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I  N  T  R  O  D  U  C  T  I  O  N

   

MAY, 1945.  Allied forces have finally overrun the German frontier after more than five years of bloody conflict.  With the forces of the Reich demobilizing on all fronts, the victors quietly embark upon a battle of their own: a high-stakes competition to exploit captured technologies.  It is already evident that the race for technological supremacy promises to shape the postwar era. 

Some of the most unnerving German advances to emerge late in the war were embodied in the jet aircraft; especially the Messerschmitt 262 fighter.  While the forces of the Wehrmacht were in a full retreat across the continent, this sleek warbird was a cause for great alarm among the Allies.   At a time when the rest the world's jet aircraft were little more than docile test beds,* the Me 262 was sweeping the sky for intruding bomber formations.  The potential for disaster had not gone unnoticed. 

Of course, aggressive exploitation plans had been put into motion many months before V-E day.  In the Army Air Forces, this gave rise to the Air Technical Intelligence (ATI) division.  Charged with mounting an all-out dragnet for advanced weapons of all types, ATI operations were primarily focused upon a classified "blacklist" of priority targets.  At the top of every list was the Messerschmitt 262.   Field contact teams generally were finding little outside of a few wrecked jets.   What was really needed was a collection of flyable examples.

Intelligence reports indicated that several Me 262s had been spotted on an airfield in Bavaria, just south of Augsburg.  In fact, this was the home base for the main Messerschmitt factory.  ATI Colonel Harold E. Watson sent a request throughout the theater of operations to assemble a small group of volunteers, drawn from the most capable pilots and mechanics available.  Details were kept to a minimum, but the call for volunteers led to interviews for the most highly qualified.  The best of the best were sent to Watson.

As the new team members filtered in, they were formally assigned to the project and finally informed of their highly classified mission: locate a squadron's complement of the Luftwaffe's most advanced jet aircraft, learn how to operate and maintain them, and stand by for orders to fly them out of Germany. 

Talk about firsts: none of the men had ever actually seen a jet engine up close, none had ever flown a captured enemy aircraft, none had experience with swept wings, automatic wing slats, metric instrumentation or tricycle landing gear and none (save one) had ever even been "checked out" in a twin-engine plane.   

* The Gloster Meteor (UK) and Bell P-59 (US) were both operational during this period; however, neither of these aircraft were considered ready for front-line combat service, and neither established an operational service record approaching that of the Me 262 .  

   


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