“The Battle of Britain was virtually unwinable for the Luftwaffe.” – Recently is has become fashionable for revisionist historians to say that the RAF couldn’t have lost the Battle of Britain, or that the Luftwaffe had almost no chance of winning. They argue that, overall, the Luftwaffe had fewer fighters than the RAF in the Battle, and therefore the RAF wasn’t really outnumbered. Since Operation ‘Sealion’ (the German invasion of Britain) depended on the defeat of the RAF to succeed, they argue that the invasion threat was never serious. In fact, as RAF pilots were only too aware, the Luftwaffe could easily achieve local air superiority over their targets in southern England, and the RAF shortage was in pilots not aircraft. Had the Luftwaffe used better offensive tactics – as demanded by the aircrews themselves – such as allowing the escort fighters to roam more freely from the bombers, then German losses could have been lower and attacks more effective. Knocking out British RDF (radar) stations and systematically destroying RAF fighter bases would have severely limited RAF Fighter Command’s ability to effectively defend Southern and Eastern England. If the sudden change in Luftwaffe tactics to area bombing of cities hadn’t been made, (in reprisal for small scale RAF raids on Berlin), the RAF would have been forced to progressively retreat north and west, with an increasingly serious pilot shortage. In this case, peace talks with Germany would be highly likely, and Churchill wouldn’t have remained Prime Minister for very long.
The battle for the Island of Crete was a short, but violent affair. Its air component was, and its still is, one of the lesser known aspects of this campaign. In November 1940, and after months of internal discussion, the first British Royal Army detachments began to arrive on the Island. The first installation to be set up by the newly arrived British was the Marine Naval Base Defense Organization (MNBDO) based at Suda Bay in the northern west part of the Island. The newly formed defense organization was manned by an all British detachment utilizing rudimentary anti-aircraft systems. At that early time, no permanent Royal Air Force (RAF) squadron was assigned to the Suda Bay base, or Island for that matter. Nut this did meant that the British were air deprived on Crete. Stationed at Suda was the Fleet Air Arm No. 805 squadron with its complement of Fairey Fulmars, Gloster Sea Gladiators and Brewster F2A Buffaloes.
As the overall situation in Europe began to deteriorate for the Allies, the RAF Air Staff concluded that an efficient air defense of Crete was out of the force’s realm due to the more pressing need of securing the British Home Island from the ever more daring German Luftwaffe’s raids. This does not meant that the RAF abandoned the air defense of the Island, but no effort to bolster the over stretched RAF Middle East Command were made during the last part of 1940 or the spring of 1941. With an ever increasing operational scope area, the Command was original responsible for air operations in and around Libya, Syria, Iraq, Abyssinia, Somaliland, and the Western Desert, then in the winter 1940, the RAF expanded the Command’s converge area to include the whole of Greece, the island of Malta and parts of the Eastern Mediterranean Sea; the Command became the most active air unit of the RAF outside the one defending the Homeland. Although bigger in scope and responsibility, the RAF was slow to augment it with top of the line aircraft and supporting systems. Much of the Command’s air inventory centered on a few obsolete Hurricane Mk Is and a short supply of P-40Bs, both of which were inferior in all aspects to the new Spitfire Mk VB being held exclusively for the defense of Great Britain.
By the end of April 1941, the No. 805 began air operations attacking German and Italian airfields on Rhodes and Scarpanto as well strafing German shipping vessels going in and out of the Aegean Sea. Early that month, the RAF Fighter and Bomber Commands transferred several units of Blenheim Mk Ifs, Hurricanes and Gladiators for air operations in Crete. Because of the infusion of more fighter-type of aircraft, the Luftwaffe was forced to shift its axis of attack, from bombing Allied, more specifically, British shipping; they now will concentrate its main effort in the destruction of all British airfields on the Island. From that moment on, all of the Luftwaffe’s assets in the Greece Theater of operations were diverted to Crete. Swarms of He 111H3s, Do 17Z-2s, Bf 109Es and Bf 110Cs began to pound allied air and naval installations all along the Island since the beginning of May. By the middle of the month, with the allied air and ground situation in Crete deteriorating by the day and with a new phase in the air war over Continental Europe drawing an ever bigger piece of the RAF’s assets, the British Army High Command decided to pull the plug on all offensive air operations in the area. The decision was followed by a total withdraw of all airplanes from Suda and the smaller airfields.
