One well known part of the Me 262 story is how Hitler insisted on ordering the type into service as a bomber, rather than as a fighter which it was clearly better suited for.
Let’s look at one such bomber, and the impact of that decision.
The first jet powered Me 262 prototypes were flying by mid-1942. The type flew well, and handled well. Handled very well actually, at most speeds it was considered easier to fly than existing Bf 109 and Fw 190 fighters. No doubt this caused a lot of excitement, it was thought much of the current fighter force could be switched to high performance jets that would dominate the skies.
But the engines were a problem. Operating at high speeds and high temperatures, Germany simply lacked the metals needed to make an alloy that would stand up very long. For a year testing and experimenting were done, while factories tooled up to build the type in quantity.
In April 1943 Adolf Galland, the head the Luftwaffe’s fighter force, first flew the type and was immediately excited with the possibilities. But another problem emerged at this time. As the weight of allied bombardment against Germany increased Hitler became convinced the plane should be used as a revenge bomber. Messerschmitt initially regarded the demand casually, of course the Me 262 could be a bomber, bomb racks were a part of the original design. Hitler appointed a staff to ensure the plane actually built as a bomber, but even the actual “bomber” variant (the Me 262A-2a; the fighter was a Me 262A-1a) only had trivial changes. The pilot’s head armor was removed, and two of the four Mk 108 30 mm cannon were also removed. This was just to improve the type’s performance with a load.
Perhaps the Fuhrer’s insistence that first deliveries of the type go to bomber groups had a bigger impact.
But engine deliveries remained slow, and the Jumo 004 engines were troublesome and short lived in service. So even if Adolf Galland wrote post-War about Hitler’s stupid decision and blamed him for the loss of control of the skies over Germany; it was truly never possible to get more than a handful of planes up at any given time. By the end of 1944 Hitler had reversed his order anyway and insisted all new aircraft construction was to concentrate on fighters.
But this couldn’t fix the fundamental problems with the Jumo 004 engine.
This particular aircraft was assigned to 1./KG 51. They were the first Me 262 bomber unit in action and this was one of their very early aircraft. Starting in July 1944 and based in France, they could typically put less than six aircraft up for any mission. They were ordered to keep above 4000 meters over enemy territory to avoid light anti-aircraft fire. Since the Me 262 had no bomb site their accuracy from medium altitude was predictably terrible.
By the end of the year the mistake of using the type as a bomber was apparent and KG 51 was informed they were now a fighter group. There was no time for any actual training or changes in equipment; the change meant they added a parenthetical J to the front of their group designation and they were told to go after bombers.
This is the Tamiya kit with Eagle Strike decals. A fun build as always.
Hard to keep an effective fighter force in the air when your engine life is only ten hours! The decision to utilize the Me 262 as a bomber makes a little more sense when one considers the lack of options available to Germany to oppose an Allied invasion fleet provided with overwhelming fighter cover.
I think its “obvious” you will hurt an enemy more my destroying expensive assets than just a single airplane.
The problem is, bombers can’t operate effectively without fighter protection! Or even better, actual control of the skies. For what its worth, I’ve found in war gaming that a smaller bomber force well protected by fighters is geometrically more effective than a large bomber force in uncontrolled airspace.
And if you start adding silly restrictions, like keeping a tactical bomber at medium altitude or higher, results will diminish even faster.
Your post made me think whether the “fast bomber” concept ever worked out in practice. I think you could make a case for the DeHaviland Mosquito but that’s about it.
I think part of the problem in World War II was that fast always equated to small. And targeting was often difficult.
Later in the War fighter-bombers became very effective, especially when you could fire a rocket with reasonable accuracy from the standard gun sight.
But even earlier a number of “heavy fighter” types were very effective as fast strike aircraft. Bf 110, Nakajima Ki-45 Nick, Petlyakov Pe-2 (perhaps better classified as a fast bomber all along, but the design STARTED as a heavy fighter) and Bristol Beaufighter. No doubt the Mosquito was the champ of the bunch though.
One of the most compelling aircraft of WWII. Visually compelling, it looks like a predator, with performance to match, only saddled with the unfortunate fact that this was never ready to be an operational aircraft in any meaningful sense. Sadly, or rather fortunately, German metallurgy was not up to the task of producing an operational jet engine.
Classic case of ideas not quite up to reality.
Oddly in WWI it was the opposite. Nitrates used for explosives and ammunition were largely supplied from mining in Chile, and the calculation was that cut off from these sources Germany could not sustain a war beyond 1915. Until they developed a manufacturing process to produce nitrates from ammonia on an industrial scale… It also produced enough fertilizer to keep the country from starving.
That is interesting.
Their main source of metals in WWII was Sweden, but that mostly meant iron. By the end there was a critical shortage of nickel for armor, and other metals were largely unavailable to them.
Yes, at the turn of the century (the previous one, before WWI) Germany was the world leader in Chemistry, especially on an industrial level. (Fun fact, when I was in college in the 80’s Chemistry majors were still required to learn German just because so many of the foundational works were in German.) While they still had some very advanced programs in WWII, such as synthetic fuels, it doesn’t help if you can’t get the raw materials.
I didn’t know that about chemistry! But given what I do know about their synthetic fuels program it doesn’t surprise me at all.