Editor’s Note: The following is an interview (February 2004, Deutsche Stimme Magazine) with Hajo Hermann, the highly distinguished Luftwaffe Colonel, on Anglo-American bombing and German defense. Hajo Hermann was born on August 1st, 1913 in Kiel, became a soldier in 1933 and a lieutenant in the Luftwaffe in 1935. He fought as a pilot, squadron commander, group commander, squadron commander and divisional commander in 370 enemy flights in almost all theaters of war, played an important role in the Air Force Command and served as inspector of the night fighters. He shot down nine four-engined bombers and sunk 60,000 tons of enemy ship space. He received the swords for knight’s cross and oak leaves. Most recently he was a colonel. Returning from Soviet captivity in 1955, Herrmann studied law in Kiel and London and worked as a lawyer since 1965. On August 1, 2003, he celebrated his 90th birthday in Düsseldorf. In his book “When the hunt was over” Herrmann describes his experiences in Russia, in the book “Living life” his war years.
DS: Mr. Herrmann, we can assume that as a fighter pilot, and as a member of the management team, you can explain to us how the Luftwaffe’s initial brilliant victories that ultimately led to the failure of the Luftwaffe. It was incomprehensible to the German civilian at home that the Americans hardly fought during the day as they flew to Germany for the parade. Likewise, today not only those interested in history ask how this process came about?
Herrmann: The initial successes in cooperation with the army and the navy ensured a strong combat air force, i.e. the bombers. The hunting weapon was significantly weaker. The ratio was approximately 8: 1. That was not wrong, because the hunting weapon was strong enough to ward off the English daytime attacks in 1939, so that they were stopped. For the rest, it can be left open whether this relationship was well-considered, because Poland was an enemy. Not even England and France, who unexpectedly declared war on Germany.
The bombers were also used for air defense by destroying the enemy air force on the ground, as happened in Poland, Holland, France and England from September 1, 1939. In this respect there was no sign of a defect.
DS: When, where, how did the decline come about? It is often claimed that Germany had committed itself to the destruction of its cities without having organized the resistance. Think of Warsaw and Rotterdam.
Herrmann: The claim that Germany opened the air war against the civilian population with these two operations is a propaganda lie. We did not bomb the cities, but the enemy troops that had entrenched themselves on the outskirts of Warsaw and Rotterdam and shot at the German troops. The enemy commanders were ordered to surrender, which they refused or treated hesitantly.
DS : But houses were destroyed. However, the property and life of private individuals must be spared, as ordered by the Hague Land Warfare Act.
Herrmann: But not if the opponent turns the city into a fortress. In the case of Warsaw, the propagandists are clearly refuted by the French military attaché General Armengaud, who witnessed the German attack in Warsaw: After him, the Germans acted in accordance with martial law after being asked to surrender several times.
In the case of Rotterdam, deadlines were set for the Dutch to hand over, which they met at the last second after the threat of bombing under protracted decision-making, which was purely a delay tactic. A group of my squadron KG 4 “General Wever” could be called back by radio – landing with bombs – while the radio message unfortunately reached the second group a few seconds late. Only explosive devices were thrown, no incendiary devices. An additional disaster was that the explosions ignited the old structures and the wind spread the fire.
DS : So a clear case, the No. 4 “General Wever” squadron acted lawfully.
Herrmann: That’s the way it is. A violation of the HLO – a war crime – would only have been ascertained if the 2nd group had deliberately targeted only the civilian population and wanted to hit them. Military necessity required fighting the enemy and protecting the German leaders. Civil damage was inevitable. The United States has recently referred to them as collateral damage.
DS : As a former pilot of KG 4, how do you feel about being blamed for the bombing?
Herrmann: The British made the terror by finding the bomb loads of apartment block crackers, other explosive and incendiary bombs so thoroughly mixed after thorough scientific experiments that hell broke out in German cities.
DS : If the English version insisted that the Germans had acted illegally in Warsaw and Rotterdam, what was the point?
Herrmann: To pretend to the British and the world public – including the Germans – that it is now justified to bomb open German cities, that is to say to retaliate. Distraction and need for reasons. They started immediately under Churchill in May 1940. Bombers flying in at night bombed German cities, and certain, militarily important targets, if wanted at all, were not identified. The number of civilians killed was constantly announced on the radio.
