The intent of the plan was to buy time for the Luftwaffe to battle the Allied bombers. The Germans hoped to force the Allies to remove their fighters from the Continent, allowing the Luftwaffe an opportunity to regain control of the skies over the front and achieve some advantage against the bombers. The plan envisioned hurling all available aircraft in an early-morning, low-level attack against 16 Allied fighter fields in Belgium. Planning began in strict secrecy in mid-December, with the operation set to take place in the next period of good weather. Weather analysts determined that the conditions would be right on 1 January 1945, and orders were issued accordingly on 31 December.
To maintain operational security, group commanders were not briefed on the details of the plan, and for many, the first news of the upcoming attack came very late on 31 December. By the time orders reached subordinate levels, there was not always sufficient time for proper briefings. In many cases, the briefing consisted of a simple "follow me" direction. Even in the best of circumstances, an operation of this complexity would have been hard to execute, but it was particularly difficult for the poorly trained Luftwaffe pilots at the end of 1944.
Some 800 aircraft took part in the attack. Early on 1 January, the fighters lifted off from fields behind the front. Some experienced night-fighter pilots led the formations to the front lines and then turned back, leaving the other fighters to find their targets and return on their own. An unexpected ground mist delayed some takeoffs, and confused German antiaircraft gunners opened fire on late-arriving aircraft, shooting down a number of them. Some German pilots became lost and attacked the wrong fields. Over some targets areas, the surprise was complete, but at others, the Allies were beginning their own daily air operations and were able to react quickly.
In the final analysis, Operation bodenplatte achieved some tactical success but at an unacceptable cost. The Germans destroyed a total of 134 Allied aircraft and damaged an additional 62. The Allies could easily absorb these losses, however, and there was no thought of relocating air operations to Britain. The Luftwaffe lost some 300 aircraft to all causes. More important, 214 Luftwaffe pilots were killed, missing, or captured. This operation marked the end of the road for the German air force, which was largely ineffective for the remainder of the war.
M. R. Pierce
Boyne, Walter J. Clash of Wings: World War II in the Air. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994.; Elmhirst, T. W., ed. The Rise and Fall of the German Air Force, 1933–1945. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1948.; Gerbig, Werner. Six Months to Oblivion: The Eclipse of the Luftwaffe Fighter Force. New York: Hippocrene Books, 1975.