[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department Technical Manual, TM-E 30-451: Handbook on German Military Forces published in March 1945. — Figures and illustrations are not reproduced, see source details. — As with all wartime intelligence information, data may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the text. — Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]
CHAPTER X. GERMAN AIR FORCE
Section VII. TACTICS
In more than 5 years of warfare new tactics had to be perfected to take advantage of improvements or new developments in both German and Allied aircraft and armament. Other factors have been the German Air Force's loss of its original numerical superiority and the new problems arising in the defense of the homeland due to continually receding front lines. As a result, profound changes have and are still taking place in German Air Force tactics. In general, however, it may be said that through the last few years the German Air Force has been increasingly on the defensive. It has been unable to go on the offensive, except occasionally and on a limited scope. Thus, the German Air Force tactics were modified from one of bold attack to one of conservation of strength, assuming risks only when decisive results appeared obtainable. Within the limitations of such enforced caution the German Air Force has held to its basic concepts of surprise, concentrated attack and exploitation of the enemy's mistakes.
2. Long-Range Bombers
a. OPERATIONS EARLY IN THE WAR. The German Air Force never has had a heavy bomber force. Its long-range bomber force has consisted of medium bombers designed originally for close, as well as indirect, support. Typical of its intended purpose were the large-scale bombing attacks on airfields which initiated the German campaigns against Poland, France, and the Lowlands. The inadequacy of this bomber force for strategic operations was revealed in the Battle of Britain. The deficiency was never corrected, and thereafter the main employment of the long-range bomber force was as close support, a function which progressively declined as the German Air Force lost more and more its previous air superiority to the growing fighter forces of the Allies.
Units specializing in anti-shipping activities have comprised the most experienced and efficient branch of the bomber force during the war. They too eventually proved inadequate to their main mission when major Allied landings were made on the coasts of Europe.
b. RECENT TREND. In view of these factors, the German Air Force in the summer of 1944 substantially curtailed its bomber force. The relatively few units remaining operational are today engaged in the following operations:
(1) Level bombing from medium height, in dusk or dawn attacks by small formations on bridges, railroads, dock facilities, and targets of opportunity in the rear of battle areas.
(2) Mining of coastal waters and estuaries at night.
(3) Occasional torpedo attacks on shipping.
(4) Miscellaneous minor activities such as air launching of pilotless aircraft, "pick-a-back" attacks on shipping, docks and bridges, etc.
3. Ground Attack
a. "STUKAS." Ground attack is the extremely close support of ground forces in the battle area illustrated by the close teamwork of aircraft with advancing Panzer columns which was the basic formula of Germany's Blitzkrieg. The "Stuka" dive-bombing JU 87 was the air artillery which on short summons from the ground forces cleared road blocks and reduced opposition. It also roamed behind the enemy's line disrupting traffic and creating confusion. For such tactics, complete mastery of the air was a requirement. In the early campaigns, the skies were swept clear of opposition by sudden attacks on enemy airfields followed by destruction in the air of such aircraft as had escaped. Without such freedom from enemy fighter interception, the "Stuka" was too vulnerable and could not operate. This became apparent in the later stages of the Tunisian campaign. With the advent of appreciable Allied fighter strength, dive bombing in daytime continued only in areas where the enemy lacked fighter strength such as the Partisan sectors of the Balkans or where special front characteristics, such as the vastness of the Eastern Front, made their employment still possible. In the West, dive-bombing "Stukas" have been relegated to individual night sorties chiefly against troop concentrations, headquarters and other front-line objectives.
b. TWIN-ENGINE FIGHTERS. The German Air Force unsuccessfully experimented with
heavily armored twin-engine fighters to fill the place left vacant by the
obsolescence of the "Stuka". The
c. SINGLE-ENGINE FIGHTER-BOMBERS. (1) The German Air Force then turned to
the single-engine fighter to meet the ground-attack
(2) The fighter-bomber tactics are familiar. They consist of medium-height approach by small formations, ranging from a Schwarm of five planes to a half Gruppe, though occasionally concentration may be attempted. Troops, transport columns, and airfields are dive-bombed by each plane in turn, then strafed with the aircraft armament. Attacks against tanks or well defended sites are likely to be made from approaches at treetop level, and main reliance may be on cannon and machine-gun fire.
(3) Fighter-bombers, however, are still vulnerable to regular fighter attacks. It is therefore quite usual for them to be accompanied by a high cover of their own fighters, at least for the outward leg of their journey.
(4) The large numerical superiority of the Allied fighters on the Western Front
after the Normandy landings prevented the German Air Force from giving adequate
protection to its ground-attack aircraft and thus denied the possibility of any
substantial close-support effort. On the Western Front today the fighter-bomber
d. JET AIRCRAFT. Introduction of jet aircraft as ground-attack equipment is the latest German Air Force move in its endeavor to maintain close support by day for the German ground troops. Their tactics are based on the use of speed to escape antiaircraft defense fire or air interception. Jet aircraft attacks on airfields and troop concentrations have been made occasionally with anti-personnel bombs from great height in daytime. Most attacks, however, are at dusk, principally against bridges, dock facilities, railroads, etc., with small bombs. These attacks are made generally by single planes in dives from medium or low height. If attacking in pairs, one aircraft is likely to approach at medium height while the other follows at much lower level.
