The Me-262 at the Smithsonian
The Me-262 at the SmithsonianClick thumbnail to view full-size
In the Jet Aviation Gallery of the National Air and Space Museum there is a Messerschmitt Me-262 Schwalbe (Swallow). During World War II this aircraft, belonged to 11/Jadgeschwader 7 (JG 7). The Smithsonian made inquiries to the German Embassy and the German Society of Fighter Pilots. Hauptmann (Captain) Ernst Maison told the Smithsonian the plane’s pilot was Pilots Oberfeldwebel (Master Sergeant) Heinz Arnold. (Messerschmitt Me-262: Arrow to the Future, printed by the Smithsonian Free Press, the author, Walter J. Boyne ) The rear fuselage of the aircraft has the number 42 with a red star. This is a “carry off” victory marking. These were kills made by Oberfeldwebel Arnold, in other aircraft, on the Russian Front. The other 7 victories are Jadgeschwader 7 victories. The Smithsonian believes these kills were probably attributed to the aircraft rather than the pilot. The aircraft tells the story of air combat at the end of World War II in Europe.
The Air Battles
On March 3, 1945 the U.S. Eighth Air Force launched 1,102 bombers and 743 P-51s. JG7 claimed 10 U.S. aircraft shot down. The kill claims included a P-47 and a B-17 claim made by Oberfeldwebel Arnold and a P-47 and a B-17 claim made by Warrant Officer Heinz Russel. The U.S. Eighth Air Force lost 9 bombers and 8 P-51s. Two additional B-17s and a P-51 were damaged beyond repair. Another 207 bombers received battle damage. The Eighth Air Force casualties were 97 killed or captured and 5 wounded. The Smithsonian’s Me-262 has a victory band for a P-47 shot down on this date. Also on this date JG 400, the Me-163 unit, claimed 3 B-17s.
On March 5 the U.S. Eighth Air Force only lost one B-17. The Smithsonian’s Me-262 has a victory band for a B-17 for this day. An additional 15 B-17s were damaged. Also on March 5 the RAF bombed Gelsenkirchen with 170 Lancasters. One Lancaster was lost.
March 7 was a relatively quiet day for the Eighth Air Force. One B-24 crashed on takeoff and a B-17 crashed on landing. On returning to England a P-51 pilot had to bail out. Another P-51 was damaged as were 79 bombers. The Smithsonian’s Me-262 has a victory band for a P-51 on this date and Oberfeldwebel Arnold claimed a P-51 kill on this date. Major Rudolf Sinner made another P-51 kill claim.
Almost any book or article about the Me-262 in combat mentions the Air Combat on March 18, 1945. On this day 1,184 Eighth Air Force bombers, escorted by at least 426 fighters, bombed targets in the Berlin area. Against the armada JG-7 launched 45 Me-262s. Two crashed on take-off. Of these 37 Me-262s intercepted the bombers. The Germans lost 3 Me-262s. The Eighth Air Force admitted losing 8 bombers to the Me-262s. Total bomber losses were 13. The Eighth Air Force also lost 6 P-51s. The Eighth Air Force also had to write off 15 bombers and one P-51. Another 714 bombers and 4 fighters also received damage. Eighth Air Force casualties were 147 killed or captured and 31 wounded.  Oberfeldwebel Arnold claimed 2 P-51s, the Smithsonian’s aircraft has a B-17 victory band.
On March 21 the 8th Air Force launched 1,408 heavy bombers, and 806 fighters. The 8th Air Force lost 7 B-17s. Another B-17 was damaged beyond repair and another 189 bombers were damaged. Nine P-51s were also lost and two others were damaged beyond repair. The 8th Air Force fighters claimed to have shot down 9 enemy aircraft in the air and claimed they destroyed 46 aircraft on the ground.  Me-262s intercepted bombers northwest of Dresden. Me-262 pilots claimed 14 B-17s and a P-51 shot down. The Smithsonian’s Me-262 has a victory band for a B-17 on this day. Also on the 21st B-24s from the 15th Air Force attacked a jet plant and airfield at Neuburg. The top Luftwaffe jet ace Heinz Baer claimed a B-24 on this day. There was also a claim against a P-38. That night a Me-262 claimed a RAF Mosquito. The RAF lost a Mosquito and 6 other aircraft out of the 536 sorties flown that night.