DS : If the British nonetheless – surprisingly, because they were not concerned – invoked retaliation, did the German leadership immediately appeal to retaliation by having cities in England bombarded?
Herrmann: Not at all. Until mid-June, I only attacked targets between Dunkirk and Brest, specifically diving at the shipments in the ports. It wasn’t until June 18, 1940 that I flew over the English coast. This was not a reaction to the bombing of German cities, but strategic planning, as England was determined to continue the war.
DS : Could the objective observer see this as the start of terror bombing against England?
Herrmann: No way. It was different. We did not want to repay the same with the same, but should attack war-important targets in preparation for the invasion. So my goals were: oil depots from Thameshaven, chemical plants from Billingham, weapon factories in Newcastle or the warehouses in the port of Hull. These destinations were on the coast or just behind. We attacked in the dive during the day or during the full moon or in the horizontal flight. I saw all of these goals clearly as can be seen in the aerial photograph and on the stereoscopic image and imprinted by tracing. We were ordered to return with the bombs if the militarily important target could not be clearly identified and there was a risk of housing being hit. Throwing mines into port entrances was possible without hesitation.
DS : How was that checked?
Herrmann : The English made a big fuss on the radio, even if only one house had been damaged, as might have happened in the attack on the Vickers-Armstrong works in Newcastle … I had hardly landed back with my squadron in Zwischenahn when the war judge was already standing ready to question the crews.
DS : But you write in a book that in September 1940 you bombed London, the city and its people. Wasn’t that of a different quality? How did you see it then and how do you see it today?
Herrmann : This new quality was called retribution. I saw it that way then and still see it that way today. Because the facts are clear and are not seriously contested. The leadership had waited a long time. But when the English carried out several night raids on Berlin at the end of August during the aerial battles over the canal and southern England and continued despite warnings, we gave the appropriate answer.
With this reprisal, the Luftwaffe leadership tried to persuade the British leadership to give up their warfare, which was contrary to international law, and to force them into the framework of permitted warfare, that is to protect the civilian population as much as possible. The German and British listeners could hear this message, and the whole world on shortwave. Likewise that the German bombing would then stop.
DS : You are saying nothing less than that the rubble heaps in Germany’s cities, the loss of priceless cultural assets and the hundreds of thousands of agonized German civilian deaths were the work of the English and Americans, which was in violation of international law and on whose account the ordered mass hunt for pedestrians and other mobile “targets” was also carried out.
Herrmann : The British government has clearly assumed this responsibility through the writing of JM Spaight, a member of the War Cabinet, in the “Bombing vindicated” paper, which was obviously only intended for the initiated. “It was we who started.” So literal. It was British “courage” to face the danger of German retaliation. Congruent with this, the English and the Americans considered it impractical to include this type of air raid in the war crimes charges in Nuremberg.
DS : Recently it was heard on the program “Gomorrah” – repetition of the 80s – that we should have started with this type of bombering and that we were to blame for the rubble pile and the mass extinction itself.
Herrmann: During the production of the show “Gomorrha” I pointed out in a long conversation with the management that the planned presentation of the winning version was wrong. You didn’t want to hear. With more recent inquiries, I tried to rely on the research of the Military History Office, which apparently is not used by the media on this question.
DS : That explains how this development, which was not intended by the German side, came about. But why couldn’t this be countered in the long run? Was it inferior in number?
Herrmann: Not alone. Watch the night hunt. The British annual production of bombers in 1942 was around 15,000, that of German night hunting 1,700. In this relationship, the front groups were almost opposite. The defense was drawn up along the coasts as the main line of combat, quite defensive against a broad-based bomber group. This Maginot line, which was defended by 2 to 4 hunters at every point for technical reasons per section (width approx. 60 km), initially seemed sufficient as long as the attacks were carried out broadly.
The large stock of approximately 250 fighters remained unused or was idly referred to quiet sections when the British bombers wisely broke through in only one section. So 800 bombers had to deal with four fighters, while the 250 fighter crews that were ready for action had to remain idle. That was the constraint of technology.
DS : That is somewhat astonishing. All the more astonishing that we learn from literature about great aerial victories for a number of individuals, with 100 or more kills.
