The year is 1945, and everything is falling apart.
The German army is on the run, desperately drafting old men and young boys. The Allies are pushing in from every side. German units can only inch forward under the dark shield of night. Every man’s greatest fear is being caught in the open—with an enemy plane flying overhead.
Ironic, because Germany once ruled the skies. By losing that advantage, they lost the war.
That, at least, is the argument Robert Citino made Thursday night to students and faculty crowded into G. M. Savage Memorial Chapel.
A history professor at the University of North Texas and award-winning writer of military history, Citino was the speaker for the 19th annual history lecture. His speech, entitled “The Big Collapse: The German Army in 1945,” proposed that Germany lost World War II because the disappearance of its air force.
“This isn’t a warm and fuzzy story,” he said warningly. “This, I think, becomes the real story of how the Germans lost the war.”
Citino brought the audience back to 1933: the year of Hitler’s rise to power. The dictator immediately launched the country into a rearmament program. Over the next six years, military spending soared from one percent of the gross national product to 20. As a result, German military resources dramatically increased.
“In terms of aircraft designs, German designers yielded to no one in terms of their expertise, their vision, their innovation. In the course of World War II, they designed the most amazing staple of aircraft designs of any country fighting that war,” Citino said.
Germany led the world in revolutionary new designs, including the first operational jet aircraft, rocket aircraft, prototype cruise missile and the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) prototype.
Their drawing boards featured unproduced aircrafts with amazing abilities, such as the Amerika bomber, which could have crossed the Atlantic in a single bound and reached New York. According to Citino, possibly the most incredible idea was the Silver Bird, which could “bounce” off the ground and theoretically circle the entire globe.
Other countries had an advantage in following Germany; they did not have to make the mistakes the Germans did to perfect their designs. Britain managed to produce aircrafts that rivaled the German’s aerial engineering.
A deciding factor in the outcome of the war was when Germany eventually lost the lead in designing military aircraft, which Citino attributed to an over-reliance on a small number of designers. Two designers dominated the German aircraft scene. They were so highly trusted, their planes would sometimes be ordered without sufficient testing.
After using unstable aircraft with disastrous results, the Germans were forced to return to designs from five years earlier.
“So we’re now in 1941; aircrafts have been designed in 1936,” Citino said. “I hope I don’t have to tell anyone in the room that’s a long time in the aircraft business, especially under wartime conditions, in which generations of aircraft are coming and going every year. It’s a real, real problem for the Germans.”
The ME-109, or Luftwaffe, was constructed in 1935. Germans attempted to update it with new weaponry and other modern advantages, but these only weighed it down. As it entered into low altitude, it often crashed. However, they had no choice but to mass produce it, which also proved difficult.
“Germany could not fight a man-powered intensive war against the Allies and man the factories needed to keep up with Ally production,” he said. “There’s not enough people in Germany. And here, the Nazi solution was typically brutal—we might say typically Nazi. Making use of slave labor by POW and concentration camp inmates on an unimaginable scale, in the millions.”
Men worked the slaves to death in underground factories. They tripled output, but still could not keep up with the Allies. Furthermore, the quality of the aircrafts was inferior.
“This,” Citino said, indicating a picture of the aircraft, “is not the face of a Luftwaffe, a visionary aircraft that looks like something out of a science fiction novel…The face of a Luftwaffe are human skeletons chained to the drill presses, being starved to death, banging out parts for one obsolete ME-109 right after the other…And that craft had become little more than a death trap now to the half-trained pilots who were being asked to fly it.”
According to Citino, the German’s descent from aerial dominance to downfall was a price for following Hitler, whose “overstretched foreign policy” led them into a global war, despite inadequate resources.
“And I think it also teaches us a valuable lesson about war in general,” Citino said. “Whatever Hitler and his commanders wanted to do—jet aircraft, rocket aircraft, atmosphere skipper—whatever they had in mind, war forces you to do all sorts of things you hadn’t planned to do and, frankly, didn’t want to do. You often have no real choice in the matter. And that is yet another reason why you should always treat war as a last resort instead of a first one.”