Formula for defeat? The Luftwaffe

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Francis Marliere
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Re: Formula for defeat? The Luftwaffe

Postby Francis Marliere » Thu Dec 12, 2013 11:31 am

Alecsandros,

I would add that it would be difficult for the LW to maintain a signifiant CAP over the Channel all the time. German fighters had short range and could not stay on station for a long time. The protection would be either thin or intermittent. In the other hand, the RAF would choose when and were to attack.
The nature of the German invasion fleet - river barges - would make the task of the LW even more difficult. Those crafts would be very vulnerable to air attacks and could be sunk / heavily damaged by straffing or near misses by small bombs. Since the barges were towed, sinking or damagin the river tug would be enough to stop several barges.

I don't think neither that the LW could stop the Royal Navy. The LW bombers could not be everywhere. They would have to attack either the Royal Navy or RAF bases. Attacking both would probably not be effective. If the LW concentrates on air bases, the Royal Navy is free to attack German shipping. If the bombers attack ships, the Fighter Command can recover his strengh and the invasion becomes impossible.

Anyway if the bombers succesfully attack British ships, the Royal Navy still has the option to operate by night. Even if SBD flying from Guadalcanal tried - with very little results if my memory is good - to dive bomb by night, I don't think it is really an option for the LW (well it's cloudy over the channel in autumn). Hence German convoys are left during night time with the very little protection that the Kriegsmarine can afford.

In final analysis however, the most formidable danger for German shipping would the weather. River barges have very, very bad sea-keeping capacities (very low freeboard and flat bottom). Any craft would be in danger of capsizing or foundering in a sea anything but flat calm.

Best,

Francis

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Re: Formula for defeat? The Luftwaffe

Postby alecsandros » Thu Dec 12, 2013 1:03 pm

Hi Francis,
Absolutely agree,

One point I would like to mention:
perhaps the Luftwaffe could mantain enough fighter patrols in the air to keep out RAF bobmers, while Ju87 and Ju88 would pummell the Royal Navy ?

During the Dukirk evacuation, 6 British destroyers were sunk and many more damaged by German dive bombers. And that allthough Luftwaffe presence was dim, partly due to bad weather, partly due to lack of orders to engage and destroy the Expeditionary Force.

During the Crete evacuation however, much more British ships were sunk or badly damaged, and that allthough only a fraction of the Ju87/88 of the Luftwafe were present at that time and place...

Cheers,

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Re: Formula for defeat? The Luftwaffe

Postby Dave Saxton » Thu Dec 12, 2013 7:17 pm

Francis Marliere wrote:I would add that it would be difficult for the LW to maintain a signifiant CAP over the Channel all the time. German fighters had short range and could not stay on station for a long time. The protection would be either thin or intermittent. In the other hand, the RAF would choose when and were to attack.

One factor which minimizes this weakness is the German radar. They don't need to maintain standing patrols. They can respond to each attack as it develops. However, they do need to establish air superority first, and historically they failed to do that.
Entering a night sea battle is an awesome business.The enveloping darkness, hiding the enemy's.. seems a living thing, malignant and oppressive.Swishing water at the bow and stern mark an inexorable advance toward an unknown destiny.

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Re: Formula for defeat? The Luftwaffe

Postby Francis Marliere » Fri Dec 13, 2013 10:00 am

Dave, I know and respect your expertise in the field of (German) radars, but I am not sure that German radar stations could really help in this scenario.

First, I am not enclined to think that they could be operationnal in time. France only collapses in late June and I guess it takes severall to build a network of radar stations (plus the communication stuff and control centers).

Then, I am a bit sceptical on the capacity of such early war radars to detect RAF planes flying at low level over England. Interferences, blind arc and limited radar horizon would make things difficult.

Anyway, if the German fighters wait on their airbase to be laerted by the radars, I can't see how they could get in time over the invasion fleet. Assume that a formation of RAF planes flying 200 knots is detected 20 nm away from a German convoy. They will reach their target in 6 minutes. That means that the German fighters have just 6 mn to scramble, take-off, fly at least 30 nm and engage the ennemy. That's IMHO impossible. The Bf109 can engage only if they are already on station over the channel.

