L is for… the rise of the Luftwaffe

After the First World War the Allies ordered the German Flying Corp to disband, whilst simultaneously prohibiting the country from constructing further military aircrafts.[1] Constraining the course of German rearmament throughout the 1920s and 1930s was part of the Allied treaty that had been formed in 1919. Furthermore, there was not any notable air force that survived after the war, except a small skeleton crew within the army.[2]

Despite this, the German government provided subsidies throughout the 1920s for the civilian aircraft industry to disguise their true intentions, and under the Army Commander, Hans von Seeckt, a class of highly skilled professional officers were built up under the Reichswehr.[3] German aircraft were often built abroad, or under this guise of civilian machines, and rigorous training took place at secret bases.[4]

When Hitler came to power in 1933, he made Hermann Goering Air Minister and the expansion of military aviation officially became a priority, no longer disguised.[5] The significant subsidies that allowed the German aviation economy to continue throughout the Weimar Republic were crucial in establishing the Luftwaffe during the Nazi period.[6] By 1935 the Luftwaffe was formally announced, with over 1,800 aircraft having been made and 20,000 personnel already employed.[7] A year later aircraft prototype forms that would later participate in the Battle of Britain in 1940 were already undergoing testing.[8]

Luftwaffe Messerschmitt BF 109 3rd prototype in flight, Augsburg, Germany, 1936

Goering, as Hitler’s so-called right-hand man, insured that the Luftwaffe gained position as an independent and privileged service.[9] Goring refused to subordinate himself to the German Minister of War, Werner von Blomberg and despite the economic issues faced by the military services in Germany during the late thirties, the Luftwaffe continued to be funded well.[10]

Hermann Goering, in Nazi Party uniform, gives the ‘Heil Hitler’ salute at the 1934 Nazi Party rally, 5-10 September 1934

By the time that the Wehrmacht invasion was launched against Poland on 1 September 1939, the Luftwaffe was in a considerably good position. A new generation of aircraft had been produced across 1937 and 1938 and air units now possessed modern equipment.[11] For perhaps the first time, the German air force was far more capable than any other European air force.[12] However, serious issues in the Luftwaffe’s leadership, along with British aircraft production soaring across the first year of the war, meant that the German air force already appeared to be well on their way to disaster.


[1] Royal Air Force (RAF) Museum, “The Rise of the Luftwaffe,” last accessed 22 August 2021, https://www.rafmuseum.org.uk/research/online-exhibitions/history-of-the-battle-of-britain/the-rise-of-the-luftwaffe/

[2] Williamson Murray, Strategy for Defeat: The Luftwaffe 1933 – 1945, Air University Press: Alabama, 1983, page 3 (accessed here: https://www.airuniversity.af.edu/Portals/10/AUPress/Books/B_0012_MURRAY_STRATEGY_FOR_DEFEAT.pdf )

[3] RAF Museum, “The Rise of the Luftwaffe,” last accessed 22 August 2021, https://www.rafmuseum.org.uk/research/online-exhibitions/history-of-the-battle-of-britain/the-rise-of-the-luftwaffe/

[4] RAF Museum, “The Rise of the Luftwaffe,” last accessed 22 August 2021, https://www.rafmuseum.org.uk/research/online-exhibitions/history-of-the-battle-of-britain/the-rise-of-the-luftwaffe/

[5] RAF Museum, “The Rise of the Luftwaffe,” last accessed 22 August 2021, https://www.rafmuseum.org.uk/research/online-exhibitions/history-of-the-battle-of-britain/the-rise-of-the-luftwaffe/

[6] Murray, Strategy for Defeat: The Luftwaffe 1933 – 1945, Air University Press: Alabama, 1983, page 4 (accessed here: https://www.airuniversity.af.edu/Portals/10/AUPress/Books/B_0012_MURRAY_STRATEGY_FOR_DEFEAT.pdf )

[7] RAF Museum, “The Rise of the Luftwaffe,” last accessed 22 August 2021, https://www.rafmuseum.org.uk/research/online-exhibitions/history-of-the-battle-of-britain/the-rise-of-the-luftwaffe/

[8] RAF Museum, “The Rise of the Luftwaffe,” last accessed 22 August 2021, https://www.rafmuseum.org.uk/research/online-exhibitions/history-of-the-battle-of-britain/the-rise-of-the-luftwaffe/

[9] Murray, Strategy for Defeat: The Luftwaffe 1933 – 1945, Air University Press: Alabama, 1983, page 4 (accessed here: https://www.airuniversity.af.edu/Portals/10/AUPress/Books/B_0012_MURRAY_STRATEGY_FOR_DEFEAT.pdf )

[10] Murray, Strategy for Defeat: The Luftwaffe 1933 – 1945, Air University Press: Alabama, 1983, page 5 (accessed here: https://www.airuniversity.af.edu/Portals/10/AUPress/Books/B_0012_MURRAY_STRATEGY_FOR_DEFEAT.pdf )

[11] Murray, Strategy for Defeat: The Luftwaffe 1933 – 1945, Air University Press: Alabama, 1983, page 20 (accessed here: https://www.airuniversity.af.edu/Portals/10/AUPress/Books/B_0012_MURRAY_STRATEGY_FOR_DEFEAT.pdf )

[12] Murray, Strategy for Defeat: The Luftwaffe 1933 – 1945, Air University Press: Alabama, 1983, page 20 (accessed here: https://www.airuniversity.af.edu/Portals/10/AUPress/Books/B_0012_MURRAY_STRATEGY_FOR_DEFEAT.pdf )

[Image 1] Imperial War Museum (IWM), Luftwaffe Messerschmitt BF 109 Aircraft, HU 67699, https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205069850

[Image 2] IWM, The Nazi Personalities 1933 – 1945, (MOI) FLM 1535, https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205022100


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