The Luftwaffe produced a number of technologically advanced fighter and bomber designs, which could have made a difference to the outcome of the war, but delays and political interference negated their effectiveness.
An impressive line-up of Messerschmitt Me 262A single-seeat twin-jet fighters, possibly of Kommando Nowotny, early 1945. The primary task of these aircraft was to intercept and destroy Allied bombers. They marked a new era in air combat.
More than 100aircraft were lost between 1939 and 1945, while 320,000 of its personnel were killed and 230,000 seriously injured. Not only had air superiority been lost in all theatres by 1945, but many of the aircraft then remaining in frontline squadrons were outclassed by their Allied counterparts. Incapable of defending the skies above Germany, Luftwaffe pilots could only watch as Allied bombers wreaked havoc; unable to provide close support to battered and beleaguered ground forces, those same pilots could do nothing to prevent the advance of enemy armies from both East and West. It was a far cry from the victorious campaigns of 1939-1941.
The reasons for this dramatic decline in combat power are obvious with hind sight. There is no doubt that the Luftwaffe of 1939 was hiding behind a façade of political bluster, and was not nearly as effective as it appeared to be. The rapid expansion of 1935 – 1939 was unbalanced, lacking depth in terms of funding and development, so that aircraft designs in service over Poland remained in frontline units throughout the war, being modified, then modified again, but not replaced. A new generation of fighters and bombers, promised in the late 1930’s and essential if the Germans were to retain their technological edge, never materialised in numbers expected, reflecting an air industry that found it increasingly difficult to cope with the demands of conflict. As losses mounted and Blitzkrieg campaigns gave way to the hard slog of total war, new developments were often cancelled or postponed so that proven designs could be produced in sufficient numbers to satisfy frontline demands.
Oberst Günther “Franzl” Lützow. He was born on the 4th September 1912 in Kiel. The fact that he entered military service was a contradiction considering his theological training, but this merely is indicative of the fact that most military men are pacifists at heart. His flying skills earned him the distinction of “ace” when he downed five enemy aircraft during the Spanish Civil War. When he was listed as missing in action near Donauworth on the 24th April 1945 he had achieved a total of 108 victories, two of which were accomplished while flying a Me 262 jet fighter. He was described by Adolf Galland as “the outstanding leader in the Luftwaffe”.
Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross: Awarded on the 18th September 1940 for scoring 15 victories, 5 of which came during the Spanish Civil War while a Hauptmann commanding the 1st Group, JG.3.
Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oakleaves: Awarded on the 20th July 1941 for accumulating 42 victories while a Major commanding the J.G 3 “Udet”. He was the 27th Recipient.
Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oakleaves and Swords: Awarded 11th October 1941for downing 92 aircraft while a Major commanding JG 3. He was the 4th Recipient.
Combined Pilots-Observation Badge in Gold with Diamonds.
Of equal importance was the nature of those demands. The pre-war Luftwaffe was designed essentially to support the army, chiefly by gaining air superiority over the battle area and then disrupting enemy countermoves. Yet as the war went on, these tasks were extended to include strategic bombing of enemy cities, close support of forces on the ground as they engaged the enemy, resupply of encircled armies, and defence of airspace over Germany itself. In all cases, existing aircraft designs were ill-suited, creating more pressures on manufacturers as modifications had to be introduced swiftly. Even then, there were limits, for the German economy, so hastily revitalised by Hitler in the mid-1930’s, creaked and groaned under the stress and strains of prolonged conflict. Aircraft continued to be manufactured right up to the closing days of the war. Indeed, under the leadership of Albert Speer as Minister of Armaments and Munitions after 1942, production levels rose to new heights. But the Anglo-American bombing offensives disrupted the means of delivering them to frontline squadrons and destroyed remaining stocks of fuel. At the same time, Americans, Soviets and British either created or expanded war economies to cope, producing aircraft that were not only technologically superior to many of the German designs but were also available in far larger numbers. Moreover, the Allies provided trained manpower to fly the aircraft in combat, something the Luftwaffe was incapable of doing by 1945, its training squadrons having been decimated in battle.
The rest of the war was a story of too little, too late. The Luftwaffe mounted desperate counter attacks, in valiant air battles against the bomber formations. But the heroics of men like Eric Hartmann, the top “ace” of the war with 352 kills, and Hans Ulrich Rudel with his amazing tank busting record on the eastern front could in no way stem the tide. The all too few Messerschmitt Me-262 jet fighters and the Heinkel He-163 rocket fighters were eventually caught on the ground as fuel, replacements and finally all resources ran out. In the end, the Luftwaffe was out-fought and out-produced, facing threats and realities that neither Hitler nor Göring fully appreciated.
The lack of unit markings suggests that this is a pre-delivery example of the Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighter. The slightly swept-back wings are nacelles for the two Junkers Jumo 004B axial-flow turbojets are shown to advantage.
The deadly Swallow.
Yet the fact remains that, in certain respects, the Luftwaffe retained a promise of technological advantage which, if it had been exploited, might have made an appreciable difference. On the 25th July 1944, for example, a British pilot reported having encountered an aircraft of incredible speed high over southern Germany. What he had observed was a Messerschmitt Me 262 turbojet, known to its crew as the Schwalbe, or “Swallow”. Capable of a top speed of 864 kmph (540 mph) at 609 m (20,000 ft), an initial rate of climb of nearly 1219 m (4000 ft) a second and a radius of action of more than 480 kmph (300 miles), it represented a quantum leap forward in air technology, outpacing and out-flying most existing piston-engined designs. The aircraft had its origins as far back as 1938, though the prototype did not actually fly until March 1942, there being no urgency at a time when most Germans were still confident of victory. Problems occurred with the jet engines, and the aircraft was clearly too delicate for front-line duties at that stage, but some Luftwaffe commanders, notably Adolf Galland, who flew the prototype, appreciated its revolutionary nature. On the 25th May 1943, Galland urged Göring to concentrate resources on the Messerschmitt Me 262, with the aim of producing at least 1000 aircraft a month by 1944. If this had been acted upon, the war in the air could have taken a different course. But it is worth bearing in mind that the British were also developing jet fighters. Although this development was fraught with lack of believe and inclination. However despite these setbacks the Gloster Meteor, entered squadron service in late July 1944.
The Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighter in flight, it was a formidable weapon. Although more than 1300 were built, due to lack of fuel and other problems at the wars end only a small proportion of these ever went into action.
Major Walter Nowotny. He was born in Gmünd, Austria on the 7th December 1920. He joined the Luftwaffe at the age of 18, and received his pilot training at the Fighter Pilot’s School at Schwechat, near Vienna. He achieved his first “kill” on the 19th July 1941, getting three victories on the same day. Transferred to the Russian Front, he later assumed command of the 9th Squadron, 54th Fighter Wing at the age of 21. Achieving fame for multiple “kills”, in 1943 he was credited with 41 “kills” in June, 49 in August, 45 in September and 32 more in October. By the 14th October 1943 “Nowi” Nowotny was the first fighter pilot to achieve a total of 250 “kills”, this in only 442 missions. Major Nowotny was given command of JG 54. After reaching 255 “kills” he was assigned as Kommadotr of Training Wing 101 in France. He undertook testing of jet fighters that were to be used against the Allies. He was killed when his plane crashed at Achmer airfield following his return from a mission against American heavy bombers were he had been engaged in dogfights with USAAF P-51 Mustangs. The exact cause of the crash, which took place on the 8th November 1944, is not known. His last words over his radio were, “just made the third kill … left jet engine fails … been attacked again …been hit …” end of transmission he attempted to land his disabled Me 262 jet fighter, but without success.
Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross: Awarded on the 4th September 1942 for scoring 56 victories, while a Leutnant.
Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oakleaves: Awarded on the 4th September 1943 for accumulating 189 victories while an Oberleutnant. He was the 293rd Recipient.
Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oakleaves and Swords: Awarded 22nd September 1943 for downing 218 aircraft while a Hauptmann. He was the 37th Recipient.
Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oakleaves Swords and Diamonds: Awarded 19th October 1943 for downing 250 aircraft while a Major. He was the 8th Recipient.
Combined Pilots-Observation Badge in Gold with Diamonds.
Delays in the Messerschmitt Me 262 programme.
As it was, the opportunity offered to Germany was wasted. Because of frontline demands, production of the Messerschmitt Bf 109 and Focke-Wulf Fw 190 took priority, with more confidence being expressed in the latter’s piston-engined successor, the Ta 152, than the new-fangled, and as yet unproven, turbojet. In addition, in July 1943 Hitler insisted on the Messerschmitt Me 262 being produced as a fighter-bomber rather than a conventional fighter, and though the impact of this decision should not be exaggerated, the main problem lay in production, not deployment. The enforced addition of a 250kg (550lb) bomb reduced speed and spoilt the aerodynamic qualities of the aircraft. Allied bombing of key factories, especially those engaged in the production of the Junkers jet engines, did nothing to help matters, with the result that relatively few Messerschmitt Me 262s saw frontline service before the end of the war. By April 1945, despite Hitler’s reversal of his earlier decision, only about 200 of the jet fighters were available for combat. They had been used principally against B-17s Flying Fortress in daylight, and US airmen had been suitably impressed, but serviceability and sortie levels had remained low, reducing overall impact. Also, inadequate pilot training and an inability to concentrate massed formations of Messerschmitt Me 262s meant that the jets could be countered, even using piston-engined Mustangs flown by experienced pilots. By the end of the war it was estimated that Messerschmitt Me 262s had destroyed about 150 enemy aircraft in combat, yet had suffered 100 losses themselves. It was a poor record.
One of the “A” series prototypes of the Arado Ar 234 Blitz jet-powered bmber at the moment of take-off, April 1944. The undercarriage trolley has just been disengaged.
Other revolutionary designs suffered a similar fate. The Arado Ar 234 Blitz, for example, was the world’s first operational jet bomber, capable of carrying a bomb load of 1500kg (3300lb) over a radius of 560km (350 miles) at a top speed of 736kmph (460 mph), but when it was first developed in 1941 there seemed no reason to accelerate production. By the time it was needed, factories were unavailable and other demands were taking priority. The first production models were not introduced into service until June 1944; by April 1945, only 38 of the twin-jet machines were with frontline units. Most were being used for reconnaissance, as they were the only Luftwaffe aircraft able to penetrate Allied air defences with any degree of impunity.
An Arado Ar 234B abandoned on a German airfield. The engines are Junkers Jumo 004B Orkan axial-flow turbojets.
The Ar 234 was the subject of a number of experiments during its short life-span. Here, the Ar 234 V13 variant mounts four BMW 003A-1 turbojets, mounted in pairs on each wing, in an effort to improve power and speed.
Hanna Reitsch (centre) discusses the finer points of gliding. On the 26th April1945, Reitsch flew General Ritter von Greim, who replaced Göring, into Berlin. On the morning of the 29th April 1945 she flew General Ritter von Greim out of Berlin and miraculously escaped through a hail of Russian small-arms fire. They landed at Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz’s headquarters at Ploen, where they saw Himmler and told him that Hitler had denounced him for treason. The next day, with the Russians only a few hundred yards away, Hitler committed suicide in Berlin. Shortly before his death, Hitler appointed Grand Admiral Dönitz as his successor.
A rare photo of the Heinkel He 178, the world’s first aircraft to fly purely by turbojet power. It took to the air on the 27th August 1939, 20 months before the British-built Gloster E.28/39. The He 178 prototype was destroyed when the Berlin Air Museum was bombed in 1943.
A Heinkel 162 single-seater jet fighter. The Salamander or Volksjäger (People’s Fighter) was designed as an easy-to-build simple-to-fly high-performance jet-fighter capable of being produced “en masse” by semi-skilled labour and flown by young recruits with minimum training.
Given the prevarications and delays, it is therefore surprising to discover that a third jet aircraft, the Heinkel He 162 Salamander, was rushed into production in late 1944 on the personal insistence of Hitler and Göring. Known unofficially as the Volksjäger, “People Fighter”, it was one of the most rapidly conceived warplanes ever produced, the Heinkel He 162 home defence fighter existed as a wooden mock up within 15 days of the issue, on the 8th September 1944, of the RLM requirement. Seven days later a huge production contract was placed; detailed design drawings were completed by the end of October; on the 6th December 1944, less than 13 weeks from initiation of the programme, the Heinkel He 162 V1 (or A-01) made its maiden flight. Thus it was designed, flown and tested in the unprecedented period of 90 days, with orders that it should go into full production and be piloted by Hitler Youth boys.
Galland having witnessed Nowotny combat success and demise, recalls hearing the whistle of a Messerschmitt Me 262 which appeared out of the cloud and dived vertically to the ground. A black cloud and an explosion, it was the last fight of the first commander of a Jet-fighter unit. This action and its success had a great bearing on Hitler’s decision in November 1944, to permit the formation of the first Jet-fighter wing. After what had happened nobody could have had any illusion about the possibility of putting into effect the following plan. The Flying HJ, Hitler Youth, boys of 16 to 18 years of age, were supposed to pilot the new Volksjäger. Without training in power flying or any fighter-pilot schooling they were to make the last attempt to defend the Reich. Thank goodness this “Civil Defence of the Air” never came into being.
Pilots compare notes as their Heinkel He 162s stand idle for lack of fuel, April 1945. This photograph was probably taken at Leck, where Jagdgeswader 1 was concentrated. The Heinkel He 162s never fired a shot in anger. However the officer (second from right) has seen service on the Eastern Front, he has on his left arm the Demjansk Shield.
The emphasis was on ease of manufacture, the Heinkel He 162 was constructed largely of wood and other non-strategic materials. It was of attractive if unorthodox appearance, but its looks, however, belied a dangerous instability and some vicious handling characteristics, and troubles were also encountered with the wood-bonding adhesive used. Under the high priority given to fighter programmes in 1944-1945, manufacture of the Heinkel He 162 was assigned to numerous factories. It was planned to produce 2000 a month by May 1945 and 4000 a month ultimately, and about 800 were in various stages of assembly when the War ended. A further 280 or so Heinkel He 162A-os, A-1s and A-2s had actually been completed. These differed primarily in their armament, the A-I having two 30 mm MK 108 cannon in the lower forward fuselage and the A-2 a pair of 20 mm MG 151 s. the first Luftwaffe unit to fly the Heinkel He 162 A was Erprobungs-kommando 162, which began to receive these aircraft in January 1945; but the first operational units, I. and II. /JGI, were still working up at the beginning of May. By the end of the war only 50 of the machines had been delivered to frontline units and none had seen action. If they had, their record would probably have been similar to that of the Japanese Kamikaze aircraft of the Pacific War.
