Special weapons and unusual variants
Special weapons, projects and experiments
Designed from the outset for durability and versatility, the Fw 190 proved to be an ideal testbed for a wide range of imaginative new weapons under development and consideration for front line ser vice during the Second World War. Focke-wulf also considered altering the aircraft’s design to test other new forms of technology…
Fw 190 Mistel
During 1942, work was carried out in Germany to enable a glider to carry a full military load by launching it into the air using a smaller powered aircraft mounted on its back. This combination was eventually to become known as the Mistel (mistletoe) since the powered aircraft could be given an extended range using fuel drawn from the glider below – like mistletoe drawing sap from its host tree. The upper portion was to be a Bf 109E fighter, the lower a DFS 230 glider. Both were piloted. In June 1943, it was decided that this technology could be used for launching a ‘grossbombe’ or large bomb at a ground target. The Bf 109 would still be the upper portion, now a 109F, but the lower would be a ‘war weary’ unmanned Junkers Ju 88A-4 filled with 3.5 tons of high explosives. The Bf 109 pilot would control the whole Mistel up to its arrival over the target, whereupon the Ju 88 would be aimed and an autopilot unit within it activated. The Bf 109 would separate from the Ju 88 by firing explosive bolts and then peel away as the flying bomb flew serenely down to its target.
The Ju 88’s high explosive warhead was a huge hollow charge with a plunder detonator at its tip which was fitted in place of the aircraft’s cockpit. They were to be used against high value targets such as capital ships, power stations or bridges. Junkers and DFS worked together on the project, code-named Beethoven-gerät or Beethoven Device, and by April 1944 production of the first batch of 15 Mistel was under way. The first unit to operate them, 2./KG 101, was ready for its first missions in June. These met with very limited success but it was enough to impress Focke-wulf. A representative of the company visited Junkers on July 19 and then wrote a report detailing the Mistel design. By the end of November a new version of the Mistel combination, with a Fw 190 as the upper component, was being tested. Unfortunately, the Ju 88A-4 used 87 octane fuel whereas the Fw 190A used 95 octane – making them incompatible. Creating a Mistel using a Fw 190 mounted atop a Heinkel He 177 bomber was briefly considered but by the end of 1944 most of the ill-fated bombers were in a sorry state and would have needed significant work to make them airworthy. The solution was to pair either a Fw 190A-8 or F-8 with a Ju 88G-1 night fighter, which also used 95 octane fuel. Plans to convert 75 G-1s for use as the ‘Mistel 2’ were laid on December 5, 1944, and 12 were ready by December 21. Deliveries to the unit intended to operate them, 6./KG 200, began at the end of December. Production was slowed, however, by a shortage of ‘donor’ Ju 88G-1s so on January 6 night fighter unit I./NJG 4 was ordered to hand over 43 of its G1s for Mistel 2 conversion by January 15. By now, with the Allies advancing rapidly through Europe and the Soviets pressing in from the east, it was difficult for II./KG 200 to find a suitably large stationary target for its Mistels to attack. Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring came up with the answer – why not hit the Royal Navy’s Home Fleet at Scapa Flow? Details of exactly which vessels might be there at any given time were sketchy due to the difficulty of getting German reconnaissance aircraft anywhere near it, but nevertheless Göring’s idea for striking a high profile Pearl Harbor-style blow against the British rapidly coalesced into a solid plan – Unternehmen Drachenhöhle or Operation Dragon’s Lair.
Fifteen Mistel 2s from 6./KG 200 would form the strike force, supported by 12 flaredropping Ju 88s and 188s from 5./KG 200 to illuminate the target. They were to set off from Tirstrup in Denmark on a date after January 20, 1945. Everything initially went to plan and II./KG 200’s Mistels and Ju 88/188s arrived at Tirstrup without any problems in mid-january 1945. One of the pilots due to take part, Feldwebel Rudi Riedl of 6./KG 200, recalled: “As far as the Scapa Flow attack plan was concerned we only received one proper briefing which took place in a large room of the country house near the airfield, in which was a large map of the Scapa Flow area. “Each pilot was assigned an individual target since we received regular reconnaissance updates on British shipping movements – I knew exactly where my target ship was anchored. To help us further, at our base at Tirstrup, we had a large, specially built model of the harbour on which were laid scale models of all the ships known to be there. “The real prize was to be assigned an aircraft carrier. It was felt among the pilots of 6./KG 200 that if the Mistel had been introduced earlier and in greater numbers, its effect against certain pinpoint targets – such as ships – could have been far more decisive. Any ship – no matter what size – if hit by a Mistel would have gone under. “There