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Major Kröchel's report

In a status report of 31 March 1945, the Quartermaster General recorded that to date the Luftwaffe had accepted from industry 33 Me 262 converted for reconnaissance: 13 in February and the remainder in March. Supposedly, none had been taken over before that, prompting the question of what Kommando Panther (later 2./NAG 6) had been flying since the autumn — it had been specifically reported as carrying out photo-reconnaissance, after all.

However, 43 Me 262 had been allocated to NAG 1 and NAG 6, of which four had been lost to enemy action and five to other causes. Three had come in from KG 51, leaving current holdings at 37. If 33 reconnaissance Me 262 had been produced and 43 aircraft allocated, then presumably the extra 10 were either “conventional” A-1, A-2 or B-1 models or field modifications. In addition seven aircraft had been allocated for training and five were in reserve. Of course allocation is not the same as delivery to the units in question, neither of which seem never to have had more than six or seven machines on strength at a time.

On 6 April 1945, a message to the General Plenipotentiary for Jet Aircraft, SS-General Hans Kammler, from Maj. Kröchel of Außenstelle (branch station) Lechfeld gave III./EJG 2’s strength as 25 (16) Me 262, made up of:

16 Me 262 A-1 suitable for training

3 Me 262 B-1 two-seat trainers

7 Me 262 A-4 reconnaissance aircraft

NOTE: This breakdown adds up to 26, not 25 so one or other figure was incorrect.

Another message that day gave a total of 19 (5), adding that the General der Aufklärungsflieger’s conversion detachment under Maj. Schole had handed over its seven Me 262 to operational units, leaving two instructors but no aircraft. Two days later Kröchel was reporting to Luftflotte Reich that “Re-equipping Detachment Nau (Conversion Detachment)” was training eight pilots of 1./NAG 1 on an Me 262 borrowed from III./EJG 2.

NOTE: The British read »Nau« as an abbreviation for Nahaufklärung but it is also a common German surname. It was probably the same organisation that had been addressed by Zerbst on 3 April as “Re-training Coy. for NA.” The original German wording may have been »Umschulungskom. für NA«, with »kom.« taken to be an abbreviation for Kompanie rather than Kommando (normally translated by Bletchley as “detachment”). There is no way to be sure from these messages what the conversion unit was actually called or if it even had an official designation.

If the seven Me 262 A-4 were no longer available for training pilots of 1./NAG 1, where — if anywhere — had they gone? Successive days’ figures show no sudden decline in the strength of III./EJG 2, although unfortunately no breakdown between variants was given after the 6th:

6 April

25 (16) Me 262

[inc. 7 Me 262 A-4 reconnaissance]

7 April

27 (22) Me 262

3 to strength 1 off strength

8 April

26 (19) Me 262

3 to strength 2 total losses, 2 to Gen. Qu. reserve

9 April

23 (13) Me 262

4 to strength [sic, no “off strength” figure given].

According to Maj. Kröchel, one Me 262, its owner unstated, was 40% damaged when Lechfeld was bombed that day, and EJG 2 made an urgent request to be allocated Linz-Hörsching for continuation of training with one Staffel because the constant air raid alerts at Lechfeld were curtailing training there.

10 April

21 (17) Me 262

2 off strength

NOTES:

In its return for 3 March, III./EJG 2 had reported sending W.Nr. 110472 and 110606 to “Chief QM reserve, Workshop Lechfeld” for the change of some unspecified component.

On 31 March Gen. Qu. had 7 training and 5 reserve Me 262.

On 6 April his reserve at Lechfeld had included 9 Me 262 A-1, plus 2 Me 262 A-4 reconnaissance aircraft.

On 10 April the reserve figure was unchanged but now there was only 1 trainer.