Best regards,

Francis

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Re: Formula for defeat? The Luftwaffe

Postby alecsandros » Fri Dec 13, 2013 10:16 am

Francis,
I am wondering, how many Bf109s would be required to patrol over the strait for covering the fleet ? At least 100 maybe ?

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Re: Formula for defeat? The Luftwaffe

Postby tommy303 » Sat Dec 14, 2013 12:25 am

Well, 252 fighters were required for covering the Channel Dash, so I would imagine at least that would be necessary, if not more.

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Re: Formula for defeat? The Luftwaffe

Postby Dave Saxton » Mon Dec 16, 2013 4:55 am

Francis Marliere wrote:, but I am not sure that German radar stations could really help in this scenario.

First, I am not enclined to think that they could be operationnal in time. France only collapses in late June and I guess it takes severall to build a network of radar stations (plus the communication stuff and control centers).

Then, I am a bit sceptical on the capacity of such early war radars to detect RAF planes flying at low level over England. Interferences, blind arc and limited radar horizon would make things difficult.

Anyway, if the German fighters wait on their airbase to be laerted by the radars, I can't see how they could get in time over the invasion fleet. Assume that a formation of RAF planes flying 200 knots is detected 20 nm away from a German convoy. They will reach their target in 6 minutes. That means that the German fighters have just 6 mn to scramble, take-off, fly at least 30 nm and engage the ennemy. That's IMHO impossible. The Bf109 can engage only if they are already on station over the channel.

Best regards,

Francis


Hello Francis,

I tend to agree with your overall view, that it would be no easy task and probably impossible. However, I have found evidence that Germans were more capable in July 1940 than is commonly known. Caldwell’s writing on JG-26 (BF-109 wing) revealed early radar and radio monitoring capability and also gave some insight on the period leading up to the Battle of Britain:

The Luftwaffe’s tasks during this phase were to protect the Wehrmacht’s invasion build up on the coast and to establish air superiority over the Channel. …He (Oberst Johannes Fink) sought to draw Fighter Command into a battle of attrition…Air Chief Marshall Sir Hugh Dowding….Air Vice Marshall Keith Park … were well aware of German intentions from radio intercepts, which had been decoded by the Ultra Organization, and refused then or later to take the bait..


So attempts to establish air superiority over the channel by wearing down the British fighters were frustrated. We can not know if they could establish air superiority over an invasion fleet for certain. The British refusal to play ball resulted in The Battle of Britain, of course, as the only means of establishing air superiority before the actual invasion was attempted, which was the only proper way to proceed. If it failed (as it did historically) then there was no point in proceeding to the next phase. We do know, some, how the Germans could have performed at protecting shipping and attacking shipping near the coasts of England from the combats conducted over the coastal convoys in July 1940.

The British determined not to forfeit their own coastal waters, were continuing to run convoys of small colliers through the Channel and the Thames Estuary…


Here the British were willing to risk their fighters as their own fighters had a considerable advantage by only flying to their own coasts. The German fighters had to cross the channel and respond quickly to British moves in order to protect their bombers attacking the shipping. The first combat of this sort for JG26 did not go well. It was an even trade of two Bf-109s for two Spitfires. One of the errors was to keep the BF-109s in close escort with the bombers and/or in constant patrol over the expected fighting zone.

The next day brought an improvement of Luftwaffe tactics. The German’s newly installed radar and wireless interception stations ....allowed Oberst Fink to hit the convoys when they were most vulnerable.


One must assume that radar and wireless interception gave him a superior situational awareness.

..the first wave found the convoy unprotected by fighters.


There were two Spitfire squadrons airborne, but JG26 was vectored by radar informed controllers into a position to ambush the British fighters. They did. In this and subsequent combats in this vein the Germans established a 5 to 1 kill ratio.