The aircraft had some potential: it could reach a top speed of over 896kmph (560mph) and was armed with lethal 20 mm cannon. But, once again, it was a case of too little, too late. Proposed later versions included Heinkel He 162A sub-types up to A-14, the Heinkel He 162B, one or two pulse-jet engines, the Heinkel He 162C, swept-forward wings, the Heinkel He 162D, swept-back wings, and models with combined jet and rocket propulsion.
The Dornier Do 335 V1 prototype, which flew for the first time on the 26th October 1943. Known officially as the Pfeil (Arrow), it was soon nicknamed the Ameisenbär (Ant Eater) because of its odd shape.
Another shot of the Dornier Do 335 V1 prototype, this time during flight trials at Oberpfaffenhofen in late 1943. Despite its odd design, it proved to be a reasonably easy aircraft to fly, with better acceleration and turning circle than had been expected. The external oil cooler intake was later deleted.
The interior of the Dornier factory at Oberpfaffenhofen as it appeared when US forces captured the facility in May 1945. The aircraft under construction in the foreground is a Do 335 A-12 tandem two-seat dual-controle trainer, only two of which were ever completed.
Dornier Do 335 VII, prototype for the Do 335 A-10 series. Operational evaluation of the Do 335 A-0 was carried out from the autumn 1944 by Erprobungs-kommando 335. Prototypes for other versions included the Do 335 A-4,one A-0 converted for unarmed photo-reconnaissance; the V 10 (A-6) tandem two-seater night fighter; the VII (A-10) and V 12 (A-12) tandem-seater trainer; and the V 13 (B-I) and V14 (B-2) Zerstörern.
Nor were jets the only development. In piston-engined terms, the Dornier Do 335 Pfeil, “Arrow” was unconventional; it was driven by two propellers, one at the front of the aircraft and one at the rear. However when it was first flown in October 1943, showed significant promise, reaching a top speed of 758kmpg (474 mph) while armed with a 30mm cannon and two 15mm machine guns. Despite its odd configuration, this could have been a useful machine. Unfortunately for the Luftwaffe, the project was cancelled in late 1944.
Messerschmitt Me 163B-1a Komet rocket-powered fighter stands at dispersal on a German airfield, 1945. The tarpaulin covers suggest that operational flying is unlikely.
A standard production Messerschmitt Me 163B-1a, 1945. It was an impressive machine, but its unstable fuel and short flying duration seriously undermined its effectiveness.
Even more futuristic was the Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet, “Comet”, a rocket-powered aircraft which held the record as the fastest aircraft of the war years. Fuelled by an extremely unstable mix of propellants, it proved to be something of a death-trap for its pilots, who not only faced the awesome experience of travelling at nearly 960 kmph (600mph), but also watched as the aircraft jettisoned its wheels on take-off, depending on small skids on which to land after a sortie lasting less than seven minutes, Messerschmitt Me 163s did enter squadron service, claiming the destruction of 9 enemy bombers, but the fact that this cost them 14 of their own aircraft to achieve meant the cost-effectiveness of the rocket fighter was hard to justify.
The Bachem Ba 349 Natter, “Adder”, launch was aided by four 500 kg (1102 lb)st Schmidding solid-fuel rockets, jettisoned after launch.
A further design that was even more terrifying. The Bachem Ba 349 Natter, “Adder”, which was developed in 1944 by Dipl-Ing Erich Bachem from an earlier idea by Dr Werner von Braun. The Bachem Ba 349 was a semi-expendable rocket powered bomber interceptor: designed to be launched vertically from a near-vertical ramp to the altitude of enemy bombers, whereupon the pilot would fire air-to-air rockets before bailing out. Of 50 ordered, 36 were completed, 33 Bachem Ba 349As and 3 Bachem Ba 349Bs, and of these 25 had been test-flown by the end of the Second World War. None was used operationally. The forward fuselage section contained a well-armoured cockpit and a nose battery of 24 Henschel Hs 217 Föhn (Storm) 73 mm rocket projectiles; after firing these, the pilot released the expendable forward section, himself being ejected to descend by parachute; at the same time, another parachute deployed to bring the recoverable rear section, containing the main rocket motor, safely down to earth. Launch was aided by four 500 kg (1,102 lb) st Schmidding solid-fuel rockets, jettisoned after launch. These proved unreliable in unmanned tests, and the first piloted test, on the 28th February 1945, resulted in the death of the pilot. About half a dozen successful manned flights were, however, made within the next few weeks. Fortunately for all concerned, the Natter never progressed beyond these trail launches.
Pre-production Bachem Ba 349 Natter, “Adder”, on its launching tower.
Bachem Ba 349 Natter, “Adder”,leaving its launching tower. Its initial climb rate was 185 m/sec (36415 ft/min).
Siegfried Holzbauer, a test pilot for Junkers, proposed in 1941 the idea of using a combination of a fighter and an old unmanned bomber filled with high explosive that could to be flown onto a large target such as boats, bridges, bunkers, and factories. At that time there was no need for such a radical method so the idea found little interest and was shelved.
In 1942 that the German Glider Research Institute started trials with a novel method of getting gliders airborne. Instead of the glider being towed behind the aircraft, test pilot Fritz Stamer initiated a series of trials in which the glider was rigidly mounted underneath the powered aircraft. The first experiments utilising composite aircraft of any type were performed with the DFS 230 troop glider as the “lower” component and using aircraft, such as the Messerschmitt Bf 109E or the Focke-Wulf Fw 56, as the upper component in an attempt to provide the troop glider with a longer range than if it was simply towed in the conventional manner.
DFS 230 Assault glider with a Focke - Wulf Fw 56 on top as tow plane.
Early in 1943 the idea took on a new dimension: a piloted Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter mounted on top of an unmanned explosive-laden Junkers Ju88 bomber by means of supporting struts. This was the “Mistel”. The idea was resurrected due in part to the successful flights with the DFS 230 combinations. The configuration was developed during the later stages of the Second World War, and was officially titled “Beethoven Gerät” or Beethoven Device, and was given the nick name “Vati und Sohn” “Daddy and Son”, but more commonly referred to as “Mistel” or Mistletoe. “Mistel” was the larger, unmanned component of a composite aircraft which comprised a Messerschmitt Bf109 or a Focke-Wulf Fw190 piloted control aircraft mounted above a large explosives-carrying drone, the “Mistel”, and as a whole was referred to as the Huckepack, “piggyback”. The fighter aircraft was joined to the “Mistel” by struts. DFS, having had experience with the DFS 230 combinations, designed these supports. The extra drag reduced the speed to 376 kmph (235 mph) which rendered the “Mistel” vulnerable to enemy fighters. The combination would be flown to its target by a pilot in the fighter; when he got to the target he would put the combination into a 15 degree descent and aim the whole lot at the target. At a range of about three quarters of a mile from the objective then the unmanned bomber was released to fly straight on under control of the automatic pilot to hit its target and explode, leaving the fighter free to return to base.
