Late-WWII Luftwaffe Training

At this stage the Jagdflieger was of very mixed worth; undertrained and inexperienced pilots, leavened with old stagers who were very dangerous but too few in number, equipped with fighters that were basically good, and in some cases excellent, but were only effective in the right hands. From October 1944, they were increasingly handicapped by a shortage of fuel.

Wars of attrition against both Britain and the Soviets overwhelmed the Luftwaffe’s relatively small training system. Training programmes were truncated to speed up the flow of replacements. By July 1944 the average new Luftwaffe pilot was arriving on the front line with around 120 flying hours, just 15- 20 of them on his operational type. By contrast, American pilots were receiving 400 hours training, nearly half of it on their operational type, and RAF pilots around 350 hours, 100 of them on operational types.

The training accident rate soared until sometimes a third of each intake was lost before even qualifying, wasting not only personnel but also aircraft. Oil shortages also cut training hours, until the flow of pilots was reduced to just 30 per cent of the system’s theoretical monthly capacity. Personnel were not taught basic skills in instrument flying or tactics. From mid-1942, the strengths of front-line units gradually declined, reaching around 60 per cent of authorised pilots and 70 per cent of authorised aircraft by September 1944. It is telling that of the 107 German pilots credited with shooting down 100 or more enemy aircraft, only eight of them entered front line service after June 1942. The quality of German aircrew was decreasing and the quality of their foes improving.

When the Ardennes offensive was launched on 16 December 1944, appalling weather kept the Luftwaffe grounded. Instead, they became dragged into a piecemeal war of attrition, flying when the weather allowed, and losing 891 aircraft and 478 aircrew in just ten days of operations.

By 31 December 1944, the German fighter force on the Western Front stood at 1,446 aircraft, just 990 of which were serviceable and ready to fly. Although 1,825 pilots were on strength, only 1,139 of these were deemed combat ready.

Fuel was the main concern within the Luftwaffe with aircraft availability a close second. The general policy was one of a concerted effort to conserve fuel and assets. This resulted in a stockage of reserve fuel and ammunition as well as an increase in serviceable aircraft. The past few months of near uninterrupted Allied air superiority caused many problems for the Luftwaffe. Despite these problems, Marshal Herman Göring, Commander of the Luftwaffe, was able to equip and recommitted fifteen decimated Luftwaffe units by the end of October. The strength of twin-engine fighters increased by 25 percent from the beginning of the year, however, monthly German losses averaged 1,800 single-engine fighters in the West alone. This, along with the increase in deliveries, resulted in only a slight increase in actual availability of aircraft. The readiness emphasis on fighters was accomplished at the expense of the bomber and reconnaissance arms of the Luftwaffe.

Regardless of the number of planes, the desperate situation in aviation fuel limited use of the new planes. As mentioned earlier, aviation fuel production was suffering and stocks were being depleted. The shortage of fuel had two primary effects. First, pilot training was cut from 250 hours to 110 hours. Secondly, as a result of pilot and fuel shortages, Luftwaffe planes were only able to engage Allied missions over Germany on an average of four days a month compared to the Allies who conducted missions on a daily basis.

Additionally, the Germans wanted these forward airbases to conserve fuel and provide maximum time on station for ground support. This consolidation resulted in overcrowding of aircraft and gave Allied aircraft a target-rich environment when attacking these airbases.

By December 1944, the Luftwaffe received 527 Me-262 jet fighters. The Luftwaffe fielded the first Me-262 units this same month. However, technical problems and an effort to conserve aviation fuel resulted in a lack of pilot training. This would result in the Me-262 having no significant influence on the war.

What amounted to the last throw of the Luftwaffe came at dawn on 1 January 1945, with Operation Bodenplatte. This was an all-out assault on Allied airfields on the continent by 800 or more fighters. While this destroyed almost 300 Allied aircraft, Jagdflieger losses were horrendous; many irreplaceable fighter leaders went down during this operation. The attack caused a hiatus in Allied fighter operations, the brunt of the air fighting for the next week or so being borne by the Tempests of 122 Wing, which had escaped the onslaught. The Jagdflieger never recovered. From this moment on they were encountered in the air only infrequently, though the fuel shortages meant that those met with were more than likely to be Experten. In spite of this, a handful of Allied fighter pilots managed to build up respectable scores, even though opportunities were few.

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