The First Jet Night Fighters
For the foregoing reasons, none of the new design – Та 154, He 219, Ju 88 and all other twin-engined night fighters – produced a really outstanding
performance in flight. Experiments with under-fuselage turbines proved too costly. The only reasonable solution was to use jet fighters and on 12 December 1944 OKL ordered the setting up of two ‘Jet Night Fighter Commandos’: Kommando Welter led by Leutnant Kurt Welter with three Me 262s, and Kommando Bisping, led by Hauptmann Josef Bisping with three Ar 234s.
OKL’s demand for the medium term was a night fighter with two heavy HeS Oil turbines and a crew of two or three. The efficient Bremen 0 radar and offensive armament of four 30mm MGs and rockets made these aircraft the ultimate weapon for night-fighter operations. To gather practical experience a number of ‘auxiliary night fighters’ converted from available operational Me 262 A-las were ordered from Arado and Messerschmitt, but work advanced slowly. Deutsche Lufthansa only completed the first Me 262 B-la/Ul ‘auxiliary night fighter’at its Berlin-Staaken hangar in February 1945.
On 18 October 1944, Leutnant Welter, a Knight’s Cross holder with 33 victories, was given the opportunity to test the Me 262 as a night fighter, and took over his small command on 2 November 1944. In close cooperation with 1. Flakdivision (Berlin), he flew his first night sortie on 27 November using a loaned, slighdy modified Me 262 A-la. He shot down an RAF Mosquito, his fourth victory with the Me 262 that month. As his unit did not have Me 262s initially, his pilots were given Bf 109 G-lOAs and G-14As. Welter, promoted to Oberleutnant in December, continued operational training at night with the day fighter. The instrument panel had a second turn indicator and better illumination. During flights with this experimental aircraft Welter trained himself for his further air victories in the coming weeks. His grasp of night flying a jet aircraft quickly revolutionised the art. Welter trained the first of his pilots on a two-seat Me 262 B-la (ЕЗФ04) at Rechlin-Larz under conditions no more favourable than for day-fighter trainees. As a rule the men flew five or six short instruction flights before becoming operational.
Because of the desperate need for jet fighters with the day units, especially JG 7 and KG(J) 54, it was extremely difficult for Welter to obtain Me 262s. On 3 January 1945 his command received its first new Me 262 A-l; two others followed during the month. Despite the lack of aircraft, by 24 January the Kommando had accounted for two four-engined bombers and three Mosquitos. Four more jets arrived in February, but not the agreed Me 262 B-la/Ul. The first of these was probably wrecked near the Rechlin test centre during a test flight in February. Operational training and missions with the single seaters were continued from Burg aerodrome near Magdeburg. On the night of 10 February an Me 262 of 2. Jagddivision engaged a Mosquito in searchlight beams near a protected installation. On 15 February two Me 262 A-las operated in a single night. On 22 Februarv during an anti-Mosquito flight over 2. Jagddivision territory three Mosquitos were destroyed. From then on, mission followed mission.
On 28 February Kommando Welter became 10./NJG 11, part of Oberst Heinrich Wittmers 1. Jagddivision. Two weeks later six more Me 262 A-la’s arrived at Burg, and with these aircraft 10. Staffel pilots flew more than 40 sorties. At the end of March the unit received another single seater and a two-seater conversion. According to the delivery note the latter machine was not a B-la/U-1 but the В-2 series conversion. Those Me 262 A-la series aircraft converted into two-seaters at Stade were given alternative armament, mostly two MK 108s or two MG 151/20s.
