Jets, Bombers and Rockets: Nazi Germany's 5 'Wonder' Weapons of World War II
During the war, 1,433 Me-262s were delivered to the front; however, few became fully operational and their numbers were too few to mount significant attacks on the enemy. Some Me-262s continued in the tactical bomber role while others fought Allied air assaults over central Germany. Reports of Allied aircraft shot down top 100 bombers and fighters falling to the Me-262’s four 30mm MK 108 cannons. But many of the jets were brought down by American and British piston engine fighters, destroyed by enemy fire while taking off or landing, or crashing due to mechanical problems. Lastly, during the war’s final months, with only German day fighter operations allowed over the Fatherland, most Luftwaffe bomber units were disbanded, and the Me-262 bomber was almost nonexistent.
The Arado Blitz Bomber
While the Me-262 was designed as a fighter jet but also employed as a bomber, the Arado Ar.234B-2 was a purpose-built bomber powered by jet engines. A revolutionary aircraft that could certainly have had some impact on the course of the war in Europe had it arrived on the battlefield at an earlier stage, surprisingly it was used relatively little.
The Arado Ar. 234B-2 “Blitz” bomber, designed by Walter Blume, was manufactured by Germany’s Arado Flugzeugwerke GmbH, and was the second jet-engined aircraft in history to go into service—and the first jet bomber. Planned from 1941 onward, the prototype only flew on June 15, 1943, due to delays in the delivery of the new Junkers Jumo 004 turbojet engine. A year later the first planes of the initial production series (B) were delivered. This became the principal production model and was built in two variants: the B-1 photo reconnaissance aircraft and the B-2 bomber.
The Ar. 234B-1 was the first to go into operational use in July 1944. The bombers were only sent to an experimental air unit at the end of the year and did not take part in any combat until the first month of 1945 when about 20 participated in the Battle of the Bugle. By then the war was lost, and the effect of the plane in combat was marginal at best. Only 214 Ar. 234B-2s were built.
The Ar. 234B-2 was crewed by a single pilot and was powered by two Junkers Jumo 004 jet engines, creating a thrust of 1,980 pounds. With a wingspan of a little over 46 feet it was 411/2 feet long, 14 feet high, and when loaded weighed 18,541 pounds. Its maximum speed was 461 miles per hour with a service ceiling of 32,810 feet and a range of 1,103 miles. Its bomb load was 3,300 pounds. The plane’s defensive armament consisted of two 20mm MG 151 cannons firing from its tail.
V For Retaliation: Germany’s Rocketry Program
If the Me-262 jets were meant as tactical weapons to protect German skies from Allied aerial assault and blunt enemy ground attacks, Hitler’s Vergeltung-Waffe or “Retaliation Weapons” were designed as instruments of terror. This deadly advance in German technology was meant as payback for British and American bombing of German cities. London would be bombed into ruins by upward of 3,000 missiles a week. On June 6, 1944, a few hours after the first Allied soldiers landed along the Normandy coast, orders were issued from the German High Command to activate these instruments of war.
Development of Hitler’s “Retaliation Weapons” began with experiments in rocket technology in the early 1930s under the supervision of Army Captain Walter Dornbeger and his associate, a rocket enthusiast named Wernher von Braun. By 1934 the Aggregat series of liquid-fueled, gyro-stabilized rocket prototypes had been designed. The next year, to ensure the development of the weapon would remain secret, research laboratories, testing sites, power plants, and factory facilities were set up on the isolated island of Peenemunde, just off the Baltic Sea coast of northern Germany.
By 1939, models A-1 through A-4 of the Aggregat rocket series had been produced. However, Hitler felt the program was not needed, that is until the Luftwaffe lost the Battle of Britain. That event gave the A-4 project top priority, and the testing of the missile commenced in March 1942.
The 46-foot-long, 12-ton rocket, which carried a one-ton explosive warhead up to 200 miles, became known as the V-2. After a number of failed launches, a successful one occurred in October 1942, followed by improvement to the device through 1943. In July of that year, Hitler was convinced of the weapon’s potential and ordered it to be mass produced along with a number of large concrete launching bunkers.
While the Wehrmacht was developing its long-range rockets at Peenemunde, a team of Luftwaffe scientists set to work creating a weapon simpler than the V-2 rocket which could be more inexpensively manufactured and in less time than the guided missile. Within a few months the Luftwaffe designers came up with a small, cheap, pilotless aircraft designated the FZG 76-Flakzielgerat (Antiaircraft Target Device) 79, or better known as the flying bomb or V-1.
For Hitler the V-1 offered a means of retaliation for the incessant Allied bombing campaign against Germany without the risk of bomber losses on Germany’s part. Codenamed Kirschen (Cherry Stone), the V-1 program was instituted at Peenemunde.