Ta 152

The ultimate Fw 190 was given a completely new designation, the Ta 152, after its designer Kurt Tank. Although it only saw service in small numbers, its performance was superior to every other piston-engined fighter of the time. With MW-50 and GM-1 nitrous oxide boost it was capable of 472 mph at 41,000 ft and its service ceiling was over 48,000 ft. It had a climb rate of around 3000 ft/min and possessed superb acceleration and agility, to the extent that some Luftwaffe pilots preferred the Ta 152 to the Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighter. Had it been available a year earlier, the Ta 152 may well have had some influence on the air battles taking place over the Reich. As it was, its appearance caused little more than a minor irritation to the Allied air forces, although it did show what the German aircraft industry would have been capable of had the controlling authorities actively promoted the development of high performance aircraft, instead of relying for so long on outdated designs.

The Ta 152 with JG 301 never flew at its proposed high altitude of 35,000 feet upwards. Only in test trials before it became combat operative. All combat engagements against Soviet fighters, P-47’s and Tempests were at medium altitude so the “hot rod” was never able to prove itself except for one case when Kurt Tank himself took a C variant up and got bounced by P-51D’s. Kurt hit the MW 50 and “walked away” from the Mustangs……

In the summer/fall of 1945 all Fw 190 A fighter units were supposed to exchange their aircraft for the Fw 190D and then Ta 152 later. An exception to this rule was JG 300 where II.Sturmgruppe was to have the D-9 and III. and IV./JG 300 to have its Bf 109G’s and then K’s / all three gruppen would then have their aircraft replaced by the Me 262A-1a.

Focke-Wulf Ta 152C

From the beginning Kurt Tank wanted to use a Daimler Benz inline V-12 for his Fw 190 series of fighters, but had to settle for the BMW radial for the early series.  Finally the RLM gave permission for him to use the Jumo 213 in the Fw 190D and the Daimler Benz in a few prototypes.  The reasoning behind not allowing him the use of the DB 600 series engines was that production was needed for the Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighters and could not be spared for Focke-Wulf.

Tank made the most of the Jumo 213 and the Ta-152H used that engine.

While production started up on the Ta 152H, Tank got permission to use the DB 603 for the Ta 152 series in the autumn of 1944. The Ta 152C with the lighter DB 603 engine was considered primarily as a medium altitude Zerstorer  to compliment the high altitude Ta 152H and had a wingspan similar to the earlier Fw 190D. The MW 50 boost installation for the enhancement of low-altitude performance was standard as was an additional pair of 20mm mounted in the fuselage unlike the Ta 152H which only had a pair in the wings.

A Fw 190D prototype had been rebuilt and flown with a DB 603 engine in support of the Ta 152C program, and this plane took to the air for the first time in October 1944. During December 1944 and January 1945, the first Ta 152C-0 service test aircraft joined the test program. The definitive production version was to be the Ta 152C-1, and it was hoped that the first examples could be rolling off the production lines in April of 1945. However, series production of the Ta 152C was only just beginning when Allied forces overran the assembly plants, so this fighter never entered service with the Luftwaffe.

The Ta 152C-1 was powered by a Daimler-Benz DB 603LA twelve-cylinder liquid cooled engine rated at 2100 hp (2300 hp with MW 50) for takeoff and 1750 hp at 29,530 feet (1900 hp at 27,560 feet with MW 50). Armed with one engine-mounted 30-mm MK 108 cannon with 90 rounds, two fuselage-mounted 20-mm MG 151 cannon with 250 rpg, and two wing-mounted 20-mm MG252 cannon with 175 rpg. Maximum speed was 227 mph at sea level (356 mph with MW 50), 436 mph at 37,730 feet (460 mph at 32,810 feet with MW 50). Initial climb rate was 3050 feet per minute and service ceiling was 40,350 feet. Weights were 8849 lbs empty, 10,658 lbs normal loaded, and 11,733 pounds maximum. Wingspan was 36 feet 1 inch, length was 35 feet 6 1/2 inches, height was 11 feet 1 inch, and wing area was 290.89 square feet.

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Flying the Focke Wulf Ta 152, the ultimate piston engine fighter.  

It was to be nearly three years after initial reports of the standard Fw 190 A model’s performance shortcomings had first arrived in Bremen before service deliveries started of the ultimate Fw 190, so radically different in external appearance and performance that it was re-designated ‘Ta’ after its famed designer, Kurt Tank. The H model of the Ta 152 was the end of the line and, credited with a maximum speed of 472 mph at 41,000 ft, came close to the limits of what was possible using a piston engine.

There were many technical challenges to overcome in the conception of a fighter that would likely see combat at altitudes about one-third higher than either the Bf 109 or Fw 190 types already in production. By summer 1944, the need for the new aircraft was becoming acute.

