The Contract and Priority of the new Fighters

On 19 September 1944 the Main Aircraft Development Committee formally decided to pick Heinkel’s design. On the 21st, Knemeyer, Lucht and Major-General Diesing briefed Göring about the new aircraft. The three experts’ presentation included a crude animation film prepared overnight by TLR and based on draft design, which showed the fighter in different flight situations.16 Although General Kreipe, chief of staff of the Luftwaffe, and General Galland, leader of the day-fighters, voiced their misgivings regarding the concept, Göring approved the project and acknowledged that he was ready to accept the risks and limitations associated with the aircraft.17 On the next day the mock-up was unveiled and presented as the He 500, signifying its transformation from a paper project into a real plane.18 On 23 September, Hitler also approved the plan and stressed its special character as a highly concentrated effort by numerous firms and organizations (termed Gewaltaktion) aimed at making the fighter ready for operational use as quickly as possible. He ordered a monthly output of 1,000 aircraft and also declared his willingness to accept the risks involved in authorizing mass production of an unproven design directly from the drawing board.19 He also appointed General Director Phillip Kessler, chairman of the Armaments Advisory Board in the Armaments Ministry, to lead the project. Kessler was the former general director of the Bergmann Electricity Firm and was responsible for the reorganization of the ballbearing industry after the bombing of the Schweinfurt ball-bearing factory in 1943. He was known for his abilities to manage difficult projects under tight schedules.20 Later on the same day Heinkel presented Lucht and members of the Main Aircraft Committee the crude early mock-up of the aircraft.21 On 27 September Francke informed all the people involved in the project that its designation was changed to He 162.22 It was included in production program 226/2 under the designation 8–162. Even though the Blohm & Voss contender lost, the firm’s chief designer, Dr. Richard Voigt, tried to reapply on 2 October with a refined project plan. Saur rejected the new submission and explained in his rejection letter that Heinkel’s plane was chosen because of the free capacity his firm could offer and because his design was more mature. These remarks make it clear that Heinkel’s plane was the only rational choice right from the start.23 While Blohm & Voss also possessed some free capacity, its size was smaller than Heinkel’s, besides, this firm had never designed and produced aircraft in meaningful numbers. It was especially important for the Reich’s leadership to spread the word about the high priority status given to the He 162 project. It constantly sought ways to support the project through different decrees and nominations. These measures were typical of the haphazard management of the Reich’s war industry at that stage. On 12 October 1944, Hitler issued a special decree that allocated special commissioners to each of the most important production projects of the aviation industry. Hitler empowered the commissioners with supposedly unrestricted authority to do everything in order to complete their tasks. Among other previsions, the decree upgraded Kessler’s status to a Special Commissioner of the He 162 program.24 It is interesting to note, though, that existing documentation suggests that Karl Frydag performed most of the daily management of the so-called Aktion 162. Frydag’s position was perfect for this task because at that time he chaired the Aircraft Main Committee (formerly the Airframe Main Committee) and was deputy chairman of the Development Main Committee. Special efforts were made to win the support of different Nazi Party and state organizations active in the Vienna area. On 28 October, Kessler met Vienna’s Gauleiter Baldor von Schirach, representatives of the armaments authorities and other local functionaries, and briefed them about the project and its high priority. His talk was titled “Brechung der Luftherrschaft des Gegners durch Gewaltaktion 162” (“Breaking the air superiority of the enemy through massive operation 162”) and emphasized the military importance of such a plane. More importantly, he mentioned that the project was ordered personally by Hitler. Kessler finished his speech with the words: “The Heinkel firm developed the aircraft that will wipe out the terror flyers from our skies.”25 Kessler emphasized in his speech also the need for stringent secrecy, but by that time at least one security glitch had already happened. A roll of He 162 blueprints was found on the street in the town of Randstein, near Vienna, and was brought to the local police station. Keeping diagrams and plans in Heinkel’s Vienna factory complex, where many workers were foreigners or inmates, was also problematic and required special care.26 Despite the decrees regarding the urgency of the He 162 project, its status remained unclear for a couple of months and well into 1945. For an unexplained reason the high-priority status of the He 162 got lost somehow in the chaos of this period. In early February 1945, Heinkel executives complained that a lack of a written order, giving the He 162 the same status as other high-priority aircraft, was making it difficult to acquire materials and services necessary for the program. One of the difficulties caused by this misunderstanding was securing adequate power supply to factories