The name of the author signed to this article is fictitious. The writer is a former German newspaperman who fought with the German navy in the first World War. He has written more than 20 books, both fiction and nonfiction, some of which were banned when Hitler came to power. Now living in the US, he has a death sentence awaiting him in Germany. Ed.
The German air force became what it is today through the organizational genius of Hermann Goering. A great man for details, he solved organization problems down to the last detail. For example: a squadron of trainees takes off in the morning for some distant airport. Let us say the squadron takes off at Berlin and lands six hours later at Koenigsberg in East Prussia. This may be the pilots' first trip but this is what they discover. The airport of Koenigsberg resembles to the most minute details their home port. They will find the same arrangement of buildings. They will find their living quarters in the same wing they are used to at home, their rooms will carry the same numbers and, when they arrive, they will find their pajamas laid out on the bed. Even their tooth brushes, labeled with their names, will be in the glasses on the washstands. Suppose the pilot is married. His wife will automatically get a telephone call immediately after his arrival to let her know that he is safe. In this respect Goering really acts in a very humane way.
The creation of the German air force was a break with every tradition of the Prussian army. This tradition had been a gentleman's tradition, meaning that no one was supposed to become an officer without high school education, with only the rarest of exceptions. The air force, however, had to be created out of nothing, started from scratch. Goering completely broke with the well established Prussian army traditions. A tremendous number of pilots had to be trained immediately, so the basic Prussian principle of an educational background had to be given up. Psychological experiments showed that frequently young mechanics or tailor's apprentices or even waiters showed remarkable mental and physical qualifications, in many cases superior to those of boys with high-school educations. So equality was established, with the result that the social level of officers in the Nazi air force is decidedly lower than that of England's Royal Air Force or even of other branches of the German army.
To create the biggest possible reserve of pilots, Goering prepared for future generations of pilots in the public school system. German public schools teach model building from third grade on. The child is given a pleasant, seemingly harmless introduction to a future career as an army pilot. At 10, the German boy becomes a member of the Hitler Youth, whose organization parallels the army's. There is a motorized group, a cavalry group, a navy group and an air group of the Hitler Youth.
For more reasons than one, the strength of the German air force was kept secret. One of the best indications of the scale of Goering's preparations is easily seen in the highly organized air division of the Hitler Youth. This force was 120,000 strong in 1938. In that way a really huge reservoir of pilots was created. Of course, in gauging this man power reserve you must take into consideration a tremendous training death rate, due to the intense pilot training speed-up. More about this later on.
Soaring, the best possible training for pilots, is a truly German art. Invented in the United States, it was developed in Germany after World War I when the Treaty of Versailles forbade aircraft with engines. The German boy of the Air Hitler Youth, from his 14th year on, receives training in one of the soaring camps of which there are thousands. He passes the civil examinations, parallel to the training in an engine plane, in A degree, B degree and C degree. It is remarkable that the ground work of soaring is done in a very simple type of plane which costs only 300 marks, a sum hardly more than $120. With three or four years of this thorough glider training background, the boys enter the air force at 17 or 18.
Before the armament race started, commercial air transport companies required a pilot training period of years. The Luft Hansa, one of the largest of these companies, required three years' training before a pilot was allowed to take over a multi-engined passenger plane. In the rearmament hurry, however, Hermann Goering decided that six months must suffice to train a pilot for a multi-engined bomber. The result was an almost incredible strain, physically as well as on the nerves of the young men. This overwork resulted in an appalling number of accidents. It has never been known outside Germany that the average loss of men in training amounted to 200 a month in 1938. Today it is safe to say that those losses will amount to at least twice that number.
I have seen several training camps based on the Goering plan of mass pilot production. One of my strongest impressions was the fact that in their mess rooms the pilots eat or drink practically nothing but milk. Their digestive systems have been utterly ruined through the almost superhuman requirements of the service. The training of a dive bomber, for instance, encompasses such difficult commands as: "Go up to 22,000 feet, make a power dive right down to the ground." In this, speeds of anything up to 500 mph are reached. "Level up at 200 feet above the ground, make the quickest possible landing, jump out of your machine and run for 300 yards." I have seen the trainees do that with blood streaming from their nostrils, ears and mouths because of the enormous strain on the body effected by the terrific speed and the sudden change from high altitude pressure to ground pressure. This seems astounding, but it is absolutely true.
