Me262 Volume One-Four

by J. Richard Smith & Eddie J. Creek

reviewed by Gerald Asher

 

When I first approached these volumes, my initial thought was, "What information on the 262 could possibly consume four volumes?" After thumbing through these books, I can safely answer my own question. Authors Smith and Creek, with the able assistance of five other contributors as well as three illustrators, have covered every conceivable facet of the development, deployment and demise of the Schwalbe in spectacular aplomb. Each book in the series carries an average of 220 pages with approximately 300 photographs (a substantial number in color), most never before published, I assure you - and each definitely worth examining. Most of the volumes also feature two to four appendices, covering such topics as Camouflage & Markings, Luftwaffe Ranks & Flying Units, Messerschmitt Personalities & Company Organization, "Achilles Heel" (landing gear development - the weakest link in the 262 equation) and facsimiles of the Pilot's Operating Instructions. Also featured prominently are some excellent color profile and oblique images of various Me-262 color schemes by veteran illustrator Tom Tullis; many of the images appear on oversize foldout pages. For example, as a modeler I was particularly impressed to finally find usable drawings detailing the landing gear layout for the early "tailwheel" prototype 262s. My old Monogram kits are no longer safe from my whacking and hacking. Operational unit experiences are thoroughly documented, as are the multitude of "paper airplanes" (all of those design proposals for later 262 variants which never got off the drawing board). What makes these so special is that Smith, Creek and Co. take the time to explain the "how and why" of each design, rather than simply tossing a "what if" configuration in front of the reader to leave one scratching his/her head.

Arranging the history in chronological fashion, Volume I begins with a biographical study of designer Willy Messerschmitt and his evolutionary design work leading up to his jet design; other influences are touched upon, including not only the Heinkel 280, but the proposals for jet powered Me-109 and Fw-190 variants. The reader will bear witness to the Me-262's progression from a straight-winged, tailwheel design through the final swept-winged, tricycle gear configuration. Masterful draftsmanship is evident in the highly detailed obliques, inboard profiles, cutaways and diagrams (prevalent throughout all four volumes) illustrate every facet of the 262's metamorphosis, including the original piston-engined prototype, along with the engine development. The first volume closes with the Me-262 undergoing prolonged testing in mid-1944, in a chapter ominously titled, "We Need The Me-262 More Than Anything Else."

Volume 2 begins with the formation of the Luftwaffe's first jet unit: Erprobungskommando 262. For all intents and purposes, this outfit was essentially a WWII counterpart of today's military aviation operational test & evaluation units, where new designs undergo the rigors of simulated "real world" operations to determine how best to employ a new fighter design. The aircraft's constant teething troubles in powerplant development are thoroughly covered along the way, as well as the argument over how best to employ the 262 (i.e. bomber vs. fighter - an battle which would confront the aircraft into its final days of the war). The Schnellstbomber, photo reconnaissance, Blitz Bomber, All Weather, early night fighter and rocket-powered variants are well documented, as is the 50mm cannon armed fighter. Highly detailed drawings describe all aspects of the aircraft's armament, both actual and projected - from the R4M rocket to the later X-4 missile, and everything in between. The latter half of the book begins to delve into the actual combat deployments of the Me-262, with a chapter appropriately titled, "My God, What Was That?" a statement attributed to a 9th Air Force pilot on patrol in October 1944. Volume 2 ends with narratives on the problems of adequately training new pilots for the 262.

The opening chapters of Volume 3 cover the two-seat night fighter's development and deployment; for the modeler especially, these chapters are visual delight. Much color photography is devoted to some stunning period images, but also to the sole surviving night fighter variant, inside and out, in the South African National War Museum. After this, it's back to the combat front; actually, two fronts. While the Luftwaffe dukes it out against relentless Allied air attacks, its Jagdflieger proponents wage an ongoing war with the High Command in what Goering referred to as "A mutiny without parallel in history." Much effort has been worthily expended on gathering all facets of the story, putting a very human face on the trials and tribulations of the Me-262's operational history; interviews with surviving 262 pilots and their confrontations with Goering are juxtaposed with their personal combat experiences - and corroborated with excerpts from the official combat reports of the Allied pilots who engaged them. Thumbnail biographies are rife in this set, covering a multitude of Luftwaffe and Messerschmitt personalities, both popular and little known. The overall effect will leave the reader with a feeling of almost firsthand experience - if you weren't there sixty years ago, this compilation is definitely the next best thing.

The final volume of the series continues to trace the men and machines of the Luftwaffe's Me-262 units through their final,t frustrating months of the conflict in Europe. As the war winds to its inevitable conclusion, the authors take us through the capture of the Luftwaffe's prize technology, and its subsequent evaluation by Allied forces. "Watson's Whizzers," the Army Air Forces technical evaluation unit, is well covered, as are British, Soviet and French evaluations. Also featured are Japan's Kikka design and development, and Czechoslovakia's postwar production of the 262 design.

I had never considered myself much on an Me-262 aficionado, but after looking at this series, I may be a convert. Most of the superlatives that come to mind after reviewing these books seem to be inadequate; suffice to say that most of the aviation writers in this world would do well to take a note from Smith & Creek, whose noble and monumental efforts truly bring their subject to life. I believe this series is a "must read" for anyone who wishes to have a complete understanding of one of the most pivotal designs in the evolution of fighter aircraft.

 


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