Tag Archives: Luftwaffe

72 Year Ago This Week: The First Ever Jet Airstrikes. A titanic failure for the Germans.

The First Ever Jet Airstrike Was a Disaster. Here’s The Bizarre Story.

When gunners spot them, they are stunned: their speed. No propellers.

From out of the northeast, rocketing down from medium altitude in a shallow dive intended to improve bombing accuracy the Germans are back again. It is one more day of airstrikes on the prize. This is the third set of airstrikes today.

But this one is different. The planes are flying much faster. And have no propellers.

The first jet airstrike in history has begun. German Arado Ar 234 medium bombers and Messerschmitt Me 262 fighter/attack jet aircraft are launching a last-ditch airstrike on this key target in a desperate attempt to halt the allied advance.

But it isn’t going well.

The Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen, Germany is the most heavily defended target from air attack ever. Since the allies seized the bridge in a lightning attack a few days ago around March 7th they have emplaced more anti-aircraft guns surrounding this key bridge than any other single target on earth. In the upcoming 10 days of the German Luftwaffe campaign against the Ludendorff Bridge approximately 367 combat aircraft will attack the target. The Germans throw everything at Ludendorff, fighters, bombers, frogmen, artillery and now the secret German super-weapons, the jet bombers and fighters. The Allies claim to shoot-down 30% of the German planes. None score an effective hit on the bridge.

Bridges are a notoriously difficult target to hit with fast jets. The Germans are learning this difficult lesson for the first time in history today. The U.S. Air Force relearns it years later between 1967 and 1972 during protracted (and largely ineffective) airstrikes on the Long Biên (“Paul Doumer”) Bridge. They finally develop a new secret weapon, a “guided bomb” directed to its target by a laser beam. The Americans destroyed the North Vietnamese bridge on the first try with laser-guided bombs in 1972.

A damaged bridge

The Germans have crude guided bombs now including the “Fritz” radio-guided dive-bomb, but neither the new Arado jet bombers nor the smaller Messerschmitt jets can carry the large Fritz guided “smart” bomb.

As the hours to seize the bridge from the Allies turn into days the Germans become increasingly desperate. Luftwaffe Chancellor Hermann Göring proposes a suicide attack with bomb-laden Me 262 jets. No volunteers come forward or a technical shortcoming of the aircraft’s aiming device- or both- prevents the desperate tactic.

Göring forms a secret, special unit named the “Gefechtsverband Kowalewski”. It is an elite cadre of handpicked, jet-qualified strike pilots from Kampfgeschwader 76, the 76th Bomber Wing formerly located in Norway. The first jet attack pilots in history.

On March 13 the Germans hurl 19 of the special Ar 234 medium bombers and 30 Messerschmitt Me 262 A-2a jet fighter-bombers from II Kampfgeschwader 51 against the target. They are led by special Luftwaffe jet pilot Hansgeorg Bätcher. Bätcher led a previous (unsuccessful) March 7th mission against the Ludendorff problem and lived to tell. He knew the target well. It takes a brave man to volunteer to return, but the German situation is increasingly desperate.

Arado AR234

It will be the first all-jet airstrike on a ground target in aviation history. Even with a full complement of heavy 1,000kg bombs weighing more than a ton the bombers can press home the attack run at over 660 km/h (410 mph), a nearly unheard of speed at the time. They are so fast the American anti-aircraft units will have trouble hitting them. Speed is their primary defense. For six days the III Gruppe/KG 76 pilots attempt to hit the bridge in nine separate strikes.

First jet airstrikes illustration (author unknown)

Seated in the bubble nose of their incredibly fast Arado jet bombers the pilots have an excellent view. The sky is entirely aglow with bursting anti-aircraft shells, the thickest they have ever seen. Diving into the fiery cauldron seems like certain death. Shrapnel from the thick flak peppers the Arados and Messerschmitts. Every one that survives is damaged by flak. And whether it is the concentration of the flak or the speed of the new jet bombers or the inaccuracy of the unguided “dumb” bombs, every single bomb misses the bridge.

The jet strike is a titanic failure for the Germans.

The German losses are devastating. Seven jet aircraft, including two shot down by Allied fighters, are destroyed in that raid alone. The Americans estimate that from Mar. 7th to the 17th they have shot down 109 German planes, and likely destroyed 36 more. Total losses for the Germans now total nearly one-third of their dedicated strike force.

The Germans have developed and fielded a revolutionary new weapon, the jet attack aircraft, but they have not developed the tactics and weapons necessary to capitalize on the new aircraft’s speed and power. The early German jets are also dangerous to fly and require an absurd amount of maintenance. Jet fuel is increasingly scarce as the war continues to go poorly for the Germans.

In a last desperate measure the Germans launch a huge ballistic missile strike on the Ludendorff Bridge using their super-weapon, the V-2 intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM), the first of its type. But its crude gyro-controlled guidance system is so poor some missiles land on civilian villages miles away. Only one missile lands close to the bridge, missing the main span and doing no damage to stanchions on land. The missile strikes are also a failure.

