What was the main reason..........

Discussions on all (non-biographical) aspects of the Luftwaffe air units and general discussions on the Luftwaffe.
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Post by Robb » 01 Sep 2005 13:17

I have just finished reading "Fighter" by Len Deighton and found it gave an interesting discussion of the Battle of Britain. One of the main reasons Fighter Command was able to survive was the fact that the Luftwaffe changed its targets in September to bombing London in the belief that this would result in more of Fighter Command's aircraft being sent up to defend the capital. The previous attacks, many of which had been directed against Sector airfields of Fighter Command had stretched Dowding's resources. The fact that the Sector airfields were given a respite enabled fighter Command to bring many of them back into operation much faster than when they were being subjected to many aerial attacke. Such important Fighter Command bases as Biggin Hill were able to become fully operational quite quickly.

Earlier on poor intelligence caused the Luftwaffe to be less effective than it might otherwise be as many of the airfields attacked didn't belong to Fighter Command so caused no disruption to Great Britain's fighter resources. Radar played its part in enabling Fighter Command to determine when a raid was forming up. The High Level Chain radar wwas able to detect aircraft forming over parts of France (mainly Pas de Calais area). Vectoring RAF squadrons onto Luftwaffe raids became quite efficient later on in the Battle of Britain also helped Fighter Command's cause.

Also the short range of the BF 109 fighter caused many of the bomber raids especially over London to be porly defended. Many BF 109s landed on French beaches and were written off.

However, it must be acknowledged that the Luftwaffe did get close to bringing Fighter Command to its knees. One wonders what would have occurred had the Luftwaffe continued to attack Fighter Command's sector airfields instead of moving attcks to London. Perhaps one of the biggest influneces on the outcome was Hermann Göering and the lack of any real strategy for subjugating Great Britain.

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Post by Hop » 05 Sep 2005 16:52

We must not forget to add Sir John Slessor to the people suffering from a bad memory and false recollections.

Slessor was nothing to do with Fighter Command, so cannot have had any recollections of the matter in question.

In fact, Slessor says exactly that in one of your attachments:

I was present on that occasion, and was not aware - although I ought to have taken it for granted - that Dowding was "in on" Ultra

The other is simply a repeat of the same passage by Slessor, with that sentence omitted.

Slessor didn't know whether Dowding knew of Ultra or not, he seems to have been relying on Winterbotham as well.

Can you point to any actions, deployments etc by Fighter Command that suggest Dowding knew in advance what was going to happen? I've pointed out several that show he didn't, such as the abscences of Saul, Leigh Mallory and Park at crucial times, the 7th September meeting that made no reference to a forthcoming change in strategy by the Luftwaffe, and indeed planned how to meet a continuation of the same strategy for many months. There's also the events of 7th September, when the Luftwaffe turned on London. Most accounts describe the haphazard interceptions of the huge German forceheading for London, due to the deployments of the squadrons to resist attacks on the airfields. Then there's the way Bader's "Big Wing" was scrambled too late to form up properly. Surely if Dowding had known the time and destination of the attack, Bader could have been scrambled in time and been waiting?

The battle was far from over. German planes were in the process of crippling fighter command. There seemed to be no solution to the problem, until Hitler stepped in and diverted his attacks from fighter command to the attack on London. The RAF, given the respite, was able to build up its strength again within one week.

In my opinion, German policy had not failed. The German High command in the form of Goering failed to realise how close the RAF was to collapse. Indeed, the German bomber force had lost many aircraft, but they had the numbers to lose, and Fighter command was almost on its knees. Goering made the error of pandering to his bomber pilots, rather than support his fighter pilots, and so hamstrung his fighters by linking them to the bomber support role. Linking fighter aircraft to the bombers was just one mistake that the German high command made, but it was not the main one. That mistake ocurred on September 7th when german luftwaffe started its mass attacks on London.

However, it must be acknowledged that the Luftwaffe did get close to bringing Fighter Command to its knees. One wonders what would have occurred had the Luftwaffe continued to attack Fighter Command's sector airfields instead of moving attcks to London. Perhaps one of the biggest influneces on the outcome was Hermann Göering and the lack of any real strategy for subjugating Great Britain.

It's a nice story, but it's not really true.

From the British point of view, Fighter Command was in trouble in early September. Losses of pilots were exceeding replacements, and if the trend had continued, eventually Fighter Command would be defeated.

