Messerschmitt Me-262
Schwalbe / Sturmvogel

One of the most remarkable advancements made by the German military in World War II was the production of turbine-jet aircraft. The most famous of these was the Messerschmitt Me 262, developed beginning in 1938 and fielded in 1944. A special production facility was started in 1944, for quicker assembly line manufacture. Due to the setup at the main Messerschmitt factories, fast assembly line production was not possible, and these sites were vulnerable to Allied bombing. Accordingly, a company called Flugzeugwerke Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring (REIMAHG for short) was formed as a subsidiary of the Gustloff Nazi industrial complex. REIMAHG eventually became concerned only with the Me 262, and its main production facility was located in an old porcelain sand mine in the Walpersberg Hill near Kahla (south of Jena) -- Codename "Lachs" ("Salmon").

The existing tunnels in the Walpersberg were enlarged and others were dug, and massive concrete bunkers were built outside these tunnels. Subparts were made and partially assembled in the tunnels, then moved outside to the concrete bunkers, where final assembly took place. The assembled jets were then moved to the top of the hill via a platform that moved along a railed ramp by a power winch. The top of the Walpersberg had been leveled off and concreted in a massive construction effort, to form a runway some 3300 feet long. This was not sufficient for an Me 262 to take off (even with the jet engines, take-off was actually fairly slow), so small rockets assisted take-off. The runway was also too short for the jets to land, so leaving the Walpersberg was an all-or-nothing proposition: there could be no emergency landings. The jets were flown from Kahla to a site some 130 kilometers away to be fitted with weapons and radios, and to undergo final testing.

REIMAHG only managed to produce some twenty-seven Me 262 jet fighters by the end of the war. The work was done mostly by foreign forced laborers, some 991 of whom died during their nine months at "Lachs." The U.S. Army took the site on 12 April 1945, and before turning Thüringen over to the Soviets in July, they removed enough parts to finish five Me 262s that were found on the production line. Surprisingly, the Kahla area had not been bombed. British Intelligence had photographed Me 262s at the site in March 1945, so the Allies were well aware of "Lachs." But Kahla was spared the fate of the V-2 works at Nordhausen, which suffered a devastating bombing attack only eight days before the American Army arrived.

World War II saw the introduction of jet aircraft, and one of the most prominent jets of the conflict was the "Messerschmitt Me-262", a twin-jet fighter of advanced design. Recognized after the war as generally superior to anything the Allies had, it pointed the way to postwar aircraft development.

The Messerschmitt Me-262 was an outgrowth of German turbojet-engine development work that had begun in the mid-1930s, with the initial concepts conceived by an engineer named Hans-Joachim Pabst von Ohain, whose efforts paralleled those of Frank Whittle of Britain.

In 1933, while von Ohain was working on his doctorate at the University of Göttingen, he began investigating the gas turbine as a basis for an advanced aircraft engine.

Although most of the feedback he received suggested that gas turbines would be too heavy for such a role, he pressed on anyway, developing a demonstrator model of a "turbojet" engine in his garage, with the help of a mechanic named Max Hahn.

Von Ohain managed to impress his professor, R.W. Pohl, with a test run of the model. Pohl was both open-minded and well-connected, and In 1936 he sent von Ohain on to aircraft manufacturer Ernst Heinkel with a letter of recommendation. Von Ohain defended his ideas under grilling by Heinkel engineers, and was put in charge of a design team to develop a practical turbojet engine.

Von Ohain's team had a working bench-test prototype in September 1937, six months after Whittle had reached the same benchmark. Von Ohain's prototype burned hydrogen, which was not a practical fuel, but further work with Max Hahn led to an engine that burned kerosene.

Ernst Heinkel gave the go-ahead to develop a flight-test engine, designated the "HeS-3", which was strapped to an He-118 dive bomber for evaluation. Tests began in May 1939 and continued until the engine burned itself out a few months later. Enough had been learned to build a pure jet-powered experimental aircraft, the "Heinkel He-178", powered by an improved "HeS-3B" engine with 300 kilograms (835 pounds) thrust. Later in the flight test program, the He-178 would be fitted with a further improved "HeS-6" turbojet with 590 kilograms (1,300 pounds) thrust.

The He-178 was a simple "flying stovepipe", with straight-through airflow from nose to tail. The aircraft had high-mounted tapered wings and a conventional tail assembly. Although it had fully-retractable "tailsitter" landing gear, the landing gear was bolted into the down position.