A bizarre Luftwaffe design was the Mistel 1 – a Junkers Ju 88 airframe, its cockpit replaced by a hollow-charge explosive device, which was carried to its target by a Messerschmitt Bf 109F.
A close-up of a Mistel 2 combination captured by US troops in May 1945. The Focke-Wulf Fw 190F-8 on top was designed to jettison the Junkers Ju 88G-1, loaded with high explosive, once the target had been reached.
The most successful of these used a modified Junkers Ju88 bomber as the “Mistel”, which had had its crew compartments removed at the after bulkhead, and then these were re-fitted in place by means of quick-release fasteners. For ferry and training flights both the upper and the lower components were manned. Before an attack, the crew compartment was removed replaced by a specially designed 3800 lb. hollow-charge warhead in the second bomb bay 50 kg cement bombs were carried as ballast. This operation took one day, and required 6 mechanics, 2 armourers, and 4 ton capacity crane. The process had an air of finality about it, for once the warhead-fitted “Mistel” had taken off the fighter pilot could not land the combination; whether it reached the target or not, the Junkers Ju 88 lower component was doomed.
The first such composite aircraft flew in July 1943 and was promising enough to begin a programme by Luftwaffe test unit KG 200, code-named “Beethoven”, eventually entering operational service.
“Mistel” pilots began training in April 1944, using the first two prototypes. Each man completed 10 flights without releasing the lower component, then 3 flights each with a release. The pilots found that the poor forward visibility from the fighter cockpit made the initial part of the take-off run difficult, and this ruled out the possibility of night take-offs. However, once it was airborne they found the “Mistel” easy to fly, if a little sluggish on the controls. A series of aiming tests against cliffs on the Danish island of Moen proved the feasibility of the weapon.
Some 250 “Mistel”s of various combinations were built during the war, initially older Junkers Ju 88’s were employed, and at the end they used Junkers Ju 88s straight from the factory. But they met with limited success. The first unit to receive the “Mistel” was the 2nd Staffel of K.G. 101, commanded by Hauptmann Horst Rudat. But before Rudat could move his Staffel to Grove things had come to head in France, for on the 6th June Allied forces had landed in Normandy. The few “Mistel” combinations available were ferried to St Dizier in France. They were first flown in combat against the Allied invasion fleet during the Battle of Normandy, targeting the British-held harbour at Courseulles-sur-Mer. While “Mistel” pilots claimed hits, none of these match Allied records; they may have been made against the hulk of the old French battleship Courbet, which had been included as a component of the Mulberry harbour at Arromanches and specially dressed up as a decoy by the Allies. Serious blast and shrapnel damage from a near-miss was suffered by HMS Nith, a floating headquarters, on the 24thJune 9 men were killed and 26 wounded, and Nith was towed back to England for repairs.
In the autumn of 1944 the plan for the “Mistel” attack on Scapa Flow was proposed for a second time, and composites flew into Grove and neighbouring Danish airfields in readiness. But the RAF struck first, and set in train a pattern of events which brought the carefully-laid German plan to nought. On the 11th November 1944 Lancaster’s attacked the German battleship Tirpitz with 12,000 lb. Tallboy bombs, and caused her to capsize. With Tirpitz out of action there was no call for battleships or aircraft carriers to be stationed in the Atlantic, and within weeks those which had served with the Home Fleet at Scapa Flow were on their way to the Pacific. This meant all the worthwhile targets had vacated Scapa Flow. The combinations would have to be used elsewhere.
THE “IRON HAMMER” PLAN.
“Operation Iron Hammer”, the planned blow to knock-out the Russian armament industry, had first been mooted at the end of 1943. The key targets within Moscow and Gorky were judged to be the steam and hydro-electric generating stations. It was known that the Russians lacked the plant to produce such turbines - most of the equipment scheduled for attack under the “Iron Hammer” plan had been supplied by the Germans before the war. As a result the Luftwaffe planners felt that the Russians would not be able to effect repairs for a considerable time. But before the plan could be put into action the Russians overran the advanced bases which were to have been used. Now the targets lay beyond the range of the Heinkel He 111.
The idea of the knock-out blow was revived in December 1944, when the plan was expanded in scope and re-scheduled for the spring of 1945, this time using “Mistel” combinations. The operation’s protagonists believed that such a powerful blow from the supposedly dying Luftwaffe would come as a great shock to the Russians, and might well have the useful secondary effect of causing them to pull back fighter units for home defence.
Despite the deep penetration required to reach the “Iron Hammer” targets, the German planning staff felt the operation had a good chance of success. Since the autumn of 1943 Luftwaffe bomber activity had been negligible over the Eastern Front rear areas, which resulted in the Russian home air defences being weak and underdeveloped. The only German unit to fly regular missions over Russia since then had been KG 200, which was engaged in dropping and supplying agents. The unit’s aircraft had regularly carried radar observers, and as a result the Germans knew that the radar cover in the rear areas was thin. Since the targets were both large and ill-defended, a night attack using flares was judged feasible.
For the operation specially modified “Mistel” combinations were prepared, able to cover the1216 Km (760 mile) distance from their base to the targets. The Focke-Wulf Fw 190 upper components were each to carry fuel two drop tanks, and additional tanks for both fuel and oil. Following tests held at Udetfeld with the warhead, it was calculated that two hits with hollow- charge fitted Junkers Ju 88’s would be sufficient against smaller power stations, while 6 hits would be necessary against larger instillations.
The revived plan intended that the “Mistel” combinations would take off from airfields in East Prussia; later, as the front line had moved back with the Russian offensives in January and February, 1945 which occurred with disconcerting rapidity, the operation was re- planned to use airfields at Oranienburg, Parchim, Laertz, Marienehe and Peenemünde. The return flights were to be either to the home bases or to airfields in the Courland Peninsular pocket, depending upon fuel and weather conditions.
The execution of the “Iron Hammer operation” was the responsibility of Oberstleutnant Werner Baumbach. Under his control were the “Mistel” combinations of K.G. 30 and K.G. 200, as well as a number of Heinkel He 111.’s, Junkers Ju 88’s and Junkers Ju 290’s which were to act as route and target markers during the attack. However, by the time sufficient “Mistel” combinations were available, such as the “Mistel” 2, there were other tasks for which they could be used. By March 1945, the Russians were streaming westwards over the Vistula bridges.
The dilemma that now faced the Germans can be sensed from the conversation held on the 26th March, 1945 between Hitler and the Luftwaffe Chief of Staff General Karl Koller:
Koller: Altogether there are 82 “Mistel” combinations ready for use. If the urgent attacks on the Vistula bridges are carried out as you, my Führer, have commanded Oberstleutnant Baumbach, there will remain 56 combinations for the “Iron Hammer” operation. Since the report from General Christian would you not prefer that we carry through a smaller “Iron Hammer” with these 56 “Mistel”s? I wish to propose that as well as the urgent Vistula bridge attacks, the “Iron Hammer” operation should be carried through with these 56 “Mistel” combinations. The attack on the Gorky group of targets would then have to be omitted. We should then knock out 80 per-cent of their electrical generating capacity; of their 1,094 million kilowatts, the reduction would be only 378 million kilowatts. I ask therefore that the proposed “Iron Hammer” operation be approved; technically we can be completely ready by the 28th/29th, provided the weather conditions are favourable.
