This is the first part of two looking at the story of German naval air power during the Second World War, starting with a look at its birth in the First World War, its revival in the 1930s and its first combat tests during the Spanish Civil War, before moving on to the first three years of the Second World War. This was the period that included the invasion of Norway, the battle of Britain, the battle of the Atlantic, the German intervention in the Mediterranean, the Arctic convoys and the most successful period of the invasion of the Soviet Union, where German naval aviation was active over the Baltic and the Black Sea.
I’ve read the British side of this story, which focuses on costly German attacks on coastal convoys at the start of the battle of Britain, the impact of the long range Focke-Wulf Condor in the Atlantic, the very costly battle of Crete and German air attacks on the early Arctic convoys, so it’s fascinating to see the same story from the German side.
One key difference between this story and its British equivalent is the role of politics in the fate of the German Navy’s equivalent of the Fleet Air Arm. In Britain the Inskip Award gave the Navy control of the Fleet Air Arm and once the decision had been made the services cooperated in implementing it. In contrast in Germany Goring was determined to take control of anything that flew, and he had the political clout to simply ignore any agreements that appeared to favour the navy. As a result the dedicated Naval air groups that were originally formed ended up being taken over by the main Luftwaffe, and their expert crews wasted on normal missions. Various naval air commanders were formed, but almost always ended up being eroded away. Even the specialist training organisations faded away. Although the Luftwaffe was capable of very effective attacks on the Royal Navy, most famously in the Mediterranean, the dysfunctional organisation of naval aviation meant that cooperation between the Navy and Luftwaffe was often clumsy. This was most obvious in the regular failures to coordinate naval and air attacks on the Arctic Convoys and the limited use of long range reconnaissance to support the U-boats. This was a relationship set not by the military requirements of the two services, but by the endless political infighting within the Third Reich. However this period did include a number of great successes for German aircraft, most famously during the battle for Crete, where the Luftwaffe sank a depressing number of British warships. This does rather demonstrate that naval aviation can still be successful even if it wasn’t under the operational control of the navy.
This is a good addition to the literature on the Luftwaffe, focusing on a key element of the war, but one where the Germans had to cope with a self-inflicted wound imposed by Goring as well as the inherent dangers of operating over the sea and British and Soviet opposition.
1 – The War to End All Wars – the Birth of German Naval Aviation
2 – Renaissance – The Rebirth of Germany’s Military
3 – Early Lessons – The Spanish Civil War
4 – War
5 – Turning North and West – The Invasion of Norway and Western Europe
6 – The End of the Beginning – The Atlantic Battleground
7 – Blue Water, Grey Steel – The Mediterranean and Eastern Fronts
8 – Torpedoes Los! – The Arctic and Malta Convoys and the Crimean Battle
Appendix: Main Aircraft of the Luftwaffe Maritime Forces 1935-1942
Author: Lawrence Paterson