European Air War 

Lessons learned: Luftwaffe

This material was included in the original 1998 release of European Air War by Microprose.

The Luftwaffe amassed the most impressive record of individual pilot accomplishment the world has ever known. In fact, the achievements of their Experten (the German equivalent of Aces) were so far beyond those of any Allied pilots that, after the war, the Allied Command suspected that the pilots' records had been falsified. Regardless, subsequent investigation revealed that, if anything, the Luftwaffe's internal verification procedures prior to crediting an air victory to a pilot were even more stringent than those of the Allies.
All in all, 107 Experten were credited with over 100 air victories each, and hundreds more scored more than 25 air victories apiece. Among the Allies, only a few pilots exceeded the 25-victory mark, and only five victories were sufficient to make a pilot an Ace. Erich Hartmann, the highest scoring Luftwaffe pilot, is credited with 352 total victories, while the balance of the top five scorers (Gerhard Barkhorn, Gunther Rall, Otto Kittel and Walter Nowotny) account for another 1101 downed aircraft between them. Though some Luftwaffe detractors are quick to point out that these pilots amassed virtually all of their kills on the Eastern Front, where the quality of enemy opposition was lower than in the West, other Luftwaffe pilots outperformed their Allied counterparts considerably in this theater of operations as well.
Heinz Baer, the eighth highest scoring pilot in history with 220 total victories, scored 124 of them in the West, including 16 while piloting the Me262. Over the course of the war, Baer was shot down eighteen times, bailing out four times and executing a forced landing the remainder of them. Unlike so many of his comrades, Baer survived the war. But his incredible string of luck ran out in 1957 when he was killed in an aircraft accident. The legacy of all the great Luftwaffe pilots lives on in the history they created. Now, as you seek to join their ranks in EAW, it behooves you to listen to the war stories and advice of the "old heads" which preceded you: the Experten.
Our mission was to provide close escort, which I loathed. It gave the bomber crews the feeling they were being protected, and it might have deterred some of the enemy pilots. But for us fighter pilots it was very bad. We needed the advantages of altitude and speed so we could engage the enemy on favorable terms. As it was, the British fighters had the initiative on when and how to attack. We needed to maintain speed, otherwise the Bf109 would have taken too long to accelerate to fighting speed if we were bounced by Spitfires.
-Hans Schmoller-Haldy, JG54
Their element is to attack, to track, to hunt, and to destroy the enemy. Only in this way can the skillful and eager fighter pilot display his ability. Tie him to a narrow and confined task, rob him of his initiative, and you take away from him the best and most valuable qualities he possesses: aggressive spirit, joy of action and the passion of the hunter.
-Adolf Galland, 104 victories.
Lesson Learned: Flying close escort on bombers often requires you to sacrifice the tactical initiative to the enemy. This leaves you reactive instead of proactive, which is the antithesis of what you want to achieve as a fighter. As such, escort missions will be some of the toughest you encounter.
The Bf110 was simply too heavy to contend with either the Spitfire or the Hurricane. You had to be lucky to survive.
-Hartmann Grasser,
103 total victories,
7 with the Bf110.
Our mission was to escort a bomber formation in an attack on Kenely, an airfield near London. Flying at about 6000 meters altitude, we reached the target without being attacked and were only then engaged by British fighters, which were primarily interested in the bombers and Bf110's. I was still right beside the bombers when a Spitfire immediately beneath me attacked a circling Bf110. It was simple for me to get behind the attacker with a short maneuver. We then had a Bf110, a Spitfire and a Bf109 (myself) flying in a row. While the rear gunner fired at the Spitfire and the Spitfire in turn attempted to silence the rear gunner, I found it easy to put a long burst into the Spitfire, which immediately smoked and broke away…
-Jupp Buerschgens, 10 victories before this same Bf110 mistook him for another Spitfire and shot out his engine, resulting in six years of captivity in England.
