German World War II Civil Defense (Luftschutz)


Figure 1.--As the war went against Germany, The Feuerlöschdienst (F-Dienst) men were drafted for military service. At the same time, the Allies intensified the strategic bombing campaign. This meant more fore fighters than ever were needed. Much of that manpower was made up by HJ boys. Some older DJ boys may also have been jnvolved. The boy is swearing a fire fighting helmet. This is a frame from German newsreel footage. The NAZIs ran footage like this to show the barbarity of the Allies. I have always wondered how many Germans experiencing Allied bombing or seeing footage like this were concerned when they saw footage og the Luftwaffe bombing cities.

The Germans called Civil Defense Luftschutz (LS--Air Prorection). The Civil Defense system involved air raid warnings, fire service, bomb disposal, smole screens, decoy sites, and camouflage. Preparations for civil defense became very early in the NAZI era with he creation of the Reichcluftschutzbund (REB--State Air Protection League) (April 1933). The goal was to train every householder in the basics of air raid protection. This was even before the first steps toward the creation of Luftwaffe had been taken. After the Govern,ent announced the creation of the Luftwaffe in violation of the Versailles Treaty (1935), the new Air Ministry assumed responsibility for civil defense, but other agencies were involved. When the War began (1939), beligerant countries did not have the capability of bomving Germany, especially after the fall of Frajnce (1940). As Allied air strength grew, increasing effective Luftwaffe air defenses protected German cities. (1942-43). Military reverses ikn the East meant the conscription of virtually all adult German males. This meant that HJ boys and older men had to increasinglt taken on civil defense duties. The combined impact of the bomber defensive guns and the American long-range fighters esstentially defeated the Luftwaffe (January-March 1944). From that point on, German civilians had to rely primarily on the the bomb sheters and civilian defense facilities for protection from the increasingly heavy Allied raids. In the end the Allies leveled virtually every major German city. The civil defense program, however, proved very effective in protecting civiians. The casulasties were substantial, an estimated 0.3-0.5 million million Germans, but a fraction of what could have happened with out an effective civil defense program.

Reichcluftschutzbund--REB (1933)

Preparations for civil defense became very early in the NAZI era with he creation of the Reichcluftschutzbund (REB--State Air Protection League) (April 1933). The goal was to train every householder in the basics of air raid protection. Partiipstion, however, was voluntary. The RLB was organized even before the first steps toward the creation of Luftwaffe had been taken.

Agency Coordination (1935)

The NAZis began planning a massive rearmament program as soom as they seized power. The Versailles Treaty prohibited Germany from having an air force. Concerned about Allied intervention, Hitler took many secret steps as well as a a number of disguised strps. Reich Marshall Herman Göring was put in charge of a new Ministry of Air Travel (early 1933). This was in fact the beginning of a mew German German airforce. Part of the ministry's portfolio was air protection (civil defense) air defense programs. After Göring announced the creation of the Luftwaffe in violation of the Versailles Treaty (March 1935), the new Air Ministry assumed responsibility for civil defense, but other agencies were involved. The Air Ministry and the Luftwaffe High Command assumed responsibility for air defense policy and national policy directives, but several other agencies played an important role. . The Order Police (part of the Interior Ministry) was responsible for local services. The RLB organized and trained wardens and fire workers and trained the general public. Participation in the RLB was made compulsory (June 1935). Membership invreased to 12.6 million (1938) and after the War began to 12.6 million (1942). Other agencies were involved. The State Group for Industry (Ministry of Economics) addressed the problem of protecting industrial sites and workers. State transport amd communication agencies (post office, railyways, inland waterways, highways) also developed programs.

