Messerschmitt Me 262A-1a  (500071)Messerschmitt Me 262A-1a  (500071)Messerschmitt Me 262A-1a  (500071)

Messerschmitt Me 262A-1a  (500071)  [@ Deutsches Museum, Munich]

Design work on the Me 262, the world's first operational jet fighter, began in September 1939, a month after the successful flight of the world's first jet aircraft, the Heinkel He 178.  Due to delays in the development of satisfactory engines, the massive damage caused by Allied air attacks and Hitler's later obsession with using the aircraft as a bomber rather than a fighter, six years elapsed between the 262 taking shape on Messerschmitt's drawing board and its entry into Luftwaffe service.  Because of the lack of jet engines the prototype Me 262V-1 flew on 18th April 1941 under the power of a Jumo 210G piston engine, and it was not until 18th July 1942 that the Me 262V-3 made a flight powered by the Junkers Jumo 004B axial-flow turbojet (photographs - below).  December 1943 saw the first flight of the Me 262V-8, the first of the type to carry a full armament of four 30mm (1.19in) MK 108 cannon.  By the end of 1944 730 Me 262s had been completed, and a further 564 were built in the early months of 1945, making a total of 1294 aircraft.  The Me 262 initially went into production as a pure fighter, entering service in August 1944 with Erprobungskommando 262 which was formed at Lechfeld, just south of Augsburg, as a test and training unit. On the 26th July 1944 Leutnant Alfred Schreiber with the 262 A-1a (130 017) damaged a 540 Squadron RAF Photoreconnaissance Mosquito (which later crashed in Italy) thus making it the first victory for a turbojet fighter aircraft in aviation history.

500071 was assembled at Walwerk (forest factory) "Stauffen" at Mooshof near Obertraubling on the 20th January 1945 and assigned to 9 Staffel, III Gruppe/JG7 in April 1945.  On the 25th April 1945 the airfield at which 500071 was based came under attack from an Allied bombing raid by Martin B26 Marauders with the result that 500071 was scrambled with half empty fuel tanks.  The pilot, Hans-Guido Mutke, made for the Swiss border and made an emergency landing with only two minutes of fuel left.  500071 was immediately confiscated by the Swiss authorities and subsequently examined and tested by the Swiss Air Force before being placed into storage.  During 1957 500071 was presented as a gift to the German People by the Swiss Air Force and in 1983 the Munich Museum completely restored 50071 as ‘White 3′.

Junkers Jumo 004B axial-flow turbojet Junkers Jumo 004B axial-flow turbojet

The Me 262 presented a serious threat to Allied air superiority during the closing weeks of 1944.  Two versions were now being developed in parallel, the Me 262A-la "Schwalbe" (Swallow) which was the primary production variant (used in the fighter role) and the Me 262A-2a "Sturmvogel" (Stormbird) (used in the fighter-bomber role)The Sturmvogel was issued to KG 51 [Kampfgeschwader 51] 'Edelweiss' in September 1944 and flew fight-bomber and bomber intercept missions against Allied bomber streams.  Other bomber units that were armed with the type at a later date were KG 6, 27 and 54.  The first Jagdgeschwader (fighter wing) to arm with the Me 262 fighter was JG 7 Hindenburg during January 1945.  In the middle of February 1945 III/G 7 took delivery of the first consignment of R4M 5cm air-to-air rockets; the Me 262 could carry 24 of these missiles mounted on simple wooden racks beneath the wings, and when the salvo was fired towards an enemy bomber formation it spread out rather like the charge from a shotgun, increasing the chances of hitting one or more targets.  During their first series of operations using a combination of R4Ms, 30mm (1.19in) cannon and Revi gun-sight, in the last week of February 1945, the pilots of IIII/JG 7 destroyed no fewer than 45 four-engined American bombers and 15 of their escorting fighters for the loss of only four Me 262s.  Meanwhile, authority had been given for the formation in February 1945 of a second Me 262 jet fighter unit.  Known as Jagdverband 44, it comprised 45 highly experienced pilots, many of them Germany's top-scoring aces including Lieutenant General Adolf Galland.  Its main operating base was Munchen-Riem, where its main targets were the bombers of the Fifteenth Army Air Force, coming up from the south, while JG 7 continued to operate from bases in northern and central Germany before the jets were grounded through lack of fuel or engine spares, the Jumo 004 having a life of only 25 hours.  Their ground crews destroyed most of the 262s shortly before American tanks overran the airfield on 3rd May.

Messerschmitt Me 262A-2a Schwalbe [Swallow] (112372)

Messerschmitt Me 262A-2a (112372[@ RAF Hendon]

112372 was assembled at Leipheim, Bavaria, and test flown on the 23rd March 1945.  Delivered to Jagdgeschwader (JG 7) 7 Nowotny as one of 89 Me 262s delivered to JG7 that month.  JG7 was created in 1944 and served until the end of the war, in May 1945, exclusively flying the Me 262. 112372 and possibly four other ME 262s of JG7 flew from Zatec, Czechoslovakia, to Fassberg, northern Germany, to surrender to RAF personnel including members of 616 Squardron on the 8th May 1945.  A number of Me262s were briefly taken over by 616 Squadron.  Formed on  the 1st November 1938 at RAF Doncaster as a bomber unit, 616 were equipped with the Hawker Hind Following a reverse in roll to a fighter squadron, 616 went on to be re-equipped with the Gloster Gauntlet (Jan 1939) and the Supermarine Spitfire I in October 1939.  On 12th July 1944 616 Squadron became the first jet RAF squadron when re-equipped with the Gloster Meteor I and tasked with intercepting V1 flying bombs (photograph - below).  Although the true identity of 112372 remains in doubt the aircraft was flown to RAE Farnborough in June 1945 to undergo engineering assessment by the RAE Structures and Mechanical Engineering Flight.  Later transferred to the RAE Aerodynamics Flight for further testing 112372 was transferred to the museum at RAF Cranwell during 1946/47.  In 1960 the Cranwell Museum closed and the collection dispersed with the result that 112372 was displayed at various RAF Stations, including Cosford, Gaydon and Finningley.  Eventually refurbished as ‘Yellow 4′ at RAF Cosford 112372 was finally allocated to RAF Hendon in 2003.

V1 flying bomb

Several variants of the Me 262 were proposed, including the radar-equipped Me 262B-1a/Ul two-seat night fighter which had been converted from the Me 262B-1a trainer.   Equipped with a FuG 218 Neptun high-VHF band radar and using Hirschgeweih ("stag's antlers") antennae this variant saw service briefly from March 1945 with 10 Staffel, Nachtjagdgeschwader 11.  Based near Berlin this variant accounted for most of the thirteen Mosquitoes lost over Berlin in the first three months of 1945.  There were also two reconnaissance versions, the Me 262A- la/U3 and the Me 262A-5a