques Petitjean and Capitaine Schmidlein, on a five-day tour of Luftwaffe installations, guided by Erhard Milch and Ernst Udet, the master showman, who had worked briefly in Hollywood. He was the victim of an elaborate hoax, visiting airfield after airfield, he saw hundreds of fighters and bombers and was given astonishing and completely false production figures. Many of the aircraft Villemin and his party saw were the same planes he had seen before: they were being shuttled from airfield to airfield to deceive him into thinking that the Luftwaffe was much stronger than it actually was. To add to the sense of occasion the 3 were presented with Göring newly instituted Combined Pilots and Observers Badge in Gold with Diamonds by Erhard Milch. The ruse worked. Vuillemin thoroughly shaken reported back to his government that the French air force could not last a week against what he had seen. At one point, Kesselring even accused Milch of high treason for divulging too much information about the Luftwaffe’s strength to the British during a trip he took. However, Erhard Milch had a talent for manipulation and internal and external political intrigue, which he used against his enemies to the maximum extent possible.
Erhard Milch, Hans-Jurgen Stumpff and General Joseph Vuillemin. Many of the aircraft Villemin and his party saw were the same planes he had seen before: they were being shuttled from airfield to airfield to deceive him into thinking that the Luftwaffe was much stronger than it actually was.
Staassekretär der Luftfahrt Erhard Milch (center), photographed with visiting General Joseph Vuillemin. Milch is widely acknowledged to have been the true architect of the Luftwaffe, although his influence waned as he came to be regarded as a rival by Göring. In the end, Erhard Milch’s energy and dedication counted for naught.
Taken on the same day as the above photograph, this shows French officers being introduced to Dr Ernst Heinkel (the smaller of the two men in civilian clothes) and, behind him, the First World War air “ace” Ernst Udet, who was awarded the Pour le Mérite during the war. Both were influential players in the early years of the Luftwaffe.
Hitler’s conjuring trick had worked; through skilful propaganda and deception an astonished world was convinced that he had been able to produce a force as technically involved as the Luftwaffe, virtually out of a hat. This feat added to Hitler’s international diplomatic aura and as the Luftwaffe gained experience in Spain in the Civil War, the fear of this “terror machine”, which was interlaced with the chivalry of those “Knights of the Air” from the former days, often settled a diplomatic disagreement.
Pilots Badge: The original instruction for this badge came on the 27th May 1935, although Göring did not bring the badge into being until the 12th August 1935. On the 27th November 1935 the regulations publishing the exact specification for the badge were made public and were, an oval, slightly convex, silver-plated wreath, the right half of laurel and the left half of oak leaves. This is the opposite of the Aircrew Badge. The raised surfaces of the wreath are highly polished. At the base of the wreath there is a three-band tie and, on the viewer’s right, nine bunches of three oak leaves overlapping one another. At each joint are two acorns, one on either side. On the opposite side are nine bunches of three laurel leaves with two berries at the joint, one on either side of the central leaf’s point. The wreath is 53 mm by 42 mm with a width of 8 mm. It has an eagle in flight mounted upon it, oxidised and old silver-plated, clutching a swastika in its claws. The wingspan of the eagle can vary between 64 mm and 67 mm, due to the form of manufacture as well as the individual producer. On the reverse the eagle is riveted to the wreath on each side by two small ball rivets, which change in style with the different methods of manufacture. There is a vertical hinged pin, which is soldered on. This badge was found in nickel silver or aluminium and as the war progressed, pot metal. There are two versions of the cloth badge, which correspond to the officers and NCOs, taking the form of the metal badge but embroidered in relief. The wreath is worked in silver, the eagle in oxidised silver, and the swastika in dull aluminium thread. The NCOs version is identical but expedited in cotton thread. The badge was worn on the left upper pocket of the service uniform or flying jacket. The badge was awarded upon completion of the flying training and when the pilot received his flying licence and citation.
Combined Pilots and Observers Badge: On the 26th March 1936 this badge was introduced to replace the older Aircrew Badge and takes the format of the former badge but the eagle is bright silver and the wreath is gilt. The high parts of the gilt wreath are polished, while the indentations are matt. This badge is again found in aluminium and later in the war, pot metal.
The badge was awarded on completion of both the pilots and observers courses and was presented with licence and certificate. On the 31st July 1944 regulations prescribed that the award could be rendered providing that the intended recipient had held the Pilot Observers qualification certificates for a minimum of one year. In special cases the badge was authorised to be awarded to foreigners in recognition of special services rendered to the Luftwaffe. An honorary presentation of this badge was normally made to foreign attachés upon their return to their home duty station. The cloth version was again identical to the pilots form but with the colours conforming to the metal badge. The officer’s version was again executed in silver and gold bullion while the NCOs version was in cotton. The badge was to be worn on the left breast pocket and after 1936 could be worn on the political uniform as well as the military one.
Combined Pilots and Observers Badge in Gold with Diamonds. This award was conceived during the summer of 1935 with the first bestowal-taking place on the 11th November 1935. It is interesting to note that both the inception and first presentation pre-date the introduction of the Combined Pilots and Observers Badge, which was introduced on the 26th March 1936. This was Göring’s personal award and was only sparingly awarded.