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The Effect Of The Messerschmitt 262 History Essay

War is a unique catalyst for human technological development. A significant amount of everyday technology has been modified from its original purpose: to help one side to kill the other. The technological advances since the First World War lead to the development of advanced chemical weapons, major strides in missile development, and the first weapons of mass destruction, the atomic bombs, as well as leading to advances in medical care, the internet, radios, and aircraft development. The impact of the jet engine, despite the excellent airframe of the Messerschmitt Me 262 and technology that was based around it, had a little effect on the War’s outcome due to its late arrival in the War. The Germans had poured vast amounts of research and development into technologies such as the Me 262, and other experimental technologies, such as the V2 intercontinental ballistic missile, the V3 cannon, and a host of other experimental or unconventional weapons, in order to try and swing the balance of the war back in their favour.

The Messerschmitt 262’s failure to significantly influence the Second World War was a result of poor planning, changes in wartime policy, and a host of other factors that impeded its success. As a result, the aircraft was never able to be the war winning weapon it was designed to be.

This paper will attempt to answer the following question: What were the effects of the Messerschmitt 262 in shaping the outcome of WWII? This will be achieved by examining both primary and secondary sources regarding the development of the technology and examine how the scientists and researchers were able to develop the technology and how the technology shaped the outcomes of the battles that were pivotal in determining the outcome of the war.

Introduction

The Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwalbe [1] was the world's first operational jet-powered fighter aircraft. [2] (Jackson, 2004) Initial work on the aircraft’s design started before the start of the Second World War; however, several problems with the aircraft’s engines stalled the aircraft from attaining operational status with the Luftwaffe [3] until mid-1944, which was too late in the war to have a measurable impact. Compared with Allied fighters, it was faster, more maneuverable and much better equipped than other advanced aircraft of the time, including the jet-powered Gloster Meteor. [4] The Me 262 was the most advanced aircraft in operational use during World War II. The Me 262 was a very versatile jet powered aircraft that filled many combat roles including light bomber, reconnaissance and even, advanced, experimental night fighter versions. This jet, despite its limited deployment, had the potential to turn the war in the favour of the Nazis. The Me 262 had great success in battle; Me 262 pilots claimed 542 Allied kills, while only losing about 100 Me 262s. (Green, 1986) In order to counter the massive threat to Allied bombing campaigns, the Allies relentlessly attacked the aircraft fabrication and maintenance facilities, as well as when the aircraft was on the ground and while taking-off or landing. Multiple problems regarding aircraft maintenance and a lack of fuel and supplies during the dire late-war situation had a major effect on the effectiveness of the aircraft. By the end, the Me 262 had little more than a negligible impact on the course of the war due primarily to its late introduction, the small numbers that were deployed, and it’s poor service record. [5] This paper will attempt to answer the question: “What were the effects of the Messerschmitt 262 in shaping the outcome of WWII?” By closely examining why the aircraft did not turn the tide of war in favour of the Germans.

Research and Development

Several years before World War II, high-ranking German government officials believed that aircraft that used jet engines would give their side a huge tactical advantage. German jet engines, which were first constructed by German Hans Joachim Pabst von Ohain in 1936. Shortl following the successful test flights of the Heinkel He 178, the first jet aircraft in the world, senior Nazi officials decided to begin development of von Ohain’s jet engine for an advanced fighter aircraft. As a result, the aircraft that would eventually become the Me 262 began development as Projekt 1065 (P.1065) before the start of World War II.

The plans for the aircraft were drafted in April 1939, and the original design closely resembled the aircraft that eventually entered service. Technical issues involving the new jet engine significantly delayed the progression of the original design. Unfortunately, funding was also initially lacking as the generally conservative general staff and other high-ranking officials thought the war could be won with conventional aircraft. [6] Prominent individuals who were skeptical of the development of Projekt 1065 included many prominent individuals: Hermann Göring, [7] Willy Messerschmitt, [8] and Major General Adolf Galland. [9] Early in research and development many problems arose during the development of the aircraft engine, drastically slowing production. [10] (Jackson, 2004) In mid-1943, Adolf Hitler wanted to redevelop the prototype Me 262 designs into an offensive ground-attack aircraft instead of a defensive interceptor. Based on Allied air strategy, the Nazi war effort could have benefitted from a high-speed, light-payload Schnellbomber [11] to penetrate enemy airspace, and deliver precision strikes. His decision resulted in the development and focus on the Sturmvogel [12] variant. It is debatable the effect that Hitler's interference had on extending the delay in bringing the Me 262 into operation. Hitler did divert significant resources into the development of experimental technologies until the failure of Operation Barbarossa. It was at this point Hitler concluded that a conventional victory was indeed impossible. (Shrier, 1960) Albert Speer, one of Hitler’s key advisors, claimed that Hitler rejected the advice of the research team developing the aircraft, who believed that it would be more effective as an interceptor. Because of the devastating attacks on German soil, Hitler pushed for the plane to be developed as a bomber. (Speer, 1970)

