On July 18 1942, Messerschmitt 262 V3 PC+UC took off from Leipheim airfield, for the first time solely powered by its Jumo 004 jet engines. To commemorate this major step, the following is attempting a brief summary of the initial concepts, trials and the beginning of operations by Me 262 in a night fighter role.
In Manfred Boehme´s essential history of Messerschmitt 262 development and deployment with Jagdgeschwader 7*, it is well laid out that it took more than two years after the ground braking maiden flight and at least until late 1944 before Me 262 aircraft were technically advanced and reliable enough to commence their operational service in Luftwaffe units in considerable numbers. Whereas much has been published about the decision which led to the initial use of Me 262 A-2a as a bomber rather than a fighter, little and if, inconsistent information can be found about the initial concepts to fly night missions with this jet.
It appears as if the use of jet aircraft in a night fighter role was initially considered by official authorities and industry only in summer 1944. Based on RLM suggestions, Messerschmitt and Arado both started to work on a night fighter design of their respective models; Such developments are first documented by Arado mid July 1944 (Griehl 2003; p. 122, 123), whereas the first document about a two seater Me 262 night fighter appears in a Messerschmitt development meeting, Protokoll Nr. 40 of September 1, 1944 (Smith & Creek 2000; p. 488).
According to some authors, initial trails were performed by the Messerschmitt 262 program´s liaision officer Maj. Siegfried Behrens and Obst. Hajo Hermann in autumn 1944 to test the suitability of the single seat Me 262 A-1a for night combat, (e.g. Ringelstätter 2010; p. 67; Foreman & Harvey 1995; p. 131). Behrens is said to have undertaken several test flights for night operations with a Me 262 A-1a with Stammkennzeichen KD+EA, W.Nr. 170095 at E-Stelle Rechlin (Ringelstätter, 2010; p. 67). Foreman & Harvey (1995; p. 131) claim that a modified radar equipped Me 262 A-1a was used for these trials. The only single seater Me 262 with radar equipment known so far is V2, W.Nr. 170056 of which various photographic records exist during trials by Messerschmitt.
Other sources state that Lt. Kurt Welter, then a member of 10./ JG300, a designated mosquito hunting Staffel, was ordered to evaluate the Me 262 in September 1944 in Rechlin (Boiten 2008; p. 193). Given Welter´s background is seems reasonable to assume that he primarily evaluated the Me 262 with regard to intercepting Mosquito bomber and reconnaissance aircraft in a Wilde Sau fashion.
A recent article by Hermann and Wunderlich (2012; p. 14 - 21) made public a report and proposal by Hptm. Gerhard Stamp, then Gruppenkommandeur I./ JG300, with his assessment of the various most suitable Me 262 fighter roles. He recommended the Me 262 for day, all weather and night fighter roles and commented on the latter: "Similarly urgent as during day light is a successful combat of [night] intruder missions which according to reports of operational headquarters (Führungsstab-Ic) grow in intensity and size, and which threaten to evolve into terror attacks due to increased Mosquito production. ... The speed of Mosquito and Me 262 demand doubtlessly refined or different methods to guide the aircraft than those in current usage by the Nachtjagd because pursuit over longer distances rather than interception should be conducted. The addition of search equipment needs to be resolved, the question of a second seat for the radio operator has been solved, and the conversion to a larger cabin is planned for. "**, proposal by Gerhard Stamp, August 25, 1944 to German Air Force headquarters, (in Hermann & Wunderlich 2012; p. 20).
The standard history of German Nachtjagd by Gebhard Aders covers this by stating that Oberstleutnant Siegfried Knemeyer of Technial Air Armament (Technische Luftrüstung, TLR), proposed in September 1944 to establish a new short range night fighter force which should make use of jet aircraft. Due to the lack of designated two seater night fighter, Knemeyer proposed to use interim conversions of single seat jets; he recommended the Ar 234 for its longer flight time and easier handling (Aders 1978; p.289). Discussions between Knemeyer and the managing director of Arado, Professor Walter Blume, took place September 12, 1944, with regard to the suitability of Ar 234 as a night fighter (Griehl 2003; p. 123). According to Aders (1978; p. 290), it took another two months and the establishment of a special development commission for night and all weather fighters under the chairman Prof. Kurt Tank to confirm Knemeyer´s assessment which resulted in an order by Göhring on December 11, 1944 to establish two experimental combat units (Erprobungskommando or EKdo), one with Arado 234 led by Hptm. Josef Bisping, and one with Messerschmitt 262, led by Oblt. Kurt Welter. Foreman & Harvey (1995; p. 131) attribute the first command of the experimental Me 262 combat unit to Gerhard Stamp who was soon succeeded by Kurt Welter. In his history of the Arado 234, Griehl (2003; p. 127) identifies the 12th of December 1944 as the formation of the experimental combat units.
Aders account is contradicted by others who date the establishment of EKdo Welter as early as November 2, 1944 (Williams 2006; p. 143; as well as Smith & Creek 2003; p. 452). This date may stem from the redesignation of Welter´s unit, 10./ JG300 to become the core of II. /NJG11 in accordance to Oberkommando Luftwaffe, OKL, ordinance of November 1st, 1944. An alternative source for this date may be the records of RAF bomber crews who reported combat with jets during a Düsseldorf raid during the night of November 2 /3, 1944 (Boiten 2008; p. 173). From such claim, the existence of a night fighter jet unit may have been incorrectly deducted.