A fast training plane nowadays acquires speeds of upwards of 300 mph. If you bank steeply at such a speed, the centrifugal force developed causes the blood to rush from your head to the lower limbs. The famous “blackout second" frequently occurs when the pilot momentarily faints. To counteract this action of the blood, German fighter pilots wear rubber belts around their necks. When they bank they tighten the belt, in that way stemming the rush of blood from the brain. This sounds rather hard on the body, but has practical results in a longer, more active life for the pilot.
The pilot cannot however stop the action of centrifugal force on his stomach and intestines. The stomach liquids are actually pressed into the porous stomach wall, poisoning the bloodstream. Such tremendous physical strain upsets the normal functions of the organs and plays havoc with the digestive system. So here you have the reasons why pilots are milk addicts, it being almost the only food they can safely digest.
The technical development of modern aircraft has reached a point where the human body becomes more and more unable to handle such craft. The modern German fighting plane has a landing speed of more than 100 mph. It is a rather terrifying experience for a young pilot to approach the ground at such a speed. Not only is it mentally terrifying, but it develops certain physical problems of rapid bodily adjustment that the human body has not had to face before. I have often heard young pilots say that they would just as willingly mount a roaring lion as squeeze into the cockpit of their 2,000-hp machines.
In many cases the nervous strain on the young men results in a peculiar cowardice. Appalling were the numbers of so-called forced landings which simply resulted from the fact that the pilot was afraid to carry on, his nervous energy being exhausted. If today British reports of German damage are so widely different from German claims, it is safe to say that this difference is the result of the young pilot's natural tendency to overstress the effect of his bombing activities in order to create a good impression on his superiors. This untruthfulness is one of the worst results of the Nazi education in blind obedience.
The German army was the first group to realize that the Nazi party education of blind obedience was the worst possible any young man could receive. The army had learned in World War I that the modern soldier does not march in columns, does not fight in regular formation, is no longer led by an officer preceding him shouting orders; but that on the contrary the modern soldier is a single fighter. Isolated in some highly mechanized weapon, he must have the moral courage and personality to carry on and fight without commands.
One of the first objectives of the psychological department of the German army was to separate the sheep from the goats. By numerous and very clever methods they tried to dig out boys from the vast Hitler Youth manpower training machine with sufficient initiative left in them, not completely crushed by the training in blind obedience. The average boy with the blind-obedience education went into the infantry forces. The more intelligent boy was methodically placed in one of the mechanized divisions or in the air force.
The utter disregard of human life necessitated by the over-hasty training of thousands of pilots is perfectly illustrated in this true anecdote. The German director of the Ford Motor Company at Cologne had a son in the air force. One day the commander of that squadron paid the old man a visit and began his conversation with this complaint: “You have no idea, Mr X, how very unfortunate I am as a commander. Last week I lost six of my young men in training." There was a dignified pause. “Oh, by the way, I forgot to tell you that the last of the six was your son."
The frightful loss of human life in training is not always the result of overwork and nervous exhaustion on the part of the pilots. Very frequently the reason lies in the hasty aircraft construction and lack of careful checking in the airplane factory. I remember one case when in blind-flying training a huge bomber crashed after only a few minutes in the air, yielding six dead. When a checkup was made, it was found that the inclinometer had been mounted the wrong way by the mechanics, so that the plane acted contrary to all the efforts of the crew to correct its position in the air. The standard of aircraft production went down considerably by necessity. The air force had to take away a large percentage of the best mechanics in the aircraft factories mechanics who could not possibly be replaced without years of training.
The English have always held that the German pilots are inferior. That certainly is a fact and the reason for this fact is the faulty Nazi education which destroys the personal-character qualities which make the single-handed fighter effective.
The training of a fighter pilot costs the Hitler government around 60,000 marks. This includes the wreckage and, as a training plane costs about 50,000 marks, this is a sure indication that an average of one training plane is wrecked for every pilot trained. It also shows in dollars and cents that the combination of rush-production planes and mass-production pilots is producing a definitely inferior type of pilot. This substantiates the theory that the reflex actions of German pilots aren't quite what they should be.
The Nazi fight against individualism has destroyed the subtle value of true initiative in the German pilot. The German method of life has produced more machines and more trained war pilots than would otherwise have been possible, but the personal element has been held down to such an extent that there is a tremendous decrease in war efficiency. Aircraft, either in quantity or quality, need good men to guide them and the Nazi system tends to destroy the finest points of the personal character of its pilots to such an extent that they cannot operate at maximum efficiency.
This article was originally published in the April, 1941, issue of Flying and Popular Aviation magazine, vol 28, no 4, pp 28-30.
The original article includes 5 photos.
Photos credited to Acme, Black Star, International.