Herrmann: There were only a few who could and did so well. Therefore, there was only a success and kill rate – on arrival and return flight – of an average of five percent. So that’s 40 bombers out of 800 attackers. That was the usual course.
DS : It’s impressive in this difficult business. But 760 or a few more dropped bombs, destroyed houses, and killed people. What do you say about this process?
Herrmann : It was unsatisfactory. But the Maginot system was no longer there. That was seen in the IT group of the management staff, in which I gave a presentation. If the losses could be increased to 10 percent, if the bomber crews did not survive 10 missions, the morale of the bombers would have been over in the not too distant future. That is my experience as the commander of a combat organization.
DS : How should the increase in success be achieved?
Herrmann : A system had to be invented that would bring all the available forces to the enemy. In addition to the few successful radio measurement guides, the enemy had to be recognizable or made recognizable for all others. The moonlit nights were therefore immediately usable, as were the anti-aircraft lights in the area of the cities. Consultation with the flak was necessary, at least desirable. Clouds illuminated by fires, headlights and magnesium torches also made the bombers visible. In addition, the single occupants were mobilized.
DS : Then the night hunt should have had a success rate of 10 percent, which was not the case.
Herrmann : The operational idea developed here was successfully tested in the experimental stage, but it was not yet available at the end of July 1943 with the inclusion of single-engine associations and the introduction to traditional night hunting. Then the British surprised the Maginot night hunt by dropping strips of tinfoil, making it impossible to electronically track down the bombers. And Hamburg was the result. The preparations already mentioned were now in full swing. Although the killings over Hamburg were insignificant, they rose despite the continued British disturbances – via Peenemünde and Berlin to the old level and via Nuremberg to double.
DS : One wonders why the corresponding was not tackled at least a year before Hamburg. From your competent point of view, what went wrong?
Herrmann: At that time I was still flying missions against the Allied convoys in the northern Arctic Ocean. Therefore I cannot say with certainty what considerations were made before and at that time. You would have to go to the Federal Archives and study files.
DS : If I understand it correctly, the problem with night hunting in this phase was not its numerical strength, but the limitation that was supposedly given by the technology. What about the Americans?
Herrmann: The British production figures I mentioned for 1942 had their counterpart in the United States. An annual production of approximately 15,000 four- and twin-engine bombers contrasted with a German annual production of 10,000 fighters. The front groups were in a similar relationship, even if one takes into account the needs of the Americans in the Pacific and that of the Germans on the Eastern Front and in Africa.
DS: That looks relatively cheaper.
Herrmann : Indeed, the “Flying Fortress” B-17s could be dealt with when flying deep, if they were flying without hunting protection. They could only count on their own hunting protection when flying through the German defense zone, which was constructed similar to the night hunt along the coast.
However, the surge in American production was unmistakable. Therefore, the fighter squadrons had to be relocated and concentrated to enable them, as a combined force, to make powerful decisive strikes. After considerable losses in 1943, the Americans even had to pause for five months. In the meantime, however, the increasing American production, especially the long-haul companion hunters, could only be countered if our hunter production was increased accordingly immediately, in autumn, at the beginning of winter 1942 at the latest. At least that was the perspective I had gained at that time. In essence, it was determined by the Military Science Research Office.
DS : We know from literature that the hunters fought very hard to increase their budget. Why didn’t it happen?
Herrmann: The bombers and the fighters fought over the ceiling, material and production area allotted to the Air Force. This gave the hunters insufficient advantages. Group T of the command staff and the inspector of combat aircraft, on the other hand, supported and therefore demanded that 35 twin-engine front combat groups, i.e. two-thirds of the entire bomber fleet, be disarmed and upgraded to 70 single-engine hunting groups.
DS : It is astonishing that the general of the combat aircraft and the “combat aircraft” department themselves carried out such extensive disarmament of the bombers. What happened to the offer?
Herrmann: It was disarmament and retrofitting at the same time. The single-engine aircraft was supposed to be multi-purpose, i.e. jabo, day and night fighter and fighter pilot, as it was sometimes and occasionally used in Spain, and the Americans made up for it in 1944, especially as a fighter pilot. The two departments mentioned considered that a fundamental decision at that time, 1942, was inevitable.
