Monday, August 22, 2022

Monthly Movement and Losses of the Luftwaffe 1939-1945 Infographic

I created this infographic where you can see the monthly locations, movements, and for the middle of the war losses of the German Air Force in WWII. I cut the map into 2 latitude by 2 longitude squares and counted the number of aircraft within that square. I then color coded it by different type of aircraft. In the lower left of each square are the number of fighters (these include single engine, twine engine, and night fighters) and in the upper right of each square there are the number of bombers (either ground attack or general bombers).

Before February 1942 I estimate the sizes of groups as the data for number of planes are not available before than. Each vertical line heigh shows the number of planes maxing out at 100 before flowing over into subsequent lines. There can be 10 lines each representing a max of 1000. Starting February 1942 through December 1944 we not only have accurate data on the monthly number of planes at each location but we also see the monthly losses during that time period as well.

In order to visualize the movements and losses I based the graphic as if the data came from a turned-based strategy game. Here I visualize two phases; a movement phase followed by a ‘battle phase’ which consists of two additions to the original visualization showed. 1) the hot spots of the war and 2) the planes destroyed fall off into place in this time series plot at the bottom.

The full infographic can be found on YouTube (I cannot load the entire GIF on blogger). All data collection, formatting, and plotting was done in R. 

Luftwaffe Data came from

and Map data came from here

Code can be found here:

For further information on this graphic please see this presentation


Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Visualizing the Invasion of the Soviet Union with Luftwaffe Locations

On June 22 1941 (81 years ago) Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union with the largest military force assembled in history. Behind the ground troops the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) quickly setup forward bases to support the campaign. Using data from I put together an infographic visualizing the monthly movements of the Luftwaffe during this time (map borders are current not the ones that existed in 1941). 

One can see planes flying into Poland from the west (Denmark, Norway, France, Belgium, and The Netherlands were conquered the previous year) and Greece (conquered the previous month) right before the campaign. As the Germans advanced along the Northern, Central, and Southern fronts one can also see the indecisive plan of attack. First they locate more planes to the North to attack Leningrad and then shift focus to the attack on Moscow. 

Stopped outside of Moscow in the winter of 41/42 the invasion did not succeed in taking over the USSR. Instead the conflict lasted another three and a half years and ended in May 1945 when the USSR took over Berlin - about 1000 miles from Moscow.

Code can be found here

If you like this plot and want to see the first two years of the war through plane movements check out this post I wrote up here

Monday, June 6, 2022

Nazis, Data, and Planes: A Data Science Tour of the Luftwaffe in WW2 Part I 1939-1942

"What now?"  Adolf Hitler - September 1939 upon learning UK will declare war on Germany

June 6, 1944. Imagine you’re Nazi Germany. The western allies just launched the largest amphibious operation in history and landed in Normandy France. What do you do?  

Send in the navy? Yea, that's a good idea against an amphibious landing. Better to sink the ships carrying the troops than fight the troops on land. Except you don't have much a navy at this point. Certainly not one that can travel to northern France and make a dent against the invading armada. 

What about the army? Yea, not a bad idea either. But the vast majority of your army is on the eastern front fighting the soviet union. What forces you do have can't travel too quickly due to incessant air attacks and the damage they've done to roads, bridges, and trains. It will take time to get large amount of tanks and artillery necessary for a counteroffensive to reach the area. Time you don't have. 

Perhaps you see the writing on the wall. With the Russian's coming from the East, western allies from the south through Italy, and now a force in France it ... doesn't look good. Maybe you suggest surrender? HA! After what you’ve done? No, you have no choice but to fight this one out till the end. 

So what does Nazi Germany do? They send in the force relied on time and again. Whether it's providing support during an offensive, hastily sending them in defense, or resupplying units encircled by the enemy. They send in the Luftwaffe.

Luftwaffe Sizes, Types, and location by Month

In one of the largest air movements of the war the Germans send hundreds of planes from Germany to France leaving the heartland temporarily exposed to allied bombers. With most of the specialized ground attack aircraft awaiting the upcoming summer offensive in the east the plan was to attach bomb racks to the fighter planes in order to provide ground attack support.