involved in the program. As part of a wider power-saving measure, the local authorities in Rostock ordered the suspension of the power supply to Heinkel’s Marienehe factory for eight days, beginning on 29 January. Following an urgent inquiry the director found out that the order came from the Rüstungsstab and that no one was aware of the high priority assigned to the fighter produced in this factory.27 The Vienna factory complex experienced similar problems with power supply disruption at the same time. On 6 February Francke sent an urgent telegram to Kessler and Lucht (head of the Development Main Commission), and asked them to immediately include the He 162 in the emergency production plan and to issue a written document to prove that.28 It took some time, however, to set the wheels in motion. As the aircraft was finally ready for series production towards the end of February 1945, Hitler formally included the He 162 in the Führernotprogramm (Führer’s emergency program) during an armaments conference with Speer, Göring and Messerschmitt that took place on 26 February. This program gave the top priority to the newest aircraft types: Me 262, Ta 152, Ar 234 and Do 335. It also foresaw an output of 1,000 He 162s in April 1945 and 2,000 in May, making it the most numerous type of aircraft.29 The official timetable set for the project was without precedent and adhered closely to Heinkel’s earlier timetable: full-scale mock-up by 1October 1944; first flight by 10 December 1944; and series production begin on 1 January 1945.30 According to production program 227, monthly output was expected to increase to 1,150 and continue on this pace at least until the first quarter of 1946. Later the more realistic production programs 228/1 and 228/2 projected a monthly output of 530 aircraft from the end of 1945. This production rate was supposed to continue until March 1946.31 Although approved by the highest Reich authorities, the decision to go ahead with the He 162 encountered some stiff resistance. Its main opponents were Willy Messerschmitt and General Adolf Galland, chief of the Luftwaffe’s day-fighters. Although Galland’s criticism allegedly became milder after he viewed the mock-up of the aircraft on 7 October,32 both he and Messerschmitt basically argued that developing and producing a completely new fighter at that time would be possible only at the expense of the proven and more advanced Me 262. They were also pessimistic regarding the date projected for the plane’s service entry.33 Galland also criticized the plane’s tactical limitations: light armament, poor view from the cockpit, and potentially dangerous flight characteristics. Messerschmitt and others pointed out the contradiction between the high-performance and the “popular” character of the aircraft; high-performance aircraft demanded well-trained pilots and complicated construction. The He 162 in its proposed shape was definitely not the aerial equivalent of the Volkswagen car, as some officials suggested.34 General Kreipe had pointed out already during the 21 September meeting that the training organization of the Luftwaffe would not be able to train the number of pilots required to fly the plane. It was an important and realistic argument, which most people involved in the light-fighter program failed to address.35 The debate around the He 162 was one element within a larger political struggle within the Luftwaffe’s high command, and especially among its fighter leaders’ fraternity. As a result of this struggle Göring dismissed Galland in late December 1944 and replaced him with his main rival, Colonel Gordon Gollob. The dramatic reshuffle at the top of the Luftwaffe resulted in what Göring called “a mutiny without a parallel in history” of several senior Luftwaffe officers, who openly clashed with Göring in January 1945 and demanded that he reinstitute Galland.36 As the German leadership was approving and reapproving the He 162’s status and arguing its logic, Heinkel continued to work energetically on the plane. In order to stick to the timetable Heinkel employed almost its entire design staff—370 men—in designing the He 162. It was stated that under normal circumstances only 150 workers would be employed on such a project.37 It is therefore a little surprising that in accordance with the generally chaotic German system, at the same time Heinkel worked on another light-fighter development project. It was a tiny rocket interceptor code named “Julia” or P 1077, that was supposed to be extremely easy to fly because it took off automatically from a catapult and either landed on skids or the pilot would bail out after the fuel ran out. The aim was to train new pilots to fly the tiny fighter in four weeks after some basic flight training.38 Its development started in late summer 1944 as part of an RLM program to design a replacement for the unsatisfactory Me 163 rocket fighter. On 8 September 1944 the RLM contracted Heinkel to manufacture 20 prototypes, and two weeks later it issued a preliminary plan for a monthly production of 300 “Julia” fighters. The Main Aircraft Development Committee suspended the “Julia” project towards the end of 1944 after it decided in favor of an improved Me 163 design developed by Junkers.39 Heinkel continued, however, to develop “Julia,” including a new version powered by a pulse-jet engine. A small staff at the Vienna design bureau and staffs in several small cabinetmaking firms working for Heinkel in Austria continued working on the project on a part-time basis.