Defense of the Reich: Wikis


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Defence of the Reich
Part of Campaigns of World War II
Second world war europe 1941-1942 map en.png
The scope of the Defence of the Reich campaign. The Luftwaffe defended the Reich from the Atlantic coast to the Romanian coast.
Date 4 September 1939 – 8 May 1945[1]
Location German–occupied Europe
Result Allied victory
 United Kingdom

Canada Canada
New Zealand New Zealand
 United States (from 1942)
 Soviet Union (from 1944)


Romania Romania
Italy Italy (to 1943)
Flag of RSI.svg Italian Social Republic (from 1943)
Hungary Hungary
Croatia Croatia (from 1941)

United Kingdom Arthur Tedder
United Kingdom Charles Portal
United Kingdom Trafford Leigh-Mallory
United Kingdom Arthur Harris
United StatesCarl Spaatz
United States James H. Doolittle
United Kingdom Sholto Douglas
United Kingdom Roderic Hill
United Kingdom James Robb
United StatesIra C. Eaker
United Kingdom John D'Albiac
United KingdomArthur Coningham
Nazi GermanyHermann Göring
Nazi Germany Hans Jeschonnek
Nazi Germany Hans-Jürgen Stumpff
Nazi Germany Josef Kammhuber
Nazi Germany Hugo Sperrle
Italy Rino Corso Fougier(to 1943)

The Defence of the Reich is the name given to the strategic defensive aerial campaign fought by the German Luftwaffe over German occupied Europe and Nazi Germany itself during the Second World War. Its aim was to prevent the destruction of German military and civil industries by the Western Allies. The daylight and night air struggles over Germany during war involved thousands of aircraft, dozens of units, and hundreds of aerial engagements to counter the Allied strategic bombing campaign. The campaign was the longest sustained in the history of aerial warfare. Along with the Battle of the Atlantic it was the longest campaign during 1939-1945. The Luftwaffe's fighter force (Jagdwaffe), defended the airspace of German occupied territory against attack, first by RAF Bomber Command, and then Bomber Command and the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) together.

The Luftwaffe was an offensive weapon, and the Germans had not foreseen the need for a defensive force to guard its airspace and even after being forced onto the defensive during the winter of 1942-1943. Thus the Luftwaffe continued to produce bomber aircraft despite the resurgence of the Allied Air Forces' offensive power. Finally German fighter aviation was given priority and defence became the Luftwaffe's primary focus.

In September 1943 Germany's Axis ally, Italy collapsed. The country was split in two, with the north Italian Social Republic's air force, the Fascist National Republican Air Force (Aeronautica Nazionale Repubblicana, or ANR) continuing to support the Luftwaffe. By late 1943, Germany's rapidly deteriorating military position forced the Luftwaffe to committ more and more of its fighter units (Jagdgeschwader) to defence duties. In the period 1940 - 1943 the Luftwaffe successfully defended its territory and inflicted several defeats on both RAF Bomber Command and the USAAF. These victories were largely a result of the Western Allies' lack of a long-range escort fighter. In October 1943 the USAAF had sustained such losses that a temporary suspension of deep penetration raids over occupied Europe became necessary. In the Spring of 1944 the USAAF introduced the P-51 Mustang, a fighter capable of escorting the USAAF bombers to and from their targets. By the summer 1944 the aerial defenders of the Third Reich, the Reichsluftverteidigung (RLV), were stretched to the limit. In 1944 Romania collapsed and declared war against its former German ally and Bulgaria did the same. Overwhelmed by Allied numbers, the Luftwaffe lost air superiority. Suffering from chronic fuel problems and a lack of trained pilots it ceased to be an effective fighting force by 1945.

Repelling RAF Bomber Command (1939-1941)

Pre war doctrine, daylight operations and effectiveness of RAF bombing

For a long period between the wars, the UK strategy focussed on the French as the likeliest enemy. With Germany coming to the fore as a possible belligerent, the RAF began a period of enlargement. The development of heavy bombers was begun before the war but it would not be until 1942 that these would be available in large numbers. The planned increases were matched by the development of the shadow factories that increased production capacity.[2] However in 1937, the commander Air Chief Marshal Sir Edgar Ludlow-Hewitt was sure that Bomber Command was unprepared for war.

The RAF developed a doctrine of industrial air bombardment in the years leading to the Second World War. RAF strategists deemed the attacks on large areas of industrial cities were the best that could be achieved due to a lack of accuracy in bombing technology.[3] This doctrine was also a result of the RAF's Chief of Staff, Charles Portal's conviction that attacking German morale was to be the key to forcing capitulation.[4] This belief stemmed from the policy of Hugh Trenchard, the "father" of the RAF, originating during the First World War, that of carrying the offensive war to the enemy homeland.[4] It was hoped that such physical and psychological damage would be done, that in Germany and German-occupied territories the people would take up arms and overthrow the system.[4] Portal presented a convincing argument that morale bombing (later known as terror bombing) would complement strategic bombing as it would target German industrial workers, either undermining their morale or killing them which would result in a crippling of German military industries.[4]

Wellington Mark I aircraft carried out the deepest raids during the 1939-1941 period

The longest defensive air campaign of the Second World War began in the afternoon of 4 September 1939, just one day after the United Kingdom's declaration of war on Germany. The target for RAF Bomber Command (Bomber Command) was the German naval base at Wilhelmshaven. Only slight damage was done to the Admiral Scheer, but the first of thousands of aerial victories on both sides were scored. Credit for these kills went to II./Jagdgeschwader 77's Feldwebels Hans Troitsch and Alfred Held.[5]

The RAF had entered the Second World War without a strategic heavy bomber that was fit for purpose. The most formidable bomber in its arsenal in 1939 was the Vickers Wellington. Although it had a range of 2,500 miles (4,000 km), and carried an impressive bomb load for the time, this medium bomber, in common with all unescorted bombers, was vulnerable in daylight raids to fighter aircraft. Their faster light bombers carried relatively light loads. Types like the Armstrong Whitworth Whitley and Handley Page Hampden were obsolete.[6]

The RAF's belief that the bomber "would always get through" in daylight proved false. In a number of missions in September to December, raids involving Bomber Command had suffered significant casualties yet the RAF continued to believe the bomber formation could defend itself without escorting fighters. On 4 December a rare success fed this belief. 24 Wellingtons took off on a mission over the Heligoland Bight. At an altitude of 10,000 feet (3,000 metres) they were engaged by heavy anti-aircraft fire and Messerschmitt Bf 109 and Messerschmitt Bf 110s. The German fighters failed to close the gap and rear gunners of the Wellingtons shot down a Bf 110 without loss, flown by Oberleutnant Günther Specht, who lost an eye after crashing into the sea. The RAF assessment determined that the action was a result of the Germans showing "respect" to the rear gunners. Ten days later, on 14 December, a force of 12 Wellingtons were intercepted over the Schilling Roads. Five were shot down, with one of the five crash landing in England. German losses were just one Bf 109 destroyed and its pilot killed, with five others slightly damaged. Incredibly the British analysis credited the formation with good flying and hinted it was German flak forces that had done the damage.[7]

In the aerial engagement dubbed the Battle of the Heligoland Bight on 18 December 1939, during the "Phoney War", the RAF lost 12 of 22 bombers during an anti-shipping sortie (the Germans claimed 38) where German radar detected the incoming attack and fighters were sent to intercept. The RAF were forced to call a halt to operations.[8] Bomber Command had been forced to admit defeat in the opening days of the war, and switched to night bombing.[9]

British strategists argued over the nature of British strategy in the 1939-1941 period, the essence of which would form the fundamental base of RAF strategy throughout the war. Bombing results were also wrangled over and formed the key to the issue. Some in the Air Ministry argued that the bombing technology was not accurate and as a result of this selective target attacks could not be undertaken.[10] To support their findings they used the Butt report, a report which indicated just 30 percent of RAF bombers arrived within the target area, and in the Ruhr region it was just 10 percent.[10] Those in RAF Bomber Command that were in favour of selective targeting criticised the report as "selective". When Air Marshal Arthur Harris took over RAF Bomber Command in 1942, he was to use this as a tool to push for his area bombing policies.[10]

Creating an Air defence system

Recognising the need for aerial defence

The Luftwaffe lacked an effective air defense system early in the war. Adolf Hitler's foreign policy had pushed Germany into war before these defenses could be fully developed. The Luftwaffe was forced to improvise and construct its defenses during the war itself. The daylight actions over German controlled territory were sparse in 1939-1940. The responsibility of the defense of German air space fell to the Luftgaukommandos (air district commands). The defense systems relied mostly on the Flak arm. The defenses were not coordinated and communication was poor. This lack of understanding between the Flak and flying branches of the defense would plague the Luftwaffe throughout the war.[11] Hitler in particular wanted the defense to rest on anti-aircraft artillery as it gave the civilian population a "psychological crutch" no matter how ineffective the weapons.[12] Had the Allied Air Forces launched a large scale attack on the Ruhr region of Germany at this time, there was little the Luftwaffe could have done to prevent it. Each Luftgaukommandos were assigned specific objectives and lacked an effective ground-to-air control system at that time in 1939. But the weakness in Allied aerial offensive power ensured the danger remained hypothetical.[11]

On 21 September 1939, Hans Jeschonnek the Luftwaffe's Chief of Staff, clarified the role of the day fighter force in the defence of German territory. Fighter units earmarked for specific defensive task would remain under local air-defense command. However, all other fighter units would be organized under one of several Luftflotten (Air Fleets), which would prosecute the defense of German targets in a manner "linked directly with the strategic concept for the continued conduct of the air war". In other words the Luftwaffe fighter force deployed at the front would act as a defensive and offensive force, alternating between Air superiority and denying its opponents an opportunity to inflict damage upon the Reich.[13] This kind of strategy worked well at the Front, but it soon became clear that a lack of training, experience and combined arms coordination between the Fliegerdivisions (Flying Divisions) and the Flak arm, when dealing with strategic defensive operations, made an effective defense difficult.[13] The success of the 1939 - 1940 campaigns and weakness of Allied offensive power ensured the Luftwaffe's undeveloped defenses were not tested.

