|Active||15 May 1933|
|Disbanded||8 May 1945|
|Anniversaries||25 March 1933|
|Engagements||Invasion of Poland,|
Battle of Britain,
Defence of the Reich,
|Oberbefehlshaber der Luftwaffe||Hermann Göring|
Robert Ritter von Greim
|Attack||Messerschmitt Bf 109|
Focke-Wulf Fw 190
Henschel Hs 129
Junkers Ju 87
Focke-Wulf Ta 152
|Bomber||Junkers Ju 87|
Junkers Ju 88
Heinkel He 111
Heinkel He 177
Dornier Do 17
Dornier Do 217
|Fighter||Messerschmitt Bf 109|
Messerschmitt Bf 110
Focke-Wulf Fw 190
|Interceptor||Heinkel He 162|
Messerschmitt Me 163
Messerschmitt Me 262
Focke-Wulf Ta 152
|Patrol||Focke-Wulf Fw 200|
Blohm & Voss Bv 138
|Reconnaissance||Henschel Hs 126|
Focke-Wulf Fw 189
Fieseler Fi 156
|Trainer||Arado Ar 96|
Bücker Bü 131
Bücker Bü 181
Focke-Wulf Fw 44
Gotha Go 145
Klemm Kl 35
|Transport||Gotha Go 244|
Junkers Ju 52
Messerschmitt Me 323
Between 1933 and 1945, the organization of the Luftwaffe underwent several changes. Originally, the German military high command, for their air warfare forces, decided to use an organizational structure similar to the army and navy, treating the aviation branch as a strategic weapon of war. Later on, during the period of rapid rearmament, the Luftwaffe was organized more in a geographical fashion.
Under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles (1919), Germany was prohibited from having an air force, with the former German Empire's Luftstreitkräfte disbandment in 1920. German pilots were secretly trained for military aviation, first in the Soviet Union during the late 1920s, and then in Germany in the early 1930s. In Germany, the training was done under the guise of the German Air Sports Association (German: Deutscher Luftsportverband (DLV)) at the Central Commercial Pilots School (German: Zentrale der Verkehrs Fliegerschule (ZVF)).
Following its 15 May 1933 formation in secret, the formation of the German air arm was openly announced in February 1935, with Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring as its Commander-in-Chief (German: Oberbefehlshaber der Luftwaffe), in blatant defiance of the Versailles Treaty. Initial plans were for long-term growth of the Luftwaffe over a period of five years with the intention of using the Luftwaffe as a strategic force. These plans were changed several times, especially after the June 1936 death of Walter Wever and the succession of Ernst Udet. The focus and role of the Luftwaffe became one of ground support for the German Army during its Lightning War (German: Blitzkrieg) campaigns. Göring, using his political capital, was able to get significant resources allocated to the Luftwaffe, more so than the army (German: Heer) or the navy (German: Kriegsmarine); all three forces existing within the combined Wehrmacht German armed forces of the Reich. This made the Luftwaffe one of the most powerful air forces in Europe during its initial years. Partly due to its ground support role, the Luftwaffe was reorganized in a fashion similar to the army units, with one unit controlling a specific area. Each Luftwaffe unit was self-contained and had complete control over all aspects of Luftwaffe forces in that area.
Before becoming head of the Luftwaffe, Göring was Interior Minister of Prussia. In this position he had formed his own army, starting from a 400 men police department to regiment size. When Göring took over the Luftwaffe, he brought the regiment along with him to the Luftwaffe and created his own ground forces in the form of Luftwaffe Field Divisions and Paratrooper Regiments (German: Fallschirmjäger) under the Luftwaffe. He eventually included a tank regiment (Fallschirm-Panzer Division), Flak units and a signals regiment (German: Luftnachrichten Regiment) under the Luftwaffe umbrella.
During the 1930s and 1940s, air power had not matured enough to be considered a dominant weapon of war. Unlike the other two forces, air power did not have past experience to draw upon. This resulted in the air force having to learn from experience rather than the classroom. There were no cohesive ideas for the organization of a structured, modern air force. One train of thought subordinated the air force to the army in support of land operations and to the navy for maritime tasks. It would be staffed by soldiers or sailors trained to fly.
The second theory envisioned a centralized, well organized air force to be used as a weapon of war, like the army and navy. German aviators from World War I, followed this thought process. Since they had the backing of the German political leadership, this is how the Luftwaffe was originally conceived and formed. Following the tradition of putting a soldier in charge of the army and a sailor in charge of the navy, an aviator was designated to lead the Luftwaffe: Reichsmarschall Herman Göring, also the cabinet minister for aviation. Göring formed a Luftwaffe High Command (German: Oberkommando der Luftwaffe) for operational management.
Within the German air force leadership, the general opinion was that the Luftwaffe was a tactical rather than a strategic air force. Hence, in order to support the various army groups, the Luftwaffe was organized in similar fashion to the army. Its units had a flexible composition with sub-units being added or removed when necessary. These sub-units tended to be semi-autonomous and highly mobile. This offered the flexibility required to support the ground units.
From the start of the Spanish Civil War, the Luftwaffe was in action continuously without the time for rest or training. Multiple political acts and the consequent need for a show of strength forced the Luftwaffe to be in a perpetual state of readiness. This did not allow time for organizational strategy. Göring complicated the hierarchy by bringing the paratrooper (German: Fallschirmjäger) and Flak corps (anti-aircraft units) under his command. Due to his political differences with the army leadership, he raised his own police force as Prussian Minister of the Interior. This later became the Paratroop Tank Corps (German: Fallschirmjägerpanzerkorps).