Lesson Learned: The Bf110, though successful in Poland and France, was severely outmatched in terms of maneuverability by British fighters. Independent operations in this aircraft are an invitation to disaster. When mixed formations of Bf109's and Bf110's are pressed by enemy fighter cover, the best tactic for Bf110's was to assume a defensive circle, where the nose of each aircraft covered the tail of the aircraft in front of it. This circle, though defensive rather than offensive in nature, can still be moved around the sky to complicate the tactical situation of enemy single seat fighters seeking to engage Bf109's in support. They cannot discount the presence of the Bf110's entirely because the latter can roll out of the circle at any given time to shift the odds of an existing engagement, even perhaps with a small measure of surprise to an unwary pilot.
The Spitfires showed themselves wonderfully maneuverable. Their aerobatics display--looping and rolling, opening fire in a climbing roll--filled us with amazement. There was a lot of shooting, but not many hits.
-Max Hellmuth Ostermann,
102 confirmed air victories
Lesson Learned: You can pilot the most maneuverable aircraft in the world but, without good deflection shooting skills to back up your flying prowess, you are still ineffective as a combat pilot.
The Gruppe flew over Dover, gaining quite a bit of altitude. Suddenly, I saw a squadron of English fighters climbing far beneath us. We had probably been reported, and the British were looking for us…I lead the Gruppe after them immediately. We were in a favorable position as we approached. Eight aircraft, Hurricanes, flew in front in flights of vees. Behind them was a cover flight. Its fourth aircraft was weaving--flying first left then right. The English still had not seen us. They now had the more favorable position, since they were higher, but we attacked. I flew toward the weaving aircraft. At 100 meters, I had it in front of me, and pressed the button. The fire of my cannon and machine guns literally blew the Hurricane apart. Pieces fell away smoking and burning. The second aircraft in the cover flight was now in my sights. I repeated the same maneuver. I opened fire and the Hurricane burst into flames. Undisturbed, the others continued spiraling upward. They had no inkling that there were Messerschmitts on their tails. Now I was behind the third aircraft. A short burst, and this one likewise fell apart. Number three! The Englishmen flew onward; still they had noticed nothing. So I took on the fourth aircraft. This time, however, I approached too closely. When I pressed the button, the Englishman exploded, so near me that pieces hit my crate. It sprayed oil so thickly on the front and right side of my canopy that I could see nothing, and had to break off the battle, which had lasted two minutes.
-Gerhard Schoepfel, JG26
Lessons Learned: The tail end of a formation is always the most vulnerable to attack. Be mindful of this fact offensively and defensively, both to achieve surprise and avoid being surprised. Further, the British pilots in this engagement exhibited exceptionally poor situational awareness. A similar lack of observational discipline on your part in EAW will prove equally detrimental to your career. Finally, you should note two things: destroying an enemy at point blank range endangers your aircraft as well; and that a lot can happen in air combat in a very short time span.
I dove from about 800 meters above them, approaching at high speed, and fired at the far left aircraft in the rear flight, continuing fire until point blank range. Finally, large pieces of metal flew off the Hurricane. As I shot past the aircraft, I found myself in the middle of the enemy squadron, which was flying in stepped formation. I immediately attacked the right-hand aircraft of the leading flight of three. Again, metal panels broke off; the aircraft nosed over and dove earthward, ablaze. The remaining English pilots were so startled that none as much as attempted to get on my tail; rather, the entire formation scattered and dove away.
-Adolf Galland, 104 total victories
Lesson Learned: The element of surprise can be psychologically unbalancing to the victims of the attack, and can sometimes place even a numerically superior enemy on the defensive. Also, when Galland pulled up from his initial attack inside the enemy squadron, his aggression in the face of overwhelming odds maintained and enhanced the shock value of his initial attack. Had he tried to simply break off at that point, it is much more likely that he would have been pursued. Sometimes the best defense is a good offense.
We attacked the enemy bombers in pairs, going in with great bravado…But at first the attacks were all broken off much too early--as those great 'barns' grew larger and larger our people were afraid of colliding with them…The next time I went in I thought: get in much closer, keep going, keep going. Then I opened up, starting with his motors on the port wing. By the third such firing run the two port engines were burning well and I had shot the starboard outer motor to smithereens.