Air defense setup

The failure of the Luftwaffe to protect Berlin from a series of small scale raids made by RAF Bomber Command during the Battle of Britain led to the construction of a solid air defense programmes. Luftflotte Reich was eventually produced, which protected all of Germany and Central Europe. Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring ordered General-Leutnant Hubert Weise, who had commanded the I.Flakkorps (1st Flak Corps) with distinction during the Battle of France to form Luftgaukommando III on 27 September 1940.[14] This Command originally was meant to protect Berlin but grew to encompass all air-defenses as far south as Dresden. Weise formed Luftwaffenbefehlshaber Mitte (Central Air Force Command or "Air Command Central" - Lw Bfh Mitte) on 24 March 1941. Weise also created the Nachtjagddivision (Night-Fighter Division) under the command of Major-General Josef Kammhuber to combat the night operations of Bomber Command.[14] However the defense of southern Germany was given to Hugo Sperrle's Luftflotte 3. This caused coordination problems as the two forces were competing. Erhard Milch urged Göring to unite the fighter force under one command as had been the case for RAF Fighter Command in the Battle of Britain. Göring refused. Until Luftlotte 3 was practically destroyed in the Normandy Campaign in August 1944, the home defenses remained split between rival commanders.[15]

Most of the battles fought by the Luftwaffe on the Western Front would be against the RAF's Circus raids and the occasional daylight raid into German air space. This was a fortunate position since the Luftwaffe's strategy of focusing its striking power on one front started to unravel with the failure of Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union. The "peripheral" strategy of the Luftwaffe between 1939-1940 had been to deploy its fighter defenses at the edges of Axis occupied territory, with little protecting the inner depths.[16] Moreover the front line units in the West were complaining about the poor numbers and performance of aircraft. Units complained of lack of Zerstörer aircraft with all weather capabilities and the "lack of climbing power of the Bf 109".[16] The Luftwaffe's technical edge was slipping as the only formidable new aircraft in the German arsenal was the Focke-Wulf Fw 190. Generalfeldmarschall Erhard Milch was to assist Ernst Udet with aircraft production increases and introduction of more modern types of fighter aircraft. However, they explained at a meeting of the Reich Industrial Council on the 18 September 1941 that the new next generation aircraft had failed to materialise, and obsolescent types had to be continued to keep up with the growing need for replacements.[16]

In 1941 the Focke Wulf Fw 190 fighter began to partially replace the Bf 109 as the main Luftwaffe fighter type. The Fw 190 proved to be more manoeuvrable and better armed, but its performance above 20,000 ft dropped considerably. The Bf 109G and K could fight well at high altitudes and were a match for Allied fighters in performance. It was decided by the Oberkommando der Luftwaffe to keep both the Fw 190 and Bf 109 in production. In later stages of the campaign the Fw 190s were equipped with heavy armament decreasing their performance at high altitude even further. They were to be used primarily as bomber destroyers while the Bf 109, the superior of the two at high altitude, would engage any escorting fighters.[17].

Despite these failures, the RAF was not in a position to challenge the Luftwaffe yet. The main British fighter, the Supermarine Spitfire did not have the range to escort bombers deep into enemy territory, and RAF Bomber Command lacked the four-engine heavy bomber to inflict lasting damage on German targets. Minimal damage was inflicted by the RAF on the raids that it did mount, and suffered heavy losses against the numerically inferior German fighter forces on the Channel Front.

The United States Army Air Forces join the battle (1942)

The new enemy

destruction of Cologne after the 9 June 1942 attack

The entry of the United States of America into the Second World War on 11 December 1941 was an unwelcome shock for the OKL. For the first 12 months, the expected all-out offensive against German targets did not come.[18] But by the end of 1942 the Luftwaffe was stretched thin on the Eastern Front and its most powerful air command, Luftflotte 4 was engaged in the decisive struggle for Stalingrad. In North Africa the Luftwaffe was losing air superiority and the RAF was increasing its fighter sweeps over France and its night bombing campaign of German cities. In May 1942 the bombing of Cologne had given the RAF its first success. Despite this the defense of German air space was given low priority as the Reich expanded on all fronts.[16] On 16 May 1942, in a conference, Hermann Göring made a rare perceptive observation. He noted that if enemy bomber formations started penetrating the German fighter defense at the Channel coast, there was "nothing left in Germany to oppose them".[16] But the lack of any mass attacks by the USAAF units arriving in Europe and the failure of RAF bombing in daylight, few senior commanders were concerned with this development.[16]

The two USAAF Air Forces that bore the burden of the fighting in the European Theatre of Operations (ETO) were the Eighth Air Force and the Fifteenth Air Force. The American groups were equipped with B-17 Flying Fortress and the B-24 Liberator heavy bombers. The B-24 had a superior speed, range and bomb load to the B-17, but it could not maintain formation in altitudes above 21,000 feet (6,400 metres) making it more vulnerable to Flak and fighters.[19] The American command did not see the need for long range fighters in 1942, and like Bomber Command in the early war period, believed the bomber would always get through. On that understanding, there was not a rush to develop fighter aircraft of this type. The mid-range P-38 Lightning had been designed as an interceptor and was adequate in the escort role.[19] But production had not yet reached the output needed, and losses in the Mediterranean had diverted the P-38 strength there. As an interim solution the Americans were given the British Spitfire, but it lacked the range to reach beyond the coastal areas of western Europe.[19][20]

Sizing up the enemy

The German command had little respect for American aviation. Göring assured Hitler that the B-17 was of miserable fighting quality, and the Americans could only build proper refrigerators.[21] This was a poor state of affairs considering German intelligence sources in Washington, prior to hostilities, had picked up detailed reports on the performance and potential performance of American aircraft. Generaloberst Hans Jeschonnek had been impressed by these reports and had sent them to Hitler and Göring to underline the threat posed by the USAAF. As far as he was concerned, mass production and development of new interceptors must be given immediate priority. Hitler ignored them and agreed with Göring.[21] Jeschonnek despaired. He wrote to General Friedrich von Boetticher (who had been part of the German military attaché in Washington):

Boetticher, we are lost. For years I have, on the basis of your reports, forwarded demands to Göring and Hitler, but for years my requests for the expansion of the Luftwaffe have not been answered. We no longer have the air defense I requested and which is needed...we no longer have any provide ourselves with the weapons to fight the dreadful threat which you have predicted and reported to us. Then we will be covered from the air with an enemy screen which will paralyze our power to resist.[22]

Jeschonnek lacked the personality to force the reality of the situation onto his superiors. In the end, unable to assert himself, official optimism won the day.[23]

American strategic aims

American strategic policy differed from that of the RAF. German civilian morale was not a primary objective for the planners of the USAAF.[4] American air intelligence believed attacks against economic targets, such as electric and industrial power could achieve the results sought by the RAF, without resorting to what it considered "indiscriminate civilian bombing".[4] According to American intelligence, by late 1941 the German Wehrmacht and its supporting industry was already stretched thin and suggested that certain targets would be particularly sensitive to attack. As a result, oil and petroleum and synthetic rubber were added to the American "Air War Plan 42".[3] These targets became the focus of the American effort due to the mistaken belief that the Wehrmacht was mostly motorised.[3] In 1942 and 1943 U-Boat bases were added due to the growing threat in the Battle of the Atlantic at that time.[3] But the largest difference in American and British was the emphasis the Americans placed on destroying the Luftwaffe.[3] In the British view, this would be achieved by paralysing the German economy.[3]

The Luftwaffe on top (1942-1943)

The day war

Boeing B-17F bombing through overcast - Bremen, Germany, on 13 Nov. 1943.