Several website identify November 11, 1944 as the creation of EKdo Welter. For example Petr Kacha (2007) who gives a detailed account of Kurt Welter´s career, although there is no further explanation where this information comes from.
Theo Boiten assigns the beginning of December to the formation of the Kommando and assumes the first successful interception of a Mosquito by Kurt Welter during the night of December 11/12 1944 (Boiten 2008; p. 193) after an apparent nonoperational period between October 27, 1944 and that December date (Boiten 2008; p. 170, 193).
Few details are known to me as to the initial period of EKdo Welter: subordination, ground support and staff, pilots other than Welter, allocated aircraft, etc. Its obvious objective was to gather operational experience with Me 262 aircraft in night missions. Practically, the unit flew Wilde Sau sorties over Berlin with Me 262 A-1a mainly against Mosquito bombers, with occasional day sorties against reconnaissance Mosquitoes. In late January 1945, EKdo Welter became 10./ NJG11 and thus officially evolved from an experimental combat to a full combat unit. Exact dates vary from January 25th (Smith & Creek 2003; p. 453; Williams 2006; p. 143; Meyer & Stipdonk 2008; p. 130) to January 28th (Boiten 2008; p. 193) and to even February (Aders 1978; p. 291). Although the number of pilots and sorties grew, the unit continued to operate like EKdo Welter did before and flew Wilde Sau missions over Berlin.
The final development of the Me 262 night fighter role came with the availability of two seater Me 262 B-1a/U1 with FuG218, initially delivered to 10./ NJG11 on March 22, 1945, see account of Lt. Herbert Altner (Smith & Creek 2003; p. 464; Williams 2006; p. 187). The two seater jets were deployed in operator guided and radar assisted interception of Mosquitoes which required experienced pilots and radar operators of which hardly any were assigned to 10./ NJG11.
In comparison to its day operational role, the concept of the Me 262 as a night fighter was developed rather late at the end of summer 1944. In difference to it, the mission was from the beginning clearly identified as intercepting the fast De Havilland Mosquito bomber, pathfinder and reconnaissance aircraft. The Wilde Sau operations were borne out of necessity, but followed the direction set by Knemeyer to focus on close range, over the target interception. The operation of Me 262 B-1a/U1 with a radio operator and equipped with the FuG218 refined this concept. With its mission objective, technical equipment and tactics, the night fighter Me 262 B became the predecessor of the modern all weather jet interceptor. Although very few saw operational service, they successfully demonstrated their suitability for that role. According to Boiten (2008; p. 350) three victories over Mosquitoes during five sorties against one aircraft loss due to technical problems can be accounted for.
* Boehme, Manfred, 1984. Jagdgeschwader 7 - Die Chronik eines Me 262-Geschwaders 1944/45, Motorbuch Verlag Stuttgart
** Original German text: "Nicht minder dringlich wie am Tage ist die wirksame Bekämpfung der Störeinflüge, die laut Führungsstab-1c-Berichten an Umfang und Stärke zunehmen, ja, sogar in absehbarer Zeit aufgrund der gesteigerten Mosquito-Produktion Terrorangriffen gleichzukommen drohen. ... Die Schnelligkeit der Mosquito und der Me 262 bedingen zweifellos verfeinerte oder andere Leitverfahren als die bisher in der Nachtjagd üblichen, denn es soll keine Objektjagd, sondern eine Verfolgungsjagd über weite Strecken betrieben werden. Der Suchgeräteeinbau muss eine entsprechende Lösung erfahren, die Frage des zweiten Sitzes für den Suchfunker ist bereits geklärt, der Einbau einer etwas vergrößerten Kabine ist vorgesehen." Hermann & Wunderlich (2012, p. 20), quoting Gerhard Stamp.
Aders, Gebhard, 1978. Die Geschichte der deutschen Nachtjagd 1917-1945, Motorbuch Verlag Stuttgart
Boiten, Dr. Theo E. W. & Mackenzie, Roderick J. , 2008. The Nachtjagd War Diaries, Volume 2, Red Kite Publishing
Foreman, John & Harvey Sid E., 1995. The Messerschmitt Me 262 Combat Diary, Air Research Publications
Griehl, Manfred, 2003. Strahlflugzeug Arado Ar 234 "Blitz", Motorbuchverlag, Stuttgart
Hermann, Dietmar & Wunderlich, Markus, 2012. "Gebt uns die Me 262!" in Flugzeug Classic Februar 2012, p. 14 to 21, GeraMond Verlag
Kacha, Petr, 2007. Kurt Welter, Aces of the Luftwaffe, www.luftwaffe.cz
Meyer, Michael & Stipdonk, Paul , 2008. Die Deutsche Luftwaffe - Zerstörer- und Nachtjägerverbände, Teil 3, VDM Verlag Nickel
Ringelstätter, Herbert, 2010. Deutsche Nachtjäger 1939 - 1945, Flugzeug Classic Spezial 6, GeraMond Verlag
Smith, J. Richard & Creek, Eddie, 2003. Messerschmitt Me 262, Volume 3, Classic Publications, Crowborough
Williams, David P. , 2006. Luftwaffe Colours - Nachtjäger Volume 2, Classic Ian Allan Publishing