Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwalbe vol. II


The Me 262’s poor acceleration and limited maneuverability meant the traditional Schwarm combat formation consisting of two Rotte was ineffective and often discarded by the jet crews. Instead, they operated in the Kette (flight) formation, which consisted of three aircraft. In such cases the formation lead flew slightly higher than the wingmen, which was necessitated by poor downward visibility from the Me 262 cockpit. Another advantage of the Kette formation was that the aircraft could quickly form-up right after take-off: the width of a standard runway at Luftwaffe bases was enough to allow a simultaneous launch of a three-ship formation. Enemy bomber formations were usually attacked by a Staffel consisting of three Kette formations. The Kette leading the formation was followed by two three-ships, slightly above the lead section. Within the Kette aircraft maintained 100 m horizontal separation on climb-out, which increased to 150 m in level flight. There was 300 m horizontal separation between each three-ship formation in the Staffel. If more aircraft were needed and/or available, the attack formation would be expanded lengthwise and sidewise to include additional Kette, or regroup into a staggered line astern formation. Having superior speed performance, Me 262s did not require top cover against Allied escort fighters.

Navigator’s station. On the left – cockpit in transit set-up, on the right – in full combat configuration with rolled down blinds and raised radar control panel. [Visualisation 3d Marek Ryś]


Luftwaffe jets were vectored towards their targets by ground-based radar stations. The proper attack phase began once the fighter crews acquired the targets visually. The head-on attack tactics, normally used by single-engine piston-powered fighters, was out of the question in the case of the Me 262. Although very effective due to bombers’ relatively weak defenses against frontal attacks, that type of attack profile flown by an Me 262 involved extremely high closure speeds of up to 1 200 km/h, making it unsuitable for jet applications.
Instead the Me 262 crews adopted a different attack profile, which typically began with the jets some 4 500 – 5 000 m behind and 2 000 m above a bomber formation. Individual Kette formations would dive towards the targets until they were some 1 500 meters behind the “heavies” and 500 m below their flight level. At that point the jets would pull up and engage their targets from astern and from below in a quick climbing attack. In a dive the Me 262 A-1a could easily accelerate to 850 km/h, which allowed the Luftwaffe pilots to break through the defensive escort fighter formations and then disengage quickly leaving any pursuing Allied fighters far behind. Some of that speed would quickly bleed off during recovery from the dive, which made it easier for the crews to accurately aim and employ their weapons. It was crucial to maintain formation during the final phase of an attack run, since that ensured that the bombers’ defensive fire would be dispersed and less lethal.
There were often two vertical lines etched on the Me 262 reflector gun sight: when a B-17 was within 650 m range its wings would fit between the two lines. It was a cue for a pilot to fire his R4M rockets and then go to guns. The fighter had to break off the attack at no less than 150 m from target. Now the pilot had to penetrate the bomber formation and he had two options to do that: he could egress above or below the bomber stream. The classic tight turn used by piston-powered fighters was practically impossible to perform in the Me 262 due to its poor maneuverability. The best way to disengage was a gentle climb to clear the upper-most bombers at the closest possible range. The high speed of the maneuver meant that the gunners of the high-flying elements of the formation had very little time to open fire. At the same time the gunners in the lower flying bombers would not fire at all in fear of hitting one of their own aircraft flying above. The escape maneuver below the bombers was used very rarely, since it posed a great danger of the falling debris being ingested by the fighter’s engines.
After an attack the jets would regroup and return to base, or, if the fuel state permitted, jump the combat box closer to the front of the bomber stream. On their transit back to base the Me 262s would gradually descend to lower altitudes, but maintained high speed to avoid being intercepted by Allied fighters.
The jets were especially vulnerable during the approach and landing phase. To protect the returning fighters the Luftwaffe deployed piston-powered fighters (usually Focke-Wulf Fw 190 D-9s) to jet bases.

Me 262 in combat
Erprobungskommando 262
Erprobungskommando Lechfeld (later renamed Erprobungskommando 262) was established on December 9, 1943 following the directive issued by Adolf Galland. It was the first Luftwaffe unit to receive the new jets. Hptm. Werner Thierfelder was appointed the unit’s CO on December 15, 19435. Erprobungskommando 262 personnel was recruited from III./ZG 26, a Bf 110 G unit. The former Bf 110 pilots already had multi-engine experience and were deemed well-suited for conversion to twin-jet fighters.
Flight training using production S3 and S4 aircraft began in mid May 1944. Shortly thereafter the unit suffered its first loss when the Me 262, W.Nr. 130 002, VI+AB crashed during one of the training sorties killing its pilot, Uffz. Hans Flachs.
In early July 1944 the trials began in Bavaria to assess the Me 262 in the fast interceptor role. One of the first test sorties of that program was flown by the unit’s CO, Hptm. Werner Thierfelder at the controls of the Me 262 S6, VI+AK. A few minutes into the flight Thierfelder was lost when his jet crashed near Landsberg. According to the official version the aircraft was downed by enemy fighters, although the real cause of the crash was pilot error: Thierfelder approached an enemy reconnaissance aircraft in a shallow dive and subsequently lost control after the jet had exceeded its maximum design airspeed. After Thierfelder’s death Hptm. Horst Geyer took over as the unit’s CO.
On July 26, 1944 . Alfred “Bubi” Schreiber became the first jet fighter pilot to engage in air-to-air combat. Flying the Me 262 S12, W.Nr. 130 017 Schreiber claimed a Mosquito from RAF 544 Squadron. The British aircraft (crewed by Fl/Lt. A. E. Wall – pilot and P/O A. S. Lobban – navigator) in fact survived the encounter with the Me 262. The British were flying a reconnaissance sortie some 9 000 m over Munich. During the transit back to base at Fermo near Ancona the navigator spotted an unidentified twin-engine aircraft 400 m behind the Mosquito. The mysterious machine had no propellers, although two trails of exhaust gases were clearly visible behind it. Fl/Lt Wall firewalled the throttles and threw the aircraft into a tight left turn. Over the next fifteen minutes the Mosquito crew, flying at top speed, was unable to shake off the Me 262. Although the Luftwaffe fighter flew three attack passes against the Mosquito, the British pilot responded each time with well-executed evasive maneuvers and managed to keep his airplane intact. Finally, after the German’s last attack, the Mosquito crew hard two loud bangs. Getting ready to bail out the navigator opened the inside cockpit door and realized that the entire hatch assembly was torn out from the fuselage by heavy g loads caused by wild maneuvering. Eventually the RAF crew found safe haven in the clouds and managed to return to base. The two mysterious bangs could now be explained: the first one was caused by the hatch separating from the fuselage, while the other was a sound of the hatch hitting the aircraft’s fin. [...]

 

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Mo47 Me262 vol2 CMYK

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