How important is air supremacy in war

The second World War

Dr. Thomas Vogel

Lieutenant Colonel Dr. Thomas Vogel, born in 1959, is project division manager at the Center for Military History and Social Sciences of the Bundeswehr (ZMSBw), formerly the Military History Research Office (MGFA), in Potsdam. He has long been interested in the military opposition in the 'Third Reich' and the resistance of soldiers against National Socialism. For several years he has been dealing more intensively with various aspects of warfare in the age of the world wars, most recently with coalition warfare in particular. He has, inter alia. published: "Uprising of conscience. Military resistance against Hitler and the Nazi regime, 5th edition, Hamburg et al. 2000 (publisher and author); Wilm Hosenfeld:" I try to save everyone. "The life of a German officer in letters und Tagebüücher, Munich 2004 (ed. and author); Tobruk 1941: Rommel's Failure and Hitler's Success on the Strategic Sidelines of the 'Third Reich', in: Tobruk in the Second World War. Struggle and Remembrance, ed. v. G. Jasiński and J. Zuziak, Warsaw 2012, pp. 143-160; "A fruit knife for chopping wood." The battle for Stalingrad and the failure of the German allies on Don and Volga 1942/43, in: Stalingrad. An exhibition of the Military History Museum of Bundeswehr, edited by G. Piecken, M. Rogg, J. Wehner, Dresden 2012, pp. 128-141; A War Coalition Fails in Coalition Warfare: The Axis Powers and Operation Herkules in the Spring of 1942, in: Coalition Warfare: An Anthology of Scholarly Presentations at the Conference on Coalition Warfare at the Royal Danish Defense College, 2011, ed. v. N. B. Poulsen, K. H. Galster, S. Nørby, Newcastle upon Tyne 2013, pp. 160-176; The First World War 1914-1918. The German deployment into a warlike century, Munich 2014 (co-publisher and author).

In the winter of 1944/45 the Wehrmacht made the last major, desperate attempt to stop the Allied advance in the west. The "Ardennes Offensive" failed, however, and delayed the attack by the Western Allies on Germany by only six weeks.

Hitler leaves Berlin for the last time: Visit to the headquarters of the 101st Army Corps on the Oder front on March 3, 1945. (& Copy Federal Archives)

Radicalization of warfare

Preparation for the "final battle": NCOs of the army train men of the Volkssturm to use the G 98 carbine, October 1944. (& copy Federal Archives)
The looming defeat made the regimes in Japan and Germany even more fanatical in the second half of 1944. Both countries also resorted to new methods of warfare. From the fall of 1944 onwards, Japan used fighter planes ("Kamikaze") and micro-submarines ("Kaiten") for suicide attacks against Allied warships with limited success. The Nazi regime did not go that far; but it mobilized the last of its strengths for the war by all means. His propaganda spread fear and terror of the enemy and whipped the population into "belief in the final victory". As "General Plenipotentiary for Total War Deployment", Joseph Goebbels squeezed out masses of new conscripts from the German population from July 1944. The party also intervened more and more frequently. The Gauleiter of the NSDAP were responsible for setting up and deploying units of the "German Volkssturm", which Hitler had launched on September 28, 1944. This last contingent of mostly older men was poorly trained and armed, remained largely worthless from a military point of view and suffered heavy losses. Even more radical was the concept of guerrilla warfare behind the enemy lines, which went back to the "Reichsführer SS" Heinrich Himmler. His "Werewolf" organization, founded for this purpose in September 1944, carried out individual assassinations on German Nazi opponents at the end of the war, but remained militarily ineffective, even though its very existence caused considerable nervousness among the Allied forces.

Source text

Hitler's decree on the formation of the "German Volkssturm" from 25.09.1944

"After five years of arduous struggle, the failure of all our European allies means that the enemy is close on some fronts
or at the German borders. He is exerting his strength to smash our Reich, to destroy the German people and their social order. His ultimate goal is the extermination of the German man.

