The Luftwaffe only makes fighters

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HistoryGeek2019
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The Luftwaffe only makes fighters

Post by HistoryGeek2019 » 12 Dec 2019 07:16

I've written elsewhere that the Luftewaffe's bomber force was ineffective and overly expensive:

viewtopic.php?f=76&t=244765
viewtopic.php?f=76&t=244917

The bombers suffered a ridiculously high casualty rate, were easy prey to enemy fighters, and made little difference in ground engagements. It was the soldiers of the Heer who won Germany's early battles, not the Luftewaffe.

So what if the Luftewaffe were restricted to only making fighters for the entire war?

There are a few examples where bombers made an impact early in the war:
  • Warsaw: the city was surrounded and surrendered after being bombed heavily. But a surrounded city is doomed anyway, so the absence of bombers just leads to a delay.
  • Norway: This was principally an air invasion. So the absence of transports (yes, not even mass transports in this ATL) would mean Germany could not invade Norway. So potentially Germany is stuck using lower grade iron ore the rest of the war (more on that here: viewtopic.php?f=76&t=243663)
  • Fort Eben Emael: Okay, a few transports for a small elite force of Fallschirmjäger will be necessary.
  • Rotterdam: The Dutch were already negotiating a surrender, so the bombing of Rotterdam didn't really matter.
  • Sedan: The supposed crowning achievement of the Luftewaffe as a tactical bomber force, the 1000+ sorties flown by the Luftewaffe killed a whopping 56 French soldiers (source: Lloyd Clark, Blitzkrieg, Myth and Reality. The money would have been better spent on just about anything else.
  • Barbarossa: The Luftewaffe destroyed most of the Red Air Force on the ground in the opening week of the invasion ... except the Red Air Force was back up and running by late summer and in many sectors had air superiority. But the Heer was still able to win. Air forces simply weren't that effective on the battlefield in 1941. And more fighters would have better protected the Heer.
Since the Luftewaffe's bombers did not inflict that many casualties or significant damage on enemy forces, the main effect was psychological. But fighters can have the same, perhaps better psychological effect. A fighter can still strafe - I've heard accounts that strafing was more fear inducing than bombing. And a focus on fighters would mean more air superiority, and thus better psychology for the Heer and worse for its enemies.

This would also save Germany a ton of resources and manpower. The Luftewaffe was a tremendous drain on the resources of the Reich (40% of the armaments budget, 1.8 million laborers by 1941 and more aluminum than the Reich could produce). Fighters are far cheaper than bombers. This would have freed up men, material and factories for the Heer, which never received enough equipment during the war.

And the biggest advantage would be late war - the focus on fighters would mean the Luftewaffe would at least be better prepared than in the OTL for the Allied air onslaught that wiped out the Luftewaffe from 1944-1945. There would be more trained fighter pilots, more efficiency in producing fighters, more technological research and expertise put into fighters, and more institutional experience in running a fighter based air force.

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Re: The Luftwaffe only makes fighters

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 12 Dec 2019 08:11

Here again we agree on the broad outlines but *no* bombers? Germany's enemies would rapidly ascertain the absence of bombers, saving them enormous resources in Flak, fortifications, and other indirect preparations for bombing (e.g. concrete shelters, dispersal of production).

I'd recommend something like 50% fewer bombers: still enough to execute the most opportunistic interdiction/tactical missions and to compel enemy defense preparations, but freeing enormous resources for better use.

For example:
A lot of commentators - in academia and on this board (perhaps including you?) - view the Allied bombing offensive as critically endangering Germany's long-term prospects. Once the LW had been basically destroyed - i.e. once Allied air supremacy existed - this was mostly true. Prior to that point, however, when the LW could merely contest the skies, I take the view (I think it's novel?) that the Allied air offensive was losing an economic war of attrition. Just look at "Big Week" in February 1944, for example. Per Wikipedia and its cites (undisputed on the site), the Allies lost 357 heavy bombers and 28 fighters against LW losses of ~250 fighters. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Week. The aircrew loss ratio was even worse: about 8 to 1 (about half of LW pilots shot down came down in Germany ready to fight again).

Big Week is supposedly a decisive Allied victory but consider the economic value of the planes lost in these battles: Heavy Bombers cost ~$250k, an Me-109 cost ~$25k. That's a ~15:1 ratio on the hardware economics and ~8:1 on personnel economics. Now it's true that Flak accounted for some of the shootdowns but incorporating them would also require incorporating the damaged airplanes, most of which were from Flak (fighters had a far higher kill/damage ratio).