-Otto Stammberger, JG26
To fight against twenty Russians that want to have a bite of one, or also against Spitfires, is a joy. And one doesn't know that life is not certain. But the curve into seventy Fortresses lets all the sins of one's life pass before one's eyes. And when one has convinced oneself, it is still more painful to force to it every pilot in the wing, down to the last young newcomer.
-Hans Phillip, JG1
Lessons Learned: The B-17 is the most difficult aircraft to destroy in EAW. These bombers can take a lot of punishment and still keep flying. You have to get in close and hit hard to down them, and doing so puts your own aircraft at considerable risk. Also, you must consider the vulnerability of new and inexperienced replacement pilots when tackling these hazardous missions, which come more frequently as the war progresses.
There were about 200 of us attacking the 200 bombers (B-17's) but there was also the fighter escort above them. We were going for the bombers. When we made our move, the P-47's began to dive on us and it was a race to get to the bombers before getting intercepted. I was already close and about 600 feet above and coming straight on; I opened fire with the twenties at 500 yards. At 300 yards I opened fire with the thirties. It was a short burst, maybe ten shells from each cannon, but I saw the bomber explode and begin to burn. I flashed over him at about 50 feet and then did a chandelle. When I turned around I was about a thousand feet above and behind them, and was suddenly mixed in with American fighters…By now I had only three fighters with me--my lead Schwarm--the others had split away in the attack. We flew south, ahead for a few seconds, preparing for another strike at the bombers and then, coming from above, I saw them…There were ten P-47's and four of us and we were all turning as hard as we could, as in a Lufbery. I was able to turn tighter and was gaining. I pulled within 80 yards of the P-47 ahead of me and opened fire. I hit him quickly and two of the others got one each…I called on the radio for an emergency dive to get away and we all rolled over and did a Split-S and dived with full throttle.
-Georg-Peter Eder, 78 total victories including 36 four-engine bombers.
Lesson Learned: A good leader has high situational awareness and constantly evaluates the implications of the tactical situation. He knows when to press an attack and when to disengage to fight another day. You never want to push a bad situation, such as the odds Eder encountered in this engagement. The victories his Schwarm achieved in the latter part of this engagement were defensive, not offensive in nature. They were orchestrated simply to stay alive and lessen the odds against them until a suitable escape opportunity could be found.
One of the secrets of some German fighter pilots was to fly with the 109 trimmed slightly to climb. The nose was held down by constant forward pressure on the stick, and then when the pilot wanted to pull up quickly, he pulled back and the nose came up more quickly and the aircraft didn't mush.
-Kurt Buehligen
Lesson Learned: A good fighter pilot anticipates action, and takes every possible step to gain an edge in advance of that action.
If taken by surprise, I would do one or the other automatically, depending on conditions. If I had time, and saw my attacker coming in, I would wait to see how close he would come before opening up. If he began firing at long range, I could always turn into him. If he held his fire, I got ready for a real battle. Even against good competition, you could always break away by using negative G's. In a tight turning maneuver, the attacker must turn more tightly in order to pull lead on his quarry. For a split second you pass under his nose and below his line of sight, as he tries to line his guns up ahead of you. It is precisely at that moment when he gets his gunnery angle on you, that you push the nose forward, kick bottom rudder and are gone. Your attacker cannot see you. He is intent on pulling lead and is turning in the opposite direction, in an ever tighter circle, even as you are diving and then turning the other way. As I said before, the use of the negative G is a last-ditch measure. Frankly, I tried everything possible never to be placed in such a position, because if your attacker had a good wingman, he could quickly pick up that maneuver. This is why I avoided dogfights. They were long and drawn-out affairs, requiring all your attention, allowing another opponent to jump you. They were the longest and most difficult method of getting a kill, the expensive and the most dangerous.
-Leading Experten Erich Hartmann (352 confirmed victories)
Lessons Learned: First, you can tell a lot about the skill of an enemy pilot by observing his behavior closely. Second, when you are surprised and placed on the defensive early in an engagement, go evasive early instead of trying to maneuver for position. Avoid dogfights, go for kills. Because if you aren't, be assured that the enemy is.
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