While the German’s last-ditch campaign with their new super weapons fails, it heralds the arrival of the jet age and predicts the new direction of air war. They simply didn’t have all the details worked out, and the last months of a desperate war are a poor place to perfect a revolutionary new technology. Thankfully.



German Air Force Typhoons have just completed the very last training campaign at Decimomannu airbase

After 56 years, the German Air Force is leaving Decimomannu. Typhoons from Norvenich deployed there for what is probably the very last use of the Italian training facilities by Luftwaffe since 1960.

A dozen German Eurofighter Typhoons, including a couple of two-seaters, deployed to Decimomannu airbase, Italy, at the end of August for what is probably the last use of the German facilities in Sardinia, since the first detachment 56 years ago.


The aircraft, belonging to the TaktLwG 31 “Boelcke” were accompanied by 300 military and civilian employees, and around 60 tons of material in 16 containers flown from Germany by C-160 and A400M airlifters.


During their deployment to “Deci” (as the Sardinian airbase is dubbed) the air combat training of the German Typhoons, that launched as many as 20 daily sorties in the ACMI (Air Combat Maneuvering Installation) ranges, was supported by a Learjet, a target plane that acts as an electronic jammer operated by the “Gesellschaft für Flugzieldarstellung” (GFD), a civilian company cooperating with the German Air Force for air targeting exercises; and two A-4N Skyhawk of the Discovery Air Defense, a Canadian company that provides, among the others, target towing and “aggressors” services to the Luftwaffe.



The A-4Ns are usually based at Wittmund, homebase of the Taktisches Luftwaffengeschwader 71 “Richthofen” whose famous red “R” emblem appears on the tail of one of the Skyhawks.


Noteworthy, among the EF2000 Typhoons that TLG 31 deployed to Deci there was also a single seater in special color scheme: the 31+31 “Spirit of Oswald Boelke” that celebrates the 125th anniversary of Oswald Boelke, a German flying ace of the WWI.



The German Air Force is expected to leave Decimomannu by Dec. 31, 2016. Rumors of some 2-week deployments of other Luftwaffe units have not been confirmed yet.

The Taktische Luftwaffengeschwader 31 Eurofighters will leave Deci on Sept. 15, to be followed by the rest of the personnel on Sept. 16.

The images in this post were taken by Alessandro Caglieri and Gian Luca Onnis.




Russian fighters often shadow German Tornados over Syria but “they do it professionally” Luftwaffe says

Close encounters in the skies over Syria between Russian and German fighters.

As reported by several media outlets on Feb. 16, Russian Air Force (RuAF) fighter jets often shadow German Air Force (GAF) Tornados performing reconnaissance missions in Syrian airspace.

Although shadowing a foreign combat plane in Syria’s skies filled with jets and UAVs may lead to some tense situations, as explained by RT.com, both sides act professionally and prevent incidents.

A claim that was also confirmed by Lt. Gen. Joachim Wundrak, a Luftwaffe official recently returned from anti-ISIS coordination center in Qatar, who told to Rheinische Post daily that RuAF pilots take no aggressive actions against their German colleagues and that no incidents have been registered because “those encounters go on professionally.”

Wundrak revealed that among the aircraft used by the RuAF to shadow German Tornados there are also the 4++ generation Su-35S Flanker air superiority fighters which joined the air war over Syria few weeks ago.

In his opinion RuAF performs this kind of sorties to make clear that “unlike the international (US-led) anti-IS coalition, they operate at the invitation of the legitimate Syrian government.”

Nevertheless according to Wundrak these encounters are carried out safely also because Luftwaffe pilots know how to interact with their Russian colleagues thanks to the experience they gained during the Baltic Air Policing mission, where Germany regularly provides fighter jets for patrolling airspace of NATO member states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, countries that do not have interceptor jets to secure their own airspace.

The Luftwaffe has deployed six Tornado fighter bombers and an Airbus tanker to NATO’s Incirlik airbase in Turkey as part of Germany’s contribution to the war against Islamic State.

GAF Tornado

Top image: Pavel Vanka; Bottom image: Bundeswehr


This epic video shows RAF pilot recreating Battle of Britain moves in a vintage Spitfire

Ever wondered what it was like to fly in a Spitfire during the Battle of Britain? This  video will give you an idea.

The video below will bring you aboard a vintage Spitfire recreating classic Battle of Britain moves over the English Channel, in order to give an idea of how intense flying against Luftwaffe fighters in 1940 really was.

The display footage was filmed on Sep. 10, at the Guernsey Air Display in RAF BBMF (Battle of Britain Memorial Flight) Mk V Spitfire AB910. The legendary fighter was flown by Wg. Cdr. Justin Helliwell, flying along with another iconic aircraft, the Hurricane Mk II PZ865 piloted by Sqn. Ldr. Dunc Mason.

The Channel Island displays at Guernsey and Jersey were part of the commemorations for the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain and both air shows have been very special given the Island’s occupation during WWII.

Here’s why the MiG-29 could defeat the best western fighters in close air combat, despite its limitations

Conceived to fill the technological gap between Russian and U.S. fighters, the MiG-29 has been one of the last cutting edge fighters produced by the then Soviet Union.