Air War: Initial Phase (1939-43)

When the War began (1939), the Allies had the capability of bombing Germany, but a political decesion was made not to initiate a a strategic bombing campaign. The Allies were primarily concerned that the Germans would respond by bombikng their cities. The British and French wanted to avoid the horendous causaties of World war I. They believed that they could maintain a defensive posture behind the Msginot Line and inflict heavy casualties if the Germand attacked. Then as in World War I they could bring their superior industrial capacity and access to raw materials to bear in the Germans. After the German Western offensive, the limited range of British bombers meant that RAF Bombder Command no longer had the capacity to strike Germany in force (1940). Germany on the otherhand with new bases allong the Channel had the capability to bomb Britain. The Luftwaffe was, however, a taxtical airforce not well suited for strategic bombing. And the RAF fighters made it to costly to bomb Britain during the day when specific tagets could be hit. The Luftwaffe shifted to simply nombing whole cities at night. This was costly for British civilians, but did not adversely affect militaru instalations or British war industries. British war production including aircradt production actually increased during the Battle of Britain. There was a lull in the air war as the Germans shifted the Luftwaffe east for Barbarossa and the British began developing and producing long-range aircraft that could being the War home to Germany. producing

NAZI War Strategy

The decesion to go to war was not a decesion that bubbled up from the surface from the German people. It was a decesion that was made in the Reich Chancellery by one man--German Führer Adolf Hitler. It was not a carefully considered decesion. German did not have the industrial capcity are control of raw materials that would allow German to win a world war. So Hitler gambeled that with his military buildup that he could win a quick war and knock out his adversaries before they could convert their considerable resources to waging war. It was risky, but he almost succeded. He did suceed in defeating the vaunted French Army. Only a handful of young British pilots managed to stop him from crossing the Channel and conquering Britain. If Britain had fallen, there could have been no strategic bombing campaign or D-Day invasion to liberate France. After September 1940 and major Luftwaffe losses, it was clear that the Luftwaffe could not destroy the RAF. Tge failure to defeat the British might have caused other leaders to reassess their war strategy--but not Hiler.

Civil Defense Regulations

British air raids at the time were only minor annoyances. And Reich Marshall Göring hadassured the German people that his Luftwaffe would prevent German cities from being bombed. Apparently not all Germans were convinced and some began to think about the possibility that the air war would not be a short one. German officials issuef new Luftschutz (LS--Air Prorection / Civil Defense) regulations. The German LS-Führerprogramm updated older regulations (November 1940). The regulations upfdated The Code of Practice for Building Shelters (Bestimmungen f�r den Bau von Luftschutz Bunkern):
1. For buildings (municipal buildings, dwellings, lots) in which there are up to now none or inadequate air raid shelters, do it yourself air raid measures will be adopted.
2. Existing or newly constructed streets or transportation paths (e.g., subways and tunnels) are to be adapted for the construction of underground and bombproof air raid shelters.
3. The openings to the outside in existing air raid shelters are to be removed and at the same time connections are to be made [to other shelters] with collapsible fire walls.
4. New public air raid shelters are to be constructed, and existing air raid shelters are to be made, as bombproof as possible.
5. All new constructions, particularly in buildings for the armaments industry, are henceforth to be equipped with bombproof air raid shelters. Such shelters are to have the same priority as the structure being built itself.

Luftwaffe Reorganization (1942)

The Reich civil defense organization was known as the Sicherheits-und Hilfsdienst (Air Raid Protection Service--SHD) and was set up as a branch of the Ordnungspolizei (regular police). It was composed of anout 165,000 personnel at the time that it was transferred to the Luftwaffe (March 1942). It was overseen by the Inspekteur des Luftschutzes (Inspector for Passive/Civil Air Defense). Only a fraction of the persinnel were full-time employees in organized units. The full time personnel grew with the expansion of the air war. At its peak strength the Luftschutz-Truppe consisted of about 59,500 (35,600 regular Luftwaffe l and 23,900 auxiliaries).

