Fledgings of the Third Reich: The National Socialist Flyers Corps

VICTORIA TAYLOR

Victoria Taylor is an aviation historian based at the University of Hull and Sheffield Hallam University. Her ongoing PhD research focusses on the interwar and wartime relationship between the Luftwaffe and National Socialism in the Third Reich.

‘The work of the National Socialist Flyers Corps is bearing its fruits for the benefit of the Luftwaffe – and thus for German air legitimacy – for the good of the German people and their future.’ [1] OberstleutnantHermann Adler’s assessment of the Nationalsozialistisches Fliegerkorps (NSFK – ‘National Socialist Flyers Corps’) encapsulates the organisation’s intended role as an effective ‘preparatory school’ for the Luftwaffe in Nazi Germany. The NSFK’s self-identified tasks were to provide pre-military ‘air service’ training to the younger generations; to shape the in-practice attitude of the air force’s reservists; to pool together and control the entirety of German air sports; and, finally, to promote and disseminate Flugbegeisterung (‘airmindedness’) among the German people. [2]

From 1937 until the end of the Second World War, the NSFK enticed young Flieger-Hitlerjugend(Flieger-HJ – ‘Aviation Hitler Youth’) boys into joining at eighteen by arranging concerts, youth gliding competitions and meet-and-greets with veteran German pilots. The organisation instructed in everything from aeronautical theory and wireless communications, to maintenance work and gliding, whilst keeping its instructors fit for the future air war. Most notably, however, the NSFK also sought to intertwine the young men’s ‘airmindedness’ with quintessential National Socialism. From its dedicated magazine – Deutsche Luftwacht(‘German Air Watch’) – declaring that its members were ‘opponents of the Jews’[3], to nurturing fondness for the GermanVolk, the NSFK strove to secure the next generation of young men flying for both the Führer and the fatherland.

Excluding a handful of secondary works on the NSFK’s command structure and uniform paraphernalia, the organisation remains somewhat understudied in both English and German historiography. Its precise number of members remains unknown, though they certainly tallied into the thousands during its existence. Yet wartime Allied intelligence estimated that as many as 8,000 of the 18,000 men serving in the Luftwaffe by September 1939 had received pre-military training in the NSFK.[4] With the Wehrmacht (‘armed forces’) having wielded the reputation of possessing a ‘Prussian army, an Imperial navy and a National Socialist air force’ [5] in the Third Reich, examining the NSFK’s influence on the Luftwaffe’s political and technical makeup can expand upon our understanding of how accurate this contemporary perception truly was. This article thus seeks to shed light upon how the NSFK attempted to politically indoctrinate its members; the ways in which it delivered aeronautical training to its Luftwaffe aspirants; and to suggest the extent to which it succeeded in these two respects.

Formation & Recruitment

The National Socialist Flyers Corps was originally founded in January 1932, but it was quickly absorbed into the pro-Nazi Deutscher Luftsportverband(DLV – ‘German Air Sports Association’) on 25 March 1933. The DLV’s widespread amalgamation of Germany’s air sports associations and glider clubs reflected the overarching Gleichschaltung(‘co-ordination’) of Germany’s institutions and systems by the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei(NSDAP – ‘Nazi Party’). On 17 April 1937, however, Adolf Hitler resurrected the National Socialist Flyers Corps from the ashes of the DLV. The NSFK’s handbook would later claim that ‘everything had to be developed out of the slightest beginnings, almost out of nothing’. [6]The DLV’s main task, as the handbook continues, had been ‘clear and distinct, but also huge: “cooperation in the reconstruction of German aviation”.’

Re-establishing the NSFK in 1937 under its first Korpsführer General der FliegerFriedrich Christiansen, the acclaimed World War I Marinekorpsfighter ace – had thus been deemed necessary to realise this main ambition. It should not be forgotten, however, that the DLV’s organic expansion had been hampered by Germany’s interwar military restrictions. Its predecessor, the Deutscher Luftfahrt-Verband (‘German Aviation Association’), had been formed in 1922 following a lift on the Treaty of Versailles’ total ban on German civil and commercial aircraft production. Nevertheless, severe restrictions remained in place until 1925 that limited Germany’s single-seat aeroplane motors to 60 horsepower; their speed to 170 kilometres per hour; and their altitude to 4,000 metres. [7]

The Deutscher Luftsportverband faced similar problems during Germany’s covert rearmament in the early 1930s, but the NSFK was freer to develop its own training programme after the NSDAP unveiled the Luftwaffe to the world in March 1935. Indeed, the wartime Allied Expeditionary Force intelligence dossier claimed that the relatively slow conversion from the DLV to the NSFK might have been due to Nazi Germany’s need to ‘camouflage its military preparations.’ However, it is also possible that the NSFK was reformed in 1937 owing to Party dissatisfaction with the DLV’s inconsistent political views. Peter Fritzsche has noted that a minority of DLV aviators baulked at the increasing Nazi influence over its aircraft, and even requested for a non-political branch of the organisation to be set up.[8]