By September 1939, the Luftwaffe had a total of 4,000 aircraft and 400,000 personnel. This strength had grown to 1,700,000 by 1941. In total, 571,000 of these were in anti-aircraft units and another 18 percent were in the signals branch. Only 36 percent or 588,000 comprised aircrew, but this also included the aircraft maintenance personnel. When the war ended on 8 May 1945, more than 97,000 air-crew would be reported dead, wounded or missing.
All aspects of aviation including the Luftwaffe, came under the control of the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (RLM), the Reich Air Ministry. Since the Luftwaffe was one of the three armed forces, it came under the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces from a military command point of view (German: Oberkommando der Wehrmacht) (OKW).
Göring was the cabinet minister of aviation (German: Reichsminister der Luftfahrt) during most of this period. He also served as the Commander in Chief of the Luftwaffe (German: Oberbefehlshaber der Luftwaffe). As a cabinet minister, he was responsible for civil aviation and all aspects of aircraft manufacturing and supply. Operationally, the Luftwaffe command was shared by the Inspector of Combat Flight (German: General der Kampfflieger) and the Inspector of Fighters (German: General der Jagdflieger) along with the Secretary of State for Aviation.
The German air force was divided into three operational branches:
These three branches were further divided into sub-branches such as Paratroops, air engineering, air medical corps and air-crew. Since the Luftwaffe was organized in a geographical fashion rather than on a strategic functional basis, it had an independent administrative as well as an operational command structures. Each geographical area had its own supply and maintenance corps. For this reason, any aviation units moving within that geographical area did not need to carry its own maintenance staff. This allowed for a great deal of mobility within the Luftwaffe.
Strategically, all three German military forces were part of a single service called, "The Defensive Power" (German: Die Wehrmacht; from German: wehren(Verb), to defend; and German: die Macht, the Power, Might) controlled by the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW); the head of the OKW was part of the Cabinet. Within the OKW, each service was headed by its own operational command:
The top levels of control of the Luftwaffe resided with the RLM, the German Air Ministry and its operational branch, the Oberkommando der Luftwaffe (OKL), or Air Force High Command. These institutions together were responsible for the direction of research, production and overall maintenance of aircraft.
As head of the Luftwaffe, Göring was responsible for the overall war effort and for the resources sent to a particular region. As a cabinet minister, he was able to get significant resources and personnel allocated to the Luftwaffe compared to other branches of the armed forces. In 1945, close to the end of the war, Robert Ritter von Greim replaced Göring as Commander in Chief.
The OKL, as the operational branch of the RLM, had complete control over unit movements, formation and personnel transfers. It had a strength of 25,000 personnel in 1939. On an operational level, the Luftwaffe was divided into air fleets (German: Luftflotten), not entirely unlike the nearly contemporary United States Army Air Corps and (after late June 1941) USAAF numbered air forces. Each air fleet was responsible for a particular geographic region. They were self-contained units equipped with all types of aircraft and their own supply elements, maintenance staff, administration and legal departments.
At the start of the war the Luftwaffe had four Luftflotten, each responsible for roughly a quarter of Germany. As the war progressed, three more were created as the areas under German rule expanded. Luftflotte 5 was created in 1940 to direct operations in Norway and Denmark. The commander of each Luftflotte was responsible for all fighter as well as support operations within that region. A fighter leader (German: Jagdführer) (Jafü) was responsible for fighter operations within that region and reported to the commander.
Each Luftflotte in turn was divided into many air districts (German: Luftgaue) and air corps (German: Fliegerkorps). The purpose of a Luftgau was to provide administrative and logistical support to each airfield, whereas the Fliegerkorps controlled all operational matters. The Luftgau headquarters command consisted of one Generalmajor and a staff of 50 to 100 officers. Each Fliegerkorps would have a number of smaller units under its command.
Each Geschwader within the Fliegerkorps was roughly the size of an RAF wing or USAAF group, with about 90 to 120 aircraft under its command. These numbers varied as sub-units were added or removed. Each geschwader had a particular task (such as fighter, bomber, or transport duties) and were mostly equipped with aircraft appropriate to that task. Other types of aircraft were also sometimes attached. A Geschwader was commanded by a Geschwaderkommodore, with the rank of either a Major, lieutenant colonel (German: Oberstleutnant) or colonel (German: Oberst). The unit also had other staff officers with administrative duties such as the German: adjutant), technical and operations officers. These were usually (although not always), experienced aircrew still flying on operations. Other specialist staff were navigation, signals and intelligence personnel.
A Gruppe (plural Gruppen) was the basic autonomous unit in the Luftwaffe. It had no exact equivalent in the Allied forces, since it was smaller than a USAAF group or an RAF wing, but was also larger than an Allied squadron. A Gruppe was usually commanded by a Major or Hauptmann. Each Staffel (plural Staffeln) usually had nine to 12 aircraft and was commanded by a Hauptmann or Oberleutnant . As such it was slightly smaller than a British, Soviet or US squadron. (The assumption that a Staffel was the exact equivalent of a squadron sometimes caused Western Allied leaders to overestimate German air power.)