The He-178 performed its first test flight on 27 August 1939, a few days before the outbreak of World War II. The flight lasted about five minutes, with the pilot reporting that the aircraft "had no vibration and no torque like a propeller engine. Everything was smooth, and ... felt wonderful." Von Ohain was now well ahead of Whittle, whose efforts were bogged down, first by official indifference and then by national crisis. Whittle would not fly his own experimental jet aircraft, the "Gloster-Whittle G.40", until May 1941.

The Luftwaffe and the German Air Ministry ("ReichsLuftfahrtMinisterium" or "RLM") were preoccupied with war, and the powers-that-be didn't witness a flight demonstration of the He-178 until November 1939. They were generally unimpressed, as the He-178 was not as fast as the best piston fighters, and told Heinkel: "Your turbojet is not needed. We will win the war on piston engines."

After a total of about a dozen test flights, the He-178 was sent to the national air museum in Berlin, where it was destroyed in a bombing raid in 1943. A second He-178 was planned, but not completed.

Although the RLM seemed indifferent to the He-178, the ministry was nonetheless actively pushing German industry to develop turbojets. In hindsight, it seems that the left and right hands of the RLM were not in agreement, which summarizes most of the Third Reich's attempts to develop advanced weapons.

Hans A. Mauch had become head of rocket development at the RLM in April 1938, and quickly expanded his office's charter to emphasize turbojet development, working with an experimental department under Helmut Schelp in the RLM research branch. By mid-1938, the two men had set up a comprehensive program of jet engine development that was presently sponsoring a range of turbojet and turboprop projects.

In response to RLM urging, the Bramo company began work on a pair of "axial flow" engines. Both Whittle's and von Ohain's engines were "centrifugal flow" engines, with a turbine like a pump impeller compressing air into combustion chambers ringing the engine. An "axial-flow" engine, in contrast, is much more like the turbine of a steam plant or naval vessel, with rings of "fans" driving air directly through the engine.

The two Bramo engines included one with a contra-rotating fan assembly to reduce torque, which eventually was designated the "109-002", and a simpler engine without the contra-rotating fan scheme that was eventually designated the "109-003". Incidentally, the "109-" suffix was used by the RLM to specify turbine engine projects.

Bramo's works at Spandau were bought out by the BMW concern in mid-1939. BMW had been working on their own centrifugal-flow turbojet, but the company quickly decided to abandon their own effort and focus on the two Bramo engines obtained in the buyout. The 109-002 proved too complicated and never flew, and the project was abandoned in 1942. The company focused on the simpler 109-003, with fabrication beginning in 1939 and first test runs in 1940. By that time, the engine was known as the "BMW-003".

The Junkers company had actually been working on turbine propulsion since 1936, and was running a bench prototype of an axial-flow turbojet in 1938. In the summer of 1939, the RLM awarded Junkers a contract to develop a simple, powerful axial-flow engine that could be put into production as quickly as possible. A design team under Dr. Anselm Franz conducted the development work on the engine, which became known as the "109-004" and later the "Jumo-004". A full-scale bench-test engine was operating by November 1940.

Me-262 origins

Despite inconsistent official interest, German companies were working on combat aircraft based on the new turbojet engines. Following the flight tests of the He-178, in the fall of 1939 Heinkel began serious development of an operational fighter, the "He-280", which was to be powered by twin improved Heinkel engines.

Even before this, in the fall of 1938, a Messerschmitt design team under Dr. Waldermar Voight had drawn up concepts for a interceptor fighter with twin turbojet engines. The preliminary designs for "Project 1065", as it was designated, went through a iteration or two and finally resulted in a proposal submitted to the RLM in May 1940.

Messerschmitt's dream fighter had the turbojets mounted in nacelles under the middle of the wings. The wings were slightly swept to ensure proper center of gravity, and had an unusually thin chord, or ratio of thickness to width, for good high-speed performance. As the wing's features for high-speed performance compromised low-speed handling, a "slat" was added to the front of the outer wings. The slat was automatically extended to improve handling at low speeds.

The fuselage had a triangular cross section and substantial fuel capacity to feed the thirsty engines. The aircraft was a "tailsitter", with fully retractable landing gear. In July 1940, the RLM ordered three prototypes, under the designation "Messerschmitt 262 (Me-262)", to be powered by BMW-003 engines.