In preparation of the fight a Luftwaffe field Marshal sent his pilots the message:

"Men of Luftflotte 3! The enemy has launched the long-announced invasion. Long have we waited for this movement, long have we prepared ourselves, both inwardly and on the field of battle, by untiring, unending toil. Our task is now to defeat the enemy. I know that each one of you, true to his oath to the colors, will carry out his duties ... Great things will be asked of you, and you will show the bravest fighting valor. Salute the Fuhrer." [1,  p.280]

And the military effect of moving hundreds of planes, pilots, and material from Germany into France was ... bubkus.

The planes landed in airfields without ammunition or supplies. Closer to England, the western allies were able send short range fighters that were previously unable to fly to Germany and fight the Luftwaffe there. 

The idea that sending the air force into a region where allied fighters were in great strength, with little supplies, and lack of fighter-bomber training demonstrates the disconnect with reality that became common among Germans decisions towards the end of the war.

The result was something of a rout with the Germans losing hundreds of planes and pilots with essentially no effect on the allies ground invasion. It was part of the reason why June 1944 saw the largest number of fighter planes lost in a month up to that point. 

Not that the Luftwaffe pilots were well trained at this time. After months of attrition fighting over Germany the Luftwaffe increasingly sent barely trained pilots into combat. The US strategic campaign against oil was began to effect aviation fuel supplies at this point. And while production of fighter planes increased to keep up with the attrition the limited number of trained pilots and aviation fuel decreased the effectiveness of the Luftwaffe as a fighting force. 

It wasn't like this the previous year. Indeed for the first four years of war it maintained it's combat effectiveness and routinely displayed its adaptability to influence the battle field. By attaining and maintaining air supremacy the Luftwaffe was one of the key reasons the Nazi's were able to take over Europe (and beyond). It then became an important part of maintaining this empire as it was capable of moving large amount of forces (itself and supplies) across large distances on short notice. 

This is the story of how the most technologically advanced country at the time developed and used a new kind of warfare ultimately succumbing to warfare's crudest strategy: attrition. Due to the economic nature of attrition warfare I think it's best to start this story with the economics the Germany economy in the 1930s. But first a brief overview of the geolocation data I use for this post.

The dataset

The Germans kept records every 10 days on Luftwaffe strength. Online I found locations and monthly aggregates at Below are some examples of the location and dates data along with the monthly aggregates of sizes and losses of these groups. 

The lowest form of a group was a staffel or squadron which consisted of about 16 planes.  Three staffel generally made a Gruppe and three Gruppe's generally made a geschwader. Each geschwader had a lead pilot and a few additional pilots, generally around four total, known as a Stab. In general we have good data on the Gruppe level and sometimes at the Staffel level. As the war progressed the Germans included additional Gruppes and Staffels to an individual geschwader.

The main type of groups analyzed here are single engine fighter groups, twin-engined fighter groups, night fighter groups, bomber groups, and ground attack aircraft groups. The groups were split into intended role of the aircraft in combat, not necessarily the plane itself. For instance a JU-88 was designed as a medium bombers and those that were used as such were attached to bomber groups. But they were also successful as night fighters and those were attached to night fighter groups.

Example Location Data

Here we can see a particular gruppe location for the first few years of the war. It began the war in Germany, flew to France, back to Germany, on to Greece, and then to North Africa. These exists for fighters (day fighters, night fighters, and twin engined fighters), bombers and ground attack aircraft. Unfortunately not all location data - particularly transport planes information is lacking - but what exists constitutes the bulk of the Luftwaffe throughout the war.

Geolocating the data proved to be difficult and inexact. In part this is due to the nature of recording the dataset itself. Germans would land in fields and generally describe a village or hamlet and not generally care about the spelling. Moreover the location names also highlight how different cities were named over time by different peoples and underscores that different ethnicities coexisted throughout Europe for hundreds of years. Where possible I made guesstimates and tried to get within the generally area. If a particular location is not found I use the previous known location.

