[Lone Sentry: www.LoneSentry.com] [Lone Sentry: Photos, Articles, and Research on the European Theater in World War II]
Photos, Articles, & Research on the European Theater in World War II
"German Air Forces" from Intelligence Bulletin

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]   Report on two topics related to the German Air Force, "Tactics against Ground Troops" and "Flying Discipline," from the Intelligence Bulletin, April 1943.

[Editor's Note: The following article is wartime information on enemy tactics and equipment published for Allied soldiers. In most cases, more accurate data is available in postwar publications.]



German air attacks against ground troops consist primarily of two types of action—low altitude strafing and dive bombing—and are usually made by air units closely supporting an infantry or armored force. Their chief purpose is to hinder troop movements and destroy communications, thus preventing effective reinforcement and deployment of opposing troops. That the Germans have attached an increased importance to such raids is shown by the fact that special ground-attack units (Schlachtgeschwader) were organized during 1942, equipped principally with the new Hs 129, an aircraft designed especially as a tank destroyer and antipersonnel weapon.

Dive bombers have been employed extensively against ground troops and fixed defensive positions, often producing panic among troops who were facing them for the first time. Troop movements have been critically hampered by accurate bombing attacks on strategic roads and crossroads, followed by strafing of personnel. Primary objectives of dive bombers, cooperating with ground forces, are the opposition's lines of communication, which are systematically attacked to disrupt movements of any kind, and to prevent effective counterattacks.

The Germans believe that a patrol of four planes is the most effective ground-attack unit, since it is both maneuverable and sufficiently strong to neutralize such targets as artillery positions and small columns of troops. The number of such dive-bomber units normally employed on one raid has been 8 to 10 (30 to 40 aircraft); these are escorted by about 10 fighters flying 1,000 to 2,000 feet above them. Formations approach at 14,000 to 17,000 feet in the sun. When they are near the target, they descend to about 6,000 feet. From this altitude they dive at a steep angle, one after another.

Bombs are released during the pull-out, at altitudes of approximately 250 to 500 feet. The leader drops his bombs at about 300 feet; the others, at 300 to 500 feet. Usually each aircraft releases one large (550 lb.) and two or four small (110 lb.) bombs. The bombs form no pattern, and the large bomb usually overshoots the small ones, all generally falling within 50 to 150 yards of the target.

If antiaircraft fire is intense, aircraft fly in staggered formation, maintaining extended intervals. Since very few aircraft will dive through intense antiaircraft fire, the bombs are usually released above the barrage, with consequent loss of accuracy and diminished effect. On strongly defended positions, only one run over the target is made per sortie.

If antiaircraft fire is light, dive bombers often fly four in a single line. When they reach the objective, all attack the same target, or else the formation separates into pairs, each of which attacks a previously designated target. The pairs also may subdivide, and dive on the assigned target from different directions. They may repeat the attack if all bombs were not released during the first dive. In this case they climb in a big arc to dive again.

Most of the dive bombers shot down by ground defenses are hit by light antiaircraft guns just as the planes are pulling out of their dives. Since at that time the entire belly of an aircraft is exposed to fire, the pull-out is the bomber's moment of greatest vulnerability. Although aircraft have been engaged by artillery during the actual dive, very few hits have been scored. However, the bombers have been forced to take evasive action, thus making accurate bombing impossible.

The effect of small-arms fire on the morale of pilots is considerable. Ground-attack aircraft undoubtedly have been hit by it, and tracer or armor-piercing ammunition, fired from the ground at close range, has a deterring effect. However, low-flying raids have been very successful, both against troops and lightly armored vehicles. Bomb splinters have been known to penetrate armored cars from 30 yards. If the driver's flap or the car doors have been carelessly left open, "near misses" may also cause damage.

Attacks by cannon-firing aircraft are carried out at an angle varying from 20 to 70 degrees, depending on the type of target. No particular part of an armored vehicle seems to be aimed at, but roofs are hit less often than are other parts of the vehicles. Pilots open fire at about 200 yards, continuing to fire until they are past the target. Although high-explosive, armor-piercing high-explosive, armor-piercing, and incendiary ammunition are used, the belt loading is 75 percent armor-piercing when the aircraft is to attack armored vehicles.

