Germany loses World War I in 1918. The Treaty of Versailles strips it of resource-rich territories, vastly restricts its military and burdens it with $130 billion in war debt. Years of high unemployment and runaway inflation follow, demoralizing the German people. An enraged Army veteran – Adolf Hitler – vows to restore the nation to its deserved greatness and punish its enemies. Gaining power, he eradicates unemployment, revives industry, rebuilds the military – and launches a genocidal campaign against Jews and other minorities.
The will to fly
Germans love aviation. Before 1900 they develop aircraft of every type – kites, balloons, gliders, zeppelins – and during World War I they excel in aerial combat. With the German air force grounded after the war, tens of thousands join amateur flying associations. Hitler describes the airplane as "a manly weapon, a Germanic art of battle. I shall build the largest air fleet in the world ... a steel roof over Germany." He equates aviation with power. The people share his vision.
Flying under the radar
Hitler officially renounces the Treaty of Versailles in 1935, formalizing Germany's policy of noncompliance. Throughout the 1920s, the army tests aircraft and trains pilots at two remote Russian bases, directly violating the Treaty's ban on German air armament. German contractors covertly build fighters and bombers for foreign nations; Lufthansa secretly designs the framework for future warplanes into their passenger carriers. When the Nazis take power in 1933, assembling the Luftwaffe takes little time.
A failure of leadership
Hitler funds aviation research lavishly, and his engineers reward him with one breakthrough after another – the world's first turbo-jets, swept-wing fighters, rocket-powered aircraft, and ballistic missiles. But Hitler puts them on the back-burner, desiring powerful bombers instead. He diverts resources into the faulty V-2 rocket at the expense of basic airplane production, and his whims are compounded by his ministers' strategic errors and miscommunications.
The bitter end
Germany dominates Europe in 1941, but the nation suffers severe food shortages. The war effort siphons off so many workers and freight cars that farmers can't harvest their crops nor ship them to market. When the Nazis start losing ground to the Allies in 1942, hardship at home worsens; supplies of water, fuel, and electricity run short, and the army conscripts boys as young as 16. The Nazis continue to unveil cutting-edge weaponry in the very last stages of the war, but it's too late. Germany surrenders on May 8, 1945, ending the war in Europe – and years of misery for the German people.