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The Rise of the Luftwaffe

By Herbert Molloy Mason

In the winter of 1918, Germany’s conquerors set about rendering the Reich forever incapable of waging war.

The existing German Air Service of nearly 15,000 planes was to be scrapped; the treaty of Versailles would ensure that no military aircraft would ever be flown in Germany again. But less than a generation later Europe shook before the threat of the Luftwaffe, believed to be the most powerful air force in the world.

Denied warplane factories and flying schools in their homeland, the Germans built them in Russia and it was there that they trained an elite pilot corps. At home, state-sponsored gliding schemes gave a new generation of pilots their first taste of the air, and clandestine factories, ostensibly making perambulators or washing machines, turned out warplanes.

As confidence grew and the actual restrictions on German aviation eased, so a new dimension was added to the bluff; Germany’s re-occupation of the Rhineland was carried out under the cover of planes lacking guns and ammunition. Now, instead of concealing the existence of their air power from the rest of Europe, the Germans were concealing its limitations.

Herbert Molloy Mason explores some of the myths of German technical and organisational superiority. Meddling by Hitler, bickering between designers and bureaucrats, and ineptitude by the morphine-addicted Goering cost the Luftwaffe a war-winning strategic bomber force and jet fighters even before World War II began.

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