Airframe development far outpaced engine development, and so the first prototype, the "Me-262-V1" ("V" standing for "Versuchs" or "Experimental"), was fitted with a single Jumo-210G piston engine with 710 horsepower and a two-bladed propeller for preliminary test flights. First flight was on 18 April 1941. The RLM was becoming more interested in the aircraft, ordering five more prototypes in July 1941, to follow the initial order for three.

The Me-262-V1 was finally fitted with a pair of BMW-003 turbojets, each with 550 kilograms (1,200 pounds) thrust, in November 1941. The Jumo 210G piston engine was retained, which was fortunate, since the turbojet engines were hopelessly unreliable. On 25 March 1942, Messerschmitt test pilot Fritz Wendel took off and suffered immediate failures of both engines. He managed to make a go-round on the piston engine and land, damaging the aircraft but suffering no injury himself.

Development of the BMW-003 engine was progressing slowly, while work on the Junkers Jumo-004 seemed more promising, and so the third prototype, the "Me-262-V3", was fitted with two Jumo-004A pre-production engines with 840 kilograms (1,850 pounds) thrust each. Wendel took the V3 into the air on 18 July 1942 and found the aircraft extremely impressive. Unfortunately, the V3 prototype was wrecked on its second test flight, three weeks later.


Site Meter

The Me-262V-2 prototype, also powered by Jumo-004As, was not delivered until 2 October 1942. Despite all the delays and problems, the RLM had already ordered 15 preproduction Me-262s in May 1942, and added 30 more to the order in October 1942. The He-280 was clearly inferior in performance and the Me-262 was clearly the better option, but there was still no commitment to put the Me-262 into full production.

The RLM was waffling between committing to production of the the Me-262 and the "Me-209", an improved version of the piston-powered Messerschmitt Bf-109 fighter. The head of the RLM, Erhard Milch, was conservative and favored the Me-209 over the much more radical Me-262.

However, in the spring of 1943 the tide began to shift towards the jet fighter. The Luftwaffe General of Fighters, Adolf Galland, flew the recently-delivered "V4" prototype on 22 May 1943. He enthusiastically endorsed the type and suggested that the Me-209 be cancelled. A few days later, the RLM placed an order for 100 production Me-262s.

Even then, the Me-262's political troubles were far from over, and in fact were just about to take a very nasty turn. Hitler, alarmed by the success of Allied amphibious landings in Africa and Italy, was very concerned about developing a fast fighter-bomber ("Jagdbomber" or "Jabo") to pin down invasion forces on the beaches until reinforcements could arrive to drive them back into the sea. Adolf Galland and the Jagdwaffe insisted that all production should be fighters used for defense of Germany against the Allied bomber formations.


JV 44
Jagdverband 44
Der Galland Zirkus

Autumn, 1944 - The Luftwaffe command is in turmoil. Göring was surrounded by his Kindergarten, a group of young officers who played up to him with only their own personal gains in mind. Many of these were from the Kampfwaffe (bombers) with little or no knowledge of fighter operations. Adolf Galland, constantly at odds with the way the air war was being run, was becoming the scapegoat for the Jagdwaffe's (fighters) problems. Finally, at the end of 1944, Göring dismissed Galland as General der Jagdflieger and appointed Oberst Gordon Gollob in his place.

This action led to what is know as the Fighter Pilots Mutiny. Upon hearing of Galland's dismissal, several of the top Experten of the Luftwaffe met to plan a method of circumventing Göring. "Conspirators" present were: Oberst Günther Lutzow, Oberst Johannes Steinhoff, Oberst Hannes Trautloft, Oberst Gustav Rödel, Oberst Eduard Neumann, Oberst Günther von Maltzahn and Major Hans-Heinrich von Brüstelin. The purpose of this meeting was to discuss ways in which an appointment could be made with Hitler without Göring's knowledge. At the meeting the conspirators would then force upon the Führer the issue of replacing Göring and to exonerate themselves from the wrongful accusations being leveled at them for the failure of the aerial defense of the Reich.

This meeting was not to come to pass. When word of the "mutiny" reached Göring he reacted promptly. They were ordered to report to Berlin for a meeting. Lützow had been elected to act as the group's spokesman. With what was called "Points for Discussion", Lützow presented the Jagdwaffe's list of grievances; Galland's dismissal, the accusations of cowardice, the influence of commanders with no fighter background, the need for concentrated deployment of forces with which to attack the Allied bombers and the immediate availability of all Me 262s along with the reserve bomber pilots of the IX Fliegerkorps for deployment on fighter operations.