By devoting more time and effort than is justified for this single post, one might argue that the economic attrition ratio was half of 15:1 due to more Fw-190's instead of Me-109's and due to Flak shells expended. Fine, whatever. The point remains: Even a supposedly decisive success like Big Week was costing the Allies an economic attrition ratio (>7:1) far beyond even the 1944 ratio of GDP's between Axis and Allies. It could not have been sustained; it only worked because ratios mattered less than absolute levels of damage for the Western Allies, who were relying on those stupid Eastern hordes to fight most of the war for them.

Had the LW been producing twice as many fighters by then - which still allows a credible bomber force - Big Week's attrition levels would have been around the same but the magnitude much higher. And instead of Big Week inaugurating the end of LW resistance, more fighters would have meant the extension of Big Week attrition into Big Months/Years. As rich as America was, it could not afford for long to trade massively expensive heavy bombers for cheap German fighters at a 1:1 plane ratio and 10:1 economic/personnel ratio.

...so while I don't accept your suggestion of zero bombers, I agree that greater fighter production would have leveraged asymmetric warfare in Axis favor.

...and it's why I see no chance in hell of the Anglosphere dislodging Germany from Europe if Hitler beats Stalin in '42/'43. There'd be too many German fighters aloft and not enough Seattles to build a massive, expensive heavy bomber for each cheap, light German fighter.
Last edited by TheMarcksPlan on 12 Dec 2019 09:03, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: The Luftwaffe only makes fighters

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 12 Dec 2019 08:36

HistoryGeek2019 wrote:more technological research and expertise put into fighters, and more institutional experience in running a fighter based air force.
This is a totally valid argument but is of a category from which I try to refrain in ATL's because it's difficult to analyze. Like I'm confident that 10% more German divisions would kill/wound 10% more Russian/French soldiers; I don't know how to quantify and analyze "institutional experience" other than to say it's definitely a real thing with a value >0%.

OTOH, when a technological/organizational breakthrough is on the brink of happening, and when one can articulate a path in which it happens given X or Y political/ideological/human factor, then I feel good about including it in an ATL. Is there a point of inflection in fighter tactics that you've identified regarding a "more fighters" ATL?

One I can see later in the war is avoidance of the early-war focus on short term solutions only. Maybe that means better radar, planes, tactics, etc. in 1943-45. It's a topic in which my ignorance is highest, however (which means it's a topic of future fun).

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Re: The Luftwaffe only makes fighters

Post by T. A. Gardner » 12 Dec 2019 09:22

Well, let's see:

Crete doesn't fall to the Germans. This means some time around late 1943 Ploesti gets bombed out of production.

Malta isn't crippled every time the Germans want to move a large force of troops to N. Africa so their campaign there suffers greatly, if it can be sustained at all.

The RN doesn't lose dozens of ships to air attack by the Luftwaffe. The Allied merchant fleets lose well over a million tons less shipping at a minimum.

Without long range and high altitude aerial reconnaissance, the Germans have far less information about what their enemies are doing.

Obviously, the BoB doesn't happen.

If we're talking single seat, single engine fighters here, then the Luftwaffe has no nightfighter force and the RAF bombs the snot out of Germany with little or no opposition other than flak which isn't going to make a dent in their bombing operations. If, on the other hand, all they have is a plane like the Me 110 for nightfighting, they're still seriously degraded.

In the East, the lack of transport planes in large number mean starting at the end of 1941- early 1942, the Germans lose tens of thousands more troops to encirclements than they historically did.

On the whole, I'd say the Germans would suffer considerably and do worse with such an unbalanced air force.

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Re: The Luftwaffe only makes fighters

Post by Kingfish » 12 Dec 2019 10:52

HistoryGeek2019 wrote:
12 Dec 2019 07:16
  • Norway: This was principally an air invasion. So the absence of transports (yes, not even mass transports in this ATL) would mean Germany could not invade Norway. So potentially Germany is stuck using lower grade iron ore the rest of the war (more on that here: viewtopic.php?f=76&t=243663)
Um, no, it was a seaborne invasion supplemented by air transport. The vast majority of the troops, including all the heavy weapons, equipment and supplies, came by ship.
The gods do not deduct from a man's allotted span the hours spent in fishing.
~Babylonian Proverb

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Re: The Luftwaffe only makes fighters

Post by maltesefalcon » 12 Dec 2019 13:25

First of all the Luftwaffe didn't make any aircraft. They were made by the likes of Heinkel, Dornier, Messerschmidt etc. Under the auspices of the RLM.

Second, such a radical proposal would require a crystal ball to justify the decision.

