The Luftwaffe and Its Allied Air Forces in World War II: Parallel War and the Failure of Strategic and Economic Cooperation

By Corum, James S. | Air Power History, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview

The Luftwaffe and Its Allied Air Forces in World War II: Parallel War and the Failure of Strategic and Economic Cooperation


Corum, James S., Air Power History


The coalition aspect of conducting aerial warfare is one of the less explored subjects in the history of the Second World War. The U.S.-British relationship in conducting the strategic bombing campaign is the one subject written about in great detail. Other aspects of coalition air war are beginning to receive appropriate attention. For example, Mark Conversino's Fighting with the Soviets provides an in-depth study of U.S. Army Air Forces (AAF) and Soviet Air Force relations in World War II and Air Marshal Probert's book, The Forgotten Air War, does a fine job in describing the U.S. and British air cooperation in Southeast Asia. (1)

The Luftwaffe had several important allies in the air war: In particular, Italy, Finland, Hungary, and Rumania made great sacrifices and took heavy losses fighting alongside the Luftwaffe. Yet, despite the thousands of aircraft Germany's allies put into combat, from the far north to the Mediterranean, the relationship between the Luftwaffe and its coalition allies has received little attention. (2) This article is a contribution towards understanding this aspect of the history of aerial warfare.

A full list of Germany's allied air forces, the forces that flew alongside the Luftwaffe or under Luftwaffe command, would include Slovakia, Croatia and Bulgaria alongside the Italians, Rumanians, Finns and Hungarians. However, this article will concentrate on the latter four air forces and their relationship with the Luftwaffe. These four nations not only had moderately large air forces but also had indigenous aircraft industries and significant industrial potential to produce aircraft. On the other hand, the Bulgarian, Slovakian and Croatian contribution to the aerial war was insignificant and none of those nations had an aviation industry that could have made an impact on the war. In this article, I will concentrate on the relationship between the Luftwaffe with its major allies (Italy, Finland, Hungary and Rumania) to include the an overview of the battle performance of allied air forces, German assistance to its major allies and the Luftwaffe's policy towards the aviation industries of its allies. Germany's allies had the potential to deploy significant forces and production capability to support the German war effort. For the most part, the actual and potential force of Germany's allies was ignored or misused by the Luftwaffe throughout the war. Indeed, one of the primary causes for German defeat, and specifically Germany's defeat in the air, was due to the Third Reich's inability to effectively lead a coalition war.

The Luftwaffe's Understanding of Coalition Warfare

Several factors affected the Luftwaffe's relationship to its wartime allies and inhibited the Luftwaffe from developing an effective relationship with allied air forces. First of all was the influence of Luftwaffe and Wehrmacht culture. Before the war, Luftwaffe officers failed to seriously study coalition operations and the Wehrmacht as a whole suffered from a lack of interest in coalition operations within the senior military leadership. Another factor that inhibited Germany's ability to exploit the capability of coalition allies lay in the Nazi concept of Mitteleuropa that guided German foreign relations. Germany's long-term ambition was to fully control the economy of Central Europe, and this vision had no place for technologically advanced allies with aviation industries that could compete with Germany. Finally, the Germans fought under the concept of parallel war, each allied nation would largely fight its own war in its own sector with little strategic coordination or common direction.

In the 1920s, the German army established a three-year general staff course that provided a thorough education for officers in the operational art, and at the operational level of war. The army general staff course covered tactics from battalion to army levels, military history, operational planning, and joint operations.

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