The first Me 163 Komet rocket-fighter squadron was based at Brandis in order to protect the vital Leuna chemical complex.
With retreating German forces losing their oilfields on the Eastern Front, Germany was reliant on its own facilities, particularly for producing synthetic oil from coal. However, these were within range of the increasingly mighty Allied air forces. In 1944 the head of the US Strategic Air Forces, General Carl Spaatz was intent on a new campaign that aimed to cripple the German war machine by depriving it of fuel.
The USAAF‘s Oil Campaign built up momentum during the summer of 1944 and targeted these refineries and plants with its daylight heavy bombers. Decrypted German communications made it clear that the Oil Campaign was having an effect against the Wehrmacht.
As explained by Steven J. Zaloga in his book The Oil Campaign 1944–45 Draining the Wehrmacht’s lifeblood, among the Luftwaffe aircraft involved in the defense of the Reich during the Oil Campaign, there were also Me 163 Komet rocket fighters.
A number of raids on oil refineries were conducted in the middle of August, though few dedicated primarily to fuel targets. The only major Oil Campaign raid was Mission 556 on Aug. 16 involving 976 bombers and 612 fighters. The I.Jagdkorps managed to get 121 fighters aloft, including all five Me 163 rocket fighters of 1./JG 400. It’s worth noting that this Staffel was specifically deployed to the Brandis air base to defend the Leipzig fuel plants, including the massive Leuna complex.
Two of the new rocket fighters were lost, one to B-17 gunners and one to a P-51 of the 359th Fighter Group. The Me 163 fighters were credited with three “shot-out-of-formation” victories though in fact none of the B-17s were actually shot down. Other claims were ten B-17s, mainly by JG 302, and three P-51 Mustangs. Escort fighters claimed to have shot down 32 German fighters.
The Oil Campaign resumed on Aug. 24 with Mission 568 including many familiar synthetic fuel targets such as Brüx, Misburg, Stade, and Leuna/Merseburg. The I.Jagdkorps put 222 fighters in the air but only 99 made interceptions. The Gefechtsverband intercepted the 1st Bomb Division in the Lüneburg area claiming ten B-17s destroyed and seven more shot-out-of-formation or destroyed stragglers; actual losses were 16 to all causes.
The Me 163 fighters returned to combat, with the largest commitment to date of eight rocket fighters. The usual tactic was for the fighters to use their high acceleration to fly over the bomber formations. They could then use their rocket motors to descend rapidly through the bomber formation, or switch off their motor to conserve fuel and glide through the American bombers. The two 30mm MK 108 cannon were lethal against bombers, but getting a hit on the bombers during a fast descent proved to be very difficult.
That day, Feldwebel Schubert claimed to have shot down two B-17s northwest of Leipzig at 1208– 1209, while Leutnant Bott of the same Staffel claimed to have shot a B-17 out of formation at roughly the location a few moments later. The Me 163 fighters also dueled with escorting P-51 fighters, but without results.
The Oil Campaign 1944–45 Draining the Wehrmacht’s lifeblood is published by Osprey Publishing and is available to order here.
Photo credit: Edouard A. Groult via Osprey