In addition the dates are sometimes available at the monthly level eg a particular squadron landed at a place sometime in May 1940 and not 15 May 1940. This has the effect that some groups appear in a location before or after they should be there. I trust the reader understands the limitations of using this data and can understand how this error will be displayed in the visualization. 

Example Size and Loss Data

While the location data exists for most units throughout the war the sizes and losses data exists mainly staring in early 1942 through 1944. If the size or loss is not available I impute the size based on the group being analyzed (gruppe, staffel, or stab size) and the losses based off of the loss rate available in the same region. Here I refer to losses as total losses including those planes lost not in combat. Due to the dangerous nature of flying non-combat losses were a sizable part of overall losses especially in severe weather conditions. 

I understand that potentially the incorrect dates, locations of individual squadrons, imputed sizes and losses, and lack of size data before 1942 and after 1944 limits the precision we can analyze this data. However, all together I think this constitutes a powerful dataset that can be used to recreate large sections of the WWII in the European Theater. 

Finally, one area that will be somewhat ignored is the Battle of the Atlantic. This was an important campaign that was a central focus of the allies in 1941-1943. Allied airpower was one of the reasons why the allies won agains the U-boats (German submarines). For instance, in 1943 78 U-boats were sunk by warships while a 147 were sunk by aircraft (see here). However, the Luftwaffe was increasingly tasked with supporting the army and its effect on battle of Atlantic was relatively small. 

Economic and Politics of 1930s Germany

Unemployment Data p.6 here

In the November election of 1932 - the last free one - the Nazis (the German abbreviation of NSDAP or Nationalist Socialist German Worker Party) won 33% of the vote, a plurality. Hitler becomes Chancellor of Germany January 30, 1933. Many countries in Europe during this time had a, not unfounded, fear of communism and voted for conservatives. The Nazis were radical not conservative. 

At its core the Nazi ideology was inherently racist and embraced the idea of eugenics. There was a racial hierarchy with Aryans (white and generally German) at the top. Given their racial superiority it was German people's destiny to expand into and colonize land needed for their own "living space" (Lebensraum).

But with unemployment reaching a maximum of over 40% (one, if not the worst of the Great Depression) and the country on the verge of civil war those in power thought his radicalism would temper with power and be useful.  

While initial Nazi ideology was initially a hodgepodge of incoherrent ideas there were some items that resonated with German society at the time. The Prussian aristocracy constituting the old military guard respected his ideas to increase the size of the military and Germany's previous glory. Big business liked the idea of large government spending and contracts that military buildup entailed. And spend they did.

Before Keynes wrote the General Theory of Unemployment, Interest, and Money and before FDR had his New Deal, Nazi Germany spurred growth through deficit backed spending. The vast amount government spending during this time was on the military. Indeed the aircraft industry was a central part of this with production increasing from effectively nothing to over 8000 planes by 1939. [2, location 173] 

The result was a dramatic decrease in unemployment and an economy back to running at full employment by 1939. In contrast to the USA which still had a large unemployment rate of over 25% and France and England around 10%.

Airplane technology was changing rapidly during this time going to monocoque aluminum production. The Nazis kept up by investing heavily in R&D and by the end of the decade were producing some of the best aircraft around. Germany effectively leapfrogged to the state of the art airplane technology during this time as shown by airplane speed records above (data here).

Data Found in [3, p.10, Table 1.3]

However, it's worth noting that Germany wasn't as productive or efficient as the UK or USA. Even with substantially more unemployment the USA still had a GDP per head ~20% greater than Germany. To a large extent this was because Germany was a much more agrarian society with 27% of employment as farmers in contrast to the USA of 17%. But it was also because many German factories did not apply state of the art techniques in manufacturing like moving assembly lines. 

Overall, the German economy appears to be somewhat bifurcated at the start of the war. On the one hand it had some of the best engineers and tech. But on the other it was less efficient and crude. 

One thing is clear is that the combined economies of France and England were much larger than Germany's in 1939. How then did Germany win a ware of attrition over France in WW2 when it couldn't in WW1? The answer is that they didn't need to fight a war of attrition. With new tactics and technology the Nazis were able to take over Europe quickly without resorting to attrition. 

