Saturday, June 9, 2012


West German Luftwaffe F-4 Phantoms during a training flight

The Luftwaffe is the aerial defense branch of the German Armed Forces. The term Luftwaffe is also the generic German term for an air force as well as being the official name for two of the four historic German air forces, the Wehrmacht air arm which was founded in 1935 and later disbanded following the surrender of Germany in 1945 with the Luftwaffe disbanded in 1946;and the current Bundeswehr air arm founded in 1956.

Two other historic German air forces are the World War I-era Luftstreitkräfte of the era of the German Empire, and the Luftstreitkräfte der NVA in the GDR.

German aviation in general was severely curtailed, and military aviation was completely forbidden when the Luftwaffe was officially disbanded in August 1946 by the Allied Control Commission. This changed when West Germany joined NATO in 1955, as the Western Allies believed that West Germany was needed in view of the increasing military threat posed by the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies. Throughout the following decades, the West German Luftwaffe "Bundesluftwaffe: federal air force" was equipped mostly with American designed aircraft manufactured locally under licence. All aircraft sported and continue to sport the Iron Cross on the fuselage, harking back to the days of World War I, while the national flag of West Germany is displayed on the tail.

Many well-known fighter pilots who had fought with the predecessor Luftwaffe in World War II joined the new post-war air force and underwent refresher training in the U.S. before returning to West Germany to upgrade to the latest U.S. supplied hardware. These included Erich Hartmann, the highest-ever scoring ace (352 enemy aircraft destroyed), Gerhard Barkhorn (301), Günther Rall (275) and Johannes Steinhoff (176). Steinhoff, who suffered a crash in a Messerschmitt Me 262 shortly before the end of the war that resulted in lifelong scarring of his face and other parts of his body, would eventually become commander-in-chief of the Luftwaffe, with Rall as his immediate successor. Hartmann retired as an Oberst (colonel) in 1970 at age 48. Josef Kammhuber also served in the post-war Luftwaffe, retiring in 1962 as Inspekteur der Bundesluftwaffe (chief inspector of the Federal air force).

During the 1960s, the "Starfighter crisis" developed into a political issue, as many Lockheed F-104 Starfighters crashed after being modified to serve for Luftwaffe purposes – specifically for terrain, weather, and ground mechanic support issues. In Luftwaffe service, 292 of 916 Starfighters crashed, claiming the lives of 115 pilots and leading to cries that the Starfighter was fundamentally unsafe from the West German public, which referred to it as the Witwenmacher (widow-maker), fliegender Sarg (flying coffin), Fallfighter (falling fighter) and Erdnagel (tent peg, literally "ground nail").

Steinhoff and his deputy Günther Rall noted that the non-German F-104s proved much safer – Spain, for example, lost none in the same period. The Americans blamed the high loss rate of the Luftwaffe F-104s on the extreme low-level and aggressive flying of German pilots rather than any faults in the aircraft. Steinhoff and Rall immediately went to America to learn to fly the Starfighter under Lockheed instruction and noted some specifics in the training (a lack of mountain and foggy-weather training), combined with handling capabilities (sharp start high G turns) of the aircraft that could cause accidents.

Steinhoff and Rall changed the training regimen for the F-104 pilots, and the accident rates quickly fell to those comparable or better than other air forces. They also brought about the high level of training and professionalism seen today throughout the Luftwaffe, and the start of a strategic direction for Luftwaffe pilots to engage in tactical and combat training outside of Germany. However, the F-104 never lived down its reputation as a widow-maker and was replaced much earlier by the Luftwaffe than other national air forces.

The Starfighter was replaced by the American-built McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II fighter and the Panavia Tornado fighter-bomber; the latter was designed and produced by a cooperative of companies from the United Kingdom, Germany, and Italy. These fighters remain in Luftwaffe service today, with upgrades to their electronics and the addition of the AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missile for the air defense of Germany.

From 1965 through 1970, two surface-to-surface missile wings (Flugkörpergeschwader) fielded 16 of the Pershing I missile systems with nuclear warheads under U.S. Army custody. In 1970, the system was upgraded to Pershing IA with 72 missiles. Although not directly affected by the 1988 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, the Luftwaffe unilaterally agreed to the removal of the Pershing IA missiles from its inventory in 1991, and the missiles were destroyed.

Beginning in June 1979, the Luftwaffe took delivery of 212 Panavia Tornado fighters.