As in the autumn of 1939, we are now facing the front of our enemies all alone. In a few years we succeeded in solving the most important military problems through the first large-scale deployment of our German people's strength, and in securing the existence of the Reich and thus Europe for years. While the enemy now believes they can strike the last blow, we are determined to carry out the second large-scale operation of our people. We must and we will succeed, as in the years 1939 to 1941, relying exclusively on our own strength, not only to break the enemy's will to destroy, but to throw it back again and keep it from the Reich until the future of Germany, its allies and thus securing peace in Europe
Last contingent: Volkssturm men with bazookas in Berlin on March 10, 1945 (& copy Federal Archives)
is guaranteed.

We oppose the total will to destroy our Jewish international enemies, as we know, with the total commitment of all German people. In order to strengthen the active forces of our armed forces and in particular to conduct a relentless fight wherever the enemy wants to set foot on German soil, I therefore call on all German men who are capable of armed forces to fight.

I order:
1. In the districts of the Greater German Reich, the German Volkssturm must be formed from all men who are capable of arms between the ages of 16 and 60. He will defend his home soil with all weapons and means, as far as they appear suitable.

2. The Gauleiter in their districts is responsible for setting up and managing the German Volkssturm. Above all, they make use of the most capable organizers and leaders of the tried and tested institutions of the party, the SA, SS, the NSKK and the Hitler Youth.

3. I appoint the chief of staff of the SA, Schepmann, as inspector for shooting training and the corps leader of the NSKK, Kraus, as inspector for engine training for the Volkssturm.

4. The members of the German Volkssturm are soldiers within the meaning of the Defense Act during their deployment. 5. The membership of members of the Volkssturm in non-professional organizations remains unaffected. Service in the German Volkssturm takes precedence over any service in other organizations.

6. As the commander of the reserve army, the Reichsführer SS is responsible for the military organizations, training, armament and equipment of the German Volkssturm.

7. The combat deployment of the German Volkssturm is carried out according to my instructions by the Reichsführer SS as the commander of the replacement army.

8. As the commander of the replacement army, Reichsführer SS Himmler issued the military implementation regulations, and Reichsleiter Bormann issued the political and organizational regulations on my behalf.

9. The National Socialist Party fulfills its highest duty of honor in front of the German people by first and foremost using its organizations as the main bearers of this struggle.

Führer headquarters, September 25, 1944
The Führer: Adolf Hitler
The head of the party chancellery: M. Bormann
The Chief of the High Command of the Wehrmacht: Keitel
The Reich Minister and Head of the Reich Chancellery: Dr. Lammers "

Source: Walther Hofer (ed.), National Socialism. Documents 1933-1945, Frankfurt am Main 2nd edition 1957, p. 252 f.



Premature German defeats in air and sea warfare

As the Allied armies from East and West approached the German borders, Allied bomber fleets of up to 1,000 aircraft laid the German cities in ruins. Since early 1943, the British received Bomber Command Support from a US air fleet in Great Britain, from the end of 1943 another one in southern Italy. The British undertook their operations at night, the Americans by day. The two also differed in their objectives. The British strategy tried to shake the morale of the population by means of terrorist attacks ("moral bombing"). Measured against its goal of achieving the early (moral) collapse of the German population, it ultimately remained unsuccessful, although the Allied air war in Germany killed almost half a million people and destroyed a fifth of all homes. In contrast, the Americans concentrated on the destruction of the German arms industry. With targeted attacks against the German aircraft industry, the Allies secured air control over Germany in the summer of 1944. After that, their bomber fleets gradually paralyzed German warfare by destroying key industries. They made a major contribution to ending the war. The German air defense shot down a total of over 15,000 bombers with a crew of 100,000, but could not do anything against the growing majority of the Allies. Technically, too, she fell behind. Your radar systems were soon effectively disrupted by the enemy. From the spring of 1944, powerful escort fighters protected the US bomber fleets, which significantly reduced their initially high losses from German fighters. In contrast, the weak German bomber weapon was no longer capable of real counter-attacks, as a last small air offensive against Great Britain in the spring of 1944 showed. Now the Nazi leadership relied on attacks with "retaliatory weapons" such as the V1 and V2, which cost many human lives and caused great damage, but no longer changed the course of the war.