Only two Me 262 reconnaissance Staffeln were operational on 6 April — 1./NAG 1 in Zerbst and 2./NAG 6 in Münster-Handorf. The latter had been in action for several months while the former had transferred its serviceable Messerschmitts to their operational airfields on 3 and 4 April, in accordance with orders given on the 2nd. On the 5th, 1./NAG 1’s Staffelkapitän had sent word that he would be ready for operations next day with seven Me 262s but on the morning of the 6th had only 5 (3) aircraft. The Staffel’s known total never exceeded six. The 2./NAG 6’s reported operational readiness did sink to zero at one point early in April but it is unclear how many aircraft they had on strength at the time.

There is also the question of why eight pilots of 1./NAG 1 should be training on a borrowed machine when the Staffel was already operational. It could have been a programme to bring it up to full establishment (16 aircraft) but no comparable effort seems to have been made with 2./NAG 6 which never rose much beyond half strength. Furthermore, on 11 April 1./NAG 1 had a total of 11 pilots of whom 8 were rated operational — and it had six aircraft for them to fly — so where would eight more requiring training have come from?

One possibility is that “1./NAG 1” was an error for “1./NAG 13.” It had been decided on 23 March that Stab and 1./NAG 13 should re-equip on the Me 262 in Lechfeld and they were there by 7 April. That Staffel’s needs may explain why orders had been given to hand over 14 Me 262 from the reconnaissance allocation to III./EJG 2, of which 11 had been given up by 10 April.

NOTE: The language used in different documents — »(geht i. Umr.)« and »zur Umrüstung« — is slightly different but in neither case is it explicitly stated that re-equipment is currently taking place, just that 1./NAG 13 has gone to be re-equipped.

In the last week of April, when the Americans arrived at Lechfeld, six A-4 models were found there: outline white 25, 26, 27, 29, 30 and 33. By the time of its capture, “outline white 34” had been converted to fighter configuration by the addition of a four-cannon nose although this was not repainted to match the rest of the airframe. This last aircraft was found at Brunnthal, south of München.

Whether these were the seven reported on 6 April or recent arrivals remains an open question but if not, what were they? On 6 April the decision had been taken to set seven reconnaissance machines aside for an operational unit (either as they were or converted back to fighters, as one apparently was). As such they became unavailable for reconnaissance training but if their planned alternative employment had fallen through they may never have left Lechfeld or III./EJG 2.

My own reading of the documents is that aircraft were not removed from the operational ranks of 1./NAG 1 and 2./NAG 6 but that machines allocated on paper to those Staffeln (either to bring them to full strength or as attrition replacements) were diverted by Gen.d.A. to the training programme. Possibly the aim was to get 1./NAG 13 operational, perhaps on the basis that having three understrength Me 262 Staffeln was more valuable than two at full strength.


Sources

ULTRA CX/MSS/R493(A),3; CX/MSS/T509/3; CX/MSS/T512/22; CX/MSS/T512/89;
CX/MSS/T519/5; CX/MSS/T516/73; CX/MSS/R520(C),5; CX/MSS/T524/11; CX/MSS/R526(C),1 & 2; CX/MSS/R537(B),7

Gen. Qu. (6. Abt. III), Nr. ____/45 g. Kdos., »Überblick über die Me 262 Lieferung (Stand 31.3.45)« (via Tomáš Poruba)

David E. Brown, Tomáš Poruba, Jan Vladař: Messerschmitt Me 262 production and Arado Ar 234 Final Operations (Japo Publishing, 2012)

Kenneth A. Merrick: Luftwaffe Camouflage and Markings 1933–1945 Volume Two (Classic 2005) ISBN 1 903223 39 3

Dan O’Connell: Messerschmitt Me 262, The Production Log 1941–45 (Classic, 2005) ISBN: 1 903223 59 8

Alfred Price: The Last Year Of The Luftwaffe (Arms And Armour Press, 1991): ISBN1-85409-113-1

Thanks to

David E. Brown, Tomáš Poruba and Dave Wadman who helped greatly with this piece (and who are not to blame for any errors I may have made here).


© Nick Beale 2014


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