Specialized, independent Gruppen or Staffeln sometimes sat below the level of a Fliegerkorps. A Schwarm (plural Schwärme; literally "swarm"), consisted of four to six aircraft within a Staffel. A bomber Schwarm (at full strength, six aircraft) was divided into a Kette ("chain") of three aircraft. As such, a bomber Schwarm was equivalent to a flight in the Western Allied air forces. A Kette was also the term used for a "v" formation. A fighter Schwarm (four aircraft) was divided into two Rotten (singular: Rotte, "pack") of two aircraft, equivalent to a pair in the English-speaking world. As such a fighter Schwarm was equivalent to a section/element in the Western Allied air forces. The term Rotte was also used for a formation of two aircraft: the smallest tactical unit, consisting of a leader and a wingman. A German: Stabschwarm ("staff schwarm") was attached to each Geschwader.
The OKW was the highest in the military command structure. It was responsible for the co-ordinated effort of the three military arms. It was headed by Wilhelm Keitel after he took over from war minister Werner von Blomberg in 1938. Since the head of the Luftwaffe, Göring, was also a cabinet minister, any Luftwaffe operational orders would come from Hitler to him, who would pass them on to Luftwaffe leaders, bypassing the OKW.
On 5 February 1944, through the efforts of Günther Korten and Karl Koller, the Luftwaffe High Command (German: Oberkommando der Luftwaffe) (OKL), was formed. Colonel General (German: Generaloberst) Hans Jeschonnek was appointed Chief of Staff of the OKL. This created a military command out of the all encompassing Reich Air Ministry (RLM), controlling all aspects of aviation. The OKL covered general as well as operational staff of the Luftwaffe. The following parts of the Luftwaffe were under its command:
The other components, such as armament and aircraft manufacturing remained under the control of the RLM.
The OKL was led by the Chief of the General Staff. It was strategically divided into eight directorates (German: Abteilungen) numbered consecutively. The directorates were:
There were also 17 Inspectorates (German: Luftwaffen Inspektion):
Six Luftkreise (Air Service Commands) were established on 1 April 1934. These were each the size of an Air Corps and were basic territorial units of the Luftwaffe following its geographical organization. Their headquarters were as given in the table:
In addition, Luftkreis VII was established on 12 October 1937 with its headquarters at Braunschweig, and is shown incorporated into the above-mentioned table
|Luftkreis VI (sea)||Kiel|
Each Luftkreis was led by a Höherer Fliegerkommandeur (Senior Air Commander) in charge of all aviation units within its area. These included, two or three Luftgaukommandos (administrative commands), a signals command, a medical battalion and a procurement and supply group. Their area of operations also included civilian airfields and Civil Air Defense. The following year, all the replacement battalions in that area also came under their control. In 1936, these were extended to regiment size or Fliegerersatzregimente. From 1935 to 1936, Flak units in the area also came under their command.
Hermann Göring and Erhard Milch appointed retired army lieutenant generals to lead each Luftkreis. These were Hans Halm, Edmund Wachenfeld and Leonhard Kaupisch. They were promoted to General der Flieger. A retired navy officer, Konrad Zander, was similarly promoted and put in charge of Luftkreis VI supporting the naval units. Two Luftwaffe officers, Colonel Hugo Sperrle and Major General Karl-Friedrich Schweickhard were put in charge of the remaining two Luftkreise without being promoted.
Operationally, the Luftwaffe organization underwent changes in July 1938. Luftkreise were consolidated into three Luftwaffengruppenkommandos (Airforce Group Commands). As a result, on 1 August 1938, Luftwaffenkommando Ostpreußen (Airforce Command East Prussia) replaced Luftkreis 1. This change also rendered the three digit Geschwader identifiers meaningless. From 1 November 1938, Geschwader identifiers were changed universally. The third digit of the Unit Identifier was replaced with the same digit as its parent Luftwaffengruppenkommando. For example, all units under Luftwaffengruppenkommando 1 (headquartered in Berlin), had the third digit of their identifiers replaced with a '1'. For units under Luftwaffengruppenkommando Ostpreußen, the third digit was replaced with a zero.
By the end of April 1939, another Luftwaffengruppenkommando was added. All four Luftwaffengruppenkommando were renamed Luftflotte (Air Fleets). Geschwader under each Luftflotte, were re-numbered sequentially. Each Luftflotte received a batch of 25. For example, Luftflotte 1 Geschwader were numbered 0-25, Luftflotte 2 Geschwader became 26-50 and so on.
Within the Air Ministry, for administration purposes, the Luftwaffe was organized into Luftgaue (Air Districts), based on the army's Wehrkreis ("military districts"). A Luftgau was responsible for all administrative activities, such as training, administration, maintenance, air defense, signals, recruitment and reserve personnel.
The Generalmajor leading the Luftgau-kommando of each Luftgau reported to the Air Ministry.
Luftgaue were also established as required in occupied Europe and were named after their location:
Feldluftgaue were established directly behind the actual frontline.
Each Luftgau had its own section for the following matters:
These sections were numbered in Arabic numerals followed by a Luftgau designator. For example, section 3 of Luftgau VI would be designated '3/VI'. Flying units used the services of a Luftgau through Flughafenbereichkommandanturen (Airfield Regional Commands). Each Luftgau usually had five such commands. Each regional command was divided into five or more Einsatzhafenkommandanturen (Operational Airfield Commands). The operational commands were located at the airfields where it serviced the flying units.
Operationally under the OKL, all Luftwaffe units were organized into Luftflotte, which were equivalent to an army group. Its size and number of subordinated units, was flexible and changed depending on need. The Luftflotten were created according to the geographical area. As the Wehrmacht occupied new territories, new Luftflotten were created. Each Luftflotte, had an adjutant or staff officer assisting the commanding officer. Although a Luftflotte could be moved from one area to another by the RLM, the Luftflotte had absolute control over all aspects of aviation in that area, including ground operations. This also included legal, administration, signals and supply work. They were essentially divided into operational or administrative commands. The signal services consisted of three Luft-Nachrichtenregimenter (signals regiments) in a Luftflotte. There was also a Fliegerabwehrkanone (Flak) unit.
|Luftflotte||Original Headquarters Location||Area of Operations||Major Campaigns|
|Luftflotte 1||Berlin||North and East Germany||Invasion of Poland, North Russia|
|Luftflotte 2||Braunschweig||Northwest Germany||1939-40 Western Front, Battle of Britain, Central Russia, Italy, North Africa, Mediterranean Campaign.|
|Luftflotte 3[a]||München||Southwest Germany||1939 Western Front, Battle of Britain, Invasion of Europe.|
|Luftflotte 4||Wien||Southeast Germany||Invasion of Poland, Balkans Campaign, South Russia, Hungary and Slovakia.|
|Luftflotte 5||Hamburg||Norway, Finland and Northern Russia||The Arctic Convoys and Northern Russia.|
|Luftflotte 6||Smolensk||Central Russia||Invasion of Poland, Bohemia-Moravia, Slovakia and Croatia.|
|Luftwaffen-Befehlshaber Mitte (Renamed Luftflotte Reich in 1944)||Berlin||Home Air Defense||Occupation of Denmark, East Prussia, Channel Islands, Liberation of Norway and Hungary.|
|Luftflotte 10||Berlin||Replacement and training units (from July 1944)|
A Luftflotte was operationally divided into one or more Fliegerkorps ("Air Corps") of varying size, depending on its area of operations. They were responsible for all operational matters such as deployment, air traffic, ordnance and maintenance. A Fliegerkorps could potentially be loaned out to another Luftflotte depending on the nature of the operation. There were a total of 13 Fliegerkorps.
Similar to the Luftflotte, each Fliegerkorps had its own geographical area of operations. It consisted of several Geschwader along with Reconnaissance Gruppen (Groups). The Geschwader could be either fighter or bomber units. Depending on the nature or purpose of the Fliegerkorps, it would have only bomber or fighter units. Similar to the Luftflotte, a Fliegerkorps also had an adjutant as well as other departments. However, it did depend on the parent Luftflotte for administrative and supply purposes. The Fliegerkorps were numbered consecutively in Roman numerals. During the initial organization of the Luftwaffe, it was divided into Fliegerdivisionen. However, during later reorganizations, most of these were replaced by the Fliegerkorps. Some remained in operation on the Eastern Front.
A Jagdkorps was a more specialized version of a Fliegerkorps with limited responsibility to fighter command only. A Jagd-Division was subordinated to a Jagdkorps but specialized in fighter operations. Jagd-Divisionen (fighter divisions) were active at one point or other during this period. Together the fighter force of Luftwaffe was also called Jagdwaffe.
The Luftwaffe also had specialist units of varying sizes for testing new aircraft as well as captured Allied machines - these units could be as small as a Staffel, or as large as a Gruppe. It was initially unnumbered and simply called the Lehrdivision (Instruction Division) but in later years several Erprobungskommando units of varying size were created to test specific new aircraft, usually numbered with the RLM aircraft designation system airframe number matching the aircraft they were meant to test. Along with the aircraft test and evaluation, a Lehrdivision was also responsible for testing anti-aircraft defenses and air signals equipment. The staff of this division were required to have prior combat experience. The Lehr units in this division were usually made part of operational units, receiving help from them for testing under combat conditions. Unlike the Erprobungskommando units, a Lehrdivision did not undertake the testing of experimental aircraft. As the war went on, some of the units under its command were used for operational purposes.
In the Luftwaffe the largest mobile and autonomous unit was the Geschwader. A Geschwader was the equivalent of a Wing in the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF). It would be used for different purposes such as bombing, interception (both single and twin engine), ground attack and reconnaissance. A Geschwader would be named, based on its purpose. There were several Geschwader with the same purpose. They would be named with an Arabic numeral following the word. It was also customary to give an additional title to a Geschwader in honor of a distinguished person. For example, Jagdgeschwader 2 was named Jagdgeschwader 2 Richthofen in honor of Manfred von Richthofen.
Each Geschwader was commanded by a Geschwaderkommodore. This person usually had the rank of Oberst (equivalent to colonel), Oberstleutnant (lieutenant colonel) or major. He had a small staff along with an adjutant (Staff Officer) for operational as well as for administrative purposes. There would be a Stabschwarm (staff schwarm) of four aircraft including the Geschwaderkommodore's aircraft. Typically there were three Gruppen (groups) under each Geschwader and sometimes a fourth or even a fifth gruppe was added to single engine fighter geschwader. On several occasions, day fighter Geschwader or Jagdgeschwader were formed with four Gruppe strength from start.
|Fighter||Jagdgeschwader||JG||JG 52, JG 27|
|Bomber||Kampfgeschwader||KG||KG 4, KG 30|
|Dive-bomber||Sturzkampfgeschwader||StG||StG 2, StG 77|
(to October 1943)
|Transport aircraft||Transportgeschwader (1943-45)||TG||TG 1, TG 4|
|Advanced Training||Lehrgeschwader||LG||LG 1, LG 2|
|Glider||Luftlandegeschwader||LLG||LLG 1, LLG 2|
|Night Fighter||Nachtjagdgeschwader||NJG||NJG 3, NJG 11|
|Ground attack||Schlachtgeschwader||SchlG, since October 1943 SG
(also replacing the old StG prefix)
|SG 2, SG 1|
|Fast bomber||Schnellkampfgeschwader||SKG||SKG 10, SKG 210|
|Heavy fighter||Zerstörergeschwader||ZG||ZG 26, ZG 76|
As the war progressed, the various sub-units of each numbered Geschwader operated separately and often on totally different fronts or theaters of war.