Meanwhile, the Germans, who began to plan the invasion on April 1941, had accelerated their pace. Although there were some opposition the very concept of invasion. In fact, several Germans middle commanders expressed reservations about redirecting precious resources to an endeavor they considered secondary in importance. Nevertheless, the plans were drawn up. As it was devised, 22,750 elite German airborne troops would be employed in the assault. Most of them would be parachuted along the northern coast of the Island. Heraklion, Rethimnon and Maleme were the areas selected by the Germans. Following the parachute troops was the air transport element of the force which consisted of Junkers Ju 52/3m4s. The whole undertaken would have the distinction of being the largest airborne operation the world has ever seen, that was until June 6th 1944 and the invasion of Occupy France.
Operations began in mid May 1941 with a massive German bombardment of British, Commonwealth and Greek forces entrenched all along the road from Kastelli to Sitia. Junkers Ju 87B-2s from the I/Stukageschwader No. 2, commanded by Oberstleutnant Oskar Dinort, joined Heinkel He 111H-3s from Kampfgeschwader 26 and Junkers Ju 88As from III/Kampfgeschwader 30 in the saturation bombing of allied position that lasted until May 20th, the day the airborne assault commenced. In the wee hours of the morning, DFS 230s gliders originally assigned to land its troops at Maleme and Canea missed their landing zones and instead landed near the fortified 5th New Zealand Brigade stationed on Hill 107. A similar fate was encounter by parachutes from the III/FJSTR who landed atop a British held post at the rear of the town of Heraklion. Almost 400 German airborne troops were killed in action around the by now, deserted town in just seven hours. Ferocious opposition was also encountered by the invaders at Galatas and the northern side of Canea. It was a fight the Germans did not envisioned when the planned the attack. But a sudden and unexpected event changed the invader’s fortunes the next day. During the night of the 20th, the NX 5th Brigade, which so stubbornly held back repeated German attempt to take the strategic hill, decided to abandon their advantageous position during the late hours of the night paving the way for a consolidation of German forces and resources around the Hill.
With a secure foothold on the Island, the Fallschrimjager elements on the ground were boosted by troops from Generalleutnant Ringel’s 5th Gebirgsdivision. With such an overwhelming force converging on the British overstretch defensive line; the order was giving on the 25th to retreat towards the small village of Sfakia located in the south part of Crete. After five days of brutal, delaying fighting, most of the British and New Zealand forces were evacuated from Sfakia. When the fighting ended on the 31st, the Germans were in full control of the Island, except for a few spots around Pirgos and Leapetra where Greek defenders fought a valiant but unsuccessful guerrilla-type of war.
As the fighting was raging on the Island, the British Royal Navy’s Mediterranean Fleet was use to support, at first, the defender’s positions and later on, to evacuate the war weary troops. During the retreating operation, the HMS Formidable was the only air asset employed by the RN. Her full complement of 18 Fulmar Mk Is were employ in covering the evacuation beach head. This lack of support from the Navy, and the relative small and obsolete RAF’s contribution to the campaign only augmented the state of despair felt through the Allied ranks during the invasion. Because, if was true that the Germans airborne troops were having a hard time securing the Island, the Luftwaffe was having a field day against the RAF and Navy. Overall, Luftwaffe aircraft shotdown 39 RAF planes while at the same time, the force’s bombers wreaked havoc with the vaunted Royal Navy at Crete. The British navy came away from the battle with three of its top armed cruisers and six destroyers sunk. A battleship, an aircraft carrier, six cruisers and eight escort destroyers were badly damaged. On the ground, near 15,000 British and Commonwealth troops were either capture or killed. Meanwhile, the German loss 1,990 and had 2,320 troops missing during the operation. On the air, the Luftwaffe’s field day came with a price. The brave British pilots, flying obsolete fighters and medium range bombers took out almost 200 (198) German planes, most of them Ju 52/3ms.
In the end, Operation Merkur, although successful in the mater that the Germans were able to consolidate their southern flank, took longer than expected thus pushing the starting day for the most grandiose military operation of all time, Operation Barbarossa, for a full moth. A month that would cost the Wehrmacht dearly in the winter ahead.
