Early War Germany focused too much on medium bombers

Discussions on High Command, strategy and the Armed Forces (Wehrmacht) in general.
User avatar
TheMarcksPlan
Member
Posts: 2648
Joined: 15 Jan 2019 22:32
Location: USA

Re: Early War Germany focused too much on medium bombers

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 10 Oct 2019 21:34

@HistoryGeek2019

I agree with your thesis - it's a major component of my Barbarossa what if's - but you may be too harsh on yourself in saying this is all hindsight. I'm typing on my phone rn so please excuse the lack of research but IIRC the Luftwaffe leadership didn't think it could end the war via BoB. If that was their belief in 1940, I dont see why it would have been different pre-war: nothing in the early period embarrassed the LW's expectations.

Rather than viewing the medium bomber expenditure as some misguided strategic choice, I lean towards seeing at fallout from (1) the Nazi states lack of strategic thinking beyond whatever erupted from Hitler's mind in the moment and (2) Goering's outsized influence until the mid-war years. As I wrote in my first long Barbarossa thread, the decision during 1939 to keep medium bomber production high cost Germany half of its planned tank production, a choice whose industrial momentum carried forward catastrophically into later years.

You're right that Stukas are better, cheaper flying artillery than Ju-88's but plain old artillery would have been cheaper still. Germany should have focused on its army to a greater extent and held a defensive aerial posture until it conquered all of Europe (and even afterwards once the U.S. is in).
Last edited by TheMarcksPlan on 10 Oct 2019 21:47, edited 1 time in total.
https://medium.com/counterfactualww2
"The whole question of whether we win or lose the war depends on the Russians." - FDR, June 1942

User avatar
TheMarcksPlan
Member
Posts: 2648
Joined: 15 Jan 2019 22:32
Location: USA

Re: Early War Germany focused too much on medium bombers

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 10 Oct 2019 21:46

Also this wasn't merely an early war issue. Not until the Fighter Emergency in spring 1944 did Milch et. al. fully support a switch to defensive (fighter and Zerstorer) production. Here's a decent online source on LW strategy: http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/AAF/AAF-Luftwaffe/
https://medium.com/counterfactualww2
"The whole question of whether we win or lose the war depends on the Russians." - FDR, June 1942

HistoryGeek2019
Member
Posts: 399
Joined: 06 Aug 2019 03:55
Location: America

Re: Early War Germany focused too much on medium bombers

Post by HistoryGeek2019 » 10 Oct 2019 23:31

TheMarcksPlan wrote:
10 Oct 2019 21:46
Also this wasn't merely an early war issue. Not until the Fighter Emergency in spring 1944 did Milch et. al. fully support a switch to defensive (fighter and Zerstorer) production. Here's a decent online source on LW strategy: http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/AAF/AAF-Luftwaffe/
That is a great link. Thank you so much.

User avatar
Cult Icon
Member
Posts: 2223
Joined: 08 Apr 2014 19:00

Re: Early War Germany focused too much on medium bombers

Post by Cult Icon » 11 Oct 2019 00:25

Sheldrake wrote:
09 Oct 2019 23:30

Given that the topic title is Early War my statement is correct. The Germans carried out a range of strategic bombing assignments in 1940, notably, but not only against Britain.

The Germans did not stop their strategic bombing campaign in 1941. Britain was subject to repeated night bombing raids on strategic targets in the hope of breaking British will. This reached its climax with the V weapon offensives. Hitler's best bet to win the war in '44.
How do you define "early war"? In my mind it's always been 1939-1941. The LW was extensively used, offensively in the ground support role in 1941-1942 on the Eastern Front, that's where its impact was objectively the greatest and saw the greatest success. The thesis of that book I mentioned has the peak performance of the LW being on the Eastern Front in 1942. Any analysis of the LW cannot omit its ground-support role.

User avatar
Sheldrake
Member
Posts: 3134
Joined: 28 Apr 2013 17:14
Location: London

Re: Early War Germany focused too much on medium bombers

Post by Sheldrake » 11 Oct 2019 10:21

Cult Icon wrote:
11 Oct 2019 00:25
Sheldrake wrote:
09 Oct 2019 23:30

Given that the topic title is Early War my statement is correct. The Germans carried out a range of strategic bombing assignments in 1940, notably, but not only against Britain.

