Friday, April 3, 2020

The Friday Flyby - Die Deutsche Luftwaffe im Jahr 1940

Dornier Do 17s of Kampfgruppe (KG) 2
A glance at a map of Europe in 1938 reveals something interesting, well, at least to me it does -

Europe in 1938, before the Anschluss1
In fairly short order, from March of 1938 to June of 1940, Nazi Germany absorbed Austria and most of Czechoslovakia. They had invaded and defeated Poland, Denmark, Norway, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France. If you look at the map, with the exception of Norway (which I'll get to in a moment), none of those nations had a major water obstacle between them and Germany (and in the case of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia - between them and the Soviet Union).

When the French had surrendered in June of 1940, nothing stood between the victorious Wehrmacht2 and the United Kingdom but the English Channel, which at its narrowest point (Calais to Dover) is 21 miles wide. A significant obstacle to ground forces, especially when faced by one of the most powerful navies on the planet in 1940, the British Royal Navy.

Before proceeding I should note, although Norway is separated from Germany by the Skagerrak, a strait leading from the North Sea to the Baltic Sea which separates Norway from Denmark. It is 82 miles from Hirtshals on the coast of Denmark to Kristiansand on the coast of Norway, which is wider that the English Channel but the Royal Navy wouldn't be there, just the Norwegian Navy which wasn't really a match for the Luftwaffe and the Kriegsmarine. On the other hand it is 292 miles from Peterhead on the coast of Scotland to Egersund on the coast of Norway. So the invasion of Norway, for the Germans, was significantly less of a problem than trying to get across the English Channel against the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force. Though the Kriegsmarine suffered substantial losses, Norway fell to the Nazis.

Now about that English Channel, there's a reason it's called the English Channel (according to the English anyway) and that has a lot to do with their fleet. The British consider the Channel to be their first line of defense from an attack from the continent, as long as the Royal Navy is present. Another reason why the British placed so much emphasis on their navy. After all, the United Kingdom is an island and depends on the sea for many things, not the least of which is trade. So a big, well-equipped, and well-trained navy is a major requirement.

So the Germans are on the Channel coast in the early summer of 1940, they are at war with Britain, so what's the next step? Well, they have to get the Royal Navy out of the Channel, to do that they have to establish air superiority over the Channel and the presumptive invasion beaches in southeastern England. (A problem the Allies had in 1944 going the other direction. Whilst the Kriegsmarine wasn't considered to be a big enough threat to stop the invasion, the Luftwaffe was considered to be a big threat. Hence the emphasis on destroying the German air force as the prime aim of the Allied air forces prior to D-Day.)

Whereas the Allies in 1944 were superbly equipped with long range bombers, able to carry a very decent bomb load, and the fighters which could escort those bombers deep into Germany, the Germans had nothing to compare in 1940. Although their Air Force was very good, and very professional, they were essentially a tactical air force, designed to support the German army in their wars of aggression.

So what did the Germans have in the way of aircraft in the summer of 1940? What was available to sweep the Tommies from the air and the Channel? (Note that later in 1940 the Italians sent an expeditionary force from their air force to support the Germans, limited in numbers and effectiveness so I won't discuss them herein.)
The Luftwaffe, according to the Quartermaster General 6th Battalion returns on 10 August 1940, deployed 3,358 aircraft against Britain, of which 2,550 were serviceable. The force was made up by 934 single-seat fighters, 289 two-seat fighters, 1,482 medium bombers, 327 dive-bombers, 195 reconnaissance and 93 coastal aircraft, including unserviceable aircraft. The number of serviceable aircraft amounted to 805 single-seat fighters, 224 two-seat fighters, 998 medium bombers, 261 dive-bombers, 151 reconnaissance and 80 coastal aircraft. (Source - page 318)
The 1,482 medium bombers were:
  • Dornier Do 17 (Shown in the opening photo)
  • Heinkel He 111
  • Junkers Ju 88
A Heinkel He 111H of KG 53
A Ju 88A over France in 1942
Before we look at the bomb loads these aircraft could carry, note that the B-17G could carry 8,000 pounds of bombs for a short mission and 4,500 pounds on a long range mission.

Internal bomb loads of the three main German level bombers:
  • Do 17   - 2,205 pounds
  • He 111 - 4,400 pounds
  • Ju 88  - 3,100 pounds
Although all three aircraft could carry even more bombs externally, this was at an extreme detriment to the aircraft's performance and would be atypical in June of 1940.

Note also the gun positions (or lack thereof) on these three aircraft. The crews of these aircraft sat very near the front of the aircraft (in the Do 17 and Ju 88 they all sat in the nose of the aircraft). These birds absolutely required fighter escort for daylight raids into Britain.

