Luftwaffe in Barbarossa Part III


SKG 210 in flight during Operation Barbarossa.

Meanwhile, far to the south, Army Group South advanced from Poland. Its left wing was formed by Sixth Army, acting as a flank guard against possible counterattacks coming from the Pripet Marshes; next, from north to south, came 1st Panzer Group, Seventeenth Army, and, emerging from Rumania on 2 July, Eleventh Army operating in conjunction with some Rumanian forces. As usual, the planners at OKH had staked their main hopes for operativ warfare on 1st Panzer Group, though not to the extent of freeing it from subordination to Sixth Army. (Throughout the summer of 1941, German panzer groups continued to be under the orders of infantry armies in order to prevent them from wandering off on their own.) The 1st Panzer Group was expected to break through the frontier defenses and advance very fast, its mission being to outflank the Soviet forces on its right until, by turning southward to the Black Sea, it could crush them in a Kesselschlacht against Eleventh Army coming from its Rumanian “balcony.” This strategy in turn rendered the south flank of the panzer army open to attack. As always, there were wide gaps between the advancing German columns, and Fliegerkorps V had already been instrumental in beating back a corps-sized Soviet counterattack on 26 June in the area between Lutsk and Rovno.

It soon became clear that the Soviet forces in this area, which formed the Southwestern Front under Gen M. P. Kirponos, were better commanded than elsewhere. In the sector of Seventeenth Army, they slowed down the German advance, did not allow themselves to be disrupted, and, fighting for as long as the situation permitted, made what were on the whole well-ordered retreats. Some of Gen M. I. Potapov’s Fifth Army withdrew into the marshes to the north, where the Luftwaffe was unable to find them and from which they were to emerge later in the campaign. Others fell back on the Stalin line and, after that line was breached, tried to cross the Dnieper to safety. It was the task of Fliegerkorps V, attached to the left wing of the army group, to prevent the retreat. At first it did so with some success by attacking roads, railroads, and transportation centers in Lvov, Brody, Zlotuv, Zhitomir, Berdicev, Starokonstantinov, Belaya Tserkov, and Kazatin. Other than an occasional thunderstorm, the weather was good and the country completely open. Hence, these attacks, which went on day and night, were as successful as any that the Luftwaffe mounted in Russia throughout the campaign. A high point was reached on 30 June when two or three Soviet motorized columns, moving four abreast, were caught near Lvov and subjected to what amounted almost to a slaughter. However, Fliegerkorps V did not have dive-bombing units under its command. It was instrumental in keeping the air clear of Soviet aircraft, but its ability to offer direct support to First Panzer Army was limited. This was one factor that caused the advance of that unit to be considerably slower at first than had been planned.

Penetrating farther to the east, the Germans faced different problems. Whereas the nature of the terrain in the north had caused the advance to proceed along the forest tracks, the countryside in the Ukraine presented no limitations. Under such circumstances, it did not take long before Luftflotte 4, like Army Group South as a whole, found its forces threatened by lack of cohesion. The problem was made worse by the almost complete absence of roads. This caused the army and air force to compete for the few available roadways in order to bring supplies forward. At times it became necessary to supply the forward units of the Luftwaffe by air, always a very costly operation. As a result, the bombers were increasingly left behind, the fighters could not reach the front at all, and only the attack aircraft got proper logistic support. Although bridges on the Dnieper were repeatedly hit by sorties flown by Fliegerkorps V, traffic over them was never completely halted because they proved difficult to destroy. Attacks were also made on the railway network east of the river in the Konotop-Glukhov- Gorodishche-Priluki-Bakhmach region. Tactical results were very good, with some 1,000 railroad cars destroyed, but again the withdrawal of at least some Soviet forces in front of 1st Panzer Group could not be prevented.

Meanwhile, having reached the Dnieper on 10 July, 1st Panzer Group was forbidden by Hitler from crossing it. Thereupon the Germans turned their armored spearheads towards the southeast, keeping west of the river. This brought them into the rear of the Soviet armies that were slowly falling back in front of the German Seventeenth Army and led to the creation of the pocket at Uman. Here Fliegerkorps V was more successful than before in helping the ground forces seal off the pocket and prevent the escape of the Soviet forces, particularly since it was assisted by units of Fliegerkorps IV coming from Rumania in support of the German Eleventh Army. However, this meant that Sixth Army in the north had to be left completely unsupported. That army accordingly had to beat off the Soviet Fifth Army coming out of the Pripet Marshes and directing its attack against the exposed rear of 1st Panzer Group. It did so, but at the cost of slowing its own advance to a snail’s pace and thereby laying-even though unintentionally-the foundations for the subsequent vast Kesselschlacht of Kiev.

When Army Group South had finished clearing the Uman pocket and was preparing to cross the Dnieper on 7 August, it found itself exposed to a sudden counterattack by the Soviet Twenty-sixth Army on the right flank of the German Sixth Army. This, had it succeeded, might have cut the army group in two or at least driven a deep wedge between the widely separated German forces. As usual, the only force immediately available to hold off the threat was the Luftwaffe; and, as was often the case during this period, it did so quickly and effectively, though at the cost of switching to battlefield operations for which many of its aircraft were not really suitable. A week was to pass before the German forces coming from the north and the south simultaneously (one of 1st Panzer Group’s armored divisions had to turn around and retrace its previous movement) were able to halt the Soviets and throw them back across the river. During the first decisive days, Fliegerkorps V, throwing in every available unit and forced by unfavorable weather to fly at altitudes as low as 50-100 meters, fought on its own and later claimed to have destroyed 94 tanks and 184 motor vehicles.