Predictably, Göring's reaction to the demands of the conspirators was one of anger, indignation, scorn and disgust. Tossing the "Points of Discussion" aside he vented his fury at Lützow; the Jagdwaffe would not receive the Me 262 - the bomber arm would get it because they knew how to use it. As for Galland, it was time that he was replaced. Within hours arrest warrants were issued for both Galland and Lützow.

The idea of court martial was dropped, but Lützow was banished to Italy as a staffel commander and ordered not to communicate with Galland or any other fighter pilots except for official Luftwaffe business. Galland was ordered to leave Berlin and instructed to await orders. /P>

Galland, in a state of total despair, returned to Berlin. With Galland on the verge of suicide a friend intervened with perhaps the only clear thinking officer of the Reich... Albert Speer. Outraged at the treatment of Galland, Speer immediately contacted Hitler. It was the middle of the night. By morning Galland was contacted by Gestapo and SS heads and assured that there had been mistakes and misunderstandings, he was also assigned an SS bodyguard. Shortly later Galland was ordered to report to the Reichs Chancellery to meet with Hitler. Besides being formally informed of all charges and investigations being dropped he was informed that he was to report to Göring for further orders.

Birth of Jagdverband 44

In late January, 1945 Galland was summoned to Karinhall by Göring. After further beratement by the Reichsmarschal Galland was told that it was he, Göring, who had arranged to drop all the charges leveled against him (a bold lie). Göring then got to the real purpose of the meeting. Galland was told that the Führer wanted him to set up a small unit of only staffel strength to demonstrate that the Me 262 was the superior fighter that Galland had claimed it was. Göring told Galland that as long as it did not include his name that he could choose the title for his new unit. With little hesitation Galland chose Jagdverband 44. Partially as a cynical reference to the year 1944 which saw both his personal and the Luftwaffe's decay; and partially as a numerical link to the first unit he commanded, III /Jagdgruppe 88 of the Condor Legion in the Spanish Civil War. This staffel was nicked named "Mickeymaus Staffel" and was the source of his personal emblem - Mickey Mouse with a hatchet and pistol.

Acquisition & Training

...word had got out that Galland was forming a new jet unit at Brandenburg so I called him from Lechfeld and asked whether I could join him... He said: "Sure, no problem, glad to have you. Just bring a jet with you." So I went over to the jet manufacturing plant at Leipheim and tried to get hold of an Me 262. I said I was under instruction to collect the aircraft for JV 44, but they had never even heard of the unit! Anyway, by that stage, things were in such turmoil that I managed to secure the aircraft and I then flew direct to Brandenburg-Briest.

~Leutnant Franz Stigler

This quote speaks volumes for the way JV44 was formed.


Records are sparse from this period of the war. Following are descriptions of some of the few JV44 records that exist.

4 April 1945, saw JV44 earn its first "victory" - Unteroffizier Eduard Schallmoser misjudged his speed and range clipping the tail off of a P-38.

18 April - Catastrophe. Galland scrambled 6 pilots to meet an incoming US bomber formation. The runway still had some debris and small craters from bomb damage. Late in his takeoff roll Johannes Steinhoff's plane suffered an undercarriage failure likely caused by a punctured tire. Going too fast to stop and too slow to fly, Steinhoff knew he was in trouble. The plane lifted a few feet from the ground before smashing down and exploding. Incredibly, as the cockpit filled with flames and the R4M rockets began exploding, Steinhoff was able to free himself and scramble clear. He suffered severe disfiguring burns on his face and wrists. JV44 had lost an Eagle.

26 April saw JV44 scramble to attack a flight of B-26 Marauders. This was to be Galland's last mission of the war. Approaching a box of B-26s from the rear, Galland prepared to fire his R4M rockets. Return fire from the bombers was intense and probably distracted him enough that he failed to arm the rockets. When they didn't fire he quickly opened up with the 30mm cannon and a Marauder promptly exploded in front of him. Switching to another bomber in the group he proceeded to inflict heavy damage to it. Rolling his 262 to asses the damage he had inflicted, his plane took more 50 calibre hits from the defending gunners. Damaged, Galland dove his jet away from the formation. Suddenly he felt it shudder - an escorting P-47 had followed him in his dive and was riddling his plane with bullets. His engines and instrument panel had been hit and fragments from a shell had hit Galland's right knee. Although badly damaged miraculously the plane kept flying. Fearing being shot while parachuting, Galland decided to make for München-Riem. Just as he landed he was forced to dive from the 262 to avoid a band of strafing Allied planes. Although Galland remained in overall command, Heinz Bär took over operational command.