Nevertheless, Fritzsche also points out that most DLV glider pilots bowed to the Nazi permeation of their organisation with little resistance. The NSFK ended up adopting a paramilitary structure similar to the ranks of the SA (‘Sturmabteilung’), and, whilst founded as a public body and not as an official Nazi Parteigliederung (‘Party Formation’), it was still tightly controlled by the NSDAP. Though the National Socialist Flyers Corps was overwhelmingly a voluntary and part-time organisation, its strict entry requirements reflected its heavy political influence. The organisation decreed that any prospective full-time members:

  • Must be a National Socialist.
  • Must have a personality – must be a character.
  • Must combine a soldier’s attitude with military fitness.
  • Must be particularly fit for action.
  • Must have a good general education.
  • Must having flying knowledge and ability.[9]

The majority of its recruits already fulfilled most of these requirements due to the NSFK’s close working relationship with the Flieger-HJ (‘Aviation Hitler Youth’). This organisation instructed German boys between the ages of 14 to 18 in gliding and constructing model aircraft, along with engaging them in sport and fitness. Admittedly, the NSFK was also open to any male citizens who were trained pilots, observers, balloonists or reservists of the Luftwaffe, providing that they were of pure ‘German’ (Aryan) ancestry; that they were sufficiently fit and under 45 years of age; and that they had an unblemished character that embraced National Socialism. Nevertheless, the NSFK admitted that it ‘prefers these excellently trained [Flieger-HJ] boys to volunteer or officer candidates’ [10] due to both their political and technical malleability.

Training & Recreational Activities

The first year of NSFK training offered instruction in navigation; meteorology; aviation instruments and motors; aviation geography; international aviation laws and regulations; and air currents. The second year, meanwhile, covered glider flying and parachute jumping. Its members were also drilled in Wehrsport (‘paramilitary exercises’) modelled on those of the SA. Competitive sports were encouraged, with skiing in particular being promoted due to its need for core strength, balance and coordination – physical attributes that were thought to lend favourably to flying practice. This training did not come cheap: securing only the second A2 gliding proficiency certificate cost 3000 Reichsmarks. Such was the ardent desire of these young NSFK men to learn to fly, however, that many either used up their savings or borrowed money in order to chase their dream.[11]

The NSFK awarded a variety of gliding, wireless operation, aircraft modelling, ballooning and skiing proficiency badges. The glider proficiency tests progressed from A to final certification in the C-Test, with several subcategories in between. The A-Test stipulated that the candidate fly solo for 30 seconds without manoeuvres; the Segelflieger-B, or ‘B-Certificate’, required a 60-second solo flight with an ‘S’ turn; and the ‘C-Certificate’ demanded a five-minute solo flight (without losing altitude) and a subsequent oral examination.The glider proficiency badges in particular were an immense source of pride and ambition for the young aviators. Though not a member of the NSFK, Generalleutnant Adolf Galland had joined the Gelsenkirchen Luftsportvereinas a student in 1931. He spoke of how ‘the deep blue badge with the white seagull, which I was allowed to wear proudly in the buttonhole after passing the so-called A-Test, was much more important to [him]’[12] than the more prestigious glider qualifications he subsequently achieved.

In order to boost cameradie among the NSFK, charity fundraising initiatives were held and stirring patriotic songs were sung. Certain songs, such as ‘Ich hab’ mich ergeben’ (‘I Have Given Myself‘), pre-dated National Socialism but were still included in a NSFK songbook from 1938. Other songs were less subtle in their political orientation, namely ‘Das Hakenkreuz im weißen Feld’ (‘The Swastika in the White Field’), ‘Es zog ein Hitlermann hinaus’ (‘A Hitler Man Went Out’) and ‘Wir sind das Heer vom Hakenkreuz’ (‘We are the Swastika Army’).[13] The song‘Brothers in Mines and Pits’, however, calls for its singers to ‘load the empty rifles, load with powder and lead/ shoot at the Fatherland’s traitors – down with the Jewish tyranny!’. Such material illustrates the vitriolic National Socialist propaganda that the NSFK’s members were exposed to as part of its ‘bonding’ process.

