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German jets, missiles and "Wunderwaffen"

Jemiba

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I was recently recommending the book „Die Illusion der Wunderwaffen“ (The illusion of the
wonderweapons) by Rolf Schabel. As it isn’t available in english and translator software probably
will fail due to its style, I would like to post a summary of the conclusions drawn by the author.
I think, it could be interesting for all those of you with a special interest in the german aviation
of WW II and, yes, I really think, it can shed a slightly different light at least on some german
aircraft projects.
I’ll confine myself to themes with direct relation to aircraft, leaving aside those concerning, for
example the doctrine of the german airforce. I’ll start with some statements, that can often be
read, but are disproved by the author :
-“ In Germany the development of jet engines was done only on private initiative and was ignored
by the german officials for too long “
Programs for the development of jet engines were started by the RLM as early as 1937/38 and pressed
ahead, mainly in responsibility of the traditional engine manufacturers. Such programs were regarded
by both sides, industry and officials, as long term options, often regarded by the industry as a
contender to the piston engine development and disturbing the development of pis-ton engines by
absorbing man hours.
- “ With the beginning of the war, Germany stopped development of new aircraft and of jet engines.”
In fact there was nothing like a stop of new developments, especially not for jet engines. Although
they hadn’t had the highest priority, their importance wasn’t regarded lower, after the (necessary)
attempt to dedupe the programs and give higher priority to frontline types.
- “The first jet fighters could have been operational much earlier”
Development of the He 280, Me 262 and Me 163 had started before the war, the aircraft itself were
more or less ready by 1941, but their engines still far from being ready. The difficulties and amount of
time needed to make them operational had been completely underestimated by the RLM, but by the
industry, too. More realistic plans expected the Me 262 to be ready for mass pro-duction not before
1945. For (then) conventional aircraft, the standard time from starting the project to the beginning of
mass production was 4 years, that means, for types, which didn’t need basic research, as still was
necessary for the jet engine.
- “ The success of the Me 262 was hampered by Hitlers decision and strict order to use it solely as
a “Blitzbomber” (fast bomber)."
As long as the high command really insisted on this order, the number of available aircraft was much
too low either, for achieving a worthwhile effect. The development of the troublesome engines wasn’t
effected in a negative way by this decision and in November 1944 the Me 262 was allowed to be used
as a fighter again. BTW, in a memorandum from 13th September 1942 Willy Messerschmitt himself
spoke about the Me 262 as proposed as a bomber to the RLM and he did so in other cases, too !
- “ The Me 262 didn’t get enough support by the german officials/by the RLM”
At the end of 1942 the Me 262 got a higher priority and in early 1943, states secretary Eberhard Milch
ordered the cancellation of the Me 209, the planned successor to the Bf/Me 109, in favour of the
Me 262. Willy Messerschmitt himself appealed against this order und succeeded in its revocation, using
his relations to Hitler.

As can be seen, the author makes clear, that it wasn’t only the german high command, that failed in
the case of the jet powered aircraft, but to a large part the german aviation industry itself.

