Fighting the Jet Menace

Fighting the Jet Menace

By Larry W. Bledsoe

Seven pilots credited with downing Me 262s told their story. L to R, seated: Capt. Harrison Tordoff, Maj. Urban Drew, Lt. Col. Donald Cummings and Capt. Wayne Coleman. Standing: Col. Joseph Peterburs, Capt. Robert Winks and Lt. Col. Huie Lamb.

Seven pilots credited with downing Me 262s told their story. L to R, seated: Capt. Harrison Tordoff, Maj. Urban Drew, Lt. Col. Donald Cummings and Capt. Wayne Coleman. Standing: Col. Joseph Peterburs, Capt. Robert Winks and Lt. Col. Huie Lamb.

For their latest symposium, the Southern California Friends of the American Fighter Aces Association brought together seven Eighth Air Force pilots credited with downing German Me 262s. SCF President Dennis “Scott” Thomas served as moderator.

One of the biggest threats to Allied air supremacy over Europe during World War II occurred when Germany introduced jets into the game plan. The tremendous speed advantage these aircraft had over anything the Allies could put up made them a difficult adversary. But many men were up to the challenge.

Lt. Col. Huie H. Lamb Jr.

Lt. Col. Huie H. Lamb Jr. downed his first German jet in the Diepenau area on Oct. 15, 1944. His victory occurred after an uneventful bomber escort mission. After firing on trains, his flight began to join up. They were climbing out, at about 15,000 feet, when Lamb spotted a bogie. As he dove on the target, he recognized it as an Me 262 that was preparing to land.

He was soon within range. When he was finally able to strike the jet, it rolled over and crashed into the ground. Immediately, antiaircraft guns and ground fire from the heavily defended aerodrome opened up on him. Somehow, one of those rounds jammed his rudder, making for a difficult flight home.

Five months later, on March 19, Lamb got his second German jet, an Arado AR 234, in the Osnabruck area. Lamb said that when he hit it, it just disintegrated. He was out of ammo when four FW-190s attacked him. Cleverly, he continued turning into them, pretending to get into position to shoot, until they broke off the engagement.

Capt. Wayne Coleman

Capt. Wayne Coleman shot down an Me 262 while escorting B-17s in the Stendal area. Coleman’s flight, from the 82nd Fighter Squadron, 78th Fighter Group, was patrolling above the B-17s when he looked behind him and saw two dots off in the distance. He was surprised at how quickly those two Me 262s quickly caught up and passed his flight.

Later, he spotted another Me 262, crossing right to left below him. Taking advantage of his position, he rolled his Mustang to the left and down, picking up speed, and came up under the German jet. When a quick burst struck the cockpit area, the jet rolled over and down.

“It happened so quickly, it took more time to tell about it than it did to do it,” he said.

Capt. Harrison B. Tordoff

Capt. Harrison B. Tordoff told how he beat the system to become a fighter pilot. During flight training, he was told that he would never make it into fighters, because he was about three inches over the height limit for fighter pilots. When it came time to take official photographs, in front of a wall where height was marked, Tordoff simply bent his legs to meet the requirement.

He shared another interesting fact from his pilot training days. His instructor was Frank Spillane. After the war, he became known as Mickey Spillane, the noted author of the Mike Hammer detective series.

Tordoff said that in order to get the jets, you had to have an advantage. The best way to catch one was when it was taking off or landing. He was on his second tour of duty when he got his fourth victory, an Me 262. His flight of P-51s, from the 352nd FS, 353rd FG, was near Dessau on March 31, 1945, when he spotted the jet. He rolled his Mustang over into a nearly vertical 8,000-foot dive, which barely brought him within range of the jet. It was a long-distance shot, but he got a strike on the jet’s left engine, causing it to catch fire and finally crash.

Lt. Col. Donald M. Cummings

Lt. Col. Donald M. Cummings was one of three pilots at the symposium credited with shooting down two German jets.

On Feb. 25, 1945, Mustangs from the 38th FS, 55th FG were on a fighter sweep over known German airfields. When they spotted several Me 262s taking off from the Giebelstadt aerodrome, Cummings took his flight across the field after them. As he chased one of the Me 262s, it cut left and down, allowing him to cut inside the jet’s turn and shoot it down.

Cummings and his wingman then climbed up to 5,000 feet, in search of other targets. He soon spotted an unidentified aircraft near the Leipheim aerodrome, as it crossed the field at about 4,000 feet. He went after it and quickly identified it as an Me 262. He chased the jet around the pattern until he was in position to get a deflection shot. He scored hits all over the aircraft before it rolled over and hit the ground.

Capt. Robert P. Winks

Capt. Robert P. Winks, with 5.5 victories to his credit, observed that it’s easy to get excited in combat.

On Jan. 15, 1945, while on a fighter sweep and photo mission, at 15,000 feet, he noticed an aircraft below him. The bogie turned and started back in his direction in preparation to land at the Shongau aerodrome. He dove on it, picking up speed on the way down. He was going more than 450 mph when he closed in on it.

With a short burst, the Me 262 flamed and crashed on the edge of the aerodrome. When Winks started to climb, he noticed his engine was strangely quiet and the prop was windmilling. It was then that he realized that in his excitement to get the jet, he had forgotten to switch fuel tanks when he dropped his external tanks. He was so focused on the jet—his fifth victory—that he hadn’t noticed the engine wasn’t running.

Maj. Urban L. Drew

Maj. Urban L. Drew in his P-51 Detroit Miss of the 375th FS, 361st FG was the first Eighth Air Force pilot to down two Me 262s in one day.

On Oct. 7, 1944, he spotted two jets taxiing out for takeoff from Achmer Aerodrome. He waited until they had lifted off before rolling over and diving. When he came up on the second jet, he scored hits on the wings and fuselage, and noted flames coming out of it as he passed it. He saw it turn into a huge fireball when it crashed, then turned his attention on the first jet to take off.

The first plane, about 500 yards ahead of him, started a fast climbing left turn. Drew cut inside for a deflection shot. After scoring hits on the tail, he pulled back on the control stick to concentrate on the fuselage. The canopy came off and the plane rolled over into an inverted flat spin. He watched it crash into the ground.

Drew said it was over in 30 seconds. When the flak opened up, he got down on the deck, where he had a better chance. His gun camera had jammed, and it was a long time before he got credit for those two jets. Most mystifying to him was how the United States let the Germans get that far ahead of them in aircraft development.

Col. Joseph A. Peterburs

During his 36-year military career, Col. Joseph A. Peterburs served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. On April 10, 1945, his flight was flying high cover when Me 262s suddenly attacked the B-17s they were escorting. He saw one of the jets shoot down a B-17, and he dove after the jet. He saw his rounds strike it, and followed the jet down until it disappeared in the clouds. Then, he spotted a German airfield with many aircraft on it. He made six strafing passes before he was hit and had to bail out.

His group got 55 aircraft on the ground that day. As for Peterburs, after bailing out, he became a POW. That was fortunate, because the Luftwaffe kept the civilians from killing him. Later, he escaped and fought with the Russians, until making it back to our lines.

But that wasn’t the end of the story. Several years ago, a researcher tracked Peterburs down. He told him that the pilot of the jet he shot down was none other than the famous German ace, Walter Schuck.

Jets definitely could have given the Germans an advantage in the air war over Europe. Fortunately for the Allies, by the time the jets became operational, there were too few of them, and it was too late to make a difference.