Monday 5 December 2022

‘What Is Man Against It?’: Combat Motivation, Experience, and Morale across the Luftwaffe during the Second World War


Victoria Taylor talk at the RAF Museum Cosford on morale and combat motiviation in the Luftwaffe  - PhD candidate and now Dr. Taylor's main focus of study is British and German aviation in the inter-war and Second World War period. She wrote her thesis on the "Luftwaffe and National Socialism in the Third Reich"

Talk Outline

‘I'm lying here in a village outside Leningrad. The bullets and grenades fly back and forth. What is man against it?’ This fraught letter from the mid-throes of Operation BARBAROSSA came not from a soldier with the German Heer (army), as one might expect, but instead from a low-ranking Luftwaffe serviceman with the Luftnachrichten-Regiment 11 (Air Signals Regiment 11) on 21 September 1941. In a topic that is dominated by the post-war memoirs of the famous German fighter aces, the Luftwaffe’s historians have often neglected the lived-in combat experiences of its men across the organisation’s ranks and roles during the Second World War.

That air signals units, anti-aircraft personnel, and even bomber crews sometimes became embroiled in brutal close-range fighting on the ground, or that the medical personnel tasked with patching up casualties in the flying arms were haunted by the broken airmen they attended to, rarely factors into our general understanding of the Luftwaffe’s wartime history. When a wider swathe of letters from both its flying and non-flying personnel are considered, a more complex and contradictory image of the Luftwaffe begins to appear – especially when considering its various sources of combat motivation, from their families to the Führer.

Drawing upon original letters sent home to their loved ones in the Third Reich and other contemporary sources, such as the Allied interrogations of captured Luftwaffe personnel, this lecture considers how combat motivation, experience, and morale could differ across the Luftwaffe and the theatres it fought within, although opinions of the war’s direction among its multiple branches could also vary considerably even when they were serving on the same front. In turn, this allows a more thorough perception of its operational culture, esprit de corps (or, in some cases, lack thereof), and eventual collapse to be more thoroughly developed beyond the gunsights of the Luftwaffe’s fighter pilots.