Historical Article : The Luftwaffe's White Hope
Raul Colon writes about WWII operation The Great Blow, Luftwaffe General Galland's plan to counter the allied bombing campaigns against Germany, how it failed, and how it backfired on the Luftwaffe when Hitler saw another purpose for the Fighter Force assembled for it.
As the summers months of 1944 passed, giant Allied Air Armadas pounded the German homeland. In the daylight, the US 8th Air Force was pounding away at Germany’s centers of communication, industry and troop build-up and then at night, the full force of Britain’s Bomber Command descended upon Germany’s cities and towns. Germany’s Air Force, the once vaunted Luftwaffe, tried as best as they could to stem the tie of this massive offensive, but with scarce resources committed on a prolong two front war it was almost impossible for the air force to cause any significant dent on the Allies bombing strategy.
Following rapidity failures by the air force’s Fighter Force to put a halt to the Allies daylight attacks on the homeland, General Galland drew up plans for a radically different strategy. He ordered several wings of Fighter Force to move from forwards bases along the French border and Northern Germany to airfields in Central Germany to train them in new tactics. He then assembled a large fighter force for an operation he called Der Grosse Schlag or The Great Blow; a single crushing attack on US bomber formations to be delivered at a time when the Fighter Force was to concentrate all its resources to defend one sector of Germany. Galland outlined his plan to his staff and the Luftwaffe’s top commanders. He said that no fewer that 3,000 fighters were to be deployed against the bombers on their way to the target. As the mission starts, the first wave of aircrafts will dive on the bombers from behind and then the second and third wave will do the same from each flank of the bomber formation. As the attack continues, it was planned that each wave will land its airplanes, refuel and rearm them in short time in order to get back into the attack as soon as possible so the next wave can do the same. At the same time, 100 fighters will be on constant patrol to cut off damaged bombers trying to escape to Switzerland and Sweden. The main goal of the operation was to shoot down between 400 to 500 bombers in one day with an expected cost of about 400 German fighters and 150 pilots. Galland envisioned this offensive to be the largest and most decisive air battle of the war. The operation was schedule for the afternoon of November 12th, 1944. Now the questions turned to the weather. Could it be that on that day the skies will be clear or will overcast shadow the whole operation? For the German plan to have any chance at success, every detail must be planned and rehearsed many times over. One area in particular worried the high command: The shortness of experience formation leaders had. Normal individual Gruppen or squadrons earmarked for The Great Blow had been expanded, in some instances to twice their normal strength in both aircraft and pilots. With that in mind they sent out to recruit the best instructor pilots in the whole German Air Force. Another factor that had to be counted was the limited supply of aviation fuel available for training. Add to this the fact that Hitler needed to be told of the operation before it could get off the ground, added to the sense that the operation could be terminated before any plane could take off.
On November 2nd, 1944, the Luftwaffe was ready to test its theory of a massive concentrated attack on bomber formations coming from England. Ten squadrons, totaling some 490 fighters took off to engage 1,000 American bombers; they were escorted by 873 fighters. Their mission: to pulverize the LeunaMerseburg oil refinery and the railway's central communication hub. The attack was a façade, the Luftwaffe put some pressure on the formation but the present of the escort fighters put a damp into the attack. At the end of the day, some 120 fighters were shot down, but more importantly to the Germans, 98 experience fighter pilots were lost in the attack. An attrition rate they could not sustain this late in the air war. With this high cost in both men and machines came the realization that an operation as the one that had just ended, one that costed so much to the Germans, Fighter Force could only destroy 40 bombers, just 3.6 per cent of the entire bombing armada. The Americans would take such losses in a heartbeat knowing that they could replace the aircraft and their crews within a day or two. The failure to inflict a much heavier damage to the US bombers on November 2nd, did not bode well for the future of operation The Great blow.
Hitler immediately requested detailed information of the future attack. He then reasoned that if Fighter Force could mount such a massive force for The Great Blow, he could amass the same force for other intend: His last grasp at victory, operation Watch on the Rhine. A proposed attack by the last of the German Army elite units, the Panzers. For this new endeavor, Hitler would deploy his last available offensive capability, seven top-of-the-line Panzer divisions, numbering some 200,000 men in an effort to smash through the Ardennes sector of the US front and make a rapid attempt at the capturing of the port city of Antwerp. He believed that such an attack, at a time when Germany’s enemies thought her military machine was exhausted, was likely to catch them off balance. Above all, Hitler was playing for time, time to introduce his new advanced aircraft and U-Boats and extend the war, for he also held to the believe that the irreconcilable political systems of the Western Allies and the Soviet Union would lead to their fall and eventually even perhaps start fighting among themselves. A recurring theme in the German propaganda machine at this time.
So, in accordance to this thinking, Galland received in mid November 1944 an order to prepare the great concentration of airplanes and pilots he so painstakingly had assembled, the pick in Fighter Force strength, and prepare them to support a great land battle in the West. On November 20th, the official cancellation order for The Great Blow was received at Galland’s headquarters. He tried to stress out to the High Command that all preparations made for the operation were for an attack by massive fighter formations on an incoming enemy from established airfields in central Germany, not the rough-and-tumble operations from small fields close to the front, but these objections fell in deaf ears. Hitler had made his call. So ended the last grand stand of the once mighty Luftwaffe.
- Aders, Gebhard, History of the German Night Fighter Force 1917-1945, Jane's Publishing Company, UK, 1979.
- Girbig, Werner, Six Months to Oblivion: The eclipse of the Luftwaffe fighter force, Ian Allan Publishing, UK, 1975.
- Price, Alfred, The Last Year of the Luftwaffe: May 1944 – May 1945, Greenhill Books, UK, 2001.
Article copyright 2007 Raul Colon, firstname.lastname@example.org