The Ascent (1939 - 1942): An Air Force's Air Force

The Germans deploy a new kind of warfare known as 'blitzkrieg' (lightning war) to take over Europe. Using concentrated formations tanks, planes and mechanized forces the Germans would attack deep into enemy territory, bypass strong defenses, and encircle the enemy.  This warfare was only possible with newer technologies like tanks and planes. 

However, note that the mechanized forces represented a small percentage of the Germany military. The vast majority of the army relied on horses and and slow moving artillery. It was these forces that would come up after the tanks encircled the enemy to finish the job. In this regard the Germany military mirrored its economy: it had a very technologically advanced elite but the majority was still partially agrarian. 

And at the top of that technologically elite hierarchy was the Luftwaffe. While the tanks role was to encircle the enemy the Luftwaffe had a distinct role separate from the main battlefield. While it made a large contribution as a 'mobile artillery' to help the advance it would often leave the battle alone due to the threat of friendly fire. The Luftwaffe generally struck independently of other forces behind the front lines by attacking troop movements, logistics, communications, factories, and cities. [4]

This independence was clearly valued by the Luftwaffe and would be in other air forces too. In the 1920's and 1930's there were military theorists that debated the role of the airplane in the next war. Many airmen from different countries (USA, UK, Italy) came to similar conclusions: that a new form of strategic air warfare can be used against the economic machine of the enemy. 

This is keeping with the idea of a super-battlefield [6]. If one can bomb an economy enough cripple it one doesn't need to fight them (at least as much) on the battlefield. Propenents of this idea optimistically thought it would require few resources to complete destruction of enemy infrastructure and economic movements. For instance one study created by the US Army in the 1920s on a potential air campaign against New York City concluded that by attacking a mere 17 targets the city would be unable to function. (Fun fact, due to the restrictions placed on the war department at the time no offensive plans could be drawn up so it had to be defensive in nature. This was keeping in line with America's pacifism at the time.)[5]
But why stop only at the factories, railways, and infrastructure of the enemy? They could be rebuilt if the population wasn't harmed. The logical next step was viewing the civilian population of the enemy as an enemy combatant to target. The potential dueling air forces aimed against civilians lead some theorists to think war wouldn't happen because the destruction would be so complete (a precursor to nuclear MAD). 

These concepts of a long strategic air campaign only existed once during the period of 1939-1942 during the Battle of Britain. For the rest of the first six months the campaigns generally wouldn't last long at the start of WWII.

Nominally WWII started similarly to WWI; Germany fighting on two fronts immediately both east and west. In reality the first couple of years (give or take a few months) saw Germany take over the continant through a sequence of distinct and serial campaigns. Below are the movements of each

August 23 1939 Germany and the Soviet Union, lead by Stalin, reach a deal to partition Poland. September 1 1939 Germany declares war on Poland citing a (false flag) attack on it's border. Two days later France and England declare war on Germany. After declaring war the allies ... sat and waited (there was a strategically irrelvant offensive by the French). 

Germany's forces were divided at this point with most of its forces in the East fighting Poland. The UK and France could have invaded but they decided to wait it out and launch more small scale offenses while the Poles wore down the advancing Germans. 

The Polish army was the fourth largest in Europe and it was expected to hold out for some time. People were surprised at the speed, if not the outcome, that Poland fell. The USSR invaded from the East and on October 6 1939 Poland surrendered. Shortly after Germany positioned just about all its forces on the West. For the next eight months not much happens. This period from October 1939 to April 1940 is called the 'sitzskreig' or 'phoney war'. 

The USSR continued it's territorial expansion and attacked Finland in November 1939. Showing military ineptitude, the Russians eventually won a long campaign against a much smaller force. The poor performance of the Russian military was a lesson the Germans would not forget.  
Germany initially expected a long campaign against France. In order to assure the iron ore shipments from Sweden it preemptively invaded Norway (and en route needed Denmark) to protect the transportation of the raw material from English attack. 