The Gruppe was the basic autonomous unit in the Luftwaffe, in both administration and strategic use. Each Gruppe would have a Stabschwarm (staff schwarm) of three aircraft. The Gruppe would be commanded by a Gruppenkommandeur, that would be a Major or Hauptmann, who would have a small staff including administration, operations, medical and technical officers. A Gruppe usually occupied one airfield. Gruppen from the same Geschwader typically occupied adjacent airfields. Each would have an air signals platoon, mechanical and administrative personnel. There was also a trained fire-fighting crew doubling as police officers and staffed by the SS.
As with the Geschwader, the Gruppe included staff officers tasked with additional administrative duties, usually an adjutant, technical, medical and operations officers. These officers were usually (though not always) experienced aircrew or pilots appointed from the operational cadre within the unit.
Gruppen organized within a combat geschwader were designated with Roman numerals: I, II, III and IV. This would be combined with the abbreviated Geschwader designation - for example, the second Gruppe of Jagdgeschwader 11 would be designated II./JG 11. Each Gruppe in turn consisted of three Staffeln. In total, each Gruppe had 30-40 aircraft including the Gruppenstab. A Gruppe was often transferred from one Geschwader to another. After a transfer they would be re-designated. For example, Gruppe II of Jagdgeschwader 3, II./JG 3 was transferred to Jagdgeschwader 1 as Gruppe I and was re-designated I./JG 1. In the case of bomber Geschwader, an Ergänzungsgruppe (training group) might be attached to a Geschwader as the fifth Gruppe and designated 'V' (Roman numeral 5).
Although all Gruppen in a Geschwader performed the same role, they were not always equipped with the same aircraft. This was more prevalent in fighter Geschwader, but did occur in bomber units as well. Some Gruppen of a fighter Geschwader would be equipped with Messerschmitt Bf 109s, while others would be equipped with Focke-Wulf Fw 190s. Among the bomber Geschwader, some Gruppen would be equipped with Dornier Do 17s while others would have either Heinkel He 111s or Junkers Ju 88s.
There were several types of Gruppen acting in specialized autonomous roles, many centered around either reconnaissance or maritime-involved duties. They were:
So-named Aufklärungsgruppe reconnaissance units existed in two basic forms for the Luftwaffe in World War II:
Maritime-involved Gruppe-sized units of the Luftwaffe involved:
Other types of Gruppe-sized units of various types existed within the Luftwaffe structure as well:
Each Gruppe comprised three or four Staffeln, but by late 1944 a fourth Staffel was usually added to fighter units, making the established strength of the unit approximately 65 to 70 aircraft, although during the war years operational strength tended to fluctuate greatly. Personnel strength varied between 35 and 150 aircrew, and 300 to 500 ground personnel.
During the mid-war years a fourth Gruppe was introduced in many Geschwader, initially as an operational training unit for new aircrew. However, these Gruppen soon became additional front-line units, performing the same tasks as their sister formations, while new Ergänzungseinheiten, or operational training units, were formed and took up their tasks.
A Staffel usually had nine to 12 aircraft. Others had as few as five or six aircraft due to losses. The commanding officer of a Staffel was known as a Staffelkapitän and had the rank of Hauptmann, Oberleutnant or sometimes Leutnant.
Staffeln were numbered consecutively in Arabic numerals within a Geschwader irrespective of the Gruppe they came under. The Staffel designation would be similar to that of the Gruppe except for the Arabic numerals. For example, Staffel 6 of Jagdgeschwader 27 would be designated 6./JG 27. The Staffeln of Gruppe I would be numbered 1, 2 and 3. Those of Gruppe II would be numbered 4, 5 and 6. This was continued for the rest of theGruppen. When a Staffel was transferred from one group to another or from one Geschwader to another, it would be re-numbered accordingly. For example, Gruppe II of Jagdgeschwader 3, II./JG 3 was transferred to Jagdgeschwader 1, as Gruppe I and was re-designated I./JG 1., this caused its three Staffeln originally named 4./JG 3, 5./JG 3, 6./JG 3 to be renumbered to 1./JG 1, 2./JG 1 and 3./JG 1.
The Staffel usually had a few vehicles allocated to it, and a mobile Fliegerhorstkompanie (air station company) to carry out minor repairs. These were usually named after and attached to a Geschwader. The number of ground staff varied depending on its type, with about 150 for a fighter unit and 80 in a bomber unit - a smaller number of personnel were required in the bomber units as many of the servicing functions were carried out by attached units provided by the local Luftgau or "Air District".
The service test units often known as Erprobungskommando could also be of Staffel or Gruppe organizational size, as well as existing outside of any such "set" unit size as a Gruppe or Staffel - the Heinkel He 177 was service-tested by a Staffel-sized unit, known as Erprobungsstaffel 177, frequently using the RLM airframe type number for the number of the unit testing the aircraft bearing it.
