Sunday 17 March 2019

Why did the Germans not use their Luftwaffe to try to stop the Normandy invasion? Quora opinion piece by Huang Kun

Reading the latest volume of Erik Mombeeck's history of JG 2 covering the period Jan-September 1944. Every sortie - or so it seems- was a massacre for both the 'old hands' and the 'new growth'. Pilots and aircraft shot down almost at will by superior numbers of US fighters. In the months and weeks prior to D-Day the Allied bombing and interdiction campaign over France reached its height ..

  ".. anything and everything that could be bombed was bombed -and systematically; factories, rail hubs, bridges, airfields and infrastructure. Our high command threw everything it could against the bombers without consideration for losses. We were scrambled up to three times per day and losses were such that the number of pilots available shrank alarmingly. A shortage of serviceable fighters was equally as apparent..I was airborne for my third sortie on 11 May - a Hauptmann had been assigned as my wingman. He was not at all enthused at the prospect - it was no doubt his last chance to display courage in the face of the enemy. He was ordered to stick with me whatever happened. We sighted the 'Pulks' south-west of Paris and immediately lined up for a frontal pass  to avoid being caught by the escorts.."

 Lt. Hans Santler,  Staffelkapitän 4./JG 2

Reposted from

Why did the Germans not use their Luftwaffe to try to stop the Normandy invasion?
Quora opinion piece by Huang Kun (edited and additional material N. Page)

By 6 June 1944, the Luftwaffe, to all intents and purposes, had already been rendered ineffective thanks to a new strategy instituted by Lt. Gen. Spaatz, who became the new commander of US Strategic Air Forces in Europe (USSTAF) in Jan 1944. He brought Maj. Gen. Doolittle along with him as the new commander of Eighth Air Force, replacing Maj. Gen. Eaker.

Maj. Gen. Doolittle and Lt. Gen. Spaatz.

Spaatz's goal was to destroy the Luftwaffe as much as possible before D-Day. He and Doolittle would deliberately use the bombers as bait. Once the Luftwaffe's planes were detected, the escorting fighters were instructed to stop chaperoning the bombers and go after the enemy fighters instead. It marked a key change in strategy in Europe's air war. To lure the Jagdwaffe into combat against the bombers, Spaatz and Doolittle targeted German oil supplies, a critical resource in German war machinery. Once the Luftwaffe took the bait, the US fighters would wait for them on top. German air power would be destroyed by attrition.

There was an interesting anecdote which reflected this new strategic direction USSTAF was taking. One day, the new Eighth Air Force commander Doolittle was visiting his subordinate commander, Maj. Gen. Kepner. At the 8th Fighter Command, Doolittle noticed a slogan on the wall. It read: "The first duty of Eighth Air Force fighters is to bring the bombers back alive." Doolittle was not pleased. Kepner said the sign was already there when he got there. Doolittle told him to take it down and that it was wrong. A new sign then went up: "The first duty of Eighth Air Force fighters is to destroy German fighters."

P51s belonging to 8th Fighter Command

Hence, the US fighters were no longer constrained to holding close formation with bombers. Instead, they would fly ahead, look for German fighters, and attack them where they found them. By the end of January, the fighter escorts had spread out into formations 25 miles wide with a squadron out front, sweeping the route for enemy aircraft. Soon entire groups of fighters were ranging 50 miles ahead to catch the German planes on the ground or as they were forming up to attack the bombers.

Low level strafing of enemy airdromes by fighters from the 8th Fighter Command accounted for a multitude of Luftwaffe machines.

The bombing of German synthetic oil plants also compelled the Luftwaffe to stay closer to home in a defensive mode and, as such, required them to come up and fight the P-38s and P-51s, which themselves were tough opponents.

In this view 3 combat boxes are falling into trail to bomb the target. You can see one Combat box in the distance and another closer. The picture was taken from the 3rd combat box of a combat “Wing”.

 Thunderbolt dispatching a ME-110.

In Feb 1944, USSTAF launched a series of concentrated attacks during the "Big Week" of February, which dealt the Luftwaffe a serious blow from which it never fully recovered. The Luftwaffe in western Europe wrote off 34 percent of its fighter strength in January, another 56 percent in February, after Spaatz and Doolittle came onboard.