The Germans had amphibious landings at several locations and the Luftwaffe proved instrumental in bombing the coastal defenses allowing the troops to land safely. Paratroopers landed and took key locations too and Norway's strategic situation was hopeless within the first day. The English and French did manage to land but had to evacuate as the situation in France grew worse. 

This operation was tactical success but something of a strategic failure for Germany. While minimal costs to in terms of troops the German navy lost a significant part its surface fleet reducing the chances of a channel invasion of England in the future. In addition it required the germans to places hundreds of thousands of troops to defend against potential invasion throughout the war. Finally, the loss of Norway caused Chamberlain, the English prime minister, to lose a vote of no confidence. In his place a man dedicated to the destruction of the Nazi's is made Prime Minister -  Winston Churchill. 

The Battle of France was the main event during the period of 1939 - mid 1941. If France held out then there would most likely have been a long campaign potentially lasting years. If that happened it's hard to see the dystopian reality of 1942-1945 unfolding as it did. Instead France, with a much larger and better equipped army than Poland, lasted about the same time in the battlefield and surrendered in about six weeks. 

France thought it was playing an updated WWI. With the horrors of trance warfare fresh in its mind, it invested heavily on a fortification system known as the Maginot line during the interwar years. It ran from Switzerland to Belgium and consisted of underground railroads, bunkers, and artillery with the goal of lasting a few weeks of defending a potential German invasion. The French strategy was to use this defense system in the south while placing its best troops in the north where the Germans were expected to attack (much like WWI). And while it had very good tanks France spread them out and attached them to units in support roles rather than use them as independent forces. 

Unfortunately for the French (and the world) the Germans were playing WW2. Unlike the French army the French Air Force was smaller with inferior planes compared with its adversary. The Luftwaffe established air supremacy in quickly after starting the invasion on May 10 1940.

Concentrated formation of tanks and mechanized infantry sliced through the Ardennes, a forest previously thought impenetrable to any army. These forces rushed across the Muese in part supported by dive bombers. French troops were particularly terrified from the siren fitted on Stuka dive bombers and further demoralized them. Scared refugees clogged the roads making French military maneuvers difficult and easy targets from the air. 

As the Germans marched on we can see above that the Luftwaffe landed planes across the Meuse in the middle of the campaignHistorian Williams Murray details it:

By the 17th, within 24 hours of the French evacuation, German fighters were establishing their operational base at Charleville, west of the Meuse. For several days, fuel, ammunition, parts, and ground personnel flew in by Ju 52's since the army's movement into the ever-deepening pocket had choked the Meuse bridges . The forward operating base was so short of fuel that ground personnel siphoned all but the minimum amount of gasoline from every noncombat aircraft landing at Charleville.This rapid deployment forward was due entirely to an air transport system of Ju 52's.58The system supported the army as well as the air force in its drive to the Channel. [1, p 38]

This is the first time we're seeing the Luftwaffe moving large forces of planes to continue an offensive campaign and is something of an under-appreciated hat-trick. We'll see the Luftwaffe do this kind of operation again and again over the years. 

As the English army retreated to the English Channel at the port city of Dunkirk the order was given to stop the German army's advance. The head of the Luftwaffe, Goring, claimed his force could destroy the English army being evacuated. Instead this was the Luftwaffe first defeat. The RAF was much closer to Dunkirk than the Luftwaffe, even with its forward bases in France. The RAF held off the Luftwaffe and England evacuated some 300,000 troops from continent thereby saving an already demoralized army. 

With Germany victorious in the north, Italy entered the war on June 10 and France surrendered on June 25 1940. Germany occupied the northern half of France and, with French collaborators, created the Vichy government in the South and North Africa. The English, understanding that the Germans could use undamaged ships of the French military, attacked and sunk a large part of the French Navy at Mers-el-Kebir killing almost 1300 sailors. This proved to the world that the English would fight on.

It's worth remembering that the English didn't have to fight at this point. Hitler respected the English and would have been happy to make peace. 


The Battle of Britain was more than just a meme or speech generator. This was the first air campaign fought almost exclusively in the air. All the theories of air power could now be put into place. Practice is another. The luftwaffe's first mission was to gain air supremacy. But how do you do so and what targets should you hit? Should you attack the airfields, the factories, maybe the radar stations? Or maybe just try to go against the civilian population?  

