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Today’s post was written by Dr. Greg Bradsher, Senior Archivist at the National Archives in College Park. 

Part 1 of this series can be found here.

During August and September Galland lobbied unsuccessfully against the plane being used as a bomber. During September, 72 were produced as bombers and only 19 as fighters. Galland was, however, able to organize a small fighter test group with a few Me-262s. In  September an American daylight raid on the Messerschmitt works at Augsburg and the neighboring airfield of Lechfeld, resulted in the I/KG 51—which was being refitted with Me-262s—and Galland’s test group being subject to the attack. Six Me-262 fighters were all that they could send up to meet the attackers. They were unable to prevent the 60 Me-262s, which were to be used as “Blitz bombers,” from being destroyed on the ground.

At the beginning of October, apparently on orders from Hitler, Major Walter Nowotny, one of Germany’s most successful fighter pilots on the eastern front, and his Me-262 fighter unit—now a Gruppe—were posted to the airfields of Achmer and Hesepe, near Osnabrück, athwart the main American bomber approach route. Nowotny, who had replaced Thierfelder after his death, soon recognized that much training would be necessary before he could expect to lead his team with any prospect of success. Luftwaffe Command, however, demanded operations forthwith. The daily sorties they could put up against the enemy formations and their fighter escort numbered a mere three or four. Yet, in the course of a month, these few jets knocked out between 22 and 50 aircraft. By the end of October, they themselves had been reduced from 30 to three serviceable planes—less as a result of enemy action, nearly all owing to technical problems and pilot errors.

During October, 65 Me-262s were produced as bombers and because of the growing necessity to have more fighters attacking the ever increasing Allied bomber formations, 52 were produced as fighters.It was this necessity that prompted, in October, aircraft production concentrating almost solely on fighters, with seven new types coming into production (Me-262, Ar-234, Ta-154, Me-163, Do-335, Ju- 388, and He-162).

Also, because of their relative success, Hitler was convinced that the Me-262 was really an excellent fighter plane, and in November he permitted the formation of the first jet-fighter wing.

On November 8, five Me-262s of Nowotny’s unit took off from their bases near Osnabrück to battle the American bombers, which day after day had been subjecting the jet airfield to fight-bomber attacks. So much so that the Me-262s had only been able to take off and land under the protection of a whole Gruppe of Fw-190s and concentrated flak. Nowotny shot one American plane and then reported one engine failing, and shortly thereafter he was attack by a flock of P-51s, and either was shot down or crashed. In either case he died.

Around the middle of November there was to be a two-day discussion under the chairmanship of Goering at Gatow airfield in the western outskirts of Berlin. All highly decorated unit commanders, including the heads of bomber, fighter, and reconnaissance commands, were to be present. Goering told them he wanted their help to give the Luftwaffe back its reputation. He said:

“The German people expects that because we have failed – failed disgracefully. This is the Luftwaffe’s darkest hour. The nation cannot understand why it is that the Allied bombers can come waltzing over the Reich as they did on the very day of our party congress and the fighters do not take off – because of fog, or because they are not ready, or because they are indisposed….”

He forbade any repetition of “fruitless wrangling” regarding the question of whether the Me-262 should be used as a fighter or as a bomber since his decision to give the plane to his vastly more experienced bomber pilots was already of long standing.

Goering said they were on the threshold of the battle that will win us the war [undoubtedly a reference to the Ardennes counteroffensive]. Then saying that commitments prevented him from leading the discussion, he was having the General of Bomber Pilots take his place. And as he was leaving he said he would like to break the news that the General of Fighter Pilots had been promoted to the rank of Generalleutnant. “My dead Galland, I share your delight.” Then he left.

The heads of the fighter, reconnaissance, and bomber commands reported in a few words on the situation in their respective departments. They were largely devoted to the weaknesses, the stoppages, the things that were no longer functioning. The night fighters were doing more than their sting, but they were short of aircraft and their organization was in a bad way. According to Steinhoff, the daytime fighter defenses against the mass attacks of the four-engine bombers was so hopeless a prospect as to be hardly worth taking about. “The ban on discussion of the Me-262,” according to Steinhoff, “made things even more futile.”