After mid-March many 10./NJG 11 pilots had enough Me 262 tactical experience to increase their tally of victims. The total was 19 including five alone on 22 March. Next day the unit possessed nine Me 262 fighters, mostly single- seaters. On 7 April the next two-seater arrived at Burg. The two-seaters were not completely serviceable, however, because of serious problems with the two jettisonable 300-litre fuel tanks. Despite all difficulties, the number of enemy bombers destroyed by 10./NJG 11 rose quickly to 33, but, by 10 April, 10 of the 19 Me 262s had been lost, most to crew error or technical defects. In a heavy raid that day on Oranienburg aerodrome near Berlin, four Me 262s of 10./JG 7 and a rare converted Me 262 two-seater previously with Kommando Welter were lost. The aircraft had been stationed there for comparison flights against other high-speed night fighters, including the Ar 234 auxiliary night fighter and the Do 335 M-10. In a simultaneous raid on Burg airfield, 10./NJG 11 lost four of its Me 262s.
On 12 April the number of operational machines was four. Eight days later these flew from Burg to Blankensee/Lubeck. After 10./NJG 11 was bombed there the following day, the machines flew to Reinfeld to use the Autobahn as their operations base, the first operational 10./NJG 11 flights from the road beginning on 21 April. Because of the lack of infrastructure only sporadic flights were possible, and on 30 April Welter transferred to Schleswig. The last operations were flown on 2 May after a few Me 262s arrived at Blankensee. On 7 May the pilots and some of the ground staff moved from Liibeck to Schleswig – Jagel and surrendered there to British forces, who thus came into possession of four operational Me 262 A-las and two grounded but undamaged two-seaters parked on the airfield boundary.
By the capitulation 75 missions had been flown in which 43 enemy aircraft had been destroyed at night and five by day. Besides damage from flying debris, an Me 262 was lost by collision while engaging a Mosquito. Of the aerial victories, Kurt Welter was credited with 22 Mosquitos and two Lancaster bombers using Y- or Egon direction. He claimed other successes but lacked witnesses to substantiate. It is probable that the Staffelkapitan shot down around 30 Allied machines using the Me 262. Oberfeldwebel Fritz Reichenbach obtained six successes by night and one by day, Feldwebel Karl-
The single-seat Me 262 V-056 (later V-2/2) was equipped with Siemens FuG 218 and an FuG 226 Neuling installation for experimental purposes.
Heinz Becker six by night and two by day. An experimental upwards-firing MG 131 was installed behind the cockpit of Becker’s Me 262 A-l ‘Red 7’. His first success was an American Lightning on 19 February which exploded after receiving up to 39 З-cm AP rounds. Flying wreckage damaged his left turbine. By 22 March he had shot down at least six Mosquitos. His last report is dated 25 April. Oberfeldwebel Gustav Richarts was in fourth place with four Me 262 victories by night. The short operational period proved that fast jets were suited to night operations.
The same could not be said for the Ar 234 night fighter. As with so many futuristic ideas, OKL had given too much thought to the project before placing the contract. Within a short period Arado responded with a high-performance night fighter based on the Ar 234 В-2. By the end of 1944, a total of 30 machines had been converted to night fighters at Sagan and Alt-Lonnewitz. The first experimental aircraft was Ar 234 В-2 (SM+FE) which had flown only twice on night tests by 26 November 1944 and was seriously damaged while making a night landing in mid-December.
On 12 December 1944 OKL ordered the formation of a small test unit for Ar 234 night fighters under Hauptmann Josef Bisping. By mid-January 1945 only a few flights had been made using the repaired Ar 234 B-2. Frequent technical problems interfered with the test programme, which was suspended at the beginning of February. During this period another Ar 234 B-2 was slighdy damaged during a night flight.
On 13 February Bisping and his radioman, Hauptmann Albert Vogl, were killed during a night take-off at Oranienburg as the result of crew error. On 1 March Bisping’s replacement, Hauptmann Kurt Bonow, reported that, besides the first accident, three other Ar 234 B-2s had been lost at night possibly as a result of reflections in the perspex nose. To reduce the problem the lower part of the perspex nose and the entire underside of the fuselage was given a coat of matt black paint.