The Luftwaffe did each of these not quite committing to a particular strategy but often changing course when they weren't seeing results quickly enough.

The strategic air campaign highlighted the falsehood of the 1930s believe that "bomber would always get through". This idea proved wrong again and again. Bombers needed to be escorted by high performance fighters in order to defend against attack. 

A particular technical problem was the short range of single engine fighter planes, in particular the BF-109. One can see this in the graph above with the fighters at the closest point to England while bombers with longer range were in airfields further away. Longer range twin engine aircraft such as the BF-110 did not have the maneurverability dogfights against English Hurricane's and Spitires required. Interestingly the Germans did know of drop tanks but for some reason did not use them here. Drop tanks were a particular advancement that help the USSAF achieve air supremacy over Germany later. 

The plans for the invasion of England were never really serious and the germans called off the attacks in the fall of 1941. The effects on the English production of aircraft was slight 96, p 124]. Level bombing, especially from high altitudes, had very poor accuracy and the relatively low numbers of German bombers contributed to the ineffectiveness of strategic air campaign and the UK

Here we have a case of strategic air power missing the mark compared with what its proponents believed. Without heavy escort the bombers were shot down. Even when they were able to hit the targets level bombing was very inaccurate and the damaged done was relatively small. These are problems the USAAF will have in 1943-1944. 

The period between November 1940 and April 1941 saw a lull in German major combat operations where its armed forces rebuilt its strength. After the fall of France the Romanians and Hungarians allied themselves with the axis powers providing Germany. Italy campaigned against the English in the Mediterranean and attacked Greece in October 1940. Neither campaign went well and German sent planes to Sicily to help Italy in the Mediterranean and to Romania to protect its oil. 

In order to keep the English from creating a southern front and in order to protect Romanian oil from potential RAF attacks the Germans launched an offensive against Greece and Yugoslavia (which refused to ally itself with Germany) in the Fall of 1941. 

Once again we see German planes moving quickly into the area and providing support. These campaigns followed the speed and efficiency of the previous western invasions and within weeks Yugoslavia and Greece fell. 

One particularly interesting operation was the invasion of Crete which was completely done by paratroopers. While the paratroopers managed to take over the island it proved to be extremely costly and the Germans would did not launch a large scale paratrooper operation for the rest of the war.  

In the middle of June 1941 the Luftwaffe quickly assembled a major Luftwaffe force in Poland to attack another country (shown above). The campaign was expected to last between 6 and 12 weeks and ?? was to be similar in speed an outcome as the previous nine countries (by my count) it took the preceding two years. Instead it took near four years of continuous fighting that eventually lead to the defeat of the Nazi Germany. 

With three million Germans and 650,000 troops from Finland and Romania, with over half a million horses, and ~2,500 planes the Invasion of Russia in on June 22 1941 was the largest land invasion of all time. This underscored the strengths and weaknesses of the German war machine. 

The initial results underlined the tactical superiority of the Germans during this time. The Germans had about the same number of planes on the eve of invasion of USSR as the invasion of France except now its forces would be divided (fought 2/3 of its planes would be in the east).  Superior planes and pilots ensure that the Luftwaffe destroyed some 1800 aircraft on the first day and quickly gained air supremacy thereafter. Most of these planes were destroyed on the ground potentially saving Russian pilots from having to fly obsolete aircraft against a stronger opponent. It then continued to support the ground offensive by moving with the army throughout Russian territory.

The tanks and army had tremendous success using Blitzkrieg tactics. The USSR did not believe initially did not use tactical retreats and were encircled again and again. Millions of soviets were captured by the Germans in the first few months of the war. 

In the above graph you can see the three main routes of attack; in the North to Leningrad, center to Moscow, and the south through Ukraine. There was a degree of indecvienss of where to attack. You can also see the shift of focus from Leningrad to Moscow halfway through the campaign.

