A flight into history

THE MESSERSCHMITT Me 262B-1a/U1: Wnr 110 305 `Red 8'
at the South African National Museum of Military History

Capt Tony Speir

Neptun radar atennaeThe
German Messerschmitt Me 262 was the first operational jet aircraft to enter
front line service on either side during the Second World War (1939 - 1945). The
design work was initiated in 1939 with the first airframes being produced in
1941. At that time the development of jet engines was still in progress.
Therefore, when the initial flight took place in April 1941, a single Junkers
Jumo 210 G 12 cylinder piston engine, centrally fitted into the nose of the
aircraft driving a propeller, was utilized.

The first flight using jet engines produced at Bayerische Motornwerke (BMW)
was undertaken in March 1942. Fortunately, the nose-mounted piston engine was
retained as the thrust from the wing-mounted turbo jets proved inadequate for
take-off and only the use of the piston engine enabled the test pilot to return
the aircraft safely to the airfield. The Jumo 004 engines were then installed
and the next test flight took place in July 1942 without the piston engine.

The aircraft was originally designed as a fighter. However, in January 1944,
Adolf Hitler, Furher of Germany, took the decision to turn it into a fast
intruder bomber with the specific object of attacking the Allied landing forces
when the inevitable invasion of Europe was attempted. Aircraft production only
commenced in June 1944 as a result of the extremely slow development of the
engines. Even when the aircraft were delivered, the engines' development
problems had only been partially resolved. (Initial small quantities of aircraft
were delivered to the Luftwaffe in July 1944 for flight testing and training
purposes and a number of experimental armament variations were designed and

It was soon discovered that a trainer aircraft for the conversion of pilots
to this unusual and difficult type of aircraft was required. Therefore, the
first two-seater trainer versions in which the rear fuel tank was removed to
make room for seating for the second pilot, equipped with a full set of controls
were produced. One such aircraft, further modified as a night-fighter, is on
display at the SA National Museum of Military History while a two-seater trainer
aircraft is located at the Naval Air Station at Willow Grove in the United
States of America.

The first fighter sorties using the Me 262 commenced towards the end of July
1944. These were followed by those of the bomber versions in August 1944. The
bomber versions, however, proved unsuccessful due to the limited bomb load
carried and the difficulties of accurate bombing from a fast moving aircraft.
The bomber version was soon abandoned in favour of further developments in the
role of night fighter interception. This role saw the aircraft at its most
successful in combat operations against Allied aircraft with the hitherto
inviolate British Mosquito fighter/ bomber being frequently intercepted and shot
down. The heaviest losses suffered by Me 262s derived from technical failures
and pilot error as opposed to enemy action. Flying the Me 262 proved very
difficult. A major factor in this regard was the lack of any previous experience
on the part of the pilots in flying jet aircraft. The engines, rushed into
service well before all problems had been resolved, were also unreliable and had
a practical life - between overhauls - of about ten to twelve hours, as opposed
to the anticipated 25 to 30 hours. The theoretical time required for an engine
change was three hours. However, with inexperienced crews and poor workmanship,
the process usually took up to eight hours to complete. The engines were very
prone to `flame-out' (loss of ingition) in flight during manoeuvres or changes
in throttle settings, and were very difficult to re-start in the air. Formation
flying was difficult and often impossible at high altitudes as the result of
poor response to throttle changes. It was found best to adjust the throttle as
little as possible during flight.

The Me 262 was, nevertheless, a fine engineering achievement but severely
hampered by interference from Hitler and the urgency of the situation which
Germany found herself in at the time the aircraft came into service. It heralded
the advent of jet-propelled flight and the gradual demise of the piston-engined
combat aircraft.

General der Jagdflieger (Chief of Fighter Pilots) Generalleutenant
(Lieutenant-General) Adolf Gallant, a veteran of the Battle of Britain and who
gained over 100 victories by the end of the war, disagreed violently with both
Hitler and Reichmarschal Herman Göring over the decision to deploy the Me 262
as a bomber. In January 1945 their differences reached a climax when Hitler
dismissed Gallant from his position. Gallant immediately sought permission to
return to active combat duty and was, surprisingly, allowed to form his own
unit, Jagdverband 44, equipped with Me 262 fighters. 

