After the First World War ended, Germany was forced to disarm as part of the Treaty of Versailles. In 1920, the German Army and Navy were disbanded as per the conditions of the Treaty. The country was also forbidden from having any air force. It was completely rendered defenseless.
‘Luftwaffe’ refers to the air force of the German military forces during World War II. The Wehrmacht were the unified armed forces of the Nazi rulers of the German Reich from 1935 to 1945. It was part of the effort of the Nazi party to rearm Germany to a greater extent than was permitted in the Treaty of Versailles.
Since Germany was forbidden from having any forces of its own, its military pilots were forced to train in secret. Initially, these training sessions were done in German aviation schools but the grounds proved to be insufficient for military exercises.
A secret German airfield was later established for this purpose in the Soviet city of Lipetsk in 1924. German air force pilots and technical personnel also studied at a number of Soviet Union’s own air force schools. These remained operational until 1933, and ended when the Luftwaffe was formed.
The Condor Legion of the Luftwaffe was involved in the Spanish War between 1936 and 1939. The war also provided the Luftwaffe with a testing ground for new aircraft practices, including strategic bombing methods that would later be used to great advantage in the Second World War.
During World War II, Luftwaffe emerged as the most daring, powerful and largest air force in Europe. It quickly established its supremacy during the invasion of Poland in September 1939. It also played an important part in securing Germany’s victory during the Battle of France in the spring of 1940.
The German word for the Luftwaffe paratroopers is Fallschirmjäger. The word literally translates to ‘Parachute Hunters.’ They were perceived as the elite infantry units in the German Armed Forces. They were the first paratroopers in the world to be committed to large-scale airborne attacks. The Allied forces referred to them as ‘Green Devils.’
Unlike many of the countries of the world, the German forces had no qualms with hiring female pilots. Two of the top pilots in the German Luftwaffe were women: Hanna Reitsch and Melitta von Stauffenberg. They had a strong sense of honor and duty, and were proud to serve the Nazi regime. Melitta von Stauffenberg found out later that her father had been born Jewish, which turned her critical towards Nazi rule.
Medical experiments were carried out on the prisoners of the Luftwaffe. These experiments aimed at benefiting the German Luftwaffe, and included such tests as to find out ways to prevent and treat hypothermia. These involved subjecting concentration camp prisoners to freezing temperatures.
Hanna Reitsch proposed the idea to set up a kamikaze-style Luftwaffe unit in Hitler’s air force. Nearly 70 people volunteered for these suicide missions after Hitler’s reluctant approval. No such missions were ever carried out.
By the end of the Second World War, the Luftwaffe had 70,000 aerial victories to its name. After Germany was defeated, the Allied forces began to dismantle Germany’s forces. It was finally completely pulled apart in 1946.