The Pilots

The following table lists only JV44 pilots who qualify as Experten. These 17 pilots alone accounted for 1726 Allied planes destroyed in aerial combat. An average of 101.5 planes each!

The Luftwaffe did not subscribe to the Western Convention that 5 victories made an ace. Rather they used the term Experte (expert) to honor a pilot who demonstrated his proficiency in combat over a prolonged period of time.




Bär, Heinz



Barkhorn, Gerhard



Bob, Hans-Ekkehard



Galland, Adolf



Grüberg, Hans



Herget, Wilhelm



Hohagen, Erich



Kaiser, Herbert



Krupinski, Walter



Lützow, Günther



Neuman, Klaus



Nielinger, Rudolf



Sachsenberg, Karl Heinz



Schnell, Karl-Heinz



Schuhmacher, Leo



Steinhoff, Johannes



Stigler, Franz



The combat records of many of the JV44 staff have been lost to history.  It is quite possible, if not probable that even more Experten were present.  Missing from the above list are two pilots with known victories while flying Me 262s with JV44.   They are Unteroffizier  Johann-Karl Müller with 3 victories and Oberfeldwebel  Otto Kammerdierer with 2 victories.

Messerschmitt Me 262

"As if an angel were pushing me"
~Adolf Galland after his first flight in the Me 262, May 1943

JV44, with the exception of the Würger-Staffel, was exclusively equipped with the Me 262 for combat operations.  Follows is a history of the development of that plane.

In Fall, 1938 Messerschmitt AG received a contract from the RLM to design an airframe for a radical new powerplant under development by both BMW and Junkers.  Thus was the birth of the Me 262.   Preliminary design studies and wind tunnel tests of models were completed and in June of 1939 orders were given for a full size mock up of the aircraft.  On 1 March, 1940 orders were placed for three prototype aircraft to be powered by the B.M.W. P.3302 turbojet... the first of many delays was about to begin.

The BMW engine, while promising, was unable to meet the RLM power requirements and the alternate engine, the Junkers Jumo 109-004A was in an even worse state.  Not to be deterred Messerschmitt proceeded with the construction of the experimental airframes.  Realizing that no suitable jet engines would be available for months, preliminary tests began with a Jumo 210G piston engine mounted in the nose.   Me 262-V1 made its first flight 18 April, 1941 using only propeller power.

1941 saw the Wehrmacht enjoying tremendous successes.  As a result, the RLM believing it would be a short war, gave very low priority to untested projects like the Me 262.  More delays.

On 25 March, 1942, fitted with a pair of experimental BMW P.3302 engines, V1 made its first flight - if you can call it that - under jet power.   Fortunately, as a precaution the piston engine was retained for this flight.   Shortly after takeoff both jet engines failed and the test pilot, Fritz Wendel, limped back under piston power alone.

On 1 June, 1942 the first two Jumo were delivered to Messerschmitt and installed into Me 262 -V3.  At 8:40AM, 18 July, 1942 the first purely turbojet flight was made.  Total time was 12 minutes trouble free - well almost.  The first Me 262s were of 'tail dragger' configuration.  It was found that while on takeoff roll the elevator was ineffective - the pilot could not raise the tail to put the plane in the proper attitude for takeoff.  While braking hard to avoid crashing into the end of the field suddenly the tail came up!  Applying the brakes became the prescribed method of raising the tail for takeoff.

On 22 May, 1943 Adolf Galland (who as General der Jagdflieger was responsible for directing fighter operations) made his first flight in the new jet fighter.  Galland was so impressed that in his report he urged production of the Bf 109 be ended to free up production capacities for the Me 262. Galland's report was met with enthusiastic support and plans were begun to implement his suggestions.  All that remained was one man's approval... Adolf Hitler.  Göring met with the Führer 26 May, 1943 who absolutely forbade that any preparations for production be done until he had personally assessed the matter.  Testing of the prototypes was all that was approved.  In spite of subsequent interventions by Göring, Hitler would not budge. Delayed again.

Testing and development continued.  The improved production version Jumo 109-004B engines were installed.  Aerodynamic refinements were made and the 4 x Mk 108 cannon array was fitted.   It was realized that the Me 262 needed to have a tricycle landing gear, both to solve the takeoff problem and to save the runways which were becoming badly scorched.  The first retractable tricycle gear 262 was the V6 which first flew 17 October 1943.

