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.