The German Air Force, or Luftwaffe, originated during the First World War, but did not reach its full potency until Hitler and Göring came along. Both recognized that air power would play a huge role in the next war and once the Nazis took control of Germany, developing air superiority became a high priority. Despite a typical counterproductive Nazi hierarchy, the Luftwaffe was well ahead of its enemies. Even as early as 1936 it began developing the Bf-109 fighter, Bf-110 heavy/night fighter, and bombers like the Do-17, He-111, Ju-87 and Ju-88. Many pilots and crews gained valuable experience in the Spanish Civil War, where the Ju-87 and Bf-109 began their notorious reputations. The German vision for air power was a tactical one--quick and powerful support for the infantry on the battlefield, which fit perfectly with the blitzkrieg style of warfare. Air and naval coordination was poor, but the cooperation between air and land forces was astounding. Their victories in 1939 and 1940 perhaps led to overconfidence and an underestimation of their enemies, along with an obsessive fixation with dive bombing. Strategic bombing, or using heavy bombers to cripple the enemy’s industrial output and wartime economy, was not pursued by Germany. Instead, Hitler stockpiled medium bombers and fighters, many of which were superior to their Allied counterparts. This proved true in the first half of the war until fighting the British and Soviets on opposite sides of Europe diminished Germany’s aerial strength. Not only did their machines get pushed to the limit but German industry was stretched to maximum capacity. Eventually German aircrews took heavy losses, partly because they did not have "tours" or extended leave--they flew until they were killed or captured. To make things worse, Germany did not have the forward vision the Allies did in terms of aircraft development. Planes like the Ju-87 dive bomber and Ju-52 transport were great early in the war, but by 1941 they were obsolete. Germany introduced the Fw-190 and Me-262, two of the war’s finest fighters, but they were not produced in enough numbers or used to their potential. Perhaps most baffling is how the Luftwaffe could ignore its advancements in jet power when it had such a head start. Test flights began in the 1930s but jets did not play a significant role until the last year of the war. After 1943, the Luftwaffe was used almost exclusively for defense, a role it was never intended to play. Eventually the German skies were overwhelmed by a combination of Allied technology and superior numbers. On even terms, however, German pilots and crews were among the best in history.
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