Fighter ace Walter Nowotny taking a close look at one of the Höhenjäger test beds. The Fw 190 V32 ‘GH+KV’ was designed as a DB 603 S-1 powered high altitude fighter and was one of Tank’s many projects powered by the big 445-litre DB 603 engine-even though the official view favoured the Junkers 213. Note the four-bladed propeller and pressurized cockpit. This machine would later be re-built as a Ta 152 prototype.
The Ta 152 had its origins in the long and complex list of experimental Fw 190 sub-types testing power plants, injection methods, supercharging, and aerodynamic properties in the high altitude fighter programme. There were two principal design avenues. The first of these was the Ta 152 C – essentially a FW-190D with the Daimler-Benz DB-603LA engine and 30 mm Mk.108 cannon - and the Ta 152 H high-altitude fighter, powered by the Junkers Jumo 213 E and featuring the long-spanned high aspect ratio wing.
There were many technical challenges to overcome in designing a fighter that would likely see combat at altitudes about one-third higher than either the Bf 109 or Fw 190 types already in production. But unlike the BV 155, a highly experimental, flying test-bed, in the end Tank's design simply joined a powerful engine, already proven in the Fw 190 D, to an existing airframe tweaked to perform at higher altitudes and slender high aspect ratio wings. The result was an aircraft faster and more manoeuvrable than the P-51 and the P-47.. The H model of the Ta 152 credited with a maximum speed of 472 mph at 41,000 ft, came close to the limits of what was possible using a piston engine.
The first Ta 152 series aircraft to leave the production line at Cottbus were a batch of 20 pre-production Ta 152 H-0s, which were delivered in October and November 1944 to Erprobungskommando Ta 152, commanded by Hptm. Bruno Stolle and based at Rechlin. This unit was responsible for service testing the new fighter although the pressure of events and the soundness of the design led Stolle to recommend a rapid introduction into service.
CLICK FOR A LARGER IMAGE It was not until late January 1945 that the first Jagdwaffe service pilots set eyes on the new Ta 152 fighter as related by JG 301 pilot Willi Reschke ;
“ On 23 January 1945 on orders from the OKL (Oberkommando der Luftwaffe) Jagdgruppe III./JG 301 was temporarily taken off operations and designated an Einsatzerprobungsverband, a combat test unit. We were to re-equip with the Ta 152 – something we’d long given up hoping for. In the early hours of 27 January we pilots were taken by truck to the Neuhausen aircraft plant near Cottbus with orders to ferry the new Höhenjäger to Alteno. Arriving at the airfield we were confronted with our first sight of the Ta 152 H-1, which with its enormous wingspan and lengthened engine cowl hardly looked like a fighter aircraft at all. With feelings of unease we walked around the machines drawn up in three rows (twelve aircraft in total). Technicians were on hand to answer our queries. After a talk on the technical aspects of the machines that lasted barely 30 minutes, we took the aircraft on charge.. I got airborne at 11:08..”
This is the only known photo of operational Ta 152s pictured here after their arrival at Alteno on 27 January 1945. Note that although the Ta 152s were attached to the GeschwaderStab and only delivered to III./JG 301 they are displaying a horizontal bar - probably yellow – over the rear fuselage bands. The second aircraft in the line-up may or may not be 'Yellow 1'.
Roderich Cescotti – a former He 177 pilot – served as Technical Officer with JG 301;
“ I flew a number of sorties on 4 and 7 April 1945 in the Ta 152 H-0 and H-1. The Jumo 213E’s three-stage supercharger and the long wingspan meant that the aircraft was highly manoeuvrable at both low and high altitudes up to 14,000 metres, an unheard of performance for a service machine at the time. We were clearly superior to the RAF Tempest as I witnessed when three Ta 152s of the Stab engaged the British machines on 14 April 1945 in a dogfight over Neustadt-Glewe…”
The pilots of III./JG 301 were eager to fly the new fighter in combat. A first combat sortie was flown on 8 February but did not result in contact with the enemy. The nearby city of Dresden had been pounded to destruction during the night and early morning of 14 February 1945 by RAF Bomber Command and the US 8th Air Force but III./JG 301 had been forced to stay on the ground even though the explosions detonating in the city could be heard on the field at Alteno. On 18 February the Stabstaffel shifted to Sachau, west of Berlin in order to exploit the possibilities for combat over the Hauptstadt and on 21 February encountered US bombers for the first time. During the ensuing combats, Oberfeldwebel Josef Keil flying "Green 3" claimed a B-17 shot down at 16:30 over Berlin. On 1 March Keil flew a sortie in the Kommodore's "Green 1" and claimed a P-51 over the same sector.
