EVEN AS SIR ROY FEDDEN and his team were examining the Nazis’ aircraft design, research and development establishments, scores of the latest jets and other advanced aircraft were being spirited out of Germany. In the months leading up to and following Germany’s surrender, technical intelligence teams from the three main Allied nations had been in a race to secure examples of some of the most advanced aircraft the world had ever seen. Each wanted their share of the aeronautical spoils of war and the line between cooperation and competition was frequently blurred.
For the British, at least, the process of gathering enemy aircraft had already begun in the early stages of the war, and their examination and evaluation played a vital role in formulating the tactics needed to deal with them in combat. These German aircraft had fallen into their hands through a variety of circumstances. The earliest examples were forced down because they had sustained damage or, in a surprisingly large number of cases, their crews had landed them at British airfields by mistake. This might be because of a navigational error or in some cases the pilots/navigators had become disorientated as the result of British electronic measures intended to mimic the German radio navigational beacons in order to deliberately lead the aircraft astray. (Imagine the sense of disbelief for any such German aircrew who thought they had got home safely only to be surrounded by British personnel.) It was usual for all captured aircraft to be taken first to the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) at Farnborough. Flight testing of the aircraft was carried out by the Aerodynamics Flight of the Experimental Flying Department, although the Wireless and Electrical Flight (W&EF) also became involved when radar equipment was concerned. They would then be handed over to the Air Fighting Development Unit (AFDU), based at Northolt initially and later moved to Duxford and then Collyweston, for more thorough assessments of their performance characteristics. This would sometimes involve mock aerial combat sessions to provide realistic practical testing of the Allied fighter tactics. As the war progressed only new types would be fully evaluated or flight tested in this way, although the latest arrivals were always checked over for any recent improvements or modifications which the Germans might have introduced.
Wearing American colours, a Ju 88 captured in Italy in 1944. (NARA)
In 1941 a special unit was formed to perform flying demonstrations of the captured aircraft in order to familiarise Allied personnel, both RAF and the voluntary Observers Corps and so on, with the appearance, performance and even the sound of the German aircraft. Officially designated as No.1426 (Enemy Aircraft) Flight, and attached to 12 Group Fighter Command, the irreverently nicknamed ‘Rafwaffe’ was formed on 21 November 1941 and was based at Duxford in Cambridgeshire. Its first German prize was a Heinkel He 111H which had been shot down in Scotland in February the previous year. This was soon followed by a Junkers Ju 88A-5 that had force-landed at Chivenor, in Devon, and a Messerschmitt Bf 109E-3 which was already undergoing evaluation at the Fighting Development Unit (AFDU) at Duxford.
Flying an aircraft which might easily be mistaken for the enemy was potentially a risky business, and for most of the time the AEC ‘circus’ aircraft wore very clear British markings. For certain special assignments, such as filming work for the RAF Film Unit or for photographic sessions, they sometimes appeared in their original German colours. In March 1943 the unit moved to a new home at RAF Collyweston, near Wittering. The main part of its duties was presenting the aircraft at various RAF airfields, and from early 1944 the Enemy Aircraft Flight also toured USAAF bases in the UK. Tragedy struck in November 1943, however, when seven people on board the Heinkel He 111 were killed as the pilot tried to avoid a Ju 88 coming in to land on the same runway at Polebrook in Northamptonshire.
Following the D-Day landings in June 1944 the number of enemy aircraft coming into Allied hands grew rapidly, but conversely by the end of the year the familiarisation displays by the Enemy Aircraft Flight were no longer deemed necessary. The unit was disbanded on 31 January 1945 and the serviceable aircraft were transferred to the Central Flying Establishment at Tangmere in West Sussex.
‘711’ was an Me 262A-1a surrendered at Frankfurt in March 1945 and taken to the USA for flight testing at Wright Field. (USAF)
As for the German jets, it was only after D-Day that the advancing Allied forces came across examples of the greatest prizes; the Messerschmitt Me 262, Arado Ar 234 and the little single-engined Heinkel He 162 Volksjäger. With the exception of some Ar 234B reconnaissance flights in late 1944 and early 1945, none of these types had ever ventured beyond the continental mainland to fly above English soil.