Link with the Luftwaffe

The National Socialist Flyers Corps thus sought to prepare its members for fully-fledged military life in both the Luftwaffe and the Third Reich by shaping its men into ‘der ganze Mann’  (‘the whole man’). The extent to which this translated successfully into the Luftwaffe, however, is somewhat debatable. NSFK membership was certainly associated with higher chances of being accepted by the Luftwaffe. Following his Luftwaffe admissions interview, Karl Engel remembered ‘the others clustering around eagerly’ and asking, ‘“What about the National Socialist Flyers Corps –do [the Luftwaffe] want to know if you’re a member?”.’[14] The NSFK’s Korpsführer was directly answerable to the Commander-in-Chief of the Luftwaffe, and it claimed that the Luftwaffe ‘is proud that in Germany there are many tens of thousands of aviation-loving, volunteering NSFK leaders and men who give their time for free…to train the young airmen for the flying troupe.’ [15]

Close cooperation between the Luftwaffe and the NSFK was thus vital for securing technical talent for the main air force – especially in wartime. It was not only future pilots that the NSFK produced, but also flight mechanics, glider-borne paratroopers, radio operators and anti-aircraft gunners. Oberstleutnant Adler proudly declared that ‘the careful selection of suitable boys, their guidance by teachers of the NSFK and their pre-military training have found confirmation and recognition in the war…great is the number of boys annually growing in this way in the Luftwaffe.’ [16] As a staunch National Socialist serving in the Luftwaffe, however, Adler’s assessment of the NSFK’s contribution must be cautiously analysed. The Luftwaffe did not, for instance, formally recognise pilot licences from the NSFK, even though the NSFK and the Luftwaffe’s instructors often assisted with the training and examination of each other’s students.

On the other hand, the NSFK’s special Bordfunkerschein (‘wireless operator’s licence’) wasawarded in line with Luftwaffe requirements, with its tests being supervised by Luftwaffe personnel: obtaining this certificate normally enabled the recipient to join an air signals unit as a special technician upon signing up to the Luftwaffe. Yet Georg Cordts, a former Flakhelfer in the Luftwaffe from 1943 to 1944, recalled that the ‘iron discipline’ of the NSFK produced ‘highly motivated, if insufficiently advanced, offspring of the Luftwaffe.’[17] The NSFK became severely depleted after 1939 due to the war drawing many of its best instructors away, with the Luftwaffe and the Reichspost (Postal Administration) having to supplement the NSFK with their own instructors. This resulted in a patchy, non-standardised level of pre-military training for NSFK recruits that could vary considerably in quality: an issue that was compounded by the Luftwaffe’s wartime commandeering of NSFK aircraft.

National Socialism & the NSFK

Despite these few shortcomings, the NSFK undoubtedly served as a crucial and effective springboard for some Luftwaffe aspirants by equipping them with fundamental aeronautical knowledge and transferable skills. What is harder to determine, however, is the extent to which the NSFK succeeded in embedding National Socialist values within its men. Andrew Rawson has written that the transferral of many DLV members to the Luftwaffe in March 1935 gave the main air force ‘a strong Nazi base’. [18] Yet this assumes that all of the former DLV’s members – who were allowed to join the new NSFK – were inherently Nazified, even though Fritzsche has demonstrated that this was not entirely the case. It is undeniable that the subsequent NSFK was heavily permeated by politics: for instance, one edition of DeutscheLuftwacht lamented that ‘many hundreds of thousands of German families would not have lost property, land or workshops if they had had a real knowledge of the Jews.’ [19]

However, there were many notable inconsistencies within the NSFK’s politicisation as well. The Allied Expeditionary Force intelligence dossier on the organisation hypothesised that the appointment of Generaloberst Alfred Keller as the NSFK’s new Korpsführer in 1943 ‘may be indicative that the purely military control over the NSFK…has progressively increased’: Keller was an active officer with no known affiliation to the Nazi Party. [20] Moreover, an intriguing Allied interrogation document from 14 June 1945 recalls a conversation with Obersturmführer Joseph Kaponig, who was second in command of the NSFK Standarte (‘Standard’) 113 in Klagenfurt, Austria. The report claims that he was a former member of the Vaterländische Front (‘Fatherland Front’), an ‘Austrofascist’ organisation which championed Austrian independence in the face of German expansionism.Kaponig was actually put on trial in Vienna by the Nazi Party for ‘expressing insubordinate views about the regime.’[21]

Admittedly, the report concludes that Kaponig ‘also gave the impressive that in the heyday of the NSFK he was as provocative as the best or worst of them.’ Nevertheless, it also documents that any NSFK recruits who ‘slacked’ in the entry requirements– including their racial heritage – were often ‘adequately compensated for’ by their ‘experience and usefulness’. This was particularly the case between 1943 – 1944, when the neglected NSFK started to crumble due to the pre-existing wartime strain on the Luftwaffe. Such discrepancies within the political makeup of the NSFK illustrate that its strong politicisation did not automatically translate to ‘blanket’ indoctrination. In addition to its overt National Socialism, these intriguing political exceptions must be acknowledged in order to present a more nuanced and reflective image of the organisation as a whole.

