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How strong was Germany’s airforce by the end of 1944?

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I’ve been playing the career mode in bodenplatte for a little while now and historically I have been wondering how many aircraft could Germany truly field at the time seeing how the end of the war was near. 

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On paper quite a lot of planes were available but disastrous fuel shortages and a lack of experienced pilots made the force that could actually be fielded much smaller. 

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It was a force not to be taken to lightly, but the suffered HEAVY casualties through November-December 1944.

 

It's often written that Bodenplatte broke their neck, which is both true and false:

- Bodenplatte cost them an enormous amount of aiplanes, pilots and combat-leaders, which could not be replaced quickly with any quality

- the allies were surprised by the determination of Bodenplatte, but got over the initial shock easily, having suffered manageable casualties

- continuing through January 1945 some Luftwaffe units continued to take a beating (I belive that JG 2 as a whole had to be taken out of the action, re-freshing for most of January and early February)

 

Usually the Luftwaffe tried to focus strength, when dealing with major influx of allied bombers, but they'd usually scatter when attacking fighter-bombers, which roamed more freely and were harder to predict in advance as to which targets they'd attack.

As we're mostly flying classical fighter-bomber missions in the career, there shouldn't be half the Luftwaffe appearing in one place as it happens when playing in "hard".

 

 

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9 minutes ago, Bremspropeller said:

It was a force not to be taken to lightly, but the suffered HEAVY casualties through November-December 1944.

 

It's often written that Bodenplatte broke their neck, which is both true and false:

- Bodenplatte cost them an enormous amount of aiplanes, pilots and combat-leaders, which could not be replaced quickly with any quality

- the allies were surprised by the determination of Bodenplatte, but got over the initial shock easily, having suffered manageable casualties

- continuing through January 1945 some Luftwaffe units continued to take a beating (I belive that JG 2 as a whole had to be taken out of the action, re-freshing for most of January and early February)

 

Usually the Luftwaffe tried to focus strength, when dealing with major influx of allied bombers, but they'd usually scatter when attacking fighter-bombers, which roamed more freely and were harder to predict in advance as to which targets they'd attack.

As we're mostly flying classical fighter-bomber missions in the career, there shouldn't be half the Luftwaffe appearing in one place as it happens when playing in "hard".

 

 

That’s what I was thinking, a smaller sortie like 2-4 is believable. 

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You start to get into the balance of a recreation of historical events vs a game that is fun to play.  It was no fun being a German pilot in late 1944/1945.  I seriously doubt it would be much fun playing one in a perfect recreation of history.  

 

The result is that the Germans are much more effective than they really would have been.  This make it competitive to play Allied and possible to play German.  There are more Germans in the air and the difference in pilot quality is not as evident as it would have been in real life. 

 

What if things like fuel shortages and pilot quality were modeled to make a better representation of actual conditions.  As an allied pilot you would take off day after day to pound ground targets.  If you met any German pilots you would encounter mostly novices with the odd ace.  You would almost always have a numerical advantage.  As a German pilot presumably you would be the ace.  Your fellow flight mates would all be novices.  You would fly out against the enemy, fuel permitting, and your novice squadron mates would be slaughtered.  They only trick would be surviving yourself.

 

I'm good with a little fantasy tossed in :) 

 

As to the OP, @Freycinet put it very succinctly.  The Germans had airframes on paper and, I guess, in fact.  They did not have fuel or competent pilots.  I suspect that the condition of the airframes was not the best either.  Basically power on paper, at least when compared to the forces that they were facing.

 

For Bodenplatte they sent up a bunch of pilots that had no experience and no real idea how to do what they were asked to do.   Many had no ordnance and were limited to strafing.  If they did have bombs they generally had no training in dropping them.  If they did destroy something it was usually a parked airplane that was replaced in a week.  For this they sacrificed what was left of their pilots.  

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Exactly this

 

If you're curious about Luftwaffe there's a fantastic book about JG26 by Donald Caldwell. 

 

Towards the end it was basically seal clubbing for the Allied pilots. They had superior numbers and the logistical advantage. 

 

As Galland put it, he had more machines then he had men to fly them.

 

11 hours ago, Freycinet said:

On paper quite a lot of planes were available but disastrous fuel shortages and a lack of experienced pilots made the force that could actually be fielded much smaller. 

 

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At the beginning of November 1944, Galland had built up a force of well over 2000 single engine fighters in the west.  Five major 8th AF raids in November and early December resulted in heavy losses, followed by heavy combat over the Ardennes offensive.  It's telling that this had been more then cut in half by January 1st 1945 - this brief period involved some of the most intense air combat of the war.  There were a handful of big engagements in January and after that most of the remaining Luftwaffe forces were sent east.  Just a skeleton crew remained in the west - JG2, 26, 27 and 53 to cover the entire front for the remainder of the war.

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4 hours ago, -332FG-KW_1979 said:

Just a skeleton crew remained in the west - JG2, 26, 27 and 53 to cover the entire front for the remainder of the war.

 

JGs 26 and 27 in the north, JG 2 in the center and JG 53 in the south.

Only two JGs remained in Reichsverteidigung (JGs 300 and 301), while the rest was going east. Therein, "east" was relative. Only JG54 stayed behind in the Courland pocket (there's supposed to be a book about this episode coming out some time "soon"*).

 

To be honest, the last two months didn't really make much of a difference as to which front you were assigned to. You were no going to the party, the party was coming to you.

Heinz "Negus" Marquardt (121 claims at this point) was shot down by a Spitfire XIV over Lake Schwerin on 1st May 1945, despite being in a unit associated with the Eastern Front**.

___

* See here - they have already written two good books about the Fw 190 in North Africa and Sicilly https://airwarpublications.com/books/in-the-works/

** There actually is an interview with him somewhere on the net. I've been trying to re-find it now...

 

Edited by Bremspropeller
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Said by German soldiers in June 1944.

 

RAF, you could hear but not see. 

USAAF, you could hear and see. 

Luftwaffe, you could not hear, nor see. 

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All this discussion of novice pilots makes me wonder... are their any memoirs or interviews with German combat pilots who completed their training in 1944-45? All the German memoirs I've seen have been from experienced pilots who fought through most of the war, and I'd be really interested in the perspective of someone who went through abbreviated training and went into combat half prepared.

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I know we just had this conversation in another thread but I still think its always good to model the campaigns as close as possible to the historical reality by default, and then give the player options to adjust the difficultly if they want it alt. While an Allied flyer myself, I do remember playing the Red Baron 3D campaigns at the the end of the war where as a German pilot it was just about surviving against ever growing numbers of Allied aircraft, which really put you in the experience of that time. I'd still fly Polish in 1939 if you gave me the chance (which off topic, I'd love to see, BoX 1939-1940).

 

 

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49 minutes ago, Charon said:

All this discussion of novice pilots makes me wonder... are their any memoirs or interviews with German combat pilots who completed their training in 1944-45? All the German memoirs I've seen have been from experienced pilots who fought through most of the war, and I'd be really interested in the perspective of someone who went through abbreviated training and went into combat half prepared.

I think Willi Reschke is an example of a pilot who completed his fighter training in 1944.

 

But let's keep in mind, that many of these novice fighter pilots weren't necessarily complete newbies. Many were former bomber, recon or transport pilots, others had been flight instructors.
My grandfather for example was a recon and ferry pilot before joining KG(J) 6, but had only flown multi-engined aircraft earlier in the war. Retraining of this former bomber unit on fighters began in November 1944. KG(J) 6 had a noticeably high number of losses and accidents during training, so apparently even former bomber pilots with hundreds of flight hours weren't necessarily good fighter pilots. One of the few exceptions was Franz Gapp from 8./KG(J) 6 who scored several kills flying the Me-262.

Edited by Juri_JS
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23 minutes ago, Charon said:

All this discussion of novice pilots makes me wonder... are their any memoirs or interviews with German combat pilots who completed their training in 1944-45? All the German memoirs I've seen have been from experienced pilots who fought through most of the war, and I'd be really interested in the perspective of someone who went through abbreviated training and went into combat half prepared.


Donald Caldwell and Patrick Eriksson both have some info on this subject.  When the US strategic air forces started focusing on German and Romanian fuel production in May 1944, it had an immediate and disastrous impact on the Luftwaffe.  In order to keep fighter units flying, fuel allowances for bombers and training were cut back significantly.  Likewise, heavy casualties caused an increasing demand for pilots that the training pipeline just couldn’t effectively meet.  I’m on the road and don’t have exact numbers in front of me, but pilot losses for fighters in France and Germany for the first five months of 1944 were along the lines of 100% of total strength.  In order to keep putting pilots into the cockpits of the fighters that were being produced, training time was reduced significantly and pilot qualified staff officers (often old and/or injured) were sent back to operational units.  Pilots of other aircraft types (bombers, transports, zerstorer) that were rapidly becoming useless due to allied air supremacy and lack of fuel were given quick conversion courses to turn them into fighter pilots.  Whole units were converted in this way: for instance ZG26, a long time 110/410 unit was converted into JG6 flying 109’s and 190’s in summer of 1944.  By 1945 a lot of units were being disbanded due to lack of pilots and fuel.

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18 minutes ago, Juri_JS said:

But let's keep in mind, that many of these novice fighter pilots weren't necessarily complete newbies. Many were former bomber, recon or transport pilots, others had been flight instructors.

 

Oh, I hadn't even thought of that. I actually have Klaus Häberlen's memoir on my shelf, and glancing through it, I see he converted to Me 410s late in the war. I ought to finish that book.

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1 hour ago, -332FG-KW_1979 said:

I’m on the road and don’t have exact numbers in front of me, but pilot losses for fighters in France and Germany for the first five months of 1944 were along the lines of 100% of total strength.

 

Yes, and it's also noted in Volume 2 of Caldwell's book on JG 26 that from June 6-30, 1944, the numbers looked like this for the German fighter units in France (Jagdkorps II):

  • 414 victories vs 458 losses
  • 998 fighters reached the invasion front as reinforcements during the month, but almost half(!) had already been destroyed by month's end.
  • 10,061 sorties had been flown, vs an estimated 120,000-140,000 sorties for the Allies.
  • The loss rate on combat missions was running at 20-30 percent.
  • Three German fighters were being lost for every Allied fighter lost.
  • Two German pilots were being lost for every one Allied pilot lost.

When it came down to cold hard numbers, there was just no way for the Luftwaffe to come out on the right side.

Edited by LukeFF
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The Luftwaffe never suffered a shortage of aircraft, in fact fighter production steadily increased until the end of the war even during the time the allied strategic bombing campaign was at its height. This was due to production slowly shifting to untouchable underground factories and the generous use of forced labor.

 

What really broke the Luftwaffe's back was that pilot training could not keep up with frontline casualties. Compromises had to be made and training was shortened again and again until freshly trained pilots barely had enough training to master the basics of flight. Also very little effort was made to send experienced pilots on a rotation and have them teach their experiences back home to recruits. The Luftwaffe would have been much better off with a rotation system like the USAAF had, rather than having its aces fight to the point of total exhaustion and until they went MIA/KIA. Also no matter how good you are, some freak accident can end your life in a heartbeat, see Mölders and Marseille for that. With a system of aces like that of the Luftwaffe, every loss counts double and triple.

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5 minutes ago, Karaya said:

Compromises had to be made and training was shortened again and again until freshly trained pilots barely had enough training to master the basics of flight.