What fighter aircraft did the Germans have available in 1940? On paper there were two but one of them was a fighter in name only and was easy meat for the Spitfire and the Hurricane.

Messerschmitt Bf 109E of the II. Gruppe (Group) of Jagdgeschwader (JG) 51
The Bf 109E4 was a superb fighter aircraft, nimble and well-armed with two 7.9 mm machine guns mounted in the nose above the engine and one 20 mm cannon in each wing. This provided a lot more punch than the six .303 caliber machine guns carried by the Spitfire and the Hurricane (as you'll see in the video, soon, patience). The problem with the Bf 109E was it's rather short range. As I recall the aircraft only had about 15 minutes of combat time in the vicinity of London. Notice those blue arcs on the next map? The Bf 109 was designed as a short range interceptor, it wasn't really built for escorting bombers.

Bf 110s in flight above Budapest. 1944
The Messerschmitt Bf 110, often known unofficially as the Me 110, is a twin-engine Zerstörer (Destroyer, heavy fighter) and fighter-bomber (Jagdbomber or Jabo) developed in Nazi Germany in the 1930s and used by the Luftwaffe during World War II. Hermann Göring was a proponent of the Bf 110. It was armed with two MG FF 20 mm cannon, four 7.92 mm (.312 in) MG 17 machine guns, and one 7.92 mm (.312 in) MG 15 machine gun (later variants’ rear gunner station would be armed with the twin-barreled MG 81Z) for defense. (Source)
If Göring liked something that's one strike right there, the man was a complete disaster as head of the Luftwaffe.

RAF and Luftwaffe bases for the Battle of Britain3
One more aircraft featured prominently in the Battle of Britain in 1940 and that was the Junkers Ju 87, the famed Stuka, (which is the German acronym for dive bomber, Sturzkampfflugzeug).

Junkers Ju 87B Stukas over Poland, September/October 1939
This aircraft was rather slow and cumbersome, it could carry one 550 pound bomb on the centerline station and four 110 pound bombs under the wings (two per wing). Though the aircraft had two forward firing 7.92 mm machine guns and a single 7.92 mm machine gun for the rear gunner, it was shot down in droves by the RAF Spitfires and Hurricanes. The aircraft was soon withdrawn from use over Britain. It did serve as a very effective ground attack aircraft for the entire war, as long as no enemy fighters were around!

So the Germans went into battle over the Channel and southeastern Britain with equipment ill-suited to the task. That we're not all speaking German indicates that they lost the Battle of Britain and Hitler turned his gaze to Russia, where the Nazis got their asses kicked, though it took quite a while to get there.

The genesis of this post can be traced to an email from one of you all, Tom to be precise, regarding an interesting video of old Nazi tanks in Bulgaria. So by now you're wondering what that has to do with the Battle of Britain. Other than both have to do with World War II, nothing at all. Oh, there was the fact that the video Tom sent me the link to was from Mark Felton Productions on YouTube, this guy.

I found it odd that I hadn't subscribed to that channel yet, so I did and found a very interesting video about a Dornier Do 17 that had crashed in Britain during the war. The video had some very good footage of the crew cabin of the Do 17, to include a very odd way (to me at least) of mounting the defensive machine guns, which you'll see in the video.

The crew of the Do 17 all sat together in the nose of the aircraft, good for morale, which was the German intent, but bad for defensive firepower, of which there wasn't much.

Dornier Do 17 Cutaway Drawing
Seems a bit claustrophobic to me!

The Do 17 had a nickname, Der fliegende Bleistift, the Flying Pencil. With that long narrow tail, seems an apt nickname.

Happy Friday, hope you all are surviving, if not exactly thriving. This too shall pass.

1 The Anschluss was the "union" of Nazi Germany and Austria. Allegedly supported by a popular vote.
2 The Wehrmacht was the the armed forces of Nazi Germany, this included the Army (das Heer), the Navy (die Kriegsmarine), and the Air Force (die Luftwaffe).
3 Note on the map: Luftflotte = Air Fleet, see Luftwaffe organization in WW2.
4 You'll also see Me 109 and Me 110, the "Me" standing for Messerschmitt. The "Bf" designation stands for Bayerische Flugzeugwerke (BFW), the Bavarian Aircraft Works, Willy Messerschmitt was the chief designer at BFW. Not even the Luftwaffe could decide how to designate the Bf/Me 109. Official Luftwaffe documents and actual manufacturer's data plates on the aircraft themselves used both. Sometimes in the same document/on the same airframe! BFW became Messerschmitt AG (Aktiengesellschaft, Corporation) in 1938. The 110 was never called the Me 110 officially as it was designed prior to BFW becoming Messerschmitt AG.


  1. Speaking of hostile navies, this article caught my eye:

    What? Don't laugh, that's not very nice.

    1. I saw that article, not a shining moment for Venezuela. Seems they can't do anything right. Poor socialist bastids.

    2. "Poor socialist bastids." Well, then they're doing socialism correctly. The only thing that could make them supreme socialists is if they start dying in droves. Wait...

  2. Herbert, how you are??!! My old lead electrician was a deck ape from the USS Blue Ridge. He told me that there is the "Oriental Rule of Tonnage". If you are the biggest boat, you get the right of way. I figure an ice breaker would be a poor choice to try and bully around.

    I really do like Mr. Felton. He does a good job of making history accessible. I sure hope the little skulls of mush are learning a lot on the youtube while they are out of the politburo's education apparatus. Mr. Felton, The History Guy, PragerU.... Lots of good stuff online. Might this time of enforced homeschool change the dynamic of the country?? I pray it does.

    1. I like his stuff, often his viewers will chime in with interesting bits in the comments, so be sure to read those as well.

      Even an old Air Force guy like myself knows about the rule of tonnage, little boat yields to big boat.

      Velocidad de embestida!

    2. Very well thought out and thorough post , Sarge.

      The interesting thing to me about the battle of Britain was the decision of Hitler to shift bombing from the RAF airfields to London

      That is when the Messerschmitt 109 had only 15 or 20 minutes over London, resulting in unsustainable bomber losses by the Germans

      I was surprised to learn that both the spitfire and Messerschmitt had a range of only 600 miles or so. Which made a combat radius of 300 miles.

      Add to that their speed and they were not aloft all that long.

      On the Stuka I read that it’s success depended on armor and that’s what made the blitzkrieg

      And of course in Britain the British fighters took care of the Stuka.

      Funny thing, another reminder of my getting older, at my German station in Neubruecke was a grass airfield. There were some gliders there towed by an old Stuka.

      The Germans had designed a long range bomber called the Amerika and a rumor was in a test flight one of them flew across the Atlantic within sight of New York.

      Just a rumor though and never really documented

      I believe that the B-29s genesis was the belief that if Britain fell that is what we would used against Germany

      Another night of insomnia, but thanks for the nice post

    3. There was a "New York" bomber on the drawing board (and even a prototype I guess), don't know if it made that trip. Hhmm, might be a story there...

    4. I just came across that on the Internet and it was a prototype but supposedly it did fly within sight of New York and turned around.

    5. If you saw the article in Wikipedia, look at the proposed target list in the US. My hometown is the last one on the list. Both of my maternal grandparents worked there.

    6. Luft'46, a website on what Germany was fielding later in the war and what was proposed to be coming online in, well, late 45 and 46, has a very good description of some of the heavy, long-range bombers that Germany actually fielded, at least in tests, and again what was proposed.

      It's a great site to lose oneself in what was and what could have been, but wasn't, thankfully.

      And then there's the Silbervogel. An almost space shuttle launched from a rocket sled (2 A4(V-2) bodies side by side, with another on top with the plane on top of that, well, that was one plan at least...

    7. The Germans expended a lot of manpower and money on things like this which would not be operational during the war. A lot of folks see Nazi Germany as this hyper-efficient society marching to the tune of one man, Adolf Hitler. In reality it was a disorganized mess of satrapies and minor fiefdoms with the left hand seldom knowing what the right hand was doing. Hitler wanted it that way, divide and conquer. He was no genius, not in any field.

      Lots of ideas which would have been better pursued after the war. Provided of course they won, which they had little chance of doing. If Hitler did it these days, Hell the media would give us up as soon as the Germans marched into the Rhineland.

    8. The constant in-fighting, with the occasional actual fighting or the Nazi version of "SWATing" made for a very disorganized manufacturing system.

      Unlike us, who decided on a relatively few designs and just produced the heck out of them.

      It is good that the Germans were disorganized and ill-prepared for long-term war.

    9. Not the Germans, the Nazis, the Nazis were disorganized thugs. Your average German was (and still is) pretty damned logical and straightforward. Very organized they are, the Nazis goofed that up with their insane politics. (Hhmm, sounds familiar...)

    10. Are you talking about Herrin Pelosi again?

    11. She and her ilk fit the bill don't they?

    12. Ja! Sie haben Recht!

      And she and her ilk sure act like petty Germanic low-level royalty, don't they?

