By 26 November things were ready for us on the conversion course to begin the Defence of the Reich duties with jet aircraft.
The Schwärme had been assigned and my ‘262 had a tactical number – a gold ‘8’. The weather was not exactly ideal, for there was a huge cloud bank pushing towards us from the west. This would be my first combat mission in the ‘262. Around 10:00 hrs, the order to take off was given, the engines were started and the turbines roared. I was tasked with intercepting a U.S. Air Force reconnaissance aircraft in the Munich area. It would be my first flight in cooperation with a ground-based fighter control officer using radar.
The ‘262 rolled forward and the speed increased meteorically. Just before the end of the runway, I lifted the machine up and raised the undercarriage and flaps. A quick check of the engine instruments, especially the temperature of the turbines. My ‘262 picked up speed and climbed upwards. I turned my FuG 16 on and found the fighter frequency ‘Bavaria’. A short call followed: ‘Bavaria from Schwalbe 8, please come in’. A few-second pause, then Bavaria came on and gave the first instructions clearly and exactly. Meanwhile, my ‘262 had reached an altitude of 5000 metres. I was vectored to the Munich area to look for U.S. Air Force reconnaissance aircraft which conducted a bomb damage assessment mission.
The ground controller spoke very calmly and almost radiated an atmosphere of confidence. A further order: ‘Course 340, height 7000, distance ahead 20 km’. My ‘262 had quickly reached the altitude. I was on course and the distance was diminishing rapidly. The guns were loaded, the safety catches released and the engine instruments checked again. I was ready for a fight. Bavaria came through with new instructions: ‘Distance ahead 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 – you have made contact – the highest concentration’. I looked around to see if I could catch sight of my target. Unfortunately, this first attempt, it must be said, was a complete wash-out. I could not locate my target.
The second attempt also met with no success. Unfortunately I could not spot any enemy aircraft. Something was not right. I had enough experience as a fighter pilot, I was in control of the Me 262 and was otherwise OK. Feverishly I checked over my flight and engine instruments and the fuel supply. All indicators were in the green area.
A new instruction from the ground control: ‘Course 270’, and a few minutes later: ‘Handing you over to Leander’. Leander was the Stuttgart Fighter Control Centre. Just after Augsburg, a cloud bank pushed eastwards and I flew over a sea of cloud. Alone, with nothing but a cloud bank under my ‘262 and blue sky streaked with vapour trails above me, I had contact with the ground only via radio. Leander called and advised: ‘Course 270, distance ahead 70 km’. The prescribed altitude was 8000 metres and my ‘262 shot there like a greased lightning. Hopefully, it would work out this time. The engines were running normally, the instruments were showing the correct readings and Leander, meanwhile, let me know the narrowing range. I had already been underway for 35 minutes and still had not had sight of the ground. Some decision had to be made soon. The target was still 10 kilometers away. Once again, I checked my weapons. Tension mounted. Leander continued to count down the time to target and then from the right, there appeared a point, my target. The seconds felt like an eternity, then I could identify him – a U.S. Air Force Lightning returning to France. My right hand firmly grasped the control column. The target filled the gunsight. A pressed the trigger. The first burst went too high. I dropped the aircraft’s nose a little and hit the aircraft’s fuselage with my next burst. A lick of flame shot out of its mid-right section. I broke off the attack. Circling above, I saw the Lightning tip over on its left wing and snap into a spin.
I watched the burning Lightning dive into the cloud bank beneath us. Now my tension abated somewhat and I reported my victory to Leander, and asked for instructions for the return flight to Lechfeld. Leander congratulated me on my success and ordered: ‘Course 090’. Again, I checked all the instruments, especially the engine indicators and the fuel supply. Everything was in order. My ‘262 soared calmly through the air. General Galland once said of the Me 262: ‘It’s as if the angels were pushing’. My reverie was broken when Leander came through with: ‘Handing you over to Bavaria, have a good trip.’ The flight continued above the cloud bank. My fuel supply was visibly dwindling.