The internal conflict surrounding the research and development of the aircraft ultimately pushed back its initial launch date, which proved to be detrimental to the Nazi war effort. Had the aircraft been brought into active service sooner, the aircraft would be less subject to the many issues that plagued the aircraft when it finally entered operational service.

Operational Service

On 19 April 1944, Erprobungskommando 262, the first Me 262 squadron, was formed as a test unit to introduce the 262 into the Luftwaffe and train a core of pilots. Major Walter Nowotny was assigned the wing commander after the death of original leader Captain Thierfelder in July 1944, and the unit renamed Kommando Nowotny. This unit was the world's first to mount jet fighter operations. Operational trials continued at a slow pace, with initial missions against the Allies in August 1944 downing 19 Allied aircraft for six Me 262s, however these claims continue to remain questionable to this day, due to their inability to be cross-referenced by official allied sources. Regardless of their veracity, these numbers were promising, and impressed the German High Command. Thus development, and construction of further Me 262’s, continued.

Later on in the conflict, Nowotny, ignoring his superiors, chose to attack an enemy bomber formation on 8 November 1944. He claimed two P-51D Mustangs destroyed before suffering engine failure at high altitude. Then, while diving and trying desperately to restart his engines, [13] he was attacked, and killed by other Mustangs escorting the bomber formation. Following Major Nowotny’s death, [14] the Kommando unit was withdrawn from service in order to better train and revise combat tactics, in order to maximize the 262's strengths. It was determined that the pilots, who were not effectively trained for jet combat, needed to revise their tactics in order to pose a threat to allied air superiority. This further delayed the overall combat readiness of the aircraft, further reducing any possible impact it may have had.

By January 1945, Jagdgeschwader 7, (JG 7) a new Me 262 unit, had been formed as a pure jet fighter wing and a bomber unit—I Gruppe, Kampfgeschwader 54 (KG 54)—had been equipped with the Me 262 A-2a fighter-bomber variant for use in a ground-attack role. However, this unit lost 12 jets in action in two weeks for underwhelming returns. These losses forced the German high command to reconsider how they planned to further develop the fighter. These delays further pushed back wide scale deployment of the fighter. (Aircraft: Messerschmitt Me-262B-1a/U4 Schwalbe) (Me 262: Stormbirds at War.)

Jagdverband 44 (JV 44) was another Me 262 fighter unit, formed in February 1945 by Lieutenant General Adolf Galland, who had recently been dismissed as Inspector of Fighters. [15] (Caldwell, 2007) Galland’s influence drew many of the most experienced and decorated Luftwaffe fighter pilots from other units that had been grounded by the lack of fuel and other mission critical supplies. By now, most Nazi supply lines had been damaged, and could not keep up with the increase in demand that was a result of the relentless pressure of Allied forces. (Shrier, 1960) During March of 1945, Me 262 fighter units were able, for the first time, to mount significant attacks on Allied bomber formations, whereas previously the Me 262 was delegated to an experimental role. On 18 March 1945, 37 Me 262s of JG 7 faced off against a force of 1,221 bombers and 632 escorting fighters. They shot down 12 bombers and 1 fighter while losing only three Me 262s. Although a 4:1 ratio is exactly what the Luftwaffe needed to make a measurable impact on the war, the absolute scale of their success was minor, as it represented only one per cent of the attacking force. Something that would not seriously hinder Allied bombing operations. In 1943 and early 1944, the United States Air Corps had been able to keep up offensive operations despite loss ratios of 5% and more, and the few available Me 262s failed to inflict sufficient losses to significantly hamper their operations. This failure represented a significant blow to the Nazi War Effort. Without air cover to protect their industrial base, the troops at the front lines found it increasingly difficult to maintain offensive operations.

