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Thread: Jet night fighters - 6 December 1944 ?

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    Default Jet night fighters - 6 December 1944 ?

    What is the probability of Me.262s operating at night, 6 December 1944 ?

    On 6 December 1944, Lancaster LW209 of No.426 Squadron (captain, S/L H.K. Stinson), raiding Osabruck, had engagements with enemy fighters at 2005 and 2015 hours (Flight Sergeant R. Pierson rear gunner). The crew reported the fighters as being Me.163Bs, but this seems so unlikely that one asks if they were confusing that type with the Me.262. Both fighters were claimed as destroyed. The positions are given as 52-34 North 07-05 East and 52-22 North 07-02 East.

    By way of illustration, the narrative for the first engagement read: "The Mid-Upper sighted a jet of flame on the port quarter down. At 500 yards the Rear Gunner was able to make out the outline of an aircraft, presumably an ME.163B on the port quarter level. He ordered corkscrew port and opened fire immediately. The enemy aircraft closed from the port quarter level at 500 yards to dead astern 200 yards. The Rear Gunner obtained numerous hits and at 200 yards the E/A flipped over on its back and went straight down, spitting flame and smoke. When it got down into the clouds it exploded and parts were seen to fall from the explosion by all members of the crew." The narrative of the second combat is similar though more detailed.

    Whatever the outcome, an assessing staff officer (signature illegible) wrote, “The pilot and gunners in this crew are definitely experienced and very reliable, which strengthens my opinion that we are up against jet night fighters.”

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    Hi Hugh

    With propulsion for only about 8-10 mins I can't think that they'd have used Me 163's at night. No time to seek out the bombers in darkness.

    More likely 262's?

    Ian

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    True, I doubt the ME.163 identification, and can only surmise that the crew, having been briefed about possible jet interceptions, had unusual German aircraft on the brain, to the extent that they confused the '163 and '262 in their minds (rather like early wartime reports of combats with spurious He.113s). I thought it significant, however, that the staff officer who minuted the combat reports used the term "jet night fighters". I am reasonably certain (without being able to quote chapter and verse) that there were some Me.262s flown at night (without radar); my question boils down to this - could Me.262s have been flying night interceptions as early as December 1944 ? Are there any records from the German side that they were so operating ? And as the gunners claim the destruction of TWO enemy aircraft, what Luftwaffe losses (if any) could be tied to that date and locality ?

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    Hi Hugh,

    "What is the probability of Me.262s operating at night, 6 December 1944 ?" ... in the vicinity of heavy bombers and away from the Berlin city area then the answer is close to nil.

    the situation appears to be that once the idea of the existence of the Me262 and Me163 were placed in the minds of aircrew by intelligence officers and intelligence reports in the autumn of 1944, then night-time sightings of the same became a 'self-fulfilling prophecy' of endemic proportions over the last months of the war. There is evidence from surviving 6 Group briefing notes that from the autumn of 1944 crews were informed of jet aircraft bases and expected numbers of Me262s etc at these bases during briefings, and this seems to have come about due to the deployment of the Me262 during daytime operations.

    In the first week of November 1944, a series of three Bomber Command night raids just beyond the front lines resulted in aircrew seeing some type of phenomena at night that was interpreted by the crews as being jet- and rocket-propelled aircraft. In addition, the crews submitted claims against these phenomena for 28 destroyed and four damaged. Total such night-time claims against jet- and rocket-propelled aircraft for November 1944 were 34-6-1, and for the period Nov 1944 to May 1945 were 77-9-9.

    In almost all of these cases, what the crews were seeing were probably rocket-projectiles used as visual signals to indicate the position and course of the bomber stream. Such signals were certainly fired from the ground and may have also been fired from the air.