For one convoy, CW8, the losses were grave:

By the next morning, half of Convoy CW8 had been sunk by dive bombers or E-boats. The Admiralty cancelled all sailings of merchant ships through the Straits of Dover by day. By July 28 the RN was forced to withdraw its destroyer forces (from the area), and on the 29th all movement of British naval units by day was stopped.


But I think the comment below summed up the overall significance of the combats and the Luftwaffe’s continuing problem of knocking out Fighter Command before an invasion though:

Fink had thus won his battle. The significance of his victory was minimal, however, as only limited forces had been committed, and the RAF, and the RN still possessed the means and the will to cripple any invasion force


Risk of the enemy obtaining equal or superior control of the airspace remained. As Thomas points out during the Channel Dash they mustered overwhelming numbers locally rather than risk certain disaster in an already high risk endeavor.

Once, or if, the Germans can establish a beachhead, though, their options would expand. They would transfer fighters across the Channel to forward air fields, and as in the invasion of Norway they would fly in radar stations. This was the practice of both the Allies and also the Japanese during invasion operations during WWII and used to good effect in each case. Some German fighters squadrons were earmarked for this very purpose should things advance that far.
Entering a night sea battle is an awesome business.The enveloping darkness, hiding the enemy's.. seems a living thing, malignant and oppressive.Swishing water at the bow and stern mark an inexorable advance toward an unknown destiny.

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Re: Formula for defeat? The Luftwaffe

Postby alecsandros » Mon Dec 16, 2013 6:49 am

tommy303 wrote:Well, 252 fighters were required for covering the Channel Dash, so I would imagine at least that would be necessary, if not more.

Incredible...
Were all those fighters in the air, or were some standing by on the ground in high alert ?

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Re: Formula for defeat? The Luftwaffe

Postby Dave Saxton » Mon Dec 16, 2013 3:26 pm

No, only 16 fighters over the fleet at any given time. Galland calculated that this was enough to defend the fleet and to maintain local air superiority. Galland's plan called for four schwarms (finger fours) over the fleet in 30 minute shifts. So a total of 32 fighters in the air during the overlap phases. Once each shift was completed those fighters would land at more easterly air fields and refuel preparing for their next shift. Some pilots flew three sorties that day.

Galland's plan was successful. The FAA swordfish attack escorted by Spitfires was a disaster. The Germans detected the British aircraft in time to scramble 16 additional FW-190 fighters on standby of III/JG26 commanded by air ace Gerhardt Schoepfel. A group of sixteen JG2 BF-109s was currently over the fleet. Vectored in by radar on the flagship Scharnhorst, four of Schoepfel's FW-190s bounced the Spitfire escort and brought them into a dog fight, while the remainder went right by the Spitfires and bounced the Swordfish. All six Swordfish were shot down although a few managed to drop their torpedoes from hopeless positions. The British air attacks continued into the evening hours but:

The attacks were of small scale and uncoordinated, and the German fighter screen proved sufficient to fight them off. The 190s and 109s even had time to strafe the RN MTBs and old destroyers that periodically attemted to attack out of the mist.....No British shell, bomb, or torpedo had touched a German ship.


It was a lesson in naval air superiority and cooperation between warships and land based air power that apperently the Germans themselves failed to learn long term from. How different could Force Z's fortunes had been had they had been able to call upon even Brewster fighters a few months before?
Entering a night sea battle is an awesome business.The enveloping darkness, hiding the enemy's.. seems a living thing, malignant and oppressive.Swishing water at the bow and stern mark an inexorable advance toward an unknown destiny.

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Re: Formula for defeat? The Luftwaffe

Postby paul.mercer » Tue Dec 17, 2013 10:46 pm

One book that may shed some light on the defeat of the Luftwaffe is JG 26, Top guns of the Luftwaffe. by Donald L Caldwell, it has a forward by Adolf Galland and is taken from the German point of view.
It starts with the all conquering Luftwaffe with their 109 E and F's and goes on to the FW 190's and the jet aircraft, but as the book progresses one can almost feel the degrees of hopelessness pervading amonst the pilots when faced with overwhelming swarms of bombers with their escort fighters

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Re: Formula for defeat? The Luftwaffe

Postby tommy303 » Tue Dec 17, 2013 11:35 pm

Paul's post reminds me of one late war Bf109 pilot who reminisced that in preparing for take off on an intercept mission, he had the feeling as his mechanic closed the cockpit canopy, that someone was closing the lid to his coffin.

