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 (Oper­a­tion Gomor­rah) 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,” or Wunder­waffen). 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 and Sturm­vogel, 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 National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chan­tilly, Virginia, a sub­urb of Wash­ingt­on, D.C., and the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio.

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 262AOperation Lusty: 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. With a com­bat capa­bil­ity second to none, the Me 262 had a speed of over 540 miles per hour, four 30mm MK 108 cannons, could reach an alti­tude of 37,565 feet, and had a range of 652 miles. It was used in a variety of roles, in­cluding light bomber, recon­nais­sance, and even experi­mental two-seater radar-equipped night fighter. Just over 1,400 Me 262s were delivered to the front, 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 262Messerschmitt Me 262A

Left: Captured by the British, this Messerschmitt Me 262 B‑1a/U1, origi­nally built as 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. The museum houses one of the world’s top collec­tions of WW II aircraft. “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. markingsHeinkel He 162

Left: Slightly faster but less famous than the dreaded Me 262 was the Arado Ar 234 Blitz (Lightning), the world’s first purpose-built oper­a­tional jet-powered photo recon­nais­sance/­bomber. Pro­duced in very limited num­bers (total pro­duc­tion was 224 in both ver­sions, B‑1 and B‑2), the two-engine 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. Flying upward of 461 miles per hour, it had a service ceiling of 32,810 feet and a range of 1,103 miles. In its few uses as a B‑2 bomber (bomb load 3,300 pounds) it proved to be nearly impos­sible to inter­cept, though one Ar 234B‑2 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. About 20 single-pilot Ar 234B‑2 bombers partic­i­pated in the Battle of the Bulge (German Ardennes Offen­sive). 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. Restored, this Arado 234B‑2 bomber, the sole survivor of its type, is on dis­play at the Smith­sonian National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.

Right: A captured Heinkel He 162 Volks­jaeger (People’s Fighter), also known as a Spatz (Sparrow), which is the name Hein­kel gave it, 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. The Reich Air Minis­try insisted that the jet be so simple to oper­ate that teen­age Hitler Youth pilots could fly it into com­bat after rudi­men­tary training. The jet, how­ever, turned out to be difficult, even dan­gerous, to fly, even for exper­i­enced pilots. By war’s end on May 8, 1945, 120 He 162s had been delivered to the Luft­waffe and saw ser­vice for a brief 10 weeks. A further 200 had been com­pleted and were awaiting collec­tion or flight-testing, and about 600 more were in various stages of pro­duc­tion. A Heinkel He 162 Volks­jaeger is on dis­play at the Smith­sonian National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.

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