The Germans did not stop their strategic bombing campaign in 1941. Britain was subject to repeated night bombing raids on strategic targets in the hope of breaking British will. This reached its climax with the V weapon offensives. Hitler's best bet to win the war in '44.
How do you define "early war"? In my mind it's always been 1939-1941. The LW was extensively used, offensively in the ground support role in 1941-1942 on the Eastern Front, that's where its impact was objectively the greatest and saw the greatest success. The thesis of that book I mentioned has the peak performance of the LW being on the Eastern Front in 1942. Any analysis of the LW cannot omit its ground-support role.
I didn't deny that the Luftwaffe was used extensively in close support. Its doctrine was as an independent air force with a full spectrum of roles from tactical to strategic. I ahev not read the book you have quoted, but am skeptical of any claim that the Luftwaffe made its greatest impact or saw its greatest success on the east front in 1942 - unless this is a parallel universe and Goering achieved his boast of resupplying Stalingrad by air...

HistoryGeek2019
Member
Posts: 399
Joined: 06 Aug 2019 03:55
Location: America

Re: Early War Germany focused too much on medium bombers

Post by HistoryGeek2019 » 11 Oct 2019 20:53

TheMarcksPlan wrote:
10 Oct 2019 21:34
@HistoryGeek2019

I agree with your thesis - it's a major component of my Barbarossa what if's - but you may be too harsh on yourself in saying this is all hindsight. I'm typing on my phone rn so please excuse the lack of research but IIRC the Luftwaffe leadership didn't think it could end the war via BoB. If that was their belief in 1940, I dont see why it would have been different pre-war: nothing in the early period embarrassed the LW's expectations.

Rather than viewing the medium bomber expenditure as some misguided strategic choice, I lean towards seeing at fallout from (1) the Nazi states lack of strategic thinking beyond whatever erupted from Hitler's mind in the moment and (2) Goering's outsized influence until the mid-war years. As I wrote in my first long Barbarossa thread, the decision during 1939 to keep medium bomber production high cost Germany half of its planned tank production, a choice whose industrial momentum carried forward catastrophically into later years.

You're right that Stukas are better, cheaper flying artillery than Ju-88's but plain old artillery would have been cheaper still. Germany should have focused on its army to a greater extent and held a defensive aerial posture until it conquered all of Europe (and even afterwards once the U.S. is in).
Based on the link you gave, it seems that some German generals did learn the lesson that tactical bombing was superior to strategic bombing during the Spanish Civil War. Richthoffen in particular came around to the importance of Stukas and tactical bombing. And even Ernst Udet recognized that level bombing was wildly inaccurate, so he insisted on making every new bomber a dive bomber.

So it seems to be within the realm of plausibility that the Germans could have figured out prior to the start of WW2 that medium bombers were less effective than Stukas, fighters, and, as you say, plain old artillery. If Goering had been the one to have an untimely accident instead of Wever, perhaps Germany would have restructured the Luftwaffe accordingly.

User avatar
TheMarcksPlan
Member
Posts: 2648
Joined: 15 Jan 2019 22:32
Location: USA

Re: Early War Germany focused too much on medium bombers

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 13 Oct 2019 19:35

HistoryGeek2019 wrote:If Goering had been the one to have an untimely accident instead of Wever, perhaps Germany would have restructured the Luftwaffe accordingly
Goering was a massive drag on the Nazi war effort all around. Under him the LW took too many resources and misused them, as you note. The LW also had inefficient and irrational training program. Probably worst of all, Goerimg leadership of the Four Year Plan and his desultory stewardship of LW production impeded much-needed rationalization of German industry. His early death is a great what if field.

OTOH he was probably the least anti-Semitic Nazi leader, though that's a low bar.

And yes I agree that there were those in the LW who recognized the inefficiency of level bombing both tactically and strategically. Again it was impossible for incisive analysis to lead with the vainglorious Goering in command. He wanted his big shiny air fleet with big bombers and his influence over Hitler won out.
Last edited by TheMarcksPlan on 13 Oct 2019 19:44, edited 1 time in total.
https://medium.com/counterfactualww2
"The whole question of whether we win or lose the war depends on the Russians." - FDR, June 1942

User avatar
TheMarcksPlan
Member
Posts: 2648
Joined: 15 Jan 2019 22:32
Location: USA

Re: Early War Germany focused too much on medium bombers

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 13 Oct 2019 19:42

Cult Icon wrote:
11 Oct 2019 00:25
Sheldrake wrote:
09 Oct 2019 23:30

Given that the topic title is Early War my statement is correct. The Germans carried out a range of strategic bombing assignments in 1940, notably, but not only against Britain.

