Operation Elch-Programm

elk programme

The 'Elch-Programm' was a German undertaking to increase warplane production in terms of numbers and speed of delivery after this had been scaled down by Adolf Hitler’s 1939 insistence that World War II would be over by the end of 1940 (29 July 1941/1942).

The Luftwaffe had suffered heavier-than expected losses in 'Weiss' (i), 'Gelb', 'Sichelschnitt' and the Battle of Britain, and was now being further degraded by the pace and extent of operations within 'Barbarossa'.

Promulgated largely by Generaloberst Ernst Udet, the head of the Reichsluftfahrtministerium’s T-Amt (technical department), the 'Elch-Programm' reflected the fact that even as the Battle of Britain ended, the only new bomber approaching the possibility of service use was the Heinkel He 177 four-engined bomber at a time when the Luftwaffe’s twin-engined bomber mainstays, namely the Dornier Do 17 family, Heinkel He 111 and even the Junkers 88 had revealed so many operational shortcomings that they urgently needed extensive development and modification, such as additional armour and armament, to remain viable as operational warplanes.

The single-engined fighter situation was superficially better, for the Messerschmitt Bf 109E/F compared favourably with the Supermarine Spitfire Mk V, and the first production examples of an excellent new radial-engined fighter, the Focke-Wulf Fw 190, were coming off the production lines at Hamburg and Bremen. Also in the early stages of its production life was the ill-fated Messerschmitt Me 210, a twin-engined warplane envisaged as a more powerful successor to the inadequate Messerschmitt Bf 110.

Unfortunately for Germany, however, dozens of new fighter and bomber designs were to be found littered through the German aircraft industry, these designs varying from the conventional to the far-fetched. The Reichsluftfahrtministerium’s technical and production departments were therefore faced with prospect of a future bottleneck occasioned by the arrival of too many different designs at the same time. This was the problem that the RLM signally failed to solve: thus Germany was faced with a serious shortage of new warplane types when they were badly needed at a time when the temporal horizon teemed with the promise of all kinds of wonderful warplanes.

Not for the first time, the Reichsluftfahrtministerium sought to bring about a simplification of types in production, and thus increase the flow of aircraft into the Luftwaffe. The 'Elch-Programm' was suggested as the way to end production of all the aircraft types which had failed under operational conditions, and concentrate the available manufacturing capacity on a few carefully selected models.

The 'Elch-Programm' was logically sound and could have revitalised the Luftwaffe’s operational capabilities, but the RLM selected two types, the He 177 and Me 210, which were destined to remain dogged by ill fortune, as the new mainstays of the Luftwaffe’s bomber arm, with production of the Junkers Ju 87 dive-bomber and He 111 medium bomber to be abandoned.

In the event, the 'Elch-Programm' had to be reversed, for the He 177 and Me 210 never fulfilled the Reichsluftfahrtministerium’s expectations, and production of the obsolescent He 111 having to be increased for the simple reason that there was no suitable replacement for it.