Hitler Youth

The Feuerlöschdienst (F-Dienst) was the actual firefighting crews. At the beginning of the War, the F-Dienst was staffed by adult men. Some fire fighting units had junior auxileries, but virtually all the fire fighters were men. This changed as the War progressed. The failure of Barbarossa before Moscow meant that the campaihn in the East would not be a quick German victory (December 1941). This and subsequent military reverses in the East meant the conscription of virtually all adult German males. At the same time the need for fire fighters increased as the Allies intensified the air campaign. RAF Bomber campaihn brouhht the Avro Lancaster in service (1942). The Americans joined the British in an around the clock bombing campaign (1943). This meant that HJ boys and older men had to increasingly take on civil defense duties. The Hitler Youth was a mass organization. Virtually every German boy belonged to the organization. Thus large numbers of boys could be obrained through the HJ. The RAD was also used in civil defense. These boys and youths were used in both the Air Protection/Civil Defense (LS) and Air Defense , The HJ assisted LS efforts by creating a fire training course (1941). Thise who passed could wear a Feuerwehrabzelchen badge. The HJ also aparticipated in Air Defense by orgamizing organized FLAK gunnery teams.

Allied Strategic Bombing Campaign (1943-44)

Once America joined the War in December 1941, a massive bombing campaign against Germany from England became feasible. America's indistrial potential gave the Allies to mount a strategic bombing campaign orders of magnitude above the Luftwaffe's capability. The air campaign became a major aspect of Allied strategy. While American began building in facilities in 1942, the British debated how to begin the strategic bombing campaign in 1942. Some wanted to target key German industrial sites, especially German synthetic fuel plants. Had they done so at this time might have changed the course of the War. Hiting precission targets, however, over heavily defended, often cloud-covered German cities. Air Marshall Arthur "Bomber" Harris, the head of RAF Bomber Command, introduced area bombing as the RAF's principal strategy in the bombing campaign. Harris phrased it susinctly, "The Germans sewed the wind, now they will reap the whirllwind." The RAF began its area bombing strategy on March 28, 1942 with a massive night time raid on Lübeck. Hitler transferred two bomber groups of about 100 planes each from Sicly which conducted Baedaker targeting historic treasures of British cities. The ballance of forces, however, had turned decidedly against the Germans. The RAF responded on May 30 with its first 1,000 bomber raid on Cologne. The results were devestating. American in 1943 joined the British in round-the-clock bombing. One of the worst hit cities was Hambug. There were firestorms which destetated the central cities. The firestorms sucked tres, vehichles, sections of buildings, and people into the conflagerations. Those not killed by the bombs and flames were suffocated by the smoke and lack of oxygen. The American 8th Air Force with even larger number of bombers than the British began initial opearions against the Germans in 1943. The Americans opened their full-scale daylight bombing campaign on January 27, 1943 with an attack on Wilhelmshaven. Througout 1943, German cities were exposed to "round the clock bombing" inflict serious civilian casulties. The Americans bombing by day, attempting to hit specific targets using their Nordon bomb sites. The British bombed by night and at best could hit specific cities. Large numbers of German civilians were killed, injured, or rendered homeless. The American and British air crews suffered very heavy casulties against German fighters and increasingly effective anti-aircraft guns. At times it was unclear if the bombing campaign could be sustained. Long range fighters were not available in 1942-43 to escort the bombers to their targets in Germany. The actual impact of the campaign was disappointing. German civilian morale did not crack under the British area bombing and the Americans found it much more difficult to hit specific industrial targetys than anticipated. Even so, the air campaign forced the Luftwaffe to deploy major assetts defending German cities rather than on the critically important Eastern Front. Especially important large numbers of Luftwaffe fighters and even more important trained pilots were being shot down by the bombers. In addition large numbers of artillery pieces, which could have been used against Russian tanks, had to be diverted to anti-aircraft defenses. These defenses were manned largely by the Hitler Youth.