The American build up in the ETO was slow. Over a year had passed since Adolf Hitler's declaration of war on the United States before the first USAAF air attack was carried out over Germany. Small formations of USAAF B-17s had operated over France and the Low Countries in 1942, but like the RAF missions of 1940-41, achieved little. Their first raid on Germany targeted Wilhelmshaven on 27 January 1943.[24] The German air defences at this time consisted of the Lw Bfh Mitte, protecting the Netherlands and Germany. Luftflotte 3 protected Belgium and France.[25] Luftwaffen-Befehlshaber Mitte consisted of only four Gruppen of Jagdgeschwader 1 at the beginning of 1943 which covered the North Sea coast. It consisted of 40 Bf 109s (27 serviceable) and 139 Fw 190s (119 serviceable).[26] The fighter units of Luftflotte 3 were overstretched providing cover for U-Boats, protecting the coastal regions from air attack, and preparing for a renewed bomber offensive over Britain. Luftflotte 3's main fighter unit consisted of JG 2. On 2 January JG 27 arrived to support the defense. Other units also were committed, JG 53 and JG 26 among them. Despite their position, Hitler and Göring could not be persuaded to expand the fighter arm at the expense of the bomber arm, and any further reinforcements would have to come from other theatres of war.[27]

German training material for fighter pilot instructions

The Luftwaffe leadership continued to press for the production of bombers; little attention was paid to new types of fighter aircraft. On 22 February 1943, at a conference with his senior staff, including Milch and Jeschonnek, Goring refused to accept the Americans had a decent fighter aircraft design. The P-47 Thunderbolt that was appearing over the Reich was considered inferior to the German fighters.[28] On 18 March 1943, Goring contradicted his earlier assumptions and complained that the designers had failed him. He claimed that the Bf 109 was nearing the end of its useful service life and there was no replacement of the horizon.[28] Milch and Albert Speer, the newly appointed armaments minister, could do little to develop the new aircraft as their energies were directed to increasing production of existing types in response to the growing Allied offensive. Types like the Ta 152, Dornier Do 335 and Messerschmitt Me 262 were delayed. In the air battles of 1943 and 1944 were fought by the old types, the Messerschmitt Bf 110, the Bf 109, Fw 190 and Ju 88.[28]

The P-47s and Spitfires operated by the 8AF did not have the range to escort the USAAF bombers deep into enemy territory. However, the Jagdwaffe was ordered to engage the American bombers, even under escort. The Bf 109 was to make up for the performance limited Fw 190 at high altitude. The Bf 109 units were ordered to engage fighter escorts while the Fw 190s struck at the bomber formations.[29] The P-47 had excellent fire power and in the early battles , along with the Spitfire, produced an effective short range escort. As a result the order to engage under all circumstances was rescinded and the German fighters were forbidden to attack bomber fleets while the escort was present. After the conclusion of the North African Campaign in May 1943, the 8AF was given priority for reinforcements. From mid-1943 the American strength began to grow rapidly.[30]

High tide for the defenders

Arming the underwing Werfer-Granate 21 rocket mortar of an FW 190A-8/R6 of the JG 26 Stab[31]

The efficiency and performance of the German fighter arm reached its peak during 1943. Without an escort fighter with sufficient range, USAAF bombing raids into Germany proper resulted in heavy casualties for the USAAF bombers. The German fighters were increasingly heavily armed to deal with the American "heavies". The Bf 109G-6s were fitted with 30 mm engine mounted Motorkanone MK 108 cannons, and MG 151 20 mm underwing cannon in gun pods and the Fw 190 was fitted with even heavier armament, as well as both fighters, in addition to Zerstörer day fighter versions of the Bf 110 and Me 410 Hornisse being fitted with the air-to-air version of the Nebelwerfer barrage rocket, the Werfer-Granate 21. The results of these armament upgrades were devastating to USAAF bombers. Despite the OKL orders that the German fighters were to wait for the escort to retire through lack of fuel, German fighter units did engage the USAAF fighters. The largest aerial battle between the USAAF and Luftwaffe thus far took place on 29 July 1943 during "Blitz Week", an intensive series of attacks by the US 8AF. The resulting casualties were 27 German fighters destroyed and 13 damaged with 14 pilots killed and 12 wounded. The USAAF lost just seven P-47s.[32]

During this high tide, the Luftwaffe achieved several victories over the USAAF. The Schweinfurt-Regensburg mission on 17 August 1943 did not result in critical damage to the factories, with the 230 attacking B-17s being intercepted by an estimated 300 Luftwaffe fighters, some of which were fitted with the underwing Werfer-Granate 21 air-to-air unguided rocket armament for the first time. Thirty-six aircraft were shot down with the loss of 200 men, and coupled with a raid earlier in the day against Regensburg, a total of 60 B-17s were lost that day. Luftwaffe losses stood at 40 fighters.[33]

A second attempt on 14 October 1943, numbered "Mission 115", would later come to be known as "Black Thursday". Of the 291 attacking Fortresses, 59 were shot down over Germany, one ditched in the English Channel, five crashed in England, and 12 more were scrapped due to battle damage or crash-landings, a total loss of 77 B-17s. One hundred and twenty-two bombers were damaged to some degree and needed repairs before their next flight. Out of 2,900 men in the crews, about 650 men did not return, although some survived as POWs. Five were killed and 43 wounded in the damaged aircraft that made it home, and 594 were listed as Missing in Action. Only 33 bombers landed without damage. The German losses amounted to 38 fighters.[34]

The tactics of the German fighters were part of the reason for the success. The earlier production "blocks" of the B-17F lacked the "chin turret", pioneered by the YB-40 Flying Fortress "gunship" conversion, that was used on the final production blocks of the B-17F, and on the later B-17G. German pilots were encouraged to attack head on and exploit this lack of forward firing defensive armament. The tactic proved to be successful until the introduction of the B-17G in 1944. The result of the defeat was that the USAAF did not fly any deep penetration raids into Germany until Big Week in February 1944, when a long-range fighter that could escort the bombers all the way to the target and back could be provided.[35]

Major General Ira C. Eaker ordered that all production of P-38s and the new P-51 Mustang should be given to the USAAF in the ETO in October 1943. In a strategic move, to reinforce the Eighth Air Force, the Fifteenth Air Force was established in Italy after the Allied landings in September 1943. The major units of the 15th Air Force would not be in place until November 1943. This move was a potential disaster for the Luftwaffe. The Reich could now be attacked from two directions. The Romanian oilfields were now exposed to Allied attack from Italy, as were targets in Greece, Yugoslavia, Austria and southern Germany.[36]

Increasing the pressure of the Luftwaffe was the mass introduction of the drop tank in American fighter units. With drop tanks the P-47 Thunderbolt could reach as far as Frankfurt, while the P-38 Lightning could reach the Czechoslovakia border. By March 1944, the introduction of the P-51 Mustang enabled the escorting 8AF fighters to escort the bombers from England to Prague and back.[20]

The night war

An Avro Lancaster of No. 1 Group over Hamburg on the night of 30/31 January 1943

RAF Bomber Command had been bombing German targets since 1940, but until 1942 it lacked a four-engine heavy bomber like the Avro Lancaster to carry large bomb loads into Germany. Until 1942 the RAF bombers lacked any Pathfinder units or effective navigational aids with which to bomb with effect. The same limitations that afflicted Bomber Command also impeded the German night fighters from finding the bomber fleets. Hermann Goring admitted that a lack of night fighters was the Luftwaffe's weakness.[37] The Messerschmitt Bf 110, which had proved a failure as a daylight escort fighter, was chosen to lead the defense of Germany's skies during the hours of darkness. It had good speed, range and excellent firepower. It was the ideal bomber destroyer. In October 1940 General Josef Kammhuber was appointed to the position of "General of Night Fighters", and was tasked with he coordination of the defense. Immediately he increased searchlight and sound locators along the coast of Germany and the low countries in the winter of 1940-1941 until more sophisticated equipment became available. German fighters were to patrol this line and intercept the bombers.[37] Kammhuber's suggestion of offensive action was not allowed by Hitler. Kammhuber had suggested tracking bombers and attacking them as they took off from their bases in Britain. Hitler refused in the grounds that the German people needed to see the British bombers being brought down over Germany so as to be convinced they were being defended. After October 1943 the Luftwaffe stopped their mini offensive.[38] Hitler's decision relieved Harris and Bomber Command. In 1940-1941 these intruders had been responsible for two-thirds of the RAF losses. The chance to wreak havoc on the bomber offensive was lost.[38]

A Messerschmitt Bf 110G night fighter

In response Kammhuber built the Kammhuber Line. Part of its defense was the Würzburg radar set. The defense revolved around overlapping fighter boxes which the Freya radar stations covered to watch for Allied intruders. When the fighters were scrambled to meet a threat, the short range Würzburg radar picked them up and tracked them while another set tracked the bombers.[38] The hope was to catch the bomber by meeting the two red and green dots on the screens with the aid of a local search light. When the Lichtenstein airborne radar was fitted to night fighters the radar sets sought to guide the fighters to the bombers. In February 1942, a British Army operation, Operation Biting, captured one of these sets. The intelligence gained led the British to develop streaming tactics. They would force as many bombers through one sector to overwhelm the solitary nightfighter assigned to it.[38] Despite this the losses suffered in 1943 in particular were heavy.

