The Rise of the Luftwaffe
t the outbreak of war between Germany and the USSR, the former had the most skillful, war-experienced airmen in the world, outfitted with some of the most modern equipment. The new German Wehrmacht, founded in a spirit of vengeance against the Versailles Treaty, was the piledriver of the most advanced military doctrines and tactics.
The fate of history’ had brought two “outcast states,” Germany and the USSR, together in the 1920s. In exchange for German high technology, the Soviet Union, poor and devastated after the Civil War, allowed Germany to secretly train military aviators at Lipetsk after Germany had been forbidden to have its own air force by the victorious Western powers after World War I. Between 1923 and 1933 Germany trained and developed completely new military aviation tactics secretly at
Lipetsk. About 120 fighter pilots, the core of the new Luftwaffe, received their training at Lipetsk.
With Hitler’s rise to power and the eagerness of the Western states to forget the military restrictions of the Versailles Treaty in exchange for the strengthening of a reliable anti-Communist bulwark in the center of Europe, Hermann Goring’s new Luftwaffe was officially founded on February 26, 1935.
Within a few years, a modern air force with an offensive, tactical doctrine aimed at a short but decisive war, had been formed. The cream of the Luftwaffe was tested and refined while supporting Francisco Franco’s Loyalist forces during the Spanish Civil War. The Condor Legion became synonymous with “Guernica,” the startling blow by modern German bombers against a defenseless Basque town. But the Condor Legion’s
significance was more than this; it was the cradle of modern aerial warfare, for it was in Spain that the Blitzkrieg concept was evolved.
Having had to start from scratch, the young men of the Luftwaffe were not burdened with the conservative thinking that thwarts new ideas. Without a doubt, the Luftwaffe was the most dynamic air force in the world as Hitler commenced the world war in 1939.
The Blitzkrieg, and in particular the Battle of Britain, brought not only bitter losses to the Luftwaffe but also hardened the airmen and improved their skills. By the end of the Battle of Britain, the famous fighter pilot Oberstleutnant Werner Molders had amassed a total of sixty-eight aerial victories, plus fourteen in Spain. Molders and a number of other young and extremely dangerous fighter aces, such as Hauptmann Walter Oesau, Hauptmann Herbert Ihlefeld, Oberleutnant Hans Philipp, Hauptmann Hermann-Friedrich Joppien, and Leutnant Heinz Bar had formed a core from which the new “horrible flying wolves” (in the words of Soviet aircraft designer Aleksandr Yakovlev) were developing.
On the other side of the hill, more than 91 percent of all commanders of larger VVS units had held their posts for fewer than six months on the eve of the German invasion.’ The stage was set for a massacre of the inexperienced Soviet airmen with their obsolete equipment. It was a matter of technology, experience and tactics—not “psychology.”