Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Great photo from the invasion of France.  It was taken in May 1940 and shows a bomb(s?) exploding along a French road from the viewpoint of another German plane.  At first, I thought this photo showed a bomb exploding in the middle of a French convoy.  But after looking at it, I think it shows the result of a bomb run directed at military positions just to the right of the road.  The picture was taken (still guessing) from the next plane, just lining up their own run on the target.  In addition, even though you can see vehicles on the road, they are not of uniform size and color, as you would expect with a military convoy.

The photo also illustrates something else.  The impact of the Luftwaffe was huge during May 1940.  It was one of the key reasons the Germans were able to achieve in six weeks what they had not during the 4 years of WW1.  However, the Luftwaffe's superiority turned out to be relative.  They weren't that much better than either the French air force or the RAF.  But they were far better used, as the photo shows.  This is not a couple of planes flying around looking for targets of opportunity, like a convoy.  If they are attacking something beside the highway, it's probably because someone told them there was a target there.  The Luftwaffe's tactical integration was excellent.  That means they were in contact with ground units and responded to their requests.  This became routine later, but in 1940, the Germans were the only ones able to do it effectively.

However, the Luftwaffe failed to grow beyond an almost purely tactical organization.  Resource constraints and poor management resulted in an air force with no strategic bombing capability and no ability to gain more than local air superiority.  These limitations were not always a handicap to the Luftwaffe in Russia, for a variety of reasons.  And they did well on the Eastern Front.  But having failed to gain air superiority during the Battle of Britain, they were never able to get it again in the West.  In addition, the lack of a strategic capability prevented the Germans from projecting their air power deep into enemy territory.  They simply could not put a large amount of bombs on a target far away.  For example, the Germans killed about 51,000 people in Britain with aerial bombing during the entire war.  The RAF and USAAF killed about 50,000 in one night when they firebombed Hamburg in July 1943.  Body counts do not mean victory, but the numbers illustrate the difference in capacity.