From the very beginning, the german aviation industry was suffering from a severe lack of qualified
personal. Until the program for rationalisation of aircraft production ordered by Udets successor
Eberhard Milch, the german aircraft manufacturers still used universal tools and workshop-like
production methods, demanding quite highly qualified personal, which was in short supply and couldn’t
be taken from other branches of the industry easily. It wasn’t before summer 1941, that leaner
methods were introduced, using more specialised tooling and manufacturing processes, that could be
handled by quickly trained personal. Without those changes the high production numbers reached
by the german aircraft industry couldn’t have been realised.
But more severe was the deficiency of engineers and scientists. Between 1932 and 1940 from 20.995
graduates only 271 had a degree in aviation technology. A side note: In the brewery trade it were
896 ! There were several institutions in Germany dealing with basic aviation research, but their
personal generally wasn’t tasked with direct supporti of the aircraft manufacturers. With the
worsening situation, this was recognised by many scientists form those institutes themselves, who
felt to be obliged to contribute to the war effort, often leading to weird proposals and inventions.
Adding to the problem was the fact, that the number of engineering hours needed to put a new aircraft
into service was very often grossly underestimated, not only by the RLM, but by the industry, too.
The time needed to get a new type ready for mass production was regarded as too long by the RLM
at the beginning of the war, so it was ordered to shorten the standard procedure of development: With
the prototype just in the phase of test flying, a pre-series was ordered and mass production was
already prepared. So, with every change to the design, demanded by the growing experience with this
type, not only the prototype and the pre-series aircraft, but often the tooling, too, had to be modified.
And as the test phase was held as short as possible, flaws in the design often remained uncured. Best
known examples for the failing of this method were the Me 210, He 177 and later the He 162. Another
point, that was neglected, was the need for engineering hours spent to modify those types still in
production. Changes to a design were regularly incorporated, either to improve perform-ance or
armament, or to ease production. Here the US aviation industry, for example, could rely heavily on the
experiences of the car industry, the german aircraft manufacturers were more or less left on their own,
as individual transport wasn’t as common in Germany before the war, as it already was in the US.
Another point adding to the stress of the designers, was the need to save precious resources and to
make due with materials of deteriorating quality, often resulting in the need to re-design parts.

With regards to those points, building and bringing into service at least in some numbers the Me 262
and Ar 234 was quite an achievement, but it had no chance to change the outcome of the war and it
hadn’t from the start. To press those types into service earlier simply wasn’t possible.
That’s for short the authors statement, which is, as said before, limited to the mentioned aircraft types
and those weapons like the Enzian or Feuerlilie ground-to-air missiles. Nevertheless, to my opinion it
says a lot, too, about the chances for realisation of many of those weird projects and maybe about
the seriousness of their designs.
What in my mind makes the difference to other publications is the authors approach, which isn’t just
from the technical, but from the historical and economical side. And of course, the amount of used
and mentioned sources, although the author was critised for including authors like Green and Novarra
into his sources !
 

Bailey

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It sounds like a very interesting and refreshing look at the German aviation industry, putting it properly in context with the overall German situation. You are right that very few writers, actually take into account the wider view, balancing the requirements of the political and economic climate and discounting some of the propaganda.

It's a great shame that it is not available in English.

Regards Bailey.
 

Jemiba

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There just isn't a worthwhile market, I think. Those arguments by the author not only apply to
the Me 262 and other actually built aircraft, but in a certain way they show, that many of those
fancy "projects", even the authentical ones, weren't much more than hastily written down ideas,
"concepts" in modern parlance, or just "What-If's". I really think, there are a lot of people, who don't
want to read this !
 

Hammer Birchgrove

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Pretty thought-provoking book, given what you've written.

Does the book say anything about Albert Speer, especially his importance as Minister of Armaments, and his opinion that money and resources spent on offensive weapons such as the V-2 *should* have been spent on defensive weapons such as the Wasserfall ground-to-air missile and the Me-262 jet fighter interceptor?

(BTW, I know that, strictly speaking, the V-1 and V-2 missiles and the V-3 cannon weren't "Wunderwaffen" but "Vergeltungswaffen". :p )

Is the book "only" about air-related subjects or does it tell about tanks, submarines and other "Wunderwaffen"?
 

Jemiba

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Thought-provoking, that's it, well-worded !

Will look up in detail, what's said about Albert Speer. The V-weapons are mentioned mainly
as contenders in the aspiration for materials and manpower, as the other military branches
are. But the books main subject are the german jet fighters and, to a lesser extent the ground-
to-air missiles, the defensive weapons, that are often said to have come too late, although they could
have been fielded earlier.
 

