Skip to main content Skip to Search Box

Definition: Luftwaffe from Philip's Encyclopedia

German air force. In English-speaking countries, the term refers specifically to the air force of Nazi Germany. Built up rapidly in the 1930s, it was designed primarily as part of German Blitzkrieg tactics and was highly effective in support of ground forces in the early stages of World War 2 and during the invasion of the Soviet Union (1941). It was less successful as an independent strategic bombing force in the Battle of Britain (1940).


Summary Article: Luftwaffe (L, Lw)
from An Illustrated Dictionary of the Third Reich

German air force. The Luftwaffe, unlike the other two branches of the Wehrmacht (Heer and Kriegsmarine), was wholly created by the Nazis, since the World War I air force had been part of the army and any other air force had been forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles. Headed and created in 1935 by Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring (q.v.), the Luftwaffe was consequently looked on much more favorably by the Nazi hierarchy than were the Heer and Kriegsmarine. Hitler saw the air force as an important tool for achieving his territorial conquest and the Luftwaffe expanded greatly in the late 1930s. The main characteristic of the Luftwaffe was tactical, concentrating air power in support of ground operations in so-called Blitzkrieg (q.v.). Although a few strategic long-range bombing airplanes were developed, they never went into full production and this lack proved a significant weakness. The Luftwaffe also suffered from serious organizational weakness at the top. Göring was both Luftwaffe commander-in-chief and Reich aviation minister, having control over all air matters through the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (Reich Aviation Ministry). Personal enmity between various services did not help, and the situation was made worse by Göring's incompetence and laziness, as the Reichsmarschall often accepted over-optimistic reports rather than realistic ones. Because of Göring's standing within the Nazi hierarchy, Hitler allowed him to run the air force with little interference for much of the war. By mid-1944 Göring had lost all interest in his air force and Hitler increasingly concerned himself with Luftwaffe affairs, making the situation even worse. The Oberkommando der Luftwaffe (OKL, air force high command) was placed under command of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW, high command of all three German armed forces). The Luftwaffe was divided into Luftflotten (air fleets), Fliegerkorps (flying corps) and Fliegerdivisionen (flying divisions), Geschwadern (groups), Gruppen (wings) and Staffeln (squadrons). Although the production of planes peaked in 1944, the Luftwaffe eventually lost the war in the air not so much through inferior aircraft but through lack of fuel and shortage of experienced instructors and airmen. The Luftwaffe also possessed a number of ground troops, as Göring was a private empire builder. He helped the creation of the German paratrooper force and developed Luftwaffe infantry divisions. The Reichsmarschall also had his own armored division, the elite Hermann Göring Panzerdivision (q.v.) See Fallschirmjäger and Luftwaffe-Feld-Division.

The Luftwaffe Hoheitsabzeichen represented a diving eagle holding a swastika in one of its claws.

© 2014 Jean-Denis G.G. Lepage

Related Articles


Full text Article Luftwaffe
Greenwood Encyclopedia of International Relations

“Air weapon.” The German air force in World War II . It dominated the skies over Europe, North Africa, and Russia until mid-1942, when it was...

Full text Article Luftwaffe
Chambers Dictionary of World History

The correct name for the German air force, re-established in 1935 under Goering , in contravention of the Treaty of Versailles . Dominant in the...

Full text Article Luftwaffe
Brewer's Dictionary of Modern Phrase and Fable

(German, 'air weapon'). The German Air Force, first officially mentioned in a proclamation by Goering in May 1935, although it had in fact...

See more from Credo