Bomber Command had few successes during this time. The bombing of Cologne in May 1942, the 5 month-long Battle of the Ruhr and bombing of Hamburg were the exceptions in what was a costly battle of attrition. The Ruhr battle had cost the RAF 923 bombers, another 813 were lost over Hamburg. The year culminated in the Battle of Berlin which failed in its objective to break German morale. Moreover it cost Bomber Command 1,128 bombers. RAF Bomber Command was nearing burn out.[39]

During the Battle of the Ruhr, Bomber Command severely disrupted German production. Steel production fell by 200,000 tons. The armaments industry was facing a steel shortfall of 400,000 tons.After doubling production in 1942, production of steel increased only by 20 percent in 1943. Hitler and Speer were forced to cut planned increases in production. This disruption caused resulting in the Zulieferungskrise (sub-components crisis). The increase of aircraft production for the Luftwaffe also came to an abrupt halt. Monthly production failed to increase between July 1943 and March 1944. "Bomber Command had stopped Speer's armaments miracle in its tracks".[40]

Further attacks on Kassel dehoused 123,800 people (62 percent of population) and killed 6,000. Tiger tank and 88mm artillery production was halted for months.[41]

The Luftwaffe was also suffering. It was forced to combat the threat although it could not afford the man or material power. While their losses were nowhere near those of the British, the crews also suffered through bad weather, low-level skill and a high accident rate due to night flying. In the first three months of 1944 it lost 15 percent of its crews.[42] The contribution of RAF Bomber Command to the Allied war effort remains controversial. By the end of 1943 the Nazi leadership had feared that moral would collapse and civil war would ensue. Joseph Goebbels the Third Reich's propaganda minister denounced the air raids as "terror bombing" and sought to rally the people in a bid to improve morale.[43] Albert Speer recorded in his diary that the people had proved Goebbels fears unfounded. Morale was improving, and the RAF had failed, and was failing to break morale.[44] However, after the war, the United States Strategic Bombing Survey concluded that morale fell. Some 75 percent of the German population now believed the war was lost owing to the failure of the Luftwaffe to stop the bombing.[45]

Turn of the tide (1944)

Day war

Reorganising the Luftwaffe

Headquarter of the 4th Flak-Division Duisburg-Wolfsburg

The reported appearance of USAAF fighters as far east as Bremen made for uncomfortable reading for the RLV. The defense of Germany took priority over all the territories. Generaloberst Wiese met Adolf Galland's staff in November 1943 and attempted to create a solution to this problem. As it stood, three air divisions were to defend German air space. 3. Jagddivision was the first line of defense, protecting Germany's air space at the French border stretching to Luxembourg and into western Belgium. 1. Jagddivision protected the Netherlands and north west Germany. 2. Jagddivision was responsible for the defense of Denmark and north-central Germany and was based near Hamburg. 4. Jagddivision was to defend the Berlin area and 5. Jagddivision protected central and southern Germany.[46] 3. Jagddivision's C-in-C Oberst Walter Grabmann suggested the following:

  • All of the Bf 109 Gruppen should be assigned to engage the US escorts
  • Two Gruppen should take-off ahead of the main interception force to disperse the escort
  • The more heavily armed Fw 190 Gruppen would be directed to the bomber fleets after the bombers had been "stripped of their escorts".

Wiese issued two further orders:

  • The Zerstörer Bf 110 and Ju 88 units would only attack if the bombers had been deprived of their escort as described above
  • The Zerstörer were permitted to attack if the bombers penetrated beyond the range of their fighter escort.[47]

At this time the importance of home defense was recognised and Luftwaffenbefehlshaber Mitte was renamed Luftflotte Reich. Wiese was removed from command and the more experienced aviator Hans-Jürgen Stumpff was appointed as its commander.

Beginning in January 1944, and firmly codified by late February 1945, the Luftwaffe began authorizing the use of special coloured rear fuselage colour "bands", which could be just one color, or two colors in a pair of bands or three alternating bands (as well as a few other patterns for distinctiveness) occupying a width along the rear fuselage not exceeding 90 cm (35-1/2 in) wide, and usually painted on just forward of the aircrafts' tail surfaces to more easily distinguish the aircraft of each combat wing-sized (Geschwader) unit. The colours and combinations chosen were meant to be unique for each unit, both Jagdgeschwader and Zestörergeschwader, much like the unique two-character Geschwaderkennung markings to the left of the fuselage Balkenkreuz cross, used for bomber and other Geschwader sized units had been, earlier in the war.

The USAAF reorganise

At the same time Henry H. Arnold issued the following order to the USAAF air forces in Europe:

My personal message to you - this is a must - is to destroy the enemy air force wherever you find them [it], in the air, on the ground, and in the factories.[48]

General Eaker was removed from command and Lieutenant General Carl Spaatz was given command of the USAAF Strategic Air Forces in the ETO. James H. Doolittle was given command of the 8AF and on 21 January he ordered that the German fighter force was to be destroyed as a prelude to D-Day, the Allied landing in Normandy. To do this Doolittle had stated that the Luftwaffe could only be destroyed by attrition - in the field.[49] General Eaker was re-assigned as Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Allied Air Forces. Among the considerable forces under his command were the Twelfth Air Force and Fifteenth Air Force operating from Italy.

Big Week

Doolittle began his campaign to destroy the Luftwaffe during Big Week, from 20 February and 25 February 1944, as part of the European strategic bombing campaign. The USAAF launched Operation Argument, a series of missions against German targets that became known as "Big Week". The planners intended to lure the Luftwaffe into a decisive battle by launching massive attacks on the German aircraft industry. By defeating the Luftwaffe, the Allies would achieve air superiority and the invasion of Europe could proceed. The daylight bombing campaign was also supported by RAF Bomber Command, when they operated against the same targets at night.[50] Arthur Harris resisted contributing RAF forces as it diverted them from the British area bombing offensive. It took a direct order from Air chief marshal Charles Portal, Chief of the Air Staff to force Harris to comply.[51]RAF Fighter Command also provided escort for USAAF bomber formations.

P-51 Mustangs in flight, summer 1944. Unlike the Spitfire the P-51 could escort the USAAF bombers to and from the target. Their presence would break the Luftwaffe in 1944-45

The result was heavy losses for both sides. The 15AF lost 90 bombers, the 8AF lost 157 bombers and RAF Bomber Command lost another 131 bombers. The 8AFs strength had dropped from 75 to 54 percent and the strength of its fighter units had dropped from 72 to 65 percent.[52] The Luftwaffe's RLV had lost 355 fighters and its operational strength shrank to 50 percent.[52] The RLV also lost nearly 100 valuable fighter pilots.[53] While Spaatz claimed it as a victory,[53] the production of German fighters dropped only briefly. Nevertheless the attritional battle would only get worse for the Luftwaffe. After Big Week, air superiority had passed irrevocably to the Allies.[53]

One of the most important developments of "Big Week" was the introduction of the P-51 Mustang. It had the range to escort the USAAF bombers to the target and back again. It also had the performance to engage any piston-engine German fighter in service and the firepower with which to destroy them. The number of Mustangs increased from February 1944 onwards. By the second half of 1944 the P-51D variant strength numbered in its thousands. The German fighter force would be bled white in series of running aerial battles that prevented it from pursuing its primary goal of shooting down enemy bombers.[54]

While little damage was done to German aviation production, which did not fall by more than 200 aircraft per month, it had an enormous effect of the German distribution of weaponry. In the summer 1943, 2,132 Flak guns were protecting German industrial targets. In 1940 it was 791 guns. These guns could have been better used at the front. Moreover, it took an average of 16,000 shells for any particular 88 mm gun to shoot down an American bomber.[55]

Battle of Normandy

The Luftwaffe was put under massive pressure during March – April 1944. Fighter pilot losses were unbearable. According to a report made by Adolf Galland, General der Jagdflieger, on 27 April 1944, 500 aircraft and 400 pilots had been lost in the previous ten operations.[56] Galland also said that in the previous four months 1,000 pilots had been killed. Galland reported that the enemy outnumbered his fighters between 6:1 and 8:1 and the standard of Allied fighter pilot training was "astonishingly high".[57] Some 25 percent of the German fighter pilot force had been lost in May 1944 alone, while 50 percent of the available fighters were also each month from March-May 1944.[58] Galland recognised the Luftwaffe was losing the attrition war and pushed for a focus on quality rather than quantity. Galland stated in his 27 April report, "I would at this moment rather have one Me 262 in action than five Bf 109s. I used to say three 109s, but the situation develops and changes."[57] After the war Galland commented on the Luftwaffe's war over Normandy:

Whenever a fighter rolled out of its camouflaged lair, an enemy immediately pounced on it. The danger of being detected and destroyed by the enemy was ever present. At last we retired to the forests. Before and after each sortie the aircraft we rolled in and out of their leafy protection with great difficulties and much damage. Fourteen days after the invasion the units had sunk so low in their fighting strength that neither by driving the personnel nor by material replacements could they be put on their legs again.[59]

German Focke-Wulf Fw 190A shot down by a fighter of the USAAF XIX Tactical Air Command in 1944 or 1945

By May 1944 American bomber losses began to drop, while German losses soared. The Luftwaffe wrote off 50.4 percent of its force in that month and lost 25 percent of their Bf 109 and Fw 190 pilots. In the first five months the number of pilots killed in action stood at 2,262. On 31 December 1943 the Luftwaffe had 2,395 single-engine fighter pilots (1,491 fully combat ready, 291 partially combat ready and the rest non-combat ready). The crew losses for that five month period came close to 100 percent of the entire single-engine day force.[60] The Luftwaffe also undertook the defense of German occupied France during the Normandy Landings in June 1944. Despite the popular myth of Josef Priller and his wingman flying the only sortie over the beachheads on D-Day, over 170 fighter missions were made to support the ground defenses. This was a token defense to the aerial effort of the Allies who flew some 14,000 sorties over Normandy on 6 June 1944.[61] Within 36 hours of the invasion some 200 Bf 109 and Fw 190 Gruppen had been flown in as reinforcements. Due to the dearth of specialized strike aircraft the Luftwaffe was forced to fit its fighters with bomb racks. With little training in ground attack missions losses were high.[61] The OKL constantly shifted its priorities and did not make it easy for the frontline units. After the failure of ground strike missions the fighter units were ordered to maintain air superiority, which was now the main objective. The German Jagdgruppen were heavily outnumbered, and losses soared. In the period 6-30 June, German fighter losses numbered 931 losses in 13,829 sorties. The Allied air fleets flew 130,000 missions in support of the invasion.[62] Desperate efforts were made to stabilize the German fighter numbers in the face of appalling losses but the introduction of poorly skilled trainee pilots served to increase the losses further. By the time of the German defeat in August 1944, most fighter unit strength returns recorded just single figures.[63]

Night war

Mosquito B XVI, 1944. The Mosquito was a serious threat to German night fighters.