Hitler: I do not wish to divide the effort, because when we do it a second time the enemy will be ready, and will reply with strong defensive measures.
Koller: Naturally it would be a shame if the complete “Iron Hammer” operation could not be flown, but I do not know when we could ever do it again; the earliest that it could be done again is during the next moon period. I should also like to believe that the range of the targets is such that strong defences will not be met, because presumably the enemy will not expect us to attack over such great distances.
Hitler: Nevertheless, one knows how significant it would have been if the enemy had attacked our power stations simultaneously. It is exactly the same with the enemy. For the present I prefer to give up the Vistula Bridge attacks; that can be done later.
Koller: So the “Iron Hammer” operation can be carried out in full with no diversion of effort for the Vistula Bridge attacks?
The transcript ended: “The Führer agreed with this.” But the “Iron Hammer” operation was not to be mounted on the 28thMarch. Shortly after the conversation it became clear that the bridge attacks could not be “done later”. The Russians were massing for a breakthrough along the line of the Oder River where for the time being they were held, though in places less than 56 km (35 miles) from Berlin itself. At Küstrin they had already established a bridgehead on the west bank which had resisted all German attempts to throw it back. When the Russian attack came, there could be no doubt that the crossings at Küstrin would play a major part in it; accordingly, the carefully husbanded stock of “Mistel” combinations was sent in to smash them.
The attacks on the bridges at Küstrin on the 12thApril 1945.
THE ODER BRIDGE ATTACKS.
Colonel Hans-Joachim Helbig was In charge of the Oder bridge attacks. This use of “Mistel” combinations against bridges was a measure of desperation, for although they were potentially very effective weapons against ships or concrete buildings whose walls would contain some of the force of the explosion, they were quite unsuitable for this deployment. Not only was the accuracy of the “Mistel” inadequate for use, against such long narrow targets, but the specialized warheads merely blew holes through the bridges without damaging any vital part of the structure.
Typical of the attacks on the bridges at Küstrin was that on the 12th April 1945 when at 18:25 hours Lieutenant Hans Altrogge took off from Peenemünde in a Junkers Ju 88 of I/jK.G. 66, to act as pathfinder for the attack. 4 “Mistel” combinations followed him, and the curious formation headed south towards the target. The view from the upper component Focke-Wulf Fw 190’s was not good, and the Junkers Ju 88 pathfinder, so as to stay in sight, flew some 2 miles in front and 1,500 feet above the combinations. When Altrogge arrived at Küstrin it was dusk, then as he passed over the bridges he rocked his wings and climbed away; this was the cue for the “Mistel” pilots to push their aircraft into a 15 degree descent and go straight into the attack. The pilots pressed home their dives in the face of withering anti-aircraft fire, separated, and then pulled away. The Junkers Ju 88’s carried on and found their mark resulting in a salvo of explosions. From his vantage point Altrogge watched the bridges disappear in a cloud of smoke, mud and spray. The Focke-Wulf Fw 190’s now separated from their cargo became potent fighters once again, curved vengefully in to strafe the flak pits which had made things so uncomfortable for them during their attack run.
It was dark before the smoke cleared, making Lieutenant Altrogge unable to observe the results of the strike. But from Russian records it is known that the bridges continued in use after the attack. The Küstrin bridges had been erected by Soviet army engineers and were of the simple pontoon type, these pontoons are easy to replace. The Russians launched their great offensive on the 16th April 1945 and within two days had forced two bridge- heads, one 32 km (20 miles) wide and one 48 km (30 miles) wide, on the western bank of the Oder. More and more pontoon bridges were thrown across the river, and the Luftwaffe used everything it had, including “Mistel”s and Henschel Hs 293 glider bombs, in an attempt to smash them. But such was the ferocity of the Russian push that even when some of the crossings were temporarily put out of action the drive was not slackened in the least.
Mistel 1 Ju 88A-4 and Bf 109F-4
Mistel 2 Ju 88G-l and Fw 190A-8 or F-8
Mistel 3A Ju 88A-4 and Fw 190A-8
Mistel 3B Ju 88H-4 and Fw 190A-8
Mistel 3C Ju 88G-10 and Fw 190F-8
Mistel 4 Ju 287 and Me 262.
Mistel 5 Arado E 377A and He 162.
A Blohm und Voss Bv 143 rocket-powered air-delivered torpedo is wheeled out for attachment to an He 111. The Bv 143 was designed to be released at an altitude and range impossible for conventional torpedoes.
A Blohm und Voss Bv 143.
Allied merchant ships had been traditionally slow and easy targets for the Luftwaffe coastal bombers, but by 1941, they were proving increasingly more dangerous targets, being better equipped with anti-aircraft guns, manned by trained gunners, making short-range attacks prohibitively costly. This factor gave rise to the possibility of the development of a stand-off weapon to engage unarmoured merchant ships from beyond the range of their 40mm Bofors guns. The BV 143 was one of several stand-off bomb and missile designs researched by the Blohm und Voss Naval Engineering Works for this anti-shipping role.
The Blohm und Voss Bv 143 was designed to be air-dropped from beyond the range of the protecting anti-aircraft guns, glide towards the target, engage its solid rocket motor below the line of fire of the anti-aircraft guns, and commence a short (30 sec. max) high speed dash to the target, striking 2 metres (6 ft. 7 in) above the waterline. The first design featured a 2 meter instrumented “feeler probe” suspended from the body that was designed to fire the rocket on contacting the seas surface. A pitch-only autopilot then maintained the bomb at the 2 m probe height until striking the target. The first working prototypes of this design were completed in February 1941. Tests showed the probe-based design to be unworkable and after additional design time it was replaced with a radio altimeter, which although being less fragile also ultimately proved unsatisfactory.
A Blohm und Voss Bv 143 aerial torpedo is released during trials in 1943. The arm hanging down is a “feeler”: once the torpedo glided down to 2m (6.5ft) above the surface of the sea, the arm touched the waves and triggered the rocket motor.
The bomb proved consistently unable to reliably maintain altitude stability with either design, with rocket misfires and other failures also proving troublesome. The project was eventually abandoned in favour of the Henschel Hs 293 rocket-assisted glide bomb, which omitted the primitive altitude detection methods in favour of a state-of-the-art MCLOS guidance system. The Hs 293 went on to be used to good effect against surface shipping in the Mediterranean in 1943.
The Henschel Hs 293.
Serious missile development began in 1939 at Henschel, under Professor Dipl-Ing Herbert Wanger, primarily to evolve an air-to-surface weapon for use against shipping and land based targets. Preliminary testing of the Hs 293 glider-bomb began in 1940, leading to the first flight of a pre-series Hs 293A-0 on the 16th December 1940. “Pre-series” is a rather misleading term in this context, since about 1700 of the first 1900 built were development A-0s. The basic components of the production weapon were the warhead of 500kg HE bomb; a pair of stub-wings; a rear fuselage with tail surface; and an underslung pod containing the liquid-fuel rocket engine. Telefunken and Stassfurter provided the radio guidance system, which were installed in the rear fuselage.
The Henschel Hs 293A radio-controlled bomb. These missiles were normally painted overall in the underside colour, usually light blue or white-blue of the carrier aircraft.