From The Most Dangerous Enemy, by Stephen Bungay, describing the meeting between Dowding, Park and others on the 7th September, the day the Luftwaffe launched their attacks on London (the meeting was early, before the first raid on London):
At that point in the meeting, Evill and Park joined in. Evill pointed out that at current rates the OTUs were turning out 280 Hurricane and Spitfire pilots a month, and that losses in the previous four weeks had been 348. Accidents, illness and so on would make things worse. That morning, Park said, nine squadrons had less than fifteen pilots, and the day before some squadrons had been sent up as composite units. 'It must be realised,' said Dowding, 'that we are going down hill' Park agreed with him, and said it was better to have twenty-one squadrons with twenty-one pilots each than more squadrons with fewer, which was part of the point of the scheme. Morale would suffer, Dowding said, if the pilots were overtired and overworked, and morale was extremely important. The steps he was planning were essential if the Germans maintained their pressure. Some squadrons were flying fifty hours a day, Park added. With their aerodromes being bombed, they were getting less rest and a lower standard of meals. They had 'felt the shock'. 'I want you to take away from this meeting,' Dowding said, looking at Douglas, 'the feeling that the situation
is extremely grave.'
It was becoming clear to Douglas that this was not just Dowding being irk¬some as usual. There was a veiled accusation: Fighter Command was not satisfied that everything was being done to increase output from the OTUs. So he stated that 'there were one or two things which could be done'. One was the introduction of a further OTU. The others were not impressed. It would take too long. Another thing they could do, suggested Douglas, was to call on pilots from other squadrons. Dowding mentioned that some had already been taken from Battle and Lysander squadrons. There was no objection from Douglas this
The discussion turned to the fighting. Park doubted that the enemy could keep up its pressure for more than three weeks. Dowding said that it could go on much longer - it depended on politics, Goring's personal ascendancy and other factors. Given recent appraisals of German air strength, one should reckon on a long campaign. It was agreed, after some arguing about the figures, that the supply of aircraft would not be a problem, or a constraint on expan¬sion.
Whereupon the group parted company.

(Note on Ultra, Dowding was clearly planning on a very long campaign against Fighter Command, later the same day the Luftwaffe switched the focus of it's campaign away from Fighter Command and on to trying to destroy London.)

So, on the 7th September Fighter Command began the process of "going down hill", ie reducing strength in some sectors, and planning to concentrate dwindling resources in the SE.

But, as Bungay says:

Knowing that their enemy was preparing to 'go down hill' would have been cold comfort to the Luftwaffe. They assumed the enemy had been doing that for some time. In fact they believed he ought to be at his last gasp. General Stapf had reported to Haider on 30 August that the British had lost 800
Hurricanes and Spitfires since 8 August out of a front-line strength of 915. Given Schmid's estimate of their production capacity of 200-300 a month, the British could therefore only have 3-400 left at the outside. After another week of pounding in September, they must indeed be down to their last 200 machines.

The last week of September and the first week of August were the first point in the Battle, which had already been going on for about 6 weeks, that the Luftwaffe were inflicting unsustainable losses on the RAF. Until that point, the RAF had actually been getting stronger.

From Logistics in the Batle of Britain, by Air Commodore Peter Dye

Note how the RAF maintains a positive production balance for most of the battle, the Luftwaffe a negative one almost throughout.

The RAF began preparing to "go downhill" at the climax of the German effort, the Luftwaffe had been going downhill for most of the battle.

What was crucial in both sides perceptions was the intelligence estimates of enemy strength.

The Luftwaffe underestimated British production, and they overestimated RAF losses (by a very large factor)

In fact, they underestimated production by about 2 -300 planes a month, and they overestimated RAF losses by 3 - 4 times. For most of the battle Luftwaffe intelligence believed the RAF was down to it's last 2 - 300 fighters, and was about to collapse.

So the Luftwaffe, which believed the RAF was far weaker than it really was, thought they were winning, despite their own high losses.

In contrast, the British overestimated the size of the Luftwaffe, by a very large margin.

In June, British Air Intelligence (AI) estimated the Luftwaffe had 2,500 bombers (only a little more than they really had), 2,500 fighters (about double what they really had) and 7,000 aircraft in reserve (in fact, the Luftwaffe had very few reserves at that point)

By July, with the help of Ultra, AI had reduced their estimates to 4,800 aircraft, which was much closer to the truth. But they still believed the Luftwaffe had substantial reserves, whereas they had almost none.

The RAF overestimated the number of German aircraft destroyed, of course, but by a much smaller factor, around 1.5 - 2 to 1. They grossly overestimated German production, by a factor of 2.5 to 1.

From Richard Overy, The Battle:
German airmen were ordered to fight in September as if Fighter Command had been all but eliminated, the result was a level of attrition so high the Luftwaffe could not sustain it for more than a few weeks

The British fought the battle as if it was a last ditch struggle against an overwhelming enemy, the German side fought against a force persistently misrepresented as technically and tactically inept, short of aircraft, pilots and bases

The RAF thought they were losing because they overestimated the enemy, and in the last week of August began, for the first time, to face net losses. The Luftwaffe thought they were winning because they underestimated the enemy, and so consoled themselves that their losses were not as high as the enemy's, and they could afford them better.

The truth was Fighter Command was in a much better state in early September than the Luftwaffe was.

From Bungay:
In fact, on the evening of 6 September, Fighter Command had over 750 serviceable fighters and 1,381 pilots available to it, about 950 of whom flew Spitfires or Hurricanes. It needed 1,588 pilots to be at full establishment, which is of course what Dowding wanted, so from his point of view he was 200 short. From the Luftwaffe's point of view, he had almost 200 more pilots and 150 more planes than he had had at the beginning of July when they set out to destroy him.