American heavy bomber raids were increasing and the bomber’s fighter escort was operating at higher altitudes. The Ta 152 had tremendous potential. Unlike the BV 155, a highly experimental, flying test-bed, Tank’s design simply joined a powerful engine, already proven in the Fw 190 D, to an existing airframe tweaked to perform at higher altitudes. The result was an aircraft faster and more maneuverable than the P-51 Mustang and the P-47 Thunderbolt.

The first Ta 152 series aircraft to leave the production line at Cottbus were a batch of 20 pre-production Ta 152 H-0s which were delivered in October and November 1944 to Erprobungskommando Ta 152, commanded by Hptm. Bruno Stolle and based at Rechlin. This unit was responsible for service testing the new fighter although the pressure of events and the soundness of the design led Stolle to recommend a rapid introduction into service. At the close of November, the Ta 152 H-1 began to trickle off the lines, 34 being completed by year’s end. It was not until 27 January 1945 that the first Jagdwaffe service pilots set eyes on the new fighter as Willi Reschke relates in ‘JG 301/302 Wilde Sau’;

“On 23 January 1945 on orders from the OKL (Oberkommando der Luftwaffe) Jagdgruppe III./JG 301 was temporarily taken off operations and designated an Einsatzerprobungsverband, a combat test unit, re-equipping with the legendary Ta 152 ” something we’d long given up hoping for.”

In the early hours of 27 January the Gruppe’s pilots were taken by truck to the Neuhausen aircraft plant near Cottbus with orders to ferry the new Höhenjäger to Alteno.

‘Arriving at the airfield at Neuhausen we were confronted with our first sight of the Ta 152 H-1, which with its enormous wingspan and lengthened engine cowl hardly looked like a fighter aircraft at all. With feelings of unease we walked around the machines drawn up in three rows (twelve aircraft in total). Technicians were on hand to answer our queries. After a talk on the technical aspects of the machines that lasted barely 30 minutes, we took the aircraft on charge… I got airborne at 11:08.’

As Reschke opened up the throttle the enormous power developed by the Jumo 213 E forced the pilot back into the seat and after a roll of just a few hundred meters and at 210 kph the big fighter lifted off effortlessly. Flap and gear retraction was smooth and with the 60cm wide blades paddling through the air the climb to 10,000 meters took just 12 minutes. At this height the aircraft behaved impeccably. That same afternoon the twelve aircraft were lined up on the field at Alteno. The well-known, indeed the only known photo of operational Ta 152s published was in all likelihood taken that same day. The first Ta 152 loss occurred on 1 February 1945 when Uffz. Hermann Dörr crashed in WNr. 150 037 while on a test flight. The pilot’s only real concerns centred on the reliability of the three-speed supercharger and a report sent by Gruppenkommandeur Guth to the OKL relating to this test phase stated that the pilots of III./JG 301 were unanimous in their praise of the new fighter. Pilots particularly enthused over the fighter’s maneuverability and at heights of 6,000 to 8,000 considered it hugely superior. An unnamed pilot flying his second sortie in an H-0 completely outmaneuvered a Fw 190 A-8 flown by an experienced pilot in mock combat at all heights.

The pilots of III./JG 301 were eager to fly the new fighter in combat. The nearby city of Dresden had been pounded to destruction during the night and early morning of 14 February 1945 by RAF Bomber Command and the US 8th Air Force. III./JG 301 had been forced to stay on the ground even though the explosions detonating in the city could be heard on the field at Alteno. Although III./JG 301 had been slated to fully re-equip with the new Ta 152 before resuming operations, there were never more than sixteen to twenty aircraft instead of the planned 35 available. The dispersed production of the type suffered all sorts of bottlenecks against a background of impending collapse. The Marienburg assembly plant in East Prussia was soon overrun by the Soviet’s rapid advance, as was ultimately the Cottbus facility itself. The Soviet advance also soon forced a move from Alteno, which had found itself a front line airfield harbouring a variety of Schlacht and Jabo-Gruppen. III./JG 301 moved to Sachau, west of Gardelegen, with the Geschwaderstab and the Doras of II./JG 301 moving to Stendal. These factors resulted in a decision to concentrate the new machines into an enlarged Geschwaderstab as and when they became available and to transfer experienced pilots from III. Gruppe to the Stab.

This took effect from 13 March 1945. On this same day Reschke flew Ta 152 H-1 ‘Black 13′ from Sachau to Stendal, where he was presented with the German Cross in Gold by Kommodore Oberstleutnant Fritz Aufhammer on the occasion of an inspection visit to the Geschwaderstab by the new General der Jagdflieger Generalleutnant Dietrich Peltz. The Wehrmacht’s youngest General flew a twenty minute check flight in ‘Black 13′ and photos of this occasion are well known (even if the aircraft Staffel number is obscured). III Gruppe pilots of note who transferred to the Stab JG 301 were Fw. Willi Reschke, Uffz. Christoph Blum, Ritterkreuzträger Ofw. Heinz Gossow and Staffelkapitän Oblt. Hermann Stahl all of 9. Staffel, along with Sepp Sattler and Josef Keil of 10.

Staffel. Keil was to achieve ‘acedom’ on the type. Former Sturmjäger Walter Loos, who had previously flown alongside Walther Dahl in the Stab JG 300 during the summer of 1944 and had achieved some thirty victories also transferred in. In the last weeks of the war both he and Reschke were awarded the Ritterkreuz. Given the number of Knights Cross holders flying Ta 152s at the end of the war some writers have considered the Geschwaderstab of JG 301 to be something of a crack unit.

The last weeks

The first combat sortie flown by a mixed force of Ta 152 Hs and Fw 190 As of III./JG 301 had taken place on 2 March 1945. That day a powerful 8th Air Force formation of 1,232 bombers screened by 723 fighters was dispatched to Bählen, Magdeburg and Ruhland. Airborne from Sachau behind Verbandsführer (Formation leader) Oberleutnant Stahl, some twelve Ta 152s climbed away southwards and prepared to do battle with the Mustang escort screening the bombers heading for the Bohlen chemical plant near Leuna. The sortie ended in disaster when the Ta 152s were engaged. Willi Reschke has described the events of that day in his history of Jagdgeschwader 301;

‘We reached grid square ‘Heinrich-Caesar’ now flying at an altitude of more than 8,000 meters and closed to formate with a Gruppe of Bf 109s that were wearing yellow and red fuselage bands. We could barely believe our eyes when, moments later, the first tracers split the air around us as Uffz. ‘Bubi’ Blum’s Ta 152 came under attack. The 109s had opened up on us! We could hardly return fire on Kameraden from our own Jagdgeschwader and the sortie was a complete debacle.’

Such had been the secrecy surrounding the introduction of the new fighter and the unfamiliarity of its slender winged silhouette that even JG 301 pilots had mistaken it for enemy aircraft. Although no losses were incurred and the agility and superior performance of the Ta 152 H allowed them to evade all of the “attackers”, the chance to join combat with the P-51s was lost. Meanwhile the 109s of the newly formed IV./JG 301, largely comprising hastily retrained former He 177 pilots from III./KG ‘Hindenburg’ suffered heavily at the hands of the Mustangs west of Magdeburg.

In the event the 2 March 1945 sortie described previously was one of the last to see large numbers of German fighters in the air in defence of the Reich. Thereafter most sorties flown were Jabo or Tiefangriffe on both Eastern and Western Fronts. Although some writers have stated that Ta 152s flew “top-cover” for bases from which Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighters operated, this seems unlikely. The Ta 152s of the Stabsschwarm did fly airfield protection duties for the Doras of II./JG 301 given that the various Gruppen of JG 301 were housed on different fields.

Incidentally the only recorded encounter with P-51s is the incident noted by Kurt Tank himself, who had a narrow escape while flying one of his Ta 152 Hs towards the end of 1944. He was flying from Langenhagen near Hannover to attend a meeting at the Focke-Wulf plant in Cottbus. His plane carried armament, but no ammunition. Shortly after takeoff, he was jumped by four Mustangs. Tank activated his MW 50 boost, opened the throttle wide, and so the story goes, quickly left the Mustangs far behind in a cloud of blue smoke.

The final victims falling to the guns of the Ta 152 were Russian Yak-9s during the final days of battle around Berlin on April 30, 1945. Approximately 150 Ta 152 H-1 fighters were manufactured between January 1, 1945 and the arrival of Soviet forces at the Cottbus assembly plant. No Jagdgruppen ever completely converted to the type. Most Ta 152 Hs, however, were destroyed on the ground by Allied air attacks while awaiting delivery. A few Ta 152 Hs were allocated to the Mistel program. There is little firm information on numbers produced.

Harmann has listed Werknummern from 150-001 to 150-040 and 150-167 to 150-169 for a total of 43 aircraft. There is no information on WNr. -041 to -166. Some claim all 169 machines were constructed.

With its scintillating performance, numbers of high performance Allied fighters fell to its guns in the final weeks of the war. Despite the fact that the Ta 152 H was intended to combat high-altitude Allied bombers, very few missions of this type were ultimately ever flown. Despite this no Ta 152s were lost to enemy fire….

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