The Henschel Hs293A-1 production version was air-launched at medium or low altitudes from such carrier aircraft as the Dornier D0 217, Focke-Wulf Fw 200, Heinkel He 177 and Junkers Ju 290, and underwent its service evaluation, prior to use by the Kampfgeschwadern, by Lehr und Erprobungskommando 36, a special unit formed for the purpose in July 1943. After launch, the motor was fired for 10 seconds, to speed it ahead of, but still in line-of-sight of, the control aircraft, from which it was guided on to its target. The Hs 293 A-I was first launched in anger, from a Dornier Do 217 E of II. / KG 100, on the 25th August 1943, and during the next 12 months was deployed extensively in day and night attacks from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. Thereafter its use was more restricted, but continued until as late as April 1945.
An early model of the Henschel Hs 293 radio-controlled bomb is shown slung beneath a Heinkel He 111 bomber, 1942. This is a cut-down version of the Hs 293, implying that it is being used for glide-flight trials.
Several development versions were tested or proposed, including the TV – guided Hs 293 D; the delta-winged Hs 293F, with twin 1855 kg (4090lb) st Schmidding SG 33 solid-fuel rockets; the gyro-actuated Hs 293G, which could attack almost vertically or horizontally; and the Hs 293H, intended to explode in the midst of a bomber formation either on receipt of a radio control signal or by means of a proximity fuse. Twin-engined variations included the Hs 294, with a long, conical nose and enlarged wings; the Hs 295, with Hs 293 rear fuselage, Hs 294 wings and a larger warhead; and the Hs 296, with Hs 294 wings and rear fuselage and an alternative enlarged warhead.
“Vengeance Weapon No 1”.
More success was enjoyed by another of the “Wonder Weapons”, the Fieseler Fi 103, a pilotless aircraft usually known alternatively as the FZG 76 (Flakzielgerät: anti-aircraft aiming device 76) or Vergeltungswaffe Eins , “Vengeance Weapon No 1”, or more simply as the VI. The Fi 103 flying bomb had an airframe designed by Dipl-Ind Robert Lüsser of Fiesler, and a Siemens guidance system. It could be launched from a 50 m (152 ft.) inclined ramp by a Walter steam-driven catapult, or air-dropped from a carrier aircraft, usually a Heinkel He III Hs. It made its first test flight as early as December 1942 and offered a number of advantages. Being pilotless, it saved manpower and training time, while its relatively cheap construction, using pressed steel rather than increasingly scarce aluminium, promised mass production at little cost to the German war economy. The Argus pulse-jet engine was complex and fraught with problems, but once they had been sorted out, the “Flying Bomb “was found to have an effective range of about 240km (150 miles). This opened up the possibility of bombarding Britain from special launch rails in northern France, each V1 carrying a warhead of 850kg (1870lb) which, it was predicted, could be delivered with some accuracy. Once a V1 was launched, its engine would take it to its operating altitude of 914m (3000ft) and propel it at 640 kmph (400mph) for about 30 minutes; the fuel would then run out, upon which the aircraft would fall to ground and explode.
A “Vengeance Weapon No 1” a Fieseler Fi 103 or more simply known as the VI, “flying bomb” being taken to the launch site. It could be launched from a 50 m (152 ft.) inclined ramp by a Walter steam-driven catapult.
Responsibility for deploying the V1 was given to the Luftwaffe flak arm, and a special regiment, Flakregiment 155 (W), was created in late 1943. At the same time, 96 concrete launch sites were constructed in northern France, with an intention of initiating attacks on London in December 1943. But such elaborate preparations were impossible to hide from the Allies, who received information from aerial photo-reconnaissance and French Resistance workers. The launch sites proved easy to spot and, in a series of air attacks, the majority were destroyed. Earlier raids on the development complex at Peenemünde on the Baltic coast, the most effective of which occurred on the night of the 17th/18th August 1943, further delayed V1 deployment. It was not until June 1944 that enough of the “Flying Bombs” were stockpiled for a sustained campaign, using much simpler and camouflaged, launch ramps. The weapons were launched against Britain, from the 13th June 1944, and targets in continental Europe and more than 30,000 were manufactured by Henschel, Mittelwerke and Volkswagen factories. An Askania gyroscope fed signals to the elevators and rudder to control attitude and direction, and the terminal dive was initiated when a pre-set distance had been flown.
A dramatic photograph, taken on the 15th June 1944, shows a Fieseler Fi 103 or V1 “flying bomb” diving towards the ground. Its fuel has run dry, leaving it to fall like a brick; its 850 kg (1870 lb.) warhead will explode on impact.
The V1 campaign.
The VI assault began on the night of the 12th/13th June, only 6 days after the Allied landings in Normandy. It was not a success: instead of a massed attack from all launch sites simultaneously, 10 V1s took to the air, of which only one made it through to London, the rest succumbing to a variety of mechanical problems. But these were merely teething troubles. When the campaign began in earnest three days later, it proved possible to fire up to 190 aircraft a day. By the 1st September, when advancing Allied troops began to overrun the launch sites, more than 8600 “Flying Bombs” had been aimed at southern England. The campaign was then taken over by specially adapted Heinkel He III Hs, of Kampfgeschwader 3, later Kampfgeschwader 53; each aircraft capable of air-launching a single V1. But, whatever the launch method was employed, about a quarter of the weapons failed in use and only about a quarter of the remainder got through Allied defences. They continued operating until January 1945, by which time longer-range V2s were being fired from sites in Holland.
The V1 balance sheet.
The last effective launch against England occurred on the 27th March 1945. By then, about 10,500 V1s had been used, the bulk of them fired from ground ramps in France or Holland. Of that total, 7488 actually crossed the English coast and 2450 impacted, within the city limits of London 2419, on Southampton/Portsmouth 30, and on Manchester 1. The rest either failed mechanically in flight or were intercepted and destroyed by Allied defences. Anti-aircraft fire was found to be effective once the operating altitude of the V1 was worked out, and fast fighters, including Meteors, were capable of shooting the missiles down or even, in extreme cases, flying alongside, carefully placing a wingtip under that of the “Flying Bomb” and then flipping it over. Nevertheless, by the end of March 1945 some 6184 civilians had been killed and 17,981 injured by the “Flying Bombs”. However, like the air campaign against Britain waged by the Luftwaffe in 1940, the V1s did not affect the morale of the population.
–. The Fieseler Fi 103 “Reichenberg” R-III piloted series, the single-seat powered trainer.
Even more of a desperation weapon that sprang from the “Flying Bomb “was the “Reichenberg” piloted series, of which there were four versions: the single-seat and two-seat un-powered Fi 103 R-I and R-II, the single-seat powered R-III trainer, and the proposed operational R-IV. About 175 were so converted, but none was used in combat.
–. The Fieseler Fi 103 “Reichenberg” R-II two-seat un-powered glider trainer.
“Vengeance Weapon No 2”.
Other “Vengeance Weapons”, notably the V2 surface-to-surface missile operated by the German Army, also contributed to the campaign. The weapon was presented by Nazi propaganda as retaliation for the bombers that attacked ever more German cities from 1942. If weapons such as these had been available in sufficient numbers earlier in the war and coordinated with conventional bombing raids, their impact might have been significant. As it was, their development had been left too late and their attacks initiated at a time when Allied air superiority left them and their launch sites vulnerable.
