The Me 262 Schwalbe (Swallow) first flew on July 18th, 1942. Its speed outclassed any plane flying at the time. However, senior members of the Luftwaffe remained cautious – a plane that flew so fast in testing did not, in their eyes, prove itself as a combat plane until it had done just that in battle. In one sense, the Luftwaffe’s hierarchy was right. The Me 262 had to prove its value in actual combat as opposed to fly-pasts in front of an invited audience.
In late 1943, Hitler gave his agreement to the mass production of the Me 262. However, he insisted that the Me 262 was used primarily as a fighter-bomber – even though it had been built as a fighter. Hitler, therefore, misunderstood the rational behind the plane. Flying at speed, it could have been devastating when it got amongst Allied bomber formations flying over Germany. Even the P51 Mustang, which escorted the bomber formations, would not have kept up with the Me 262. The Mustang had a maximum speed of 437 mph while the Me 262 could fly at a maximum of 540 mph. However, the order for it to be used as a fighter bomber dramatically changed its role.
The Me 262 first flew in combat on July 25th, 1944 when it attacked a Mosquito flying a reconnaissance mission over Munich. When it was allowed to be used solely as a fighter against bomber formations, the Me 262 was devastating with over 100 kills. However, many Me 262’s never left the ground as many were destroyed by the Allies while they were on the ground. Of 1,400 produced, less than 300 ever saw combat. Allied bombing of factories also ensured that the Me 262 was always short of parts and fuel. Also the plane needed highly trained and skilled pilots – and a training period was essential to ensure that those men skilled in flying propeller driven planes got used to the vast differences of a jet plane. Germany simply did not have the time for these men to get sufficient experience of flying these planes before they were needed for combat missions. The plane itself also experienced problems – pilots were killed as the plane could simply break up while in flight. Its cannons were also prone to jamming thus rendering it ineffective while in combat.
My friend Lee has a die-cast model of this and I took pictures of it in 2009 with an Olympus SP570UZ, I now did some work on it to produce this image