– Raul Colon
Air Power: The men, machines and ideas that revolutionized war, from Kitty Hawk to Gulf War II, Stephen Budiansky, Penguin Books, 2004
The illustrated Guide to Naval Aircraft, Francis Crosby, Hermes House, 2008
The Second World War, Sir John Hammerton, Trident Press International, 2000
Before the ground crumbled all around it, before the Allies invaded the Normandy coast, before the Soviet Red Army broke the back of the once vaunted German Wehrmacht, even before the German skies were completely filled with Allied bombers seemingly running without any hassle from German fighters, the once powerful Luftwaffe looked poised to stop the Allied push into Fortress Europe. In fact, real optimism ran through the Luftwaffe’s officer corps as new materials, men and fighting machines began to join the ranks. By the end of May 1944, the much maligned Luftwaffe possessed an impressive amount of fire power. Its ranks now was compromised of 2.8 million men and women. Its overall air assets were now at 4500 combat ready aircraft with new and more powerful platforms, such as the Messerschmitt Me 163 and Me 262 jet fighters as well as the Arado Ar 234 jet bomber; commencing to enter front line service. These aircraft types were augmented by a new force of redesigned Heinkel He 177 heavy bombers. The Luftwaffe was also in the final stages of having the Fi 103 or V-1 flying pulse bomb and the much powerful A-4 (V-2) rocket, ready for operational debut.
This infusion of materials was mainly the work of the Ministry of War Production under the tutelage of one Albert Speer. Since late 1942, German aircraft production had been taken a pounding from the constant bombing done to its infrastructure by the British Bomber Command at night and the United States Army’s Eight Air Force during daylight. Nevertheless, Speer pushed ahead. He streamlined production by removing many unproductive aircraft models, dispersing production of airframes, air systems and more importantly, engine parts; to twenty seven main production centers dispersed in the Fatherland. He also oversaw the construction of a few major underground facilities completely dedicated to the final assembly of aircraft. Most important to the Luftwaffe’s war effort was the development of aviation fuel, which had at times curtail air operations, In 1944, aviation fuel production reached an all time high in March with the production of just under 200000 tons. This figure raised the Luftwaffe’s strategic reserves to an all time high of 580000 available tons. The direct result of all of those measures was that the total output of German air industry increased by fifty percent over the past December. On the downside, by April 1944, the Luftwaffe was looked by an uneasy public with contempt at best. Its main mission role, the defense of the Fatherland, had been a colossal failure by any standard. Thus the public’s faith and respect on what was once their more proud armed service, was lost. But this paled in comparison to the Force’s main problem: the ability to maintain an experience pilot program. The attrition of the German pilot element lead to the rush of untested, and sometimes, unqualified young recruits to the front lines. This “revolving door” policy cut deep into the overall effectiveness of the German Air Force. Because of this, the Luftwaffe’s tactical reserve formations were decimated and in some instances, they were none existent. Nevertheless, by April 1944, the Luftwaffe that the Allies were facing was a more advance and better tactical and strategic force that the one they faced from early 1942 onwards.
The strength of the Luftwaffe laid on its Luftflotten or air fleets. The Luftflotten was the German AF main fighting force. Every Luftflotten formation is compromised by elements of all type of aircraft, pilots, support crew compliment and an Anti-Aircraft Batteries detachments. These formations were grouped by geographical areas. The most powerful Luftflotten force was the Luftflotte Reich. The Luftflotte Reich was based in air bases across Greater Germany area which compromised all of Germany itself, Austrian and the western sections of Czechoslovakia. This was the force that was assigned the bulk of the air defense of the Fatherland at all times. Because of this, this was the most equipped and trained formation the Luftwaffe possessed. Its commander, generaloberst Hans-Jurgen Stumpff, was the commanding officer of Luftflotte Number 5, based on Denmark and Norway, during the Battle of Britain. The Number 5 was basically a tactical reserve force, seeing limited combat action, mostly later in the conflict. Now the confident Stumpff commanded the Luftwaffe’s last line of defense against the combine might of Bomber Command and the 8th Air Force.
