German Boy Scouts Save Hitler’s Germany from Advancing Allied Armies!
That was the plan at least. I was going to write this as an alternate history post, but remembered I’d written one like it before. So no messing around, just the facts ma’am. The beauty pictured above was one of Hitler’s secret weapons. That’s a Heinkel 162 Salamander. So what’s its story? I’ll start at the beginning …
In 1944 Germany was in big trouble.The Russians were advancing from the east. They were pissed. The Allies had landed in France, and also were heading for Berlin with malign intent. And over Germany itself, the Allies had seized control of the very skies. The Luftwaffe had plenty of planes, but very few experienced pilots anymore. Many had been lost trying to defend the skies of Germany, and Hitler hadn’t given pilot training any priority until 1944. Allied planes were pounding Germany’s factories, roads, and armies into ruin. Something had to be done. And thus a number of secret weapon’s projects were frantically launched in an effort to find some super-weapon that could allow Germany to drive the American Army Air Corps from Germany’s skies. I’ve written about at least one of these before. And while they failed in their goal, they did some amazing things.
One of them was the Heinkel 162 Volksjäge. That’s People’s Fighter. This little plane was supposed to be the Volkswagen of jet fighter aircraft. Cheap and easy to build, mostly made of wood, and could be assembled quickly and in large numbers by unskilled labour. Lastly, it had to be easy to fly, since Germany had no pilots. The plan was that scores of teenagers in the Hitler Youth program would fly the planes! It was hoped their bravery and youthful reaction times in combination with a jet aircraft would tip the balance in the skies over Germany. It was a great idea! Pause for thought. No, it was a crazy idea, and hopefully the discerning reader can come up with all sorts of reasons why planning to save the day with Boy Scouts flying disposable jet fighters wasn’t likely to end like a Hollywood movie. Boy though, what a fun movie that would make. Reader’s having trouble discerning the flaws in this plan should take a moment know to review the Evil Overlord List. You’ll thank me later.
Oddly enough, the German engineers working on this project gave it their best. The He-162 went from design to operational prototype in less than 90 days! That’s remarkable and likely almost unequalled in the creation of a new aircraft. There were some problems in development and several crashes, no surprise in a rush job, but in December 1944 production of the He-162 began in earnest. It was indeed an wonderful plane, in fact it was the fastest of the world’s first generation jet fighters, cruising around 800 km/h (500 mph) and capable of flying at nearly 900 km/h (560 mph) for short bursts. For comparison the US P-51 Mustang maxed out at about 700 km/h (425 mph.) It was nimble and climbed quickly, and mounted a pair of 20 or 30 mm auto cannons. The He-162 was also the world’s first aircraft to have an ejection seat. Pilots loved flying it, and it did very well in what little combat it saw, some few squadrons were equipped with it before the war ended.
So why didn’t fleets of wooden jet fighters manned by Boy Scouts save the day? Alas, the He-162 was not easy to fly. It was extremely tricky to fly, and required a skilled pilot to even take off and land, let alone fly in combat. I think we can all agree that this is a good thing. Only just over 300 were built. A few of them survived the war and were flown by other nations, a few still exist in museums. The Canadian Aviation Museum is looking into the feasibility of making one of their two He-162s airworthy again. There’s some truly boring footage of the He-162 flying in this Russian film, I was so numbed I had to stop before two minutes were up. Russians are a funny people. Here is footage of other captured German jet and rocket fighters being flown, much more interesting. There’s even a few views of the controls. They were … scary, and the He-162s would have been similar.
Lastly, I wonder about the mind set of the people working on these projects. Most of them must have known that their projects were not going to stave off the inevitable. Yet they laboured on, brilliantly even, and produced some amazing killing devices. That seems to be what humans do when they are under a lot of pressure. It’s a gift I guess. What, you were expecting another kitten post?
(The above image is almost certainly public domain, and I’m claiming it as such until informed otherwise. Not making any money off of it, etc. Tomorrow, a guest post.)