By the middle of August, although isolated pockets of enemy resistance remained, the situation west of the Dnieper could be regarded as stabilized. From 17 August on, Luftflotte 4 accordingly moved its efforts farther to the east, hitting the communications center of Dnepropetrovsk day and night in the hope of preventing the Soviets from making further withdrawals and preparing for the Germans’ own forthcoming offensive. Owing partly to distance and partly to sheer wear and tear, the number of fighters available to Fliegerkorps V was down to 44. Although these fighters performed marvels (on 30 August, there was an announcement that 1,000 Soviet aircraft had been shot down in air-to-air combat), they could not be everywhere at once. Hence, a Soviet attack on the bridge across the Dnieper at Gornostaypol, which the Germans had taken in a coup de main, was successful in delaying the advance of Sixth Army once again. Fliegerkorps V was, however, able to protect the first bridgehead built by 1st Panzer Group across the Dnieper on 8 September against determined Soviet attempts to attack it from the air.

Throughout this period, Fliegerkorps IV, with its weaker forces, continued to fly missions in support of Eleventh Army, which was approaching the Crimea. It attacked the bridges across the Dniester to prevent Soviet reinforcements and to prevent the escape of Soviet forces from the Uman pocket. The center of gravity gradually shifted eastward until Odessa, used by the Soviets in an attempt to evacuate their forces by sea, became the most important target. When the Rumanians crossed the Dniester in the middle of July, Fliegerkorps IV typically switched back to close support. The same pattern was thus revealed in this somewhat separate theater as everywhere else. If only because not even Richthofen’s close support experts could respond to the army’s demands in less than two hours, the Luftwaffe’s normal preference was for what the Germans called operativ warfare and what we would call behind-the-front interdiction. At least during the early phases of the campaign, close support came into its own only when a clear geographical line divided the forces on both sides or else when a Soviet counterattack created an emergency.

Luftwaffe in Barbarossa Part IV


Even as these operations were going on, the most important part of the drama was taking place neither in the Baltic nor in the Ukraine but with Army Group Center north of the Pripet Marshes in Belorussia. The armored forces, forming the spearheads of the army group, were put on its wings: 3d Panzer Group (Gen Hermann Hoth) on the left and 2d Panzer Group (Gen Heinz Guderian) on the right. Setting out from Suwalki and Brest Litovsk, respectively-the distance separating them was about 200 miles-these spearheads were to converge on Minsk, some 250 miles inside Soviet territory, in order to form a gigantic pocket. Between the two armored spearheads marched the infantry armies-Ninth Army to the north and Fourth Army to the south. This well-thought-out plan, which gave the German forces shorter distances to cover and enabled them to participate in the campaign by sealing off the pocket formed by the armored spearheads, was designed to allow them to form a second and smaller pocket inside the larger one by meeting at a point on the Bialystok-Minsk road some 100 miles to the east of their starting positions. As usual in maneuver warfare, everything depended on speed and boldness in finding the weak spot and then, having burst through it, striking deep into the enemy’s rear. As usual, this could only be achieved by presenting to the enemy long, open flanks that the Luftwaffe had the task of holding and protecting.

The starting positions of Guderian’s tanks were on the river Bug. As usual, when there was a river to be crossed, the effect was to divert the Luftwaffe units on the spot (Fliegerkorps II) from deep strikes to close support, especially since the crossing sites could be dominated by the guns in the ancient fortress of Brest Litovsk. Fliegerkorps II was accordingly directed to this task even before it could achieve full air superiority; its “rolling attacks” (rollende Einsatz), a kind of operation already familiar from the Battle of the Meuse in 1940, afforded Guderian’s rear echelons a safe passage until the fortress finally surrendered. Next, on 23 June units of Luftflotte 2 were instrumental in beating back a furious Soviet counteroffensive at Grodno. It was only after these operations were over that the weight of the attack could be shifted farther to the east. It now fell on the railroads leading into the area of the prospective pocket (interdiction) and also on the roads leading out of them through the Belorussian forest.

Even at this early point in the campaign, growing distances were already creating a situation where the long-range reconnaissance and bomber units could not be brought up fast enough for the latter to attack targets identified by the former. With the results of photoreconnaissance often many hours out of date, it became necessary to resort to armed reconnaissance by having the bombers act in both roles at once and attack targets of opportunity, a method that proved wasteful in terms of the time that the units could spend on mission. Acting in this way, Fliegerkorps II was able to obstruct but not entirely prevent the attempts by forces of the Soviet West Front (Gen D. G. Pavlov) to retreat and break out of the pocket; also, since it could not be everywhere at once, it was unable to intervene against the sorties flown by the Red Air Force against the German cavalry division forming the extreme right flank of Army Group Center. Further north, Fliegerkorps VIII was instrumental in beating off a Soviet counterattack launched against Hoth’s flank on 24-25 June in the Kuznica-Odel’sk- Grodno-Dembrovo area. Since roads in this area were few and far between, it also airlifted supplies to the rapidly advanced 3d Panzer Group. By means of all these operations, the Luftwaffe contributed substantially to the closing of the pocket at Minsk, the first great German victory in this new campaign.

The Battle of Minsk was concluded on 3 July, when the Soviet forces inside the pocket formally surrendered, although it was another five days before resistance came to an end and 290,000 Russian prisoners had fallen into German hands. Meanwhile, the arrival of the infantry had enabled the armor to be disengaged and resupplied. On 9 July, Guderian and Hoth were off again. This time the goal was to close the jaws at Smolensk, 400 miles from the starting positions, thus building another one of those gigantic pockets that were the specialty of the blitzkrieg. The Luftwaffe’s principal task was to prevent the Red Air Force from disrupting German preparations for the crossing of the Dnieper, which it did most effectively but not without causing some friendly casualties. On 23 July the pincers met and trapped a mass of Russians. As one might expect from the vast distances, however, the pincers were at first rather thin. The German infantry divisions, though marching hard, had been left far behind by the panzers. Consequently, it again fell to Luftflotte 2 to do its best to hold the pocket until they could arrive. It did so with only partial success; unlike the French in the previous year, the Russians for the most part did not surrender simply because the map showed that their units had been cut off. Using the wooded terrain to hide during the day, many of them were able to break out at night. Field Marshal Albert Kesselring of Luftflotte 2 later estimated that 100,000 Soviet troops had made good their escape in this way, albeit at the cost of leaving their heavy equipment behind and watching their large units disintegrate.