There were a few types of Staffeln acting in specialized autonomous, or semi-autonomous roles, if integrally attached to a Gruppe or Geschwader for differing duties from the main unit. Some of these were:
After the mid 1942 successes of Operation Barbarossa, Soviet VVS nocturnal harassment bomber units such as the Night Witches, used obsolete Polikarpov Po-2 biplanes against the invading Germans. The Luftwaffe began to set up their own nocturnal harassment Staffel-sized forces known as Störkampfstaffeln. Eventually Gruppe-sized Nachtschlachtgruppen were used for the same general purpose as the Soviet units. The Luftwaffe's own harassment aviation units also used similarly obsolete aircraft, but of German design. The Heinkel He 46, Arado Ar 66, Focke-Wulf Fw 56 and even the standard training biplane, the Gotha Go 145, were all deployed in their efforts at attempting to emulate the success of the Soviets.
A few specialized Staffel sized units existed within the Luftwaffe for such specialized tasks as weather observation Wettererkundungsstaffeln, (contracted to Wekusta), specialized weaponry (a so-called Staffel 92 was meant to be equipped with the cannon-armed Ju 88P-series of bomber destroyer fighters) and even outside the actual Luftwaffe, such as aircraft factory-operated defense Staffeln, at least one of which even operated the Me 262 late in the war.
A Staffel was divided into three Schwärme (singular: Schwarm, "swarm"), consisting of four to six aircraft.
Each bomber Schwarm (at full strength, six aircraft) was divided into a Kette ("chain") of three aircraft. As such, a bomber Schwarm was equivalent to a flight in the Western Allied air forces. A Kette was also the term used for a "v" formation.
A fighter Schwarm (four aircraft) was divided into two Rotten (singular: Rotte, "pack") of two aircraft, equivalent to a pair in the English-speaking world. As such a fighter Schwarm was equivalent to a section/element in the Western Allied air forces. The term Rotte was also used for a formation of two aircraft: the smallest tactical unit, consisting of a leader and a wingman.
During the Spanish Civil War, Luftwaffe aces Werner Mölders and Günther Lützow created a new formation strategy for fighter geschwader. It had two aircraft flying in a loose pair called a 'Pack' (German: Rotte). Two pairs constituted a German: Schwarm. The four aircraft were flown in what was called the "Finger-four" formation. These aircraft were spread apart so that each pilot was offered maximum visibility. This arrangement was so successful that Soviet pilots in the Spanish Civil War followed the same technique. However, on returning home, they had to revert to the standard "V" formation. Douglas Bader, the British pilot, was the first RAF leader to adopt the "Finger four" formation in 1940. Japan also adopted the "Finger four" in World War II. However, the Finnish Air Force claims to have used "finger-four" already in 1935.
In this formation, where each aircraft flew in positions similar to the fingers of an open hand (hence the name), the leader (German: Rottenführer) was at the front, while on his left wingtip was his partner from the Rotte. The other Rotte was on the right wingtip of the leader. The partner in the second Rotte being on the right wingtip of his partner. The Rotte fighting pair also added to its flexibility, as a Schwarm could easily break into two Rotte pairs without losing its fighting ability. The Rottenführer could attack enemy aircraft, leaving his wingman to watch for the enemy. It was much more flexible than the rigid three-aircraft "Vic" formation the RAF used at the start of the war. In the Schwarm the aircraft had plenty of space to maneuver, so they were free to scan the horizon for enemy aircraft rather than focusing on maintaining a close formation. This flexibility became apparent to the RAF during the Battle of Britain.
Luftwaffe controlled the bulk of German anti-aircraft artillery (commonly called Flak) since the 1930s. The smallest tactical unit of anti-aircraft artillery was a battery (German: Batterie). Battery usually had four to six guns. The larger unit was a battalion (Flak-Abteilung), composed of three to five gun batteries and a searchlight battery. Battalions would be "light" (leichte), "mixed" (gemischte), or "heavy" (schwere), referring to the size of guns in their batteries. Flak guns in use were in two light calibers and three heavy calibers - light 20 mm and 37 mm; and the heavy 88 mm, 105 mm, and 128 mm.
The battalions were variously organized into regiments (Flak-Regimenter), brigades (Flak-Brigaden e.g. Flak-Brigade XIX), divisions (Flak-Divisionen, e.g. 27. Flak-Division) and flak corps (Flakkorps), although the hierarchy was neither very strict or very stable throughout the history.
Over the course of the war, the continuous attacks by first RAF, then USAAF bombers on German cities led to increases in the number of flak units deployed in Germany. Late in the war, AA units were bolstered by the use of foreigners and German youths. There were a total of 29 flak divisions.[when?] Each division generally consisted of five flak regiments, one searchlight regiment, three motorized flak transport battalions, one communications battalion, and supply troops. The number of transport battalions varied depending on location and need of transport of the divisions. The first of these was formed in Berlin on 1 July 1938 as the Air Defense Command (Luftverteidigungskommando) but later renamed as 1st. Flak Division.
One of the unique characteristics of the Luftwaffe (as opposed to independent air forces of other nations), was the possession of an organic paratrooper force; the Fallschirmjäger. These were established in 1938. They saw action in their proper role during 1940-1941, most notably in the capture of the Belgian Army fortress at Eben-Emael and the Battle of the Netherlands in May 1940. They also took part in the invasion of Crete in May 1941. More than 4,000 Fallschirmjäger were killed during the Crete operation. Consequently, these forces were only used for smaller-scale operations, such as the successful rescue of Benito Mussolini, the then-deposed dictator of Italy, in 1943. Fallschirmjäger formations were used as standard infantry in all theaters of the war.