Harris and Spaatz opposed the switching of their respective commands to support the invasion in Normandy. Harris was particularly angered by this move. The proposal by the Americans to unite the 8AF and 15 AF under the same commander was seen by the British as a threat to the independence of Bomber Command.[64] Nevertheless, while Bomber Command retained its independence at the operational level, Portal forced Harris to turn part of the strategic bomber force to support Dwight D. Eisenhower's preliminary plan for Operation Overlord. Eisenhower called for a transportation plan to destroy all marshalling yards and rolling stock in German occupied France. During May - June 1944 RAF Bomber Command and the USAAF strategic air forces carried out the destruction of these targets. Some 12,000 French and Belgian civilians were killed in these attacks.[65] While the night skies over France were quiet most of the time, on occasion the Luftwaffe inflicted heavy casualties. In June 1944 Bomber Command was also ordered to attack oil targets in the Ruhr. Heavy losses ensued and morale dropped. The Commands casualties were now higher the British Army in Normandy.[66] On 11 September 1944 the Supreme Allied Command returned Bomber Command to Portal's control.

In the first six months of 1944, unlike the USAAF, RAF Bomber Command's offensive was struggling against the renewed German efforts to outsmart the British in the technological war. Bomber Command introduced Window, known to the Germans as Düppel, consisting of small aluminium strips would be dropped by formations to blanket German radar and make it difficult for the defences to pick out the real position of the raiders. The German's introduced the Wilde Sau tactics, in which single-engine fighter aircraft would attack formations alone. The tactics had limited success. To combat these new German tactics, Bomber Command shortened its attacks over the target by five minutes to reduce chances of interception. This was followed by spoof routes, used to feint the routes of attacks. Later the use of "Mandrel" airborne jamming screens were used to send the enemy into the wrong area and deny the German fighters the chance of reaching the target area in sufficient strength.[67] The German response was to increase the efficiency of overland plotting systems. The German Observer Corps was essential to this move initially until the introduction of the Wassermann and Mammuth long-range radar became available in large quantities and plotting became centralised and simplified. The Germans also used intercept stations to listen to and track the IFF devices when they were switched on in British bombers over German-held territory. When Bomber Command issued orders to keep these turned off the Germans tracked "Monica" and "H2S" transmissions from British bombers. H2S was tracked by Naxos radar detectors while Monica was tracked on Flensburg radar detectors, both mounted on night fighters.[67] The introduction of Lichtenstein SN2 airborne radar was an attempt to produce a set invulnerable to jamming. It came into wide usage between autumn 1943 and the beginning of 1944. The methods quickly caused trouble for Bomber Command. The plotting system was quickly proven and was a formidable defence with few weaknesses. In spite of spoof raids which continued to divert German fighter units and reducing losses, the new system was capable of inflicting 8-9 percent losses against each raid.[68]

The Allied liberation of France and most of the low countries in 1944 greatly enhanced the bomber offensive.[67] The Allied Armies overran most of the early warning systems of Kammhuber line.[67] Until then the night fighters had succeeded in inflicting an overall rate of loss on Bomber Command aircraft attacking targets in Germany - exclusive of bomber support, Mosquito and mine laying operations - amounting to 3.8 percent in July 1944, and on one night, the 28-29 July 8.4 percent of the force was lost,[67] although acceptation may be made on the "unusual lightness of the night". Added to this was the growth of German night fighter forces which grew from 550 aircraft in July 1943 to 775 in July 1944.[67] Introduced in 1942, the night fighter variants of the de Havilland Mosquito caused problems for the Nachtjagdgeschwader.[69] The Mosquito proved superior in performance to the German night fighters. German pilots were credited with two kills for shooting one down.[70] However, while this increased the loss rates of the German night fighter force, the impact of the Mosquito was limited. Significant loss rates were still inflicted on RAF Bomber Command through the war.

Oil campaign (May - August 1944)

Spaatz' strategy

Allied strategic planners recognised German petroleum supplies as the weak link. By 1938 German oil imports accounted for two-thirds of its stocks.[71] As war approached the Germans resorted to synthetic oil production. IG Farben's coal was converted to oil, in turn this was responsible for all of the Luftwaffe's aviation stocks.[71] On 23 November 1940, the signing of the Tripartite Pact and the addition of Romania and Hungary to the Axis Alliance gave Germany valuable crude oil wells.[71]

The USAAF wanted to make oil a priority target. In the late Spring, 1944, it had the long-range fighters to protect the bombers launching sustained attacks on the oil production centres at Ploieşti. At this time the USAAF had conflicting priorities, the combined bomber offensive, and operation Point-blank, the tactical support of Allied armies in Normandy.[71] Spaatz and Harris once again protested at the use of their services for tactical support, each with their own agendas and targets. Harris wanted to continue his policy of area bombing, Spaatz wanted to attack the oil plants. Both believed their strategies would cripple the German war effort. Spaatz threatened to resign if at least one of the strategic bomber forces was not given over to a campaign against oil targets.[71] He argued bombing tactical targets in France was pointless, as rail yards could be easily prepared. Moreover, he wanted to provoke the Luftwaffe in battle. Spaatz thought that attacking rail targets would not achieve this, but striking at Petroleum would. Eisenhower relented, and Spaatz succeeded in moving the USAAF 15AF to Romanian targets. Up until this point, only sporadic attacks had been made against oil targets.[71]

The Luftwaffe's position

The OKL faced two major challenges at this juncture. The first was the reinforcing of Luftflotte 3 from Luftflotte Reich, to deal with the imminent Allied invasion of France.[72] The second was protecting the Reich's airspace from ever deeper penetrations by the USAAF.

The Messerschmitt Me 163 rocket powered fighter and the Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighter started to enter service in small numbers, with the specialist rocket fighter wing named JG 400, and the Erprobungskommando 262 test unit respectively. and .[72] The newly designated Sturmgruppen consisting of the Fw 190A-8/R2 Sturmbock was also entering service with JG 3, which was allocated to defend Romania. The A-8/R2s armament consisted of two MK 108 30 mm cannons, one per gun pod under each wing, which could destroy a B-17 with three hits, and shoot down a B-24 with a single hit.[72] The Fw 190A-8/R2 had been armoured and was largely invulnerable to American defensive fire.[72] However, the same attributes that made them deadly "bomber killers", damaged the Focke-Wulf's already limited performance at high altitude, as the fighter became slower and unwieldy. Like the twin-engine Ju 88s, Bf 110s and Me 410s, they would need escorting by Bf 109 equipped units.[72]

Battles over the oil fields

Ploieşti oil storage tanks on fire after being bombed by the United States Army Air Forces in Operation Tidal Wave, August 1943

On 12 May 1944 the first USAAF raid, as part of this deliberate systematic campaign on the oil industry began. 886 B-17s and B-24s took off from England en route to the refinery at Brux and Chemnitz in Germany. The bomber stream was escorted by 876 USAAF fighters in 22 groups. I. Jagdkorps and II, which included JG 1, 3 and 26, rose to intercept them. Altogether 22 Jagdgruppen with a strength of 475 single engine fighters and 40 Zerstörergruppen took off.[73] A huge air battle developed over the Taunus Mountains. The bombers were well escorted and USAAF losses that day were incurred largely during a 15 minute spell, when the bombers were attacked before USAAF escorts could react.[73] The Americans lost 41 B-17s in total.[74] The Luftwaffe's losses were heavy in return.[75]

Its first defense of the oil targets was a disaster for the Luftwaffe. "May 12, 1944, can fairly be described as the worst single day of the war for Germany. Other days brought dramatic defeats, and terrible casualties, but never without the possibility of a reversal of fortune". Albert Speer wrote, "The enemy has struck us at one of our weakest points. If they persist at it this time, then we will soon no longer have any fuel production worth mentioning".[76]

shot down Consolidated B-24 Liberator of the 492nd Bomb Group after the aerial battle at Oschersleben on 7 July 1944. 28 B-24s were lost that day

Some success was still to be had by the Luftwaffe, when it could catch formations without escort.[77][78]

The situation was getting worse for the Luftwaffe as a whole. I. Jagdkorps was losing fighters at a rate of 10 percent per mission, while the bomber losses were only at two percent.[79] [80] The presence of large fighter escorts was becoming disastrous. On 28 May, the 8AF second mission to oil targets in Germany led to 32 USAAF bombers being shot down out of 1,341 and 14 fighters lost. I Jagdkorps lost 52 fighters, 18 pilots killed and 13 wounded. The bombers were largely well protected. Most bomber crews did not report seeing any German fighters on the mission.[79]

On 29 May the 15AF and 8AF combined to strike at various aviation and oil targets. The oil refinery at Politz was among them. An interception by Bf 110s saw 13 shot down with 17 crew members killed and seven wounded.[81] A number of Fw 190 and Bf 109 units flew successful missions in terms of enemy aircraft shot down but at severe cost. The USAAF 8AF and 15AF began shuttle missions to the Soviet Union and bombed the Ploieşti oilfields in Romania and Germany on 30 and 31 May.[82] On 18 June the 8AF put up its largest bombing raid yet. It sent 1,965 bombers and 1,111 fighter to bomb oil targets in Poland and Germany. Just 167 German fighters took off to intercept.[83]