From that moment he began gathering a number of Germany's `ace' pilots, many
of whom had seen active service since the outbreak of the war, and all of whom
were holders of the Ritterkreutz (Knight's Cross) one of Germany's highest
awards for valor. JV 88 was a unique airforce unit in that it included one
Generalleutenant (Lieutenant-General), two Obersts (Colonels), one
Oberstleutenant (Lieutenant-Colonel) and three Majoors (Majors). The glittering
array of talented pilots who served with this unit during the closing days of
the Me 262's combat service included: Majoor (Major) Barkhorn (301 victories);
Oberst (Colonel) Steinhoff (176 victories); Oberst (Colonel) Louw (108
victories) and Hauptmann (Captain) Krupinski (197 victories). On 31 March 1945
Gallant led his new formation on a flight to Munich-Riem, where JV 44
established its headquarters and commenced operations against the mass formation
of United States heavy daylight bombers which were pulverizing Germany at the
time. During its one month of operations, JV 44 was credited with the
destruction of 45 enemy aircraft before being overtaken by the advancing Allied
forces at Salzburg on 3 May 1945.

Messerschmitt Me 262 B-1a/U1 on display at the SA National Museum of Military History.The
picture to the right shows the Messerschmitt Me 262 B-1a/U1 on display at the SA
National Museum of Military History.

It has been established that the Me 262 on display at the Museum is the only
surviving night fighter version in the world. This particular type, designated
Me 262 B-1a/U1, was converted from a two-seater trainer built by Blohm &
Voss. The aircraft was a temprarytemporary expedient, catering to the urgent
need for an aircraft capable of combating the night-raiding Mosquito of the
Royal Air Force, until the re-designated night fighter version with a lengthened
fuselage could be produced.

The Me 262 on display at the Museum bears the identification number `Red 8',
and was deployed operationally in the defence of Berlin early in 1945 by the
Kommando Stamp, later renamed Kommando Welter in honour of the unit's
top-scoring pilot, Oberleutenant (Lieutenant)Karl Weler. In April 1945 the unit
was re-designated Staffel 10 of Nachjagdeschwader 11 and was stationed at Burg-bei-Magdeburg
to the south-west of Berlin. In April 1945, with Allies threatening Berlin, the
decision was taken to abandon Burg and the defence of Berlin and to join units
fighting in northern Germany. The unit first moved to Lubek before finally
transferring to Schleswig in Denmark. The aircraft was surrendered to the RAF on
6 May 1945 and flown to Britain for evaluation by the Central Fighter
Establishment. A certain amount of the aircraft's original electronic equipment
and instruments were removed for study. British flying instruments have replaced
some of their original counterparts, which were presumably removed at the same
time, and English wording has been crudely painted above many of the instruments
and controls.

Early in 1946, Capt Jack Meaker of the SAAF was sent to Britain on a course.
During this time, he went on a visit to some of the RAF storage airfields where
he and other course members from the commonwealth countries were invited to
select some of the German aircraft for shipment to their own countries. Meaker
selected five aircraft, of which Red 8 was one, and, assuming the correct
authorities in Pretoria would be informed, completed his course and returned
home. The aircraft was shipped to Cape Town at the beginning of 1947 and,
shortly after that, Meaker was summoned to his superior's office to be presented
with an account of £6 000,00 from the Union Castle Steamship Company. He was
informed that `his' aircraft were sitting in boxes on the quay side in Cape Town
awaiting payment and documentation. The horrified Meaker explained the
circumstances of his bequest and was relieved when the air force treasury agreed
to take over the responsibility of the payment. The aircraft then became the
property of the SAAF and was located at AFB Dunottar until the early 1970s when
it went on temporary display at Fort Klapperkop in Pretoria. In 1972 the
aircraft was donated to the Museum by the SAAF.