26 November, 1943 was to be a fateful day for the Me 262.  During a demonstration of the Luftwaffe's latest equipment Hitler he asked "Can it carry bombs".  Eager to please the Führer, Messerschmitt assured him that it could   carry a bomb load of 500kg and perhaps 1000kg.  That was all Hitler needed to hear.  "For years I have been demanding a fast bomber from the Luftwaffe - and now in this aircraft you present to me as a fighter I see the Blitz Bomber.  Of course none of you thought of that!".  Hitler envisioned his new bomber streaming over the impending Allied invasion causing havoc and confusion to the extent of allowing his ground forces to repel the attack on the beaches.  This was not to happen. 

The aircraft, as a bomber, was plagued with problems.  As a dive bomber, the 262 would exceed its maximum speed, as a low level bomber it consumed too much fuel thus unacceptably reducing range, and as a high level bomber without an appropriate bomb sight the pilot would be lucky to hit within the same zip code of the target.  With the exception of one aircraft, the V10 which was used for bomber testing, development of the 262 continued as a fighter.

At Galland's urging the RLM authorized formation of Erprobungskommando 262 (EKdo 262) with the initial deliveries of the Me 262.  The unit was commanded by Hauptmann Werner Thierfelder.  Most of the first half of 1944 was spent in training pilots and acquiring aircraft.  With the absence of two placed trainers, learning to fly the new high speed jet could be a challenge, with many pilots saying "this bird's just too quick".   

When in May of 1944 Hitler learned that his Blitz-Bbomber was not being produced he was outraged and demanded that all production be built as bombers and all existing fighters be immediately converted to bombers.  Further, full control of the 262 was transferred to the General der Kampfflieger and it was ordered that no one was to refer to the aircraft as a "fighter".

Somehow EKdo 262 managed to survive with a handful of pilots and planes who continued fighter training.  Combat operations began in the summer of 1944 against the speedy high flying RAF Mosquito and on 26 July the first victory was claimed (RAF records show the badly damaged Mosquito landed safely in Italy).  The first confirmed kill was another Mosquito downed 8 August near Munich.  The first Allied "heavy" to be destroyed was a B-17 downed near Stuttgart on 15 August.

In late September Hitler finally recognized the failure of the 262 as a bomber and ordered the emphasis of production be changed to fighters.  Later, on 4 November he would order that all Me 262 production was to be fighters.  By this time it was too late for him to have 'seen the light'.

Interestingly the Gloster Meteor also made its first kill in the summer of 1944 against a V1 flying bomb.  Germany had made its first jet powered flight nearly two years ahead of Britain - this huge lead in development had been squandered by lack of vision and by politics.

Specifications and Performance


34' 9.5"  (10.6 m)

Wing Span

40' 11.5" (12.48 m)

Power Plant

2 x Junkers Jumo 109-004B -1/2/3 Turbojet

Thrust (typical)

1980 lbs

Fuel Consumption (typical)

2,700 lbs / hr

Range (approximate)

300 mi / sea level
526 mi / 19,500 ft
652 mi / 29,500 ft

Maximum Speed

500 mph / sea level
538 mph / 29,500

Rate of Climb (approximate)

3,900 ft / min initial
2,160 ft / min @29,500

Stall Speed

108 mph


4 x Mk 108 30mm cannon (standard)

24 x R4M Rockets (optional)


Schwalbe (Swallow)
Sturmvogel (Storm Bird)

The Würger-Staffel

"Sachsenberg was a good pilot... We felt safer when his aircraft were in the air"
~Adolf Galland

The Me 262 was most vulnerable during takeoff and landing, more so than piston aircraft due to the greater time and distance required for the process. Marauding Allied pilots knew this and lurked around the bases in hopes of an easy kill.

Rather than depend on the High Command, Galland set about establishing his own Platzschutzstaffel (airfield defense squadron). For this he turned to the distinguished Eastern front ace, Leutnant Heinz Sachsenberg.

The Platzschutzstaffel was equipped with the long nosed Dora variant of the Fw 190, both D-9s and one very rare D-11 were used. The aircraft were painted with bright red and white striped undersurfaces to aid in recognition by weary 262 pilots returning to base, and also the anxious ground flak units. The aircraft also had unusual markings including a personal inscription on the port fuselage side.

Their mission was simple.  Take off, climb to 1500 ft. Protect the jets.  Land once the jets were safely away. They were forbidden to chase Allied planes.

