This is the second volume of a history of Luftwaffe Maritime Operations of the Second World War, covering the last three years of the war. This was a period in which the Luftwaffe had to defend ‘Fortress Europe’ against a series of amphibious assaults, from Sicily to Normandy, as well as attempt to help regain the initiative in the Battle of the Atlantic.
The theme of this second volume is one of decline. The entire Luftwaffe was suffering by 1943, and more and more of its efforts went into the defensive battle over Germany. All other parts of the Luftwaffe suffered in comparison. The maritime units suffered from a lack of aircraft, from a failure to develop new bombers suited to the maritime patrol and attack roles, and from limited numbers of the few suitable aircraft that did appear (such as the Bv 222 flying boat or the Ju 290 reconnaissance aircraft). However one interesting feature of this volume is that the Navy’s political fortunes were actually on the up in this period, after Donitz replaced Raeder as commander-in-chief of the Navy. Donitz was one of Hitler’s favourites, and his influence was rising at the same time as Goring’s was sinking to ever lower levels. As a result Donitz was more able to get his way that Raeder had been, and Goring was more willing to give in to Naval requests for more air support, knowing that he had lost much of Hitler’s support.
One part of this story is typical of the German war effort later in the war. In general the Luftwaffe was always short of aircraft, and it was a constant struggle to get enough suitable aircraft for long range maritime patrols, or long range fighters to try and defend U-boats in Biscay. Many of the new aircraft that were promised failed to appear, or like the He 177 failed to live up to their initial promise. However at the same time vast amounts of effort went into very ambitious weapons that never realy justified that work. In this case it was moderately successful guided anti-shipping missiles – the Hs 293 and Fritz-X – which were technical successes, and even achieved some impressive results (most famously sinking the battleship Italia as she was attempting to sail into Allied hands after the Italian armistice). However at the same time the units operating these weapons suffered unacceptable heavy losses, and the successes in the Mediterranean in 1943 meant that the Luftwaffe wasn’t able to conduct a similar defence of Normandy in 1944, having lost so many of its most experienced naval fliers around Italy.
This is a very detailed examination of a key part of the German war effort, with excellent material from both sides. We really get a feel for the human cost of the battles described here, both in the air and on the water, as well as the political argumemts behind the scenes and the industrial and technical efforts that were made to try and improve the Luftwaffe’s increasingly desperate position.
1 – Battles over the Bay – The Atlantic
2 – Blood and Sand – In Defence of North Africa
3 – North and South – The Arctic and Eastern Fronts
4 – Losing Control – The Struggle for Biscay
5 – Fractured Axis – Defending Sicily and Italy
6 – The Soft Underbelly – Battles in the Mediterranean and Aegean
7 – Running the Gauntlet – Supporting Atlantic Surface Forces
8 – Outflanked – Last Gasp in the Mediterranean
9 – Retreat – The Western Front
10 – Epitaph – The Final Struggle in Norway
Appendix – Aircraft Introduced into the Luftwaffe Maritime Forces 1942-45
Author: Lawrence Paterson