were to be 12 aircraft – no reserves – and the idea was to fly to the target in cloud so as to minimise the risk of being spotted by British patrols or flak. Fuel for the outward flight would be drawn from the Ju 88 lower components and the amounts required had been calculated down to the last drop. “Marker buoys had been laid out to guide us in. We were to adopt a line astern formation. We all wanted the mission to work, because we knew we would be decorated when we got back – there was even talk of the Ritterkreutz. “Once the attack had been made, the plan was for our Fw 190s to climb as fast as possible to 7000m and make for Stavanger which was closest point for a safe landing. Both our forces in Norway and the navy had been warned to expect us and the navy had been briefed to watch out for any pilot unable to make it as far as Stavanger who might have to bail out due to lack of fuel.” Bad weather prevented the attack from going ahead however. On February 3, four Mistel 1s were send to Tirstrup to bolster the attack force but they were shot down by American Mustangs returning from protecting bombers during a
raid over Berlin. Eleven days later, a pair of de Havilland Mosquito MK.VIS from the RAF’S Fighter Experimental Flight attacked the airfield at Tirstrup. One of the pilots, F/O Roy Lelong, a New Zealander, wrote in his report afterwards: “I approached the aerodrome from the east, the aerodrome being hard to find owing to snow and ice. On approach, I flew parallel to the east-west runway on the south side. “At first I could not see any aircraft, but finally saw about five to six Fw 190 and Ju 88 pick-a-backs with normal camouflage well dispersed in fir trees. My sight was u/s, so I used the plate glass for sighting, letting strikes hit the ground in front of one of these pick-a-backs. I pulled the nose up a little and saw many strikes on both the Fw and the Ju 88. “Numerous personnel working around these enemy aircraft were scattered by the attack. I turned south into the next dispersal bay and made a similar type of attack on another pick-aback also seeing strikes. I then turned west and attacked for a second time the first pick-a-back which I had previously damaged. “This time both the Ju 88 and the Fw 190 burst into flames.” Two of the Mistel combinations were destroyed during the attack and on the same day Operation Dragon’s Lair was cancelled. While the pilots of 6./KG 200 had been awaiting the green light however, another Mistel operation had been planned – Operation Eisenhammer or ‘Iron Hammer’. This was to be an attack on 23 hydro-electric and steam power stations around Moscow with the intention of crippling Soviet manufacturing capability. It was to be carried out by pilots of 3./KG(J) 30 from Peenemünde under the supervision of KG 200. A huge amount of training was undertaken by the pilots and crew of both units, with intensive briefings from specialists taking several weeks. During this time, the Soviet Army advanced to within striking distance of Berlin and on March 30, 1945, Eisenhammer was put on hold. Then 11 days later, 18 Mistel intended for Operation Iron Hammer were destroyed during a US bombing raid on Rechlin-lärz. Another five were destroyed at Oranienburg. More followed.
On Sunday, March 25, 1945, four 6./KG 200 Mistel took off from Burg to attack US forces erecting pontoon bridges over the River Rhine near Oppenheim. Leutnant Fred Lew, who took part in the mission, said: “We had five Ju 88/Fw 190 Mistel combinations ready for the Oppenheim Rhine bridge attack. Around 5pm, four Mistel took off, the fifth having broken down on the airfield. We were accompanied by five Ju 88 and Ju 188 Beleuchter from our 5. Staffel. Since take-off in a Mistel was always a dangerous affair, the air raid siren was sounded at Burg to clear the field of personnel for their own safety. This time, however, things went according to plan and the four remaining Mistel got off the ground without problem. “Following a wide left turn, our formation headed towards the Rhine. Initially, we were at 1500m but soon climbed to a cruising altitude of 2000m. The approach flight took two and a half hours. As it began to turn dark, so I saw the River Rhine glittering below us in the moonlight. “Meanwhile, our Beleuchter aircraft had dropped their signal flares, but still, I could not recognise the bridge. I flew a full circle to orientate myself, but as I did so, I ran into heavy American anti-aircraft fire. In order to locate the target I descended to 1500m and then – bang! I was hit. My Mistel lurched to port and went into a spin on its back. As I was no longer able to control the machine, I decided to separate my Fw 190 while simultaneously diving away from the Mistel. “At 300-400m, I finally managed to regain control over my aircraft and got away from that terrible flak and headed east towards Burg. In the darkness and flying on instruments, my return flight became quite hairy and I flew off course. I found myself approaching the River Elbe. Since the Russians were by now quite close, it was dangerous to cross the river. “Fortunately, I reached the Elbe at Torgau. The success of the operation was virtually nil.”