On March 22 the 15th Air Force attacked Ruhland with 136 B-17s. Me-262s intercepted them. The 15th Air Force lost 3 B-17s to the jets. Captain William J. Dillard was credited with shooting down a Me-262. The 8th Air Force launched 1,331 bombers and 662 fighters. The 8th Air Force lost a single B-17 with another 4 written off and 3 P-51s with 1 written off. JG-7 pilots claimed 13 B-17s and a P-51 in an air battle in the Cottbus-Bautzen-Dresden area. Arnold claimed a B-17. The Smithsonian’s Me-262 has a victory band for a B-17 on this date. A Me-262 claimed a RAF Mosquito that night. The RAF lost 2 Mosquitoes of 100 Group.
On March 24 the 15th Air Force attacked Neuburg and Berlin. This mission was dramatized in the movie Red Tails. Over Bruz four B-17s were shot down, the 15th Air Force attributed these losses to flack. Two other B-17s had to abort the mission because of battle damage. Two of their crew members were killed. Then Me-262s attacked and shot down two of the fortresses. The 332nd Fighter Group, the “Red Tails” were credited with shooting down 3 Me-262s. The 15th Air Force fighters claimed 8 Me-262s that day. Bomber gunners claimed 6 Me-262s. The 8th Air Force flew 1,749 bomber and 1,375 fighter sorties. The 8th Air Force lost 19 bombers another 5 were written off, and another 243 received lesser damage. The 8th Air Force lost 9 fighters and another one was written off. The 8th Air Force casualties were 185 killed or captured. Me-262 pilots claimed 10 B-17s, 5 B-17s south of Berlin and 5 near Dessau. They also claimed a B-24 and a P-15 over Stuttgart and a RAF Tempest near Wesel. The Luftwaffe lost 4 Me-262s. The Smithsonian’s Me-262 has a victory band for a B-17 on this date. Heinz Arnold was credited with a B-17 on this date.
Messerschmitt Me-262: Arrow to the Future mentioned when the aircraft was being restored the Smithsonian found a .30 caliber bullet in the aircraft. USAAF bombers and USAAF fighters used .50 caliber bullets. In 1945 RAF bombers used .30 caliber bullets. On March 31 469 RAF aircraft attacked Hamburg. Me-262s of JG7 intercepted them. The RAF Bomber Command lost 8 Lancasters and 3 Halifaxes on this mission.  It was the last Bomber Command double digit loss of the war for a raid on one city.  Could the bullet found in the Smithsonian’s Me-262 be an artifact from this famous air battle?
 Source for Eighth Air Force numbers are from Mighty Eighth War Diary, by Roger A. Freeman, © 1981.
 The Bomber Command War Diaries: An Operational Reference Book: 1939-1945, by Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt, © 1985.
 Ibid 1.
 Ibid 1.
 Ibid 1.
 Fifteenth Air Force Story, by Kenn C. Rust, ©Historical Aviation Album 1976.
 Ibid 3.
 Ibid 3.
 Ibid 7.
 Ibid 1.
 Ibid 3.
Pilot's Fate and Closing Thoughts
Oberfeldwebel Heinz Arnold was killed in action on April 17, 1945. On that day 981 8th Air Force bombers attacked German targets. Eight bombers were lost, one was damaged beyond repair and 177 received lesser damage. Eighth Air Force fighters shot down 13 enemy aircraft and destroyed 286 on the ground. The Eighth Air Force lost 17 fighters. JG7 Claimed 8 B-17s and a P-38 shot down. A Me-262 pilot of KG(J)54 was also credited with shooting down a B-17.
It will probably never be known conclusively how many, if any, aircraft the Messerschmitt Me-262 in the Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum actually shot down. The aircraft gives indicators it was a participant in some of the well known air battles in March 1945.
© 2014 Robert Sacchi