The Allied bombing of Germany was now an almost daily event, whether by the USAAF by day or the RAF at night. They were both sustaining significant losses – but so too was their principal adversary, the Luftwaffe. The technological race between the two sides would continue until the end of the war, with constant improvements in aircraft, weapons, and guidance systems like airborne and ground radar. However the Germans faced ever greater difficulties in replacing their losses and building new aircraft. For the Allies the situation constantly improved.
The Germans cause was not helped by divisions amongst those supposed to be leading the Luftwaffe response. Nominally in charge was Herman Göring, one of Hitler’s oldest Nazi colleagues and his chosen successor. Hitler was to remain loyal to him almost to the end, despite Görings failure to fulfil promises he made to supply Stalingrad and other shortcomings. Göring was by now addicted to morphine and probably other drugs. He was increasingly absent from decision making.
Yet he still liked to put on a show. On 17th November he met his leading Luftwaffe pilots responsible for defending the Reich. Amongst them was Heinz Knoke, who was not wholly impressed:
17th November 1943
On 14th October, 13th and 15th November, we are sent into action against formations of heavy bombers over the Rhineland ; but no further successes are won by the Flight. Every time we become involved in dog-tights with the escorting Thunderbolts, Mustangs and Lightnings.
This morning the pilots from three of the fighter and fighter-bomber Wings are drawn up for inspection on parade at Achmer. Reich-Marshal Göring appears in a motorcade of approximately thirty vehicles.
My conversation with him lasts for about ten minutes, when the most successful of the Fortress specialists are personally presented to him. At the moment I happen to be leading in the Division Area, with a score of fifteen heavy bombers. Captain Specht and Senior Lieutenant Frey are second and third, with fourteen and twelve respectively.
Göring makes a most peculiar impression. He wears a unique kind of fancy grey uniform. His cap and epaulettes are covered with gold braid. Bulging legs emerge from scarlet boots of doeskin. The bloated, puffy face makes him look to me like a sick man. Close up, I am forced to the conclusion that he uses cosmetics. He has a pleasant voice, however, and is extremely cordial to me. I know that he takes genuine interest in the welfare of his aircrews.
Göring asks about the enemy aircraft I have shot down. He is particularly interested in my first Mosquito last year. He well remembers the occasion. In his opinion, the Mosquito aircraft is nothing but an infernal nuisance and pain in the neck. He reiterates this with emphasis. The two which raided Berlin then caused him particular annoyance because he was starting an important public speech at the time, and had been forced to postpone it for two hours on account of the raid.
He personally awards me the German Gold Cross.
The Reich-Marshal subsequently addresses us, discussing the problems involved in the defence of the Reich and the extraordinary difficulties which must be faced. It is a surprise to us when he expresses the opinion that it is we, the aircrews assigned to the defence of the Reich, who must be held responsible for the failure of air defences in the West.
He refers to the magnificent effort of the British fighter pilots of the Royal Air Force in the Battle of Britain, and commends their courage as a shining example to us. With this part of his address I am completely in agreement. It seems to me, however, even as he speaks, that the Commander-in-Chief of the German Air Force has actually only a vague idea of what happens when we engage in combat with the strong American formations.
The inescapable fact is that on the technical side our performance is inferior in every respect. The victories in Poland and France resulted in the High Command of the German Air Force simply going to sleep on its laurels. The number of defensive units operating under the general scheme of air defence of the Reich is altogether inadequate for the task.
The numerical superiority of the enemy is in the ratio of at least eight to one. Such successes as are still being achieved in the face of these overwhelming odds are due simply and solely to the excellent morale and fighting spirit of our aircrews.
We need more aircraft, better engines – and fewer Headquarters.