AccessMyLibrary provides FREE access to millions of articles from top publications available through your library.
In the Beginning
At the outset of the German buildup for World War II, the Germans were, arguably, the most technologically advanced nation in the world. Despite the limitations in the Treaty of Versailles, they secretly designed and built some of the most advanced aircraft in the world. From research into all metal aircraft, such as the Junkers Ju 52, (1) to the Messerschmitt Me 262, the world's first jet fighter, (2) the Germans were on the technological front lines. Yet, in a scant 10 years, the German nation ceased to exist. After the war, with its country divided in two, the technological advances were divided among the conquering powers. Indeed, the battles 5 years later between the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG 15 and the F-86 were more among German engineers than among the nations actually at war. (3) The reasons for the implosion of the German state are manifold, two of which are addressed herein.
From a technological standpoint, many of the German designs and innovations remain valid. They were the true innovators of some of the world's current aircraft. Indeed, the Germans pioneered the use of wind tunnels, jet aircraft, pusher propellers, metal aircraft, and rockets in an attempt to overwhelm their Allied adversaries. Under the guise of Operation Paperclip, many German scientists and engineers were brought to America to work their magic on the American industry. Despite all this talent and its potential, few of the German designs were actually used during the war. Although their relevance is unquestioned, especially in view of current American (and worldwide) aircraft, they were untapped by the German leadership.
The German management system, especially in terms of the technological industry, was a complex and convoluted bureaucratic nightmare. Their system of committees and rings, coupled with a lack of centralized control at the top, served to undermine an economy that was resource-poor, in terms of both monetary and natural resources. This mismanagement, exacerbated by the effects of the Combined Bomber Offensive, transformed the German industry from one of the best to one of the worst, a system ready to implode had it not been helped on by the Allies. Further compounding the situation was the influence of Adolf Hitler. A man with a continental worldview and a penchant for doing things his way, Hitler was more of a hindrance to industry than a help. His constantly changing requirements led to costly and lengthy delays to the production of many aircraft. His inability to look beyond continental Europe from a practical standpoint ensured the German state never had a practical long-range bomber until it was too late. Indeed, the Germans ended the war with the same fighter and bomber with which they began the war, with only minor modifications and a dwindling ability to mass-produce them.
Many of the lessons from the German experience with technology and management are applicable today to the US Air Force. Without a doubt, today, the United States is the technological superpower of the world, yet it is plagued by many of the same problems that the Germans faced. Many of America's technological advances seem to be done for the sake of technology, rather than for an operational military need. Indeed, many of the needs of the American military may be met, in the short term, with existing technology or modifications thereto, rather than new programs. The true transformation of the American military and its technology will be a departure from the stovepipes of military acquisition, in which each Service acquires its own (often redundant) systems, to a process of standardization among the equipment used to meet each Service's needs. Furthermore, American military management is becoming as complex as that of the Germans. True, Americans have much more to worry about than the Germans; for example the whole, poorly understood realm of space. The United States tends to solve its lack of understanding with additional bureaucracy, which exacerbates the overall situation. Alignment under a specific, overarching unified command could eliminate some of the waste and ensure an interoperable, standardized force for the future. Indeed, if the Department of Defense (DoD) does not learn and heed the lessons of the past, it is doomed to repeat them.
This article examines the efforts and impacts of German technology, both during World War II and today. Furthermore, it examines the impact and folly of German management of the technological industry and that industry's subsequent implosion. Finally, this work draws some parallels between the World War II German system and the current American system, fully recognizing the difference between the totalitarian German state and the democratic American state. Despite the glaring and obvious difference between the two, there are similarities that could have a negative impact on America's ability to wage war.
At the outset of World War II, the Luftwaffe was, undoubtedly, the world' s supreme air force. It had the most advanced fighter and bomber aircraft and the best trained crews. Despite this, the Luftwaffe suffered severe losses during the course of the war, including the loss of air superiority over continental Europe, which led to the downfall of the Third Reich. Its loss can be attributed to several factors, not the least of which was its inability to take advantage of, or maintain, the technological superiority enjoyed at the outset of hostilities. The technological superiority was not limited to aircraft fielded during the war but includes some interesting technical innovations that arose during the war but not fielded by the Luftwaffe. Many of these technical innovations are just now being exploited to their fullest potential. Indeed, many of the technological innovations taken for granted today were first developed in the factories and design laboratories of Messerschmitt, Heinkel, Arado, Focke-Wulf, Henschel, and Junkers. These companies--and the designers for whom they are named--were at the forefront of technical innovation during not only their time but also current times. Many of their innovations--such as canards, boundary layer control, sweptwings, variable wings, jet engines, and more--are widely used today and accepted as industry standards. By examining Luftwaffe technological innovations, we can see a clear inspiration and technological marvel that transcends the aircraft industry today and whose impact is just being realized.
One of the most enduring innovations of the Luftwaffe was its pioneering work with wind tunnels. (4) These devices allow an aircraft, or representative model, to be tested under conditions closely simulating those encountered during flight. By using inexpensive scale models of the aircraft, the engineers were able to determine if their design could withstand the rigors of flight across the spectrum of the flight regime. By varying wind velocity, the German engineers were able to simulate high- and low-speed flight regimens. Similarly, by varying wind velocity, they could examine high and low angle-of-attack regimes. By combining the results of these two areas of study, they could determine the robustness and feasibility of the design in relative combat situations. The essential information that arose during these tests was the feasibility of the design, answering several fundamental questions: would the wings remain attached at high speed and high angle of attack; would the aircraft stall at low speed and high angle of attack; what are the impacts of adding externally mounted items to the aircraft; what would happen to the aircraft once an externally mounted device was dropped (would it become unstable, thus unflyable); and what are the impacts on the aircraft center of gravity? These are fundamental questions concerning the flight worthiness of the aircraft that could be ascertained without having to risk the loss of a prototype or pilot.
Additionally, wind tunnels allowed for the testing of new technologies to smooth the flow of air across the wing. The Germans tested boundary area fences, leading-edge flaps, and boundary layer control, all in an effort to affect the flow of air across the wing surface? With the straight, perpendicular wing style of the day, these aerodynamic controls would ensure the flow of air across the top of the wing was as smooth as possible, thus making the airflow faster and generating more lift. This increase in lift would generate more maneuverability in fighters and more load capability in bombers and more range in both types of aircraft. They tested each of these on many of their experimental designs, but the results of this work only were beginning implementation at the end of the war.
Although the wind tunnels continued to operate throughout the war, their later years' usage was confined to refinement of the V1 and V2 rocket designs. Their staffs were increased in numbers, although those numbers were not used for testing; rather, they were used to mass-produce both weapons. The wind tunnels did stop work during the war after Peenemunde was bombed during the Combined Bomber Offensive, but this was only a brief work stoppage. Once the wind tunnels were relocated to Kochel, they were operational again. Despite this extraordinary testing, the German leadership was determined, by 1944, to focus all efforts on the defense of the Reich. Thus, the tunnels were not utilized to their full potential. The efforts of the personnel assigned to the tunnels were focused solely on one weapon system, not toward testing new technologies or capabilities. This failure to take full advantage of their technological capabilities is a true failure of the German leadership. (6) Indeed, the Germans missed out on several opportunities to exploit fully the wind tunnels, especially in the area of wing design. In this case, the designs were robust and innovative but were not tested by the Germans. Many designs were not tested and developed until long after the war.
The Wings of Man
To increase range and speed, one of the most enduring German technological innovations was the sweeping of wings. During the war, the Germans …