New and Old Technologies during WW2

The deep changes caused by the “Big Week” trauma happened at a time when German aviation technology stood on a historical watershed. In 1944 several German scientific and technological breakthroughs matured and became ready for series production. Transforming such projects into series-produced hardware posed a major challenge to industrialists and administrators. The task became much more difficult due to the special circumstances caused by “Big Week” and its subsequent reshuffle. It is important to look at the ways the Germans prepared for the production of modern aerial weapons based on revolutionary technologies and to what extent, if any, they formed a marked departure from “traditional” production programs. This look should not distract from the fact that after all, most aircraft and aero-engines produced in Germany during the last phase of the war were of a conventional design. Thus, while the industry geared up for producing the fruits of the research and development establishment, conventional technologies remained dominant. It should be also remembered that the application of most revolutionary technologies was restricted to a narrow line of products. New propulsion systems, for example, were intended for use only in combat aircraft, at least until after the war. The problem of developing new technologies in a time of war and using them on operational platforms was an important aspect of late-war aviation industry and one that kept decision-makers rather busy. The main question facing the decision-makers was which path to choose while planning the future composition of the Luftwaffe. An early possibility that was not seriously considered was to give up production of advanced aircraft for the duration of the war and concentrate all efforts on mass-producing existing designs. Another option, which became dominant only in late 1944 and 1945, was to fully revolutionize the composition of the Luftwaffe and to equip it almost exclusively with jet- and rocket-propelled combat aircraft before the end of the war. The third option was to continue conventional aircraft production while moving forward in parallel with the development of new technologies. In practice this is exactly what happened, and although plans were laid out for a Luftwaffe equipped almost exclusively with modern combat aircraft, these were too farfetched, and so production of conventional fighters continued in full tempo until the end of the war. The two most important technological developments influencing German aviation production were the jet engine and the rocket engine. Their development began in academic research during the 1920s and 1930s. One of the main reasons for Germany’s lead in the development of these engines was the personal involvement of powerful aviation industrialist Ernst Heinkel. He became interested in their development in the mid–1930s because of his own dreams of high-speed flight.29 Other leading aero-engine firms also initiated studies of different forms of jet propulsion at the end of the 1930s. Furthermore, the RLM and the Army actively supported practical research and development of these engines.30 It is true that initial research activities of revolutionary propulsion enjoyed only lukewarm support by the RLM or the Luftwaffe, but once they realized the military potential of these technologies they increasingly supported them. After the outbreak of World War II the RLM forced Heinkel to transfer his technological know-how to other firms working on jet propulsion in order to enlarge the research and industrial basis of these technologies. As a result the company that pioneered the development of modern propulsion technologies was sidelined and lost its edge, although it continued its own development work using the firm’s own funds and facilities.