Decline of the Luftwaffe Pilot Training
The Battle of Britain had been the first major setback for the Luftwaffe, but in the main the losses in trained crews were made good by drawing upon the reserves already available within the service. Moreover, the comparatively low casualty rate during the first half of 1941 enabled the remaining gaps in the ranks to be filled without placing undue strain on the training organization.
The relentless rate of losses from the beginning of the Russian campaign, however, made demands which the flying training organization found almost impossible to meet: during the first six months of the offensive Luftwaffe casualties in aircrew, of all categories from all causes in all theaters, amounted to some 2,200 men; during the second six months an almost exactly equal number of men was lost.
The campaign in Russia also brought more direct forms of pressure on the flying training organization. Early in 1942 many Ju52 aircraft, together with their instructor pilots, were removed from the C, blind-flying and bomber schools and sent to Russia to supplement the fleet of air transports engaged in flying supplies to the German troops cut off at Demjansk and Cholm. Owing to actual losses and shortages at the front line units, many of the instructors and aircraft were never returned to the training organization. Later in the year the pace of air operations in the east led to a shortage of aviation fuel throughout the Luftwaffe; again it was the flying training schools that suffered.
The shortages of instructors, suitable aircraft and fuel threw out of gear the training program for bomber and reconnaissance crews; in the short term there was a surplus of partially-trained pilots from the A/B Schools, but at the same time a lack of trained crews available at the Ergaenzungseinheiten.
In July 1942 General Kuehl, the Director of Training, brought to Goering’s notice the fact that the shortages were leading to an impossible situation at the C Schools. As was so often the case, the Reichsmarschall had a glib answer: he ordered that the C Schools should be disbanded, and their functions taken over by the Ergaenzungseinheiten.
This proved to be beyond the capacity of the latter, however, for they had insufficient aircraft or instructors to cope with this sudden influx of pupils; so, in their turn, the Ergaenzungseinheiten farmed out many of them to the operational Gruppen (groups) for training. The net result of this confused situation was that the general standard of training of new crews for the bomber and long-range reconnaissance units fell so low that operational efficiency began to suffer.
During 1943 the new Director of Training, Generalleutnant (lieutenant general) Kreipe, was able to slow the rate of deterioration of his organization. But simple expedients, like the introduction of short glider courses to provide initial flying experience for pilots, could not make up for the perennial shortages of good instructors, modern aircraft and, above all, fuel.
By the beginning of 1944 German fighter pilots were joining their operational units with only about 160 hours flying training; this compared with more than double that figure for their counterparts in the RAF and the USAAF.
During the first half of 1944 the Luftwaffe day fighter units suffered debilitating losses at the hands of the better-trained American escort fighter pilots, whose P-51 Mustangs could in any case out-perform the best fighters the Germans then had in service at this time; during this period the home-defense units lost some 2,000 pilots killed, missing or wounded.
When the Luftwaffe training organization tried to make good these heavy casualties with similar numbers of new pilots, the result was a vicious circle: the ill-trained replacement fighter pilots were no match for their opponents and suffered heavy losses, and their places in the front line were taken by new pilots who had a more hurried training and were even less of a match for their opponents.
During the late spring standards fell yet further, when the B flying schools were disbanded. Fighter pilots were now sent into action with only about 112 hours flying, made up as follows: A School, two hours glider flying and 50 hours powered flying on elementary types; Fighter School, 40 hours; Replacement Fighter Group, 20 hours.
Moreover, the so-called Windhund program, which provided for the hasty conversion of ex-bomber pilots by giving them 20 hours flying in fighters resulted in a stream of pilots little able to stand up to the enemy.
In September 1944 the Luftwaffe flying training organization received its death blow. With the systematic wrecking of the German synthetic fuel industry by Allied strategic bombers, aviation fuel production fell so far beneath Luftwaffe requirements that operations had to be curtailed. In such a climate the training schools, always the poor relation, could not survive long. First the elementary and many of the specialist schools were closed then, as the last of the trainees passed through, the specialist fighter schools were also disbanded and their instructors sent to the front.
By February 1945 the Luftwaffe aircrew training organization had, to all intents and purposes, ceased to exist.
References and literature
Luftwaffe Handbook (Dr Alfred Price)
Das große Buch der Luftkämpfe (Ian Parsons)