Germany's early bombers were actually adapted from fast mail or passenger craft to get around treaty bans. So the later adoption of these aircraft for bombing was not ideal, but it worked for a while.

Bomber losses were very heavy on the Allied side as well, but at no time did they ever consider dropping them in favour of single engine fighters.

Germany's bomber force was eventually curtailed towards the final 18 months of the war, largely to save resources and manpower in favour of single engine fighters. But this must be seen as a desperate move to combat the vastly superior Allied production, not a winning proposal.

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Re: The Luftwaffe only makes fighters

Post by HistoryGeek2019 » 12 Dec 2019 16:16

TheMarcksPlan wrote:
12 Dec 2019 08:11
Germany's enemies would rapidly ascertain the absence of bombers, saving them enormous resources in Flak, fortifications, and other indirect preparations for bombing (e.g. concrete shelters, dispersal of production).

I'd recommend something like 50% fewer bombers: still enough to execute the most opportunistic interdiction/tactical missions and to compel enemy defense preparations, but freeing enormous resources for better use.
Bombers are expensive, complicated pieces of machinery. I've read that the Ju-88 had over 16,000 different unique parts. It is far more expensive to build bombers than flak towers and radar, or even fighters.

I also think there are large sunk costs involved in getting bomber production up and running, such that it would still cost an awful lot to make half as many bombers. Cutting bomber production in half doesn't mean cutting bomber costs in half.

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Re: The Luftwaffe only makes fighters

Post by HistoryGeek2019 » 12 Dec 2019 16:25

T. A. Gardner wrote:
12 Dec 2019 09:22
Well, let's see:

Crete doesn't fall to the Germans. This means some time around late 1943 Ploesti gets bombed out of production.

Malta isn't crippled every time the Germans want to move a large force of troops to N. Africa so their campaign there suffers greatly, if it can be sustained at all.

The RN doesn't lose dozens of ships to air attack by the Luftwaffe. The Allied merchant fleets lose well over a million tons less shipping at a minimum.

Without long range and high altitude aerial reconnaissance, the Germans have far less information about what their enemies are doing.

Obviously, the BoB doesn't happen.

If we're talking single seat, single engine fighters here, then the Luftwaffe has no nightfighter force and the RAF bombs the snot out of Germany with little or no opposition other than flak which isn't going to make a dent in their bombing operations. If, on the other hand, all they have is a plane like the Me 110 for nightfighting, they're still seriously degraded.

In the East, the lack of transport planes in large number mean starting at the end of 1941- early 1942, the Germans lose tens of thousands more troops to encirclements than they historically did.

On the whole, I'd say the Germans would suffer considerably and do worse with such an unbalanced air force.
All good points. The Luftewaffe would still need night fighters, thanks for pointing that out. And single or double engine fighters can be modified as reconnaissance planes, the British did it with the Spitfire.

The question is, could Germany have done enough with the savings in resources to outweigh the costs you identify in not having a bomber force? When you consider that 40% of the Werhmacht's budget was spent on the Luftewaffe, and the great majority of that on bombers, we are talking about the potential for seriously beefing up the Heer in the early years of the war when it might have made a difference to the ultimate outcome. Germany desperately needed more trucks, trains and artillery on the Eastern Front in 1941 and 1942. Germany even lacked rifles to train new recruits in 1940.

The Heer was really the only branch that mattered in the war. As long as the Luftewaffe is protecting the Heer and economically vital facilities with fighters, everything else should be spent on augmenting the Heer.

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Re: The Luftwaffe only makes fighters

Post by maltesefalcon » 12 Dec 2019 16:32

In the first two years of the war, Germany's bomber force made good progress, mostly because they had somewhat open skies. So there was little reason for alarm, until the wake up call during the Battle of Britain. The bomber's losses there were largely the fault of Goering;for failing to equip his escort fighters with longer range drop tanks and for underestimating the value of Chain Home radar. But no one would have foreseen this in the mid-1930s, when the bomber force was being developed.

Curtailing bomber production after the Battle of Britain for example, would have been largely symbolic, as the Luftwaffe posed a much smaller threat to Britain after June 1941. They did quite well in Russia for a couple years at least.

In reality, once Germany decided to focus on fighter production in 1944 it made no difference. They produced roughly 30,000 aircraft in 1944. But the frontline strength of the Luftwaffe actually went down in the same time period. It means they lost the equivalent of the entire years production plus more.

In Western Europe alone, during the first six months of 1944 the Luftwaffe lost the equivalent of 50% of their single engine fighter strength every month. This was an unsustainable attrition, so switching from bomber to fighter production really did not solve their problems.

