Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwalbe vol. I

“April 10,1945 began under sunny, crystal clear skies, yet it was to end as the darkest day in JG 7 history. In southern England crews of 1 315 B-17 Flying Fortresses and B-24 Liberators from the U.S. Eighth Air Force were preparing for a bombing sortie against the Reich. The four engine bombers would be escorted by a force of 801 P-51 Mustang and P-47 Thunderbolt fighters.

The targets for the day were the Me 262 bases at Rechlin-Lärz, Parchim, Brandenburg-Briest, Burg near Magdeburg, Zerbst and Oranienburg. All that we could muster to counter this massive force of over 2 000 aircraft were 63 jet fighters from JG 7 and KG (J) 54. Preparations for a bombing strike of that size did not go unnoticed by our intelligence services and radar stations: as soon as the enemy bombers crossed the English coastline at the altitude of 3 000 meters, we were immediately placed on alert. We had seven airworthy jets at my flight (3 Staffel) and they were all ready to go. I initially thought that the bombers would use the perfect weather conditions to proceed directly to Berlin. At around 1430 we got word from the local fighter command cell that the enemy bombers formed up over Osnabrück. The bomber crews did not have to worry about AAA threat since the area around Lüneburger Heide had been captured by British and Canadian forces on April 4. Indeed, the Allies had enjoyed air superiority for quite a while now: their fighters and bombers operated over Germany around the clock with virtual impunity.

Leipheim airfield: Messerschmitt Me 262 V3 taking off for her first flight in the early hours of July 18, 1942 with Flugkapitän Fritz Wendel at the controls. [Kagero archive]00 Mo46-Me262


Over Osnabrück the bomber formation split up into four streams and climbed to 8 000 meters. The first wave headed for Oranienburg, the second set course for Neu-Ruppin, the third pressed on towards Zerbst, Brandenburg-Briest and Burg, while the fourth formation proceeded to Rechlin, Rechlin-Lärz and Parchim. When one of the bomber streams approached Burg at 7 000 meters the jet squadrons were ordered to scramble. Although a handful of Me 262s from the unit commanded by Oberleutnant Fritz Stehle and from KG (J) 54 did manage to knock down a few B-17s, it was not enough to keep the Americans from dropping 400 tons of fragmentation bombs on the airfield. All runways were turned into rubble in a matter of minutes. In the meantime the air raid sirens began to blast away at Rechlin-Lärz, Parchim, Brandenburg-Briest and Oranienburg. When Me 262s from 9. and 10./JG 7 launched to intercept the bombers they were immediately attacked by the U.S. fighters, whose pilots downed two of our jets in quick succession. Minutes later the Liberators released their bombs leaving behind an airfield riddled with huge bomb craters. Oberleutnant Franz Schall, a Knight’s Cross recipient and an ace with 133 kills to his credit, was killed when his aircraft hit one of the craters during a landing attempt, nosed over and exploded.
At the same time, some 60 km south east of Parchim, the U.S. Flying Fortresses and Liberators pounded the airbases at Rechlin and Rechlin-Lärz putting all available runways out of commission. During the attack the Americans destroyed 29 aircraft parked on the ground and damaged additional 21 machines. The crews of III./JG 7 stood almost no chance of reaching the bombers, since they were almost immediately engaged by enemy fighters in a series of mad dogfights. The jet pilots scored only four kills, including a single B-17, two Mustangs and a Thunderbolt. The fight cost the life of Oberleutnant Walter Wever from the HQ flight who was shot down over Dierberg near Neuruppin.
The ominous contrails of the approaching bomber formations now appeared over Brandemburg-Briest. On the ground the Me 262 pilots were closing their jets’ bubble canopies, while the turbines were spooling up spitting black smoke into clear, spring air. Within seconds the rumble of jet engines at full military power shook the entire airfield signaling the launch of the aircraft from the HQ flight and from 1./JG 7. Shortly thereafter Oberleutnant Hans Grünberg, who had earned the ace status during his service with JG 3, dispatched two B-17s. In the meantime the airfield at Branbenburg-Briest was taking horrendous punishment from the allied bombs, which did not stop our AAA from firing a barrage of shells at the intruders.

 

Me 262A-1a “green 4" flown by Theo Weissenberger of JG 7. The aircraft is pictured with removed starboard engine covers. [Visualisation 3d Marek Ryś]