A V2 being launched from a fixed site. These were changed for the mobile Meillerwagen or launch transporter.
Its development had started early in the war, from ideas formulated by Dr Werner von Braun. He had taken his engineering degree in 1932 at the University of Berlin and in the same year became head of a rocket-research station established by the German army. In 1936 Hitler constructed a rocket facility at Peenemünde where von Braun and his associates worked on the V1 and V2 rocket projects. By late 1941, the Army Research Centre at Peenemünde possessed the technologies essential to the success of the A-4. The four key technologies for the A-4 were large liquid-fuel rocket engines, supersonic aerodynamics, gyroscopic guidance and rudders in jet control. At the time, Hitler was not particularly impressed by the V2; he pointed out that it was merely an artillery shell with a longer range and much higher cost. In early September 1943, von Braun promised the Long-Range Bombardment Commission that the A-4 development was “practically complete/concluded”, but even by the middle of 1944, a complete A-4 parts list was still unavailable.
Hitler was sufficiently impressed by the enthusiasm of its developers, and he needed a “wonder weapon” to maintain German morale, so authorized its deployment in large numbers. The V2’s were constructed at the Mittelwerk site by prisoners from Mittelbau-Dora, a concentration camp where an estimated 12,000 forced labourers and concentration camp prisoners died producing the weapons during the war.
On the 29th August 1944 Hitler made a declaration that V2 attacks were to begin as soon as possible. The offensive began on the 8th September 1944 with a single launch at Paris, causing modest damage near Porte d’Italie. Two more launches followed at 6:43 pm on the same day against London by the Artillerie unit 485, including one from The Hague. This was the first ballistic missile attack by Hitler’s V2 Rocket, to be fired on London. It weighed 13 tons and arrived via the stratosphere at 3,000 miles an hour. There was no siren, no warning, it landed in Chiswick, killing 3 People, Mrs Ada Harrison 63, Rosemary Clarke 3, and Sapper Bernard Browning on leave from the Royal Engineers. 17 were seriously injured in the destruction which reduced rows of houses to the appearance of a battle field. A second V2 hit Epping at around the same time but in this case there were no casualties.
Londoners heard for the first time the distinctive sound of the Rocket. Firstly the explosion, secondly the roar of the rocket motors catching up, because sound travelled slower than the supersonic rocket, and lastly the noise of the sonic boom from the upper atmosphere. The noise could be heard all over the capital. As the V2 explosions came without warning, the British government initially attempted to conceal their cause by blaming them on defective gas mains. However, the public was not fooled and soon began sardonically referring to the V2’s as “flying gas pipes”. The Germans finally announced the V2 on the 8th November 1944 and only then, did Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister, inform Parliament, and the world, that England had been under rocket attack “for the last few weeks”.
British Intelligence had known about the V2 for some time but it had been assumed that the launch sites had been overrun by the Allied invasion of Normandy. However the V2 could be launched practically from anywhere, roads running through forests being a particular favourite. The system was so mobile and small that only one Meillerwagen was ever caught in action by Allied aircraft. This occurred on the 1st January 1945 during the Operation”Bodenplatte” near Lochem by a USAAF 4th Fighter Group aircraft.
The “Vengeance Weapons”, notably the V2 surface-to-surface missile, seen here mounted on its Meillerwagen or launch transporter.
The “Vengeance Weapons”, V2 surface-to-surface missile, seen here mounted on its Meillerwagen or launch transporter in the launch position.
German launch unit’s positions change a number of times. For example Artillerie unit 444 arrived in the southwest Holland (in Zeeland) in September 1944. On the 15th and 16th September, from a field near the village of Serooskerke, 5 V2’s were launched with one more successful and one failed launch on the 18th. The same day, a transport carrying a V2 took a wrong turn and ended up in Serooskerke itself, giving a villager the opportunity to surreptitiously photograph the weapon; these were smuggled out by the Dutch Resistance to London. After that the unit relocated to Gaasterland in the northwest Holland, to insure the technology did not fall into Allied hands. From 25th September, due to the fact that London was out of range, V2’s were launched from Gaasterland against Norwich and Ipswich. Because of inaccuracy, they didn’t hit their targets. Shortly after Hitler ordered that only London and Antwerp remained as designated targets, resulting in Antwerp being targeted from the 12th to 20th October. Subsequently the unit moved to The Hague.
Beginning in September 1944 over 3,172, V2’s were launched by the German Wehrmacht against Allied targets during the war. The attacks resulted in the deaths of an estimated 9,000 civilians and military personnel:
United Kingdom, 1402: London 1358, Norwich 43, Ipswich 1.
Belgium, 1664: Antwerp 1610, Liège 27, Hasselt 13, Tournai 9, Mons 3, Diest 2.
France, 76: Lille 25, Paris 22, Tourcoing 19, Arras 6, Cambrai 4.
Netherlands, 19: Maastricht 19.
Germany, 11: Remagen 11.
An estimated 2,754 civilians were killed in London by V2 attacks with 6,523 injured, which accounted for two people killed per V2 rocket. However, this understates the potential of the V2, since many rockets were misdirected and exploded harmlessly. Accuracy increased during the course of the war, particularly in batteries where Leitstrahl-Guide Beam apparatus was installed.
V2 strikes were often devastating, causing large numbers of deaths, one explosion in mid-afternoon of the 25th November 1944, hit a Woolworth’s department store in New Cross, south-east London, 160 were killed and 108 seriously injured.
After these deadly results, British intelligence who had noticed that, during the V1 flying bomb attacks of 1944, the weapons were falling 2–3 miles short of Trafalgar Square — the actual Luftwaffe aiming points such as Tower Bridge were unknown to the British. Duncan Sandys was told to get MI5-controlled German agents such as Zig Zag and TATE to report the V1 impacts back to Germany. In order to make the Germans aim short, the British used the double agents to exaggerate the number of V1s falling in the north and west of London and not to report, when possible, those in the south and east.
When the subsequent V2 rocket blitz began with only a few minutes from launch to impact, the deception was enhanced by providing locations genuinely damaged by bombing, verifiable by aerial reconnaissance, for impacts in central London, but each time-tagged with the time of an earlier impact that had fallen 5–8 miles short of central London. From mid-January to mid-February 1945, the mean point of V2 impacts edged eastward at the rate of a couple of miles a week, with more and more V2s falling short of central London. This tactic worked and for the remainder of the war; most landed on less-heavily populated areas in Kent due to erroneous recalibration. On 27th March 1945 the final two V2’s exploded. One of these was the last to kill a British civilian: Mrs Ivy Millichamp 34, in her home in Kynaston Road, Orpington in Kent.
Belgium was also the target for large number of V-weapon attacks. From October 1944 to March 1945, 1,736 were killed and 4,500 injured in greater Antwerp. Thousands of buildings were damaged or destroyed due to 590 direct hits on the city. The largest loss of life in a single attack came on the 16th December 1944, when the roof of a crowded cinema was struck, leaving 567 dead and 291 injured.