Operational & Political Legacy

Ultimately, the National Socialist Flyers Corps was able to wield a significant level of both military and political control over its sizeable membership: influencing everything from their anti-Semitic views and strengthening their support for the Führer, to fostering a military brotherhood ready for the air war. Along with its blatant appealing to the ‘airmindedness’ of its members, the NSFK combined its National Socialist propaganda with a diverse and dedicated pre-military training scheme. The effectiveness with which such training was delivered could be inconsistent and, in certain cases, was insufficient. Nevertheless, the NSFK’s instructors still provided a well-rounded foundation for its members that enabled many of them to enjoy successful careers in the Luftwaffe.

Politically, the NSFK was unequivocally steeped in National Socialist dogma: its men were intensely bombarded with Nazi slogans in every medium available, from songs and posters to magazines and lectures. The extent to which this politicisation was successful is somewhat difficult to measure, but given its strong influx of young, impressionable Flieger-HJ boys, it can be assumed that many NSFK members were susceptible to the continuation of their political indoctrination. What is less open to debate, however, is that the National Socialist Flyers Corps served as a crucial supplier of keen and ambitious young men to the Luftwaffe – whether their enthusiasm was for politics, flying, or a mixture of the two. The NSFK’s contribution to the main air force in this respect, then, should certainly not be overlooked.

Image: NSFK members march alongside the SS and the National Socialist Motor Corps (NSKK) at a Nazi Party rally in Nuremberg, 10 September 1938 via wikimedia commons.

References

[1] Adler, H. ‘Das NS Fliegerkorps‘, Der Adler, Heft 1942. 02 March 1942 (Berlin: August Scherl Nachfolger/Das Reichsluftfahrtministerium, 1942).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Do2 90/5190. ‚Die Kenntnis der Juden‘, Deutsche Luftwacht. Fachzeitschrift “Luftwelt”, Year 9, Number 3. 01 February 1942 (Bayreuth: Nationalsozialisches Fliegerkorps, 1942), 41-60. Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin.

[4] LBY 40039. ‘The NSFK (Das Nationalsozialistische Fliegerkorps) of the NSDAP’, Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force Evaluation and Dissemination Section, G-2 (Counter Intelligence Sub-Division). Imperial War Museum, London.

[5] Keßelring, A. Die Organisation Gehlen und die Neuformierung des Militärs in der Bundesrepublik(Berlin: Ch. Links, 2017), 121.

[6]Kehrberg, A. Das nationalsozialistische Fliegerkorps: die Vorschule der deutschen Flieger (Berlin: Berlin Schuhmacher, 1942), 2.

[7] Fritzsche, P. A Nation of Fliers. German Aviation and the Popular Imagination(Cambridge, Mass/London: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 106.

[8] Fritzsche, P. ‘Machine Dreams: Airmindedness and the Reinvention of Germany’, The American Historical Review, Vol. 98, No. 3 (Jun. 1993), 685-709.

[9] Kehrberg, Das nationalsozialistische Fliegerkorps, 21.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Cordts, G. Junge Adler: Vom Luftsport zum Flugdienst, 1920-1945(Esslingen am Neckar: Bechtle, 1988), 56.

[13] F 500 6445. Liederheft des NS-Fliegerkorps(1938). Zentrum für Militärgeschichte und

Sozialwissenschaften der Bundeswehr, Potsdam.

[14] Engel, K. I Bombed London: The Autobiography of a German Bomber Pilot.Translated from German by Siegfried Ritson. (London: Curtis Warren, 1954), 13.

[15] Kehrberg, Das nationalsozialistische Fliegerkorps, 30 – 31.

[16] Adler, ‘Das NS Fliegerkorps‘, Der Adler.

[17] Cordts,Junge Adler, 7.

[18] Rawson, A. The Third Reich 1919-1939: The Nazis’ Rise to Power.[Kindle Edition] (Stroud: Spellmount Publishers, 2016), loc. 5774.

[19] Do2 90/5190. ‚Die Kenntnis der Juden‘, Deutsche Luftwacht.

[20] LBY 40039. ‘The NSFK (Das Nationalsozialistische Fliegerkorps) of the NSDAP’, Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force Evaluation and Dissemination Section.

[21] FO 1020/947. ‘Disarmament – N.S.F.K. Intelligence Report.’ Allied Commission for Austria British Element (Records Section Secretariat), ACA 51/311. The National Archives, Kew.

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