The JV44 Platzschutzstaffel has in recent times been referred to as the Papageien Staffel (Parrots). There is no evidence that this is based on historic fact and is likely due to the colorfully painted aircraft.   According to Walter Krupinski, this staffel did occasionally use the radio call sign "Pagagei" (much like an allied flight may be called "Red" or "Baker"). To the pilots and personnel of JV44, the unit was simply known as the Würger-Staffel, literally translated Butcher-Bird Squadron. Würger was the official name given to the Focke-Wulf 190, much like Lightning was given to the P-38.

Known Pilots & Aircraft




Lt Heinz Sachsenberg

Fw 190D-9 'Rot 1'

Verkaaft's mei Gwand 'I foahr in Himmel!
(Sell my clothes I'm going to heaven)

Hptm. Waldemar Wübke

Fw 190D-9 'Rot 3'

Im Auftrage der Reichsbahn
(By order of the State Railway)*


Fw 190D-11 'Rot 4'
Possibly former V58

Der nächste Herr dieselbe Dame!
(The next man the same woman!)

Oblt Klaus Faber

Fw 190D-9  'Rot 13'
W.Nr  213240

Rein muß er und wenn wir beide weinen!
(In he goes even though both of us will cry!)

Fw. Bodo Dirschauer



Lt. Karl-Heinz Hofmann



*A sarcastic comment originating when Wübke was ordered to fly Jabo missions during the Battle of Britain.  The inscription was found on the sides of boxcars carrying bombs. Wübke felt bombs should be delivered by rail cars and bombers and not by fighters.  
Wübke used this inscription throughout the war.

Bolt From Above
Robert Winks
P51D Mustang - Me262



Erich Klöckner was tasked with developing the 'Natter' towards the end of 1944, when experienced combat pilots were in short supply and ways were being sought of maintaining the offensive against the Allied bombers.

This aircraft was a manned, rocket-propelled single-flight projectile which could be flown by a pilot with only limited training in how to aim it at the enemy. It was to be launched vertically from a gantry and fire its nose-mounted load of 34 3-inch rockets into a bomber stream in a single salvo lasting 0.4 seconds. The pilot would then bale out, as the aircraft was simple, cheap and disposable. However, it was calculated that the average acceleration during the climb would be 2.2g, the highest projected altitude 52,000 feet, the average climb speed 420 mph and the horizontal speed while accelerating away from the fighter escort would be 620 mph! Exactly how the pilot was going to abandon the aircraft safely when his 7 minute fuel supply ran out was left to him!

Klöckner put in a less than enthusiastic assessment of the project and refused to fly it until a number of requirements had been met. He was then visited by two high-ranking SS officers, who did their best to persuade him that there was no time, the Führer needed the weapon and that nobody should shrink from his duty to defend the Fatherland in the hour of its greatest need. The word 'Ritterkreutz' (Knight's Cross) was mentioned, but when that failed there was something muttered about a pistol as they paced up and down the floor!

A volunteer was eventually found and strapped in, but shortly after lift-off the plexiglass canopy blew off and at the speeds reached by the rocket it is likely that the pilot lost consciousness almost immediately. The engine of the 'Natter' ran all the way to the ceiling altitude, then the aircraft went into a steep dive and disappeared, crashing into the Danube valley.

At least one Foo-fighter sighting appears to have been of a Bachem Ba349 'Natter' - The case in which in which pilot Lt. David L. McFalls and his radar-observer, Lt. Ned Baker, saw ‘[a] glowing red object shooting straight up, which suddenly changed to a view of an aircraft doing a wing-over, going into a dive and disappearing.’

Upon launch, the Natter would be guided, by ground-based radio-control, to a point above and in front of the target bombers. At this point the pilot would assume control of the aircraft and ‘push over’ for a gliding attack. Both in its appearance and its manoeuvres, this seems to agree with the Foo-fighter reported by McFalls and Baker.

However, no flights were known to be made during nighttime with the Bachem Ba349 'Natter.

Possibly the oddest plane to ever fly, the Bachem Ba 349 Natter (Viper) is more properly thought of as a manned surface-to-air missile (SAM).

With the Allies decimating the Luftwaffe in 1944, desperate measures were thought up to address the issue. Although most of the Luftwaffe commanders pressed for more jet fighters like the Me 262, all sorts of crazy ideas were given the green light for development, typically at the behest of some high-ranking Nazi official.

The problems were many. Jet engines of the era had serious problems throttling up during takeoff and landing, so airbases were death traps. Once in the air things got much better, but attempting to target a plane travelling 200 or more miles an hour slower was tremendously difficult. This wasn't too much of a problem for the Luftwaffe's cadre of experten pilots, but as the allies thinned their ranks the jets were being flown by "green" pilots who were completely ineffective. No amount of Me 262s would solve this problem, so some other solution was needed.

Various efforts had been underway to develop missiles for this purpose, but invariably problems with the guidance systems prevented these from seeing widespread use. Fitting a pilot to the top seemed like the only solution, which the Luftwaffe requested in early 1944. A number of simple designs were proposed, most using a prone pilot to reduce frontal area. The front runner for the design was initially the Heinkel P.1077 that took off from a rail and landed on a skid like the Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet.

Erich Bachem's BP20 was a warmed-over design from when he worked at Fieseler, but considerably more radical than the other offerings. It was built using glued and screwed wooden parts with an armored cockpit, powered by a Walter HWK 509A-2 rocket, similar to the one in the Me 163. Four strap-on Schmidding rockets were used for launch, providing a combined thrust of 47 kN (10,582 lb) for 10 seconds before they were jettisoned. The plane rode up a rail for about 25 metres, by which time it was going fast enough for the flight controls to keep it flying straight.

The plane took off and was guided almost to the bomber's altitude using radio control from the ground, with the pilot taking control right at the end to point the nose in the right direction, jettison the plastic nosecone and pull the trigger. This fired a salvo of rockets (either 33 R4Ms or 24 Hs 217s), at which point the plane flew up and over the bombers. After running out of fuel the plane would then be used to ram the tail of a bomber, with the pilot ejecting just before impact to parachute to the ground.

Needless to say many thought the idea was crazy and rejected it out of hand. The design was in fact much more reasonable than any of the others in one aspect — they all required the non-existent pilots to actually fly the plane into a landing. After some political wrangling Bachem's design caught the eye of Heinrich Himmler at the SS. Suddenly, one day later, it was the winner of the design contest. The Luftwaffe nevertheless managed to include some minor redesigns to try to save as much of the plane as possible, as well as eliminating the ramming attack.

The resulting tiny plane was fired up a 50 foot wooden pole with the help of four solid fuel rockets, at the end of which it was already going fast enough for its control surfaces to work. The solids burned out after 12 seconds, at which point the main engine was long up to full thrust. The mission now had the plane guided to a point in front and above the bombers, where the pilot would turn off the autopilot, and push over for a gliding attack. After firing its armament of rockets it continued gliding down at high speed to about 3,000 m, at which point the plane "broke" when a large parachute opened at the rear of the plane, popping off the nose section and the pilot with it. Both would land under their separate parachutes, and only the cockpit and wooden wings went to waste.

Perhaps even more amazing than the design itself was the fact that it was actually built and tested. This was no small feat due to the incredible secrecy the SS placed on the project. After building wind-tunnel models early in the program, they were shipped off for testing and the only results returned to the Bachem designers were that it would be "satisfactory" up to speeds of about 685mph.

Full sized models were then completed and started flight testing in November 1944. The initial versions didn't include an engine, and were towed in the air by a Heinkel He 111 bomber for glide testing. Other test articles were equipped with extra solid motors for launch and autopilot tests. All of these went well, but during testing it was shown that any attempt to re-use the engine was hopeless, the landing speed was simply too high.

Construction of the production Ba 349A models had already started in October,and fifteen were launched over the next few months. Each launch resulted in some small modification to the design, and eventually these were collected into the definitive production version, the Ba 349B which started testing in January.

In February 1945 the SS funders decided that the program was not going fast enough, and demanded a manned launch later that month. The first, and possibly the only, time that the aircraft was tested in this way was on February 28, when Lothar Siebert flew a Ba 349A. Things went well at first, but at 500 m (1,600 ft) the cockpit canopy pulled off. The plane suddenly turned over and flew directly into the ground. Siebert was killed in the accident, and the cause was never explained. It was suspected that the canopy may simply have not been properly latched before launch.

US forces overran the factory at Waldsee in April, but small numbers of Bachem staff had moved and taken the remaining ten B models with them. Soon the US had caught up with them again, and six of the ten were burnt.

Several sources claim that an operational unit of Natters was set up by volunteers in Kirchheim but didn't carry out any operations, but the evidence for this not conclusive.