The Luftwaffe may by this time been a broken force, but the idea that the it had been “swept from the skies by 1944, “or as some would have it, “since before D-Day” is refuted by two relatively successful actions on its part during March. On the night of the 3rd/4th of March a major night intruder action, code-named Operation Gisella, was mounted against RAF airfields in south-east England. Returning from a raid during which it had already lost 7 of its number, the RAF bombers were set upon by a force of Fernnacht-jäger (Long-Range Night-Fighters) and 22 British aircraft were destroyed for the loss to the enemy of just 6. The majority of the attackers were Junkers Ju 88 G night-fighters, but also included was a squadron of Heinkel He 219 Uhu (Owl) aircraft, although production of the Heinkel He 219 had ceased in May 1944. The Lange Kerle “Long fellows” as the Long-Range fliers were nick-named, were never able to repeat this success, partly because the defenders were now more alert, but mainly because the chronic shortage of fuel ruled out further long distance ventures.
On the 18th March the Luftwaffe achieved what must rank as its last notable success when 13 American bombers and 6 of their escorts were brought down in the course of a day-light raid on Berlin.
The last V2 fell on England on the 27th March. With the wonder rockets gone and wonder aircraft not yet available, nothing was left but self-sacrifice and fanaticism. There never was a plan to raise a German equivalent of the Japanese Kamikaze. The idea had been put to Hitler, however, and it is quite clear why he rejected it, declaring, “That is a sacrifice I would never ask of any German.”
If deliberate self-immolation was out, high-risk action was both contemplated and essayed. Oberst Hajo Hermann recommended that Sturmgruppe tactics be employed but with a difference. Whereas the armour-enhanced Focke-Wulf Fw 190 Sturmböcke aimed, primarily at bringing down an enemy by gun-fire, resorting to ramming only as a second option should this fail; the proposed Sonderkommandos “Special formations” would employ only ramming. To increase their speed and thereby avoid the escorts they would fly high-altitude versions of the Messerschmitt Bf 109 stripped down to an absolute minimum of armament, a single machine gun. Climbing high above the bomber stream they would attack in a steep dive ramming from astern by cutting the trailing edge of the bomber’s wing with their rotating propellers. A manoeuvre which, if skilfully executed, need not necessarily involve the death of the attacker as the example of the Sturmgruppe had demonstrated. It did, however call for, in addition to nerves of steel, a fair amount of flying experience. It was, therefore, rather odd or cynical that pilots for such hazardous operations were sought from among young men still undergoing training at flying schools throughout the Reich that February. They were invited to volunteer for “special and dangerous duties,” the actual nature of which was not disclosed. There was no lack of volunteers. By March about 250 had offered themselves and were assembled at Stendal on the west bank of the Elbe, the river which flows north into Hamburg. Under the code-name Schulungslehrgang Elbe, “Training Course Elbe” they were given a two-week quick course in ramming techniques. The Luftwaffe possessed at least one American B-17 Flying Fortress in flying order which may have been used to demonstrate angles of approach, if not actually rammed. The would be pilots were found to exceed the number of Messerschmitt Bf 109 G-14 aircraft adapted for the task. Divided into three Gruppen, each of 45 aircraft, they were re-designated Sondergruppe Elbe, “Special Group Elbe.”
Major Walter Dahl, seen here as Kommandeur of III./JG 3 in early 1944, was given the task in May 1944 of forming a special-purpose Jagdgeschwader. The IVth Gruppe, known as the Sturmgruppe, was best employed against the bomber streams. In the battle over Oschersleben on the 7th July 1944, the Sturmjäger, in a wedge formation, scattered the American bombers, and the IVth Gruppe, led by Hauptmann Moritz, claimed 30 bombers shot down. For his personal exploits and that of his unit, Dahl was dubbed Rammdahl. In January 1945, Dahl was appointed Inspekteur der Tagjäger (Inspector of Day Fighters). He obtained a total of 128 kills of which 36 were heavy bombers in 678 missions, including about 300 ground-attack missions.
Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross: Awarded on the 11th March 1944 for scoring 67 victories while a Major and Gruppenkommandeur of the III./JG 3 “Udet”.
Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oakleaves: Awarded on the 1st February 1945 while a Major and Geschwaderkommodore of JG 300. He was the 724th Recipient.
The first, and sole, action was undertaken on the 7th April when the Rammkommando, supported by some orthodox day-fighters, rose to challenge an American 1000 bomber raid over North Germany. Far from the one-for-one victory ratio hoped for, only 8 US aircraft were actually felled, and a further fifteen damaged although insufficiently to bring them down. Most of the disabled managed to make their way back to bases in England or France. As against this, the Luftwaffe lost 59 of its own. The failure was total. Oberst Hajo Hermann was convinced that any further attempts would be pointless. To make any impact at all, 5 or 6 times the number of aircraft and pilots would have to be available. This was clearly impossible at this point in time. In any case what spare reserves that still remained were now being transferred to the east to face the Red Army on the Oder-Neiser front. Here any bridge that the German army had failed to blow up during its precipitous retreat had to be destroyed by the Luftwaffe. The proposed method was that a bomb-loaded aircraft be crashed into it. How often this was attempted, or with what success, is not recorded. If carried out, successfully or otherwise, these would serve as the only examples of Totaleinsatz (total action), the euphemism for suicide missions.
An artist’s impression of a “Rammjäger” attack
It was a dramatic and fitting end when Adolf Galland, ace and hero of countless battles, stood on an airfield in early May 1945 as P-51 Mustangs and Republic P-47 Thunderbolt circled for the final kill, and ordered his jets to be torched. Galland had been there to see ‘the first and the last’. Thus ended the power and the glory of what had been the world’s premier Air force. Herman Göring had emerged, with the growth of the Luftwaffe, as Reichsmarschall of the Third Reich resplendent with medals, instigating more to reward the heroic deeds of his aces, to receive himself the highest grade of the Iron Cross, the Grand Cross itself, which he received on the Luftwaffe’s behalf for their victory over France and the low countries in 1940. Only to mirror the defeat of that Luftwaffe, which he so dearly loved, with his own surrender, final trial and suicide.
The awarding certificate for the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross to Hauptmann Karl Bulmahn on the 31st January 1945. Many flying personnel had been transferred into the Luftwaffe ground forces. The certificate shows the situation that was now prevalent with the collapse of Germany in the War. The document had gone from an ornate work of art to a “scrap of paper”.
Hauptmann Karl Bulmahn wearing his Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross. It is interesting that even at this late time in the War there was time and film enough to take the shot.
The End. A hangar at the airfield in Manching in southern Germany, pictured after its capture by US troops. In the foreground is an Arado Ar 234 jet bomber, with 3 Junkers Ju 88 night fighters behind.
The End. RAF Flight Lieutenant William Thory part of a team sent to secure and evaluate Luftwaffe aircraft. The air base is in Schleswig-Holstein.
The End. RAF Flight Lieutenant William Thory casually surveys the scene, what once was the mighty and invincible Luftwaffe.
An A4 surface-to-surface rocket, more familiarly known as the V2, is put on show in London after the war, letting the people of the British capital see what it was that bombarded their city in 1944 – 1945. Altogether, 1054 V2s, all launched by the German Army, fell on London.
Herman Göring, photographed after his capture by Allied troops in May 1945. He is still wearing his medals, including (around his neck) the Pour le Mérite and Grand Cross of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross. On his breast is the Combined Pilots and Observers Badge in Gold with Diamonds.