The last significant Mistel operations came in mid to late April 1945. On April 11, Mistel had been used to attack autobahn bridges crossing the Kwisa and Bóbr rivers to stem the tide of Russian troops pouring in from the east. On April 12, four Mistel from 6./KG 200 and four from KG(J) 30 had been ordered to attack bridges at Küstrin – a town in Brandenbrug, East Prussia, that straddled the River Oder. It had been designated a ‘fortress’ by Hitler but Soviet forces had succeeded in annihilating its German defenders by March 11 and were using its bridges to bring thousands of men and machines over the river. All eight Mistel were gathered at Peenemünde and they set off in two waves. The 6./KG 200 aircraft went first in the morning and began, one by one, to take off. The first combination had a problem however
and although the Fw 190 separated cleanly, the Ju 88 rolled over and crashed into the Baltic. The second suffered a burst left tyre and crashed. One took off but the fourth also failed. Just one Mistel was left to see the mission through and the pilot was Rudi Riedl. After meeting up with his fighter escort – a single Bf 109 – they flew to Küstrin together. “Nearer the target he flew close to me and, with his thumb, pointed downwards at my target. We must have crossed the front line then, because all hell broke loose. I was so surprised. After all, this was my first operational sortie. The target lay before me ringed by a hail of fire. “As I made my attack dive, my fighter escort climbed away to stay beyond the range of the enemy flak. All I could see around me were black clouds from the flak. Occasionally, as well as these black clouds, I could see little flashes of light from the tracer – just like when you throw more wood on to an already burning fire. “I don’t actually remember pressing the button to activate the separation, but my diving speed was 600-650kph. The lower component hit the first section of the three section bridge which exploded and landed on top of the next section.” During the attack, Riedl’s Fw 190 suffered a buckled wing but he eventually managed to land at Strausberg. The second wave from KG(J) 30 all took off successfully in the afternoon led by a Ju 88 of I./KG 66. They reached the target without incident and all four Ju 88s were reportedly launched at the Küstrin bridges but none of them caused any significant damage and certainly failed to halt the Soviet advance. On April 14, another three Mistel from I./KG(J) 30 took off to attack the Küstrin bridges and five Mistel from unidentified units launched an attack on bridges at Görlitz over the Lusatian Neisse River. The success or failure of this operation is unknown. April 16 saw four Mistel from 6./KG 200 ordered to make yet another attempt at the Küstrin bridges but this time, as they took off, they were intercepted by Allied fighters. Two were shot down but the others reached the bridges and one Mistel was successfully used to destroy a bridge. The following day, seven more Mistel were prepared for another Küstrin attack but one crashed on takeoff and the rest were grounded. Another Mistel attack on the Küstrin bridges was launched on April 27 and another on bridges over the Oder between Tantow and Greifenhagen on April 30. Neither was successful and thereafter Mistel operations were ended. Other Mistel using the Fw 190 were planned. Had the cheap wooden Focke-wulf Ta 154 Moskito fighter entered full production, it was to have formed the lower part of a Mistel combination for use against bomber formations. It would have been radio controlled, rather than being guided by an autopilot system. The Mistel 3 combination also used the Fw 190 but paired with a Ju 88G-1. The Mistel 3A was a training version, matching a Fw 190A-8 or F-8 to a standard Ju 88A-4 , while the Mistel 3B involved matching an A-8 with a long range Ju 88H-4 heavy fighter. The Fw 190A-8 was to be fitted with Doppelreiter streamlined fuel tanks above its wings for increased range. The Mistel 3C paired a Fw 190F-8 with a Ju 88G-10. There is also evidence to suggest a smaller Mistel was planned which involved a Fw 190 sitting atop a Fieseler Fi 103 ‘V-1’ flying bomb although few details of this have been discovered.
A camouflaged Mistel 2, probably belonging to II./KG(J) 30 and based at Oranienburg in March 1945.The Ju 88G-1’s warhead has an unusual short SHL 3500 fuse and both component aircraft carry a drop tank – probably in readiness for participation in Operation Iron Hammer.
These images show first a Ju 88 with its entire cockpit section removed in readiness for conversion to the lower component of a Mistel combination.the removal work could be done relatively quickly. Next the huge hollow charge ‘Elefantenrüssel’ or Elephant’s Trunk warhead is shown being moved into position, and finally a Ju 88 with its warhead in place and ready for pairing with a single engine fighter. The first operational Mistel combination utilised a Bf 109F, in this case WNR. 10130, paired with a Ju 88A-4, WNR. 10096.
Eleven Mistel 1s of 6./KG 200 on the runway at Burg in readiness for an operation in late 1944 or early 1945. This Mistel S3C trainer, made up of Fw 190A-8 WNR. 961243 and Ju 88G-10 WNR. 460066 was captured at the Junkers facility at Bernburg by 113th Cavalry Group of the US Ninth Army in April 1945.The whole site was turned over to the Soviets on July 21, 1945. Another view of the Mistel S3C combination on the runway at Junkers’ Bernberg factory. The aircraft in the foreground clearly shows the stretched fuselage of the Ju 88G-10.
Above: The attachment points of the Mistel combination are clearly visible in this alternative view of one of the Mistel captured at Junkers’ Merseburg facility. Left: One of a pair of Mistel S2s captured by the Americans at Junkers’ Merseburg facility in May 1945.The upper portion is a Fw 190A-8 and the Ju 88 is a G-1, WNR. 590153. Below: The Focke-wulf design for a Mistel involving the wooden Ta 154 Moskito aircraft as the lower component.the failure of the Ta 154 relegated this to a mere drawing board project.