The first combat sortie flown by a mixed force of Ta 152 Hs and Fw 190 As of III./JG 301 had taken place on 2 March 1945. That day a powerful 8th Air Force formation of some 1200 bombers screened by over 700 fighters was dispatched to Böhlen, Magdeburg and Ruhland. Airborne from Sachau behind Verbandsführer (formation leader) Oberleutnant Stahl, some twelve Ta 152s climbed away southwards and prepared to do battle with the Mustang escort screening the bombers heading for the Bohlen chemical plant near Leuna. The sortie ended in disaster when the Ta 152s were engaged. Willi Reschke reported;
“ We reached grid square ‘Heinrich-Caesar’ now flying at an altitude of more than 8,000 meters and closed to formate with a Gruppe of Bf 109s that were wearing yellow and red fuselage bands. We could barely believe our eyes when, moments later, the first tracers split the air around us as Uffz. ’Bubi’ Blum’s Ta 152 came under attack. The 109s had opened up on us ! We could hardly return fire on Kameraden from our own Jagdgeschwader and the sortie ended in a complete debacle ”.
While the agility and superior performance of the Ta 152 allowed them to evade all of the "attackers", the chance to join combat with the P-51s was lost. In the event this sortie was one of the last to see large numbers of German fighters in the air in defence of the Reich. Thereafter most sorties flown were Jabo or Tiefangriffe, ground strafing on both Eastern and Western Fronts..
10 April 1945. It was already after 19:00 that evening when four Ta 152 H-1s of the Stab, led by the Kommodore, climbed away from Sachau on a patrol over the Braunschweig (Brunswick) area. 'Jupp' Keil takes up the story;
" We had reached an altitude of 10,000 meters when I sighted a group of Thunderbolts below us heading in the direction of the setting sun. They hadn't seen us. I immediately tightened up on Oberstleutnant Aufhammer's machine and with hand gestures - in order not to betray our presence by breaking radio silence - pointed out the enemy machines below us. The Kommodore initially appeared not to have understod what I was trying to tell him, forcing me to edge in even closer to him. This time he got the message. However his reaction was not at all what I expected. Gesticulating just as vigorously as I had, the 'boss' made it quite plain that if I wanted to go down after the P-47s then I was on my own. I quickly made my mind up and throwing my "Green 3" into a dive, plummeted earthwards at high speed to come in behind the P-47s ... I had been spotted, since the enemy fighters immediately went into a defensive circle. Closing at a great rate of knots I managed to line one of them up in the sight and squeezed off a brief burst from my three cannon. It appeared that my salvo had struck home. Before the P-47s had the chance to react, I had pulled the stick back and eased up into a long climbing curve to altitude. Two minutes later I had caught up my Kameraden with another probable kill to add to my tally..."
The final victims falling to the guns of the Ta 152 were Russian Yak-9s during the final days of battle around Berlin on April 30, 1945. Most Ta 152 Hs, however, were destroyed on the ground by Allied air attacks while awaiting delivery. A few Ta 152 Hs were allocated to the Mistel program. According to some sources, approximately 150 Ta 152 H-1 fighters were manufactured between January 1, 1945 and the arrival of Soviet forces at the Cottbus assembly plant although there is little firm information on numbers produced. Dietmar Harmann has listed Werknummern from 150-001 to 150-040 and 150-167 to 150-169 for a total of 43 aircraft. There is no information on WNr. -041 to -166. Some claim all 169 machines were constructed.
Just how good was the Ta 152 ?
With its scintillating performance, numbers of high performance Allied fighters fell to its guns in the final weeks of the war. The only recorded encounter with P-51s - other than Keil's claim above - is the incident noted by Kurt Tank himself, who had a narrow escape while flying one of his Ta 152Hs towards the end of 1944. Flying from Langenhagen near Hannover to attend a meeting at the Focke-Wulf plant in Cottbus his Ta 152 was apparently jumped by four Mustangs. According to his own account Tank activated his MW 50 boost, opened the throttle wide, and so the story goes, quickly left the Mustangs far behind in a cloud of blue smoke. It is of course worth pointing out that no one apparently witnessed this incident, either German or American. Respected 8th Fighter Command historian Danny Morris could not locate any USAAF report on it, and such an incident would surely have warrented such a report.
The successful combats against RAF Tempests referred to above by Cescotti took place at low altitude, and according to Reschke's account the Tempest pilot made several mistakes (relative to the Ta) which he was able to capitalise on. It is worth pointing out again that the Ta pilot knew exactly what to expect from the Tempest, while the Ta 152 was frankly an unknown quantity to the Tempest pilot. Then of course there is Walter Loos statement that he never downed an enemy aircraft while flying the Ta 152 in direct contradiction to Reschke's account as related in interview to Jean-Yves Lorant.
Until enemy pilots had some reasonable knowlege about the strengths and weaknesses of the Ta, combat reports of its "superiority" are questionable at best. While there may have been no more than 55 operational Ta 152's, there were never more than about 24 serviceable at one time. And they flew comparitively few sorties, perhaps a total of 500 or so, quite likely fewer. Until an aircraft has been in combat long enough for the enemy to have a reasonable idea of what they are facing, there is always an advantage to flying a new high performance fighter - it's an unknown quantity and the enemy pilots do not know what to expect from it. And although ultimately designed for high altitude combat, very few missions of this sort were ever flown.
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