Defeat of the Luftwaffe

The Luftwaffe cdominated the skies over Europe during the early years of the war. The superority of German planes and the Luftwaffe's tactical doctrine was a key factor in the stunning German victories. This changed in 1943 and by 1944 German civilians as well as the Wehrmacy were paying a terrible price. Supperficial assessments of the Allied strategic bombing campaigns often point to the fact that German production of armaments increased in 1943 and in many areas even in 1944. Of course this is not a valid assessment as the historian has to assess what the Germans could have produced without the bombing. Contrary to popular opinion, the German war economy was not efficently run in the early years of the War and Speerv in fact achieved substantial results when he was put in charge of war production. Another critical impact of the strategic bombing campaign was the impact on the Luftwaffe. Although the Allies paid a heavy loss in air crews, large nimbers of Luftwaffe planes and the irreplaceable pilots were destroyed in the skies over Germany. In addition the Luftwaffe had to pull back to defend German cities. Thee arrival of high performance Allied fighters in large numbers was one factor in achieving air suoperority over the battlefields, but another key factor was that the Luftwaffe had to be withdrawn back to Germany. This meant that much of the German air strength was not available to support the Wehrmacht on the Eastern Front. It also meant that the Allied air forces had a free hand to attack the vaunted Atlantic Wall. When the invasion finally came, the Luftwaffe could offer only token resistance. The Allies achieved the air superiority in 1944 that the Luftwaffe attempted to achieve and failed over Britain in 1940. And it was this air superority that made the D-Day Normandy landings possible.

Air War Final Phase (1944-45)

The combined impact of the bomber defensive guns and the American long-range fighters esstentially defeated the Luftwaffe (January-March 1944). From that point on, German civilians had to rely primarily on the the bomb sheters and civilian defense facilities for protection from the increasingly heavy Allied raids. Preparations for the D-Day landings required Eisenhower to take control of bomber activities a control he maintained until after the breakout from Normany and liberation of France. Only then could Bomber Command and the 8th Airfirce return to the strategic bombing campaign in full force (September 1944). Nuch of the detruction of German cities occirred during this period until the bombing campaign was largely suspended in the wake of the heasy civilian casualties at Dresden (April 1945).

Poison Gas

The "Luftabwehrdienst" (Air Protection League) was the finest civil defense organization in World War II. Due to its effectiveness, German deaths in Allied air raids were limited to 0.3-0.5 million people despite the destruction of nearly all German cities. German civilian were thoroughly trained in civil defense measures. We are not sure about the extent to which German civilians were prepared for gas attacks. Some bomb shlelters were constructed to be gas proof, but we are not sure how common this was. We note photographs of Hitler Youth boys training to use gas masks. We do not know how common this was. They may have been propaganda photographs. We have noted family snapshots of HJ boys carrying gas mask bags slung over their shoulders. The Germans as far as we can determine did not proceed with the mass production and isuance of gas masks to civilians as did the British. They do seem to have collected the gas masks in occupied countries (Czechoslovakia and France), but we are not sure if they were distributed to civilians or military personnel. We know that the Germans made gas masks for civilians, both adults and children, and advertized them. We do not, however, have any details as to destribution or access.

Effectiveness

In the end the Allies leveled virtually every major German city. The civil defense program, however, proved very effective in protecting civilians. The casulasties were substantial, an estimated 0.3-0.5 million million Germans, but a fraction of what could have happened with out an effective civil defense program.

KLV Evacuation of Children

The Germans also evacuated the children from the cities. Kinderlandverschickung (KLV) operated during World War II (1939-1945). The children had to go to rural areas on "holiday" but really they should be out of the cities and towns that had difficulties feeding them and were being bombed by the Allies. I believe that both schools and the Hitler Jugend were involved in organizing thd KLV. One reader reports that the HJ was especially important in the KLV organiation beginning in 1940. About 2.5 million children were send to 9,000 camps until end of World War II. I believe in many cases their teachers accompanied them. Strangely, unlike the extensive discussion of the British evacuation of children (1940-41), the German KLA evacuation and camps are little discussed.

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Created: 4:26 AM 9/18/2009
Last updated: 5:26 AM 9/23/2010