Monday, December 13, 2010

THE LUFTWAFFE IN NORTH AFRICA


After the First World War, Germany was forbidden an air force under the terms of the Versailles Treaty. However, by 1921 a loophole in the treaty permitted many independent flying schools equipped with gliders to become established. These eventually combined to become the DVL (Deutscher Luftfahrt Verband) which issued graded licences for glider pilots. Advanced training in powered flight and on multi-engined aircraft was necessarily carried out in secret. A second complex problem was that the German aircraft industry was directed solely towards the development of civil aircraft. It could be argued that these factors combined to produce the most formidable air power of the 1930s in that the extensive experimentation in gliders led designers to develop aerodynamically advanced prototypes together with well trained and experienced crews. A third factor forced upon Germany by circumstance was that it was necessary to develop a tactical, rather than a strategic air force. This last development was a great advantage to Germany in the first two years of the war and in terms of close co-operation between air and ground units the Luftwaffe was years ahead of its time. However, the lack of forethought as to the requirement of a strategic force was to signal the end of the Luftwaffe as an effective weapon, by which time it was too late for the mistake to be rectified.

The new Luftwaffe came into being in March 1935 under the joint Leadership of Hermann Göring and Erhardt Milch. Göring was the titular head, and a highly decorated WWI fighter pilot, but he had little knowledge or interest in the organisation of the new arm. This was directed by Milch whose comprehensive understanding of the problems involved shaped he Luftwaffe's early successes.

The capabilities of the new Luftwaffe were tested during the Spanish Civil War, in stark contrast to the inter-war air operations conducted by many of its counterparts in Britain, Japan and Italy, where aircraft were used to quell rebellions and disorganise poorly armed tribesmen who had neither any air defence or a corresponding air arm. The result was to give Germany a distinct advantage in air-ground co-operation and air to air combat which would lead the world for several years.










Luftwaffe in Africa cufftitle
This is the particular version to the Luftwaffe. It was introduced on March 6 1942 and was carried by units or formations the Luftwaffe that were stationed in Africa. It was carried 16cm above the end of the right sleeve.
 
One of the many reasons of the British victory was undoubtfully their air superiority; since the beginning of the big El Alamein battle the RAF could replace the losses and strenghten the squadrons already on the line. It was not only a mere numerical superiority: the quality of the RAF planes was superior to all Italian aircrafts except for the Macchi 202 available since the end of 1941 and only in short number.

The skills and ability of the RAF and Axis pilots were more or less equal, even if it must be said that the Axis' ones flew and fought in extremely exhausted mental and physical conditions, always outnumbered (and Italians with outclassed planes too). In spite of that, they did their job with admirable gallantry until their squadrons were decimated.

On October 23 of 1942 the Axis had 76 Italian and 122 German planes available, the British/Allied had 1.585. The ratio was 1/5.
In El Alamein the Axis could rely only on a fighter or diving bomber force; the RAF, instead, had a large bombing force available with that were launched hundreds of raids beyond the Axis lines. Like on the land, the fighting in the air not always was fair, and shameful episodes happened on both sides. Here is just an example:

On October 2nd, 1942 Italian captain Livio Ceccotti, one of the best Axis pilots, with his M202 was engaged by 5 Spitfires. After a long dogfight he shot down 2 British planes, then he was shot down by the 3 survivors. He anyway managed to bail out. While he was descending slowly and helpless into the British lines, the British survivors, with a rare example of infamous cruelty, shot at that easy target assassinating him.

Luftwaffe artillery Hauptmann wearing the Luftwaffe tropical uniform. Notice the Afrika cufftitle on his feldbluse. Thanks to Jose Solorzano

The Royal Air Force has a noble and glorious tradition and every western world citizen who now lives in democracy owes his freedom also to RAF's pilots. The pilots who assassinated Ceccotti were unworthy to wear the RAF wings. That scene was seen by German and Italian troops too, and after that it was reported they not always treated mercifully their British prisoners. Cruelty calls cruelty...

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