Messerschmitt Me 262
This German jet fighter and fighter-bomber was in service from 1944—45.
Though the British Meteor beat it into service as the world's first fully
operational turbojet aircraft, the Me 262 was begun far earlier in 1938, and was
built during World War II in far greater numbers.
The first prototype had a piston engine in the nose and tail-down landing gear.
and flew in April 1941. The third prototype made the first flight on jet power
only. in July 1942. Development was slow because the Nazi leaders thought they
would not need such an advanced aircraft, and it was not until Hitler himself
watched an Me 262 display in November 1943 that he allowed production to go
ahead. Amazingly, he refused to consider it as a fighter, saying "That is just
what we need for our Blitz bomber!' Messerschmitt had to go on with the Me 262A
la Schwa/be (Swallow) in secret.
This was a superb machine, with excellent flying qualities and the devastating
armament of four 30 mm cannon.
The only type officially allowed was the Me 262A—2a Sturmvogel, with pylons
under the fuselage for two 1,1000 bombs. Hitler's interference merely delayed
the fighter by about four months.
One or two were secretly used by Luftwaffe test pilots in combat missions in
July 1944, but the first Development Unit did not form until September (EKE
262), and the first operational fighter unit (Commando Nowotny) formed at the
end of the month.
The 262 was powered by two 19801b thrust Jumo 004 turbojets, and could reach 540
mph. Casualties were high, mainly because of engine failures and complete lack
of special training. There were many versions by the end of 1944, including
two-seat bombers and radar-equipped night fighters, reconnaissance versions.
trainers and bomber-destroyers with R4/M rockets or the enormous 50 mm MK 114
More radical armament included the Jagdfaust, with twelve mortars firing heavy
projectiles diagonally up at Allied bomber formations.
Total production by VE-Day amounted to 1433, with hundreds more damaged in the
factories by bombing, but only a few had pilots or fuel.
This was lucky for the Allies because the 262 was perhaps the most formidable
fighter of the war. In one month in 1945, one unit (JV 44) with an average of
only six serviceable aircraft destroyed 45 of the Allies' latest warplanes.
Nevertheless too few were built to have any effect.