In the summer of 1939, at the start of World War II, the Luftwaffe had become the most powerful air force in the world. By ignoring the Treaty of Versailles, which banned Germany from building a military The Luftwaffe covertly trained and organized using Lufthansa, the national airline, as a cover and its existence was officially announced 1 April 1935.
Basing its strategy on rapidly securing air superiority, The luftwaffe based its stratagy on a brief, highly mobile, fast-paced theater level offensive. Better known as the Blitzkrieg.
Spearheaded by the use of the Stuka Junkers Ju 87 dive bomber. Germany swept through Poland, Norway, Denmark, Luxembourg, Belgium, The Netherlands and France in a matter of months between September 1939 and June 1940 due in no small part to the Luftwaffe, which now appeared invincible.
Poor planning and bad intelligence coupled with English implementation of RADAR, stung the powerful German air force with a blow that was almost insurmountable.. Despite the loss over Britain, the real turning point in the fortunes of the Luftwaffe was the invasion of Russia. Germany now was fighting a three front aerial war that simply outstripped its limited resources.
As USAAF bombers penetrated deep into Reich territory and maintained daylight bombing of industrial targets, without fighter escort.
while their RAF colleagues (who had learned better) continued with the offensive by conducting night operations.
Nevertheless, the Luftwaffe remained strong, and both the day fighters and the night fighters were able to shoot down hundreds of Allied bombers, including 95 on a single night (October 30–31, 1944) when the RAF bombed the southern city of Nuremberg, famous as the place where pre-war Nazi Party rallies took place.
German superiority was especially felt on the Eastern Front, given that the Luftwaffe enjoyed an advanced technical standard as well as employing highly trained and experienced pilots such as Hans-Ulrich Rudel, the most highly decorated pilot of the war who, flying the JU-87 Stuka,
Amongst the Experten (the name given to German aces), Erich Hartmann would emerge at the end of the war with the highest number of enemy aircraft shot down—352, a total initially disputed but eventually accepted. In contrast, the highest number of aircraft shot down by any Allied pilot was 62, achieved by Colonel (later Colonel-General) Ivan Kozhedub of the Soviet Army Air Force. Nevertheless, the vast land mass of Russia allowed the Soviets to manufacture war matériel well away from the front line, and so it was partly due to overwhelming numbers of weapons made available to the ground and air forces of the USSR that the Soviets managed to push the Germans back west, especially after the crushing defeats of the German Army at both Kursk and Stalingrad and the Germans' failure to take Leningrad (St. Petersburg).
The Luftwaffe saw action on many fronts, including in North Africa in support of ground operations conducted by General Erwin Rommel's Afrika Korps, and in the offensives against Yugoslavia and Greece prior to the invasion of the USSR in June 1941. Many Luftwaffe units were stationed in Italy, including after the Italians switched sides in September 1943 and remained there until the end of the war in May 1945. There were units also present in Romania, since fighter units stationed there were charged with the protection of the oilfields at Ploesti that were providing vital fuel for the German war machine in its continuation of its offensive against the USSR.
One of the unique characteristics of the Luftwaffe (as opposed to other independent air forces) was the possession of an elite organic paratrooper force (Fallschirmjäger). These saw action during 1940–1941, most notably in the capture of the Belgian army fortress at Eben-Emael in May 1940 and the island of Crete in May 1941. However, more than 3,000 Fallschirmjäger were killed during the Crete operation, and a shocked Adolf Hitler ordered these elite paratroopers would never be used for such large-scale operations again, but only for smaller-scale operations, such as the successful rescue of Benito Mussolini, the then-deposed dictator of Italy, in 1943. This put paid to a proposal (Operation Herkules) to seize Malta and eliminate the threat to Rommel's supply lines.
Although night fighting had been undertaken in embryonic form way back in World War I, the German night fighter force, the Nachtjagd, had virtually to start from scratch when British bombers began to attack targets in Germany in strength from 1940 as far as tactics were concerned. A chain of radar stations was established all across the Reich territory from Norway to the border with Switzerland known as the "Kammhuber Line", named for Generalleutnant Josef Kammhuber, and nearby night fighter wings, Nachtjagdgeschwader (NJG), were alerted to the presence of the enemy. These wings were equipped mostly with Messerschmitt Bf 110 and Junkers Ju 88 aircraft, which would later be outfitted with the Lichtenstein nose-mounted radar.
The Heinkel He 219 Uhu (Owl) was considered one of the best night fighters in the Luftwaffe's inventory, yet thankfully for the Allies, not enough of them were built to stem the tide of bombers, which became effective at using strips of aluminium foil called "Window" (American name, chaff; German, Düppel) to jam the radar signals. Two notable names amongst the night fighter pilots were Helmut Lent, who shot down 110 enemy aircraft before being killed in a landing accident in October 1944, and Wolfgang Schnaufer, who shot down 102 enemy aircraft and survived the war, only to die in a car crash in France in 1950.
After playing a pioneering role in the development of aircraft powered by jet engines ("TL Triebwerke") with prototypes such as the Heinkel He 178 and Heinkel He 280, the Luftwaffe became the first air force in the world to press an operational jet fighter into service—the twin-engine Messerschmitt Me 262. The aircraft was still plagued by reliability problems of its powerplants; however, while the Junkers Jumo 004 engines were of the advanced axial-flow design, they suffered from a lack of high-quality strategic materials required during the manufacturing process, a result of the Allied bombing offensive and the turn of war fortunes for Germany. The Me 262 was soon joined by other highly advanced aircraft designs, such as the Arado Ar 234 twin- and four-engine jet bomber/reconnaissance aircraft, the Heinkel He 162 single-engine jet fighter (powered by a BMW jet engine), the Messerschmitt Me 163 rocket fighter and others. A variety of further highly advanced aircraft designs, such as the Horten Ho 229 flying wing (originally designated Horten Ho IX and later to be manufactured by the Gothaer Waggonfabrik aircraft factory), were either at the testing stage or even ordered into production by the time the war ended. The German aviation industry also developed the first cruise missile used operationally on large scale, the Fieseler Fi 103 (V-1), and the first ballistic missile, the Aggregat 4 (A-4, V-2). These were Hitler's vaunted Vergeltungswaffen (vengeance or retaliation weapons).
As modern as these aircraft were, they could not prevent Germany's total defeat in the air. The Luftwaffe lacked fuel, trained pilots, organisational unity and "safe" airfields. The Luftwaffe's final offensive was on January 1, 1945, when it launched Operation Bodenplatte (Baseplate). The idea was to destroy as many Allied aircraft on the ground as possible, yet the Germans lost over 300 aircraft and were henceforth entirely on the defensive as the western Allies and the Soviets closed in and invaded the Reich itself. The Allies were able to harvest Germany's advanced technical efforts as many German aircraft were abandoned after being deliberately wrecked for the most part; Operation Paperclip, for example, was one of many designed in 1944–45 to obtain either technical specimens, data, or the design personnel themselves and "evacuate" them to the United States, England, the USSR or France. Many aircraft designers were also captured by the Red Army and sent to the USSR to design and build potential fighters and bombers for the Soviet Army and Navy Air Forces. This research benefited the development of the NAA F-86, Hawker Hunter, and MiG-15, and directly produced the Yak-9 and -15 (little more than copies of the Focke-Wulf P.011-45).*
* reference Wikipedia