Fatal mistake

At the end of the war, the Me 262 jets

pushed the boundary of flight performance

above the level of all fighters of the time.

Yet they were not invincible. In addition to

the faulty deployment and the technical

problems, surprise or disadvantageous

position at the enemy encounter often dealt

them a fatal blow. But the biggest trouble

was the landing approach, during which

the Schwalbe was most vulnerable. In any

case, shooting down a jet was something

special for any Allied fighter and by the end

of the war, a good number of them had this

valuable scalp to their credit.

One of the former pilots of the Me 262,

Hubert Lange, said that the most dangerous

opponent in his opinion was the Hawker

Tempest. “It was extremely fast at low

altitudes, very agile and heavily armed,”

the German pilot recalled. Some Me 262s

fell victim to a tactic known in No. 135 Wing

as the “Rat Scramble”. In this scenario the

scramble Tempests standed at the runway

of the B-80 Volkel Air Base waiting for the

notice about Me 262 in the air. Then they

took off immediately, but the pilots made

no attempt to engage the German jets.

They instead headed straight for RheineHopsten airfield where the Me 262 and

Ar 234 were based. The aim was to attack

the jets during their approach to land, when

they were flying slowly with flaps deployed,

so they were unable to accelerate. The

German response to this tactic was a strong

air defense system with more than 500


INFO Eduard

Anti-Aircraft batteries including over 150

four-barrel 20mm Flakvierling batteries

specifically protecting the landing approach

area. After seven Tempests were lost to

flak fire at Hopsten within a week, the Rat

Scramble tactic was abandoned.

On November 3, 1944, however, W/Cdr John

B. Wray, commander of No. 122 Wing, was

not in the air to hunt rats. He was up for an

“air test” with his personal Tempest coded

JBW. At the same time, he was going to try

out the new anti-glare goggles. At 18,000 ft

(5,500 m), he saw two Me 262s about 2,000

ft (700 m) below. They were not at their top

speed, but spotting him, they turned tail.

Wray dived on the nearest one and opened

fire at 300 yards. Several 20 mm shells hit

their target, which flipped onto its back and

dived vertically into the cloud. Wray claimed

it as a “probable” but was only credited

with a “damaged”. But as post-war records

revealed, this Schwalbe did not actually

survive his attack.

More than a month later, on December 17,

Wray took off again from Volkel Base and

was steered by No. 83 Group Control Center

to Weert, where several jets had been

spotted. Shortly after he turned his Tempest

at an altitude of just 2,500 ft (760 m) to the

south, he saw a pair of Me 262s crossing his

path, flying westwards. He began to pursue

the leader of the pair while his wingman

focused on the other Schwalbe. Although

both were on full throttle, using maximum

power of their Napier Sabre engines, the

Text: Richard Plos

Illustration: Adam Tooby

Me 262s were pulling away from them,

gently descending. Neither of the men in

the cockpits of the Tempests could have

done anything about it had it not been for

a surprising reversal. For some reason, the

pilot of the leading Schwalbe decided to

turn left and continued until he was heading

east. This put him directly in front of Wray's


It was perhaps only at that moment that

the German pilot realized what a mistake

he had made and began to maneuver wildly

at low level. This was his second mistake,

because instead of using full power to

increase the distance between himself and

the dangerous Tempest, he thus continued

to lose his speed advantage and probably

also lost sight of his surroundings, he

subsequently hit a building with the wing

and only a few seconds later crashed

into the waters of the nearby Rhine. The

moment just before the fatal collision with

the building was captured by Adam Tooby

on his boxart. We may never know why the

pilot of the Me 262 made the unfortunate

maneuver that put him in a very awkward

position. He may not have known about the

Tempest pair before. In any case, he was

one of the twelve confirmed Me 262s lost

in combat with the Tempests, sixteen more

being acknowledged as damaged by the

Allied pilots of these mighty fighters.

April 2023