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Re: The Luftwaffe only makes fighters

Post by maltesefalcon » 12 Dec 2019 17:23

HistoryGeek2019 wrote:
12 Dec 2019 16:16
Bombers are expensive, complicated pieces of machinery. I've read that the Ju-88 had over 16,000 different unique parts. It is far more expensive to build bombers than flak towers and radar, or even fighters.
Maybe the build costs are less, but the operational costs certainly are not. It took an average of 16,000 88mm rounds for each Allied bomber shot down. I daresay the trade off in metal-for-metal was not on the side of the Reich.

Also, spreading thousands of guns throughout the Reich, left most of them with nothing to do for days on end. Then, when a city was confronted with hundreds of enemy bombers, the ones deployed there simply could not cope. At one point, there were close to 1 million personnel manning the flak battalions. If even 1/2 of these guns and troops could have been sent east as anti-tank gunners, they would have had a bigger impact on the war.

Other than shooting down Allied planes, flak's major contribution was to force them to fly at high altitude. This increased the possibility of navigation or bombing errors, especially if they were flying above the cloud layer. Used correctly, flak was a useful deterrent if combined with an effective fighter force. It should never have been considered as a sole or prime anti-aircraft defence.

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Re: The Luftwaffe only makes fighters

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 12 Dec 2019 20:13

Maltesefalcon wrote:First of all the Luftwaffe didn't make any aircraft. They were made by the likes of Heinkel, Dornier, Messerschmidt etc. Under the auspices of the RLM.
Come on dude. We all know this and we all know what HG meant.
MalteseFalcon wrote:It took an average of 16,000 88mm rounds for each Allied bomber shot down. I daresay [sic] the trade off in metal-for-metal was not on the side of the Reich.
That's for the Flak 36/37. For Flak 41 it was 3x lower. Regardless of metal, the economic tradeoff was in favor of the Reich, as you likely know from Westerman. And I dare say there is no verb "to daresay."
MalteseFalcon wrote:once Germany decided to focus on fighter production in 1944 it made no difference.
I really deplore this kind of sloppy analysis. No difference? Of course you mean "Germany lost the war anyway" but by that standard magnificent weapons like the MG 42 made no difference.

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Re: The Luftwaffe only makes fighters

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 12 Dec 2019 20:16

HistoryGeek2019 wrote:I also think there are large sunk costs involved in getting bomber production up and running, such that it would still cost an awful lot to make half as many bombers.
That's true of any weapons program though - have to invest in tooling, plant, training, etc. to get production going. So it would also be true of weapons produced by diverting bomber resources.
Cutting bomber production in half doesn't mean cutting bomber costs in half.
Right there are economies of scale. But something like a 50% cut would save something like 50%.

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Re: The Luftwaffe only makes fighters

Post by maltesefalcon » 12 Dec 2019 21:24

TheMarcksPlan wrote:
12 Dec 2019 20:13
Maltesefalcon wrote:First of all the Luftwaffe didn't make any aircraft. They were made by the likes of Heinkel, Dornier, Messerschmidt etc. Under the auspices of the RLM.
Come on dude. We all know this and we all know what HG meant.
MalteseFalcon wrote:It took an average of 16,000 88mm rounds for each Allied bomber shot down. I daresay [sic] the trade off in metal-for-metal was not on the side of the Reich.
That's for the Flak 36/37. For Flak 41 it was 3x lower. Regardless of metal, the economic tradeoff was in favor of the Reich, as you likely know from Westerman. And I dare say there is no verb "to daresay."
MalteseFalcon wrote:once Germany decided to focus on fighter production in 1944 it made no difference.
I really deplore this kind of sloppy analysis. No difference? Of course you mean "Germany lost the war anyway" but by that standard magnificent weapons like the MG 42 made no difference.
Yes, I did mean that going to predominantly fighter production made no difference in that Germany lost the war. I was trying to point out that Germany actual tried this approach IRL. Guess I had better phrase things better next time.

As for my phantom verb, I took a moment to look it up. The online dictionaries I found show that both daresay and dare say are acceptable.

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Re: The Luftwaffe only makes fighters

Post by T. A. Gardner » 12 Dec 2019 21:44

HistoryGeek2019 wrote:
12 Dec 2019 16:25
All good points. The Luftewaffe would still need night fighters, thanks for pointing that out. And single or double engine fighters can be modified as reconnaissance planes, the British did it with the Spitfire.

