The Music of Hitler’s Luftwaffe…

In 1935, almost immediately after its inception, the training arm of the Luftwaffe’s Musikkorps was keen to announce its arrival on the military music scene, and introduced a very distinctive style of symphonic brass music to emphasise this newest, youngest and most special arm of the Wehrmacht and the newly-appointed Luftwaffenmusikinspizient (Director of Music) Professor Hans Felix Husadel was to be its driving force and a very great musical reformer & German air force ‘musical visionary’.

In 1935 it was Husadel who introduced the saxophone to the Luftwaffe’s musical inventory, breaking a long-held boycott of this, supposedly, ‘Negro instrument’, along with the full range of clarinets, bass trumpet & alto-slide trombone; in addition, the much-beloved traditional rotary valves were replaced on the bass trumpet by pump valves!

Prof. Husadel also ordered the openings of the higher-pitched instruments be narrowed so as to gain a greater sharpness & clarity of sound. He also engaged composers to write specifically for the new arm, including Erwin Dressel & Bruno Stein, who developed a modern style of military band music more akin to the British & American ‘Sousa’ than the traditional Prusso-German marches.

With an on-going lack of written scores being reported as ‘a serious shortcoming in the field of brass music’ in the 1938/39 annual report of the Reichsverband für Volksmusik (National Folk Music Association), Prof. Husadel introduced his own compositions (including Fliegerfanfare and the marches Geschwader Horst Wessel and Kampfgeschwader Richthofen.)  He also introduced the new silver-plated look of the  instruments to replace the standard army and navy brass finishes, thereby ensuring that a modern look and sound for the Luftwaffe’s military bands was guaranteed and this success was fundamental in promoting a real feeling of elitism and pride in the newest military arm of the Third Reich.

All Luftwaffe regiments and squadron wings ( Geschwader) paraded both a Musikkorps and a fife & drum Spielleute and regimental battalions only operated a band when stationed in garrison towns, and then only a small band, to ensure compliance with the regulations that each garrison was to be musically represented to some degree. All Luftwaffen-Musikkorps and Spielleute came under the command of the unit’s regimental headquarters and differed in size and instrumentation, depending on their intended role.

The Musikkorps of the elite General Göring Regiment was the largest of the German Air Force bands which, by the outbreak of war in 1939, comprised some 60 NCOs and airmen, assisted by a very large Spielmannszug comprising 48 NCOs and airmen. Next in terms of manpower was the Staff Band of the Reichs Air Ministry (Stabsmusikkorps des Reichsluftministeriums), with a Musikkorps of 54 NCOs & airmen and a Spielmannszug 16 strong.

The standard Luftwaffenmusikkorps, however, was composed of 40 musicians with an attached fife & drum corps of 16, whilst small garrison bands (including flak battalions, air signal battalions and headquarter bases, or Fliegerhorst Kommandanturen) were 30 musicians strong with a Spielmannszug of 12 NCOs and airmen.

As the Wehrmacht rapidly increased after mobilisation, not all Musikkorps were able to field full strength bands and in some instances, where a Luftwaffe officer was unable to lead as Musikmeister, senior NCOs took over the role in the designation as Korpsführer.

It was common for military musicians to transfer between branches of service as shortages of specialist musicians, (or advertised vacancies), became evident and so army musicians were often drafted into the Luftwaffe and vice-versa.

As a part of Prof. Husadel’s modernising programme, Hitler’s new arm were most keen to take full advantage of the great advancements taking place within the Third Reich recording industry. Thus the Luftwaffe were amongst the most prolific of the Wehrmacht’s Musikkorps to record on schellack 78rpm and can be spotted on more record labels than perhaps any other, especially Musikkorps der Fliegerhorst Kommandantur Berlin-Staaken, Musikkorps der Flak-Artillerie and of course Musikkorps des Regts.General Göring… all of which elite bands feature on Tomahawk Films’ stunning 14 track CD: Musik der Luftwaffe

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013