Messerschmitt Me 262 // Wikipedia Commons [Public Domain]

Messerschmitt Me 262 // Wikipedia Commons [Public Domain]

“We heard or the first time from the Me 262 in October ’44 that it is a jet fighter and the fast one far and broadly. We weren’t afraid to die if we would see her. We knew at that time with the exception to the squadron which was conducted by Galland which had all airman aces at the west front that we had already won the war and that the pilots who approached us there were children. And when I then saw the Me 262 for the first time, I simply couldn’t believe it, I couldn’t imagine what this was to the hell! I only considered the 262s silhouettes till we approached near to her at long last and I recognized her as jets. We had never got any instructions, like us should the 262 proceed unless “watches this thinks”! the Germans would have appertained on what Galland had preached again and again to switch off indeed the 262 as defensive arm instead of setting in as an offensive arm before the massive bomb attacks began, their plants, their oil and their gasoline, then we would have won still indeed the war, but it would have been a bad time for us”.
USAAF Captain James Finnegan

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In the pre-nuclear, pre-terrorist days of warfare, when many battling nations were technological equals, overwhelming mass was an irresistible determiner of outcome. For a single nation to twice take on the modern world within a 20-year period, there must be a high level of self-delusion, if not madness, in the highest ranks of government, especially when it was still staggering from the effects of losing the first try. None-the-less, Nazi Germany did exactly that, and no amount of technological ingenuity could alter that fact, as the history of the Messerschmitt Me 262, the first turbojet to be used in combat, dramatically illustrates. Had the aircraft been introduced in large numbers in 1939, it is conceivable that the “Battle of Britain” might have ended as Hitler envisioned, while the United States, had it become involved, would have had to fight an aerial war from across the Atlantic, and every pub in England would today be known as “die Bierstube.” Perhaps.

In fact, the Me 262 began as a preliminary design in 1939, without the engines needed to make it fly. Thus, the first prototype flew in 1941 with a 700hp Jumo 210G piston engine, and not the planned BMW 003 turbojet engines.

The early prototypes were fitted with conventional tail wheels. However, this configuration made takeoffs highly dangerous, so a fully retractable tricycle landing gear modification became the standard. The Me 262A-1a “Schwalbe” (“Swallow”) was the first production model of the Me 262. It was produced with four Mk 108 30mm cannon mounted in the nose, in its role as an interceptor, a role that it performed with great promise except for several limiting factors: First, it came into the battle far too late, when the Allied air forces had reached formidable capacity; secondly, its engines were a constant source of trouble, frequently failing after no more than 12 hours; third, it was utilized inappropriately for far too long, after Hitler decided that the machine should be used in a bombing capacity, to “punish” the Allies. That version, the Me 262A-2a “Sturmvogel” (“Stormbird”) was reconfigured to carry two 550lb bombs, still retaining the four cannon. A further refinement, Me 262A-2a/U1 had two of the cannon removed to provide space for a bomb-aiming device, and Me 262A-2/U2 carried a prone bombardier in the nose section. Thus, for much of the aircraft’s brief combat life, it was used against the wrong type of targets, with even less effect than if it had been used as an interceptor.

In addition to bomber, ground attack and night fighter variants, the Me 262 was also produced as a tandem two-seat trainer, the Me 262B-1a. Four 262A-1as were modified to carry a single 50mm Mk 214 cannon which extended almost 7 feet beyond the nose of the plane, but the blinding flash from the barrel limited the effectiveness of the device. In any case, it didn’t matter. There were 1,433 Me 262s built, with nearly 500 more destroyed by bombing raids before they were completed. Of that total, fewer than 300 were actually used in combat.

In its brightest moments, when it was used as intended, the Me 262 was the equivalent of sending the “Three Musketeers” against Sitting Bull at Little Big Horn. In one battle, for instance, 37 of the 262s were scrambled against an Allied raid that consisted of 1,221 bombers and 632 fighter escorts! In their most effective performance, they cost the Allies a one percent loss.

Despite the fact that the Me 262 is one of the most rare and esoteric aircraft of World War II, at least one group has endeavored to build brand new copies of this interesting airplane, updated to modern safety standards, and powered by more modern jet engines. The distinctive profile of the Me 262 has recently graced the skies again, this time in peaceful reflection rather than with hostile intent.

Specifications Me 262A-1a

Two 1,984-pound thrust Junkers Jumo 004B-1/-2/-3 turbojets

Maximum Speed: 540 mph; Ceiling: 37,565 ft.; Range: 652 miles

Empty 8,378 lbs; Max Takeoff 14,110 lb

Wingspan: 40ft. 11.5in; Lenght: 34ft. 9.5in; Height: 12ft. 7in

Four 30-mm MK 108 cannon in nose