Thursday, 15 July 2010

Heinkel He 162 Volksjäger

My review of the Forsyth/Creek Classic Pubs title devoted to the He162

The story of the so-called Volksjäger (the 'People's Fighter') project is told here in perhaps the most comprehensive work yet to appear on the type in English. The He 162 was a last throw of the dice by the Nazi leadership in mid-to-late 1944. Powered by a single BMW turbojet, the He 162 achieved notoriety by going from drawing board to prototype flight in just three months, often at considerable human cost. Robert Forsyth and Eddie J. Creek offer a unique insight into the workings of the Nazi production system in the late-war period through many rare photographs, facsimile documents, detailed text and colour artworks. Development and deployment of the He 162 were compressed into the most restricted time frame possible - with almost inevitable consequences. No aircraft can go from drawing board to combat service without a prolonged period of developmental testing - the fact that the He 162 did so, in no way attests to any inherent brillance in the design or conception of the type. There was virtually no factory flight testing - this was to be carried out at unit level and this book exploits author Erik Mombeeck's considerable research into the history of the only fighter unit to have flown the type in combat Jagdgeschwader 1. The discussion surrounding the He 162's supposed combat successes also relies heavily on research carried by Rick Chapman in 1989 and I have to say that I think the authors conclusions, based on pilot reports and a translation of some German text to be erroneous.
Of particular interest though is a detailed photographic overview of the famous JG 1 line-up at Leck, the text documenting the mix of resignation and relief felt by the men of the last Luftwaffe Jagdgeschwader who had managed to fall back to Schleswig Holstein and who were able to surrender to the British. Much of this passage is drawn from my own translation of Eric Mombeek's forthcoming history of JG 4 (Vol II), e.g. this extract from the JG 4 War diary for Sunday 06 May 1945;

"Our aircraft, vehicles and other equipment is lined up as if for one last parade. The sight is an impressive one and will certainly give the British food for thought. We are proud to show off more than one hundred of our aircraft like this - from the ultra -modern Me262 and He162 that have flown only limited numbers of combat sorties - to the Bf109 and Fw190 fighters that have returned victories in thousands of successful air battles. All will pass into enemy hands. This afternoon several light tanks and trucks bring RAF ground forces onto the airfield. Oberst Nordmann then the Kommodore and Kommandeure have to go before the Colonel commanding the RAF forces. To our great surprise they receive a handshake by way of greeting! However we are airmen together - we remain sceptical as to what may follow the courtesies that our extended to us: what will happen when the other occupation forces arrive? The first orders are to draw up an inventory of all our matériel. All weapons must be handed in apart from the officers side-arms."

Was the type a 'dazzling success' as previous authors have referred to it. Hardly.. In my view the authors go too far here in referring to the He 162 as '"an unprecedented aeronautical achievement". Quoted in French aviation magazine 'Le Fana' in 1997, French He 162 test pilot Raphael Lombaert (briefly quoted in the Classic book) states that the He162 was 'anything but a success' & only 'dazzled' in the brevity of the conception process. The a/c itself as depicted by Lombaert was "pedestrian and dangerous". This was not a machine of sparkling performance by any stretch of the imagination. The most basic of fighter manoeuvres could in the He162 become "terribly vicious". Although not discussed in the Classic book, French He162s were never flown post-war for longer than 15 minutes due to concerns over the rate of fuel consumption and the horrendous noise from the jet engine right next to the pilot's head! Many died in crashes directly resulting from short-comings in the design. We can perhaps only agree with Lombaert when he states "whenever I see this a/c now preserved in museums I cannot help but spare a thought for all those that fell victim to this machine, truly a tool of desperation ..".

An essential reference work to all students of Luftwaffe World War II airpower and kudos to the authors & designer for putting it all together in this superb package.