At the beginning of the Second World War, the Luftwaffe dominated the skies over Western Europe – its highly trained pilots flying some of the most advanced fighter aircraft yet built.
It was instrumental in achieving some of the Nazis’ greatest victories during the early months of the conflict yet it met its match when faced with the outstanding courage and tenacity of British and Commonwealth pilots during the Battle of Britain.
As the war progressed, the Luftwaffe found itself fighting above the frozen wastes of the Soviet Union in winter and above the blistering deserts of North Africa in summer. It was provided with ever more advanced aircraft yet its might was steadily worn away by ceaseless fighting on multiple fronts.
When waves of RAF bombers began a campaign of night raids over occupied Europe and Germany itself, yet another front opened up. The Luftwaffe’s night fighters hunted their targets in the dark and the bomber crews sought to evade them. A desperate struggle for supremacy in radar and electronic technology took place as casualties mounted on both sides.
Towards the end of the war, advances in jet and rocket technology gave the Luftwaffe a new edge but by then its fate was sealed.
Today it remains difficult to reconcile the skill and courage of the Luftwaffe’s pilots in combat with the poisonous ideology of the regime for which they fought, yet the statistics tell their own story.
German day and night fighter pilots claimed around 70,000 aerial victories during the war, 25,000 British or American aircraft and 45,000 Russian. There were 103 German fighter pilots who shot down more than 100 Allied aircraft each and some 2500 German fighter pilots who reached ‘ace’ status by shooting down at least five aircraft. Combat losses, however, totalled 40,000, including 21,452 fighters.
Luftwaffe Fighters examines the fighter aircraft flown by the German air force during that time and presents detailed illustrations of notable individual machines.