The German Air War in Russia



Richard Muller has authored the best single-volume history of the Luftwaffe's operations on the Eastern Front. He begins the book with a thorough analysis of Luftwaffe doctrine and uses primary source material and careful analysis to buttress his key points. In essence he demolishes the myth that the Luftwaffe had a close air support doctrine in 1941. In fact the training and equipment of the Luftwaffe was geared towards operational air warfare, which focused on quickly gaining and maintaining air superiority, interdiction of enemy logistics and the forward movement of Soviet reserves, and augmented with attacks on communications centers. With the exception of VIII Air Corps in 1941, the Luftwaffe was neither trained nor equipped to conduct close air support for Army units. Air-to-ground and ground-to-air radio communications equipment, for example, were either deficient or nonexistent and neither the twin-engine bomber force nor the Stuka dive bombers were well suited for close air support operations in the face of murderous Red Army antiaircraft artillery fire. In fact the Luftwaffe actually designed and fielded the Stuka to fill the role of a strategic bomber and its use in a ground attack role and later as a tank buster in Russia should be viewed more as an act of desperation than as a well thought out plan of employment for this fragile airframe. As the Luftwaffe's losses mounted in the East, particularly in the twin-engine bomber force, which was thrust into the Soviet flak and fighter envelopes in low level bombing and aerial supply roles, the Luftwaffe sought to divorce its units from direct Army support missions. Muller's examination of the Luftwaffe's doomed attempt to rebuild its bomber force and transition to a strategic bombardment doctrine at the expense of its army support role is utterly fascinating and easily the best account one will find in the English language. As the twin-engine bomber force melted away in Russia and its forward airbases were overrun, the Luftwaffe finally fielded a well thought out close air support doctrine, but by then fuel, training, and equipment deficiencies prevented the Luftwaffe's fighter-bomber wings from having more than an occasional tactical effect on the ground campaign in the East.

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