on October 5. Led by a Malta veteran, Squadron
Leader Rod Smith, the Spitfires bounced a jet of
KG. 51 over Holland and exploded it in midair.
In July, Maj. Walter Nowotny, the 23-year-old
250-victory ace, assumed command and slowly
built the unit now bearing his name. He claimed
eight victories in the jet before disappearing on
November 8, variously reported as the victim of
P-51s or of friendly flak.
Other jet units followed, including III/KG. 51
and I/KG. 54, which followed Hitler’s mandate
for jet bombers. Neither Gruppe achieved much
success in that role, with KG. 54 especially taking
Early in the new year, JG. 7 was established as a
pure fighter wing under veteran Oberst Johannes
Steinhoff, a widely respected leader. He absorbed
elements of Nowotny’s command, but mainly
the wing operated as one effective Gruppe.
Next was JV 44, a bob-tailed “wing” led by
exiled Ltn. Gen. Adolf Galland, previously chief of
the Luftwaffe fighters. After repeated clashes with
Hitler and Hermann Göring, Galland was sent off
to die as an example to the collapsing Reich. He
declined to cooperate, although he finished the
war with a leg wound inflicted by Ninth Air Force
Thunderpilot pilot, Lt. James Finnegan.
Recalling his last mission, Galland wrote, “Out
of the fastest fighter in the world into a bomb
crater—an utterly wretched feeling!” He cadged a
ride on a tow tractor, grateful beyond words for
the devotion of a mechanic.
Available German records indicate 175 Me 262s
shot down by Allied aircraft and antiaircraft gunners versus 191 credited to American and RAF
fighters. Additionally, the AAF credited fighter
pilots with seven Me 163s and 13 Arados.
An accounting of the war’s most significant
first jet flights demonstrates how progress shifted
over a two-year period:
Me 262 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . All jet flight July 18, 1942
Bell P- 59........................ October 1,1942
Gloster Meteor .................... March 5, 1943
Arado 234........................ June 15, 1943
Lockheed P-80 .................... June 10, 1944
Nakajima Kikka. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . August 7, 1945
Of the five operational wartime jets, only the
Messerschmitt, Arado, and Gloster reached combat. With some 1,400 produced, only the 262
served in quantity. However, a shortage of engines,
fuel, and trained pilots limited operational use to
perhaps 200 at a time, divided between bomber
and fighter units flying both in the west and east.
How would the P-80 and 262 compare in
“Rhapsody in Rivets” P-80A-
1-LO 44-85069 was assigned
to the 412th FG and part of
the 1946 “Project Comet,”
showcasing the new AAF jet
program across fighter bases
in the United States. It was
also utilized by Col. William H.
Councill, head of Wright Field’s
fighter test division, in the
first nonstop transcontinental
jet flight in January 1946.
(Photo courtesy of Stan Piet)