I: Mistletoe for Scapa Flow
II: the Mistel in battle
1942: since the beginning of the conflict, the German high command was confronted with a crucial problem. The Home Fleet, the all powerful British war fleet anchored in Scapa Flow harbor was blocking access to the Baltic Sea and the North Sea, causing the surface vessels of the Kriegsmarine to adopt a prudent inactivity. The containment of Scapa Flow became a priority since the beginning of the conflict. There had been an intrepid incursion by Günther Prien's U-Boot in the night of October 13-14 1939 which gave a boost to German moral, but this spectacular action did not resolve the problem. As for attacking Scapa Flow by air, the Luftwaffe did not possess any heavy bombers capable of such mission.
It is under those circumstances that Flugkapitän Siegfried Holzbauer, Junkers aircraft's chief test pilot thought about reviving the original, but already forgotten idea of Robert Mayo and to propose it to the Luftwaffe. In 1942, the Luftwaffe was indeed desperate to end the blockade of Scapa Flow, but how could it make an attack with a heavy destructive payload to a target that was so far remote? By providing a "one way" trip to worn out, pilotless Junkers Ju-88, loaded with a heavy charge of explosive. A fighter (Messerschmitt Bf-109 at first) mounted atop the Ju-88 in a fashion similar to the Mercury on the Maïa was assigned the mission to fly the ensemble to the target. It was then up to the pilot to guide the explosive loaded transporter into a crash trajectory on the target, and separate himself from the old Ju-88 about to end its final flight on the objective.
The RLM (Reichluftfahrtsministerium) was interested and Junkers experimented in the spring of 1943 with an elaborate Ju-88A - Messerschmitt Bf-109F arrangement, having first conducted some test with a DFS 230 glider.
This system had required special techniques, particularly the electric flight controls that permitted the pilot to fly the transporter from his guiding fighter. The guiding fighter was mounted on steel struts and separation was obtained by mean of explosive bolts.
Takeoff was made on three engines, with the fighter pumping its fuel from the JU-88 ensuring the return trip requirements (this system did not work when the Focke-Wulf FW-190A was used because its engine required a different fuel octane). The flight was initially made at low altitude to avoid radar detection, and at a distance of four kilometers from the objective, the "Father and Son" climbed to 800 meters.
For the attack, the pilot established a 30 degrees dive at a speed of 650 kilometers per hour. Once the target was well acquired in the aiming sight, the Ju-88 auto-pilot was engaged by mean of the electric control, and one of the jettisoning bolt was exploded to place the fighter in a slight nose up attitude in reference to the transporter. Then, the pilot exploded the remaining bolts to free himself and return to base.
This unconventional weapon impressed the German High Command sufficiently to consider its use on prime targets: Leningrad harbor, Gibraltar, and Scapa Flow of course.
In May 1944, a unit of five Mistel was dispatched to Denmark with Scapa Flow for objective. After D-day, the composites retreated to Saint-Dizier (France) for a less ambitious mission: the allied vessels anchored in the bay of the Seine River. The attack occurred in the night of June 24th - 25th 1944. One of the Mistel pilots spotted by a British Mosquito released his payload. Having a cruise speed of barely 380 kilometers per hour, a Mistel once sighted became an easy prey. The other four Mistel successfully completed their mission and the fighters returned to base without damage. The damages on the target did not reached the level of destruction hoped for, but at last the procedure had proven to be feasible. III: a feared weapon
Once again, the Luftwaffe turned its sight towards Scapa Flow. Bad weather and clear nights not being ideal for attack by those slow aircraft; the mission date was rescheduled from day to day until November 11. The Tirpitz that was a permanent menace for the Home Fleet was sunk in a Norwegian Fjord. The British Fleet relieved by its disappearance was now able to disperse her forces. The strategic interest of an attack on Scapa Flow also disappeared at the same time that the vessels of the Royal Navy were beginning to leave the harbor.
In this time frame, the Anglo-American air superiority to the west was such, that it was no longer deemed viable to risk the Mistel on this theater of operations. Project "Eisenhammer" dating back from 1941 was once again considered. This project had been put on hold until the Luftwaffe had at its disposition a strategic adaptable airplane to transport the parasite.
It was a bold project: no less than one hundred Mistel, accompanied by an impressive armada (including Dornier 217K transporting flying bombs Fritz X), were to attack and destroy the three gigantic electric power-plants providing electricity to the Soviet Industry in Leningrad (North of Moscow) and in the Urals. One problem about this project that immediately became apparent to the pilots, was the fact that the fighters would never have the range capability to ensure the return flight. As a remedy, the pilots were provided with emergency rations for survival, some notions of the local language, and it was suggested that they land in territorial pockets still held by soldiers of the Reich.
The assembly of such large number of Mistel would take a while. Meteorological conditions alone also delayed the operation for so long that the planned launching bases were either destroyed by the Anglo-American bombings, or they fell into Soviet hands.
In the spring of 1945, it was no longer the time for ambitious operations, but the time to revert to more modest plans which would provide immediate results: slowing down the Soviet advance. On March 1st 1945, orders were given to the Kommodore of KG 200 to destroy the one hundred twenty bridges on the Oder, the Neisse, and the Vistule. It was a feasible operation for the aircraft, but too important a task considering the multitude of the objectives!
Much success was achieved, but the corps of engineer of the red army would within a few hours built emergency pontoons bridges, rendering the attack an exercise in futility.
The last Mistel attack occurred on April 26th 1945 on the Oder. Of the seven engaged aircraft, only two FW 190 came back. The next day, II/KG 200 was dissolved and its personnel were incorporated in the ground troops. It was the "Twilight of the Gods".
The first test of the "Father and Son" concept occurred at the secret Luftwaffe base in Peenemüde on the Baltic Sea, a site under close surveillance by allied observation airplanes. In April 1944, a reconnaissance airplane had brought back photos, depicting a very unconventional aircraft combination identified as a Ju 88 carrying a Bf 109. This observation corroborated with the story of a German prisoner of war claiming to have witnessed such machine in flight.
This became a worrisome affair for the British, which were already subjected to the pounding of the V1. They feared that those composite aircraft would be used against their cities. Another question pondered by the Allied strategists was how many of those aircraft had been built. Well aware of the vulnerability of those machines, the German did not leave them stationed at the same base for very long, and consequently, the Allied reconnaissance airplanes were reporting them here and there and everywhere. Fear was reinforced, when due to either the inexperience of the pilot, or mechanical malfunction, a Mistel crashed in Great Britain. It caused commotion, but it also gave the technician a chance to satisfy their curiosity by studying the machine at their leisure.
Because of the multiple problems encountered by the Mistel units, the fear of this weapon was never proved justified. In May of 1945, the Americans discovered about fifty of those machines scattered around the Mersenburg Junkers factories, but they were never the object of an in depth study after the war. The Mistel had been a weapon of "circumstance" but it would never received the interest of the many other projects promptly recuperated by the Allied.
© Aérostories, 2001.
-Mistel, German composite aircraft and operations (Robert Forsyth)
-Mistel et boules de gomme (Rolf Steiner)
-Les Alliés et le Mistel (JL Roba & E. Mombeek)
Air Fan N° 165