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Messerschmitt Me262A-1a, ‘Red 7’ Plt. Ofz. Franz Gapp, 8./KG6, Podersam, Saaz, May 1945
Direct interference from senior military commanders severely restricted the effectiveness of the Messerschmitt Me 262 jet, as they procrastinated about whether it should be used as a fighter, or a bomber. Luftwaffe pilot Franz Gapp perfectly illustrated this problem - a highly decorated bomber pilot, who flew more than 400 missions, mainly in the Ju-88 fighter-bomber, Gapp transferred to an Me 262 attack unit, where it was hoped the speed of the new jet would see significant strategic bombing successes.
Heavy losses and a shortage of experienced pilots dictated that surviving Me 262 bomber units were amalgamated into ad hoc fighter units, required to defend the Reich against Allied air attacks - despite his bombing credentials, Gapp went on to score a number of victories against US heavy bombers. On 7th May 1945, Gapp flew his Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighter towards the west, in an attempt to avoid capture by advancing Soviet forces. He crash-landed his jet into a newly ploughed field near Podersam (Saaz), before destroying his aircraft, thus denying its use by Allied forces.
During the closing stages of the Second World War, the beleaguered Luftwaffe were left hoping that one of Hitler’s wonder weapons would help to stem the tide of increasing Allied attacks, which were taking a withering toll on their numbers. Unfortunately for them, their defeat was simply a matter of time, but not before the German aviation industry managed to show their technological prowess with the introduction of the first operational jet fighter in the world – the sinister looking Messerschmitt Me 262. Even though the Me 262 was highly advanced, it never had the chance to make a significant difference, as Allied air superiority was so significant, that any Luftwaffe airfields still operating aircraft were subjected to almost constant attack – they were literally unable to safely take off, or land.