U.S. SCHEMES TO CAPTURE NAZI SECRETS

Wilbur Wright Field near Dayton, Ohio April 22, 1945

During the war Allied countries were keen to gain access to the pro­ducts of Ger­man research and develop­ment. A British com­mando raid on a German radar instal­la­tion on Febru­ary 27–28, 1942, in occu­pied France con­vinced British scien­tists who ana­lyzed the radar array that it was imper­vious to jam­ming by con­ven­tional means. The British there­fore developed a low-tech counter­measure that we know today as chaff—the cloud of small, thin pieces of alu­mi­num, meta­lized glass fiber, or plas­tic dropped by air­craft that swamps radar screens with multiple returns, baffling radar operators. The success of the July and August 1943 Allied bombing raids against the North German city of Ham­burg was largely attribu­table to the capture and evaluation of German technology.

The U.S. Army Air Forces Intelligence Ser­vice created Air Tech­ni­cal Intel­li­gence (ATI) teams tasked with acquiring items of inter­est recovered from German crash sites in lib­er­ated Europe. Trained at the Tech­ni­cal Intelli­gence School at Wilbur Wright Field (now part of Wright-Patter­son Air Force Base) near Dayton, Ohio, ATI teams com­peted with at least 32 other Allied technical intelligence groups.

On this date, April 22, 1945, two weeks before the war in Europe ended, the USAAF Intel­li­gence Ser­vice inau­gu­rated Oper­a­tion Lusty, an acro­nym for Luft­waffe Secret Tech­no­logy. Lusty’s aim was to exploit cap­tured German scienti­fic docu­ments, research facili­ties, and revo­lu­tion­ary wea­pons (Hitler’s “miracle wea­pons”). Intelli­gence experts such as “Watson’s Whizzers,” nick­named after their chief and former Wilbur Wright Field test pilot, Col. Harold Watson, had long lists, called “Black Lists,” of advanced avi­a­tion equip­ment they wanted to exam­ine and air­craft com­pany employees, including enemy pilots, they wanted to inter­ro­gate. A second Watson set was tasked with recruiting German scien­tists and aero­nau­tical engi­neers, collecting tech­ni­cal docu­ments, and inves­ti­ga­ting facil­i­ties and advanced equip­ment. Eighty-six aero­nau­ti­cal engi­neers, along with Luft­waffe air­craft and related equip­ment, wound up at Wright Field thanks to Operation Lusty.

Evidence suggests that even before for­mally kicking off Oper­a­tion Lusty some ATI teams had already pene­trated Nazi Germany to fly out, hide, or other­wise remove “black listed” items to U.S.-con­trolled areas before they could be destroyed or wind up in the hands of other nationals. Enemy air­craft such as the swept­wing Messer­schmitt Me 262 Schwalbe, the Arado Ar 234 Blitz, and the Heinkel He 162 Volks­jaeger were flown (some by German pilots) to Cher­bourg, France, and shipped to the U.S., where USAAF and Navy per­son­nel poured over them. In all over 16,000 items were acquired, of which 2,398 were selected for tech­ni­cal analysis. Oper­a­tion Lusty is respon­si­ble, in whole or in part, for many of the examples of German World War II air­craft that were pre­served and now are on dis­play at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.


The immigrant son of a Luftwaffe officer, retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Wolf­gang Samuel is uniquely quali­fied to write the story of how German aero­space tech­no­logy came to our shores. His two books, Watson’s Whizzers: Opera­tion Lusty and the Race for Nazi Avia­tion Techno­logy and Ameri­can Raiders: The Race to Cap­ture the Luft­waffe’s Secrets, capti­vated me with the story of how hun­dreds of German scien­tists, techni­cians, and even pilots became founding mem­bers of Amer­ica’s aero­space in­dus­try. I found his child­hood auto­bio­graphy of growing up in Nazi Germany, German Boy: A Child in War, to be an equally compelling read.—Norm Haskett




German Jet Aircraft of World War II

Messerschmitt Me 262A Damaged Messerschmitt Me 262s, Lechfeld, Bavaria, 1945

Left: The twin-engine Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwalbe was the world’s first opera­tional jet-powered fighter air­craft. It was used in a variety of roles, including light bomber, recon­nais­sance, and even experi­mental night fighter. Roughly 1,400 Me 262s were produced, but no more than 200 were opera­tional at the same time. Me 262s destroyed some 150 Allied planes (Me 262 pilots claimed a total of 542 Allied kills), but the Allies destroyed about 100 Me 262s in the air. In February and March 1945, Allied planes destroyed approximately 60 Me 262s in ground attacks.

Right: When Col. Watson’s team of skilled maintenance troops and pilots located nine Me 262 jet air­craft at the abandoned Lech­feld air­field in Bavaria in early May 1945 (shown here), they eval­u­ated and over­hauled them to make them fly­able. Fortu­nately, the Messer­schmitt air­craft fac­tory was in nearby Augs­burg. Next they recruited a handful of German and volun­teer U.S. P‑47 Thunder­bolt pilots to fly them to Cher­bourg harbor in France for the July 19, 1945, trans-Atlantic crossing to Newark, New Jersey. But first the Germans had to teach the Amer­i­can pilots how to fly the exotic air­craft. A tied-down non­fly­able Me 262 proved a handy training tool. Not one of the nine recovered Me 262s was lost in cross-country transit.

Captured Messerschmitt Me 262 Messerschmitt Me 262A

Left: Captured by the British, this Messerschmitt Me 262 B‑1a/U1, origi­nally built was a jet trainer, was con­verted by the Luft­waffe into a night fighter. Later the jet was transported to the U.S. for testing and evaluation in 1946. A similar factory trainer found fly­able at Lech­feld served Whizzer pilots faith­fully. Today the jet can be seen at the former Naval Air Station Willow Grove, Pennsylavnia.

Right: Named “Screamin’ Meemie” for its noise, this Messer­schmitt Me 262A is on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio. “Wat­son’s Whizzers” flew at least 10 cap­tured Me 262s to Cher­bourg, France, in June 1945. At this French sea­port, 35 advanced enemy air­craft were loaded onto a U.S.-bound aircraft carrier the British made available.

Arado Ar 234B with U.S. markings Heinkel He 162

Left: Slightly faster but less famous than the dreaded Me 262 was the Arado AR 234 Blitz (Lightning), the world’s first oper­a­tional jet-powered recon­nais­sance/­bomber. Pro­duced in very limited num­bers (total pro­duc­tion was 224 of all ver­sions), the Ar 234 was used almost entirely in a recon­nais­sance role—flying unscathed, for example, over the Allies’ Normandy inva­sion beaches on a photo-recon­nais­sance mission. In its few uses as a bomber it proved to be nearly impos­sible to inter­cept, though one Ar 234 bomber was brought down over the newly constructed floating engineer bridge at Remagen (replace­ment for the collapsed Luden­dorff Bridge) in a clever maneuver by a P‑47 Thunder­bolt fighter pilot. The photo above shows the Arado 234B‑2 bomber with U.S. markings back in the States following its capture by British forces in Norway in 1945.

Right: A captured Heinkel He 162 Volks­jaeger (People’s Fighter) sits on the tarmac in Cher­bourg, France, where it awaits trans­port to the States. Made primarily of wood, the He 162 was a sleek single-engine, jet-powered fighter air­craft and was the fastest of the first-generation World War II jets. By war’s end on May 8, 1945, 120 He 162s had been delivered to the Luft­waffe. A further 200 had been com­pleted and were awaiting collection or flight-testing, and about 600 more were in various stages of production.

Wings of the Luftwaffe: Arado Ar 234 Blitz (Skip first minute)


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