German Luftwaffe in WW2: Definition & Ranks

Instructor: Jennifer Keefe

Jennifer Keefe has taught college-level Humanities and has a Master's in Liberal Studies.

The Luftwaffe was part of a secret plan to get Germany ready for World War II, but it wasn't a secret for long. In this lesson, learn about the German Luftwaffe and its ranks.

The Turmoil of a Nation

Promises are meant to be kept, right? Well, throughout history, not all countries and their leaders have remained true to their words. Nazi Party leader Adolf Hitler was no exception. During the time between The Great War (i.e. World War I) and World War II, Hitler pulled off one of the world's biggest broken promises when he created an air force for the troubled nation of Germany.

Adolf Hitler speaking in 1932
Adolf Hitler

Hitler rose to power as the leader of Germany in 1933. His goal was to return the nation to its former level of strength and influence in the world. The massive losses Germany faced after The Great War left the country in turmoil. Economically devastated, and with sanctions placed upon it by the United States and other Central Powers nations, Germany attempted to rebuild both its cities and its reputation.

Hitler was far from happy with the way the war had ended. Germany lost territory, while the Versailles Treaty signed in June of 1919 kept the nation from starting a military aviation unit. By the mid-1930s Hitler had his sights set on taking over Europe.

Hitler's Secret Air Force

The German Luftwaffe, or Reich Luftwaffe, was the nation's big secret after The Great War. Hitler signed a decree to create this airborne military force on February 26, 1935. However, the pilots who would fly for the Luftwaffe had actually begun their training as early as 1926, when the German passenger airline Lufthansa was founded. The Luftwaffe joined the German army and navy as the core of the nation's armed forces.

Goering was the Luftwaffe Commander
Hermann Goering

The Luftwaffe was commanded by Hermann Goering who, during The Great War, commanded the flight unit that included Manfred von Richthofen, otherwise known as The Red Baron. Hitler's original plan was to tell the nations that had placed sanctions on Germany about his air force in stages. But when Britain announced plans to increase its Royal Air Force (RAF) in 1935, Adolf Hitler decided to unveil the Luftwaffe as a show of force.

Britain and France tried to match Germany's production of planes, but they were not successful. By 1937, Germany involved itself in the ongoing civil war in Spain, where it perfected techniques that would later be part of its blitzkrieg, or lightning war. These attacks involved aggressive ground and air raids whose goal was to quickly overtake territory and destroy everything in their path. By 1939, with over 2,000 bombers and fighter planes, Germany was ready for war. It wasn't until 1941 that the German air force lost its first battle to the British at the Battle of Britain. By 1944, when the Allies invaded the coast of Normandy on D-Day, the Luftwaffe was almost completely defeated.

The Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighter aircraft
German War Plane

Ranks in the Luftwaffe

The highest ranking official in the Luftwaffe was the reichsmarschall, a position that was only ever held by the commander, Hermann Goering.

Reichsmarschall Insignia
German Luftwaffe Insignia Reichsmarschall

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