As the Prussian Minister of the Interior, Göring formed an elite police force in early 1933. It consisted of 400 men with its headquarters in Berlin. After several name changes within the following six months, it was named the Landespolizeigruppe General Göring. During the next two years, it grew to become the Regiment General Göring. After the formation of the Luftwaffe was announced, Göring transferred this unit to the German air arm. At that time, it consisted of the following units:
In late 1937, volunteers for the Paratroop Corps were combined in the I.Jäger-Battalion. This along with the 15. Pionier-Kompanie formed the IV. Fallschirmschützen-Battalion. They still remained part of the Regiment Hermann Göring until March 1938. In March they were renamed I./FallschirmJäger-Regiment 1. In late 1939, the regiment had expanded even further and consisted of the following units:
On 1 October 1944, the division was expanded to become the FallschirmPanzerkorps Hermann Göring. In order to achieve this, another division called Fallschirm-Panzergrenadier Division 2 Hermann Göring was formed. This was staffed by fresh recruits from both the army and the Luftwaffe.
In early 1942, in the east, the Luftwaffe formed seven Feldregimenter der Luftwaffe ("Luftwaffe Field Regiments"). These were predominantly formed from volunteer or surplus Luftwaffe personnel. Their goal was to maintain airfield security against Soviet Partisan activity. Each regiment consisted of four battalions. Each battalion consisted of three light companies and one heavy company. They also had a headquarters company and one signals platoon. The heavy company operated twelve 20 mm cannon and four 88 mm dual-purpose guns. There was also an anti-tank battalion. It had two companies equipped with nine 5 cm PaK 38 and one company equipped with captured Russian 7.62 cm guns. Due to a lack of training in ground combat skills, these regiments were limited to defensive operations. Although intended to act as a single unit, the divisions were separated and served with army or with Fallschirmjäger units. While in the field, these units were tactically under the command of the army but administratively still under Luftwaffe control. Within the Luftwaffe, they came under the control of XIII. Fliegerkorps.
Administratively, these units came under the control of four Luftwaffe Field Corps numbered I, II, III and IV. Each was commanded by General Der Luftwaffe ("General of the Airforce") Headquarters. The strength of a Luftwaffe Field Division was half that of an army infantry division. It did have a mixed Flak battalion and an artillery battalion. The composition of the artillery battalion varied. The mixed flak battalion (German: Abteilung) was formed as a part of the Luftwaffe Field Division. It had one heavy battery with three 20 mm cannons and four 88 mm guns along with twenty-seven 20 mm anti-aircraft guns. It had a headquarters staff as well as signals support troops.
The Luftwaffe Field Division had a minimal administrative staff along with logistical support personnel in pioneer, medical and supply companies along with maintenance and other staff. Although the division gave the impression of strength, the reality was that it was barely the size of an army brigade. As of 28 October 1943, the 1st Luftwaffe Field Division reported an effective strength of 6,429 consisting of Officers, NCOs and enlisted men. But the fighting strength was only 2,779.
Although the army was short of manpower, Göring blocked the transfer of surplus Luftwaffe personnel to be trained for the army and instead increased the number of field divisions. Besides the lack of training and combat experience of the Luftwaffe commanders, the army had to supply equipment to these units. Instead of being used on quieter sections of the various fronts to relieve army units for use elsewhere, they were put into action where the Germans were hard pressed and suffered accordingly.
Aircraft markings were used to distinguish friend from foe. There were several changes in identification markings from 1935 until the end of the war in 1945. From 1933 to 1935, civilian aircraft were painted with a bright red horizontal band with a black Hakenkreuz (swastika) in a white circle superimposed, shown only on the vertical stabilizer. From 1936, the Balkenkreuz (national cross with four equal arms), basically inherited from the early spring 1918 period of Luftstreitkräfte service when it first appeared in World War I, was applied in black and white, with somewhat different proportions (one-quarter as wide as its length from end-to-end) than the WW I-period insignia, and without the white border outlining the "ends" of the cross, the white borders forming four right-angled "flanks" around the central black core cross. It was painted on the fuselage about halfway between the wing and the tail and on the upper and lower sides of each wing. The flanks came in two regulation dimension formats, with much narrower flanks before July 1939 used in all six positions on an airframe -- a wider-flanked variation, for use underneath wings and on the fuselage sides, came into use from July 1939 onwards. This helped in immediate identification.
During the Spanish Civil War, where the Luftwaffe participated through the Condor Legion, aircraft were repainted with a white Andrea's Cross in a black circle. The tail was all white with Andrea's Cross on the rudder. In Germany itself, the Balkenkreuz was once again used as the national insignia on the fuselage and wings in six locations, initially with a very narrow set of four white "flanks", which were widened around 1938-39, with the usual Hakenkreuz on the vertical tail surfaces, usually on the fixed fin, but sometimes instead on the rudder (as done on some Arado-designed aircraft) and on airframe designs that either had a small fin or one braced with struts. Medical aircraft were painted with a red cross on a white circular background. Later on in the war when camouflage was more necessary, the Balkenkreuz had only a white or black outline in a "low-visibility" format, consisting only of the four right-angle "flanks" that had previously bordered the now-absent central black core cross of the Balkenkreuz, with the Hakenkreuz also frequently being done with a white or black border only, omitting the central black shape.