Although it was not until 5 August that the pocket west of Smolensk could be regarded as properly closed-and even then gaps remained Fliegerkorps VIII had already been taken away from Luftlotte 2. By Hitler’s orders, it joined Fliegerkorps I in its attack towards Leningrad. The remaining formation, Fliegerkorps II, now found its forces strung out thinly across the hundreds of miles forming the front of Army Group Center and attempting to protect its flanks. It had to assist in sealing off the pocket, but at the same time it had to beat off a series of determined Soviet counterattacks against the exposed Yelnya salient across the Dnieper (occupied by Guderian’s troops). To add to its trouble, it was called upon to operate far in the south, using Stukas to strike at Soviet armored boats that appeared unexpectedly on the northern edges of the Pripet Marshes and inflicted stinging losses on the German cavalry division there. By this time, the Red Air Force had found its bearings to the extent that it was able to join in the army’s attacks on the Yelnya salient. Unable to be everywhere at once, the fighters of Fliegerkorps II were often too late to interfere. Attempting to pursue the low-flying, heavily armored Soviet attack aircraft, they were fired at from the ground by every possible weapon. As a result, an order went out to the German ground troops to imitate the Soviets and defend themselves against air attack with machine guns. This was OKH’s first admission that, in these enormous spaces, the army no longer had nor could hope to have all the friendly command of the air it desired.

As the German forces consolidated their hold at Smolensk on the Dnieper, Hitler and the Army High Command engaged in the famous debate as to which objective, Moscow or the Ukraine, should be given priority. On Hitler’s orders, Hoth’s 3d Panzer Group now followed Fliegerkorps VIII in turning to the assistance of Army Group North, though without much success since the country between Smolensk and Leningrad contains some of the largest and densest forests in the whole of Russia. We cannot debate here whether or not it was feasible, let alone desirable, to pursue the offensive against Moscow at this time. Suffice it to say that this author’s research indicates that the logistic basis for this action was not available since the railways supplying the German infantry forces in particular (unlike the armored groups, they did not have their own motorized transport capable of bringing up supplies from the rear) had been left hundreds of miles behind.


Luftwaffe in Barbarossa Part V

Up to this point, the Luftwaffe’s task in the east had consisted almost exclusively of operativ warfare in indirect or increasingly direct support of the army. Indeed, Hitler’s Directive No. 21 had explicitly ordered attacks on Soviet “strategic” targets such as arms manufacturers to be postponed until after the Archangelsk-Volga-Astrakhan line would be reached. However, the need to consolidate the Smolensk pocket, as well as the inability of the German High Command to make up its mind concerning the next objective, created some breathing space. Working day and night, the Luftwaffe brought its ground organization forward, a task that was already being made difficult by the operations of scattered Red Army units as well as the first partisan forces . It was only about 250 miles from the Dnieper to Moscow, making it possible to mount a series of raids against the Soviet capital. The first and largest attack was launched on the night of 21-22 July and was carried out by 195 bombers; of these, 127 reached their targets and dropped 104 tons of high explosives as well as 46,000 small incendiary bombs. From then until 5 December-the day the final German attack on Moscow opened-75 more raids were mounted, all by night and the great majority by forces numbering fewer than 50 aircraft each. The 1,000 Soviet antiaircraft guns concentrated in the city, as well as opposition from Red Air Force fighters, forced the Luftwaffe to operate mainly by night. Even if their bombers had been capable of accurately hitting their targets, which they were not, this was not nearly enough to make an impression. The Soviets later put the total number of dead at 1,088, comparable to the figure killed at Rotterdam in the previous year but a small fraction of those destroyed by the vast Allied raids on German cities later in the war.

As for maneuver warfare, the raids on Moscow undoubtedly constituted a wasteful diversion of effort away from the main task, which was and remained the destruction of the Soviet armed forces. However, it should be remembered that, owing partly to logistic reasons and partly to the need to clear up the still-seething Smolensk pocket, ground operations on the central front were almost at a standstill at this time. While Luftflotte 2’s attack aircraft took part in preventing the Soviets from breaking out of the pocket, its bombers were not very suitable for this task. They were therefore used on other missions even if the value of those missions proved disappointing in the end. When large-scale operativ warfare was resumed late in August, the raids on Moscow continued but were greatly reduced until they only represented a small fraction of the German effort. To the Soviets, they were never more than a nuisance, but they probably did tie down greater forces committed to defending the city than were ever committed to attacking it.

By the end of August, after almost a month of stationary fighting, Army Group Center had its supply situation improved to the extent that the railway supporting its southern flank now reached the city of Gomel.  This enabled Guderian’s Panzer Group 2, supported by the newly created Second Army, to start its drive southward into the Ukraine, where it acted in conjunction with Gen Ewald von Kleist’s Panzer Group 1 coming up from Kiev. The Germans thought they were operating against only the Soviet Fifth Army; however, the entire enemy force consisted of parts of several other armies as well, so that the operation took longer and yielded far more prisoners and booty than originally expected. As usual, the missions of Fliegerkorps II and Fliegerkorps V, supporting the two panzer groups, were to gain and maintain air superiority, isolate the pocket against counterattacks from the outside, and attack the encircled Soviet forces until they laid down their arms.