    As you'll be aware, the Me262 was used at night, but the only recorded occasion that it was employed against heavy bombers was on the night of 13-14 January 1945 over Stettin. Ironically, that was a night when crews (for once) didn't report seeing any jet aircraft. The overwhelming majority of operations flown at night by the Me262 were in the Berlin area against Mosquitoes and these only really commenced in January 1945, although some test flights may have been made in late 1944, but not necessarily against opposition. Oblt. Kurt Welter did most of the initial testing of the Me262 at night between Dec 1944-Jan 1945, and the mode of operations was under GCI-control in the Berlin area with the aid of searchlights. Welter was the only pilot to fly any night operations initially and no other pilots started also flying night operations in the Me262 until mid-February 1945. Former 10./NJG11 pilot Karl-Heinz Becker confirmed in the 1970s that their night-time operations were exclusively flown against Mosquitoes in the Berlin area and that they required either searchlights to illuminate a target or for the Me262 pilot to be able to see, under certain conditions, the exhaust contrails of the Mosquitoes while they were at altitude. He also made clear that the Me262 was a difficult aircraft to fly in night-time combat because of the sensitivity of the throttles to change in thrust (i.e. sudden changes in trust could cause a flame-out) and the difficulty in approaching even the fast Mosquito at an overtaking speed that wasn't too fast.

    Of the recorded night-time operational losses by 10./NJG11, these amounted to three known aircraft - one on 17-18 March 1945, one on 27-28 March 1945 (due to a flameout), and one on 2-3 April 1945 (due to either a crash shortly after take-off or collision with a Mosquito).

    With the majority of RAF aircrew sightings and combats with 'Me262s' and 'Me163s' at night, a couple of common threads come through in the combat reports:

    1. only the flame was usually seen (although when pressured by the intelligence officers, some crews would then state that they clearly saw the aircraft)

    2. many of the phenomena sighted were seen rising from the ground and then fell away again.

    3. many of the phenomena exploded irrespective of being fired at or not.

    BCHQ was rightly sceptical about the number of claims and sightings being reported and concluded after analysis that what the aircrew were seeing were rocket- or jet-powered projectiles other than manned aircraft. If you see the Supplementary Narratives of Operations, which list the monthly air combat claims acknowledged by BCHQ, you'll not find a single night-time jet claim listed, rather a monthly total is claims is given with a statement that they could not be adequately assessed. They are not included in the statistical total of acknowledged claims.

    So, in a nut-shell, it is highly unlikely that this crew saw a real Me163 at night, the deployment of which in such circumstances would have been a waste of resources and near suicide for the pilot. The Me163 was a point fighter, meaning that it had to be based and deployable from right beside the target because of limited endurance.

    What the crew probably witnessed was some form of air- or ground-fired signal munition.

    If the war had lasted another month or two past May 1945, then RAF crews would have suddenly been confronted with a deluge of such phenomena in the night skies over Germany, since the LW was on the verge of mass-deployment of such signals munitions to guide night fighters because of the effects of jamming on the normal channels of communication between ground and aircraft.

    Regards Rod
    Last edited by RodM; 12th January 2015 at 03:02.

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    Thanks Rod for your usual comprehensive and informative answer. They're always worth seeing.

    Ian

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    Just for the sake of completeness, there should be added a very small number of sorties by an Ar234 night fighter.

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    I am overwhelmed at the thoroughness of Rod's response and underwhelmed by the gunners whose narratives now appear to be somewhere between paranoid and delusional.

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    FWIW - Air Ministry Weekly Int Summaries gave detailed descriptions of both the Me262 and Me163 on 11th March 1944. The following week the Summary included accurate artist's impressions of them. Aircrew were fully aware of these types before they reached routine service. I think gunners always liked to claim that e/a encountered were the latest types - e.g. Me210 is often reported instead of the Me110.

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    Hi Hugh,

    I think the realities of the night-air war were that young men often saw unusual (in the sense that they were not part of everyday experience) sights in the night skies and their minds rationalised an explanation of what they were seeing based upon the information already fed to them. On the other side of the coin, German night fighter crews (and RAF air gunners for that matter) after attacking an enemy aircraft at night, may have seen an explosion on the ground afterwards and naturally associated the explosion with their combat. Of course, such an explosion could have been the crash of an enemy aircraft attacked by someone else, the explosion of jettisoned bombs, or even the crash of a friendly aircraft.