His force was compromised of just 555 operational day fighters, 421 night interceptors, 302 bombers and an array of various other type of aircraft for a grand total of 1,348 serviceable airframes. A woeful amount to defense such a vast space against such a powerful opponent. Beside the sheer numbers laid the fact that of 555 day fighters, available, the vast majority were outclassed Bf 109Gs, Fw 190s and Me 410s which were not competition for the new P-47s and P-51s. Luftflotte Reich was able to “post” 302 bombers on its operational lists on 21 Gruppen or squadrons. Five of those Gruppens were not operational between February and May because of their transitions to the new He 177 bomber platform. The pathfinder force consisted on one Gruppen, I/KG66, assigned to support all bomber activity. They were armed with aging Junkers Ju 188s reconnaissance planes. This unit was one of the most hardest hit Gruppens on the Luftwaffe’s list. It had suffered tremendous losses in the Battle of Britain, even to the point of being deemed a “paper force” without any real aircraft, so at the time of D-Day, they were in a re-formation mode. Gruppen III/KG 3 was converting a version of the venerable He 111 to carry the new Fi 103 pulse flying bombs. Others bombers formations were having similar transition issues. By April, the Luftflotte Reich only ground attack unit, the III.-SG 3, was being replenish with improved Fw 190s. This unit would be send to the Eastern Front where it was decimated within just two months. There were two dedicated units attached to the Luftflotte Reich. The first, the Versuchsverband Ob.d.L. was designated to conduct experiments and testing on captured Allied aircraft and systems. The other was the I.KG 200 which operated capture Allied transport planes such as the Douglas DC-3, Boeing’s B-17 and Liore et Oliver 246 seaplanes. All aircraft flown by I.KG 200 were utilized to transport German infiltration units inside Allied lines. Despite what many historians had stated, there’s no official records indicating that any of these aircraft wore any other insignia beside the Nazi logo.
The second major Luftwaffe formation was Luftflotte 3rd or the Western Air Force as its was later known. As its name suggest, Luftflotte 3rd was assigned to exclusively to the Western Front where it awaited the impending massive Allied air assault in preparations to the expected cross Channel invasion of Fortress Europe. The force was commanded by Generalfieldmarshall Hugo Sperrle who had orchestrated the Luftwaffe’s tactical attacks on French formations during the successful 1940 Blitz. At the heart of the Western AF was Fliegerkorps X, an specialized anti-shipping formation which would be crucial if the Germans were to curtail the allied invasion. The force had 539 operational aircraft at its disposal. Seventy five percent of the force consisted of Fw 200s, He 177s and Dornier Do 217s. The Do 217s were modified to carry the new Henschel 293 and Fritz X radio-guided attack missiles. The other aircraft of the X were Junkers Ju 188s armed with torpedoes. The other main force in the Western AF was Fliegerkorps IX with its complement of 137 aircraft including Ju 188s, 88s and Do 217s. The Luftflotte 3rd was based on several airfields in Belgium, Holland, western Germany and eastern France; all within range of the Atlantic Wall. As was the case with Luftflotte Reich, the 3rd were to be completely overwhelming by its assigned task. Its air defense assets were allocated on only six gruppens with an overall total of serviceable airplanes of just 115 Bf 109s and Fw 190s. Augmenting the 3rd were two Gruppens of Ju 88 long range fighters utilized for U-boat screening.
By the beginning of April, the Luftwaffe had made plans to transfer fighter Gruppens from Luftflotte Reich to northern France in an effort to assist the overwhelmed Western AF. This transfer of assets would had depleted the Reich force and had left Germany basically at the mercy of the bombers. Nevertheless, the Luftwaffe counted that during the first weeks of the invasion, the majority of the allies aircraft would be employed supporting the invading troops. It is here were the lack of Luftwaffe’s resources played a pivotal role. The German Air Force knew they would not be able to stop the landings, only, if they were lucky, delayed it until the Wehrmacht’s reserve units could be rushed to the front. To do this, the Luftflotte 3rd needed more close air support fighter/bombers, but thanks to the massive rate of attrition on the Eastern Front, the 3rd only possessed two operational Gruppens with just 48 Fw 190s among them. A woeful number to steam a powerful invasion.
As sad as the state of the Luftflotte forces on the West was, their counterparts on the Eastern Front were on the verge of total collapse. In May 1944, the Luftwaffe deployed four Luftflotte forces, the 1st, 4th, 5th and 6th on a vast 1500 mile front extending from the Arctic Ocean on the north to the Black Sea on the south. The 5th had its bases located on Norway and Finland and was assigned the northern part of the front. The 1st was stationed along a moving set of bases in the Baltic coast and the ever shrinking Leningrad sector. Luftflotte 6th operated on the center of the front while the 4th covered the south portion of it. The 5th, under the command of general Josef Kammhuber had only 193 operational aircraft. It only possessed two day fighter Gruppens of Bf 109s. One Gruppen of Ju 88s and Fw 190 for close ground support plus a Gruppen of Ju 87s for night operations. There were also a Gruppen of Ju 52 floatplanes and three small Staffeln (sub-groups of 10 to 15 aircraft) of Ju 188s and 88s long distance reconnaissance platforms. The 1st was in better shape. Its commanding officer, general Kurt Pfugbeil, commanded a force of two fully equipped day fighter Gruppens, two Staffeln of night fighter/bombers and another one of He 111 bombers. This force was augmented by three additional night attack and two close air support Gruppens.