In June 1944 the USAAF began shuttle missions to Soviet-held territory, attacking targets over occupied Europe then continuing on to the Soviet Union. A reverse mission would then be taken on the return leg. The 8AF flew its first shuttle mission on June 21, 1944. A force of 114 B-17s, escorted by 70 P-51s, bombed a synthetic oil plant south of Berlin and proceeded to the Soviet bases. Undetected by the Americans, a German aircraft followed them to Poltava, and the pilot reported the location. Later that night, the Luftwaffe bombed the Poltava airfield. The 8AF lost 43 B-17s and 15 P-51s, and the bombing also set off U.S. ammunition dumps and ignited 450,000 gallons of aviation gasoline. The Germans returned the next night to bomb the other shuttle sites. In the aftermath of the Poltava raid, the Soviets refused to allow USAAF fighters to defend the bomber bases, insisting that air defense was their responsibility. Realizing that the Soviets would not adequately protect the heavy bombers from night raids, the Americans abandoned plans to permanently station three heavy bomber groups on Soviet airfields. [84]

The oil campaign was hugely successful. ULTRA intercepts confirmed cutbacks in non-operational flying as a direct consequence. According to Speer, by 21 July, 98 percent of all Axis fuel plants were out of operation. The monthly production fell from 180,000 tons in March 1944 to 20,000 in November; inventory dropped from 575,000 to 175,000 tons.[76]

By September 1944, the loss to kill ratio was against the Luftwaffe. With some exceptions, the loss rate for Allied formations remained under one percent, the German losses were lying between 10 and 20 percent.[85] The Allied formations were 18 times larger than the Germans by this stage, which meant the respective loss ratios would indicate a higher loss for the German defenders. However during September the actual kill count of the RLV during September 1944 was 307 shot down for 371 losses. By October 1944, serviceable aircraft amounted to just 347, excluding units on conversion training.[86]

The USAAF and RAF Bomber Command flew hundreds of missions against the oil targets until late August. The main refinery, in Romania, was virtually destroyed by the bombing. The final raids made against Ploesti were made by 15AF on 19 August 1944.[87] The Romanians, and the Romanian Air Force which had fought alongside the Luftwaffe thus far, capitulated to the advancing Red Army on 23 September 1944 and declared war on its former ally. The remaining German fighter units retreated into Yugoslavia and Hungary.[88]

German training and tactics response

The attacks were having a devastating effect on German fighter units. More and more staffels and Gruppen were pulled off the front line on the Eastern Front to reinforce the Reich. Goering ordered that more effort be made to train pilots more thoroughly and quickly whilst expanding the Jagdflieger force. He ordered bomber pilots to be converted to fighter pilots.[89] This failed. Pilot training was shortened to meet the need for pilots. In 1944 the pilot programme had shrunk to 8 months and 111 flying hours; just 20 hours on the Fw 190 and Bf 109. This was less than half what the German cadets could receive in 1942.[89]

German fighter pilot schools relied on fuel. They required 60-80,000 tons per month. With this achieved, they claimed to be able to train 1,200 fighter, 250 ground-attack, 40 bomber, 75 jet-bomber, 64 recce and 40 night fighter pilots a month.[89] The schools demands were never met. Just 13,500 tons were delivered in July 1944, 13,400 in August and 6,300 in September.[90] There were plenty of cadets joining, but the primary schools had to be shut down in favour of running the advanced flight schools.[90] The influx of bomber pilots helped keep output high but it was not to last. By the autumn, the Luftwaffe was seeking anyone who already had basic experience in flying, so they could bypass the primary stages of flight school.[90]

The "Great Blow"

The Great Blow (German: Großer Schlag) was a planned air battle against the US and British air forces that was to be the largest and most decisive of the war. By 12 November 1944, rehearsals were complete, but instead of implementing the Great Blow against forces in the air, all but two fighter wings were transferred on November 20, 1944 — without specific training to attack ground targets — for Unternehmen Bodenplatte (English: Operation Baseplate), during which the Luftwaffe was crippled.[91]

Hitler had forbidden the operation as he was angered by the performance of the Luftwaffe. This came to a head on 2 November 1944 when Luftflotte Reich lost 50 percent of the 305 fighters sent to engage an American bombing raid. Although the German fighters claimed 40 bombers shot down losses were huge. German pilot losses amounted to 73 killed alone. In response Hitler called General-Major Eckhard Christian, the Chief of General Staff, to a meeting:

Hitler: "So the remaining 260 fighters in action managed to claim 20 between them. And they lost?"
Christian: "Ninety Mein Fuhrer"
Hitler: "Right, so in 260 sorties they shoot down 20 and lose 90".
Christian tried to explain the difficulty the German fighter units were operating under but Hitler refused to listen.
Hitler: "Taking these figures, it would mean that if 2,600 fighters went up I could expect 200 victories. In other words, any hope of decimating the enemy by a massed attack is simply not there. It is therefore ridiculous to keep producing fighter aircraft just so that the Luftwaffe can operate in large numbers!". Any chance of Galland's "Great blow" was gone.[92]

Defeat (1945)

Day war

Me 262 A, circa 1944/45

By the winter of 1944/45 the Luftwaffe was heavily outnumbered by the RAF and USAAF, despite the fact that it had more fighters available than ever before. On 30 November 1944 there were 7,666 aircraft in the first and second line units of the Luftwaffe, including 3,040 single-engine day fighters, while the night-fighter force amounted to 1,318.[93] Many of the Luftwaffe's senior staff had hoped that projects like the Me 163 rocket fighter or Me 262 jet fighter would be given priority as a bomber interceptor as early as 1942. However, Adolf Hitler insisted the Me 262 be used as a strike aircraft, hampering its development and delaying its entry into the RLV.[94] Aside from technological developments, by December 1944, the RLV had reorganised into five Jagddivision's and one Jagdkorps, I. Jagdkorps. Jagddivision 1 covered eastern Germany and Berlin. Jagddivision 2 protected a small part of north west Germany, including Hamburg, from the Dutch border to the Danish border in the north. Jagddivision 3 protected the Ruhr and west Germany, while Jagddivision 7 defended southern Germany and western Austria. Jagddivision 8 was charged with the defense of eastern Austria and Czechoslovakia.[95] The position of the Luftwaffe continued to deteriorate. However, as German territory contracted the number of Flak guns rose. During November and December 1944 the Flak defenses were more effective at shooting down Allied bombers than the Luftwaffe. One such example indicates that during sustained attacks on the synthetic oil targets inside the Ruhr, 59 USAAF bombers were lost to Flak, while just 13 were lost to German fighters. Heavy Flak did reduce the bombing accuracy as well as acting for a guide for German fighters searching for the bomber stream.[96] Losses reached an all time high on 26 November, when intercepting a raid, the RLV lost 119 fighters, 60 pilots killed and 32 wounded for just 25 USAAF fighters and six bombers.[97]

Hitler attempted to improve Germany's continually worsening military position by launching operation Wacht am Rhein (Battle of the Bulge). The RLV handed over some Jagdgeschwader to support the offensive along with the Luftwaffe's frontline fighter units. As the Allied strategic bombing attacks increased on the immediate area of the ground fighting, German fighter units found themselves defending strategic targets as well as trying to keep the Allied Tactical Air Forces off the German Army. The cost was high, some 400 pilots were killed or missing between 16-31 December 1944.[98] On 1 January 1945 the Luftwaffe launched Operation Bodenplatte in a bid to win back air superiority and help restart the German offensive, which was now in trouble. It failed, effectively destroying the remaining core of the Luftwaffe. The Germans lost 143 pilots killed in action, 70 as prisoner of war and 21 wounded in action in just one day.[91] During December 1944, 11 053 day fighter sorties were flown, 552 victories were claimed for the loss of 527 aircraft on the Western Front.[99]

The operations of the Me 262 and Me 163 did little to offset the problem of Allied air superiority. German losses remained high due to the difference in fighter pilot training. On 7 April 1945, for example, only 15 of 183 Fw 190s and Bf 109s which were covered by a large force of Me 262s, returned to base from an interception sortie. The Germans reported the loss of 133 fighters, claiming 50 of the USAAFs bombers in return. In reality, only 8 American bombers were shot down.[100] During this period the Western Allied invasion of Germany had already begun. Airfields and bases that were located in Western Germany were quickly overrun. The Luftwaffe defended its airspace continually, but suffered heavy losses flying defensive and offensive sorties over the Allied bridgeheads that were established along the Rhine River. A few successes were scored, and some missions, including forces of up to 40-50 Me 262s were used, but the losses inflicted on the bombers were not decisive. The Allied Air Forces had total air superiority and attacked the Luftwaffe on the ground and in the air. In just two days, 13-15 April 1945, 400 German fighters were lost to Allied ground attack fighters.[101] As April came to a close, the last missions were flown by the RLV. Most units, now occupying airfields in Austria and Czechoslovakia, began to surrender en masse to the Western Alliance so as to avoid capitulating to the Soviets. Resistance officially ceased on 8 May 1945.

Night war

The Nachtjagdgeschwader's units' effectiveness was deteriorating. During 1943 and 1944 it had proved the most efficient branch of the Luftwaffe. Even as late as July 1944 it was scoring successes.

