The Luftwaffe Relied on a Handful of Workhorses
|The Junkers Ju 52 was the Luftwaffe’s true workhorse.|
These were the workhorses in each of the major categories of every World War II air force: fighters, transport planes, ground-attack planes, and bombers. From them, I will choose the one true workhorse of the Luftwaffe.
There was only one or at most two workhorse aircraft for each of these broad aircraft categories. Generally, the same group of top Luftwaffe planes served throughout the conflict, though they were in a continual upgrade process. There were not a lot of successful designs that entirely replaced serviceable aircraft types during the conflict, though there were some new good designs that supplemented the workhorses. Among other reasons, this heavy reliance on only a few major aircraft types was due to the time and effort it would take to retool aircraft factories - time that the Third Reich did not have in abundance.
|The Bf 109 was the Luftwaffe's workhorse fighter.|
FightersFighters are pretty much everyone's favorite class of aircraft. Which would you rather stand around an admire, a Maserati or a Gremlin? Each has their uses - Gremlins carried home an awful lot of groceries and Maseratis not so much - but faster and deadlier craft will always be more interesting than mundane and practical ones.
|A lineup of Focke-Wulf Fw 190s.|
|The Me 252 jet fighter caused the Allies a lot of problems.|
|An FW-190 A5 fighter-bomber loaded with 1x500kg and 2x250kg bombs.|
|A Junkers Ju 52. I like its appearance, it has a sort of art deco styling.|
Transport AircraftIn terms of transport aircraft, the Junkers Ju 52 was the Luftwaffe’s workhorse throughout the war years. It wasn’t that fast and didn’t have particularly good specifications or defensive armament, but the Ju 52 could fulfill a variety of necessary functions. The Ju 52 originally was designed as a seaplane, but it was the best aircraft to fill the gap in the Luftwaffe’s lineup for cargo planes, so it was adapted to land use.
|A swarm of Ju 52s bringing supplies and troops across the Black Sea to the troops marching on Stalingrad during the summer of 1942.|
|The cockpit of the Junkers Ju 52 embodied classic styling.|
|The Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor.|
|The Junkers Ju 252 was "better" than the Ju 52 but too fancy for the Luftwaffe's needs.|
|The Junkers Ju 352. Was it a better plane than the Ju 52? Absolutely. Was it available when the German war effort would have really benefited from it? Absolutely not.|
|A Junkers Ju 87 Stuka preserved at The Royal Air Force Museum, London.|
Ground-Attack PlanesWhile it is easy to dismiss ground-attack planes as boring and the old-age home for planes that didn't really make it in other roles, they were supremely important in the Wehrmacht. The German military always focused on the ground campaign to the exclusion of almost everything else, including the air war. This narrow focus paid a lot of dividends (superior army performance) and had serious drawbacks (failure to develop a strategic bomber). It resulted in a highly developed integration between the Army (Heer) and the Luftwaffe. This was the essence of the famous "Blitzkrieg" advances and a source of Hitler's early victories.
|The Stuka of the cover of the February 1942 Der Adler military magazine wears an evil grin as it is loaded for action.|
|A Stuka equipped with massive tank-busting cannons.|
|A Heinkel He 111 shot down in England during the Battle of Britain.|
BombersThe Germans never really had a workhorse bomber, which was the Luftwaffe’s major failing. They tried all sorts of different medium bombers with mediocre results for each of them. These included the Junkers Ju 88, which was probably the best of a bad lot. Others which were almost all obsolete by the middle of the conflict included the Heinkel He 111, the Dornier Do 17, and the Heinkel He 177 Greif (Griffin). The Griffin was so prone to engine fires that the pilots took to calling it the “flying fireworks.”
|The Arado Ar 234 - too little, too late.|
|A Junkers Ju 88 downed in Moscow. How the pilot brought it down intact among all those buildings was a miracle.|
|Junkers Ju 88.|
|The Me 323 "Gigant" was one of the most massive cargo planes of World War II. However, it was slow and a favorite target of Allied fighters.|
ConclusionIf I had to pick one indispensable aircraft in the Luftwaffe that was its true workhorse, I would not pick the one that everyone else would choose, namely the Bf 109 fighter. There were other German fighter designs early in the war reasonably similar to the Bf 109’s capabilities. However, Willy Messerschmitt was a savvy businessman and got his bird chosen by using his connections. So, sure, the Bf-109 won the most air battles for the Reich - while it was still winning air battles. There were, after all, 33,984 Bf 109s built.
But the Bf 109 was not the most important workhorse of the Luftwaffe. No, I would choose the Ju 52, the “flying toolshed,” because the Luftwaffe never had another aircraft that could do what it could do nearly as well.