Production examples of the Heinkel He 177, however, curiously most often came from the Heinkel and subcontracting Arado factories with a set of Balkenkreuz insignia, most often the upper-wing narrow flank variant used as standard for all Luftwaffe aircraft, in all six positions throughout its deployment in the war, as was regulation before July 1939 for the entire Luftwaffe -- these were often displayed without the outermost black "flanks", seemingly making the existing white "flanks" appear to be even thinner than regulation, which through photogrammetric examination of some examples, make the stroke width of the white "flanks" on some He 177 airframes as narrow as 1/80 the length of the core cross from end to end, only one-quarter as wide as the 1/20 regulation width called for on the upper wing Balkenkreuz regulation dimensions. Sometimes the wide-flanked underwing Balkenkreuz would be substituted for the narrow-flank version on some He 177A aircraft, and was already in use on many He 177As in that position.
Until 1935, civilian aircraft only had a registration painted on. This was usually the letter D (for Deutschland) national identification letter in use from before 1928, followed by three or four numbers. After 1935, military planes carried, on the fuselage, an alphanumeric four-character Geschwaderkennung code with the Balkenkreuz after the first two characters, always consisting of one letter and one number in a unique combination for a specific Geschwader or Gruppe. The third letter always designated the individual aircraft ID within a Staffel, while the fourth letter designated the Staffel itself within the larger Geschwader or Gruppe unit it belonged to.
In the Luftwaffe, there were centralized regulations on field camouflage patterns. In practice, these were either amended or ignored. Units in various areas used their own way of painting the aircraft excepting the Geschwaderkennung alphanumeric unit identifiers. Units in the very northern parts of Europe used pale blue wavy lines on a gray background. Night units of both fighters and bombers tended to color their aircraft completely black with a light brown or light gray pattern. This changed in early 1942: night fighters were painted a light gray on the upper surfaces and fuselage/nacelle sides, with light blue undersides, then over-sprayed with either irregular dark gray spots or irregular dark gray lines over all their upper surfaces. The irregular lines were meant to match the intricate patterns of ocean waves (usually called "wave-mirror" camouflage) as seen from the air, especially for interceptions of RAF night bombers over the North Sea. The nighttime skies over Germany usually had some light from either moonlight or even from city lights reflecting upwards into the skies, making a light base color effective for night fighters against sometimes cloudy or foggy skies below the night fighters' usual combat altitudes. Reconnaissance and maritime aircraft operating over the North Sea tended to paint the underside light blue and the top side in a dark gray or dark green to resemble the sea. By 1943, as economic conditions tightened, front line units used captured allied paint where available. Central control over camouflage relaxed even further.
Later-deployed examples of both night fighters defending the Reich, and Heinkel He 177 heavy bombers used for night raids over England such as with Operation Steinbock, often returned to using flat black undersurfaces replacing the light blue previously used during the mid-war years, while retaining the skyglow-based light gray base color/darker gray "wave-mirror" irregular lines or irregular splotches on the upper surfaces. With units disbanding and reforming frequently, intricate patterns became less common. Dark green became more or less the standard. With deteriorating conditions and scarce supplies, various motley color schemes were used. This changed only for those day fighter and "destroyer" units that flew as part of the Defense of the Reich (Reichsverteidigung) campaign. Later in 1944 these units adopted the pattern of a distinct color band, or two-colored bands, around the aft fuselage, with each Geschwader usually having their own unique combination.
Single engine fighter units used chevrons to represent the pilot's rank or seniority. Bars, points or crosses to represent the Gruppe to which it belonged, and a number representing the Jagdgeschwader were also utilized. The Geschwaderkommodore of a fighter geschwader was represented by two chevrons and a vertical bar. The Gruppenkommandeur was represented by two chevrons; while a Gruppe Technical Officer would have a single chevron and a circle. The Geschwader abbreviation such as JG 11, ZG 110 was also applied. For a staff pilot, there would be a thick black line all around the aircraft. Some day fighter units also used geometric patterns of alternating black and white horizontal stripes on the engine cowling, or checkerboard patterns, also on the cowling. During the Defense of the Reich campaign, there was a general adoption of a system of colored rear fuselage bands, with unique combinations assigned to each Jagdgeschwader engaged in the campaign. Use of these colored fuselage bands was generally abandoned by mid-1944. At one point, a color scheme that painted the rudder in white, similar to what had been done during the North African Campaign, was trialled for units dedicated to Defense of the Reich duties, which also included the aforementioned Reichsverteidigung wing-code rear fuselage stripes for each individual Jagdgeschwader.
The unofficial way to represent one's unit was the unit badge. These were solely at the discretion of the commanding officer, so badges of all shapes, sizes and subjects appeared. On the Eastern Front, they were officially banned in later years as they provided intelligence to the enemy.
Geschwader combat wings, other than day fighters, during the war usually bore a four-character identification code, starting with a two-character alphanumeric Geschwaderkennung ("wing code", a code unique to each Geschwader) to the left of the national Balkenkreuz marking and two letters to the right, signifying the individual aircraft's letter within its Staffel as the third letter and the Staffel-designating letter within the Geschwader as the fourth and last letter. The full four-character code was usually shown on the fuselage sides, sometimes with the individual aircraft letter repeated under the wings. Gruppe and Staffel-sized units could also have their own unique codes of this type, most often used for reconnaissance and maritime aviationGruppen and Wekusta weather observation Staffeln, with Staffel sized units using the four-character alphanumeric code almost always using an "H" as the fourth and last character. Late in the war, the first two characters of the Geschwaderkennung code (designating the geschwader) were depicted on the fuselage sides in a much reduced size, possibly as a "low-visibility" security measure. The code tended (though not always), to be omitted altogether by 1945.
As measured in CAD software, in photogrammetric mode, of a photo of the He 177 V31 airframe