The Germans did not stop their strategic bombing campaign in 1941. Britain was subject to repeated night bombing raids on strategic targets in the hope of breaking British will. This reached its climax with the V weapon offensives. Hitler's best bet to win the war in '44.
How do you define "early war"? In my mind it's always been 1939-1941. The LW was extensively used, offensively in the ground support role in 1941-1942 on the Eastern Front, that's where its impact was objectively the greatest and saw the greatest success. The thesis of that book I mentioned has the peak performance of the LW being on the Eastern Front in 1942. Any analysis of the LW cannot omit its ground-support role.
One can't dispute that the LW had a role in the East. But remember that the LW was taking 40% of German resources at that point. The war would have gone far better for Germany if instead of thousands of medium bombers the Ostheer had had two or three times the tanks and artillery.
https://medium.com/counterfactualww2
"The whole question of whether we win or lose the war depends on the Russians." - FDR, June 1942

User avatar
Cult Icon
Member
Posts: 2223
Joined: 08 Apr 2014 19:00

Re: Early War Germany focused too much on medium bombers

Post by Cult Icon » 14 Oct 2019 03:35

Sheldrake wrote:
11 Oct 2019 10:21
I didn't deny that the Luftwaffe was used extensively in close support. Its doctrine was as an independent air force with a full spectrum of roles from tactical to strategic. I ahev not read the book you have quoted, but am skeptical of any claim that the Luftwaffe made its greatest impact or saw its greatest success on the east front in 1942 - unless this is a parallel universe and Goering achieved his boast of resupplying Stalingrad by air...
the LW's role was integral to the last large-scale victories

-encirclement of 2nd Shock Army
-2nd Battle of Kharkov
-Crimea campaign (Kerch, Sevastopol)
-tactical successes in Blau I/II
-Advance to Stalingrad (particularly battles around the Don Bend). Assault on Stalingrad to Nov 1942.

A close study of these battles repeatedly shows how massed airpower was applied in the right place, at the right time. What happened with the bombing force was by 1942, they became much more polished than in prior years and was firing on all cylinders so to speak as a component of operations.

The book/thesis had emphasis on Richthofen's leadership, including his war diaries

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolfram_F ... tern_Front
Last edited by Cult Icon on 14 Oct 2019 04:40, edited 1 time in total.

User avatar
Cult Icon
Member
Posts: 2223
Joined: 08 Apr 2014 19:00

Re: Early War Germany focused too much on medium bombers

Post by Cult Icon » 14 Oct 2019 03:51

TheMarcksPlan wrote:
13 Oct 2019 19:42
One can't dispute that the LW had a role in the East. But remember that the LW was taking 40% of German resources at that point. The war would have gone far better for Germany if instead of thousands of medium bombers the Ostheer had had two or three times the tanks and artillery.
As the Soviets and Allies repeatedly demonstrated throughout WW2, even having exponential armored superiority doesn't guarantee a breakthrough as first echelon elements can be pinned down. More artillery would increase Wehr effectiveness, but lacks the flexibility and timeliness of massed airpower. For instance, artillery could have problems being moved and supplied in range of the breakthrough sector at the right time while massed aerial assault over a small but decisive "box" of some sq. KMs could mean the difference between a successful or failed attack/break-in or severe writing down of assault forces.

The LW's medium bombers, dive bombers, and ground-attack aircraft had their unique battlefield role in maneuver warfare in the East. Removing or severely neutralizing this capability would remove special tactical option that could be defeat or lowered results in operations that emphasized speed of action such as Blau, Kerch and Kharkov. Making scenarios where their forces were reduced and armored/artillery units were increased would be alternate history speculation. Although I agree in general that this was more economical in the Eastern armies' defensive struggle and long war of attrition.

HistoryGeek2019
Member
Posts: 399
Joined: 06 Aug 2019 03:55
Location: America

Re: Early War Germany focused too much on medium bombers

Post by HistoryGeek2019 » 14 Oct 2019 05:32

Cult Icon wrote:
14 Oct 2019 03:51
TheMarcksPlan wrote:
13 Oct 2019 19:42
One can't dispute that the LW had a role in the East. But remember that the LW was taking 40% of German resources at that point. The war would have gone far better for Germany if instead of thousands of medium bombers the Ostheer had had two or three times the tanks and artillery.

The LW's medium bombers, dive bombers, and ground-attack aircraft had their unique battlefield role in maneuver warfare in the East.
Did the medium bombers contribute in a significant way to tactical ground operations? They were too inaccurate to bomb frontline targets, so it seems they were mainly used to bomb enemy rear areas. How effective was this? I have never read any historian argue that the encirclements at Minsk, Kiev, and Vyazma-Bryansk (and, for that matter, Dunkirk) were made possible by He-111s bombing rear area transportation hubs.

EDIT: Typo
Last edited by HistoryGeek2019 on 14 Oct 2019 23:37, edited 1 time in total.