The question is, could Germany have done enough with the savings in resources to outweigh the costs you identify in not having a bomber force? When you consider that 40% of the Werhmacht's budget was spent on the Luftewaffe, and the great majority of that on bombers, we are talking about the potential for seriously beefing up the Heer in the early years of the war when it might have made a difference to the ultimate outcome. Germany desperately needed more trucks, trains and artillery on the Eastern Front in 1941 and 1942. Germany even lacked rifles to train new recruits in 1940.

The Heer was really the only branch that mattered in the war. As long as the Luftewaffe is protecting the Heer and economically vital facilities with fighters, everything else should be spent on augmenting the Heer.
The short answer is no. This alternative hurts Germany, and rather badly.

For example, in late 1940, the Germans started using the FW 200 Condor bomber for maritime patrols and attacks. These planes flew out of Southern France to Norway then made the return trip a few days later. At most, the Luftwaffe had a dozen (12!) planes of this type available for this mission. Most of the time they had less.

Yet, those planes in a matter of about six months (July 1940 to February 1941 roughly) sank almost 400,000 tons of shipping. Churchill called them "The Scourge of the Atlantic." This is a statement about less than a dozen planes operating on a mission the Luftwaffe reluctantly took on and gave relatively low priority to.

The British were forced to begin a emergency program to put AA guns on merchant ships and find ways, like the Catapult fighter (CAM Ship), to counter the German bombers.

Image

CAM ship.

All of that took time and money away from other urgent needs, all for the investment by the Germans of at most a couple dozen planes over the entirety of that period.

The problem with the Luftwaffe isn't the cost of production of bombers but rather the myopic, often insane, and poor strategic and tactical use of them along with poor design features.

For example, the Bomber B program to develop a replacement for the Ju 88, He 111, and Do 17 was horribly mismanaged. The RLM chose to push the envelope edges in their design requirements. The result was that all of the contending planes were abject failures and the one plane that did finally meet the requirements, the Hs 130C was built by Henschel, a company the Luftwaffe had initially rejected for consideration in the program at all!

Luftwaffe tactics during the BoB were simply bad and the Luftwaffe flailed around trying to improve them but failed. The RAF and then USAAF had such failures of tactics and strategy but they learned and adapted to changing conditions and enemy actions effectively. That's how they ended up bombing the snot out of Germany.

A pure fighter force means the Germans leave the aerial offensive completely up to their opponents. Other than some degree of tactical support using fighter-bombers, the Luftwaffe has no means to influence their enemies by offensive action.

Also, there won't be any great savings that can be easily and readily invested elsewhere. You suggest the Germans could switch production to say, locomotives (trains) and trucks. But, this would have required first building more factory space. Pre-war, the problem with trucks would be that the two largest producers in Germany, Opel (a GM subsidiary) and Ford, are foreign owned corporations and were therefore not used or considered by the military as sources of vehicles. By comparison, the rest of the manufacturers produced fewer vehicles as a combined total than Opel and Ford.
Locomotives are the same way. There are only so many manufacturers and they have only so much capacity. You'd have to invest in new factories over a number of years to increase production substantially.

As for the Luftwaffe, again, mismanagement is a bigger problem. Göring was allowed to do some pretty stupid empire building that he shouldn't have done. The Luftwaffe field divisions, HG Panzer Division, and the whole Luftwaffe ground army should have been nixed and the men and equipment put in the Heer as replacements.
Göring also went heavy on flak. Flak guns are relatively cheap compared to planes. They don't use scarce gasoline either. Also from Göring's point-of-view, having large numbers of flak crews in uniform gave the Luftwaffe a public presence on the streets of Germany. This was a political advantage for him.

The Luftwaffe, like to some extent the RAF and USAAF, wanted to be a truly separate service and pushed their strategic goals to that end. The RAF and USAAF however got to a point where they had sufficient surplus to manage to have both "strategic" and "tactical" air forces, something the Luftwaffe could never afford.

The bottom line here is: If you do away with everything but fighters for the Luftwaffe, you essentially hand the air war and victory to the Allies.

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Re: The Luftwaffe only makes fighters

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 12 Dec 2019 23:52

T.A. Gardner wrote: Also, there won't be any great savings that can be easily and readily invested elsewhere. You suggest the Germans could switch production to say, locomotives (trains) and trucks. But, this would have required first building more factory space.
What is it with so many folks here and a flat inability to imagine different investment paths?

Bombers require factories too, an ATL with fewer bombers would imply investment in different factories.

This is an especially odd tendency regarding Germany, which had the biggest and best machine tool industry in the world. If anyone had the capability for flexible investment decisions it was Germany. Indeed throughout the war Germany put this capability to effective use through the gyrations of Wehrmacht priorities and design philosophies.
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