The Luftwaffe was the air force of the German Third Reich. It was created in 1935 and disbanded in 1945, at the end of the war. Luftwaffe pilots, flying as the Condor Legion, learned combat tactics in the Spanish Civil War, during which they supported Generalissimo Francisco Franco. The bombing of Guernica was carried out by Luftwaffe aircraft.

When the Second World War began the Luftwaffe pilots were generally much more experienced than their opponents in the French and British air forces. They had adopted loose defensive formations that allowed them greater freedom to maneouvre than the rigid close-formations favoured by Fighter Command.