In contrast, Milch toured Luftwaffe airfields in France between 27 August and 4 September. Serviceability rates were poor, units were well below establishment, out of 35 - 40 aircraft supposed to be in each Gruppe, the bomber units averaged 20, 109 units 18, 110 units even less. Whilst the Luftwaffe units were seriously understrength, the RAF had not even begun to deplete it's reserves, let alone reduce front line strength:
From Logistics in the Batle of Britain, by Air Commodore Peter Dye

More from Bungay:
There are many who believe that Fighter Command was on its knees after the attacks on the airfields. It was a strange way of kneeling. Given Evill's calculations, and taking the worst scenario of no increase in output from the training units, if the Luftwaffe had continued its attacks on the airfields and continued to destroy aircraft in the air at the most favourable rate it ever achieved, there would still have been about 725 Hurricanes and Spitfires ready to take to the air in the third week of September.

In truth, the Luftwaffe had tried it's best in the last week of August and first week of September, and whilst they'd hurt FC, they would have needed to maintain the same level of attack for another month or more to make any impact on FC, and that was simply beyond their strength.

From Logistics in the Batle of Britain, by Air Commodore Peter Dye
(The Luftwaffe figures do not include fighter bomber sorties, just fighter sweeps and escort)

The Luftwaffe launched their all out camaign in mid August, with a huge increase in sorties. When that failed, they tried an even larger committment in late August, but could not maintain the sortie level in the face of losses and serviceability issues. Even before the assault on London, their number of sorties was already dropping.

Serviceability rates, from Logistics in the Batle of Britain, by Air Commodore Peter Dye:

Another two charts from the same source, which shows that far from withering away, it was Fighter Command that was gaining strength, and the Luftwaffe that was losing it:


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Post by Robb » 06 Sep 2005 18:16

Some great information there Hop, adds some extra information which was missing. One of the things you mentioned was that the Luftwaffe and Fighter Command overestimated the losses they caused to the other side. They were not the only ones to overestimate losses in this way. This occurred throughout the rest of the war as well as can be seen by the enormous claims made by the gunners of the B-17s and B-24s later in the war. With maybe half a dozen gunners firing at the same plane as it goes by, if it is destroyed you get 6 claims for the one aircraft!

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Post by iwh » 06 Sep 2005 19:43

pretty impressive figures and references. Stephen Bungay seems to have carved out a niche in this area.

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Post by david Cotton » 09 Sep 2005 20:14

The aim of the German Air force was to Destroy Fighter command to ensure air superiority during the invasion of Britain

The German Air force was not strategic, so bombing aircraft factories was not going to have the desired result. Therefore fighter Command had to be drawn into battle and destroyed in the air and on its airfields. German Bombers would serve as both bait and the means of destroying the fighter command on its airfields.

Fighters and Fighter pilots were going to decide the outcome of the battle. The British had less fighters and fighter pilots, but they had some advantages due to the geography of the battle :-

1)Shot down British pilots were not lost if they could escape from the plane.
2)The German fighters had to use up more fuel getting to and from the combat zone.

The British helped themselves by:-

1) Investing in an early warning system that allowed them to avoid unnecessary standing patrols.
2) Conserving the Fighters they had by ensuring effective repair facilities.
3) Ensuring that Fighter production was given priority.

The Germans helped the British by :-

1)Not shooting British Pilots in their parachutes, enabling experienced pilots to be returned to battle.
2)Extending the combat zone too far for the range of the ME109 and not supplying drop tanks.
3)Not ramping up ME109 fighter production to ensure maximum number of fighters in the combat zone at all times.

The battle was a close run thing, but I think the points above were what stopped the Gemans desroying fighter command. When the RAF went on the offensive in 1941, some of these factors worked in Germany's favour and the RAF lost a lot of experienced fighter pilots such as Bader and Tuck

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Post by Deine-Zukunft » 11 Sep 2005 18:35

why the Luftwaffe lost the battle of Britain? They were much more superior and had good pilots. Was it the men or the commanders?

Just watched this document about Göring.Biggest reason is Göring.He didnt like war.

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Post by Deine-Zukunft » 11 Sep 2005 18:36


first time trying to use quote and that was the perfect solution :D :D :D [/quote]

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Re: What was the main reason..........

Post by brustcan » 17 Sep 2005 22:13

Sgt.Steiner wrote:why the Luftwaffe lost the battle of Britain? They were much more superior and had good pilots. Was it the men or the commanders?

"Sgt. Steiner" asked "What was the MAIN REASON why the Luftwaffe lost the Battle of Britain?" ONE WORD: "DOWDING!!" Air Chief Marshal Hugh
Dowding was an exceptionally brilliant and far-sighted person, who knew how to use his resources to the fullest. He did not let other people interfere
in his operations, even Churchill. Dowding won the battle for Britain. There was no one in the Luftwaffe High command that could match him.
Cheers brustcan

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Post by Fallschirmjäger » 18 Sep 2005 02:25

Think biggest was adolf hitler and his command of the overall battle and not letting the luftwaffe commanders do it them selves,same goes for all military matters army,navy etc..

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