The first example of an Ar 234 was obtained in February 1945 when an American P-47 Thunderbolt encountered one limping along on a single engine following a flame-out, and forced it down to make a belly-landing, but still virtually intact. This was near Selgersdorf, to the west of Cologne and very close to the advancing Allied lines. The following day the 9th US Army captured the area and despite efforts by the German artillery to destroy the aircraft through heavy shelling it was successfully recovered and subsequently dismantled for transportation to RAE Farnborough. Although non-airworthy, this Ar 234 was the first complete German jet to be examined by the British.
With an end to the war in sight, in 1944 the Air Ministry’s Branch AI2 (g), in consultation with the Ministry of Aircraft Production, drew up a Requirements List of the German aircraft that were of particular interest. This shopping list of aeronautical wonders was put in the hands of the Air Technical Intelligence teams working in Europe who were tasked with securing the aircraft during the Allied advance and in the immediate aftermath of the German surrender. Once an aircraft had been secured – vandalism or accidental damage remained a possibility if they were left unprotected – the job of ferrying them back to England became the responsibility of a team of test pilots from the Aerodynamics Flight at the RAE, headed by the German-speaking Captain Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown. The airfield at Schleswig in northern Germany was selected as the main collecting point because it was well placed within the British zone and close to the area on the eastern side of the territory which had been allocated to the Russians but not immediately occupied by the Red Army. No. 409 Repair and Salvage Unit was set up at Schleswig, manned by RAF technicians and mechanics, and a ferry route to England was established with staging posts for refuelling at three airfields en route: Twente, Gilze-Rijen and Brussels-Melsbroek.
On 19 May 1945 an Me 262B (allocated the Air Ministry number AM 50) became the first of the German jets to fly into RAE Farnborough, having stopped on the way at Gilze-Rijen. The first of the airworthy Arado Ar 234s arrived at Farnborough on 9 July, having flown from Stavanger airfield in Norway, with a refuelling stop at Schleswig. The British pilots marvelled at its futuristic curves and the smooth finish, but flying these unfamiliar German jets back to England was fraught with risk, especially as they had invariably been found without any supporting maintenance records for either airframes or engines. The ferry pilots had no way of knowing if the turbojets were near to the end of their twenty-five hours of flight time, or past the ten-hourly inspection for that matter. Engine failure could be catastrophic in itself, and aborting mid-flight meant finding an airfield with a longer than usual runway. Two types of German aircraft not flown back were the He 162 and the rocket-powered Me 163B, which, because of obvious safety/serviceability concerns, were dismantled and transported by surface vessel and then road, or flown back on board one of the Avro Yorks of RAF Transport Command.
With RAF roundels painted over the German markings on ‘Red 8’, a two-seater ‘Nachtjäger’, or night-fighter, equipped with radar antennae. (NARA)
By the time the gathering of the aircraft was completed, in January 1946, around seventy-five German aircraft had been flown back to Farnborough, and another fifty or so were shipped or transported by air, including no fewer than twenty-three Me 163Bs and eleven He 162s. When they arrived at Farnborough the aircraft were placed in a pool and some were taken to the No.6 Maintenance Unit at Brize Norton, near Oxford, to be stored until selected either for testing or for exhibition.
There was a lot of interest in the captured aircraft, especially the jets, and from 16–22 September 1945 the British public were treated to their first close-up look when some examples were exhibited in a static display of enemy aircraft held on Hyde Park to coincide with London’s Thanksgiving Week. Several aeroplanes from the Enemy Aircraft Flight’s collection at Duxford were there including the He 162 and Me 163B, as well as other more conventional craft. Flight reported at the time:
Seven aircraft are on view, among them the Heinkel 162A ‘Volksjäger’, and Londoners will be interested to see that this aircraft has a remarkable resemblance to the doodlebug flying bomb, this being due chiefly to the mounting of the power unit above the fuselage immediately aft of the cockpit.
This comparison was hardly accurate or relevant as the two flying machines actually had very little in common, especially as the unmanned V-1 was powered by a pulsejet while the He 162’s engine was the BMW 109-003 turbojet. But it was the first time that the public, or the journalists for that matter, had had a chance to compare them at close hand. Among the more conventional exhibits on show were a Focke-Wulf 190A, a Fieseler 156 Storch light aircraft, a Messerschmitt Bf 108B Taifun which was a single-engine four-seater transport aircraft, plus the two largest aircraft, a Junkers Ju 88 and Messerschmitt Me 110G. For the purpose of the display those aircraft which had already been painted with RAF markings were restored to their Luftwaffe markings.