4. Fighter Tactics
a. MISSION. The mission of the fighter aircraft, be it day or night,
b. INTERCEPTION. (1) Against enemy day penetration, the German Air Force single-engine fighter tactic is to avoid if possible the fighter screen protecting the enemy bombers. Before the advent of Allied long-range fighters, the German fighters were wont to wait until the Allied bomber formations had reached a point beyond the range of their fighter cover. To insure such an unprotected period, the German Air Force sometimes made early attacks on enemy fighter cover to compel them to drop their auxiliary fuel tanks and thus shorten their protective flights. Always on the alert for opportunities, the German fighters would take quick advantage of gaps between successive fighter cover waves.
(2) Main tactics against the bomber formation have remained the concentrated attack against one particular group of the enemy bomber formation, preferably an outside or laggard one. Effort is made to bring the bombers to loosen their formation and thus lose much of their advantage of combined cross fire. Individual attacks are from the sun if possible, but the main consideration being the defensive fire power of the attacked bomber, approach will differ according to the type of aircraft faced. Single pass and mass attacks have both been employed.
(3) Twin-engine day fighters were used for a time, especially in rocket attacks, for the purpose of breaking enemy formations. The vulnerability of the twin-engine fighter to enemy fighters brought an end to these tactics as soon as the latter were able to accompany in force their bomber formation all the way to and from their target.
(4) Against other fighters, German Air Force single-engine fighter tactics follow whenever possible the usual basic principles of attack from the sun, from above, and from behind. Speed and maneuverability remain as always the decisive factors. Tactics are based on the "Rotte" formation of 2 planes, number two flying wing man protection for his leader.
c. NIGHT FIGHTERS. Against enemy night penetration, the German Air Force
night fighters have been equipped with both
d. INTRUDER ATTACKS. Twin-engine fighters have carried out night intruder attacks. This consists of attacks against returning enemy bomber aircraft on or near their bases as they prepare to land as well as strafing attacks against the airfields.
5. Airborne Troops
a. ATTACK ON CRETE. In the early stages of the war Germany tried various methods of employing air-landing troops in the Lowlands, Norway, and the Balkans. Tactics for airborne combat became more clearly defined, however, in the combined attack on Crete, which was the first airborne invasion and capture of strongly defended territory across a body of water. The pattern established then consisted of the following:
(1) Short, intensive low and medium bombing and strafing of enemy positions in the intended landing area, immediately preceding or even simultaneous with the landing of glider-borne and parachute troops.
(2) As these troops proceeded, according to plan, to disrupt communications, silence local defenses, and seize airfields or other suitable landing grounds, areas surrounding their immediate objectives were subjected to continuous bombardment.
(3) With the arrival of the airborne infantry and engineer units closely followed by heavier elements, the parachute and other shock troops were reinforced and this combined force continued the task of attacking enemy communications from the rear, drawing off reserves, and clearing the area for the armored forces which were to follow.
b. OPERATIONS SINCE CRETE. (1) Since the capture of Crete, increasing transport commitments on all fronts and Allied air superiority have placed almost insurmountable difficulties in the way of such large scale ventures. The Germans have, however, dropped parachutists and landed glider troops in conjunction with land operations.
(2) In Russia, the Balkans, and the December 1944 counteroffensive in the
Ardennes, units varying in strength from a platoon to a battalion have been
landed behind enemy lines to disrupt communications, to seize such key points
as railroads, roadheads, bridges, and power stations, and to engage in other
sabotage activities. When such tactics are employed, the troops, whether they
are parachuted from the
6. Supply by Air
a. PURPOSES. As the complex of the war changes, sustained operations on
several fronts forced the German Air Force to use defensively aircraft that
had previously been envisioned as spearheading short, decisive victories. The
supply situation has been so desperate on many occasions that the German Army
has had to rely upon air transportation of personnel, supplies and equipment
for its existence. This was evident in Russia, North Africa, and the Balkans
first as an attempt to reinforce the Wehrmacht; when that failed, efforts
were made to carry out evacuation by air. Although the
b. METHODS. A landing operation, accomplished by power-driven aircraft or by freight-carrying gliders, is the safest method of air supply if proper landing facilities are available. Glider landings may be made in good or bad weather after precise agreements on signals and markers have been reached. Power-driven aircraft have the additional asset of being able to carry off wounded and make other evacuations on the return trip. Supply-dropping operations have been necessary in other instances. These usually have been carried out by night, although some have taken place during the day. Whichever method is used, careful arrangements have to be made as to the time and locality of the dropping, and for the cessation of local defenses. Night missions, moreover, necessitate increasing the size of the dropping zone and more careful marking of the approach and target area with flares and other signals.
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