The Fulcrum was sold in large numbers to former Warsaw Pact air forces to replace their ageing MiG-23 Floggers and twenty four of them were also delivered to East Germany. The East German Jagdgeschwader (JG) 3 took delivery of its first MiG-29 in 1988, and on Oct. 4, 1990, the Wing operated 24 Fulcrums, equipping two squadrons.

A follow-on batch was on order, but the aircraft were never delivered.  After the end of the Cold War and following the re-unification of Germany, the Luftwaffe inherited some of these fighters making them as much “NATO-compatible” as possible.

Among the pilots that amassed experience at the controls of the Luftwaffe Fulcrums, there was the Oberstleutenant (the Luftwaffe rank equal to Lieutenant Colonel) Johann Koeck who, after flying the F-4 Phantom, became commander of the only Luftwaffe MiG-29 squadron.

Here is what Koeck recalls in Jon Lake’s book “How to fly and fight in the MiG-29 (Jane’s At the Controls)”:

“With the re-unification JG 3 became Evaluation Wing 29 on 1 April 1991. On 25 July 1991 the decision was taken to keep the aircraft and integrate them into the NATO air defense structure. JG73 was activated in June 1993, and the MiG-29s assumed a National (Day Only) QRA(l) commitment over the former East Germany. The MiG-29s moved to Laage in December 1993 and on 1 February 1994 the unit gained a NATO QRA(l) commitment.”

Being an experienced Fulcrum driver, Koeck can tell which were the weak and the strength points of the MiG-29.

The most obvious limitation of the MiG-29 was the aircraft’s limited internal fuel capacity of 3,500 kg (4,400 kg with a centerline tank). The MiG-29  had no air-to-air refueling capability, and its external tank was both speed and maneuver limited.

If a mission started with 4400 kg of fuel, start-up, taxy and take off took 400 kg, 1,000 kg were required for diversion to an alternate airfield 50 nm away, and 500 kg for the engagement, including one minute in afterburner, leaving only 2,500 kg of fuel.

Koeck explains that “If we need 15 minutes on station at 420 kts that requires another 1000 kg, leaving 1500 kg for transit. At FL 200 (20,000 ft) that gives us a radius of 150 nm, and at FL 100 (10,000 ft) we have a radius of only 100 nm.”

The Fulcrum’s limited range conditioned also how the aircraft could perform a specific mission: in fact the MiG-29s didn’t possess the range to conduct HVAA (High Value Airborne Asset) attack missions, and they were effectively limited from crossing the FLOT (Front Line of Own Troops).

This limited station time and lack of air-to-air refueling capability ruled the MiG-29s out of meaningful air defense missions.

Another limitation of the aircraft was its radar that, as Koeck explained, was at least a generation behind the AN/APG-65, and was not line-repairable: if a MiG-29 experienced a radar problem, the aircraft went back into the hangar.

The radar had a poor display, giving poor situational awareness, and this was compounded by the cockpit ergonomics. The radar had reliability and lookdown/shootdown problems, hence  its poor discrimination between targets flying in formation, and moreover it couldn’t lock onto the target in trail, only onto the lead.  

Mig-29 GAF air-to-air

Due to these limitations the integration in the NATO environments of the Luftwaffe MiG-29s was really hard and restricted to only few roles: as adversary threat aircraft for air combat training, for point defense, and as wing (but not lead) in Mixed Fighter Force Operations.

Nevertheless the onboard systems were still too limited, especially the radar, the radar warning receiver, and the navigation system. These restrictions brought to several problems that the Fulcrum pilots faced in tactical scenarios, such as a  poor presentation of the radar information (which led to poor situational awareness and identification problems), a short BVR weapons range and a bad navigation system.

But despite all these limitations, once the furball started, the Fulcrum was the perfect fighter to fly. In fact thanks to its superb aerodynamics and helmet mounted sight, the MiG-29 was an exceptional fighter for close-in combat, even compared to aircraft like the F-15, F-16 and F/A-18.

As Koeck recalls “Inside ten nautical miles I’m hard to defeat, and with the IRST, helmet sight and ‘Archer’ (which is the NATO designation for the R-73 missile) I can’t be beaten. Even against the latest Block 50 F-16s the MiG-29 is virtually invulnerable in the close-in scenario. On one occasion I remember the F-16s did score some kills eventually, but only after taking 18 ‘Archers’ (Just as we might seldom have got close-in if they used their AMRAAMs BVR!) They couldn’t believe it at the debrief, they got up and left the room!”

Moreover with a 28 deg/sec instantaneous turn rate (compared to the Block 50 F-16’s 26 deg) the MiG-29 could out-turn them: in fact the Fulcrum retained an edge over its adversaries thanks to its unmatched agility which was reached combining an advanced aerodynamics with an old-fashioned mechanical control system.

After one of the German Fulcrums was sold for evaluations to the U.S. in 1991, the remaining 22 MiG-29s served until 2003, when they were sold to Polish Air Force for the symbolic sum of 1 Euro each.

Those Mig-29s were then upgraded and they currently provide Baltic Air Policing duties against the Russian threat in northern Europe.

Image credit: U.S. Air Force