Arado Ar 234 in British markings.
Another Ar 234, this time with American markings. (SDASM)
The Hyde Park aircraft also formed part of a more extensive Enemy Aircraft Exhibition held at RAE Farnborough from 29 October through to 9 November 1945. The range of types on display was far broader than the limited number shown in London and this time the public were able to get right up close to the exhibits. The piston-powered aircraft included: Junkers Ju 88G, Ju 188 L, Ju 290A, Ju 52 transport aircraft, Ju 352; Focke-Wulf Fw 189A, Fw 190D (a shot-down example shown in derelict condition), Fw 190F, Fw 200C four-engined transport aircraft; a Mistel composite with the Fw 190A mounted on the back of the Ju 88A; a Dornier Do 217M; Siebel Si 204D; Messerschmitt Bf 108B, Bf 109G, Me 410B, Bf 110G; Dornier Do 335A; Tank Ta 152H; Fieseler Fi 156C; Heinkel 111H (a late comer to the show) and the Fieseler Fi 103/V-1 ‘Doodlebug’. Not forgetting the jet-set, there were two Arado Ar 234Bs and a Messerschmitt Me 262A, not including the flown aircraft mentioned later. If that wasn’t enough exotic technology, an exhibition inside the shed included other aircraft in an assorted state of assembly including a Bf 109G, Fw 190A, Ju 88G-6, Focke Achgelis Fa 330 – a prototype for a lightweight helicopter/autogiro designed to be flown tethered from a U-boat – two He 162s (one partly sectioned), an Me 163B, the Horten Ho IV tail-less glider and a conventional Bv 155B glider.
During the exhibition several flying displays of the German aircraft were presented, flown by Captain Eric Brown’s staff, and on the opening day two He 162s and an Me 262 roared above the airfield to dazzle the crowds. The main flying show was at the weekend, and on Sunday 4 November no fewer than ten German aircraft took to the sky including a Dornier Do 217, Focke-Wulf 190A, Büker Bu 181, Messerschmitt Bf 108, Junkers Ju 52 transport aircraft, Fieseler Fi 156C, Junkers Ju 88, the two He 162s and the Me 262. Not surprisingly the jets stole the show, described by the Flight reporter their performance was ‘somewhat frightening’:
Though lethal in appearance, the tiny 162, with a span of only 23.5ft, is, one gathers, quite a nice aircraft. It arrived at the far end of the very long runway with assistants at the wing tips and ran very nearly the whole length before becoming unsatisfactorily airborne.
Me 262A-1a, ‘FE110’. The ‘FE’ markings were applied by the USAF on captured enemy aircraft after their arrival in the USA. (USAF)
Suggesting that the He 162 might benefit from some of RATO assistance, he was more appreciative of the Me 262 which he described as almost conventional in appearance:
The pilot was seemingly very happy about it since his arrival after the demonstration was almost dashing for such a type. Evidently it has very good aileron control at even high speeds, and the demonstrated rate of roll was almost ‘flick’ in its violence.
But were the British pilots becoming over-confident with their captured jets? Tragedy struck on the final day of the show, Friday 9 November 1945. Flight Lieutenant Robert Marks, a former prisoner of war in Germany, was putting on a display of the He 162’s aerobatic qualities when the rudder tore away and the aircraft tumbled from 800ft (244m) to plunge into the adjoining Aldershot Barracks where both Marks and a soldier were killed.
Public displays aside, the serious business of evaluating the aircraft began with a detailed engineering assessment followed by a limited flight test programme carried out by the Aerodynamics Flight. It concentrated mainly on the jets and only a handful of the piston-engined craft were ever flown for this purpose. Some of the more ordinary aircraft, such as the Ju 52 and the big Ju 352, were put to good practical use as transports, while some smaller ones such as the Fieseler Storch were utilised for personnel transportation. The test flying continued without major incident until 18 January 1946 when the double-engined Dornier Do 335A (Air Ministry AM 223) caught fire on take-off and crashed, killing the pilot. After that there were greater restrictions on flying the German aircraft, although some extended aerodynamic testing of the tail-less types – the Me 163b and Horten IV glider – continued until 1948 when an Me 163B was damaged beyond repair in a high-speed skid landing at RAF Wittering.
At one stage immediately after the end of the war the Ministry of Aircraft Production considered an extraordinary plan which involved constructing or completing eighteen experimental aircraft types for which only parts or drawings had been recovered in Germany. These included the Bachem Natter, the Horten Ho 229, the Ju 287 forward-swept bomber, the Ju 248 which was a development of the Me 163, the P.1101 seen by Fedden at Oberammergau, the Do 335 with a turbojet instead of the rear piston engine and known as the Dornier/Heinkel He 535, the Me 264, an Hs 132 jet dive-bomber, Junkers EF 126 pulse-jet fighter, Fi 103 with turbojet, and even a double-hulled version of the Do 335. In the event it was probably just as well that the idea was abandoned because of a lack of funds.
Once evaluation of the German aircraft had been completed there remained the question of what to do with them all. In the foreword to Phil Butler’s War Prizes, Captain Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown recalls that there was very little sense of their historical importance at the time:
Destruction rather than preservation was the order of the day, for everyone was fed up to the teeth with the war and all the attendant paraphernalia.
Many of the British-held aircraft were scrapped or simply left to rot, while other airframes were donated to various educational establishments as teaching aids. A good number did eventually end up in public collections and the aviation museums of the UK contain three Me 163Bs – at RAF Cosford, the National Museum of Flight in Scotland, and at the Science Museum in London – a couple of He 162s at the Imperial War Museum in London and the RAF Museum Hendon, and a solitary Me 262 currently resides at Hendon. (Incidentally, the RAF Museum at Cosford also has the most comprehensive collection of German guided missiles and rockets that you will find anywhere in the world.) The British were very generous in giving aircraft to the Empire/Commonwealth countries and examples of the Me 163B were sent to Canada and Me 262s went to Australia and South Africa. The South African National Museum of Military History, located in Johannesburg, has the only surviving example of the two-seater and radar-equipped Me 262 B-1a/U1 night-fighter complete with Hirschgeweih stag’s antler antennae. Unfortunately, however, the British didn’t manage to hang on to a single example of the sleek Arado Ar 234 and you will have to travel to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. to see the only one left in the world.
Me 163B Komet at an RAF airfield the UK.
The Americans had a far more robust attitude to gathering the aeronautical gems scattered about Germany. In April 1945 the US Army Air Force Intelligence Service relaunched its wartime intelligence gathering for post-hostility activities under the codename Operation Lusty. There were several objectives to this operation: gathering technical or scientific reports and examining the research facilities in Germany, and the collection of aircraft and equipment. It is said that at the height of their activities the ATI teams were in competition with no fewer than thirty-two Allied technical intelligence teams in Germany and they would cross paths with the British Fedden Mission on several occasions. (The location and contentious ‘recruitment’ of German scientists and engineers was not a part of Lusty and came under the auspices of the Office of Strategic Services’ Operation Paperclip, which is covered in Chapter 12.)
Leading the American Air Technical Intelligence effort was a Wright Field test pilot named Colonel Harold ‘Hal’ E. Watson. Equipped with a list of target aircraft, he divided his team into two. One searched for conventional aircraft while the other went after the jets. Intelligence reports indicated that these were to be found at Lager-Lechfeld to the south of Augsburg, Bavaria, and this was in fact the main airfield used by Messerschmitt. Watson immediately assigned Lieutenant Robert C. Strobell to head down to Lechfeld in order to get the jets into an airworthy condition, teach the US pilots how to fly them and the mechanics how to maintain the aircraft in preparation for their shipment back to the United States.
Do 335 examined by Allied personnel at Dornier’s aircraft plant. (NARA)
Arriving at Lechfeld at the end of May 1945, Strobell discovered that the airfield and most of its precious jets had been badly damaged; the former by aerial bombardment and the latter intentionally by the retreating Germans in a bid to keep their technology out of enemy hands. American soldiers from the 54th Disarmament Squadron had arrived a few weeks earlier and safeguarded as many aircraft as possible as well as gathering together members of the former Me 262 workforce to assist them. Pressed into service as civilian employees the Germans took great pride in their jets and proved to be willing and cooperative with the Americans. Strobell’s team soon came up to full strength with six USAAF pilots, ten crew chiefs, plus the German nationals. He also succeeded in recruiting two former Messerschmitt test pilots, Ludwig Hofmann and Karl Bauer.
Of the airworthy Me 262s at Lechfeld, most were cobbled together from various engines and other components salvaged on the site, although at least two examples had been surrendered elsewhere and flown to the airfield intact. In addition there was a two-seater training aircraft still in good condition. In total, ten aircraft were readied for flight, but questions remained concerning who was to fly them as the Americans obviously had no previous experience with jets. In a ploy to deter any attempts at sabotage Strobell invited Bauer to make the first flight in an Me 262, which lasted around fifteen minutes, before he took his turn. Strobell found that the aircraft’s slow rate of acceleration during the take-off run meant he almost ran out of runway before coaxing the jet off the ground. But once airborne the American pilot soon discovered for himself the sheer joy of jet propulsion:
The next thing I noticed was the speed. Raw speed, exhilarating speed. Smooth speed. Unbelievable speed. It seemed effortless …
With such an abundance of speed getting this bird back on to the runway required a little practice and on the first approach he shot right past the airfield. The second approach was little better and on the third he finally succeeded.
Once the USAAF pilots, including Watson, had been given orientation flights in the two-seater trainer the task of ferrying the aircraft began in earnest on 10 June 1945. The plan was to take them cross-country in two stages to Melun in France and then on to the port of Cherbourg where the Royal Navy escort carrier HMS Reaper – a former US Navy vessel on loan to the British – had been made available for their transportation to the USA. With the two German pilots making up the numbers all of the aircraft reached Melun without incident.
Among the American pilots there was a great sense of adventure in flying the jets and it didn’t take long for America’s first jet-fighter squadron to acquire its unofficial title of ‘Watson’s Whizzers’. The aircraft were christened with new nicknames daubed on their noses by mechanics of the 54th Air Disarmament Squadron and later amended and personalised by the individual pilots. These were either girl and family names, such as Wilma Jeanne and Vera, or more colourful tags including Screamin’ Meemie, Jabo Bait, Happy Hunter II and Feudin’ 54th. An impromptu squadron badge was produced depicting Donald Duck riding around the globe clinging to a jet engine. And, in recognition of their unusual status as jet-jockeys, it became customary for each newly rated pilot to have his metal USAAF badge removed and the propeller blades ceremoniously snapped off.
During their brief stay at the Melun airfield Watson’s team put on a display for General Carl Spaatz. They also had time to investigate reports of additional Me 262s which had been recovered at other airfields. At the British-held Schleswig airfield they obtained an Me 262 two-seater trainer plus an Me 262B-1a/U1 night-fighter, and at Grove they located examples of the Arado Ar 234 twin-jet powered bomber, all of which were added to the hoard.
The next leg, to take the aircraft to Cherbourg, was conducted between 30 June and 6 July. One of the first to depart from Melun was V083, the prototype Me 262A-1a/U4 armed with a 50mm MK 214 tank-busting cannon, but when one of the Jumo 109–004 engine began spitting out turbine blades the aircraft was sent into a steep dive and the pilot, Ludwig Hofmann, was only thrown clear at low altitude. In another incident Lieutenant Robert J. Anspach descended through thick cloud in his Me 262 expecting to see Cherbourg but instead found himself over water. With fuel precariously low he barely managed to make an emergency landing on the island of Jersey. On a second ferry flight the unlucky Anspach experienced a dramatic landing at Cherbourg after the jet’s nose-wheel failed to lower.
Forty German aircraft of all types were crowded onto the Reaper’s deck, each one wrapped in plastic film to protect it from the salty sea water. As was to be expected the list included several jets: there were ten Me 262s including an Me 262B-1a/U1 a night-fighter converted from a two-seater trainer, and four Arado Ar 234Bs. The array of piston-power included two Dornier Do 335 push-pull heavy fighters, three Messerschmitt Bf 109G fighters, nine Focke-Wulf 190D/F fighters and one Focke-Wulf Ta 152H-0 high-altitude fighter, three Heinkel He 219 night-fighters, a Junkers Ju 388 high-altitude reconnaissance bomber and a Ju 88G-6 night-fighter, plus several light aircraft including two Bücker Bü 181 single-engined trainers and a Messerschmitt Bf 108 Taifun. There were also three rotor-craft including the experimental Doblhoff WNF-342 with fin-tip mounted jets, plus two small Flettner 282 Kolibri helicopters. And, finally, there was one non-German interloper, a Mustang P-51 reconnaissance aircraft.
HMS Reaper set sail from Cherbourg on 20 July 1945 and arrived at Newark, New Jersey, eleven days later. Not content with his ship-bound hoard, Watson set off from Paris-Orly to fly across the Atlantic in a four-engined Junkers Ju 290 long-range heavy bomber/patrol/transport aircraft. With intermediate stops in the Azores, Bermuda and Patterson Field the aircraft finally reached Freeman Field the day after the Reaper docked in New Jersey. The Americans divided their German war prizes between the USAF and the US Navy. Those allocated to the air force were taken to Wright Field initially and many were then sent on to Freeman Field which acted as a subsidiary airfield to Wright and had been designated as the Foreign Aircraft Evaluation Center. Test flights of the German aircraft were conducted from both airfields. Apart from the technical value of the German aircraft, General Arnold, unlike his British counterparts, did recognise their historical significance and he ordered the preservation of at least one of every type of aircraft. It is only thanks to this measure that examples of the Ar 234, the He 219 and the Do 335 have survived at all.
Preserved He 162 at the Royal Air Force Museum, Hendon. (JC)
In addition to the US military, some testing was done by other government organisations as well as by various aircraft companies. For example, the Me 262A-1a/U3 found by the Whizzers at Lager-Lechfeld and christened as ‘Connie – My Sharp Article’ and later changed to ‘Pick II’, was loaned to the Hughes Aircraft Division. Howard Hughes was a keen aviator and actually planned to enter the aircraft in air race competitions. During its time at Freeman Field it was given an extra smooth finish and in May 1946 its performance was put to the test in a direct comparison with a Lockheed P-80.
The Lippisch-designed DM-1, the delta-wing test glider for the ramjet-powered LP-13a super fast interceptor, was tested in the Langley wind tunnel by the National Advisory Council for Aeronautics (NACA – the predecessor to NASA) and influenced the development of the Convair XP-92. In a similar manner the Messerschmitt P.1101 found at Oberammergau was crated up and after evaluation at Wright Field in 1948 it was handed over to Bell Aircraft. By that time it had been fitted with an Allison J-35 engine, but sustained damage during ground handling which meant that it was never flown (see Chapter 10).
The only surviving AR 234 is at the National Air & Space Museum, USA, and is displayed with RATO units.
The Russians’ stock of captured aircraft was far less extensive than that of the British or Americans even though the Soviet zone of occupation contained the lion’s share of Germany’s aviation plants, possibly more than half by all accounts, many of which were in the western side of the zone initially and had already been picked clean by the Allies before the Red Army arrived. Consequently only a handful of completed aircraft were taken back to Russia to be flown bearing the Soviet red star emblem. These included four Me 262s, three Me 163s including the two-seater trainer Me 163S, at least two He 162A-2s (possibly completed in Russia) and a single Ar 234. The Junkers Ju 287 jet bomber which featured the unusual forward-swept wing configuration was also completed and test flown in Russia (see Chapter 3). Several jets were test flown by the Russians and film footage from the period clearly shows an Me 262 taking off under jet power, and both the single-seat Me 163B and the two-seater Me 163S being flown on tow as gliders as there was no hydrogen-peroxide fuel available. One of these, the Me 163S flown by the test-pilot Mark L. Gallaj, was badly damaged on landing. In 1946 one of the Heinkel He 162s underwent flight testing at the Flight Research Institute by test-pilot G.M. Shiyanov, but apparently the Russians were dismissive of the jet’s handling and the very long take-off runs.
However, the Russians did show more interest in the proposed Junkers EF 127 and the Messerschmitt Me 263 and these are said to have influenced the design of their own rocket fighter, the MiG I-270. Likewise, the Russian’s Sukhoi twin-engined jet fighter closely resembled the Me 262. It first flew in November 1946 but was cancelled after only two prototypes as the aircraft’s performance was disappointing in comparison with other designs.