User avatar
TheMarcksPlan
Member
Posts: 2648
Joined: 15 Jan 2019 22:32
Location: USA

Re: Early War Germany focused too much on medium bombers

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 14 Oct 2019 22:37

Cult Icon wrote:
14 Oct 2019 03:51
TheMarcksPlan wrote:
13 Oct 2019 19:42
One can't dispute that the LW had a role in the East. But remember that the LW was taking 40% of German resources at that point. The war would have gone far better for Germany if instead of thousands of medium bombers the Ostheer had had two or three times the tanks and artillery.
As the Soviets and Allies repeatedly demonstrated throughout WW2, even having exponential armored superiority doesn't guarantee a breakthrough as first echelon elements can be pinned down. More artillery would increase Wehr effectiveness, but lacks the flexibility and timeliness of massed airpower. For instance, artillery could have problems being moved and supplied in range of the breakthrough sector at the right time while massed aerial assault over a small but decisive "box" of some sq. KMs could mean the difference between a successful or failed attack/break-in or severe writing down of assault forces.

The LW's medium bombers, dive bombers, and ground-attack aircraft had their unique battlefield role in maneuver warfare in the East. Removing or severely neutralizing this capability would remove special tactical option that could be defeat or lowered results in operations that emphasized speed of action such as Blau, Kerch and Kharkov. Making scenarios where their forces were reduced and armored/artillery units were increased would be alternate history speculation. Although I agree in general that this was more economical in the Eastern armies' defensive struggle and long war of attrition.
You're sort of responding to a straw man version of my argument here. I didn't say tanks guarantee a breakthrough, I'm just noting the relative economy of aerial versus terrestrial weaponry.

In your defense I'm using tanks as a shorthand for combined-arms mobile forces at which the Heer was unmatched. So let me be explicit that when I say tanks I generally mean mechanized combined-arms units (though Germany also had too few tanks for its mechanized units in '41-42).

Nobody disputes that LW made contributions as you say.
But as HistoryGeek points out, nobody ever points to a specific decisive battle that the LW won on the Eastern Front. Even were such a battle identified, the next step would be demonstrating that the resources embodied in LW forces would not have been better employed if devoted to Heer forces.

The battles you cite - Blau, Kerch, Kharkov - primarily featured daring thrusts by armored/mechanized forces. Absent the armored/mechanized combined-arms spearheads in those battles and in every great German victory of the war you'd have only infantry slogging matches amplified by air support.

It was the German ability to execute Bewegungskrieg that made the difference, the LW was just one aspect of it - an over- funded one at that.
https://medium.com/counterfactualww2
"The whole question of whether we win or lose the war depends on the Russians." - FDR, June 1942

HistoryGeek2019
Member
Posts: 399
Joined: 06 Aug 2019 03:55
Location: America

Re: Early War Germany focused too much on medium bombers

Post by HistoryGeek2019 » 15 Oct 2019 15:47

TheMarcksPlan wrote:
14 Oct 2019 22:37
Cult Icon wrote:
14 Oct 2019 03:51
TheMarcksPlan wrote:
13 Oct 2019 19:42
One can't dispute that the LW had a role in the East. But remember that the LW was taking 40% of German resources at that point. The war would have gone far better for Germany if instead of thousands of medium bombers the Ostheer had had two or three times the tanks and artillery.
As the Soviets and Allies repeatedly demonstrated throughout WW2, even having exponential armored superiority doesn't guarantee a breakthrough as first echelon elements can be pinned down. More artillery would increase Wehr effectiveness, but lacks the flexibility and timeliness of massed airpower. For instance, artillery could have problems being moved and supplied in range of the breakthrough sector at the right time while massed aerial assault over a small but decisive "box" of some sq. KMs could mean the difference between a successful or failed attack/break-in or severe writing down of assault forces.

The LW's medium bombers, dive bombers, and ground-attack aircraft had their unique battlefield role in maneuver warfare in the East. Removing or severely neutralizing this capability would remove special tactical option that could be defeat or lowered results in operations that emphasized speed of action such as Blau, Kerch and Kharkov. Making scenarios where their forces were reduced and armored/artillery units were increased would be alternate history speculation. Although I agree in general that this was more economical in the Eastern armies' defensive struggle and long war of attrition.
You're sort of responding to a straw man version of my argument here. I didn't say tanks guarantee a breakthrough, I'm just noting the relative economy of aerial versus terrestrial weaponry.

In your defense I'm using tanks as a shorthand for combined-arms mobile forces at which the Heer was unmatched. So let me be explicit that when I say tanks I generally mean mechanized combined-arms units (though Germany also had too few tanks for its mechanized units in '41-42).

