The Luftwaffe Over Germany: Defense of the Reich
by Donald Caldwell and Richard Muller, Greenhill Books, London and St. Paul, 2007, $39.95.
In The Luftwaffe Over Germany: Defense of the Reich we find two highly respected authors, both of them diligent researchers as well as excellent writers, covering in depth an important subject that has previously been approached only sparingly. Too many authors today are flogging the overdone “Ambrose technique,” filling pages with verbose first-person accounts that leave gaping holes in the subject matter. Caldwell and Muller’s combined expertise makes it feasible to offer a wealth of information and yet still have a narrative that sings, thanks to the inclusion of personal experiences. They move the reader swiftly from the World War I origins of German air power through the rise of the Luftwaffe and finally to its utter defeat, incorporating along the way just the right number of succinct personal accounts to spice up rather than overwhelm the material.
This is a big book, well indexed, comprehensively footnoted and bulging with previously unseen photographs. And it simply blazes with the authority of the writers’ knowledge—as you read, you realize that these two authors definitely know what they are talking about. They include everything important but exclude extraneous material.
One of the most refreshing aspects of The Luftwaffe Over Germany is its excellent use of contemporary German reports, which reveal that many senior Luftwaffe officers knew exactly what was happening in the air war and could pinpoint the errors that were leading to Germany’s inevitable defeat. When the Allies, particularly the U.S. Army Air Forces, gained complete air superiority in the skies over Germany, it must have been agonizing— and dangerous as well—for those officers to confide in their analysis that “the pupils have become the masters.”
Caldwell and Muller have also accomplished the very difficult task of projecting the broad picture of Germany’s struggle to defend its territory while at the same time supplying an enormous wealth of detail. They provide excellent coverage of the controversial Allied campaign against the German oil industry, and also present detailed insights into Germany’s efforts to squeeze a last-minute technical miracle from its brilliant engineers.
One of the most unusual elements of the book, and one that required in-depth knowledge as well as courage given the subject’s iconic status, is a dissection of Adolf Galland’s leadership, with a detailed tally of his contributions and his errors. Caldwell and Muller also sum up the major errors made by the Germans as a whole, as well as opportunities missed, emphasizing the fact that inferior numbers, insufficient fuel and inadequate training doomed the Luftwaffe. All of those problems could have been overcome had the senior political leaders of Germany made the correct decisions in 1938 and 1939 regarding how much of the nation’s resources were to be applied to the development of real air power.
Given its authors’ thought-provoking analysis and interest in reexamining the decision-making process leading up to and during warfare, The Luftwaffe Over Germany should be required reading for our nation’s leaders today.
Originally published in the March 2008 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.