Units created for ground attack have been equipped chiefly with the Hs 129, built with special protection for this type of attack. The heavily armored cockpit makes action possible at low altitudes. These aircraft take off in echelon, by sections, flying to the target in close echelon formation if there is danger of attack by enemy fighters. They avoid antiaircraft defenses as much as possible by using cloud cover (if it exists), by approaching from the sun, and by changing course frequently. The attack is made by individual sections of the unit. While one section is attacking, another is moving away from the target, and the third is approaching it. Each section flies in close formation, diving directly at the target at about a 45-degree angle. When leaving the objective, the planes fly in line ahead or in echelon formation, strafing the area as they depart.

Fragmentation bombs are dropped on a target from an altitude of 60 to 100 feet during the pull-out. After the bombs are released, the guns are fired at the target. In place of bombs, the aircraft may mount the Mk 101 30-mm cannon, which is for use against tanks and armored cars.

As in the case of dive bombers, all operations by ground-attack aircraft are usually escorted by fighters. The method of escort depends on the number and type of enemy fighters which are likely to be encountered en route to, or in the vicinity of, the objective.

It must be emphasized again that the weakness of attack aviation lies in the vulnerability of low-flying aircraft to rifle and machine-gun fire.


German Air Force documents have been stressing the necessity of dealing harshly with breaches of flying discipline. A communication signed by Marshal Goering himself lists such cases under the following headings:

a. Arbitrary deviation from a prescribed mission for the purpose of so-called "visits" to acquaintances and relatives, involving departure from the prescribed flying height.

b. Arbitrary low-level attacks.

c. Arbitrary acrobatics below 3,300 feet.

d. Arbitrary low flying.

e. Every other type of flying that endangers the aircraft or its occupants.

Goering sternly reminds all personnel of the great value of discipline, and of the heavy burdens that are being placed on the German people in order to maintain the Luftwaffe as a strong, well equipped force. He threatens the severest punishment for all frivolous and thoughtless behavior which in any way threatens to weaken the striking power of the service.

Other Air Force documents deal with specific cases and the punishments imposed. For instance, during a 2-month period, 10 aircraft were destroyed and 4 damaged, and 18 people were killed as a result of these breaches of discipline. A total of 478 1/2 months of imprisonment was imposed, 52 weeks of confinement to barracks, and 6 weeks of restriction to camp limits. Twenty men were demoted. Six men who were killed were deprived of the honors of a military funeral. In Germany this last punishment is much worse than it sounds; it involves the refusal of pensions or any other form of state support for the man's family and dependents.

One unusually serious case was made the subject of a special communication which was to be read aloud to all flying crews in all German Air Force units, at home and abroad: A young fighter pilot under training was ordered to take a Bucker 131 (a light 2-seater training plane) from Schwechat to Villacoublay, France. He was required to fly above 1,600-1,700 feet. At first, he obeyed his instructions faithfully. But as he approached Ulm, he remembered that some of his relatives lived in the neighborhood. He turned off his course, and circled over their house three times, at altitudes ranging from 320 to 250 feet. By now he was only 3 miles from his parents' home. He decided to pay them a visit, too. This time he circled over the house five times, at heights between 170 and 250 feet. He then thought it only proper that he should call on his fiancé, inasmuch as he was in the neighborhood. So he set his course for Routlingen, and flew over the girl's house four times, at approximately 150 feet. It was only when he was leaving the area, and was about to return to his prescribed course and altitude, that he decided to turn back, land, and offer a more personal greeting. He made an excellent landing quite close to the house. Unfortunately, the girl was not at home, and he had to take off again. The pilot's prospective father-in-law started up the engine. However, while the pilot was taking off, he hit a tree, crashed on a road, and turned over. He himself was uninjured, but his passenger, a clerk from the unit's orderly room, suffered injuries to his head and right leg.

A court-martial was held, and the pilot was sentenced to 7 years of penal servitude and the loss of all military privileges and civil rights during this period. This sentence was sustained by Marshal Goering, who turned down all pleas for mercy and added that any part of the sentence falling within the duration of the war was not to be included in the sentence of 7 years, but added to it.

[Back] Back to Articles by Subject | Intel Bulletin by Issue | T&TT by Issue | Home Page

Copyright 2003-2005, LoneSentry.com. All Rights Reserved. Contact: info@lonesentry.com.  

Web LoneSentry.com