Maps and graphics: "End of the war"

Germany also lost the naval war prematurely. This initially applied to naval warfare over water. Its surface fleet, which is still under construction, could not even come close to competing with British naval power. Early losses such as those of the armored ship "Admiral Graf Spee" in 1939 and the battleship "Bismarck" in 1941 or even the loss of half of the operational fleet during the "Weser Exercise" operation in 1940 were all the harder and even that was less and less successful in the second half of the war. The German submarines are different. Soon very successful in the trade war and already stylized as a decisive weapon, they suffered serious setbacks in the spring of 1943. Improved defense measures by the Allies and the decryption of German radio communications by the British ("Ultra") caused the submarines' successes to collapse and their own losses to increase dramatically. Even a staunch National Socialist like their new Commander-in-Chief, Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz, was therefore forced in May 1943 to withdraw the submarines from their main war zone, the North Atlantic. It was not until very late that naval armaments were concentrated on submarine warfare under him. The growing Allied superiority at sea limited the use of the Kriegsmarine from then on essentially to the coastal apron. Shortly before the end of the war, she was given an important task in evacuating troops and civilians across the Baltic Sea.

Last German offensives and Allied assault on "Fortress Germany"

In the winter of 1944/45 Hitler's will ensured the last major, almost desperate attempt by the Wehrmacht to stop the Allied advance in the west. Prepared under great secrecy, on December 16, 1944, an offensive by Army Group B with three armies overran the relatively weak American lines in the border region between the Eifel and the Ardennes (company "Wacht am Rhein"). Their destination was Antwerp, 200 km away, which has recently become the most important supply port for the Allies on the continent. It was also hoped to cut off the British-Canadian Army Group under Field Marshal Montgomery in the Netherlands. Growing opposition from the enemy and their own supply problems brought the attack to a standstill on December 24th after it had penetrated 80 km deep into the Ardennes. The Allied High Command under General Eisenhower quickly recovered from the surprise, deployed all available reserves and threw the attackers back to their starting positions by the end of January 1945. Even a mass deployment of 900 German aircraft on January 1st did nothing to change that; it only led to the ultimate ruin of the Luftwaffe. The German Ardennes offensive cost both sides heavy losses at the last minute. For the Americans, it became the bloodiest battle of the entire war. However, they could easily compensate for their losses, while they drained the substance on the German side. Because of the murder of American prisoners of war during the fighting, numerous SS soldiers later had to appear before a US military tribunal.

With the Ardennes offensive
Soviet Marshal Georgi K. Schukow in his command post on the Oder front in spring 1945. (& copy Federal Archives)
Hitler had once again put everything on one card, but ultimately only delayed the attack by the Western Allies on Germany by six weeks. For this the best divisions of the army had been worn out, hundreds of tanks and planes as well as irreplaceable amounts of ammunition and fuel reserves were wasted. They were missing in the east when the Red Army began the long-awaited major attack on January 12, 1945 over the Narew and Vistula. The German front collapsed quickly. At the end of the month the northern army group was encircled in the Königsberg area, where it was only redeemed at the end of the war. The main Soviet thrust went straight to the west, liberating the Auschwitz extermination camp on January 27 and reaching the Oder on January 31 on both sides of Frankfurt. Only 80 km away from the center of Berlin, the 1st Belarusian Front under Marshal Georgi K. Zhukov immediately formed the first bridgeheads, but then had to gather and freshen up while the neighboring fronts in Pomerania and Silesia followed suit. The respite enabled the broken German troops to regroup for defense as part of the hastily formed Army Group Vistula along the Oder and Neisse rivers. Angry about the "failure" of his generals, Hitler appointed the "Reichsführer SS" Heinrich Himmler to be their commander-in-chief in January 1945, but replaced him in March due to incompetence. At the same time, Himmler's police force took brutal action against any German who no longer showed any willingness to fight. For the same reason, from February 1945 new stand-up courts of the Wehrmacht and SS passed thousands of death sentences against German soldiers and civilians.

The fact that the eastern front collapsed so quickly was also due to Hitler himself, who preferred to send the last tank reserves from the west to Army Group South in Hungary. There the Red Army was stopped in front of Budapest in January 1945 and in some cases even got on the defensive due to minor German counter-attacks. Hitler saw the chance to strike back, also to secure the last large German oil reserves in western Hungary. It was soon too late for the relief of Budapest; the city fell after a seven-week siege on February 13, 1945. The battle had cost the Red Army over 300,000 dead and wounded, the German-Hungarian defenders a lot less. Regardless of this, the newly reinforced Army Group South rushed to attack between Budapest and Lake Balaton at the beginning of March and in bad weather, and already failed at the beginning ("Spring Awakening" operation). It did not withstand an immediate counter-offensive by the Red Army. Hitler's hold orders did nothing to change that. At the beginning of April, with continued support from Hungarian troops, she evacuated southern Slovakia and Burgenland. The advancing Red Army took Vienna almost without a fight until April 12th, profiting from the resistance of the Wehrmacht and the residents against Nazi rule. After that, the fighting in Austria gradually came to an end. The Soviet forces concentrated on enclosing the last intact German Army Group in Bohemia, which finally surrendered on May 11, 1945. The protracted fighting in Hungary meant that southern Germany was spared a Soviet invasion.

In the spring of 1945, the Allies on the German western border initially had a similarly difficult time. The unexpectedly fierce German resistance in the Hürtgenwald, in the Ardennes and most recently in January 1945 in Alsace made them cautious. Last but not least, they respected the German "Siegfried Line" near the border - until it turned out that it was not an obstacle. The German leadership also overestimated the value of this line of defense, which was based on the bunkers of the "West Wall" between Kleve and Lörrach. Strengthened by their last strategic reserves, the Allies went on the offensive on February 8, 1945 between the Moselle and Waal in order to win the Middle and Lower Rhine as a basis for the further advance into the Ruhr area and central Germany. Obstructed by bad weather and rough terrain, they only reached the Rhine after a month, where on March 7th the undestroyed Remagen bridge fell into their hands. They soon succeeded in building bridgeheads to the right of the Rhine in other places. The German lines were then quickly broken, and the Allies quickly advanced into the interior of Germany.Under the pressure of their attacks, the context of the German defense was visibly lost; it was increasingly difficult to coordinate and control it from Berlin. Army Group B, encircled in the Ruhr area, and the "Harz Fortress", which opened on 16./17. April and April 20 surrendered. On March 28, General Eisenhower had realigned the Allied approach. Accordingly, the British-Canadian Army Group continued to conquer northern Germany. On the other hand, he no longer wanted to intervene in the battle for Berlin. The Red Army had already made him their cause. In addition, Eisenhower feared excessive losses of his own. Therefore, the American advance through central Germany ended on the Elbe, where American and Soviet troops met for the first time on April 25, 1945. The US troops soon had to withdraw from Central Germany because after the decisions of the Yalta Conference (February 4-11, 1945) it became part of the Soviet zone of occupation. Before that the Americans fell into the hands of the art and gold treasures of the "Third Reich" and the elite of German armaments research that had been relocated there. The liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp near Weimar on April 15th confronted them with the horror of the "Third Reich". Eisenhower got a personal impression of it, while his attention as Commander-in-Chief was on Southern Germany. The news of the alleged retreat of the Nazi regime and the Wehrmacht into an "Alpine fortress" had induced him to swerve there with strong forces, especially since the French army subordinate to him had already advanced unauthorized into the German south-west. However, the "Alpine Fortress" soon turned out to be a pipe dream made up of German wishes and false conclusions from the Allied secret services. On their way south, the US Army captured the National Socialist model cities of Nuremberg ("City of the Reich Party Rallies") and Munich ("City of Movement") in mid / late April 1945. On May 5, she established the connection with the American troops advancing from Italy on the Brenner Pass. The Western Allies had made their contribution to the liberation of Germany from Nazi rule.

Final battle for Berlin and the fall of the "Third Reich"

A drama of its own took place during the last weeks of the war in the battle for the
Copy of a message from Hermann Göring to Hitler dated April 23, 1945: The request for Hitler's consent to the takeover of power by Göring ended with his arrest. (& copy Federal Archives)
Imperial capital Berlin, which at that time still had around two and a half million inhabitants. The fall of the "Third Reich" was only to be expected with their conquest, because Hitler's presence made them the control center of German warfare. The dictator had decided to stay in the capital and combine its fate with his. He had long been convinced that Germany and "the German people" would triumph or perish with him. This attitude of "all or nothing" determined Hitler's politico-military action even more. On March 19, 1945 he issued the so-called Nero Order, which ordered all military and civilian authorities to leave behind only "scorched earth" when retreating in Germany. He consciously did not want to take any more consideration of the future of the Germans, who in his eyes had proven to be too weak and therefore "unworthy of life". The end of his rule was clear to him when the Red Army reached the Oder at the end of January 1945 and was preparing to storm Berlin. At the end of February he and his closest staff moved into the "Führerbunker" under the Reich Chancellery because of the frequent air raids. Here he held the strings in his hand, even if his progressive physical and mental decline made him increasingly insensitive to reality. Until almost the end, members of the government and representatives of the military headquarters from the Berlin area received their instructions from him personally. In the end cut off in Berlin, the communication links that were still functioning were sufficient for him. This was even felt by his "Crown Prince" Hermann Göring. When he ultimately tried to succeed the "Führer" from Berchtesgaden on April 23, 1945, he had him arrested from Berlin for high treason.

Source text

Hitler's order for destructive measures in the Reich territory of March 19, 1945 ("Nero order")

"The struggle for the existence of our people forces within the Reich territory to use all means that weaken the fighting strength of our enemy
and hinder its further advance. All possibilities of inflicting the most lasting damage on the enemy's clout, directly or indirectly, must be exploited. It is a mistake to believe that traffic, communication, industrial and supply systems that have not been destroyed or that have only been paralyzed for a short time can be put back into operation for their own purposes when reclaiming lost areas. In retreating, the enemy will only leave us a scorched earth and abandon all consideration for the people. I therefore order:

1) All military, traffic, communications, industrial and supply facilities as well as material assets within the Reich territory that the enemy can somehow make immediately or in the foreseeable future usable for the continuation of his fight are to be destroyed.

2) Responsible for carrying out this destruction are the military command authorities for all military objects including the traffic and communication systems, the Gauleiter and Reich Defense Commissioners for all industrial and supply systems as well as other material assets; the Gauleiters and Reich Defense Commissioners are to be given the necessary help in carrying out their tasks.

3) This order must be made known to all troop commanders as quickly as possible, instructions to the contrary are invalid. "

Source: Federal Archives, Military Archives Department, RM 7/237.



The final battle for Berlin was opened on April 16, 1945 by two Soviet fronts with attacks from their bridgeheads on the Oder and Neisse lines against the last German lines of defense in the east. From this developed the greatest battle of the war on German soil. The Soviet commanders were under time pressure from Moscow, where the rapid advance of the Western allies to the east was watched with suspicion. The main burden of the attack was carried by the 1st Belarusian Front and its almost one million soldiers under Marshal Georgi K. Zhukov. Only after three days and with great losses did their frontal attack break through the strong positions of the German 9th Army on the Seelow Heights north of Frankfurt / Oder with sevenfold superiority. After that she was unstoppable. In association with the 1st Ukrainian Front, it included Berlin until April 25th. In complete misunderstanding of the circumstances, Hitler hoped for the liberation of the troops from outside (relief) by the army of General Walther Wenck, which had just been set up west of Berlin. Their attack at the end of April helped parts of the 9th Army, which had since been cut off, to break out and break through to the west. In this way, 90,000 German soldiers and civilian refugees save themselves from the Red Army in American captivity. At that time, almost everywhere on the crumbling German Eastern Front, this was the aim not only of the common soldiers but also of the military leaders. The Soviet troops meanwhile tightened their ring of enclosure around Berlin. In the loss-making house and street battle against the almost 100,000 defenders from the Wehrmacht, SS, Volkssturm and Hitler Youth, they advanced to the city center and reached the government district on April 30, 1945. When he found out, Hitler and his newlywed wife Eva Braun committed suicide; the next day Goebbels, whose propaganda spread the belief in the final victory to the end, also killed himself and his family. On May 2nd, the city commandant, General Helmuth Weidling, surrendered. The battle in and around Berlin was over. It had cost the Red Army 350,000 dead and wounded, the German side hardly less; tens of thousands of German soldiers were taken prisoner again. Thousands of Berlin residents were also killed in the inferno, many of them by murder squads of their own regime, who threatened with death anyone who was tired of the war or even willing to surrender.

The "Third Reich" outlasted the dictator and the downfall of the
Arrest of the Dönitz government in Flensburg by the British on May 23, 1945: Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz in the center of the picture, behind him on the left the former Armaments Minister Albert Speer and Colonel General Alfred Jodl. (& copy Federal Archives)
Imperial capital only briefly. On the day before his suicide, Hitler had appointed Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz as his successor. He had evaded with other high-ranking military and Nazi figures, including Heinrich Himmler, to the still largely unoccupied Schleswig-Holstein. On May 3, 1945, he formed an "executive government" in Flensburg, which initially continued the war. The war and merchant navy evacuated over two million German soldiers and civilians from the east and thus saved them from Soviet access. Also from Flensburg, the Wehrmacht High Command maintained contact with its cut-off southern group in the Bavarian-Austrian Alpine region as well as to Bohemia and Moravia, Holland, Denmark, Norway and Courland, to the Channel Islands and some French Atlantic ports, where German crews were still holding out. On the one hand, the brief rule of Dönitz was shaped by the spirit of the old Nazi regime. Military courts continued to mercilessly maintain discipline and executed soldiers for relatively minor offenses until the very end. On the other hand, Doenitz was not committed to Hitler's self-destructive policy of destruction. Rather, after a brief reluctance, his regime bowed to the demand for unconditional surrender and became its trustee in several steps. Impotent, it first had to acknowledge the arbitrary surrender of the German troops in Italy. On May 5, it actively agreed with the British side on the surrender of the northern German area, including Holland and Denmark. Finally, Colonel-General Jodel declared on May 7, 1945 at Eisenhower's headquarters in Reims the total surrender of all German armed forces on behalf of Dönitz. It came into force the following day and ended World War II in Europe. At the Soviet request, the act was repeated by Field Marshal Keitel on May 8 at the Soviet headquarters in Berlin-Karlshorst. On the same day, British soldiers placed the Dönitz government under their supervision in Flensburg, before its members were finally arrested on May 23, 1945. The Allies put an end to the "Third Reich" politically and took over the power of government themselves on the territory of the German Reich.

The deeds of surrender from Reims and Berlin-Karlshorst.

The unconditional surrender of May 8, 1945 in full


"1. We, the undersigned, acting on behalf of and on behalf of the High Command of the German Armed Forces, hereby declare the unconditional surrender of all armed forces currently under German command or controlled by Germany
on land, at sea and in the air at the same time vis-à-vis the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces and the High Command of the Red Army.

2. The High Command of the German Armed Forces will immediately order all authorities of the German land, sea and air forces and all armed forces controlled by Germany to cease fighting at 11:01 p.m. Central European Time on May 8th and to remain in their positions that they hold at this point in time and completely disarm themselves by delivering weapons and equipment to the local Allied commanders or to the officers to be appointed by the Allied representatives. No ship, boat or aircraft of any kind may be sunk, nor may hulls, mechanical facilities, equipment, machines of any kind, weapons, apparatus, technical objects that can be useful for war purposes in general, be damaged.

3. The High Command of the German Wehrmacht will immediately pass on to the responsible commanders all additional orders issued by the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces and the High Command of the Red Army and ensure that they are carried out.

4. This declaration of surrender is without prejudice for any general surrender provisions that take its place and that may be imposed by the United Nations and in its name on Germany and the German Armed Forces.

5. If the High Command of the German Armed Forces or any armed forces subordinate to or controlled by it should fail to behave in accordance with the provisions of this declaration of surrender, the High Command of the Red Army and the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces will all punish and take other measures that they deem appropriate.

6. This declaration is in English, Russian and German. Only the English and Russian versions are authoritative.

Signed in Berlin on May 8, 1945

signed von Friedeburg (Commander in Chief of the Navy)
signed Keitel (Chief of the Wehrmacht High Command)
signed Stumpff (Chief of the Air Force General Staff)

for the high command of the German Wehrmacht. "



End of the war in the Far East