Several two-seat trainer variants of the Me 262 were built late in the war. These few aircraft accounted for most of the 13 Mosquito fighters lost over Berlin in the first three months of 1945. However, actual intercepts were generally or entirely made using Wilde Sau [16] methods, rather than AI radar-controlled interception. Many wings did not have access to the two-seat trainer, and as a result, many pilots had to make their first flight in a jet in a single-seater without an instructor. This lack of instruction meant that a significant number of the forces pilots were inadequately trained as to how to handle the jet when in combat.

Despite its deficiencies, the Me 262 clearly signaled the beginning of the end of piston-engine powered aircraft as effective warplanes. Once airborne, it could accelerate to speeds over 850 km/h, about 150 km/h faster than any Allied fighter operational in the European Theater of Operations. Due to the high speeds of the Me 262, German pilots needed to develop newer tactics to attack American bombers while accounting for the high operational speed of the aircraft. The aircraft’s closing speed, of about 320 m/s, was much too high to get bearings on, let alone attack enemy aircraft. (Jackson, 2004) Even when approaching from the rear, the closing speed was too great to effectively use the aircrafts’ guns.

Captain Eric Brown [17] , who tested a captured the Me 262 noted:

"This was a Blitzkrieg [18] aircraft. You whack in at your bomber. It was never meant to be a dogfighter, it was meant to be a destroyer of bombers... The great problem with it was it did not have dive brakes. For example, if you want to fight and destroy a B-17, you come in on a dive. The 30mm cannon were not so accurate beyond 650 yards. So you normally came in at 600 yards and would open fire on your B-17. And your closing speed was still high and since you had to break away at 200 yards to avoid a collision, you only had two seconds firing time. Now, in two seconds, you can’t sight. You can fire randomly and hope for the best. If you want to sight and fire, you need to double that time to four seconds. And with dive brakes, you could have done that." (Spick, 1997)

It was evident that the Germans themselves did not know how to effectively use their own fighters in the most effective fashion, until it was far too late in the war for it to make a measurable impact to its outcome.

Eventually, German pilots developed multiple techniques to effectively to counter Allied bombers' defenses. They switched to rocket equipped Me 262s and developed a technique that would have pilots approach from the side of a bomber formation, where their profiles were widest, and while still out of range of the bombers’ side machine guns, fire a salvo of rockets. One or two of these rockets could down even the famously rugged B-17 Flying Fortress, the aircraft that made up a bulk of the bomber force in the European Theater of Operations. Any strike on an enemy aircraft meant its total annihilation. (Me 262: Stormbirds at War.) This technique was very difficult to counter, as B-17 squadrons were ill adapted to squadrons of fast planes flanking them. (Jackson, 2004)

Though this tactic was effective, it came too late to have a real effect on the war, and only small numbers of Me 262s were equipped with these rocket packs. Specialized munitions such as these were becoming increasingly expensive to produce. This method of attacking bombers set the standard until the invention and mass deployment of guided missiles, many years later. USAAF General Carl Spaatz expressed the fear that if greater numbers of German jets appeared, they could inflict losses heavy enough to force cancellation of the Allied bombing offensive by daylight, which would have had a substantial impact on the course of the war. (Me 262: Stormbirds at War.)

As with many other jets, the Me 262's engines did not provide a significant amount of thrust at low air speeds, and throttle response was limited at best. [19] A serious disadvantage all early jet engines shared was a relatively high risk of their engines bursting into flame if the pilot used the throttle too aggressively (as is common in a dogfight). Pilots were instructed to operate the throttle gently and avoid quick changes. Later in the war, German engineers introduced an automatic throttle regulator, but it only partly alleviated the problem. On the plus side, thrust at high speed was much greater than on propeller-driven aircraft. Pilots were ill prepared to effectively handle the Me 262.

Despite the incredible speed of the Me 262, American pilots soon were able to exploit the plane’s multiple weaknesses. The engines had an abhorrently bad throttle response. Pushing the engines too far often resulted in them bursting into flames. The handling on the aircraft was very poor. The high speed of the aircraft, gave little opportunities for the pilots to correctly align their shots, making them ineffective at dog fighting. Aircraft that are moving at slower speeds have the ability to make tighter turns. If a fast Me 262 was chasing a slower moving fighter, all the slow fighter would have to do is pull a steep turn, and the Me would overshoot. (Green, 1986) Unfortunately, for Me 262 pilots, the allied pilots were quick to exploit this weakness as the cruising speed of Me 262s alone was up to 200 km/h faster than that of any piston-engine fighter of the period. Oberst Johannes Steinhoff experienced this problem when he encountered a dozen Russian fighters early in 1945, the much higher speed of his Me 262 making it extremely difficult for him to set his sights on the small Russian fighters. He recalled:

