The Second World War, which began in September 1939 with Germany's invasion of Poland, prevented the completion of the new Tempelhof Airport construction. The finished portions became an important wartime site for German aircraft production, and the border areas to the east of the new airfield were turned into barracks for forced labourers from the occupied countries.
Under the provisions of a December 1939 Reich Air Ministry order, the “Weser” Flugzeugbau company moved their primary production from Lemwerder to Berlin-Tempelhof. The company's main plant was working to capacity due to expanded war-related production, and – even more important – lay on a region of the north German coast that had no protection from air attacks. At Tempelhof, in addition, the aircraft could be taken directly to the taxiway for flight. The facility's focus was the mass production of the new Ju 87 dive bomber, a light aircraft specialized for diving attacks on tightly defined targets. In looking back on the Nazi period, these “Stukas” (from the German “Sturzkampf”) were closely linked with the beginnings of WWII and the “blitzkrieg” strategy, as well as the defence, at a later time, against approaching Soviet tanks. In addition, the large-scale conversion and repair of military aircraft was carried out on the Tempelhof Airport grounds.
The “Weserflug” company belonged to the Bremen-based “Deutsche Schiffs- und Machininbau” (Deschimag) conglomerate, which also shifted production at this time to the construction of warships. Hermann Goering, the Reich Air Minister and Supreme Commander of the Air Force, played a key part in “Weserflug's” relocation to Tempelhof: as overseer of airport grounds now converted to an air base, and as the issuer of the “Stuka” contract. His cousin and close confidant Herbert L.W. Goering was “Weserflug's” chairman and biggest shareholder.
In January 1940, the Berlin production plant took over the hall and several additional buildings belonging to the old airport. Shortly afterwards, the company moved into the new building's giant hangar and terminal space, as well as that area's basements. In the eastern halls, and in terminal A, production lines and conveyor belts for batch production were installed, while the western side housed single-item production processes. There were also offices and workshops, extending partially into the hangars themselves. The focus of production – particularly in the years 1943/44 – was the roughly 2000 “Stukas” built and tested on the runway here. In addition, other types of combat aircraft were built, upgraded, and repaired.
At the beginning of the war, the Deutsche Lufthansa company moved its flight operations to Rangsdorf, near Berlin, and initially used the old airport, then the two halls of the new building, for repair work on military aircraft. In 1940, the company erected the “Würzburg” radar here, which was used until the end of the war to defend against air raids.
In 1944, more than two thousand foreign workers were being used by “Weserflug” at Tempelhof Airport, most of them forced labourers from the occupied European countries. In the beginning, these were often recruited, though later most were forcefully abducted and brought to Berlin.
Like the German aviation industry more broadly, “Weserflug” made particularly early and vigorous requests for foreign workers, with a large share of its labour force ultimately coming from occupied Poland. Other industrial sectors followed suit. Without foreign forced labour, the Nazi war economy and the ability to supply the German population would have collapsed by 1942 at the latest. These individuals replaced the men at the front – as skilled workers and on the assembly lines for the rapidly expanding production of arms, but also in agriculture and handicrafts. From December 1938 to the end of 1943, a large number of Jewish individuals were pressed into forced labour, conscripted into segregated labour groups (“geschlossenen Arbeitseinsatz”, literally closed labour units). They were mainly used in the armaments factories. Thus, in 1941, about 20,000 Jews were working in Berlin in operations critical to the war effort, even as those members of Berlin's Jewish population that had not managed to save themselves by going abroad were being deported to East European ghettos and extermination camps.
“Weserflug's” first foreign workers were women from Poland, arriving in autumn 1940. In 1941, they were followed by French prisoners of war and civilians, primarily skilled workers, from France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Czechoslovakia. In 1942 came forced workers (“eastern workers”) and prisoners of war from the Soviet Union. From the war's beginning, forced labour camps could be found across the whole of Germany. In 1944, in the city of Berlin alone, there were more than 1,000 camps containing more than 400,000 men and women from more than 20 nations. “Weserflug” was served by a large barracks facility at the northern edge of Tempelhof Airport.
The Deutsche Lufthansa company too used forced labourers from the occupied countries in their workshops and in mounting radar installations, as well as for the maintenance and repair of front-line aircraft, housing them in barracks on the grounds. Particularly for the serial installation processes of the radar apparatus in 1940 through 1942, the company used conscripted Jewish labour.