The Rise of the Luftwaffe

'We shall not abandon hope of one day seeing the Flying Corps come to life again. The fame of the Flying Corps engraved in the history of the German armed forces will never fade. It is not dead, its spirit lives on!'

Gen Hans von Seeckt, Chief of the Army General Staff

Disbandment order 8 May 1920

The huge Dornier Do X is an example of how Germany circumvented the Treaty of Versailles. This flying boat was financed by the German Transport Ministry and manufactured at a specially designed factory on the Swiss part of Lake Constance. When it first appeared in 1929 it was the largest, heaviest, and most powerful flying boat in the world.In many ways the military flying did not end with the Allied order to disband the Flying Corps and prohibit the construction of military aircraft in Germany. The Army Commander, Von Seeckt, laid the basis for a strong Reichswehr and by disguising their true purpose laid the foundation of a highly skilled professional officer class well versed in mechanized warfare. Aircraft were built, often abroad, or under the guise of civilian or sports machines and rigorous training took place including at a secret base in the Soviet Union.

The German Government provided subsidies during the 1920s for a successful civilian aircraft industry. Knowledge gained in the First World War was put to good use in the development of new and advanced designs. The Heinkel He 51 was one of the first fighter aircraft of the Luftwaffe, having been designed in secret. Its performance was similar to the Hawker Fury which equipped RAF fighter squadrons.

When Hitler came to power in 1933, Göring was made Air Minister and the expansion of military aviation became a priority. By 1935, when the Luftwaffe was formally announced, it already had over 1,800 aircraft and 20,000 personnel.

By 1936 many of the German aircraft which would participate in the Battle of Britain four years later were in prototype form and undergoing testing.

During the Spanish Civil War Germany joined Italy in supporting the Nationalist forces against the Republican government. She used the opportunity to gain experience and try out new equipment and tactics.

The German ‘Condor Legion’ in the The Spanish Civil War

In July 1936 civil war broke out in Spain between Nationalist and Republican (Government) forces. Germany, which supported the Nationalist cause, saw this as an opportunity for her forces and agreed to base aircraft in Spain to fight with the Nationalists.

The German ‘Condor Legion’ initially comprised six squadrons and carried out its first operation on 15th November 1936. Among the German aircraft which first saw combat in this conflict were the Messerschmitt Bf 109, Heinkel He 111, Dornier Do 17 and Junkers Ju 87.

The bombing of the Basque town of Guernica on 26 April 1937 was undertaken by planes from the German Condor Legion and Italian Aviazione Legionaria. Western countries considered this particular attack as an example of terror bombing and believed the Luftwaffe was committed to the tactic of attacking civilian targets. This was not the case at the time.