Lessons from Luftwaffe's Rise and Fall

SHORTLY AFTER the conclusion of World War I, German military leaders made a decision to base their military strategy on a brief, highly mobile, fast-paced, theater-level offensive. The Luftwaffe was built around this concept of operations. We can mea­ sure its effectiveness in how well it performed its most important task: the gaining of air superiority.

The Luftwaffe was organized, equipped, and successfully employed to gain air superiority in short-offensive cam­ paigns over continental Europe. This impressive of­ fensive air strategy featured all-out independent op­ erations against opposing air forces as the means to achieve air superiority. Many air forces have since attempted to emulate the Luftwaffe's early victories: impressive successes include Israel's defeat of the Egyptian air force in 1967 and the coalition's defeat of the Iraqi air force in 1991. German success, however, was context-dependent. The Luftwaffe was prepared to win air superiority within the framework of a short-offensive war. The air war over Europe became a protracted struggle on all fronts, and the Luftwaffe was forced onto the strategic defensive. Despite dra­ matic German adjustments, the Luftwaffe ultimately failed in its quest for air superiority. This failure may serve as a distant warning; the Germans devised a bril­ liant strategy that was forced into a context in which it could not succeed. Luftwaffe leaders sou

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