On 26 March Kommando Bisping was renamed Kommando Bonow (Ar 234). At the end of the month the second experimental machine Ar 234 B-2/N and a third (Works No. 140608) were declared airworthy. In subsequent flights it was reported that the FuG 218 radar aerial assembly caused speed loss, while the high fuel consumption and relatively short endurance made the Ar 234 B-2N a poor prospect as a night fighter. In April 1945 another auxiliary converted by Deutsche Lufthansa arrived at the Bonow unit, probably one of the three Ar 234 B-2Ns previously at Werneuchen.
After all operational aircraft were grounded for a while, one became available for duty in early April. Two officers, Oberleutnante Gustav Francsi and Joachim Piitzkiikl, joined Bonow s unit, the latter newcomer taking Ar 234 B-2 (Works No. 140608) up for five training flights before failing to return from a mission over Berlin. Between 5 and 9 April Hauptmann Bonow and radioman Oberfeldwebel Beppo Marchetti flew five missions over Berlin against RAF
Mosquitos, but despite the speed advantage no kills were claimed even though the target aircraft often came within firing range.
Numerous bomb hits on Oranienburg aerodrome on 10 April practically put the airfield out of commission for jet fighter testing. Accordingly KdE ordered the commando back to Rechlin. An air attack in the early afternoon of 15 April caused further serious damage at Oranienburg. The sole remaining operational machine was flown to southern Germany by one of the Oberleutnante on Kurt Bonow s orders since the general situation even at Rechlin was extremely difficult. Oranienburg fell to the Russians shortly after 24 April.
In parallel with the operational testing, Arado was attempting to develop a high-performance night fighter. The Ar 234 B-2N was merely a quick interim solution before the Ar 234 C-3N or better still C-5N and the next variant C-7N became operational. On 9 January Ar 234 V-27 was the first experimental version of a C night fighter. Because of the heavy fuel consumption of the C-3, the Bad Weather and Night Fighter Development Special Commission cancelled the C-3 and C-5 as night fighters on 20 January and laid everything on the twin-jet Ar 234 C-7/N and Ar 234 P-1, both of which had a stepped cockpit. Neither had any chance of being series-produced. In comparison to the Me 262, the Ar 234 was less well suited for use as a night fighter. It had been built primarily as a bomber and was not so good in the turns as an Me 262 converted day fighter. All efforts at Arado to make the Ar 234 B-2 or C-3 into a useful night fighter by a number of expensive modifications led nowhere.
It is not well known that at the beginning of 1945 efforts were made to turn the Go 229 into a night fighter. This was a two-seater, all-weather machine based on the planned Go 229 A-l. The first designs were prepared in the spring of 1945. The aircraft would have had an FuG 244 Bremen 0 radar in the specially enlarged forward fuselage. ‘Flying-wing’ aircraft were already in existence as mock-ups for the night-fighter role, but did not proceed beyond March 1945.
The many designs, dating from 1944, at the Focke-Wulf project bureau at Bad Eilsen and proposing the creation of a superior night fighter with mixed propulsion remained on the drawing board. A combination of integral DB 603 N, Jumo 222 C/D or Argus As 413 J and two BMW 003 turbines below the wings was planned. The fixed armament was exchangeable: four MK 108s or two MK 103s and two MK 213s or one MK 112/412 and two MK 108s. The Bremen 0 radar would have been the best available. Similar designs were produced at Dornier, but the planning at Focke-Wulf and Dornier was thought too expensive by the Chief-TLR and the Jagerstab to have a chance of a series run, as was the Focke-Wulf design for a triple HeS 011 turbine night-fighter jet.
The only night fighter jet which had a chance of being series-produced in the first half of 1945 was the Me 262 B-2 with HeS Oil turbines and FuG 240 Berlin 0 radar. The improved night fighter, the two-seater Me 262 with
He S ОНА turbines, or the three seater version in the advanced planning stage at Oberammergau, would have been a dangerous handful for any enemy aircraft. The planned use of the two HeS 01 IB turbines and the installation of the FuG 240 radar with dish antenna would have provided the Luftwaffe with a superior night fighter, but the development lost its point after March 1945.