    The following quotation from a 1970s interview with ex-German night fighter pilot Emil Weinmann, sums up this situation well (underlining for emphasis has been done by me):

    The first encounter was in the region of Stuttgart and one of the crew behind me yelled right away, ‘Emil, Emil, there, I have one!" He was above us and to the right so I reduced speed and flew into position – left and below – but apparently I got careless; I aimed for the left wing, that means between the two engines to get the fuel tanks to burst and start to burn, but I didn't aim too well. When I pulled up, to the right side, to let him fly through my fire, I aimed a little bit too low and too far ahead and somehow, I regretted it, I didn't hit the wing but I hit the body of the aircraft. So obviously, from the left side and underneath, I hit the front, starting from the nose of the aircraft, and I hit it as far back as the main spar and I saw quite clearly pieces of debris coming off. I don't know if I hit the crew or not but I must have at least hit the control mechanisms, because it pulled up and made a half left-hand turn and then went down in an almost upside down position. It didn't burn. I was afraid momentarily that I could get hit by some debris, so I took off away and I lost it out of sight. I told my two crewmen to watch for the impact.

    Before we had gone much further, my BF, Karl Zibull, yelled, ‘Emil, there is another one.’ Well this time it was to the left and behind us. Now in this case, after the previous events, I concentrated more. As I said, I was probably a little bit careless the first time by getting too close and mis-aiming and so now I took a little bit more care and by attacking it from underneath, on the right side and pulling up, I hit it in the right wing. It started burning right away. Now the two encounters happened, let's say, 5 – 8 minutes apart and about this time, if I recall correctly, my BM, Robert Riechelmann, saw the first one hitting the ground as it exploded. Now of course, I cannot say for sure that it was ours, it could have been another one too.


    From what I have read in some published works with regard to RAF air gunner's night-time claims against jet aircraft, often a single combat report is quoted and the assumption made that jets were roaming over the Reich at night, but this assumption is without an understanding of the wider context, which shows that RAF air gunners were claiming a lot of jets destroyed at night, in numbers that would suggest the Germans would have been insane to continue night-time deployment of such aircraft, and that the Germans weren't deploying squadrons and squadrons of jet aircraft at night.

    Interesting files at TNA regarding this matter are:

    AIR 14/2912 - Enemy jet aircraft 1944 Nov-1945 Mar - this is the file that looks at the initial crazed period of claiming in Nov 1944 and BCHQ's response to it.

    AIR 14/0365 - Aircraft losses and casualties reports, information and data. 1942 Dec. 1946 April - this file has the monthly BC Casualties and Claims reports, which show, along with the Supplementary Narratives of Operations (not on this file), that night-time claims against jet- and -rocket propelled aircraft were not assessed or confirmed by BCHQ and not included in the claims statistics.

    On another note, in writing nightly narratives for the Nachtjagd War Diaries 2nd Ed, I have found the odd occasion when it can be proven from surviving Luftwaffe records that on some nights the Nachtjagd did not fly any sorties in response to RAF incursions - yet some RAF crews reported sightings and combats with German night fighters. On a few of these occasions, RAF bombers would return to the UK with damage inflicted by 0.303 inch ammunition.

    Also, from surviving RAF combat reports etc, occasions can be identified when the air gunners on board two RAF bombers let fly at each other in the belief that they had encountered the enemy...

    Such was the reality; young, keyed-up men interpreting unidentified visual phenomena as what they wanted or expected to see...

    Cheers

    Rod
    Last edited by RodM; 13th January 2015 at 00:05.

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    Sorry this is off topic slightly but after some research I believe that one of the three halifaxes claimed by Emil Weinmann was NR121MPE. This crew included my grandfather,William Brown Mallen, they crashed 200m west of Hohen Sulzen which is due West of Worms. The 76 Squadron crews took off around 16.40 hrs from Holme on Spalding Moor and were over the target of Worms at around 20.45. Mr Weinmann's claims are also West of Worms. Would anyone know if the 1970's interviews are available?

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