War is the best testing ground for all types of fighting materiel, and this is
particularly true of aircraft and their equipment. The Italian conquest of
Ethiopia, the Spanish Civil War, and the Sino-Japanese conflict have all provided
excellent laboratories for experiment in the design and performance of combat planes.
In the present war, air power has played, and will continue to play, such
an important role, that all belligerents are constantly engaged in improving
their planes. Construction, speed, maneuverability, range, ceiling, armor, and
fire power of aircraft are subject to daily study and change. Since World War I, the
character and scope of air warfare has been revolutionized, necessitating
vast improvements in design and construction. Nations have approached this
problem from different angles with varying results. During peacetime, efforts
were made--particularly by the Axis countries--to guard their most important
air secrets from potentially hostile powers, although certain revelations could
not be avoided when the aircraft were tested in actual battle experience such as
the Spanish Civil War.
With the outbreak of World War II, it became vitally important for each
belligerent to acquire as complete information as possible with respect to its
opponents' planes in order to have the technical knowledge with which to combat
them. The Germans were very late in recognizing the importance of information
to be obtained from captured planes and equipment. Their plans for a lightning
war did not envisage the necessity for keeping up with their opponent's technical
developments. The Battle of Britain was the beginning of the lesson that showed
them their error, but it was not until 6 months or so later that a formalized
procedure for the salvage and examination of crashed and captured enemy aircraft
began to be put into effect.
Every officer of the German Air Force who sees an enemy airplane shot
down, force land, or crash in his vicinity, is required to report the incident
immediately by telephone to the Air Liaison Officer at Division Headquarters, who
in turn forwards the information through channels to the Luftgaukommando
(German air corps district headquarters). The observing officer can telephone
direct to the Luftgaukommando if such communication is available. A German
Air Force officer will convey the necessary information by Air Dispatch Letter
Service. The report must include identity of reporting unit and of the guard
furnished, the location, nationality, and condition of the aircraft, and the location
of the crew.
The task of salvage is delegated by the Luftgaukommando usually to the
commanding officer of the airdrome area nearest to the location of the plane; he
dispatches a first salvage detachment by car. This detachment consists of an
officer, a technician, a photographer, and one member of each of the
communications and ordnance staffs.
At the scene of the crash, photographs are taken immediately, and the
negatives sent to the Luftgaukommando photo section for examination. A
preliminary technical report is then prepared for transmission to, and evaluation by,
Luftgaukommando Intelligence. This report should contain a description of the
plane, including data as to its position, special characteristics, construction,
armament and equipment, performance, and purpose. All tactical material and
personal documents of the crew should accompany the report.
The member of the technical staff with the detachment will then request a
salvage squad from the airdrome to complete the salvage, and this squad will
include an engine specialist and additional special personnel. Salvage operations by
Army or Air Force Troops are never permitted. Their duty is merely to
guard the plane until the arrival of the salvage squad in order to prevent removal
of any parts for souvenirs or other purposes.
The flying equipment is salvaged into two groups, signal and flight data
being segregated from technical material. All salvaged material is conveyed to
the main Air Force station in the area, and from there to the Air Force branch
concerned, except that radio equipment is dispatched via the Luftgaukommando
to Chief Signal Officer, Air Ministry.
Reports by the airdrome authorities responsible for the salvage operation
must immediately be made by telephone or radio to the Air Ministry and Air
Staff Intelligence of the Air Force High Command in case of the signal equipment,
and to the Chief Equipment Officer on the technical material. Other detailed
written reports on the salvage operation, and on the plane and its equipment, are
made respectively to the Luftgaukommando and the Chief Signal Officer.
If there is any danger of the aircraft catching fire or being "shot up" by
the enemy, all possible efforts must be made immediately to salvage
equipment--particularly photographic equipment, maps, and documents--and to
transmit the same to the responsible officer, together with a description of
the plane from which they were taken, and the precise time and place of crash.
The crew will be made prisoners of war, segregated, interrogated, and
disposed of in the usual manner. Any documents in their possession are sent
to Luftgaukommando Intelligence immediately.