Beginning on 28 August, Fliegerkorps II supported Guderian’s crossing of the river Desna by blasting away at the Soviet artillery positions on the other side.  It next flew missions against the Soviet railways on Guderian’s exposed left flank while using its dive bombers to blast a way for the panzers on their way south, helping them to advance rapidly and preventing the bulk of the Soviet forces from withdrawing.  Simultaneously, Fliegerkorps V launched attacks on roads and railroads in the Romodan-Poltava area, prevented a counterattack by Soviet forces coming from the Lubny-Lokhvitsa-Priluki-Yagotin area, helped the army capture Kiev (“to be reduced to rubble and ashes,” according to Hitler’s order), and in general bombed the encircled Soviet forces, making them ready for surrender. The war diary of this corps for the period is one of the few documents to survive the war, making a quantitative analysis of these operations possible.  It shows that the forces of Fliegerkorps V flew 1,422 sorties between 12 and 21 September alone, losing 17 aircraft destroyed, 14 damaged, nine soldiers dead, 18 missing, and five wounded. In return, they dropped 577 tons of bombs and 96 cases of incendiaries (presumably over Kiev) and destroyed 65 enemy aircraft in the air and 42 on the ground. They also destroyed 23 tanks; 2,171 motor vehicles; six antiaircraft batteries; 52 trains; 28 locomotives (this apart from 335 motor vehicles and 36 trains damaged) ; demolished one bridge ; and interrupted 18 railway lines. To the extent that these figures mean anything at all, it seems that the Schwerpunkt during this, as during all German mobile operations, was on interdiction; this is indicated by the small number of tanks destroyed as well as the absence from the list of major weapons such as ground artillery.

Meanwhile, along the Dnieper on both sides of Smolensk, the rebuilding of the railways and their conversion to standard gauge was proceeding apace. Fliegerkorps VIII, its mission in the north only half accomplished, was brought back under the command of Luftflotte 2. Panzer Group 3 was taken from Army Group North and returned to its original position on the left of Army Group Center, where it was subordinated to the Ninth Army; these were thus the same forces that had formed the northern arm in the battles of Minsk and Smolensk. To compensate for the loss of Guderian, Hitler ordered Gen Erich Hoepner’s Panzer Group 4 to be used as well. In this way, it operated under the command of Fourth Army at Roslavl on the south flank of Army Group Center, where Guderian had previously been. Meanwhile, Guderian himself was to create a third prong by driving due north-northwest through Bryansk towards Tula. The German forces now totaled 70 divisions, including four armored and eight motorized; average actual strength was probably around 70 percent, up from 50 percent five weeks earlier. Opposing them were 83 Soviet divisions of the western theater, commanded by Gen Georgi Zhukov. Its principal parts, from north to south, were the West Front, the Reserve Front and, facing Guderian, the Bryansk Front.

Guderian’s offensive opened on 30 September, and the remaining German armies following two days later. At first, the new offensive promised to become as successful as anything in the past; on 10 October, forward units of Panzer Group 3 and Panzer Group 4 met at Vyazma, trapping some 300,000 Soviet troops. Meanwhile, Panzer Group 2 (now redesignated Second Panzer Army), operating in conjunction with Second Army on its left, came up from the south and succeeded in working its way behind Gen A. I. Eremenko’s Bryansk Front. At this time, the weather broke and the autumn rains began. The entire countryside turned into a vast sea of mud that prevented wheeled vehicles from moving at all and caused tracked ones to move forward only slowly and at an enormous cost in fuel.

As the offensive began, the Luftwaffe’s raids on Moscow were reduced in scale until they became of nuisance value only. Luftflotte 2 went back to its usual role of interdiction behind the front; on 4 and 5 October, it was able to achieve very good results against Soviet rail transport, including the destruction of no fewer than 10 trains loaded with tanks. However, when the weather broke, it too found itself reduced to flying isolated sorties against such targets as could still be identified. There were even days when the entire air fleet, its ground organization suffering grievously under the impossible conditions, was only able to get one or two reconnaissance aircraft into the air. Red Air Force resistance, favored by prepared airfields and short lines of communications, was stiffening and had to be held down. Under such circumstances, Fliegerkorps II was only able to achieve isolated successes, such as preventing a bridge over the river Snopot from being blown up until German armored units could arrive on the scene. Farther to the south, it was all it could do to keep the supply routes of Second Panzer Army open against the usual remnants of Soviet forces that, though outflanked on the map and supposedly defeated, had not been destroyed. In doing so, it suffered many losses due to the bad weather.

The tremendous German success in the autumn battles had left Hitler and the OKH in an optimistic mood. The double encirclement at Vyazma and Bryansk had yielded as many as 350,000 prisoners, though even this huge figure did not account for many Soviet forces that had made good their escape on the southern part of the front. The continuation of the offensive had originally been ordered for 17 November. However, a few days after this date, the weather brought snow and fog with temperatures sinking to below zero centigrade. Fliegerkorps II was taken out of the line and sent to the Mediterranean, where the British had driven Rommel back from Tobruk and were threatening Tripolitania. With them went the commander of Luftflotte 2, Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, who was destined to spend the rest of his career commanding the German forces in the Mediterranean theater. All that was left in front of Moscow was Fliegerkorps VIII, whose commander, Gen Wolfram von Richthofen, took over from Kesselring on 30 November. By this time, the airfields used by the Germans were scarcely serviceable, and the few units that were still able to advance at all were being overwhelmed by the cold. On 8 December, faced by a massive Soviet counterattack that threatened the flanks of Army Group Center on both sides of Moscow, Hitler reluctantly ordered the offensive to be abandoned.