Hammer Birchgrove

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Thanks, I'll wait eagerly! :)

Here's another good word to know:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Factoid
 

Jemiba

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“Does the book say anything about Albert Speer, especially his importance as Minister of Armaments,
and his opinion that money and resources spent on offensive weapons such as the V-2 *should* have
been spent on defensive weap-ons such as the Wasserfall ground-to-air missile and the Me-262 jet
fighter interceptor?”

I’ve browsed through and the answer is : No !
It’s stated, that after the bombing attacks on Hamburg during 1943, he warned, that the continuation
of such effective attacks would destroy Germany’s industrial foundations, so he was well aware of the
need for more defensive efforts. Nevertheless, there was a constant quarrel between the leadership of
the airforce and Speers Rüstungsministerium (ministry for armament) about the allocation of resources
and manpower, for airforce programs on one side and the A-4 program on the other side. Even later in
the war the “Jägernotprogramm” (fighter emergency program) and attempts to build ground-to-air
missiles of course were supported by him, but the order for those programs actually came from higher
levels.
Looking through other documents about Albert Speer, especially those, dealing with him during
the “Nürnberger Prozesse” (Nurember trials), I’ve got the strong feeling, that he was very clever in
building a reputation as someone who, although guilty in a certain sense, only had the defense and
preservation of Germany in his mind. During the trials, he stressed, that he had actively sabotaged
Hitlers order, to destroy the infrastructure of Germany and the still occupied countries. But at least
until then, he was Hitlers obedient servant and “the Führers” military aim, even during the closing
stages of the war, was to regain an offensive capability.
The role played by Albert Speer may be hard to determine, because contrary to other Nazi leaders,
he had and used the opportunity, to change his reputation after the war by writing several books
and their contents may have influenced others.
 

airman

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Considering catastrophic situation of german industry in 1944-1945, for allied bombing and not good consideration about four engines bombers and jet engines until 1944, surely the "Wunderwaffen" was useless.Without strategic resources Germany like Japan was doomed!
 

Hammer Birchgrove

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Jemiba said:
“Does the book say anything about Albert Speer, especially his importance as Minister of Armaments,
and his opinion that money and resources spent on offensive weapons such as the V-2 *should* have
been spent on defensive weapons such as the Wasserfall ground-to-air missile and the Me-262 jet
fighter interceptor?”

I’ve browsed through and the answer is : No !
It’s stated, that after the bombing attacks on Hamburg during 1943, he warned, that the continuation
of such effective attacks would destroy Germany’s industrial foundations, so he was well aware of the
need for more defensive efforts. Nevertheless, there was a constant quarrel between the leadership of
the airforce and Speers Rüstungsministerium (ministry for armament) about the allocation of resources
and manpower, for airforce programs on one side and the A-4 program on the other side. Even later in
the war the “Jägernotprogramm” (fighter emergency program) and attempts to build ground-to-air
missiles of course were supported by him, but the order for those programs actually came from higher
levels.
Looking through other documents about Albert Speer, especially those, dealing with him during
the “Nürnberger Prozesse” (Nurember trials), I’ve got the strong feeling, that he was very clever in
building a reputation as someone who, although guilty in a certain sense, only had the defense and
preservation of Germany in his mind. During the trials, he stressed, that he had actively sabotaged
Hitlers order, to destroy the infrastructure of Germany and the still occupied countries. But at least
until then, he was Hitlers obedient servant and “the Führers” military aim, even during the closing
stages of the war, was to regain an offensive capability.
The role played by Albert Speer may be hard to determine, because contrary to other Nazi leaders,
he had and used the opportunity, to change his reputation after the war by writing several books
and their contents may have influenced others.

Even though I believe that he regretted what he had done, I'm also pretty certain that he did everything he could to improve his post-war image, even if it meant tweaking with the truth or outright lying.

Then again, he did say he was Hitler's best and one and only true friend. (Source: Albert Speer: Conversations With Hitler's Architect by Joachim Fest.)
 

