Messerschmitt Me 262 Historical Overview - Page 2
The first experimental fighter unit to use the new jet was Erprobungskommando 262 (EKdo262), III./ZG 26. The unit formed at Lechfeld on December 19, 1943. EKdo 262 was composed of two Staffeln and one Stab unit. The unit received their first Me 262 in April of '44 and scored their first victory of a Mosquito on July 26, 1944. By September, elements of EKdo 262 went on to join Kommando Nowotny and III./EJG2 at Lechfeld.
The first active unit to use the Me 262 was Kommando Nowotny which was formed at Achmer in September of 1944 and headed by Major Walter Nowotny. The unit became operational on the 3rd of October and claimed their first kill, a B-24, on October 7th. Nowotny began the practice of using prop-driven conventional fighters as cover against the roaming Allied fighters during the takeoffs and landings of the Me 262. The Me 262 was especially vulnerable as the turbojet's relatively low thrust resulted in slow acceleration. It took some time for the jet to get up to speed. But once there, no Allied aircraft could touch it. It was while landing his Me 262 that Nowotny himself was killed. On November 8, 1944, USAAF Mustangs braved flak and the circling Fw190Ds to swoop down and attack Nowotny as he approached causing him to crash short of landing. The unit was disbanded shortly after Nowotny's death. The unit had claimed 22 aircraft with a loss of 26 Me 262s, eight of which were due to accidents and mechanical failures.
The first operational Jagdgeschwader to be equipped with the new jet, JG 7 was formed in August 1944 from the remnants of Kommando Nowotny, along with KG 1 and JG 3. Consisting of one stab and three gruppe, JG 7 was initially led by Oberst Steinhoff.
JG 7 was to become the strongest Me 262 unit in terms of number of planes and pilots. The first weeks were a period of frenetic activity as new aircraft were brought in and pilots were trained in flying them. During this time JG 7 was located at Brandenburg-Briest and for the next six weeks Steinhoff worked to mold them into an effective fighting force. Steinhoff was later replaced by Major Theodor Weissenburger. Later, Major Rudolf Sinner was put in charge from February 19th to March 3rd of 1945.
By November 19th, 1944 III./JG 7 had formed as the first Gruppe of the new Geschwader to be established. Based out of Lager-Lechfeld and commanded by Major Hohagen, III./JG 7 suffered from an inadequate supply of new aircraft and replacement parts. They also had their share of training accidents with ten Me 262s being lost in the first six weeks due to mechanical failure or pilot error.
However, things began to shape up by late February of 1945 as III./JG 7 began to deliver concentrated attacks on USAAF heavy bomber formations. The group was instrumental in establishing how the jet was to be implemented in the anti-bomber role. It is interesting to note that there was much debate among senior JG 7 pilots on the appropriate tactics to employ against the heavy bombers. Even experts in this type of engagement were in variance. At the time, conventional prop fighters had evolved to the head-on attack. Fighters would approach bombers from the front and aim their heavy cannon at the bomber cockpit. The combined speed meant that the fighters had only an instant to fire, but it was also safer as they were within the enemies gun range for only a few seconds. The speed of the Me 262 made this type of attack impossible.
In the end, a return to the standard rear attack was employed by the jet pilots. With the speed of the Me 262 , they could quickly overtake the bombers to get in close and fire their cannon and quickly dive away from the bomber's guns. Of course they would have to withstand the hail of fire from the bombers rear gun emplacements, something that the lightly armored and somewhat delicate Me 262 did not do well. In fact Steinhoff himself was of the opinion that the jets should be employed against the escorting fighters. The bombers could then be attacked by conventional prop fighters.
Whatever the tactics used, the sheer number of allied planes involved made the jet attacks almost irrelevant. For instance, on March 18th III./JG 7 sent up 37 Me 262s to engage a force of 1,221 American bombers and 632 escorting fighters. This action marked the first time the new R4M rockets were used by the Me 262. In the end 12 bombers and 1 fighter were claimed with the loss of 3 Me 262s. Even on their biggest day, JG 7 flew 38 sorties, knocking down 14 US and British bombers and 2 fighters with a loss of 4 Me 262s. Their best efforts yielded less than a 1% loss for the Allies. Thus, we see the pattern that marked most German efforts in the latter part of the war. The Germans had many effective weapons but they were no match for the overwhelming Allied numerical superiority.