  3. Nice post - always liked reading about the Battle of Britain. Here's a link to another quick item about a Do-17 from that conflict.
    And the Stuka, with its ground arrack role and armor, was kind of a grandfather of the A-10...
    Regarding the post war Stuka tow plane, hope the siren had been removed, else a quick diving RTB after releasing its tow package might have caused some consternation!

    1. While I was hunting for more info on the Do 17 in the field I ran across that article about the Do 17 pulled up from the Channel. amazing what's still out there after 70 years!

      The way the Germans used the Stuka on the Eastern front in the later stages of the war, specifically as a tank killer, does put it in the Warthog's lineage!

    2. Not so amazing about pulling stuff up from the Channel. The incredibly cold waters keep rust and marine critters somewhat at bay. It's not like dropping one off of Florida or some North Pacific island, where the environment kills metal in weeks... or so it seems.

    3. Good point! Not really amazing that the stuff is still there, but that they find it. It's not a big body of water compared to the North Sea, but it's still pretty big.

    4. At a conference I attended back in January, there was a member of Paul Allen's Research Vessel Petrel briefing about their discoveries. The list of sunken ships found is amazing. I think it's been covered here, but it's amazing what one can do when money is no real object. We fight for pennies to improve Mine Warfare systems with high resolution sonars, and they constantly upgrade to ensure they have the highest. The photos from them are incredible. The USS Astoria found had techs analyzing the live video and arguing over whether it was Indianapolis or Astoria, and he just drove the rover around to the fantail and just read the name clearly as if it looked like it had just gone underwater.

    5. What's possible when the bucks are spent on what we need, rather than some admiral's effing pipe dream. (LCS, Zumwalt, Ford, F-35...)

    6. Well, high-tech private research funded by secret government sources are what led to the Titanic being discovered. Very weird story about how that all came about. Reads like something Tom Clancy-ish. But real.

    7. Probably better than a Clancy novel!

    8. Not by much. That guy could tell a tale. I read the covers off his stuff.

    9. So can Robert Ballard. He had a short-lived tv series where they were finding wrecks off the English coast, in order to harvest cargoes of metal. The very interesting pictures from inside Lusitania really put a whole new spin on that ship-wreck.

    10. Robert Ballard is pretty awesome.

  4. Properly harmonized (properly "harmonised" in the Queen's tongue) and firing on a target within the effective envelope, those eight .303's could do an unbelievable amount of damage. They were still "just" .30 caliber ball, so they often carried right through the target making only unsightly holes unless they hit vital stuff like control cables, engines, or people. Which they did, a lot. I wonder if anyone ever counted the .303 rounds fired over The Enchanted Isle during the Battle of Britain?

    The last bit made me think of Rupert Brooke's immortal Great War poem "The Soldier." To paraphrase and from the German perspective, there's some corner of a foreign field that is for ever Germany.

    That's a nice bit of perspective which feels important to me this morning, so thanks Sarge and Tom! Great post!

    1. Quantity does have a quality all its own! Though when the Germans up armored their aircraft the Brits looked into mounting 20 mm cannon in the Spit, which they eventually did. In the video I was struck by how many rounds of .303 those Hurricane pilots put into that Dornier before she went down.

      Interesting question as to how much .303 ammo was expended during the Battle of Britain.

    2. I've always wondered about casualties caused by spent casings, stray bullets, and chunks of flak and falling planes (both chunks of planes and actual planes falling...)

    3. Yes, there were many casualties caused by stuff falling out of the sky. No one thought to keep track of that is my guess, I mean there was a war on and all.

    4. Beans how about a P 47 drop tank hitting you on the head? 😁

  5. The nice thing about Hitler starting in 1939 is that planned developments of long-range aircraft, heavier vehicles, newer infantry weapons and all that, didn't have a chance to be implemented very well. Seriously, a lot of stuff was already being planned, but the rapid successes in '39 and '40, coupled with the economic recession in late '40, really put a kabosh on many plans. Like the German heavy bombers that were designed to reach past the Urals. Would have been a significantly different war if the Germans had a decent number of long-range bombers and escort fighters.

    Arrogance and stupidity, two things that are really appreciated, in an enemy. :)

  6. Here is a film about this very subject and the same timeline. The RAF at War, made during the Battle of Britain.


    1. I'll need to set aside some time to watch the whole thing, looks very interesting. The opening scene hooked me!

  7. The aircraft fanatic in me, which is most of me, dreams of seeing those German twin engine aircraft upgraded with turbine engines, similar to the Navy S-2 recip/radials upgraded to S-2T turbine. Now that would be fun!


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