The GDR air force, the Luftstreitkräfte der NVA, was supplied exclusively with Eastern Bloc-produced aircraft such as the Sukhoi Su-17 "Fitter" and Mikoyan-Gurevich (MiG) family of aircraft, such as the MiG-21, MiG-23 and MiG-29 fighters, and served primarily as an extension of the Soviet Red Air Force units in Eastern Germany. The East German Air Force was unique among Warsaw Pact countries in that it was often equipped with Soviet-standard combat aircraft instead of downgraded export models. Operated as an extension of Soviet air power, the East German Air Force enjoyed less autonomy than other Eastern Bloc air forces. The markings on the aircraft reflected the identity of the country as belonging to the Communist bloc. These markings consisted of a diamond-shaped design, with three vertical stripes in black, red and gold surmounted by the stylized hammer, and wreath-like ears-of-grain design, which was also on the Flag of East Germany.

After East and West Germany were unified in October 1990, the aircraft of the NVA were taken over by the Federal Republic of Germany, and their GDR markings were replaced by the Iron Cross, the first time Soviet-built aircraft had served in a NATO air force. Most of these were taken out of service, in many cases being sold or given to the new Eastern European members of NATO, such as Poland and the Baltic states.

An exception to this was the Jagdgeschwader 73 "Steinhoff" (Fighter Wing 73 "Steinhoff") stationed in Laage. The pilots of the JG 73 flew MiG-29s acquired during the reunification and were some of the most experienced MiG-29 pilots in the world. One of their primary duties was to serve as aggressor pilots, training other pilots in dissimilar combat tactics. The United States sent a group of fighter pilots to Germany during the Red October exercise to practice tactics against the aircraft they were most likely to meet in real combat. The MiG-29s of JG 73 were fully integrated into the Luftwaffe's air defence structure and, from February 1995 became the first Soviet Bloc aircraft to be declared operational within NATO.

The United States provides nuclear weapons for use by Germany under a NATO nuclear sharing agreement. B-61s stationed at Nörvenich and Memmingen Air Base (fighter-bomber wing JaBoG 34 "Allgäu") have already been withdrawn in the mid- to late-1990s. All nuclear bombs formerly stored at the Ramstein Air Base have been returned to the U.S. or elsewhere (the U.K. is possible), due to ongoing construction work at Ramstein AB, and they will not be returned to Germany.

Luftwaffe uniforms closely resemble their World War II era predecessors with a dark blue service uniform piped with golden yellow trim.

Ranks of the Luftwaffe


    Flieger - Airman Basic/Aircraftman
    Gefreiter - Airman E2
    Gefreiter-UA - Airman E2 - NCO Candidate (Sergeants/Staff Sergeants)
    Gefreiter-FA - Airman E2 - NCO Candidate (Staff Sergeant/Flight Sgts.)
    Gefreiter-OA - Airman E2 - Officer Candidate
    Obergefreiter - Airman First Class
    Hauptgefreiter - Senior Airman
    Stabsgefreiter - Corporal
    Oberstabsgefreiter - Specialist / Lance-Sergeant/ Master Corporal

Non Commissioned Officers (NCOs)

    Unteroffizer - Junior Sergeant
    Unteroffizer-FA - Junior Sergeant - Candidate Staff Sergeant
    Stabsunteroffizer - Sergeant
    Feldwebel - Staff Sergeant / Flight Sergeant
    Oberfeldwebel - Sergeant First Class / Technical Sergeant
    Hauptfeldwebel - Master Sergeant
    Stabsfeldwebel - First Sergeant / Quartermaster Sergeant/ Senior Master Sergeant
    Oberstabsfeldwebel - Sergeant Major

Officer Candidates

    Fahnenjunker- Cadet / Officer Candidate (with the rank of Unteroffizier)
    Fähnrich - Ensign (with the rank of Feldwebel)
    Oberfähnrich - Senior Ensign (with the rank of Hauptfeldwebel)


    Leutnant - 2nd Lieutenant
    Oberleutnant - 1st Lieutenant/Lieutenant
    Hauptmann - Captain (land and air)
    Stabshauptmann - Senior Captain
    Oberstleutnant - Lieutenant Colonel
    Oberst - Colonel
    Brigadegeneral - Brigadier General/Brigadier
    Generalmajor - Major General
    Generalleutnant - Lieutenant General

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