for a more thorough look check my video on why the Luftwaffe Failed in World War 2.
In order to understand the logistics of the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) in World War 2, we must take a look at the rearmament process, the military control of the industry, the attitude towards logistics and the dominance of the operational-tactical approach.
The Type/Sub-type Madness
The German re-armament focused on a fast build-up of arms and equipment. To achieve this many different models were produced by a wide range of companies. Yet, such an approach increases the cost of maintenance and supply due to the wide range of different vehicles and weapons.
This problem becomes apparent, if you look at the numbers in 1943: the US Army Air Force has 18 types of aircraft, whereas Germany had 50. This problem was prevalent in other areas too, like the armament of planes.
Take the B-17, it had one type of defensive gun, the 0.50 cal machine gun, whereas the He-111-H6 had three different types [SHOW 7.92 mm, 13mm and 20mm]. Nearly every German plane usually had a combination of at least two different types of guns throughout the war, whereas the US Forces usually used only one type of gun at all.
Luftwaffe in charge of its own industry
This problem was to a certain degree due to the control of the arms industry by the Luftwaffe. Until 1944 as the only branch of the German Armed Forces, it controlled its own industry. Which was in contrast to the United States, where the industry delivered the units most suited for mass production to the military.
Now, these circumstances were already problematic, but although German engineering is usually highly regarded throughout the world. The relationship of the military and engineering was “complicated” at best.
Disdain for Engineering
Many officers had a lack of technical understanding and were fine with it, some were even blatantly ignorant. Technology for them and thus the engineers were basically “meager”/mere servants.
This is divide between military and engineering is well illustrated by the debate about special insignias for technical officers. It was assumed that a technical officer would be perceived as less valuable by normal officers.
The attitude of the military towards technological and logistical matters manifested itself in the overall doctrine and principles.
Primacy of the operational-tactical approach vs. logistics
For instance, the primacy of the operational-tactical thinking was codified in the directive for the quartermaster. It clearly states that the supply chain management acts as a servant to the operational and tactical command.
“Alle im Versorgungsdienst tätigen Offiziere und Fachbearbeiter müssen sich bewußt sein, daß die Versorgung stets Dienerin der operativen und taktischen Führung ist und niemals zu deren Hemmschuh werden darf.” (Horst Boog, S. 242-243; referring to Quartiermeister-Vorschrift, Berlin 1936)
“All officers and clerks working in the supply services must be aware that the supply chain management is always servant of operational and tactical leadership and must never become the stumbling block.”
This is again in contrast to the Allies, in the RAF War Manual on operations, it is stated that every operational commander had to be aware of the supply/logistical situation. Yet, there is nothing similar in the German directive.
To conclude, the German Air Force was well suited for small and short wars with its operational (and military) focus, but the fast buildup and military dominance in industrial matters lead to a logistical nightmare as the war prolonged and turned into a war of attrition. Whereas other air forces usually adapted their logistical approach, the German Air Force command was reluctant due to disregard for anything outside of the operational and tactical realm. Thus, to a certain degree the Luftwaffe resembled very well the so called “Knights of the Skies”, yet in a time when the outcome of a war was mostly determined by “mere servants”.
Further Reading and Recommendation
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