Jemiba

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"I'm also pretty certain that he did everything he could to improve his post-war image,
even if it meant tweaking with the truth"

Understandable for someone, who had to face the gallow or lifelong imprisonment. And
denying his status as a high ranking and convinced Nazi (at least until the closing stages
of the war) probably wouldn't have improved his situation during the Nuremberg Trials, I
think. With regards to his role in the treatment of concentration camp prisoners and forced
labourers and the fact, that the soviet chief prosecutor had demanded a death sentence,
the verdict for 20 years imprisonment may have been one of the biggest surprises of those
trials. BTW, in an interview after Speers release, he attenuated his relations to Hitler, saying
that "if Hitler would have had friends, he quite probably would have been one
of them".
Back to german jets and their designers and tweaking the truth during post-war times. What
was new to me was Willy Messerschmitts persistence in constructing the Me 209, probably
jeopardising the development of the Me 262, even when the cancellation of this type already
was ordered by Eberhard Milch. And the idea of using the Me 262 as a bomber originated from
Messerschmitt himself and was supported by him, contrary to his statements after the war.
 

RobPrell

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People interested in military history like all other people always have 20/20 hind sight. After you see what worked it is always easy to see what they "should" have done. The V2 was a perfect example. It cost a lot. It had amazing capability. But it cost more than it did in damage. Germany also had a nuclear program and late in the war were nearly able to do large scale manufacturing of nukes. If the war was slower and took a year longer the Germans could have combined their V2 with their nuke program which had been going on since the early 30ies. If this happened the money spent on the V2, Me262 and other what we would consider not useful programs would in fact have been very useful. They also were working on nuclear submarines. Imagine how powerful they could have been if that worked? But when we look back on what did not work it is easy to point out the failures. Including the lack of long range bombers to take out Russian tank factories, as well as British harbors. But if the Nukes came in earlier and the V2's worked they could have simply built larger V2's and then were would they have been with their fantasy technology? Right were we are today.
 

mz

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What evidence is there of advanced German progress towards nukes?
It takes a huge amount of science, technology development, electrical energy and industrial work to enrich that amount of Uranium. Centrifuges were not even invented back then, to my knowledge and far less efficient methods had to be used.
 

Antonio

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they could have simply built larger V2's

That "simple larger V-2" you refer really existed. They were brought to hardware in form of US and USSR first ballistic missiles. Super powers ned more than a year to do that, why do you think the III Reich could have produce an operational IRBM in just one year?
 

Jemiba

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RobPrell said:
But if the Nukes came in earlier and the V2's worked they could have simply built larger V2's and then were would they have been with their fantasy technology? Right were we are today.
Those subjunctives are the problem, ! They degrade those thoughts about German nuclear bombs to "What-If".
There were reasons, why those technologies didn't reach maturity in time for the III.Reich. Of course, there
were developments aiming at a nuclear bomb, but according to serious resources, at the end of WWII, there
still wasn't a breakthrough. And even a breakthrough with regards to the theoretical principles wouldn't have made
a workable bomb. The "larger V2" already was on the drawing boards, ok, but to get it to take-off still was a long
way ahead. As I pointed out at the beginning of this thread, the reasons why many developments remained
paper projects only and never had a real chance to become reality, were not only a lack of time. Trying to say it
shortly: It was a lack of organisation. Small departments were working on their own and against several others,
officials were unable to lead their department properly, because they had a good military, but no scientific/
technical training, designers often still had too much influence, which allowed them to follow their own way,
jeopardising other projects, the basis of trained personal was too small from the very beginning and so on.
Such problems were manifold, as we can say with hindsight today, during those years, they were only recognised
by a few people, so chances of rectifying them were small.
To make German nuclear bombs "work" (in the sense of being used) there would have had to be more than just
one or two. Take out russian tank factories and british harbours ? Ok, how many bombs would have been
needed ? 20 ? 30? I think, that's the minimum number. The US possessed 50 nuclear bombs not before 1948 and
it took them a very large effort to get the needed amount of uranium.
Not really an option for Germany during those years, I think.
 

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