Reichsluftschutzbund (National Air Raid Protection League)

The Reichsluftschutzbund, or National Air Raid Protection League, was formedon April 29th, 1933. Initially, the RLB was a voluntary organization staffedby hundreds of thousands of volunteers across Germany, but on March 13th,1935, its volunteer status was removed and membership in the RLB becameobligatory for nearly all Germans. In 1938 its membership reached nearly13 million, and in the spring of 1943, 22 million.

The RLB was organized into 15 Landesgruppen, each divided into Untergruppen,Ortsgruppen, and finally into Reviere (wards or precincts). It was initiallyformed in 1933 by a joint effort from NSDAP, Wehrmacht, and most importantly,the Luftwaffe, although up to 1940 it was considered separate from theAir Force even though the German Air Ministry oversaw all RLB functions.In 1940 the RLB was formally taken over by the Luftwaffe, although it stillserved in its previous role and didn’t outwardly change drastically andcontinued to operate as a dedicated civil defense organization.

Prior to 1942, the RLB was subdivided into two main areas, the Selbschutz -the Self-Protection Service, and the Erweiterter-Selbschutz – the ExtendedSelf-Protection service. The Selbschutz was created for the local protection ofregular citizens and families from air raids and attacks and was based on a warden and fire-guard system designed to be the first line of defensein such situations. Its central duties were in equipping air raid sheltersand the performance of fire-guard duties under the control of individualHouse Wardens for each home. Each block of residential homes in largerGerman cities and towns were to be in turn looked over by a Block Warden.Block Warden was in control of a number of streets, and in turn werelooked over by a Ward Protection Leader. The overall function was similarto other European and American civilian air raid warning and assistanceorganizations, with roof spotters, individual home, block and ward services,and extensive air raid shelters.

The Extended Self-Protection Service was established to watch over those institutions, buildings, offices,etc, that were not large enough or important enough to be provided with their ownWork Air Raid Protection Service units, known as the Werkluftschutzdienst.Extended Self-Protection units were formed from individuals that worked inthe buildings in question, and served much like the regular Self-Protectionservice units mentioned above.

Both the Self-Protection units and theExtended Self-Protection units operated on a purely passive, reactionarybasis. They went into action in response to air raids and attacks andreacted to the situations brought about by them. They didn’t take part inoffensive or defensive measures against the attacks in any way, leavingthat to the main line anti-aircraft units of the Luftwaffe, and thevarious related units and organizations that augmented the extensiveGerman air defense system, the difference being that of air defenseversus air raid protection, the latter being the function of the RLB andthe Selbschutz services.

Other than the above-mentioned services, the main burden of air raid protectionwas taken on by the many air protection related formations under the control ofthe German police, namely, the Luftschutzpolizei, which was formed in 1942when it became obvious that the existing air raid protection services wereno longer capable of dealing with the massive Allied raids on Germanyand its occupied regions. The RLB, Luftschutzpolizei, Feuerschutzpolizei,and other related organizations such the Deutsche Rote Kreuz took on thebrunt of the civil defense work in response to the increasingly devastatingair attacks Germany experienced during WWII.