South Africa's Warbirds
A Visit to the South African National Museum of Military History
By Paul F. Straney and Robert Sacchi
Photographs and ancillary material courtesy Anthony Speir, Aviation Curator, S.A.N.M.M.H.
The museum has a number of ex-Luftwaffe aircraft. Of the five aircraft Captain Meeker selected at Farnborough in 1946, three still exist, and two of them are at the museum.
The Museum's Fw-190A-6, prior to restoration. The service history of this aircraft was unknown, as were it's original markings. At the time the aircraft was prepared for display, it was assumed that German aircraft carried an upper surface camouflageof dark greens throughout the war. More recent research has shown that this was not true.
One is an Fw-190A-6, factory number 550214 and carrying the radio call-sign letters PN+LU at capture. Someone stole this aircraft's identification plate, which contained the aircraft's factory number. The museum later found out the number from enthusiasts who examined the aircraft soon after it arrived in South Africa.
When the museum recently restored this Fw-190 they found a small identification plate hidden behind a bracket in the cockpit. This plate proved the enthusiasts were correct.
A second shot of the Museum's Fw-190A-6 prior to restoration. An airframe inspection revealed that this aircraft was not your standard Fw-190A-6, and restoration was delayed while research was done to find the history and service of this aircraft.
There is some dispute over this aircraft's exact designation. While some records indicate it is an A-6/R6, there is no evidence this aircraft was ever fitted with the R6 modification. The R6 modification consisted of hangers and other hardware to carry a single 210mm BR Geraet air-to-air rocket under each wing. The aircraft appears to have been fitted with a MK108 30mm cannon under each wing. This modification, not common until the A4 variant, was referred to as the R8 modification. Further complicating things, at capture the aircraft was equipped with the Neptun-Lilliput radar. When Anthony Speir, Curator of Aviation, examined the aircraft in 1987 prior to restoration, he found the mounting brackets and all the wiring for the Neptun-Lilliput radar still in the aircraft. The aerials and electronics had long-since been removed. Captain Speir dug up a picture of the aircraft at Farnborough, showing the aerials in place.
Thought at first to be a night fighter modification, it's now theorized the radar was meant to be used as a range finding device for the 210mm BR Geraet rockets, which were most effective when fired at a gauged distance from a bomber formation. The radar set had a sub-assembly known as Elfin that triggered the 210mm rockets at a preset range. But if this was true, then why didn't the Germans fit the aircraft with the BR Geraet modification?
During the recent restoration the museum found a "modification plate" under layers of paint. The plate indicated the Germans modified this aircraft to the R8 standard, confirming the preliminary examination, but adding to the mystery. The evidence indicates it served with Erprobungsstelle (Test employment) 8/JG11. It is still unknown if this aircraft was ever used operationally. German plans to use the Neptun-Lilliput radar on a large scale came to naught after an Allied bombing raid against Munich destroyed the warehouse that stored these units.
The Museum's Fw-190A-6 on its return from restoration. Comparison with the "before" pictures shows the details added, including the underwing gondolas for the 30mm cannon originally fitted to the aircraft. Note that the aircraft is now painted in a more authentic paint scheme of RLM 74/RLM 75 (Dark/Medium Grey) upper surfaces and RLM 76 (light blue-gray) undersurfaces.
The British captured this Fw-190 at Leck-Holstein, Germany, and flew it to RAF Station Farnborough, England. The British assigned it Air Ministry serial number 10. They replaced the instrumentation with American and British equipment so the Allied pilots could use English instead of metric measurements. The Allied equipment also made maintenance easier. This Fw-190 was part of a Battle of Britain display in Hyde Park, London, in September 1945. It was shipped to South Africa in October 1946, and ended up at the museum.
During its restoration in 1990, the museum painted it in 8/JGI1's colors, and fitted it with a replica Neptun-Lilliput radar array. This replica comprises aerials in a streamlined platform extending from the leading edge back toward the flaps on both wing upper surfaces, and on the cowling. This installation's mounting holes and electrical connections are in both wings. The connections are braided cables with female connectors inside the inspection panels on each wing's underside.
Besides these discoveries they found many maintenance notes handwritten by the German ground crew. They also found a love poem a woman wrote to her sweetheart. The museum has preserved this poem.
The Museum's Me-262B-1a/U1, a nightfighter variant of this excellent jet-engined fighter.
The other of Meeker's five aircraft at the Museum is a Messerschmitt Me-262B-la/U1 night fighter, Red 8, factory number 110305. The Me-262 "B" version was a two-seat trainer. The Germans converted 15 two-seat trainers to night fighters; the radar operator occupied the instructor's seat behind the pilot. This was a stop-gap measure before the night fighter units received the Me-262B-2, designed from the outset as a night fighter. The museum's Me-262B1-a/U1 is the only known surviving Me-262 night fighter variant (the aircraft at Willow Grove Naval Air Station in the USA is a two-seat trainer, though many misconceptions abound about Willow Grove's Me-262).
A color shot of the 262B. The upper surfaces of the wings are RLM 82 (green). The fuselage is RLM 76 (light blue-grey), mottled with RLM 82 (green) and RLM 81 (brown-green). The lower surfaces are black.
The Germans deployed the museum's Me-262 early in 1945. They assigned it to 10/JG300, Kommando Stamp. The Germans later renamed the unit Kommando Welter to honor Oberleutnant (equivalent to a USAF 1st Lieutenant) Kurt Welter, the unit's highest scorer. The Germans credited Welter with shooting down 35 Mosquitoes. He got at least three Mosquito kills in Me-262s. His Mosquito kills, confirmed by "surviving documentary evidence," were in January 1945.
Cockpit shot from the walkway installed over the port wing. A radar operator sat in the rear seat.
On 28 January 1945, the Germans redesignated Kommando Welter as 10/NJG11 (10 Staffel (squadron) / Nachjagdgeschwader (night fighter wing) 11). From 21/22 to 30/31 March 1945, a Feldwerber (equivalent to a US sergeant) Karl-Heinz Becker, of 10/NJG 11, shot down six RAF Mosquitoes in Me-262s. The Germans stationed the unit at Burg-Bei-Magdeburg, southwest of Berlin, in April 1945.
A walkway was built over the port wing of the aircraft to allow visitors to examine the cockpit area.
The British captured the jet at Magdeburg at the end of the war. They flew it to Britain so the Central Fighter Establishment could evaluate the plane. The British assigned Air Ministry number 50. The Central Fighter Establishment removed some electronic equipment and instruments for study. They replaced the removed instruments with British ones, and painted English wording over the remaining German instruments. This aircraft received damage when it overshot a runway on 6 July 1945. The aircraft's radar array is not the original array. The "new" array may have been fitted when the British repaired the Me-262 after the crash. The Me-262 arrived in Cape Town, South Africa, in 1947. The SAAF donated it to the museum, where it was put in storage. Capt. R.R. Belling viewed the aircraft in its original colors in 1954 (Capt. Belling is an expert on aircraft finishes, and was instrumental in restoring this aircraft to its original colors). Later it was incorrectly painted, and displayed. The museum's staff has faithfully restored it to its original colors.
The Museum's Fiesler "Storch" as it appeared after capture in 1945. It was later restored to flying condition by the South African Air Force (SAAF), but currently it is grounded.
The other surviving plane from Meeker's five aircraft is a Fieseler Fi-156 Storch, passed from the museum to the South African Air Force Museum, where it was restored to flying condition. It was later grounded.
Paul F. Straney and Robert Sacchi © 1992