New Luftwaffe pilots had only rudimentary training and were being told by the older pilots, "..Your job is to protect me.." It was a matter of survival. In early 1944 Galland reported;

"..The ratio in which we fight today is 1 to 7. The standard of the Americans is extraordinarily high. The day fighters have lost more than 1000 aircraft during the last four months, among them our best officers. These gaps cannot be filled. Things have gone so far that the danger of a collapse of our arm exists..." (Overy Richard. Why the Allies Won p.124)

Even though production of Bf-109 and Fw-190 fighters continued and even increased, production was dispersed and eventually driven underground. As the RAF continued to destroy city centres (and therefore rail hubs and junctions) bottlenecks and delays built up. With the bombing of German oil supplies, many of the newly manufactured German fighters would sit idle for lack of fuel. Nor could the Germans replace the losses of their veteran pilots.  There were so many Bf 109s shot down on one sortie flown on 31 July 1944 against 15th AF B-24s and P-51s in defence of the Ploesti oilfields (22 JG 53 and JG 77 Bf 109s) that it was said - with a certain gallows humour - on the next sortie the JaFü should organise a bus and dispatch it to the same grid square as the fighters to retrieve all those that had been forced to bail out. (Geschichte des Jagdgeschwaders 77, Jochen Prien p.2110).

As the war dragged on, new German pilots  went into combat with barely 50 hours of flying time. By early 1945 veterans on occasion bailed out of airworthy fighters rather than join the unequal combat - during the first half of 1944 pilots were still facing a possible courts martial for landing accidents and similar (see Lorant's JG 300 history for more on this). American fighters strafed and shot up everything that moved - even enemy pilots hanging under parachutes and crash-landed Bf 109s;

 " Für die 'Alten' war dies nicht neu; nur die 'Neuen' waren entsetzt '

according to Erich Sommavilla in Geschichte des Jagdgeschwaders 77  (' ..this was nothing new for the old hands, but the new pilots were enraged..' Jochen Prien p.2110).

The losses sustained by the Luftwaffe in the spring of 1944 were of critical importance. Within a few months, the Allies had seized air superiority from the Germans and held it for the rest of the war.

Attrition of Luftwaffe aces in the West and the Reich prior to D-Day - from McFarland and Newton 'To Command the Sky - the battle for air superiority over Germany 1942-44 '

On D-Day, the Allied invasion force was strung out for miles along the Normandy coast, presenting the greatest target for German planes. But the Luftwaffe was unable to mount opposition of any significance. The Luftwaffe in France could only launch 80-90 fighter sorties on the first day of the Normandy invasion and another 175 that night with no significant effect. The Allies had absolute air supremacy on D-Day. As Allied forces moved inland, air bases would be established and the perimeter of the war in the west would be rolled back towards Germany.

Hardly any Luftwaffe aircraft appeared over the beaches on D-Day

As a side note, it was said that when Spaatz and Doolittle proposed their new strategy to demolish the Luftwaffe before D-Day, British Air Chief Marshal Leigh-Mallory, the Allied air chief for Overlord, disagreed vigorously. He wanted to hold back the fighters for training and to use them in a "big air battle" he anticipated would happen on D-Day. He didn't want Spaatz and Doolittle to waste the Allied precious fighters away in some dogfights faraway in Germany.

In the end, the Allied supreme commander, US Gen. Eisenhower, settled the priorities with consideration for British sensitivities. Spaatz got most, but not all, of what he wanted. However, it was enough for Spaatz and Doolittle to implement their air strategy and do their job. The great air battle over the beaches predicted by Leigh-Mallory did not happen on D-Day, of course, because the Luftwaffe had been pretty much decimated by then. Leigh-Mallory was thinking defensively, while Spaatz and Doolittle were thinking that the best defense was to have a good offense.

Years after the war, Doolittle commented, "It is generally conceded that the air war against Germany was won during the phase of our operations between the beginning of February 1944 and D-Day." Had Eisenhower backed Leigh-Mallory and denied Spaatz and Doolittle instead, the outcome of D-Day might have been a little different with the Luftwaffe probably pretty much alive on that day.