On the night of 30–31 March 1944, Nuremberg was the main target Bomber Command's effort, attacked by 572 Lancasters, 214 Halifaxes and 9 Mosquitos, a total of 795 aircraft. The Germans correctly identified that Nuremberg was the target. The first fighters appeared just before the bombers reached the Belgian border and over the next hour 82 bombers were lost on the approaches to Nuremberg. Another 13 bombers were shot down by the Germans on the return flight, and 71 were damaged. In all the RAF lost 11.9% of the force dispatched; it was the biggest RAF Bomber Command loss of the war and ended the Battle of Berlin. Most of the returning crews reported that they had bombed Nuremberg but subsequent research showed that approximately 120 aircraft had bombed Schweinfurt, 50 miles north-west of Nuremberg. This mistake was a result of badly forecast winds causing navigational difficulties. Two Pathfinder aircraft dropped markers at Schweinfurt. Much of the bombing in the Schweinfurt area fell outside the town and only 2 people were killed in that area. The main raid at Nuremberg was a failure.[102]

On 28–29 July it claimed 62 out of 760 British bombers attacking Stuttgart and Hamburg, but at the same time it was criticised for downing only 10 bombers out of 725 attacking Dortmund and Bremen on 6 October 1944. The situation was blamed on poor staff and signal work along with poor communications.[103] The real reason for the limited successes owed much to the Allied advance across western Europe which deprived the Germans of their early warning systems for detecting incoming raids. Supplementing this were the countermeasures introduced by RAF Bomber Command, such as intruder operations in which Mosquito night fighters would attack German fighters as they took off from and returned to base. This compelled the Germans to restrict the use of airfield lighting and assembly beacons. Owing to fuel shortages, training of night crews was not as thorough as before, whilst the demands of manpower throughout the Wehrmacht had brought about a decline in quality in the servicing and ground staff. Some of the fighter force had to withdrawn to the Eastern Front to counter night attacks by the Soviet Red Air Force. Nevertheless, its strength increased: from 800 to 1,020 between 1 July and 1 October 1944, of which 685 in July and 830 in October were engaged in operations against RAF Bomber Command.[103]

In late 1944, the German defensive line now only extended from Denmark to Switzerland. This enabled British bombers to fly toward German territory without interception on the way. The German strength was thus reduced, with more aircraft diverted to reconnaissance over the North Sea in an attempt to pick up Allied bomber formations. In spite of the problems, the Luftwaffe night fighter force was stronger numerically than ever before.[104] By the end of November 1944, the night fighter force's strength peaked at 1,318 night fighters.[105] It remained intact and presented a serious threat to RAF Bomber Command, particularly when the British made deep penetrations. However, since the first half of 1944, the outlook for the force had changed from increasing efficiency to a probability of declining effectiveness as the cumulative effect of poor training, shortage of fuel, diversion of effort and shortage of manpower became perceptible.[104]

On the night of 3–4 March 1945, the Luftwaffe mounted Operation Gisella, sending approximately 200 night fighters to follow the various bomber forces to England. This move took the British defences partly by surprise and the Germans shot down 20 bombers. The German fighters crashed, through flying too low; the German fighter which crashed near Elvington airfield was the last Luftwaffe aircraft to crash on English soil during the war.[106]

Intensification of the bombing

In the last year of the war the bombing offensive "came of age".[107] With German defences strategically defeated, the economy was exposed to enormous bombing attacks.[107] Most of the tonnage dropped by the American and British bomber fleets was done so in the last year of the war - some 1.18 million tons from 1.42 million tons during the entire war.[107] The attacks did not go entirely unopposed. There were 50,000 heavy and light German anti-aircraft guns concentrated around essential industrial targets. There remained an "exiguous fighter force by day and night".[107] The USAAF could throw 7,000 bombers and fighters into the battle while the RAF could field 1,500 heavy bombers which could carry up to 20,000 lbs of bombs.[107] By the autumn of 1944 Allied fighter-bombers and fighters could staff and engage targets unmolested.[107] This firepower was aimed at the Ruhr industrial heartland and the communication networks in Germany.[107] The rail lines were mostly destroyed, halving coal and material traffic by December 1944 compared to the previous year.[107] With the loss of the Romanian oilfields in August 1944, the campaign critically reduced German oil supplies and production left. In the winter 1944–45, the German state was carved into isolated economic regions living off accumulated stocks while production was to be moved under ground into caves, salt mines and underground factories manned by slave labourers.[107]


German production failures

No effort was made to address the low production output of the German aviation industry to support the expected increased attrition rates. The so-called "Göring program" envisaged the defeat of the Soviet Union in 1941.[108] Erhard Milch's reforms expanded production rates. In 1941 an average of 981 aircraft (including 311 fighters) were produced monthly on average.[108] In 1942 this rose to 1,296 aircraft of which 434 were fighters.[108] But increases were complicated by the demand for production by the other two services. Milch informed Göring that the aviation industry was allocated 74 percent of all aluminium resources, but 5,116 tons went into production for ammunition such as shell cases for artillery units.[108] Milch considered this a mistake. He pointed out such reserves could have built 1,000 Dornier Do 217 heavy bombers and 4,000 Messerschmitt Bf 109.[108] Milch ordered a crack down on wasteful practices. He ordered metals to be recycled, and metals from crashed aircraft to be used again.[108] This way he increased the availability of metals by 57 percent.[108] In spite of the failures of the High Command and Göring, the Luftwaffe's resourceful administrators just managed to stabilize German aircraft numbers.[108]

Hans Jeschonnek initially opposed Milch's planned production increases. But in June, he changed his mind and suggested 900 fighters per month should be the average output. By the winter of 1941-1942 just 39 percent of the fighter force was operational and possessed just 60 more combat aircraft than it did in June 1941 despite its increased commitments.[109] Throughout 1942 the Luftwaffe was out produced in fighter aircraft by 250 percent and in twin-engine aircraft by 196 percent.[110]

The intensification of Allied bombing caused the dispersion of production and prevented an efficient acceleration of Milch's expansion program. The German aviation production reached about 36,000 aircraft for 1944. However by the time this was achieved the Luftwaffe lacked the fuel and trained pilots to make this achievement worth while.[111] The failure to maximize production immediately after the failures in the Soviet Union and North Africa ensured the Luftwaffe's effective defeat in the period of September 1943 - February 1944. Despite the tactical victories won, they failed to achieve a decisive victory. By the time production reached acceptable levels, it was too little too late.[111]

Impact of Allied aerial offensive

The Allied offensive has often been criticised for failing to halt the mass increase in production in 1944. It has been pointed out that German morale never came close to cracking under the weight of the bombing offensive, and more importantly that German war production increased dramatically from 1942 to 1944 in spite of the bombing offensive.[112] One historian, Steven Garrett argues that bombing probably increased German industrial efficiency by forcing it to pull itself together.[112] The German war economy did indeed expand significantly following Albert Speer’s appointment as Reichsminister of Armaments, "but it is spurious to argue that because production increased then bombing had no real impact". But the bombing offensive did do serious damage to German production levels. German tank and aircraft production, though reached new records in production levels in 1944, was in particular one-third lower than planned.[112] In fact, German aircraft production for 1945 was planned at 80,000, "which gives an idea of direction Erhard Milch and the German planners were pushing", "unhindered by Allied bombing German production would have risen far higher".[113] In 1943, a total of 25,527 aircraft were produced, of which 20,327 were combat types; the figures for 1944 39,807 aircraft, of which 35,394 were combat types. The 1944 aircraft production levels represented an increase to 479.9% in aircraft production compared to 1939, and 747.8% in the case of combat aircraft.[114] The United states Strategic Bombing Survey concluded that strategic bombing of the German aircraft industry caused a direct and indirect loss of production amounting to approximately 18,000 airplanes between July 1943 and December 1944.[115] Reported production for the same period totalled 53,000 aircraft. Of the estimated production loss, roughly 78 percent or 14,000 aircraft were fighters.[116]

Bombing had kept the expansion of German industrial output to manageable proportions for the Allies.[117][118] The impact of bombing on German morale was significant. Around a third of the urban population under threat of bombing had no protection at all. Some of the major cities saw 55-60 percent of dwellings destroyed. Mass evacuations were a partial answer for six million civilians, but this had a severe impact on morale as German families were split up to live in difficult conditions. By 1944 absenteeism rates of 20-25 percent were not unusual and in post-war analysis 91 percent of civilians stated bombing was the most difficult hardship to endure and was the key factor in the collapse of their own morale.[117] The United States Strategic Bombing Survey concluded that the bombing was not stiffening morale but seriously depressing it; fatalism, apathy, defeatism were apparent in bombed areas. The Luftwaffe was blamed for not warding off the attacks and confidence in the Nazi regime fell by 14 percent. Some 75 percent of Germans believed the war was lost in the spring of 1944, owing to the intensity of the bombing.[119]

The bombing also diverted German resources from the frontlines, which became increasingly overstretched. By 1944 33 percent of German artillery production and 20 percent of its ammunition were given to combat the air offensive. At the same time, some two million Germans were employed in aircraft defence work. The bombing also crucially destroyed the Luftwaffe. The bombing also helped to divert the Luftwaffe from providing air cover in Normandy in June 1944. The lack of a German air presence in France enabled the Allied Air Forces to exert a much greater degree of influence on the ground campaign.[120]

Training deterioration

Flight training; total/operational hours.[121]
Year Germany United Kingdom United States
–42 250/75 200/50 -
42/43 200/50 350/60 260/60
43/44 200/25 330/75 320/125
44/45 140/25 300/100 400/160

