By the spring of 1940 Germany had become the predominant continental power in Europe. The Luftwaffe-built in just six years from virtual nonexistence--had grown to a force of almost one-half million men and more than three thousand combat aircraft! The air forces had proven their worth in active combat from the Spanish civil war to the fjords of northern Norway. Blitzkrieg or 'lightning war', became a household word and with it came the justified fears of aerial bombardment and the growing reputation of the "Stuka" dive bomber. The German propagandists reveled in the seemingly endless successes of their military. Poland, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Holland, and France had all fallen to the sword. By late summer, few in the world would have disputed that the fate of England could be any different on the eve of what was to become known as the Battle of Britain.
To examine the events leading to the failure of the Luftwaffe to gain control of the skies over southeastern England, one must first understand the thinking of the men involved in its development and who were responsible for its employment in war. It is relatively easy, with the benefit of hindsight, to point out specific decisions, or specific failings of one aircraft type versus another. But, it is only through a balanced understanding of why things were, as they were, in late 1940 that a true appreciation of the Battle of Britain can be obtained.
Some authors credit Hitler and Goering with the rebirth of the German Air Force between 1933 and 1935. There is an element of truth in the notion that many air force officers commonly saw in Hitler and the Nazi party an opportunity to achieve their ambition for building a stronger air force. But, the roots can be traced far deeper, probably to Gen Hans von Seekt, chief of the Army Command, Defense Ministry. It was von Seekt who in 1920, "was convinced that military aviation would some day be revived in Germany." It was von Seekt who had handpicked the few key officers to man the aviation positions within his command. Those key officers—Sperrle, Wever, Kesselring, and Stumpff—would one day form the nucleus of the Luftwaffe leadership. It was also von Seekt who indicated in a 1923 memorandum "that a future air force must be an independent part of the Armed Forces." And it was von Seekt who in 1924 ensured that a former officer of the old German Flying Corps was named head of the new Civil Aviation Department of the Ministry of Transport. This appointment would virtually guarantee that "the development and control of civil aviation [would continue] under military direction."
INTRODUCTION * HISTORY, CONCEPTS, AND DOCTRINE * AIRCRAFT DEVELOPMENT: WHY THE LUFTWAFFE WAS WHAT IT WAS IN 1939 * INFLUENCE OF THE SPANISH CIVIL WAR * ORGANIZATION AND STRUCTURE OF THE LUFTWAFFE * SETUP FOR THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN * THE TRADITIONAL "BATTLE OF BRITAIN" DEVELOPS * CONCLUSIONS * LUFTWAFFE AIR INTELLIGENCE DURING THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN