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Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwalbe turbojet fighter


Written by Sakhal

In the summer of 1944, there was no doubt that the Germans were far ahead the Allies in the production of turbojet fighters. The 25th July 1944, a British Mosquito aircraft from the 544th Squadron, flying in a reconnaissance mission at an altitude of 9100 meters over Munich, suffered a series of cannon attacks from a very fast aircraft, before managing to narrowly escape by hiding within the clouds, to finally crash when attempting a landing in Fermo, Italy. The attacking aircraft would be later identified as the Messerschmitt Me 262 and that one had been the first attack ever performed by a turbojet fighter.

The works in the project of the Me 262 had started in September 1939, a month after having successfully flown the first turbojet aircraft in the world, the Heinkel He 178; but due to the delays in the development of satisfactory engines, to the massive damage caused by Allied bombings and to the later obsession of Hitler of using this aircraft as a bomber instead of a fighter, between the first outlines of the Me 262 and its entry into service almost four years had passed. Until July 1943 was not made a demonstration of the prototype before the High Command of the Luftwaffe, being Hermann Goering among them. This one talked with enthusiasm to Hitler about the new aircraft, but the Fuhrer refused to give priority to the fighter, prohibiting the serial production, a decision that would delay six months the entire program. It was not until November 1943 that Hitler witnessed the Me 262 in flight, when the sixth prototype (Me 262 V-6) performed a demonstrative flight to Insterburg, in Eastern Prussia. During the demonstration, Hitler asked to Goering if the Me 262 could be adapted to carry bombs, and Goering, who some time ago had made the same question to Messerschmitt, replied that it was theoretically possible. Then Hitler showed a sudden enthusiasm in the new aircraft, for this was the Blitz (Lightning) bomber that he had been waiting for.

Shortly after the Luftministerium (Air Ministry) ordered the entering into production of the Me 262, and in the late 1943 it was given top priority to the program of the new turbojet fighter. In December 1943 flew for the first time the Me 262 V-8, the first model that carried the full armament of four MK 108 30-millimeter cannons. The firing trajectories of these guns were set to converge at 500 meters and to be used in combination with the reflector gunsight Revi 16B. Mounted in the nose of the aircraft, the two upper cannons had a magazine with 100 rounds each, while the lower ones had 80 rounds each. Despite the numerous inconveniences, the production of the Me 262 started to get rhythm in April 1944; the factories to create the structure and the assembling plants were very dispersed along several locations. The original objective was to achieve a production of 1000 monthly aircraft, in May 1945; but soon it was seen that this number would never be reached. Actually, the largest monthly number reached was 280, in March 1945, which was a notable production having in mind that the German aeronautical industry had been forced to abandon many of their factories due to the fast Allied advances. In the end of 1944 730 exemplars had been finished and during the first months of 1945 another 564 were produced.

Despite the obsession of Hitler of turning the Me 262 into a fast bomber, the Me 262 entered production as a fighter, entering service in August 1944 in a trials unit known as Erprobungskommando (Test Command) 262 (EK 262), in Lechfeld, near Augsburg. In the beginning, the unit was under the command of Captain Tierfelder, who died when his aircraft crashed and set ablaze during one of the first operative missions of the unit. His sucessor was Commander Walter Nowotny who, being only 23 years old, was one of the best fighter pilots of the Luftwaffe, with 258 victories, 255 of them achieved in the Eastern Front. In the late October, the Kommando Nowotny, as the unit was then known, had reached full operative status, so it was sent to the airfields at Achmer and Hesepe, near Osnabruck, in the route of approximation of the main diurnal bombings from the USAAF. Due to the scarcity of adequately trained pilots and to technical problems, the Nowotny Command could make only three or four daily raids against the enemy bomber formations; still, in November 1944 their Me 262 shot down 22 aircraft. At the end of the month, however, the unit had only 13 aircraft in operation from a total of 30, a high percentage of attrition due to accidents more than to enemy activity.

During the last weeks of 1944 the Me 262 was the prime threat for the Allied air superiority. In that time two versions were being developed parallely: the Me 262A-2a Sturmvogel (Storm Bird), which was the fighter-bomber variant, and the Me 262A-1a Schwalbe (Swallow), which was the fighter variant. The Sturmvogel was assigned in September 1944 to the Kampfgeschwader (Bomber Squadron) 51 Edelweiss; another bomber squadrons provided with this model in that date were the squadrons KG 6, 27 and 54. During the operative training emerged problems that delayed the entering in combat, but in the autumn 1944 the Me 262 started to appear in increasing numbers, performing low-altitude attacks against enemy targets, mainly against moving columns. There were also two reconnaissance versions, the Me 262A-1a/U3 and the Me 262A-5a. These aircraft flew almost as they wanted during weeks over the battlefront, photographing facilities and movements of troops in the enemy rearguard, allowing the German High Command to have a full intelligence report of the Allied order of battle in northern France, Holland and Belgium. Sliding at low altitude above the frontline, following the contour of the terrain, the Me 262 used to achieve a full surprise, ending their missions before the enemy defenses could react. The high speed of the turbojet engines made difficult that the anti-aircraft artillery could successfully track them; the Allied piston-engine fighters could only hope to reach them if performing a fast dive from high altitude.

In an attempt to neutralize the threat of the Me 262 the Allies mounted the "Rats Scrambles" with their most modern fighters - such as the Hawker Tempest from the RAF - operating by pairs over the frontline, with a second pair waiting in the ground ready for taking off with the hope of chasing any incoming Me 262. But most of the times, the very well camouflaged Me 262 managed to avoid these patrols. The Allies resorted to perform strong attacks over the bases of the Me 262, but this was a very dangerous approach, for the Germans had organized corridors of anti-aircraft fire, which were lines of 20 milimeters batteries extended along three kilometers on the accesses to the runways of their airfields, and also a group of Fw 190 fighters from the Jagdgeschwader (Fighter Squadron) 54 had been assigned to the defense of the two main bases at Achmer and Hesepe.

At the end of 1944, the Russians enjoyed an overwhelming air superiority in the Eastern Front, having being withdrawn from there the largest part of the Luftwaffe's fighters, to be destined for the defense of the Reich. The Me 262 were frequently seen, but the attacks upon their airbases were costing them an increasing price. The 8th November 1944, during one of those attacks, Walter Nowotny was shot down and killed by a Mustang, while approaching ground in Achmer. Shortly after his death, it was used one of the groups of the Kommando to form the core of a new turbojet fighter unit, the Jagdgeschwader JG 7 Hindenburg, under the command of Commander Johannes Steinhoff. Albeit the JG 7 comprised three groups, only one of them, the III/JG 7, had contact with the enemy, being transferred to the bases at Brandenburg-Briest, Oranienburg and Parchim. In the mid February 1945, the III/JG 7 received the first delivery of 55-millimeter R4M air-to-air rockets; the Me 262 could carry 24 of these rockets mounted in simple wooden pylons under the wings; when a salvo was fired against a formation of enemy bombers, the rockets scattered like shotgun pellets, increasing the chances to hit one or more aircraft. During the first series of operations, in February 1945, by using a combination of R4M rockets, quadruple 30-millimeter cannons and the gunsight Revi 16B the pilots from the III/JG 7 managed to destroy 45 American four-engined bombers and 15 of their escorting fighters, losing only four Me 262.

Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwalbe turbojet fighter

Messerschmitt Me 262-1a from Gruppen-Adfutant, Stab III/JG 7 Nowotny, Parchim, March 1945. Note the unusual camouflage scheme, the Geschwader ensign, the indicative of Adfutant of the pilot, the colored bands in the rear fuselage and the swastika in the vertical tail.

Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwalbe turbojet fighter

Messerschmitt Me 262A-1a from the 9th Squadron of the 7th Fighter Wing (Jagdgeschwader) based in Parchim in the early 1945, belonging to the 1st Fighter Division (Jagddivision) of the 1st Fighter Corps (Jagdkorps) for the defense of the Reich. After being captured at the end of the war, this particular aircraft was designed as FE-111 and sent to USA for evaluation. In 1979 the aircraft was dismantled, cleaned and rebuilt in about 6000 hours of work, being placed for exhibition in the National Air and Space Museum at Washington DC.

In the meantime it had been authorized the creation of a second turbojet fighter squadron; known as the 44th Jagdverband (Fighting Association), this unit was under the command of Lieutenant General Adolf Galland and it was integrated by 45 very expert pilots, many of whom were aces with the highest number of victories. Their main base of operations was Munich-Riem, where the bombers from the Air Force of the 15th Army were their main targets, while the JG 7 continued operating in central and northern Germany. The 7th April 1945 the JG 7 made a demonstration of the potential of the Me 262 by attacking the American escorting fighters, destroying 28 of them, P-47 Thunderbolt and P-51 Mustang; but it was impossible to ignore the fact that in that same day the Luftwaffe had lost 183 aircraft, Me 109 and Fw 190, in which was the last series of important aerial combats over Germany. Three days after, about 1000 American bombers effectuated massive bombings over the bases where the turbojet fighters operated. The Me 262 shot down ten bombers but, with their bases devastated, they were forced to withdraw to places so far away as Prague, with their units disorganized.

In the last days of April, what remained of the JV 44 moved further to the south, to Salzburg, but the fighters had to remain in the ground due to lack of fuel. The largest part of the aircraft were destroyed by the crews shortly before the airbase would be taken by the American tanks the 3rd May. From a total of almost 1500 aircraft Me 262 produced during the war, less than the fourth part entered combat. If the number would have been larger, the turbojet fighters would have inflicted a severe punishment to the American diurnal bombers and the British nocturnal bombers, for the potential of the Me-262 as night fighter was seen too later. As the Allies advanced towards the interior of Germany, they realized how devastating the Me 262 could have been.

The Messerschmitt 262 in a nutshell

The Messerschmitt 262 was a twin-engine, low wing jet plane, with the engines placed in wing nacelles. Landing gear was of tricycle type with the central wheel placed forward (the prototype had it placed in the rear). Fuselage section was triangle-shaped with bound angles, and the structure entirely metallic, generally of steel in the fore part, destined to endure higher pressure, and of aluminum and light alloys in the rest. The engines, two Junkers-Jumo 109-004 turbojets with axial compressor and monophase turbine with six combustion chambers, were started by two small Diesel engines placed inside a fairing in the air intakes, and were able of a maximum thrust of 900 kilograms. The usual armament were four Rheinmetall Borsig MK 108 30 millimeters fast cannons, concentrated in the nose, in whose tip there was a gun camera. Electronic equipment was rich and complex. It included, among other elements, radio emitter/receiver and devices for radionavegation and blind flying. The aircraft destined to night fighting had as well radiolocalization devices and automatic direction-finders of great precision. Unfortunately, in this case the awkward antennas in the nose reduced their speed in at least 60 kilometers/hour, but the Me 262 was always a superb night fighter. The main fault of this aircraft was not in its design, but in the wrong employment that was made of it. It is said that Hitler - but most probably Messerschmitt himself, motivated by self-interest and prestige - insisted in using the aircraft, born for pure fighting, as an assault bomber. This fatal mistake would cause the loss of a considerable number of aircraft, forced to decrease the speed for dropping their bombs, hence being vulnerable to enemy fighters, and a waste of fuel and materials that Germany should not indulge in. When they were aware of the mistake and wanted to reconvert the fighter-bomber in a pure fighter, it was too late. The aircraft that could have stopped the Allied bombers would be only a lost opportunity.

Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwalbe turbojet fighter


Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwalbe turbojet fighter




Important versions

Me 262 V1/5: Prototypes, unarmed, landing gear in rear tricycle layout, fitted with two Jumo 004A turbojet engines with 840 kilograms of thrust (the V-1 initially with one piston engine Jumo 210G 1200 HP).

Me 262A-0: Pre-series model and prototypes; pressurized cockpit and modified canopy.

Me 262A-1a: Initial series model, fitted with four MK 108 30-millimeter cannons and Jumo 004B-1 engines with 900 kilograms of thrust.

Me 262A-1a/U1: Modified A-1a fitted with two MK 108 30-millimeter cannons, two MK 103 30-millimeter cannons and two MG 151 20-millimeter cannons.

Me 262A-1a/U3: Reconnaissance version, with two photographic cameras in the nose; armament reduced to two Mk 108 30-millimeter cannons.

Me 262A-1b: Modified A-1a with capability for 12 R4M 55-millimeter rockets mounted under each wing.

Me 262A-2a: Fighter-bomber version, modified A-1a with two pylons for 250-kilogram bombs.

Me 262A-5a: Long-range version of the A-1a/U3, fitted with two droppable fuel tanks.

Me 262B-1a: Training version, with two seats and dual control.

Me 262B-1a/U1: Night fighter derived from the B-1a; radar FuG 218 Neptun with antennas in the nose and radar FuG 350 Naxos; armament reduced to two MK 108 30-millimeter cannons.

Me 262B-2a: Night fighter derived from the B-1a; increased lenght and fuel capacity; added two MK 108 30-millimeter cannons in an oblique dorsal mounting (Schrage Musik).

Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwalbe turbojet fighter

Messerschmitt Me 262A-2a Sturmvogel, the fighter-bomber version which was only a wasted chance.

Specifications for Me 262A-1a

Type: Interceptor fighter

Engines: Two Junkers Jumo 004B-1/2/3 with 900 kilograms of thrust each

Maximum speed at 6000 meters of altitude: 870 kilometers/hour

Operational range: 1050 kilometers

Time to reach 6000 meters of altitude: 6 minutes 48 seconds

Service ceiling: 11450 meters Weight (empty): 3800 kilograms

Weight (full load): 6400 kilograms

Wingspan: 12.48 meters

Lenght: 10.60 meters

Height: 3.83 meters

Wing area: 21.70 square meters

Armament: Four Rheinmetall Borsig MK 108 30-millimeter cannons



Specifications for Me 262A-2a

Type: Fighter-bomber

Engines: Two Junkers Jumo 004B-1/2/3 with 900 kilograms of thrust each

Maximum speed: 750-850 kilometers/hour

Operational range: 845 kilometers

Service ceiling: 10000 meters Weight (empty): 3880 kilograms

Weight (full load): 6980 kilograms

Wingspan: 12.48 meters

Lenght: 10.60 meters

Height: 3.83 meters

Wing area: 21.70 square meters

Armament: Four Rheinmetall Borsig MK 108 30-millimeter cannons; two 250-kilogram bombs





Article updated: 2015-07-09

Categories: Aircraft - World War Two - 20th Century - [General] - [General]

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Website: Military History

Article submitted: 2014-04-05


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