Luftwaffe in Barbarossa Part VI

Seen in retrospect, the German campaign in Russia in 1941 was the greatest display of maneuver warfare in history, and it will likely remain so in the future. In point of preparedness, doctrine, numbers available for the offensive, and leadership, the German armed forces had peaked during the summer. These qualities enabled them to storm forward, advancing over 600 miles in less than six months while fighting against an opponent who was numerically at least equal, and to conquer territory about twice as large as Germany itself. The key to this unparalleled achievement was operativ warfare, now waged with the aid of armored and mechanized units and honed into the blitzkrieg. Its essence consisted of never taking on the enemy in a frontal attack if it could be helped; instead, massive forces were concentrated on very narrow fronts in order to achieve a breakthrough, after which they would move forward to drive deep wedges into the enemy, pulverize (zerstuekeln), outflank, encircle, and annihilate him in a Kesselschlacht with inverted fronts whenever possible. Coordinated mobility, even more than firepower, formed the key to this method of warfare, and indeed the entire German system of organization and C3 were specifically designed to assist large separated forces in coordinating their movements against a single enemy. As a glance at the map shows, the campaign consisted of first breaking up the enemy front into separate sectors and then building a series of huge cauldrons, each of which contained several hundred thousand Red Army troops. In point of sheer operational brilliance, it has no parallel.

This above does not mean that the German conduct of the war, even if narrowed down to the 1941 campaign alone and even if regarded from a purely operativ standpoint, was perfect. Having underestimated both the power of their opponents and the difficulties posed by distance, terrain, and climate, the Germans did not have sufficient troops for the campaign and logistically their preparations for it were rather sketchy.  Once the invasion got under way, the funnel shape of the theater of war meant that the number of objectives was forever increasing. This should have acted as a spur to the German High Command (Hitler in particular) to decide priorities and to create Schwerpunkte. Instead, they often chose to scatter their forces and “send them off along a growing number of diverging axes in order to, from left to right (or north to south), link up with the Finns, capture Leningrad,” keep in touch with Army Group Center, capture Moscow, keep in touch with Army Group South, overrun the Ukraine, and invade the Crimea . Whether the Germans could have won the war by imitating Napoleon and marching straight for Moscow is doubtful, given that the fall of the city would not necessarily have caused the Soviet Union to break up. Also, it is not clear whether such a thrust could have been logistically supported using the road system in Belorussia. As it was, this strategy was never put to the test.

The contribution that the Luftwaffe made to the campaign was enormous. It was able to secure air superiority and protect friendly forces against attack, although its ability to carry out the latter mission diminished as time passed. Next, its forces used every means at its disposal to help the army move forward. Luftwaffe units reconnoitered the enemy ahead of the army and often helped the latter’s commanders decide on the best direction in which to mount their operativ thrusts. They flew supplies to army units that could not be reached in any other way. They protected the long, exposed flanks that naturally resulted from the blitzkrieg style of war, forming Schwerpunkte wherever and whenever the enemy showed signs of preparing a counterattack. They helped prevent the withdrawal of trapped Soviet forces and launched punishing attacks on those that had been cut off inside the pockets created by the army’s operativ thrusts. Whenever a river was to be crossed or an important city to be captured, the Luftwaffe was certain to be found flying close-support missions even to the point where it literally dropped its bombs at the German infantryman’s feet.

Though the achievements of the Luftwaffe were thus considerable, it became increasingly clear that the available forces were not really sufficient to master the enormous spaces involved. This was particularly true in view of the equally enormous difficulties involved in having to operate from bases that were primitive, far from home, and often connected to each other, the rear, and the ground forces only by the most tenuous of communications. The farther east the Germans went, the more difficult it became to keep the Luftwaffe units supplied and their aircraft operational. The more intensive the fighting, the greater the army’s tendency to call in the air force wherever an advance was to be made or whenever a local crisis took place. This combination of circumstances had the effect of gradually bringing operativ warfare to an end. The Luftwaffe was forced more and more to act as flying artillery, a role for which the majority of its aircraft were not well suited and in which they took correspondingly heavy losses.

In Russia, as in Poland and France, the Luftwaffe was originally forbidden from attacking strategic targets, it being assumed that such attacks would be a waste of effort and that the campaign hopefully would be over before the effects of such attacks could be felt. However, just as the army tended to divide its efforts between many objectives, so the Luftwaffe had to go beyond this strict line of reasoning. Beginning in the second half of July, some of its forces were diverted from interdiction in order to attack industrial targets in Moscow, Rharkov, Rostov, Orel, Tula, Voronezh, Bryansk, and a number of other places. In the absence of a heavy four-engined bomber fleet (which, given their overall economic situation, the Germans probably could not have created even if the necessary prototypes had been available), strategic warfare had to be carried out by two-engined medium and light bombers. However, even these were only capable of hitting individual targets more or less by accident.

It is therefore not surprising that such warfare remained without any noticeable effect, of nuisance value at best and a waste of resources at worst. The only thing that can be said in its favor is that it probably did not seriously impact on whatever chances the Germans stood to gain a victory, given that during the would-be decisive advance on Moscow the effort that went to operations other than mittelbare (indirect) and unmittelbare Unterstuetzung (direct support) was not very great.

All in all, the strengths and weaknesses of the Luftwaffe in this period reflected those of the German armed forces as a whole. Unequalled determination and sheer Schwung (elan) was based on the unlimited Einsatzbereitschaft (initiative) of air crews and ground personnel. The Germans were unmatched in their grasp of operativ warfare, but only at the expense of weaknesses in logistics (sustainability in particular) and a somewhat uncertain overall strategy that caused them to go after too many different objectives at once. There is still much to learn from the Luftwaffe’s methods of waging war. There is also much to avoid.

Naval Architecture

The profession of designing craft for use on or in the water. The high art of ship design, known as naval architecture, emerged during the Renaissance and the Age of Enlightenment. The growth of naval architecture marked a departure from the craft tradition of ship design. It resulted in applying abstract mathematics to ship design, drafting designs on paper, and, overall, taking a more rational approach to design.
From ancient times to the Renaissance, one tradition of ship design existed. In this folk art the master shipwright controlled most of the production process, from selecting the trees for ship timber to launching the completed vessel. Design formed only one of the facets of this craft. It required practical experience, a sense of aesthetics, and an eye for hydrodynamic lines. Some of the earliest ship designers modeled their vessels on seaworthy examples. At first they based their designs on natural forms, such as fish and the underwater lines of waterfowl. The phrase used to describe a ship with a bluff bow and fine stern, “cod’s head and mackerel’s tail,” stems from this design tradition.
As certain wooden ships became known for their seaworthiness, shipwrights copied their lines for new vessels. It is, therefore, not extraordinary that ships from various parts of medieval Europe could fall within general classifications, such as the cog. This craft-based form of ship design prevailed in some countries well into the nineteenth century.
Throughout its history, naval architecture has been closely tied to governmental shipbuilding programs because the development of new design methods and supporting institutions requires a significant financial investment. Venetian shipbuilders were the first to try to replace craft-based design methods with theoretical ones. By the early–fifteenth century, they had elevated galley design to its zenith. To help preserve their superior designs, the Venetians developed a formulaic method requiring only the dimensions of the keel, stem, stern, and midship section. Using this sesto e partixon system, they could extrapolate the rest of the hull lines from these few basic proportions. The Venetians became adept at drawing and preserved some of their designs on paper. They recorded their mathematical methods in the first treatises concerning shipbuilding. Beginning in the mid- to late–fifteenth century, Venetian shipbuilders wrote and reproduced by hand several of these treatises.
Shipbuilders in other seafaring countries began to develop sophisticated methods of their own. In the sixteenth century, Spanish shipbuilder Diego Garcia de Palacio published the book Instrucción náutica para navegar. Palacio’s treatise represents the first shipbuilding publication printed in large quantities.
This early European movement to develop theoretical ship design methods and preserve them in books departed from the craft tradition of design. Training new generations of master craftworkers had rested on the foundation of apprenticeship and hands-on experience, not book learning. The Venetians and Spaniards began a process that led to the separation of ship design from ship construction.
By the seventeenth century, France vied with Spain, England, and the Netherlands for control of the seas. King Louis XIV hungered for maritime commerce and naval power, and his finance minister and minister of the navy Jean Baptiste Colbert did his best to satisfy those desires. From 1661 until his death, in 1683, Colbert increased the size and number of French warships, improved training of naval officers, and ordered numerous charts prepared for better navigation. In 1666, he founded the Académie des Sciences, which became a forum for scientific matters, including navigation and ship design. In 1680 Colbert brought together prominent French shipbuilders to determine the best way to maximize speed, maneuverability, and gun positioning on board men-of-war. This group established standard dimensions for each class of warship and eliminated many of the rule-of-thumb methods practiced by private contractors.
During the 1700s Colbert’s campaign to promote navigation and shipbuilding bore fruit in the form of design research. French experimenters pioneered the use of model ship basins to test the performance of ship forms. In addition, the Académie awarded prizes for research on ship design subjects, such as the best method for diminishing the rolling and pitching of vessels or propelling a vessel without the use of sails.
French works on naval architecture became recognized as the world’s leading ship design treatises. Paul Hoste, a Jesuit professor at the Toulon Naval Academy, wrote Théorie de la construction des vaisseaux in 1697. His treatise laid the foundation for later works on naval architecture by employing the principles of statics and mechanics. In 1746 Pierre Bouguer completed his influential work, Traité du navire. Bouguer devised the trapezoidal rule for the mensuration of areas, which became the basis for many of the hydrostatic calculations that enter into modern naval architecture. In 1752, naval architect and instructor Duhamel du Monceau published Elémens de l’architecture navale. Monceau’s book became widely recognized as one of the eighteenth century’s best naval architecture treatises and was translated into Dutch, German, and English.
The French were the first to establish educational institutions to support the profession of naval architecture. During his administration, Colbert had founded schools of naval construction at the Brest and Rochefort navy yards. These schools began the process of separating ship designers from shipwrights and transforming naval architecture into a form of engineering. In 1765, the French continued this process by founding the École d’Application du Génie Maritime to train its naval constructors. This school was the first to educate its students in the science of ship design.
British interest in naval architecture lagged behind that of the French. The British always had a reputation as some of the best shipwrights in Europe, and a number of English master builders, such as Phineas Pett and Anthony Deane, distinguished themselves as warship designers. Britain’s movement to rationalize the craft of shipbuilding might not have begun, however, had it not been for that nation’s dependence on overseas commerce and the influence of the Royal Navy. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Great Britain had to control the ocean lifelines that provided for its economy and support a powerful navy to protect those vital supply lines.
The British began to adopt the methods and institutions of naval architecture during the Napoléonic Wars. Fearing that the superiority of French warship designs might tip the balance of power in favor of their naval rivals, British shipbuilders and naval personnel focused their attention on warship design. Some of Britain’s most accomplished mathematicians perfected naval architecture theory beyond the principles advanced by the French. In the 1790s Colonel Mark Beaufoy undertook a five-year study of the resistance of various wooden shapes to water. Beaufoy’s tests represented the first serious British attempt to understand the resistance of hydrodynamic forms to water. Beaufoy also took a leading role in forming the Society for the Improvement of Naval Architecture in 1796. It comprised civilians and naval personnel who supported the study of ship design and construction.
Royal dockyard officials Samuel Bentham and Robert Seppings made their greatest contributions to warship construction methods during this period. One of Bentham’s many initiatives led to the founding of dockyard schools for the Royal Navy’s shipwrights.