“I passed one that looked as if it was hanging motionless in the air (I am too fast!). The one above me went into a steep right-hand turn, his pale blue underside standing out against the purple sky. Another banked right in front of the Me's nose. Violent jolt as I flew through his airscrew eddies. Maybe a wing's length away. That one in the gentle left-hand curve! Swing her round. I was coming from underneath, eye glued to the sight (pull her tighter!). A throbbing in the wings as my cannon pounded briefly. Missed him. Way behind his tail. It was exasperating. I would never be able to shoot one down like this. They were like a sack of fleas. A prick of doubt: is this really such a good fighter? Could one in fact, successfully attack a group of erratically banking fighters with the Me 262?” (Spick, 1997)

When its speed was carefully managed pilots eventually came to realize that the aircraft could be an effective dog fighter if special attention was made to maintain its effective maneuvering speeds. The controls were light and effective right up to the maximum permissible speed and perfectly harmonized. Nazi engineers eventually realized that by adding full span leading edge slats, in three unconnected sections on each wing, helped increase the overall lift produced by the wing by as much as 25 to 35% in tight turns or at low speeds, greatly improving how effectively the aircraft could handle. (Me 262: Stormbirds at War.) Many pilots soon found out, the Me 262's clean design also meant that it, like all jets, held its speed in tight turns much better than conventional propeller driven fighters, which was a great potential advantage in a dogfight as it meant better energy retention in maneuvers. Luftwaffe test pilot and flight instructor Hans Fey stated, "The 262 will turn much better at high than at slow speeds, and due to its clean design, will keep its speed in tight turns much longer than conventional type aircraft." Unfortunately, discoveries such as this were made too late for them to be a turning point in the campaign against Allied day bombers.

The high speeds of the Me 262s meant that the planes were impossible to beat in a head off. [20] As a result, Me 262 pilots were relatively safe from the Allied fighters, as long as they did not allow themselves to get drawn into low-speed turning contests and saved their maneuvering for higher speeds, where their engines’ performances would be reduced. Parallels were drawn in the Pacific war where American fighters had to face off against the more maneuverable, but slower Japanese fighters. (Jackson, 2004)

Eventually when the pilots became comfortable enough with their planes, they posed a formidable opponent for any Allied force. Eventually Allied pilots soon found out that the only way to effectively defeat a squadron of Me 262s and the even Me 163 Komet rocket fighters, was to eliminate the jets before they had a chance to get airborne. Luftwaffe airfields identified as jet bases were frequently bombed by medium bombers, and Allied fighters patrolled over the fields to attack jets trying to land. Allied fighter patrol patterns over Me 262 airfields resulted in numerous losses of jets and serious attrition of the force, preventing them to ever maintain a strong enough aerial presence to pose a significant threat. (Price, 1945)

Conclusion

The Me 262 was an exceptional fighter aircraft for its time; however, its defeat came not from the battlefield but rather the boardroom. Senior Nazi officials, who failed to see the worth of the aircraft significantly, slowed development of the technologies needed to build and fly a fighter aircraft effectively. By the time the design produced something tangible, there were many issues with the aircraft that prevented it from turning the tide in the losing air battle over Europe. Asides from the performance issues with the fighter’s engines, the aircraft represented a significant threat to Allied air superiority at a time where the Luftwaffe was considered to be nearly defeated. However, the fighter entered the war too late to make a significant contribution to the German war effort. Even though the fighter enjoyed a kill to destroy ratio of 4:1, the aircraft was produced in too few numbers for this to have been a significant impact. The Allies were able to counter the air superiority of the Me 262 offered by relentlessly attacking the aircraft on the ground and while they were taking off or landing. Nevertheless, The Me 262 was a remarkable achievement: the design and performance of the aircraft were very advanced for the time. Many of the aircraft’s design features, that were first seen on the Me 262, would later become the standard in many future aircraft. Nevertheless, the Me 262 was far from perfect. As shown in the aircraft’s operational record, it was not a fully developed weapon of war, which could be pinned on several reasons. The aircrafts’ multiple maintenance problems, lack of trained technicians, as well as a lack of resources during the deteriorating late-war situation also reduced the effectiveness of the aircraft as a fighting force. Because of this, the Me 262 had a negligible impact on the course of the war due to multiple causes related to the introduction, design, functionality, maintenance, and production of this jet fighter aircraft.

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