The Me 262 B was equipped with a variety of radios and radio equipment::

  • FuG and FuG 10P interconnected sets for air to ground and air to air
  • EiV for intercommunication between crew;
  • FuGa Erstling IFF (identification Friend/Foe). This transmitted
    identifying impulses to ground control radar stations, in order to
    distinguish between the radar `blips' emitted by friendly and hostile
  • FuG 125 Hermine blind landing receiver for homing on radio beacons.
  • FuG 120a Bernhardine. This equipment received coded information on a
    miniature teleprinter set, providing a print-out of information relayed by
    the Bernhard ground station, stating the relative position of the fighter
    and the enemy bomber stream.
  • FuG 218 Neptun airborne radar. This equipment was used to locate enemy
    bombers and to provide a tail-warning device to warn of the approach of
    hostile aircraft from the rear where visibility was very restricted.
  • FuG 50 Naxos Zc radio set; which detected the transmission of the H2S
    radar equipment used by RAF bombers and enabled the aircraft to home in on

The crew consisted of a pilot and a radio/ radar operator. The operator would
receive information of a bomber stream location by means of the Bernhardine set
and provide the pilot with a course to intercept. As the Me 262 drew closer to
the enemy bombers, the operator would use the Neptun radar to guide the pilot
towards the target aircraft. The final approach and attack had to be executed
visually as the Neptun set was not effective within 350m of the target.

Close up of drop fuel tanks.As
has been stated above one of the main fuel tanks was removed from the fuselage
in order to adapt the aircraft from its original single-seater design. To
compensate, two auxiliary drop tanks were fitted below the centre section. These
tanks would then be jettisoned after use and prior to engaging in combat.

Sixteen signal flare tubes are fitted in the port side of the rear fuselage.
These were used to fire coloured recognition lights. These tubes were fitted to
the side because it was impossible to open the cockpit hood in flight to fire
signal flares in the more conventional manner. They were fired electronically
from the cockpit.

There were two main purposes for these flares. Firstly, they were used for
air-to-ground communication with friendly anti-aircraft gunners to indicate that
the Me 262's attack was imminent and to warn them to withhold their fire.
Secondly, they were used to signal the control tower at the aircraft's home base
to switch on the flare-path for night landings. Airfields were normally kept as
dark as possible until a friendly aircraft approached to avoid attracting Allied
intruder aircraft which maintained constant patrols in the vicinity of German
airfields. Their object was to attack the jet aircraft at their most vulnerable
times during take off and landing. The slower propeller-driven aircraft were
then able to attack the Me 262s when their speed was reduced.

Allied intruder pilots would observe the colour sequence fired by an
approaching aircraft, approach and fire identical colours themselves. The
specific aim was to deceive the German airfield controllers into illuminating
the airfield and thus facilitate a successful attack on both the runways and
parked aircraft. Endeavoring to avoid falling into this trap, the Germans chose
to change their colour sequence at frequent intervals in the course of a night's
operations to a pre-arranged cycle, therefore ensuring that a particular signal
was valid for only a short period. It was for this reason that the Me 262 was
equipped with so many signal tubes, enabling a number of different colours to be

During the final few weeks of the Second World War, 10/NJG11, in common with
many other Lufwaffe units, was forced to operate from improvised airfields and
found itself using part of an autobahn as a runway, dispersing itself between
the trees extending along the road. This situation resulted in the aircraft of
the unit being painted in locally-designed camouflage patterns to suite their
temporary surroundings and they were often at variance with the officially
prescribed colour-schemes. The colours and patterns used on the Museum's
aircraft have been carefully reproduced on the basis of original photographs and
research undertaken by one of the leading authorities on Second World War
aircraft painting and camouflage.

  • Maximum speed: 810 km/h at 6 000m (503mph at 19685ft).
  • Operational service ceiling: 9 250m (30 000ft).
  • Armament: Four Mk 108 30mm cannon mounted in the nose.
  • Engines: Two Junkers Jumo 004 B axial-flow turbojets using J2 diesel fuel
    and developing 900kg (1 984 lb) of thrust at 9 000rpm.
  • Starting: Each Jumo 004 B engine was fitted with a small two cylinder
    Reidel 2-stroke piston engine for starting purposes. The Jumo engines were
    started on 87 octane aviation gasoline and automatically changed to J2
    diesel fuel as the engines reached 3 000rpm and the throttles were opened.

Article Edited by Dr Stan Monick, revised by Allan Sinclair, 2003

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