Sailing Rig

In sailing vessels, the manner in which masts and sails are carried. The two basic types of rig are square and fore-and-aft. When combined, a vessel is said to be square-rigged. The two basic types can be subdivided into more specific vessels such as cutter, barque, and brig. Toward the end of the commercial sailing-ship era, the tendency was to do away with square sails in favor of fore-and-aft rigs because of the lower labor costs.
The square sail, set on a transverse yard but without a boom to stiffen its lower edge, was probably still the commonest sailing rig, although it has been suggested that it was used in the manner of a fore-and-aft sail as much as for simply running before the wind. To suit wind conditions, sail area could be reduced by tying tucks in the canvas with reefing points, or increased by lacing on additional strips of canvas, later called bonnets. The triangular fore-and-aft lateen sail, familiar in the Mediterranean continuously from antiquity to the present day, was adopted in Europe for the carrack, the foremost trading vessel of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. This was square rigged on foremast and mainmast, with the lateen sail on the mizen (stern) mast, and with a cog hull.
Quite suddenly, and by a chain of development which it has not yet been possible to trace fully, the three-masted square-rigged ship succeeded the carrack in the mid-fifteenth century. The additional masts and increased sail area made them more manoeuvrable than their single-masted predecessors and better able to sail to windward, square sterns provided improved accommodation, and they became progressively larger. They offered the technical conditions for oceanic voyages, and opened up the great age of discovery.
The original form of the three-masted ship never changed fundamentally, although it was greatly modified over the course of time. It carried a fore- and mainmast set with square sails only, the fore usually slightly shorter than the main, and a much shorter mizen with one square sail (later more) and a fore-and-aft sail set aft of the mizen and later known as a spanker. Forward there was a bowsprit, inclined at about 30° and projecting beyond the stem, carrying headsails. Originally the headsails were square, set on a yard under the bowsprit and on a small mast rigged in a perilous-looking way at its end. Towards the end of the seventeenth century these were replaced by triangular fore-and-aft sails set on stays running from bowsprit to foremast, which did their work far more effectively; later, similar sails were set between the masts.
Other improvements came with the increasing size of ships, and with the need to carry more sails for greater speed; individual sails became larger and increased from one or two to three or four on each mast by 1800. The masts themselves, becoming loftier and more square in proportion, soon outran the average tree and had to be assembled from two or three sections, one above the other; often, too, the largest sections had to be ‘made’ from smaller timbers. Sails were cut better and set more tautly to obtain the best from the wind: blocks, containing pulleys to increase manual capacity when hauling on ropes, appeared at an early stage, and multiple blocks with metal sheaves and bearing made running rigging easier to work.

Rommel and Schirach

In 1937, Rommel was given the duties of liaison officer with the Hitler Jugend, under the charming but arrogant Baldur von Schirach. The two men did not like each other. Schirach, who was American-educated, disliked the ramrod-stiff Rommel whom he saw as a caricature of the Prussian officer. He was surprised when Rommel opened his mouth and spoke with a broad Swabian accent, and proved far less stiff than he had expected.-  Christer Jorgensen, “Rommel’s Panzers,” page 20


In 1937, Rommel conducted a tour of Hitler Youth (HJ) meetings and encampments, and delivered lectures on German soldiering while inspecting facilities and exercises. Simultaneously, he was pressuring Hitler Youth leader Baldur von Schirach, to accept an agreement expanding the army’s involvement in Hitler Youth training. Schirach interpreted this as a bid to turn the Hitler Jugend into an army auxiliary, a “junior army” in his words. He refused, and Rommel, whom he had come to dislike personally, was denied access to the Hitler Jugend.  An agreement between the Army and the Hitler Youth was concluded, but on a far more limited scope than Rommel had sought. Cooperation was restricted to the army providing personnel to the Rifle School, much to the army’s chagrin. By 1939, the Hitler Jugend had 20,000 rifle instructors. Rommel retained his place at Potsdam and was awarded the highest war ribbons for excellent performance.


Rommel first came to Hitler’s attention in 1934 during his visit to review the troops at Goslar. In 1935 he was posted as the War Ministry’s special liaison officer to Baldur von Schirach’s Hitler Youth Organization. He soon realized that he had no use for the young von Schirach’s methods and Rommel’s heavy Swabian accent did not sit well with the Hitler Youth leader’s expectations. They soon parted ways, but while in Potsdam Rommel had managed to complete his brilliant book on infantry tactics “Infantry Attacks” and get it published. This book obviously came to Hitler’s attention and apparently he was impressed by it. In 1938 when Hitler decided to visit his newly acquired Sudetenland he chose Rommel as the commandant for his Escort Battalion. This single appointment immediately propelled Rommel into the spotlight, where he would remain for many years to come. In November of that same year he was posted as Commandant of the officer cadet school at Wiener-Nuestadt, near Vienna. These would be some of their happiest years, and his family would live in comfortable surroundings. Again in March 1939 Hitler chose Rommel to command his mobile HQ during the occupation of Prague. With the invasion plans for Poland well under way, Rommel learned that he was promoted to Major General, and was subsequently made responsible for Hitler’s safety during his numerous visits to the front.