In pre-war establishments, and up until 1942 the German training programs had proven better in terms of training time given to pilots than the Allies. From September 1939 to September 1942, German pilots could receive just under 250 total flying hours and roughly 75 hours in operational types. The British would only allow 200 hours total flying hours, and 50 on operational types. By the period October 1942 to June 1943 German hours shrank to just over 200 and 50 respectively. Meanwhile the British training increased to nearly 350 hours in total, while saw a small rise to 60 hours. When the Americans entered the war they allowed their pilots 260 hours in total, and over 60 in operational types. By July 1943 to June 1944, American and British pilots had 320 and 330 total and 125 and 75 hours in operational aircraft. In the same period, German training fell to just under 200 total hours and roughly 25 hours on operational aircraft. In the period July 1944 to May 1945, German training had stayed virtually the same in operational hours but had declined to roughly 140 in total hours. Meanwhile the British and Americans enjoyed 300 and nearly 400 on total hours respectively and nearly 100 and 160 hours on operational fighter aircraft.[121]

The decrease in skill and training was caused by the attrition rates of pilots and skilled aircrew. This was perhaps the most important aspect in the decline of the Luftwaffe and an effective fighting force.[122] The rise in attrition caused a steady decline in skills and experience forced the Germans to curtail training programs to fill empty cockpits. Owing to this, new pilots with less skill than their predecessors were lost at a faster rate. The increasing losses, in turn, forced the training establishments to produce pilots even more rapidly. Once this cycle began, it was difficult to escape. One of the key indicators in the decline of German fighter pilot skill after 1940 air battles was the rise of losses owing to non-combat causes. By the first half of 1943 losses sustained in accidents were as many as losses in combat. Thereafter non-combat losses declined. "The probable cause of this was due less to an awakening on the part of the Luftwaffe to the need for better flying safety than to the probability that Allied flyers, in their overwhelming numbers, were shooting down German pilots before they could crash their aircraft". Only eight of the 107 German pilots that claimed over 100 victories joined their squadrons after mid-1942. The only advantage was that the few German pilots that had survived the early air battles could defeat new Allied pilots no matter how many training hours they had flown. Owing to this, a select group of German fighter pilots were able to build personal scores and missions up. However, few of the experienced German pilots survived the attrition of the first few years. The Luftwaffe grew into two separate air forces; the few great aces and the "great mass of pilots who faced great difficulty in landing their aircraft, much less surviving combat".[123]

See also



  1. ^ Caldwell & Muller 2007, p. 9.
  2. ^ "Development of the Strategic Bomber". 60th Anniversary of RAF Bomber Command website. Royal Air Force (UK). 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Overy 1980, p. 107.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Overy 1980, p. 106.
  5. ^ Caldwell & Muller 2007, p. 31.
  6. ^ Caldwell & Muller 2007, pp. 34-35.
  7. ^ Caldwell & Muller 207, pp. 36-37.
  8. ^ Caldwell & Muller 2007, p. 40.
  9. ^ Overy 1980, p. 108.
  10. ^ a b c Overy 1980, p. 110.
  11. ^ a b Caldwell & Muller 2007, p. 42.
  12. ^ Murray 1938, p. 132.
  13. ^ a b Caldwell & Muller 2007, p. 43.
  14. ^ a b Caldwell & Muller 2007, p. 44.
  15. ^ Murray 1983, p. 177.
  16. ^ a b c d e f Caldwell & Muller 2007, p. 46.
  17. ^ Cooper 1981, p. 266
  18. ^ Caldwell & Muller 2007, p. 49.
  19. ^ a b c Caldwell & Muller 2007, p. 50.
  20. ^ a b Murray 1983, p. 172.
  21. ^ a b Caldwell & Muller 2007, p. 51.
  22. ^ Caldwell & Muller 2007, pp. 51-52.
  23. ^ Cladwell & Muller 2007, p. 52.
  24. ^ Caldwell & Muller 2007, p. 68.
  25. ^ Caldwell & Muller 2007, p. 70.
  26. ^ Caldwell & Muller 2007, p. 71.
  27. ^ Caldwell & Muller 2007, p. 77.
  28. ^ a b c Caldwell & Muller 2007, p. 81.
  29. ^ Caldwell & Muller 2007, p. 84.
  30. ^ Caldwell & Muller 2007, p. 87.
  31. ^ Caldwell 1994, p. 96.
  32. ^ Caldwell & Muller 2007, pp. 102-103.
  33. ^ Calwell & Muller 2007, p. 114.
  34. ^ Caldwell & Muller 2007, p. 137.
  35. ^ Caldwell & Muller 2007, P. 137.
  36. ^ Caldwell & Muller 2007, p. 139.
  37. ^ a b Hastings 1979, p. 234.
  38. ^ a b c d Hastings 1979, p. 235.
  39. ^ Murray 1983, p. 220.
  40. ^ Tooze 2006, p. 598.
  41. ^ Tooze 2006, p. 601.
  42. ^ Murray 1983, p. 221.
  43. ^ Hastings 1979, p. 232.
  44. ^ Hastings 1979, p. 233.
  45. ^ Kershaw 1987, p. 206.
  46. ^ Caldwell & Muller 2007, p. 119.
  47. ^ Caldwell & Muller 2007, p. 140.
  48. ^ Caldwell & Muller 2007, p. 146.
  49. ^ Caldwell & Muller 2007, pp. 149-150.
  50. ^ Hess 1994, p. 73.
  51. ^ Hall 1998, p. 138.
  52. ^ a b Caldwell & Muller 2007, p. 162.
  53. ^ a b c Caldwell & Muller 2007, p. 163.
  54. ^ Gerbig 1975, p. 28-30.
  55. ^ Murray 1983, p. 190.
  56. ^ Caldwell & Muller 2007, p. 189.
  57. ^ a b Caldwell & Muller 2007, p. 188.
  58. ^ Cox and Grey 2002, p. 103.
  59. ^ Cox & Gray 2002, p. 104.
  60. ^ Murray 1983, p. 277.
  61. ^ a b Weal 1996, p. 73.
  62. ^ Murray 1983, p. 283
  63. ^ Weal 1996, p. 75.
  64. ^ Hastings 1979, p. 272.
  65. ^ Hastings 1979, p. 274.
  66. ^ Hastings 1979, p. 289.
  67. ^ a b c d e f National Archives 2000, p. 279.
  68. ^ National Archives 2000, p. 280.
  69. ^ Gerbig 1975, p. 130.
  70. ^ Hastings 1979, p. 240.
  71. ^ a b c d e f Caldwell & Muller 2007, p. 190.
  72. ^ a b c d e Caldwell & Muller 2007, p. 191.
  73. ^ a b Caldwell & Muller 2007, p. 195.
  74. ^ Caldwell & Muller 2007, p. 196.
  75. ^ Caldwell & Muller 2007, pp. 195-198.
  76. ^ a b Caldwell & Muller 2007, p. 198.
  77. ^ Dahl 2000, pp. 46–66
  78. ^ Weal 1996, p. 78.
  79. ^ a b Caldwell & Muller 2007, pp. 201-202.
  80. ^ Gerbig 1975, p. 17.
  81. ^ Caldwell & Muller 2007, p. 202.
  82. ^ Caldwell & Muller 2007, p. 203.
  83. ^ Caldwell & Muller 2007, p. 211.
  84. ^ - The United States Army Air Forces in World War II - A Diversion from Strategy and an Experiment in Bombardment
  85. ^ Gerbig 1975, p. 18.
  86. ^ Gerbig 1975, p. 19.
  87. ^ Cladwell & Muller 2007, p. 226.
  88. ^ Caldwell & Muller 2007, p. 229.
  89. ^ a b c Caldwell & Muller 2007, p. 204.
  90. ^ a b c Caldwell & Muller 2007, p. 205.
  91. ^ a b Manhro & Putz 2004, pp. 272-273.
  92. ^ Weal 2006, pp. 82-83.
  93. ^ Groehler, 1975. p. 335.
  94. ^ Price 1993, p. 176.
  95. ^ Caldwell & Muller, 2007, p. 244.
  96. ^ Caldwell & Muller 2007, pp. 247-248.
  97. ^ Caldwell & Muller 2007, p. 253.
  98. ^ Caldwell & Muller 2007, p. 261.
  99. ^ Janda-Poruba, 1997. p. 90.
  100. ^ Gerbig 1975, p. 138.
  101. ^ Gerbig 1975, p. 139.
  102. ^ Royal Air Force Bomber Command 60th Anniversary - Campaign Diary March 1944
  103. ^ a b National Archives 2000, p. 365.
  104. ^ a b National Archives 2000, p. 368.
  105. ^ Groehler, 1975. p. 335
  106. ^ Royal Air Force Bomber Command 60th Anniversary - Campaign Diary March 1945
  107. ^ a b c d e f g h i Murray 1995, p. 125.
  108. ^ a b c d e f g h Murray 1938, p. 133.
  109. ^ Murray 1938, p. 138.
  110. ^ Murray 1938, p. 139.
  111. ^ a b Murray 1938, pp. 253-255.
  112. ^ a b c Buckley 1998, p. 165.
  113. ^ Murray 1983, p. 253.
  114. ^ U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, Aircraft Division Industry Report, p. 78.
  115. ^ U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, Aircraft Division Industry Report, p. 9.
  116. ^ U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, Aircraft Division Industry Report, p. 6.
  117. ^ a b Buckley 1998, p. 166.
  118. ^ Overy 1980, p. 123.
  119. ^ Kershaw 1987, pp. 206-207.
  120. ^ Buckley 1998, p. 167.
  121. ^ a b Murray 1983, p. 314.
  122. ^ Murray 1983, p. 303.
  123. ^ Murray 1983, p. 312.


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