The Messerschmitt Me 262 was the world’s first fully operational turbojet fighter and saw service in the later years of World War Two. The Messerschmitt Me 262 had to potential to change the course of the air war in Europe but Hitler ordered that it be used in a capacity that undermined its whole value as a fighter plane.

The RAF had introduced the Meteor 1 at about the same time but it was not used in the same numbers as the Me 262 and it was also slower than its German rival and carried lighter weaponry.

The development of the jet fighter started in 1938. However, for a number of years there was a lack of interest in the project set up by Willy Messerschmitt. In his autobiography, Albert Speer, one of Hitler’s most senior Nazis, claimed that senior Nazis such as Hitler and Goering were disinterested in weapons such as the Me 262 and the V weapons simply because they did not understand the technology behind them. For a biplane pilot like Goering, the concept of a plane flying at speeds of over 500 mph must have seemed a mere dream. Without support from Berlin, any development was hindered. However, when the war turned against the Nazis, there was more desire to support a weapon that might turn the tide against the Allies and the Russians.

The Me 262 Schwalbe (Swallow) first flew on July 18th, 1942. Its speed outclassed any plane flying at the time. However, senior members of the Luftwaffe remained cautious – a plane that flew so fast in testing did not, in their eyes, prove itself as a combat plane until it had done just that in battle. In one sense, the Luftwaffe’s hierarchy was right. The Me 262 had to prove its value in actual combat as opposed to fly-pasts in front of an invited audience.

In late 1943, Hitler gave his agreement to the mass production of the Me 262. However, he insisted that the Me 262 was used primarily as a fighter-bomber – even though it had been built as a fighter. Hitler, therefore, misunderstood the rational behind the plane. Flying at speed, it could have been devastating when it got amongst Allied bomber formations flying over Germany. Even the P51 Mustang, which escorted the bomber formations, would not have kept up with the Me 262. The Mustang had a maximum speed of 437 mph while the Me 262 could fly at a maximum of 540 mph. However, the order for it to be used as a fighter bomber dramatically changed its role.

The Me 262 first flew in combat on July 25th, 1944 when it attacked a Mosquito flying a reconnaissance mission over Munich. When it was allowed to be used solely as a fighter against bomber formations, the Me 262 was devastating with over 100 kills. However, many Me 262’s never left the ground as many were destroyed by the Allies while they were on the ground. Of 1,400 produced, less than 300 ever saw combat. Allied bombing of factories also ensured that the Me 262 was always short of parts and fuel. Also the plane needed highly trained and skilled pilots – and a training period was essential to ensure that those men skilled in flying propeller driven planes got used to the vast differences of a jet plane. Germany simply did not have the time for these men to get sufficient experience of flying these planes before they were needed for combat missions. The plane itself also experienced problems – pilots were killed as the plane could simply break up while in flight. Its cannons were also prone to jamming thus rendering it ineffective while in combat.

Maximum speed 540 mph
Cruising speed 460 mph
Range 650 miles
Service ceiling 38,000 feet
Rate of climb 3,940 feet per minute
Span 41 feet
Length 34 feet 9 inches
Height 11 feet 4 inches
Weight 15,600 lbs
Armaments 4 x 30mm MK-108 cannons; 1000 lbs of bombs
Engines  2 x Junkers Jumo 004’s; each produced 1,980 lbs of thrust
Crew 1