Nobody disputes that LW made contributions as you say.
But as HistoryGeek points out, nobody ever points to a specific decisive battle that the LW won on the Eastern Front. Even were such a battle identified, the next step would be demonstrating that the resources embodied in LW forces would not have been better employed if devoted to Heer forces.

The battles you cite - Blau, Kerch, Kharkov - primarily featured daring thrusts by armored/mechanized forces. Absent the armored/mechanized combined-arms spearheads in those battles and in every great German victory of the war you'd have only infantry slogging matches amplified by air support.

It was the German ability to execute Bewegungskrieg that made the difference, the LW was just one aspect of it - an over- funded one at that.
Do you know any books or articles that offer a comprehensive analysis of the inefficiencies in Germany's military spending in the 1930s and the war, and offer a glimpse of what Germany might have been able to produce had it allocated its resources better?

User avatar
TheMarcksPlan
Member
Posts: 2648
Joined: 15 Jan 2019 22:32
Location: USA

Re: Early War Germany focused too much on medium bombers

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 16 Oct 2019 13:49

HistoryGekk2019 wrote:Do you know any books or articles that offer a comprehensive analysis of the inefficiencies in Germany's military spending in the 1930s and the war, and offer a glimpse of what Germany might have been able to produce had it allocated its resources better?
I'm mainly going from Richard Overy's ouvre - War and Economy in the Third Reich is the best. Even in this book, however, Overy notes that more needs to be done to understand the inefficiency of German arms production. One thing to note is that, per Overy, the Reich was using weapons production as a "make work" during the 30's and didn't change course to prioritizing efficiency until it was too late.

Tooze, with whom you're familiar, has a sort-of critique of Overy's view re efficiency but IMO his thesis is a trumped-up argument against Albert Speer's narrative.

Incidentally, it was Overy who recommended Tooze to the publisher that underwrote the book. My guess is that Overy wanted the detailed, firm-level analysis he gestured at in War and Economy rather than the breathless and somewhat incoherent "myth busting" that Tooze did, probably under publisher pressure to spin a "hot take." Don't get me wrong- I appreciate Tooze's book and learned much from it but if he had spent more time looking into the particulars of German rationalization drives and less time re-hashing Nazi infighting about who should get the credit for those drives it would have been a better book.
https://medium.com/counterfactualww2
"The whole question of whether we win or lose the war depends on the Russians." - FDR, June 1942

User avatar
stg 44
Member
Posts: 3232
Joined: 03 Dec 2002 01:42
Location: illinois

Re: Early War Germany focused too much on medium bombers

Post by stg 44 » 16 Oct 2019 14:04

TheMarcksPlan wrote:
16 Oct 2019 13:49
HistoryGekk2019 wrote:Do you know any books or articles that offer a comprehensive analysis of the inefficiencies in Germany's military spending in the 1930s and the war, and offer a glimpse of what Germany might have been able to produce had it allocated its resources better?
I'm mainly going from Richard Overy's ouvre - War and Economy in the Third Reich is the best. Even in this book, however, Overy notes that more needs to be done to understand the inefficiency of German arms production. One thing to note is that, per Overy, the Reich was using weapons production as a "make work" during the 30's and didn't change course to prioritizing efficiency until it was too late.

Tooze, with whom you're familiar, has a sort-of critique of Overy's view re efficiency but IMO his thesis is a trumped-up argument against Albert Speer's narrative.

Incidentally, it was Overy who recommended Tooze to the publisher that underwrote the book. My guess is that Overy wanted the detailed, firm-level analysis he gestured at in War and Economy rather than the breathless and somewhat incoherent "myth busting" that Tooze did, probably under publisher pressure to spin a "hot take." Don't get me wrong- I appreciate Tooze's book and learned much from it but if he had spent more time looking into the particulars of German rationalization drives and less time re-hashing Nazi infighting about who should get the credit for those drives it would have been a better book.
I mostly agree with your take, though Tooze did do some interesting work showing how the Battle of the Ruhr in 1943 did some very serious damage to German armaments programs.

If you're looking for better analysis of specific sectors check out Daniel Uziel's "Arming the Luftwaffe", Lutz Budrass' "Aircraft industry and air armament in Germany 1918-1945", and Jonas Scherner's papers:
https://www.researchgate.net/scientific ... s_Scherner

I don't fully agree with Scherner's assessments, especially as he lapses into the 'debunking Speer' trap, but they are interesting and more detailed than most other work out there.

Return to “German Strategy & General German Military Discussion”