The 6th was lead by generaloberst von Greim. Although the 6th covered the most space among the Eastern Luftflotte, it only had two operational Gruppens plus two Staffeln of day fighters at its disposal. What the force lacked in fighters it made it up with its bombers. Luftflotte 6th had eleven Gruppens of He 111 bombers, three Fw 190s and Ju 87s Gruppens for ground attack missions and a single night fighter Gruppen of Ju 87s. It also possessed three Staffeln of long range reconnaissance planes plus two additional Staffeln for short-to-medium range reconnaissance operations. A sole Gruppen of Ju 52s transport planes was also at Greim’s disposal.
The last of the Eastern Front forces was the southern air fleet, Luftflotte 4. The 4th was under the command of generaloberst Desloch. Since his force sat on the area of front where the Germans expected the main axis of the Soviet offensive to come in, Desloch’s group was well equipped with ten Gruppens of ground attack planes, seven of day fighters and two more of night fighters. These formations were augmented by four Staffeln of long range reconnaissance airplanes. There were also two and a half Gruppens of transport aircraft equipped with Ju 52s and Italian Savoia Marchetti SM.82s which were manned by Italian pilots loyal to Fascist leader Benito Mussolini.
On the extreme southern part of the 1500-mile front rested the last Luftflotte formation, the 2nd. Based in Italy, the 2nd was assigned the central and western Mediterranean area of air operations. Lead by generalfeldmarschall Wolfram von Richthofen, the 2nd was basically a “paper” force. In “paper” it can field four day fighter, three bomber and two close air support Gruppens. Augmented by two long range and one short range reconnaissance Staffeln. A Gruppen of transport aircraft was also “available”. In paper this force looked impressive, specially for their area of operations, by this time, the central and western parts of the Mediterranean Sea were basically off-limits to German air formations. But this was on paper alone. The reality was That because of the massive Allied air superiority on the Mediterranean and the absent of any major German operations in the area, the air assets of many of those Gruppens were re-allocated to other Luftflotte forces.
Beside the great air fleets, the Luftwaffe operated several other smaller air formations. Chief among them was Luftwaffenkommando Sudost, a force compromised of two day and one night fighter Gruppens, a Staffeln of Ju 88s plus three Staffeln of reconnaissance aircraft. There was also a depleted Staffeln of Ju 87s for close air support. But its main air asset was one Gruppen of Me 323s transport airplanes plus two Staffeln of Ju 52s seaplanes. The transport aspect of the force was at the heart of its mission profile which was the resupplying of German Army garrisons on the Greek Islands.
Overall, before the Allied invasion of Hitler’s Europe, the state of the various Luftwaffe formations was impressive. By May 1944, he Luftwaffe presented a massive air armada. A force that, in any other occasion, take out any one. But constant fighting on four continuing fronts had and would again take the bite out of this re-constituted force.
– Raul Colon
German Aircraft of the Second World War, EJ Creek and JR Smith, Putnam Books 1972
Six Months to Oblivion, Allan Ian, Shepperton 1975
Air Power: The Men, Machines, and Ideas that Revolutionized War, Stephen Budiansky, Penguin Group 2004
The German Navy, Edward Von der Porten, Thomas Crowell Company 1969
The Bomber War: The Allied Air Offensive Against Nazi Germany, Robin Neillands, The Overlook Press 2001
More than sixty years have passed since Nazi Germany surrendered to the Allies. In that time, witnesses, historians and researchers alike have painted a clear picture Germany’s activities during those bloody years. Much is known about the great land battles on the Eastern Front, the brave stand of a beleaguered Great Britain and the allied landings at Normandy to mention some events. As the years have passed on, numerous new facts have emerged, documents have been found, data has been de-classified paving the way to recreate obscure events that took place more than six decades ago. One of those events had to do with one of the unsolved mysteries of World War II, the flight of a German four engined aircraft from its base in northern France to within sight of the United States’ East Coast in 1944.