However, victory was predicated on the belief that Soviet resistance crumble and the government would collapse (as they did in WW1). The soviets held firm and it wore down the invaders. The Germans struggled with supplies, oil, and manpower towards the end of the campaign culminating in the largest battle of WW2 the Battle of Moscow in December 1941. 

Here the Luftwaffe was worn down and without many supplies it couldn't sustain it's attack. Many units would have to fly back to Germany to refit and rearm while the campaign was reaching a climax. This was generally true of the military itself and was underscored but the fact that they did not initially have winter clothes during the Battle of Moscow. 

Barbarossa was the first real failure of the German army in WW2. The initial campaigns against western countries proved to have few casualties compared with WW1 battles; Poland killed 17k and France killed 27k German troops. In contrast the invasion of Russia killed over 180k German Troops. 

The failure of quickly taking out the USSR assured that WW2 became a war of attrition where economies and production featured more prominently than quick tactical success. Hitler's position waging a war of attrition was not helped by Germany declaring war on the US. 

Why did Germany invade Russia? Part of it was economics. Hitler wanted Ukrainian agriculture land for food and Russian natural resources to continue the fight against the Anglo world. But it was also ideological. Hitler's main reason for going to war in the first place was to create an empire in the East defined by race. 

Moreover on December 11 1941 Hitler declare war on the US. Military this wasn't a great idea. Scholars debate why he did so. However, one thread between invasion of USSR and declaration of war on US was Hitler's (nonsensical) belief that they were both controlled by and part of a Jewish world conspiracy.

So in the Winter of 1941/1942 Germany found itself at war with the UK, USA, and the USSR. If you were in Germany's shoes what would you do? 

The Holocaust and Atrocities 

January 20, 1942 a group of high Nazi party and German officials met at a mansion (stolen by a Jewish businessman) outside Berlin. Among other documents they pass around a spreadsheet. The discussion turns on how using new technology the Germans can minimize the final tally of eleven million. 

So began a new phase in the Holocaust where Jews were rounded up, put on cattle trains, and sent to death factories. This was more of a tactical change than the start of campaign against the Jews. The holocaust arguably started with the invasion of Russia. Behind the German advances were special German troops called Einsatzgruppen meant to shoot Jews, communists, other undesirables. This "holocaust by bullets" was found to be inefficient and potentially damaging to troop morale. The Nazis therefore developed special gassing facilities to murder civilians in a more efficient manner.

The Death Factories really got going in the spring of 1942 going into overdrive in the summer. In the summer of 1942 about 1.5 million men, women, and children were murdered. It seems like an apt metaphor that in the middle of WW2 both in terms of time (summer 1942 is ~ halfway mark of the war) and location (Auschwitz, the largest death factory, is about mid point between London and Moscow). This idea of racial superiority and domination was a central reason Hitler went to war.

While the holocaust against the Jews was at the pinnacle of the atrocities committed in WW2 the Germans didn't stop there. Those millions of Soviet prisoners captured ? They starved in open air prisons. A commissar order given out before the invasion of the USSR declared that any communist could be shot. In practice this meant that in the east German soldiers could kill any civilian or soldier without repercussions. German atrocities against unarmed civilians happened throughout the its occupied terrorities.

There's a lot of good 'war porn' in WW2. Often it verges on idolization of the Nazi war machine. Even with the graphs above it's kind of fun to see movements throughout time of the military campaigns. But it's important to remember the devastation and attoricites that followed with each of those points expanding outward from Germany. It's important to remember that the German military, by and large, went along with the Holocaust and the concept of a "clean" Wehrmacht is more bullshit myth than fact. That the military campaigns shown above enabled the largest genocide in human history.

never forget

[1] Murray, W. (1983). Strategy for defeat: The Luftwaffe, 1933-1945. Air University Press.

[2] Daniel Uziel. Arming the Luftwaffe: The German Aviation Industry in World War II (Kindle Location 176). Kindle Edition. 

[3] Harrison, Mark. The Economics of World War II: Six Great Powers in International Comparison. Cambridge University Press, 2005. 

[4] Deane, J. R. (1947). The Strange Alliance; the story of our efforts at wartime cooperation with Russia. The Viking Press. 