 

There's a great quote from Hans Dortenmann in Axel Urbankes's book on III./JG 54, in which upon seeing the state of newly-graduated pilots in September 1944, he wrote "what the hell are they are teaching these guys?" That really says it all right there.

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I think Clostermann also wrote on the subject of Luftwaffe training in his book (even though he was with the RAF). He said that too little time was spent actually flying and too much time was wasted learning Luftwaffe regulations. He also said that about 70% of the Luftwaffe fighter pilots were sub-par, and thus basically cannon fodder, while the other 30% were experienced aces, leaving no middle ground. I think that's a pretty fair assessment.

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1 hour ago, Karaya said:

Also very little effort was made to send experienced pilots on a rotation and have them teach their experiences back home to recruits.

I know this lack of rotation is often repeated in the literature, but in reality many Luftwaffe aces spend some time as instructors or commanders of advanced training units. In my understanding this was one of the reasons why the Ergänzungsjagdgruppen were formed. Examples that come to my mind are Walter Nowotny, Kurt Ebener, Günther Rall, Hermann Graf or Norbert Hannig. One of the problems was, that this system was increasingly misused to give worn out combat pilots time to recuperate. But pilots suffering from combat fatigue aren't the best instructors. Stilla describes this problem very well in his doctoral thesis dealing with the reasons for the Luftwaffe's failures. Probably the Luftwaffe would have been better advised to form a professional cadre of flight instructors instead of regularly sending the most competent instructors as replacements to combat units.

Edited by Juri_JS
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On 11/22/2020 at 9:50 AM, -332FG-KW_1979 said:

Five major 8th AF raids in November and early December resulted in heavy losses, followed by heavy combat over the Ardennes offensive. 

 

I don't think there was particularly heavy combat during Ardennes offensive. Initially weather did not permit any meaningful air combat. Then there was this Operation Bodenplatte, which was basically the only heavy air combat during Ardennes offensive, which Luftwaffe won on paper, if you count the losses by numbers, but which also meant pretty much the end of Luftwaffe, because it could not cope with it's own losses from this operation. After that it was absolute Allied air supremacy over Ardennes.

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6 hours ago, LukeFF said:

Two German pilots were being lost for every one Allied pilot lost.

 

And that's with the Germans basically fighting over friendly terrain so that bailing out usually meant return to combat.

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6 hours ago, Robli said:

 

I don't think there was particularly heavy combat during Ardennes offensive. Initially weather did not permit any meaningful air combat. 

 

You "think", but you do not "know". Looking into sources can help you here. Take by example this December 1944 list co-prepared by Don Caldwell and Tony Wood and you can easily realize that there was heavy fighting going on pre- and after 16th December 1944:

 

don-caldwell.we.bs/jg26/claims/tonywood.htm (don-caldwell.we.bs)

 

http://don-caldwell.we.bs/jg26/claims/medandsouthv14142_pdf.zip

 

image.thumb.png.e7228813abe9e8007263447f82153824.png

 

And here:

 

Airpower in the Battle of the Bulge: A Case for Effects-Based Operations? | Journal of Military and Strategic Studies (jmss.org)

 

View of Airpower in the Battle of the Bulge: A Case for Effects-Based Operations? (jmss.org)

 

 

Edited by sevenless
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Bismark did a really good video covering June 1944 from the documented perspective of SG4 and uses Great Battles footage to help tell the story:

 

 

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2 hours ago, sevenless said:

You "think", but you do not "know". Looking into sources can help you here. Take by example this December 1944 list co-prepared by Don Caldwell and Tony Wood and you can easily realize that there was heavy fighting going on pre- and after 16th December 1944:

 

Well, my thinking is based on all the sources that I have read about it or the documentaries that I have seen about it. Looking at your source list about claims by Lw.Kdo. West pre- and after 16th of December:

From Nov 28 to Dec 15 (18 days), 36 claims. That means 2 claims per day, can hardly be called heavy fighting by WWII standards.

First days of Ardennes offensive Dec 16-19, 73 claims. That means 19 claims per day. "Quite" heavy, but considering that it was the biggest offensive on Western Front - not really that heavy. 

Dec 20-22, zero claims.

Dec 23, lots of claims, mostly B-26's.

Dec 24-31, 23 claims, less than 3 per day.

 

Overall, there were three days during December with relatively high claim numbers, December 17 and 18 (beginning of Ardennes offensive) and December 23 (mostly B-26 bombers).

Edited by Robli

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from various sources I had read over the years, this is what I gleaned.

 

Day fighter strength in mid-december was around 2,000-2,200. This had been built up since august when it was as low as 1,200. The Germans had more than enough ACs by this point, problem was lack of fuel and qualified pilots.

 

As to skill level, based on Manhro's "Bodenplatte", a typical fighter unit on jan. 1, 1945 would have around: 1) 60-65% novice pilots fresh out of flight school, 2) 25-30% experienced bomber/transport pilots who were transfered in,  3) 10-15% experienced fighter pilots some with up to 2 years combat experience, many who had served on the Eastern Front; and 4) a handful of "expertens".

 

As to the relative German-Allied skill level, the LW had been building up their forces for the Bulge offensive, German fighters went into action from Day 1, weather was socked in over the Bulge itself, but most of the fighting was over the Rhineland with Allied bombers/fighter-bombers trying interdict troops/supplies going to the front and the LW trying to stop them. Many LW fighter units quickly saw losses of 25-30% in a few days. According to Allied fighter pilots, most Germans did not have the skill level to be able to compete.

Edited by Sgt_Joch

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10 hours ago, LukeFF said:

There's a great quote from Hans Dortenmann in Axel Urbankes's book on III./JG 54, in which upon seeing the state of newly-graduated pilots in September 1944, he wrote "what the hell are they are teaching these guys?" That really says it all right there.

 

There's going to be the complete written memoirs of Dortenmann to be released in december - in German only, though.

Title: "Dortenmanns "Fliegers""

Spoiler

41WSpK7qC6L._SX352_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

 

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2 hours ago, Robli said:

Overall, there were three days during December with relatively high claim numbers, December 17 and 18 (beginning of Ardennes offensive) and December 23 (mostly B-26 bombers).

 

I only wanted to point to the fact that December 44 really was a slaughterhouse for the Luftwaffe in the west. The II. Jagdkorps had been dealt even greater losses during the two days 23-24 December 1944, with 293 fighter aircraft in 48 hours alone [1], than they lost at Operation Bodenplatte. So already end of December the GAF was nearly bled white even before they started into the morning mist of 1st January 1945.

 

Some figures by Robert Forsyth:

 

image.thumb.png.f8cdfe0f2cdb59cc5363c48af9cd7a69.pngimage.thumb.png.204cab8ac3d21d8d88a0111f03f6920e.png[2]

 

[1] Bergstrom, Christer. The Ardennes, 1944-1945 . Casemate / Vaktel Forlag.

[2] Forsyth, Robert. Jagdwaffe, 1944-45, Ian Allen Printing Ltd

Edited by sevenless
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On 11/21/2020 at 1:33 PM, ghostly_doggo said:

How strong was Germany’s airforce by the end of 1944?

 

 

The German airforce , at the end of 1944, could probably beat today's German Airforce. 🤣 

 

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6 minutes ago, Jaws2002 said:

 

 

The German airforce , at the end of 1944, could probably beat today's German Airforce. 🤣 

 

The Polish airforce of 1939 could beat today's German airforce.:crazy:

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Not a case of how strong but how weak.

Round the clock bombing and lack of POL plus Hitler's insistence to divert resources into the Vengeance weapons pretty much guaranteed that the Allies ruled the skies over Germany.

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