DS : What spoke against it?
Herrmann: Consider the following: We had thrown the English out of Greece, then out of France, we were on the Volga, we had a stranglehold on the Soviet Union with its oil, we were in Africa and the Caucasus. So one could hope to be able to bring about a decision in Russia with a strong bomber operation in cooperation with the army and to get one’s back on the turn against the Americans and the English.
DS : That sounds reasonable.
Herrmann: This decision was a strategic venture that was not mastered. In my opinion it was the culmination of warfare in the sense of Clausewitz. We also remained bound to the Air Force in Russia, where, by the way, the retrofitting would hardly have created a gap. So the moment was missed when the connection to the American armament increase could still have been achieved. This ran away from us, the Americans to a certain extent won the height of the mountain and we struggled with difficulty on the slippery slope. When Minister Speer had all of the bomber armor stopped in 1944, it was too late for the traditional war with the Me 109 and the FW 190. In 1944, German air defense suffered the decisive defeat on the invasion front. However, what the fighter pilots did and sacrificed will be guaranteed permanent recognition.
DS : Are you saying that the Luftwaffe had weakened considerably by the fall of 1944?
Herrmann : With these forces – yes. Anyone who has the pictures at the time must admit that. The Americans destroyed our hydrogenation systems, our aircraft production and together with the British Dresden and other cities.
DS : Surprisingly enough, 4,000 fighter planes were still produced in 1944 per month.
Herrmann : Too late. Because the best pilots had previously fallen in the struggles against superiority. A fighter pilot is not set up as quickly as a fighter plane. Our youngsters were shot down on a parachute.
DS : That sounds bleak. Was there any hope or perspective?
Herrmann : Perspective or not – most saw no more. But they held out and fought. But the call by the commander-in-chief of the Luftwaffe contained the ominous message that after our defeat there would be no more “German Empire”, that extermination, deportation, slave labor, mixing and intellectual perversion would be our lot, and never peace.
DS : Did you see an alternative?
Herrmann : From January 1, 1945, I had to retrain five combat squadrons for jet fighters and equip them with these aircraft. More and more airplanes were delivered, under the air strikes of the Americans. The plane, with a few hundred available, was supposed to drive the “Flying Fortresses” with large-caliber handguns with superior speed, unobtainable for the Mustangs.
DS : Should that still come into play?
Herrmann: The preparation of this decision-making battle had to be secured against attacks on the training places of these squadrons. The enemy had recognized the danger he was facing. In addition to the anti-aircraft protection, a small group of pilot-equipped aircraft with the Me 262 did their part, as did the rammer. As the sharpest help, the bombing of the closed bomber formations was almost ready for the front, – the explosive bomb equipped with air pressure detonators should be dropped from a slight rise and cause the formation to be blown up. That meant the end of the bombing of the cities and sensitive targets.
DS : What was the success of all of these tactical safeguards for the nozzle wonder weapon?
Herrmann : The Americans forced the attacks on the dangerous airfields. At the Neuburg an der Donau airfield, my on-board mechanic lying next to me was fatally hit by a bomb splinter on the spot, and my leg was wounded. Please take this as an example of how fast the Americans fought to forestall the jet fighters’ advance to the decisive battle. Our planes had sifted through thousands of fragments.
DS : So the last dramatic effort has been in vain. The defeat is history, the immediate result was despair, sadness and misery. Today one asks: why did you start in 1939?
Herrmann : With your question and my answer, we step out of the military and come into politics. I can say with absolute certainty: we knew what we were fighting for. For the repatriation of the displaced Germans, for the recovery of the German Danzig and the corridor, against the mistreatment and disenfranchisement of the Germans who remained in Poland, and all that only because the West pushed back the peaceful solution of this national and humanitarian concern for the sake of its war. We knew the basic evil and the world knew it. As has become the norm recently, we did not have to invent it.
DS : Colonel Herrmann, thank you for the interview.
Most of the images were taken from the excellent website Jews Bomb Germany. The website includes 154 German cities that were bombed by the allies, many with no strategic targets at all. This is not a complete list but highlights many little German cities that were bombed for no reason other than to destroy cultural landmarks and murder innocent civilians.