The story of the mysterious flight had its origins in the spring of 1942 when the then all-powerful Luftwaffe requested German aircraft manufacturers to design plans for a long range, heavy bomber capable of reaching the US mainland from Fortress Europe. The Junkers Corporation, with its track record of well designed aircraft such as the infamous Ju 87 Stuka Dive Bomber and the Ju 88 Level-Dive Bomber platform; was the most forceful participant in the competition. The company’s Design and Development team, used the experience gained on the Ju 290 project, the so called “America Bomber”, to design a completely new bomber platform. The whole 290 program was based on the concept made famous by an obscure German Air Force General, Walther Wever. In the summer of 1934, General Wever called for the immediate development of a massive four-engined, long range bomber; not to use against the US but against the Soviet Union’s industrial base located beyond the Ural Mountains. The Ju 290, known as the Ural Bomber to Luftwaffe officials, became Germany’s first true long range attack platform. The 290’s production run lasted only a few short years. In all, just a limited number of the 290 were ever produced by Junkers. The 290 never did made it as a true heavy bomber, but it did find a role as a long range maritime reconnaissance airplane.
During the life of the Ju 290 program, Junkers’ engineers performed several modifications to the original 290 airframe and onboard systems. The airframe was lengthened, wingspan was added and two additional engines were installed to increase the aircraft’s overall horsepower output. The end result of all those modification was a nearly new airplane. This modified version was renamed the 390. The 390 was designed to carry a maximum crew load of ten men over an operational range of 6000 nautical miles (unrefueled) at speeds just above 300 mph. Two units were actually built. Both were developed as troop and equipment transport planes. Another unit, the heavy bomber version (estimated to carry a payload of 3968 pounds), was schedule to be completed by the winter of 1944-45. But by that time, nearly all of the Luftwaffe’s airframes were used as fighter platforms in an effort to beat back the vast allied air armada which was bombing the Third Reich 24/7. Nevertheless, the 390’s design was impressive enough that the Empire of Japan purchased a Junker’s license to develop its own version. It is known that one of the built samples, unit V-2, was modified directly for maritime reconnaissance missions. Once it became operational, the V-2 unit was assigned to the Kampfgeschwader Number 200, an special wing of the Luftwaffe. The 200 mission profile called for the dispatch of Abwehr infiltration agents deep behind enemy lines. Beside the V-2, the 200 operated captured US B-17 and DC-3 aircraft, plus a complement of five Ju 290 units.
It has been speculated that in mid 1944, a round trip was made by a Ju 390 aircraft from a Kampfgeschwader operational base at Mont de Marsan, France to only fifteen nautical miles from New York City. Could such a flight had been made? Certainly, the 390, if re-modified to achieve its maximum range capability, was capable of it. Are there official records of such endeavor? No. But the fact that there’s no official German records on the subject does not mean the flight did not took place. In fact, there’s some supporting evidence that points towards it. During the last days of the war, as the allies moved from their beachheads in northern France and the Soviets were rapidly advancing from the East, Luftwaffe officials, sensing imminent defeat; commenced the ritual of burning priority documents at all of its facilities. Could some of those burned documents be related to or contain information on this uncommon flight?
The first real clue regarding this alleged flight was revealed to the public in November 11th 1955 in an article by historian-researcher Dr. Kenneth Werrell in Royal Air Force Flying Review. In the article, which was based on another subject, Dr. Werrell mentioned that he possessed “information” regarding the flight of two modified Ju 390 aircraft. The following year, the Review, on its March issue; published a letter from a British reader stating that instead of two 390s, the round trip was performed by a sole unit, thus lending credence to Dr. Werrell’s piece. In the before mentioned article, Dr. Werrell states its case on a little known story that supposedly emanated from the British intelligence services. He made references to reports of captured Luftwaffe intelligence officials interrogated in August 1944. Out of those interrogations, the captured officials allegedly told their handlers about the “flight”. The mentioned reports, known as the General Report on Aircraft Engines and Aircraft Equipment, suggested that the two 390s did made the flight and even took pictures of Long Island. The article also made detailed references to the 390’s specifications. After carefully examining the aircraft’s profile window, Werrell was able to determinate that a round trip from northern France to Newfoundland was more than feasible. But after departing Newfoundland, the 390 would had needed to travel an additional 2380 nm, which would made an unrefueled flight extremely difficult at best.