Their shoulders held the sky suspended;
They stood and Earth's foundations stay;
What God abandoned these defended;
And saved the sum of things for pay.

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Re: Formula for defeat? The Luftwaffe

Postby RF » Fri Dec 20, 2013 7:53 pm

frontkampfer wrote:Dave,

I concur on all your points! The failure of the Luftwaffe to project deep behind enemy lines, coordinate with the KM in vital maritime operations, provide front as well as homeland support while providing for adequate replacement planning was what doomed it to failure. The Japanese had many of the same issues and suffered the same fate. Placed side by side, allies vs axis, one strategy over time produced victory while the other ultimately led to defeat.


I have come late on to this thread, but fully concur with the points Dave made in his original post.

The fact remains that Hitler was an opportunist with no sense of grand strategy. Instead Nazi Germany re-armed under the Goering doctrine of guns or butter, even after war started in September 1939.
Had Germany properly planned for a world war from 1933 and properly co-ordinated with Italy, Japan and the Soviet Union Hitler could have won even without an enormous air force.

But that is another story.
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Re: Formula for defeat? The Luftwaffe

Postby paul.mercer » Wed Jan 01, 2014 7:04 pm

Gentlemen,
Regarding performance of various aircraft I recommend two more books, 1) Wings of the Luftwaffe (Flying captured German aircraft of WW2) and 2) Duels in the Sky, both by Captain Eric (Winkle) Brown, the latter compares most of the WW2 fighter aircraft against one another. He has flown an amazing 487 different types of aircraft ranging from biplanes to flying fortresses and was later employed by the Royal Aircraft Establishment as a test pilot. Both books make facinating reading - I got mine from Amazon.

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Re: Formula for defeat? The Luftwaffe

Postby aurora » Sat Nov 15, 2014 11:54 am

In my opinion the Luftwaffe was an elite Fighting Force-well armed and its sound aircraft flown by dedicated pilots and crew.They held their own up to and during 1943 but thereafter they were outfought generally by sheer weight of numbers of their enemies's aircraft They fought the RAF (Bomber Command,2nd Tactical Airforce,and Coastal Command's Strike Units)USAAF (Bomber Commands and Fighter Commands)in NW Europe.Ditto Italy and the Russian Air Forces in the East.They were gradually ground down despite their victories-more Allied aircraft came. Despite having some of the best aeroplanes in the world and pilots to match-they were being overwhelmed and in 1945 the end was inevitably in sight due to huge losses in aircraft and more importantly -experienced pilots.The Luftwaffe's war was against grinding attrition!! :( :(
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Re: Formula for defeat? The Luftwaffe

Postby RF » Sun Nov 16, 2014 5:23 pm

aurora wrote:In my opinion the Luftwaffe was an elite Fighting Force-well armed and its sound aircraft flown by dedicated pilots and crew.
( :(


I wouldn't disagree with that. The real problem was that there was no blueprint or mission statement as to what the Luftwaffe was for - as I said above the was no grand strategy. The Luftwaffe developed in the 1930's as an interdiction weapon for the Heer in the execution of blitzkrieg, which was quite within its capabilities or a localised battlefront, such as invading Poland or France. It was not developed as an independent strategic strike force which the Nazi propaganda implied it was. During the Battle of Britain and during the Blitz the Luftwaffe was found to be wanting, due to poor leadership at the very top and not adequately equipped to do the job. Indeed the Italians had better concepts of strategic air warfare - even though they designed suitable aircraft they never attempted to put it into practice.
Like most other things in Nazi Germany, the Luftwaffe had to operate on compromises. In the circumstances it did very well within the limitations it had to fight under.
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