Feldgrau helmet logo
Research on the German Armed Forces 1918-1945

Luftwaffe - The Airforce 1935-1945

WW2 German Luftwaffe PlanesThe German Luftwaffe, or airforce, was formed in May of 1935. It was formed after the passing of the "Law for the Reconstruction of the National Defense Forces". This law brough back into existance a free standing German army, navy and airforce, something that had been essentially banned after the end of World War I.

With the end of World War I and the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, the Weimar Republic - the successor to Imperial Germany - was allowed only a small defensive military force known as the Reichswehr. The Reichswehr's size and composition was strictly controlled by the Allies in the hope that by restricting its constitution they could prevent future German military aggression. The Reichswehr consisted of 100,000 men divided between a small standing army, the Reichsheer, and a small defensive navy, the Reichsmarine. There was no provision for an airforce of any sort.

In 1933 the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) came to power and the infamous Third Reich was born. Two years later in 1935 the Treaty of Versailles was renounced and the Reichswehr became the Wehrmacht. The newly formed Wehrmacht would still consist of an army and a navy - the renamed Heer and Kriegsmarine, but a new airforce was born as well - the Luftwaffe.

Although offically announced in 1935, the Luftwaffe had existed in one form or another practically since the day the treaty banning it had been signed. Initially there were Freikorps air units, then later glider and sail plane formations tasked with finding ways around the rigid restrictions of Versailles, a secret training base in the Soviet Union, and various cover organizations for the initial forming of the new German airforce.

The Luftwaffe consisted of air units that made up the majority of the German airforce, as well as Fallschrimjäger units, Luftwaffe Field Divisions, the elite Herman Göring ground formations, thousands of smaller anti-aircraft, engineer, communications and security units, and a fair number of Luftwaffe naval vessels and formations as well. Between 1939 and 1945 over 3.4 million served in the Luftwaffe. Over 165,000 were killed, over 155,000 went missing and over 192,000 were wounded. Of the 7361 men awarded the inital grade of the highest German combat honor of WWII, the Knights Cross, 1785 were from the Luftwaffe making up 24% of the total awaded.

Initially the Luftwaffe ruled the skies but thereafter fought an increasingly futile war of attrition which when combined with vital mistakes in aircraft production and utilization, was its death knoll. In the face of this the Luftwaffe produced the most successful air aces of all time. As well, the feats of the Fallschirmjäger in the first airborne operations in history are as heroic as they are tragic. German paratroops suffered appaling losses on Crete and essentially never saw large scale airborne operations again. Some Luftwaffe ground units fought well during WWII, such as certain Luftwaffe field divisions and the elite Hermann Göring formations, while other units simply served.

Ultimately the structure of the Luftwaffe was a grand relfection of its commander, Hermann Göring. He strove more so than any other branch to create a personal army with responsibilities as far reaching as possible. It was partly due to this that the Wehrmacht was ultimately defeated. The strain on resources and man power such political manuvering had was far reaching.

The Luftwaffe was offically disbanded in August of 1946 by the Allied Control Commission.

The basis for Feldgrau lays within our unit histories. In this section you will find all Luftwaffe units documented to one degree or another. The many gaps in these listings will be filled during the coming months and years as additional research aids completing this monumental reference tool.

Luftwaffe unit histories
Specific unit history sections Other sources for unit history information

Unit histories are but one source for information on the German armed forces. Another vital source that can provide personal observations and unique perspectives that unit histories usually can not are veteran accounts.

Here are various Luftwaffe interviews and autobiographies.
Included here are various other articles related to the Luftwaffe.
Before embarking on any study of German unit histories it's helpful to have access to research material regarding ranks, formations, terms and other related concepts.If you have a question about a concept or something specific, you can post a message in our online forum.