WHERE IS THE GERMAN AIR-FORCE?
pERHAPS the most perplexing feature of this war of sur- prises is the comparative and unexpected inactivity of the German Air Force. Why has its power to destroy been checked and restrained? Why is it not given full opportunities to accomplish in fact the victories that Goebbels consistently seeks to acclaim? So far the successes of the Luftwaffe have been confined to those occasions when there has been a minimum of opposition—to the invasion of Poland and Norway and to attacks on fishing-vessels. Such successes do not satisfy the German High Command when they frame their communiqués.
These efforts in fiction include triumphant announcements concerning the sinking of whole squadrons of battleships and cruisers, although, it may be noted, prudence now dictates that the names of the alleged victims shall be no longer mentioned.
Why then, one cannot help asking, if these fictional victories are so necessary, do the German leaders not let loose the whole potential might of the Luftwaffe against the enemy instead of confining the work to a few squadrons and no more? The fact that the Luftwaffe is numerically of tremendous strength must be accepted. The reason for its surprising restraint in engaging battle must be looked for elsewhere. Certainly humanitarian precepts do not influence German policy. The tip-and-run methods of Nazi airmen on shipping in the North Sea are alone sufficient proof of that.
But these tip-and-run raids open up another possible ex- planation. They suggest the possibility that the Nazi pilot lacks confidence in himself and his aircraft. He dares not risk combat. He will reluctantly accept it, but he will rarely, if ever, seek it, even though numerically he is greatly superior to the enemy—in conspicuous contrast to the courage, determina- tion and tenacity of the Royal Air Force pilot and crew. If this lack of confidence is a fact, then it is possible that offensive operations can only be entrusted to a few picked squadrons.
There are good reasons for supposing that Nazi pilots are disappointed with the machines they have to fly, and dismayed by the fact that the Luftwaffe has been proved to be far from the invincible air-arm of Goering's boasts when it has been pitted against the Allied aircraft and those air-defences that it has so far challenged. Fifty bombers have been shot down near the coasts of Britain with the loss of only one fighter. This extraordinary record of the R.A.F. cannot but have a sobering effect on the enthusiasm of the visiting Nazi raider. Further, the Fleet has shown itself well able to look after itself (with the help of the R.A.F.) in Scapa Flow. The raiders in each of the last two raids have failed to effect any damage, largely as the result of the tremendous protective barrage that the A.A. guns put up. This induces the raiders to cultivate consider- able discretion. They choose to drop their bombs anywhere but over the target. All this is not known by the German public, but it is known, we may be sure, by every Luftwaffe pilot. Likewise the Nazi aircraft crews know that the British system of detecting raids is frightening in its effectiveness. They know, too, that the German theory on which the Luftwaffe force was built up, that for a bomber speed was the surest form of defence, has been proved wrong. How the crew of a Heinkel must wish for the armament of a Wellington when faced by the eight machine- guns of a Spitfire or Hurricane.
No less happy is the German fighter pilot who has to fly the Messerschmitt 109. This machine was designed to carry a 600 horse-power engine, but the production of our Spitfire and Hurricane fighters, with their i,000 horse-power engines, necessitated the fitting of an engine of at least equal power in the Messerschmitt 109. Although it provides the necessary extra power and speed, this heavier engine has resulted in reducing the manoeuvrability and stability of the little machine, with the result that, as has been shown on many occasions in France, it is no match for Allied fighters. It has, too, only half the number of guns of the Spitfire .and Hurricane. The Heinkel to long-range twin-engined fighter is a much better aeroplane, but here, too, events have proved it to be not so formidable as was expected. The pilot can hardly feel happy attacking a formation of Wellingtons, each with four heavy machine-guns in the tail turret alone, with nothing but a sheet of glass to protect him. Numbers of these Heinkels have been shot down.
Such factors as these may exercise an influevce on the German High Command's policy with regard to air-attack on the Allies. But there must be other, more potent, reasons for their not pursuing a more vigorous policy before the marshal- ling of our immense resources in men and material can take full effect. There is solid evidence to show that the Nazi hierarchy fear what the temper of the people would be if ever they should discover that they were exposed to raids. Until September last the German people were convinced—and in all probability Hitler, in his ignorance, was convinced, too—by Goering's boasts that the air-defences of the Reich were so deep and so concentrated that no enemy aircraft could pass beyond the frontier. The might and fury of the great Luftwaffe, no less than the efficiency of the Flak organisation, would see to that. How disturbing, therefore, it was for Goering to find those infuriating bits of paper lying arotind the place every morning. Only the German people, numbed as they are, could possibly accept his boast that he would let the British waste their petrol to drop ineffectual bits of paper, but if they should try and drop bombs —! Now it seems the public accepts the latest story that these leaflets are not dropped by aero- planes at all, but by "ingeniously designed but poorly con- structed" balloons. These rather pathetic but apparently accurate explanations of :he failure of the Luftwaffe and Flak to live up to expecta- tions are obviously significant. They would not be made if it was thought that German morale could stand even the prospect of Allied bombers getting through and, for the first time, bringing the war into Germany. Such an event would shatter the belief in Nazi and German invincibility and might well destroy the will to carry on the fight.
The German High Command must be confident that the Allies will not carry the air-war into Germany until Germany carries it into France or Great Britain. At any rate, they must feel sure that we will not bomb military objectives close to civilian centres until our resources in the air have been built up to a maximum. Unless, therefore, they start to bomb such objectives in France or Great Britain they may be sure that the morale of the German public will not be tested for some time yet. Thus, public morale cannot provide an explanation for the comparatively small raids made on Scapa Flow, on the Navy at sea, on convoys and on the transports carrying our troops and supplies across to Norway. This failure to exploit their strength at so vital a moment can only be due to a fundamental and universal weakness. That weakness, in spite of certain reports to the contrary, must be inadequate stores of petrol. It is the only conceivable reason for the complete failure of Germany to exploit her great numerical superiority in the air during the first vital eight months of the war.
The very magnitude of her air striking-force aggravates her situation. Petrol must be consumed in vast quantities merely to keep her pilots in flying practice. There is left an insuffi- ciency to maintain heavy offensive operations. It is not an extravagant estimate to assume that Germany will need five times her normal peace-time supplies of fuel if engaged on full war operations. Her normal yearly requirements amounted to 6,000,000 tons. Of this amount she can obtain 2,500,000 from her own coal ; she can, with luck, count on a million tons from Russia ; from Poland and Rumania she can obtain another 3,000,000 tons. But the gap between peace-time and war-time consumption is immense.
I have neither the intention nor the desire to convey any impression of easy optimism. The way ahead is hard and full of hazards. Though ill-equipped for long, total war, Germany may at any moment stake all on a concentrated onslaught. If that onslaught comes, we will be fortified by the knowledge that it must be spent soon, and that our ships are carrying unimpeded over the seven seas the men and material that must in the end weight the scales in our favout.