The day Allied POWs at Stalag Luft III saw a Luftwaffe Me 262 flying above the camp were so shocked they feared Germany could still win War World II

When Allied POWs at Stalag Luft III saw a Me 262 flying above the camp were so shocked they feared Germany could still win War World II

By Dario Leone
Dec 15 2023
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The Messerschmitt Me 262

Nicknamed Schwalbe (Swallow), the Messerschmitt Me 262 surpassed the performance of every other World War II fighter. Faster than the North American P-51 Mustang by 190 kilometers (120 miles) per hour, the Schwalbe restored to the faltering German Luftwaffe a short-lived qualitative superiority that it had enjoyed earlier in the war.

The Me 262 appeared in only relatively small numbers in the closing year of World War II. According to Smithsonian website, Messerschmitt factories produced 1,443 Me 262s, but only about 300 saw combat. The others were destroyed in training accidents or by Allied bombing attacks. The almost absolute Allied dominance of the air, and the development of fighter sweep tactics that offset the Me 262’s performance advantage, ensured that the revolutionary fighter did not affect Allied air operations.

Nevertheless the allies were shocked by the astonishing speed of Luftwaffe‘s new fighter.

‘My father was a bomber pilot in WWII,’ Patrick Crowley, who worked for a NASA subsidiary, says on Quora.

‘He was shot down at the beginning of 1944 and spent most of the rest of the war in Stalag Luft III, located in Sagan, Poland. Yes, that Stalag Luft III where The Great Escape came from. Dad was a scrounger in the camp, like Hendley, the James Garner character.

‘Anyway, there must have been some Luftwaffe airfields not far from the camp because every once in a while the POWs would see German fighter planes overhead, not patrolling but apparently training or testing out new maneuvers or new equipment. It was a variety of aircraft, the usual Bf-109s, Focke Wulfs, and so on.

‘From one of the hidden radios in the camp they heard about the landings at Normandy and everybody (at least the prisoners) were cheered up by the news. The war was progressing and their side was winning. If they could just hang on for a while longer they’ll be freed and be able to go home. The German guards didn’t seem to be aware of D-Day though. Probably it wasn’t being reported over Nazi radio.’

POWs at Stalag Luft III shocked

Crowley continues;

‘Not long after the news of the Allied beachhead, something new happened. The German guards were chattering excitedly and pointing up into the sky.

‘Then the prisoners heard a screeching noise, very loud and an aircraft with odd, swept-back wings screamed by overhead.

‘It was faster than any fighter plane they’d ever seen. Faster than the P-51s. Faster than the Mosquitoes.

‘But what was more, it didn’t have any visible method of propulsion. No propellers!

‘The gun turret operators among the prisoners said that there was no way they could rotate their turrets fast enough to shoot one of those things down.

‘The mood in the camp went decidedly downhill – for the prisoners at least. The guards, who were all Luftwaffe themselves, were ecstatic. Finally, here they could see one of the new Wunderwaffen (wonder weapons) that the high command had been promising them.

‘The prisoners saw it as a huge stumbling block that at best would prolong the war and their captivity and at worst might turn the tide once again and they could lose the war.’

Crowley concludes;

‘But, as fate would have it, the Me 262s were too late and too few. There were never enough of them and even though they were too fast to shoot down in the air, they were finicky to maintain and didn’t make that much of a difference.

‘But the aircrew in captivity had seen the beginning of the jet age and my father, for one, never forget the feeling of astonishment and woe to see such a thing in enemy hands.’

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force and Revell via 3DJake

Me 262 at USAF Museum

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.
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