After Dr. Werrell’s article, there were a few other mentioning of this allegedly Trans Atlantic trip. The respected author William Green mentioned the incident on his 1968 book, Warplanes of the Second World War as well as in the follow up effort, Warplanes of the Third Reich published in 1970. In September 1969, the Daily Telegraph of London published an article entitled The Lone Bomber Raid on New York Planned by Hitler. The article centered its claim around the testimony of retired Junker’s test flight pilot, Hans Pancherz. Pancherz stated that in early 1944, he flew one of the modified Ju 390 on a trial flight from Germany to Cape Town in preparations for a bombing run into the United States. The test flight went smoothly but the operation was soon canceled due to lack of resources, said Pancherz. As with other claims of the mysterious flight, no factual data could be obtained.
There’s no reliable data connecting the 390 or any other version of it to a flight into American territorial waters. In fact, no data of any kind of a German aircraft invading US air space exists. It is entirely possible, even likely, that the before mentioned event never took place. Nevertheless, the absent of tangible data does not mean that there’s no data out there. As researchers and historians begin to examine classified Soviet-era documents, it is possible that evidence of this flight could be uncovered.
– Raul Colon
Great Untold Stories of World War II, Phil Hirsch, Pyramid Books 1968
The German Air Force General Staff, Andreas Nielsen, Arno Press 1959
Luftwaffe: Birth, Life and Death of an Air Force, Alfred Price, Ballantine Books 1969
Every major-power air force since the middle of the Great War has possessed a tactical and strategic component. The British Royal Flying Corp, the predecessor of the famous Royal Air Force, developed during World War I a strategic component centered on the idea that a heavy bomber could penetrate the enemy’s air defenses and submit them to an aerial pounding that would reduce their ability to produce, supply and field their ground and naval forces. Beside Great Britain, France, Italy and Imperial Germany implemented, in one form or another; the concept of strategic bombing during the war. When the war ended in 1918, only the victorious allies were able to maintain and expand these concepts. During the inter war years, the idea of strategic bombing gained valuable allies in the UK, France and the United States. Many experiments and trials were conducted leading to efforts to develop and produce long range platforms, bombers, capable of taking the war to the enemy’s farther reaches. The situation was not similar in Germany.
Unable to field a regular air force due to the terms of the Versailles Treaty, the new Nazi regime in Germany started to improvise ways to develop a different type of air arm – an air force mainly designed to cover and support ground troops engaging in rapid maneuvers. That this newly designed air arm lacked the vital strategic component can be attributed to several reasons. Mainly that the early Nazi military doctrine of employing rapid panzer formations in open fields would require the use of much of their available air assets in a support role, is the one most attributed to this shortcoming, but there was another, less reported situation that ended up costing the Luftwaffe more than it’s doctrine. There have been many reports and papers written about the strategic shortcomings of the Luftwaffe, but seldom did these papers mention the name of Walther Wever – yet, if he would had lived, his strategic vision might have altered the course of World War II. Wever was a fierce proponent of strategic bombing. He possessed both the vision and the willpower to built a strategic air fleet out of the Luftwaffe – fortunately for the Allies he died before the war started. If not, one can just imagine what aircraft and tactics Wever could have employed in the Battle of Britain or in the invasion of the Soviet Union.
Wever was born in the eastern province of Posen – a product of a middle class environment. When he became eligible, he joined the army as an infantry officer. After completing his training, he was commissioned as second lieutenant. The rank on which he would enter the Great War with. During that terrible conflict, Wever displayed an above average intelligence, valor and superior organization skills. These traits propelled him to the rank of captain and eventually to a post in the staff of the famous German military commander, General Erich Ludendorff. There he is credited with the development of the so called “elastic defense” strategy employed very effectively by the German army all throughout the conflict. The defense called for the abandonment of forward positions during artillery bombardments, making the Allies feel more secure for their advance once the bombardment was over. A strategic troop build-up was placed near the threatened area, passionately awaiting the advancing and unsuspecting Allies’ armies. The strategy was so successful that after the war, French military historians credited it with the breaking of their army’s will to fight in The Somme and other places. Wever’s stock rose during the dull interwar years. He achieved the rank of colonel and in early 1932, was appointed Germany’s Air Command Officer. A title used to deceive the watchful Allies. The reality was that the new command given to Wever amounted to a Chief of the Air Force in the current military lexicon. At forty-six, without any flying training, Wever was now the overall commander of Germany’s air force.