[5] Crane, C. C. (2016). American airpower strategy in World War II: Bombs, cities, civilians, and oil.

[6] Phillips Payson O’Brien  (2105) How the War Was Won: Air-Sea Power and Al- lied Victory in World War II, 

Sunday, February 6, 2022

A High Altitude Overview of the European Theater 1939-1945


In this post I outline the infographic I made on the European theater in World War Two using Luftwaffe plane locations found on This dataset includes both information on the location and size of individual plane groups throughout the war. While clearly not encompassing everything about WW2 I think using this dataset could be an effective way of describing the war for a few reasons.

First, with the exception of the Battle of the Atlantic (which is missing from this infographic) and the last few months just about all battles of WW2 in the European theater had some nominal Luftwaffe presence. Being experts in tactical air power (the ability to fight and influence the battlefield directly) required the Luftwaffe required the planes to be located near the battlefield. Due to the range limitations of WW2 aircraft (particularly single engine fighters) the airfields needed to be very close to the front lines. Therefore, the airfields locations provide a fairly accurate representation of the front lines. Below is a plot of most airfields (I've excluded the airfields in the arctic in this plot due to size limitations) used in ww2 below.

Second, while the majority of the fighting casualties were on the eastern front the majority of military expenditures were not necessarily on the eastern front. More recent research has found that the belligerents of WW2 spent a large amount on producing aircraft. Germany, for instance, spent about 48% of its output on aircraft production in July 1944 compared with only 7.8% on tanks. Similar expenditures exist among American and Great British forces.

Finally, in I think in part because planes were so expensive there’s pretty good data on them. While there were certainly more men involved in large battles they’re aggregated at a fairly high level and no month-month data exists (to my knowledge) of strengths and locations. Ships on the other hand of very good data. I think you can geolocate a ships location by the day. But there were only a handful of large scale engagements. Airplanes have both good data and large number of observations making it a “sweet spot” for data analysis. 

And finally the atrocities. Most military histories treat the holocaust as a side show. Something that happened in the background, undercurrents of the main tidal waves. However, that reading kind of misses the point of what WW2 was about. It was a war of annihilation. Of racial hierarchies and where certain people were better and therefore had the moral authority to impose their will. The German atrocities are well documented. To name a few; starvation of millions of soviet prisoners, reprisal attacks against civilians, slave labor (to such an extent that it eventually amounted to 20% of its output in agriculture and industry), and human shields in combat, and dark ways to maintain law and order. All of Europe suffered. At the apex of this was the systematic murder of Jews - the holocaust.

I’ve included markers (in yellow) that determine the holocaust events. Shown are four types of events. The first is general deportations of Western Jews to ghettos, generally in Poland. The second coincides with the invasion of USSR and is knows as ‘holocaust by bullets’. This is where special german troops einstatsgruppen followed the invading army and shot Jews and other undesirables.Then there were deportations to death camps starting in early 1942 lasting until the camps were liberated in early 1945. Finally, as the Soviets were about to liberate the camps Nazis forced survivors to march to Germany. Perhaps I have bit off too much on this infographic but I think it would be remiss of me not to include it.

This history isn’t necessarily new (I follow the timeline of Strategy of Defeat by Murphy). But I have not seen this information in one infographic. Airpower was very important to the conflict. While it may not have been as decisive as its proponents expected it to be (it didn’t win the war single handedly) It’s hard to imagine WW2 unfolding the way it did without it. Could Germany have gone so far without it using it as effectively as they did? I don't think so. To a large extent the story of the European Theater between 1939-1945 is about planes and atrocities.

Description of charts:

Below shows a gif of two charts. The top one is the map that shows the allocation of Luftwaffe Forces by Fronts. There are bar plots for Bombers, Ground Attack, Fighters, Night Fighters, and Twin-Engined Fighters (abbreviations for each one). Arrows between maps show where large scale movements of planes are going to. 

The second chart shows similar information but 'flattened' out into one dimension so as we can see movements through time. I have included the large plot below that as well. 

Code and data in R can be found here 

Here are a couple of additional plots I made: 

Minard Plot: