Luftwaffe! The word brings back memories of the Battle of
Britain, Schweinfurt, Ploesti, Hanover, and the other big World War II air
battles over Europe. But to a German this word means only "Air
Force"—the literal translation would be "air weapon."
Since 1956, both the Federal Republic of Germany as well as
the German Democratic Republic (Soviet-controlled East Germany) have each again
had a Luftwaffe. The differences between these two, however, are considerable.
For one thing, where the West German pilot uses language
that would put the Katzenjammer kids to shame ("Roger, Heinz, ich choppe
power auf eighty percent und mit den speed boards out droppe ich wie ein
elevator"), his East German counterpart flies MIGs and probably uses some
kind of similar jargon but tainted with Russian.
The main difference, of course, lies in the fact that Heinz,
together with his friends from the other fourteen NATO nations, flies for the
West and all it stands for: freedom and democracy. The old independent
Luftwaffe does not exist any more. Today the new Luftwaffe is one link in a
chain, part of the bulwark guarding Europe against the East.
Largely responsible for the rearmament and the participation
of the Federal Republic of Germany in the common defense effort of the free
world was the breakdown of the wartime alliance of the western powers and the
USSR during the postwar years. After the formation of the United Nations in
1945 in San Francisco, it soon became apparent that the USSR would not adhere
to the principles of the organization. The occupation of Northern Iran in 1946,
the civil war in Greece, Communist takeovers in Poland, Hungary,
Czechoslovakia, and the other satellites of today, the Berlin Blockade, and the
Communist adventure in Korea were all milestones in the drifting apart of the
The first European protective move against the threatening
Soviet expansion was the Treaty of Dunkirk, signed by France and Britain in
1947, which provided for a mutual military defense arrangement. A year later,
the Treaty of Brussels established a defense pact between Britain and the
Central European nations—France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg.
This treaty, valid for fifty years, includes an automatic assistance clause,
which obliges 'each state to come to the aid of any other in case of aggression.
Then in 1949 NATO was formed—the North Atlantic Treaty
Organization. On April 4, 1949, the twelve governments signing this charter, in
Washington, D. C., were Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Great Britain,
Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, and the USA. In
February 1952, Greece and Turkey joined the pact.
Though Germany was not invited to sign the treaty for the
simple reason that it was not a sovereign state but an occupied country, its
territory was already protected by the agreement. An attack on Germany would
have involved one or more of the forces of occupation, all of whom were
signatories of the NATO pact, and that would have committed all of the pact
members. This was a fortunate state of affairs for the Germans who at that time
could state: "Since we are paying for our occupation anyhow, and this is
our protection, we do not have to raise an army and can put all our resources
into the reconstruction of our country."
This automatic protection situation did not last too long
for the Germans, however, since most NATO nations demanded that Germany carry a
bigger share of the common defense effort financially as well as with more
concrete contributions such as an army. Economic considerations played a
not-too-small role in this line of thinking since economically Germany forged
ahead rapidly, whereas the other European nations had to carry a heavy
financial burden aside from diverting much of their manpower to the defense effort,
stifling their economic growth.
The first steps to incorporate Germany into the NATO pact
were conferences that took place in the mid-1950s. These culminated in the
Pleven Plan, which proposed a joint European army with a German contingent.
This plan was not realized. New proposals on a fresh basis began in the same
year. The plan discussed was the EDC (European Defense Community), which in
the end would have led to a federation of European states both politically and
These talks, which led to the regained sovereignty of
Germany several years later, centered around a participation of Germany in the
NATO system with approximately twelve divisions. After year-long debates in
all the parliaments of the countries concerned, the plan was accepted by all
but France, whose parliament said "No" to the plan on August 30,
1954. The date is significant since here the first chance for a United Europe
was wrecked. Shortly afterward, an alternate plan was proposed which was signed
on October 23, 1954, in Paris, by all concerned.
These so-called Paris Protocols stated that the occupation
of Germany was officially ended and that Germany would be accepted as a full
member to the Brussels Treaty as well as in the NATO organization. This treaty
was ratified by the German parliament in March 1955. On May 5, 1955, Germany
became again a sovereign state and at the same time a member of NATO. The
Protocols included the clause that Germany would have to raise and equip its
own army, navy, and air force to aid in the defense effort of the other
European nations in the framework of NATO.
Thus, only ten years after the total collapse of the Third
Reich, Germany began to rearm. From the very beginning, strong emphasis was
placed on the sound conception of the air arm of this defense contribution.
Building on the experiences of World War II, the Luftwaffe, rising like the
phoenix from the ashes, was reborn. Expert help came from the USAF without
which the new Luftwaffe would not be the effective, full-fledged member of NATO
it is today.
The Paris Protocols clearly defined what the mission of the
new Luftwaffe would be. In summing up, two main parts emerge:
• Germany was to provide for an effective air defense of its
own territory. Several interceptor were recommended, which, in close
cooperation' antiaircraft missile units for high-altitude defense medium- to
light-caliber flak units, would cover central sector of the NATO line along the
• The Luftwaffe also was to initiate the training and
formation of several tactical fighter-bomber wings which would be deployed
together with the offensive —similarly equipped—NATO air forces, some of which
would have their bases directly on German territory.
To meet these demands, German military planners, with the
help of the other allies, conceived the structure of the new Luftwaffe: The
Fuhrungsstab der. Luftwaffe, comparable to the Office of the Secretary of the
Air Force in the United States, is the highest military staff of the Luftwaffe
and at the same time a department of the Ministry of Defense. The Fuhrungsstab
is headed by the Inspector General (Inspekteur der Luftwaffe). He is
responsible for procurement, planning tactical concepts, organization,
training, and logistics, to name a few of his tasks. His direct superior is the
Minister of Defense. Six departments make up the Fuhrungsstab‑
• F—Communications and electronics.
Department B—Command, heads the two air groups
(Luftwaffengruppen) of the German Air Force. Luftwaffengruppe Nord is located
at Münster in Westphalia and comes under the regional control of the Second
ATAF (Allied Tactical Air Force), which has its headquarters at nearby
München-Gladbach, about fifteen miles west of Dusseldorf, and is under British
command. Luftwaffengruppe Süd has its headquarters at Karlsruhe, is part of
the Fourth ATAF located at Ramstein, and is under American command. In
peacetime, both Luftwaffe commands operate independently. Only in case of war
would they be directly commanded by the ATAFs.
Under the command of Luftwafjengruppe Nord and Rid are four
and three air divisions (Luftwaflendivisionen) respectively. The
fighter-bomber, interceptor, reconnaissance, and transport wings and the
antiaircraft and missile units are called the operations divisions, whereas
the supply, communications, and liaison units come under the heading of support
divisions. The Luftwaffengruppen as well as their divisions have their own air
AS—Organization and training.
A5—Liaison with civilian governmental agencies.
AG—Communications and electronics.
The single operations division has flying units, one
electronics and communications regiment, antiaircraft regiments, and, in some
cases, training regiments and supply regiments. Since the divisions, aside from
the antiaircraft units, do not have to be mobile, this organizational setup is
quite satisfactory at present.
The flying units—the reconnaissance, interceptor, transport,
and fighter-bomber wings (Geschwader) —consist of two squadrons (Staffeln),
each with a complement of eighteen to twenty-five aircraft. The necessary
support units, an air base group (Fliegerhorstgruppe) consisting of wholly
stationary maintenance, and flight operation units are also assigned. The
Luftwaffe has at the moment at its disposal eight fighter-bomber, four
reconnaissance, four interceptor, and three transport wings deployed on
thirty-nine airfields. Most of the wings are operational. One more wing will be
added in the near future to bring the total strength up to twenty.
Fighter-bombers are currently the mainstay of the official
NATO policy of offensive defense. The eight Luftwaffe wings of this category
are an integral part of the tactical NATO air forces and are under the command
of the Second and Fourth ATAEs. They are equipped with the light subsonic Fiat
G.91 fighter-bomber and the now obsolete Republic F-84F, which is being
replaced in ever-growing numbers by the Lockheed F-104G. The Starfighter is
being built under license agreements in Europe.
The F-104G, though externally similar to the F104Cs of the
USAF's Air Defense Command, is a completely new aircraft with a strengthened
airframe and extensive electronic equipment. These two changes make the aircraft
suitable for multiple combat roles such as strike, reconnaissance, and
interception. Approximately 1,000 aircraft of this type will be built by
Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Italy. The F-104G can carry nuclear
weapons and, in case of war, such equipped fighter-bombers might have to fly
one-way missions, since in this eventuality, there would probably be no
airfields to come back to. The fighter-bomber wings of NATO, together with the
F-105s of the USAF, would have to carry the brunt of the first decisive hour of
the war. For this reason, equipment and training of these wings have to be of
the highest standard.
The long-range reconnaissance wings still fly the RF-84F,
soon to be replaced by the F-104G. The remarkable little Fiat G.91 113/4 that equips
the light reconnaissance wings can take off from grass fields and is suitable
for both reconnaissance and close-support work. But since the range is limited,
it is foreseen to deploy it over the battle zone only.
The interceptor wings are still equipped with the obsolete
Canadair Sabre VI, and the all-weather wings fly the Italian-built North
American F-86K. All the interceptor wings will reequip this year with the
F-104G. Armament consists of Vulcan cannon and Sidewinder missiles, produced
under license in Germany for NATO.
The three transport wings use the French Noratlas, a great
number of which were built under license in Germany. The transports are
responsible for airlifting supplies to the weapon test centers of NATO on Sardinia,
at Istres near Marseilles in France, and at other locations in or out of
Europe. They will bring the paratroop units of the German army to their drop
zones and are equipped for airdropping supplies.
These obsolescent transports will be replaced in 1966 by
another French-German design—the NordWeserfiug C.160 Transall. A requirement
exists for 300 medium helicopters, and presently under discussion are the
Sikorsky S61R and the Boeing-Vertol Chinook. It is quite probable that a
quantity of both helicopters will be ordered since the Luftwaffe missile wing
will be reequipped with the Pershing, which requires the Chinook for air
transportation. It is not yet clear who will have jurisdiction over this
helicopter force, but it is likely that the transport wings will be given the
responsibility for these rotary aircraft.
The liaison and air rescue squadrons and the special group
of the air materiel command (Luftwaffenamt) are equipped with a variety of
aircraft—helicopters made by Bell, Boeing-Vertcil, Westland, and Sikorsky; light
aircraft from Piper, Dornier, and Piaggio; C-47s, DC-6s, and Lockheed JetStars.
These and many more, good and bad, old and new, hand-me-downs, and aircraft for
which the Luftwaffe paid hard cash—the approximately sixty different aircraft
types the Luftwaffe is flying today can all be found at the Luftwaffenamt. Great
efforts are being made to standardize the equipment.
The Luftwaffe's only missile wing is attached to the 1st Air
Division with headquarters at Karlsruhe. It is equipped with the obsolete Martin
Matador, a USAF hand-me-down. Possibly this year the wing will reequip with
the Martin Pershing. Whether this missile will be deployed at hardened bases or
kept mobile has not yet been announced.
Each of the Luftwaffe's seven air divisions has one antiaircraft
regiment, of which the combat unit is the battalion. Presently the Luftwaffe
has at its disposal ten rocket and eight gun battalions, all closely integrated
into the NATO defense network. The gun battalions are equipped with the
Swedish-designed Bofors 40-mm L70 gun, which is automatically controlled by
the Swiss-developed Contraves "Bat" gunnery radar. The rocket
battalions are equipped with the familiar Nike-Ajax and Hercules. An unnamed
number of battalions was reequipped with the Raytheon Hawk missile for
low-level defense. The Hawk is being manufactured in Europe by a number of
firms located in nearly all the central European nations.
Understandably enough, such a fast-growing enterprise as
the Luftwaffe needs well-trained men and, therefore, extensive and modern
training facilities. Five training regiments for basic training are now in
existence. Two are garrisoned in southern Germany, two in the north, and the
other is stationed abroad, in the Netherlands. At Munich are an officers' candidate
school and a military technical school, and there is a military academy in
Hamburg. At Utersen in northern Germany is the pilots' school for basic
training where the fundamentals of flying are taught on the Piper L-18 and the
Three schools for advanced pilot training were set up for
training on such aircraft as the French Fouga Magister for future jet pilots or
the C-47 for men destined to go to the transport wings. The transition training
for the switch to the F-104 Starfighter is done by way of the T-38 in the
United States, since there is not enough airspace in Europe for the rigorous
training necessary, and the training in the US costs less than the acquisition
of a couple of Talons.
The transition from the Fouga Magister to the G.91 is done in Germany at the two weapons schools of the Luftwaffe. There, aside from the transition training, the pilots learn advanced air tactics and how to use their weapons.
Further training under combat conditions is done in Sardinia
where NATO has one of its gunnery ranges, courtesy of the Italian government.
The school system of the Luftwaffe boasts three technical colleges with highly
specialized curricula, the completion of which gives an education comparable to
a good university degree. One antiaircraft school and one training regiment
for communications and electronics round out the training facilities of the
There are currently 91,000 officers and men plus 14,000
civilians in the Luftwaffe. These totals will be raised slightly in the future
to comply with the requirements of the NATO agreements. There are now about
2,000 trained pilots, and more are leaving the schools this year. This number
satisfies all pilot requirements, and, since being a pilot is certainly the
most glamorous part of the air force life, there are more than enough
volunteers to draw from.
But qualified future noncommissioned officers such as metal
workers, radio technicians, plumbers, engine mechanics, and the like, are very
hard to come by. The schools are excellent, particularly the technical colleges
where the young airman learns trades that many times pave the way for well-paid
jobs in civilian life after discharge. As a result the Luftwaffe has difficulty
in meeting and keeping its personnel requirements in this category. Or, after
spending thousands of marks on their education while in the service, the
Luftwaffe too often loses these young men as soon as their military service is
The attractions of private industry are considerable in
contrast to the rather meager pay of the young airman. In civilian life a
skilled metal worker can earn about 800 marks ($200) a month. The Luftwaffe
starts him at only 225 marks ($54). It is a field where the government simply
cannot compete with industry, and, since there is virtually no unemployment in
Germany today, the Luftwaffe continues to come out on the short end. Intensive
recruiting drives are held periodically to help remedy the situation, since
draftees can only partly fill the gap.
The task of the Luftwaffe, which was conceived to fit
completely into the NATO framework, is to defend the central sector of the NATO
line. This is a difficult task because of the geography of central Europe.
Between the Iron Curtain and the western border of the Federal Republic of
Germany it is only 125 miles, about as far as from Washington, D. C., to
Philadelphia. This rather narrow belt, which can be crossed by an aerial
attacker in minutes, has become the first un of defense for NATO, behind which,
in France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, begins the hinterland containing the
rear bases and supply depots of the defense system.
This geographical situation was decisive in the choice of
the aircraft with which the Luftwaffe was to be equipped and will be equipped
in the future, and plays the main role in the unique European requirement for
effective supersonic VTOL interceptors and fighter-bombers. The airfields on
German territory are in easy reach for the attacker from the East who could
render them easily inoperative inside the first moments of a war with missiles
followed by fighter-bomber, strikes. Thus the trend to disperse and at the same
time eliminate vulnerable airfields becomes understandable. The VTOL military
aircraft would give the answer to this problem, but since no operational VTOL
fighter-bomber exists today, NATO must make do with the equipment that is
Though it may be very difficult for a non-European to
imagine, it is impossible to discuss the Luftwaffe without constantly drawing
NATO into the picture. From logistics down to aircraft procurement, in the
Luftwaffe as well as in the air forces of the other NATO partners, such
strongly intermeshing factors are so evident that it is very hard to find one
aircraft or one radar station alone whose operation does not involve some
In particular, the NATO radar early-warning network, which
has to be of very high quality because of the same difficult geographical
factors, is a truly international venture. To gain an acceptable warning time,
radars have to be used that reach far across the Iron Curtain. Strategically
located stations cover the whole NATO front, and the German stations manned by
the communications regiments become part of a chain that starts in Turkey and
Italy, leads to Denmark and Norway, Iceland and Greenland, and merges finally
with the early-warning radar lines in the northern regions of the American
All along the line, visual observation and listening posts
in conjunction with special units that cover the electronic activities of the
Red air forces supplement the chain, whose close net cannot be passed undetected
under most circumstances. Strategically located defense centers collect the
data to be displayed on plotting boards. Though eight different languages are
spoken along the radar chain by the operators, there exists no insurmountable
language problem since the commonly used language in the command posts is
English, and every man in a responsible position has to master at least the
basics of the language.
Many units are kept on constant war footing. The same holds
true for the antiaircraft rocket and gun batteries which require about five
minutes' time to be combat ready. In the event of an attack, whether on the
Turkish border or in Germany, the warning goes out immediately to the
interceptor, fighter-bomber, and missile wings all along the NATO line.
Counterattacks would be flown at once. During all these
fighter-bomber strikes atomic weapons might be used. The bombs and warheads are
kept in readiness under American supervision and would be issued to the NATO
air forces in case of need. The same holds true for the warheads of the
tactical missiles and antiaircraft rockets. The NATO air forces and among them
the Luftwaffe have only tactical tasks to fulfill: interception, fighting for
air superiority, attack, and reconnaissance. All the strategic tasks are
handled by the missile and bomber forces of the USAF and the RAF.
As can be easily seen, all these tasks of the Luftwaffe can
be only partly and not very effectively fulfilled with the equipment available
at the moment, since aside from the F-104G and the G.91 the aircraft are either
obsolescent or obsolete. The F-104G is expected to stay in service until 1970,
after which it is rumored that a French supersonic VTOL aircraft, most probably
the Dassault VTOL Mirage V, will be bought in small numbers as replacements for
the interceptor wings.
The Fiat G.91 is fast on its way to becoming obsolescent.
This is the light subsonic fighter-bomber that sprang from a NATO competition
in the past decade. The successor to this aircraft will be a true VTOL
subsonic close-support fighter in the lightweight class. It is due to go into
service in 1968 in far greater numbers than the present G.91. Some of the F-104G
fighter-bomber wings, aside from all-G.91-equipped wings, will switch to this
Four projects are being worked on at the present, one of
which might result in the replacement aircraft. One is the Italian project
G.95/4 which features lift engines and one thrust engine in the fuselage. Two
German projects are the Focke-Wulf FW-1262 fitted with swing nozzle and lift
engines and the Entwicklungsring Süd VJ 101 (ELR 320) with wingtip tilt
engines for lift and thrust. The British contribution is the Hawker 1127 which
has swing nozzle engines only. Originally all of the projects were conceived as
supersonic aircraft, but the present NATO specifications do not require such a
Two of these four aircraft are now flying successfully—the
Hawker 1127 and the VJ 101. Before an evaluation can be made, much work still
has to be done to turn these still completely experimental aircraft into
efficient military machines. But it is certain that the deadline for delivery
to the combat units at the end of 1968 can be met by all four types. It remains
to be seen which design NATO will choose.
The transport wings which fly the obsolete Noratlas will be
reequipped with the C.160 Transall, a joint French-German development which can
be compared in size and capacity to USAF's C-130 Hercules. Thus far 120 of
these transports have been ordered by the Luftwaffe.
An interesting program at a progressed development stage the
aircraft may fly this year—is the Dornier Do-31 light VTOL transport. It will
have a range of 1,000 miles with a payload of four tons. Lift and thrust
engines in midwing nacelles furnish the power. This aircraft might very well
complement the transport wings and helicopter squadrons, should it be accepted
by the Luftwaffe and NATO.
It is impossible here to cover all the projects and programs
under way at the present time, but it must be noted that each has become a
truly European venture, just as the different air forces of NATO have by
necessity become a single, united air force.
The Luftwaffe has merged into this big group, and what no
one thought possible twenty years ago is now an established fact. German
aircraft are flying side by side with their partners from Western Europe and
America to guard a common border against a common danger.
The author, Stefan
Geisenheyner, is Editor in Chief of Flugwelt International, a leading German
aerospace-technology magazine. He served in the Luftwaffe during World War II
and received his degree in mathematics after the war. He then switched to
journalism and has been an editor and writer for ten years. He wrote "How
Did the Europeans Size Up Big Lift?" for our December '63 issue.
Daily Report: Read the day's top news on the US Air Force, airpower, and national security issues.
Daily Report: Read the day's top news on the US Air Force, airpower, and national security issues.
Tweets by @AirForceMag