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German military aviation began in the few years preceding 1914 and the outbreak of World War I. Like their British and French counterparts the German High Command was quick to appreciate that military aviation would be required to do much more than just undertake a reconnaissance role. Before World War I Germany had also been pioneering the development of airships (known collectively as Zeppelins after their leading pioneer Count Ferdinand Von Zeppelin) for passenger and even freight traffic. The potential for these great airships as a weapon was also patently obvious.

In many ways German military aviation was more prepared for war in 1914 than either its British or French counterparts and in early 1915 German naval and army airships would launch the first strategic bombing raids on the United Kingdom. Meanwhile in the skies over the Western Front the first combats to win control of the air were being fought. Between 1915 and early 1918 German military aviation was often ahead of its enemies in aircraft design and air combat tactics but was still generally on the defensive against superior numbers of allied air craft.

Although Zeppelins proved to be vulnerable to the new fighter aircraft and ceased to be a credible threat by 1917, Germany replaced them with new long range bombers, collectively known as Gothas. Therefore, by the end of World War I Germany had already experimented with all the elements of a modern air war. The peace of 1918/1919, however, effectively denied Germany an air force.

In the 1930's, with the rise of Hitler and Nazi Germany, German military aviation was once more developed. To begin with, many designs, especially of bomber types were thinly disguised as designs for passenger aircraft. Aircrew training was also disguised as training for civilian pilots. By 1936, however, it was obvious that Germany was developing a modern airforce built around fast monoplane bombers and fighters. Between 1936 and 1938 the pilots and planes of this new air force were tested during the Spanish Civil War. During this war the awful implications of strategic bombing were once more demonstrated by the bombing of the town of Guernica.

The German Luftwaffe was already a battle tried elite at the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. It had generally modern planes and had developed tactical skills that eclipsed the clumsy tactics of its opponents. After the swift victories over Poland in 1939 and France in May 1940, many fully expected the Luftwaffe to sweep away the British fighters during the Battle of Britain.

The Luftwaffe of 1940 was, however, not as prepared as many believed to take on the organised and modern air defences that had been developed by Britain. German bombers had been designed to support the army and the Luftwaffe, therefore, lacked long range heavy bombers required to mount a sustained strategic bombing campaign. In addition it was soon apparent that in daylight operations the German bombers were very vulnerable to the latest British fighters, the Spitfire and Hurricane, and would therefore require close escort from German fighters denying these the tactical initiative.

Even so, Britain's air defences and pilots were very sorely tested in the summer and autumn of 1940 by the numerous, well equipped and very experienced German Luftwaffe.

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