Even before Adolf Hitler sealed the fate of Germany by going to war, Wever understood that the next armed conflict would be a tactical as well as a strategic one. Adhering to his vision, Wever steered the German air industry into developing what he saw as its most precious asset in the next war: a four-engined heavy bomber. The bomber Wever envisioned would have been able to carry a payload of some 3,300 pounds to a distance of at least 1,240 miles. In developing the concept for such an aircraft, Wever had only one enemy in mind: Soviet Russia. He understood what many of his peers and eventual successors failed to see. In order to take the war into the Russian industry, buried deep behind the Ural Mountains, Germany needed an aircraft able to subject those industries to a heavy bombardment that could disrupt the flow of aircraft, tanks, truck, artillery pieces and other tools of war; into the frontlines – the destruction of the enemy’s means of war production. He clearly saw that in order to defeat the air force of a country such as Russia, where the sheer amount of aircraft available to them could had overwhelmed Germany’s fighter force, they would need to destroy the industry that made those aircraft, instead of shooting them out of the skies. Here was the British Chief of the Air Staff, Sir Frederick Sykes’s strategic vision at its most basic. The objectives of the new German air force would not only be concentrated on the support of its ground and naval forces, although Wever was a passionate believer in a mixed-mission and completely independent Luftwaffe, but it would take the tools of war to the enemy’s nerve centers, the troop staging areas, rear bases, their industries and in the end, their population as a whole. This concept of total air war was first promulgated by Sykes in December 1918.
For all of his vision, strategies and directions, Wever’s views were in the minority in the German air force. The most senior Luftwaffe commanders saw little need for the development of a strategic heavy force, although they changed their minds when the British and American heavy bombers began to pound their beloved country. Following Wever’s lead, Germany’s air industry began to conceive plans for the design and production of a fleet of heavy bombers. Two proud German companies, Junkers and Dornier put forward design sketches for a heavy level bomber in late 1934. On January 3rd, 1935, Junker’s chairman, Dr. Heinrich Koppenberg; reported to Colonel Wilhelm Wimmer, head of the Luftwaffe Technical Department and fierce backer of Wever; that a preliminary design for the new bomber, designated Ju 89, had been completed. Dornier followed a couple of months later. On a clear morning in October 28th, 1936, the much anticipated Do 19 made its maiden flight. The Ju 89 followed two months later. But by this time, fate had intervened. On June 3rd, 1936, Wever was in Dresden addressing a gathering of Luftwaffe cadets when he received the news of the passing of a World War I German hero. He decided to leave the city immediately in order to attend the funeral. Wever took off on his He 70 airplane. As the plane started to climb, one wing tipped on the ground propelling the aircraft into a mad tailspin that ended with a fiery crash. Wever and his flight engineer died immediately. With his prematurely passing, his dream, that of a well balanced tactical and strategic Luftwaffe; also died. Without Wever’s vision and relentless drive to pursue, Germany fell behind its main adversaries in the development of a heavy bomber platform.
Wever’s successors were more “yes”-type officers. More eager to please the Luftwaffe’s Chief Commander Herman Goering than in establishing a balanced force. From June 1936 onwards, the main effort of the Luftwaffe’s aircraft development programs was concentrated on the design and production of aircraft capable of providing the German army with a close air support arm. Nearly all of the heavy bomber development resources were diverted to the development of dive bombers. Even the much anticipated and needed He 177 was not ordered into full-scale production until the four-engined plane was refitted to operate as a dive bombing platform. It’s safe to say that with the death of General Wever, the dream of developing a multi-faceted air force, an air force capable of providing Germany with the same kind of capability as the Royal Air Force and the US Army Air Forces possessed, died also. There were many aspects of discrepancy between the Allies combat air philosophy and that of Germany’s air arm, but what separates them most profoundly was the strategic aspect of their respective philosophies. The Allies truly believed in the importance of strategic bombing to their overall war effort, while the Germans were more focused on the tactical aspect. Had Wever lived, maybe the Luftwaffe’s philosophy and the product of this philosophy would have been more balanced.
– Raul Colon
wikipedia: Walther Wever (general)