The First Eastern SS Legions Part I

In October 1941, when German victory still seemed certain, Professor Wolfgang Abel of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology Human Heredity and Genetics led a team of race examiners (Eignungsprüfer) lent by the SS Race and Settlement Office (RuSHA) to occupied Poland to conduct studies of some of the millions of Soviet POWs held in sprawling, open-air German camps. It was a journey into hell. Historians now believe that the German army killed 2.8 million prisoners through starvation, gross neglect and execution. This barely remembered slaughter has been called the Forgotten Holocaust. Historian Karel Berkhoff argues:
I submit that the shootings of the Red Army commissars and other Soviet POWs, along with the starvation of millions more, constituted a single process. It was a process that started in the middle of 1941 and lasted until at least the end of 1942. I propose to call it a genocidal massacre. It was a massacre because it was ‘an instance of killing of a considerable number of human beings under circumstances of atrocity or cruelty.’
This genocidal massacre was also a turning point in the evolution of German racial pseudoscience.
After the German invasion of the Soviet Union, tens of thousands of Soviet soldiers surrendered to the Germans. Any identified as Jews or ‘Bolshevik Commissars’ were immediately executed according to Hitler’s notorious Commissar Order. They also killed Muslims and ‘Asiatics’ who were discovered to be circumcised and mistaken for Jews. Completely indiscriminate killing ended in September, when Nazi officials ordered that North Caucasians, Armenians and Turkic peoples, as well as Ukrainians and Belorussians, should be spared. After this spasm of killing, German troops and SS units began marching the Soviet captives to temporary camps known as ‘Dulag’ and then on to permanent ‘Stalag’ camps. During these forced marches, prisoners received minimal rations or none at all; guards often shot dead civilians who tried to supply food as the pitiful columns of starving, brutalised men passed through villages and towns. The Germans executed any stragglers who fell behind, even by a few metres. The survivors finally ended up penned inside an archipelago of vast, windswept camps enclosed by rudimentary barbed wire fences. Inside this cruel world, chaos ruled. Or seemed to: German policy was perfectly clear. In the words of Field Marshall Keitel, the purpose of this murderous internment was the ‘destruction of a Weltanschauung’ – meaning the Bolshevik world view that allegedly infested the minds of the prisoners.
According to the ethos of the German camp system, providing more than a few ladles of watery lentil soup was theft from the German people. Starvation was camp policy. Quartermaster General Eduard Wagner (who had negotiated the ‘Einsatzgruppe agreement’ with RSHA chief Reinhard Heydrich) insisted that the prisoners ‘should starve’. Provision of food, according to Keitel, was ‘wrongheaded humanity’. This German army policy reflected a radical ministerial strategy that had been formulated by SS-Obergruppenführer Herbert Backe which assumed that ‘the war can only be continued if the entire Wehrmacht is fed from Russia’. As a consequence, ‘there can be no doubt that tens of millions of people will die of starvation’. One Ukrainian official was told bluntly: ‘The Führer has decided to exterminate Bolshevism, including the people spoiled by it.’ Mortality rates varied from camp to camp, but, taken as a whole, were shockingly high. In some camps, over 2,500 prisoners died every day. This was the realm of hunger. To live a few days longer, starving, lice-tormented prisoners would eat anything, including bark. Some resorted, inevitably, to cannibalism. Alexander Solzhenitsyn provided this account of a German camp in The Gulag Archipelago: ‘around the bonfires, beings who had once been Russian officers but had now become beastlike creatures who gnawed the bones of dead horses, who baked patties from potato rinds, who smoked manure and were all swarming with lice. Not all these two-legged creatures had died as yet.’ There was just one way out: to be selected for service in the auxiliary police or for labour service, digging mass graves or rebuilding roads and bridges in the most gruelling conditions. Few Germans who discovered what was taking place in the camps protested – with one surprising exception. The German ‘eastern expert’ Alfred Rosenberg sent letter after letter to Keitel complaining about the murderous treatment of Soviet POWs. He recognised that Germany was squandering a reservoir of potential good will since many Soviet minorities hated Stalin. Now they were dying like flies in German camps. Rosenberg’s appeals fell on deaf ears.
Now in October, the prisoners who remained alive in the hellish German camps would be preyed on by German scientists led by anthropologist and SS officer Wolfgang Abel. Although the camp administrators referred to the prisoners as ‘Russians’, they came from every corner of the Soviet Empire; for Abel, the gulag was a tainted human treasure trove. The ‘Abel mission’ examined more than 42,000 prisoners from many different ethnic groups, which included Russians, Turkic peoples, Mongolians and various Caucasians. Abel’s team measured, photographed and blood tested their subjects. Then they returned to their spacious offices in Berlin. When they processed their data, Abel was astonished. Their captive subjects revealed that the ‘Slavic Untermenschen’ of the east exhibited a markedly higher level of ‘Germanic’ characteristics than he and his colleagues had anticipated. The new findings troubled Abel and other RuSHA race experts. His findings provided powerful evidence that ‘Asiatic peoples’ had, during periods of German expansion, been ‘strengthened by Germanic blood’; the colonisers, to put it another way, had enjoyed sexual congress with the colonised. History, as geneticist Steve Jones puts it, ‘is made in bed’ – or the wheat field. The troubling consequence, Abel realised, was a kind of biological theft: German blood had been stolen from its rightful bearers.
The findings of the Abel mission echoed Himmler’s remarks about ‘harvesting Germanic blood wherever it might be found’. Now he had scientific backing. Traditionally many German anthropologists had regarded the mixing of races or miscegenation as a weakening process. That was certainly the view of Adolf Hitler. But a number of German race experts came to more nuanced conclusions. One was Alfred Ploetz, who argued that racial mixing of peoples ‘not too far apart’ was a means of ‘increasing fitness’: he cited the Japanese as an example. Head of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Anthropology, Human Heredity and Eugenics, Professor Eugen Fischer had come to similar conclusions when he had studied the so-called ‘Rehobother Bastards’. Fischer recommended that the offspring of unions between Aryans and Jews or Africans should be compulsorily sterilised. But in cases where the two parents had closer ethnic bonds, then their offspring might be treated more leniently. This implied that, as Himmler put it, Germanic blood lines in non-Aryan peoples were a resource that might be ‘harvested’. When the Abel mission published its conclusions, the existence of far flung Germanic blood reservoirs had scientific backing. The time had come to exploit these prized corpuscles. The Abel mission to the German gulag would soon have a decisive impact on Waffen-SS recruitment strategy. For Himmler and the SS recruitment experts the question was where to start.