Next the General of Bomber Pilots talked about the notion of mass bombing England. “We knew, every one of us, that nothing could be done that would make any difference, nothing that might have diverted the ineluctable course of events.”Even if a tentative effort had been made to build a proper aircraft—a long-range four-engine strategic bomber—it would have been too late. As for the fighters capable of escorting a German bomber formation to the island and back, they simply did not exist. “The Jagdwaffe [the Luftwaffe Fighter Force] was not even capable of providing effective air defense over the Reich.” Still, according to Steinhoff, they talked of a bomber offensive against England, as if there was really a commander somewhere who had the air power to strike blows and who was just waiting for the order to let loose.

The fighter pilots, a tiny minority among the participants, followed the discussion in a mood of “baffled amazement.” Then they were told that there would be a fresh discussion on political commitment, faith in the Fuhrer and victory. A so-called National-Socialist Guidance Officerattached to bomber command gave a political pep talk. During the discussion Galland sent Steinhoff a note that read “Under pressure from the Fuhrer the Reichsmarschall has given permission for the first jet-fighter group to be set up. Do you want to command it?” Steinhoff sent the note back with two words “Many thanks!”

Steinhoff rushed back to his Fighter Group to hand over the unit to his successor. The ground and operations staff of the new group, Fighter Group 7, were already in Brandenburg, waiting for him. The ground staff were from a bomber group that had been disbanded; the pilots came from flying schools or from other fighter or bomber units. The three wings of Fighter Group 7 were based at Brandenburg, Parchim, and Kaltenkirchen, just north of Hamburg. The group subsequently came to include the experimental fighter unit that had been commanded by the late Nowotny – the man, Steinhoff believed, who had done so much to prove that the Me-262 was a first-class fighter aircraft.

The first machines began to arrive. They came in sections on long railway trucks from the south of the Reich. The mechanics, assisted by a team from the Messerschmitt works, started assembling them. The wing commanders who took the young pilots in hand and trained them were all successful fighter pilots with front experience but even they did not really have enough experienceagainst four-engine bombers. Only Nowotny’s old experimental unit—now the third wing of the group—had been in numerous aerial engagements to work out combat tactics for jet fighters.By the end of November they were in the air, training in flights of three and in small formations. It took six weeks before Steinhoff felt that a unit was taking shape; that is, before they were able to start proper formation training, and he could report that, within limits, they were ready for action.

Colonel Günther Lützow, at that time commander of the 4th Air Division, came to see how they were getting on. He was, according to Steinhoff, impressed by the technical breakthrough represented by the 7 Fighter Group having gotten the Me-262 ready for combat duty, and said they were on the threshold of a new era in the battle against the four-engine bombers. Lützow said that Galland had not seen Goering for weeks. His attempts to have the Jagdwaffe made the sole focus of their air-armament effort had evoked no reaction. The intrigues about his person appeared finally to have undermined Goering’s and Hitler’s confidence in his continued fitness for the post of General of Fighter Pilots, and it looked as if his dismissal was only a matter of time.

Towards the end of November Steinhoff received a message asking him to meet Galland the next day in Parchim, where one of the wings of 7 Fighter Group was organizing. When they met, Galland, after listening to Steinhoff’s report on the unit, abruptly vented his ill humor by accusing Steinhoff of not getting the unit on its feet fast enough and not acting rigorously enough, and told Steinhoff to get his group flight fitted out first and show what the aircraft could do in action. Steinhoff said he would. Galland calmed down and said, forget it. Then he complained about Goering. And before leaving he told Steinhoff to be careful of criticizing his superiors, because he was on the black list and that if it was any consolation, Galland went on, that he was on the list was well.

Meanwhile, it was only at the beginning of November that Speer and Saur succeeded in persuading Hitler to allow the Me-262 to be produced and used as a fighter.During November, 101 Me-262s were built as fighters and during December the number increased to either 124 or 125. During those two months none were produced as bombers.

But of the Me-262s produced as fighter during the last quarter of 1944, the number that actually went into combat was small – probably only 40 actually saw combat. Even those that were flown were relatively ineffective because of poorly trained pilots. The others were non-operational for lack of proper maintenance and failure to provide an adequate pilot training program. Because the fuel quota for the Luftwaffe was cut back drastically, Steinhoff hardly had enough fuel even to allow the minimum number of flying hours needed to train halfway competent pilots. Many of the aircraft were lost through forced landings or damaged during landings, as some rolled off runways because of brake problems. Others were taken out of operation awaiting replacement engines.

The Allies were meanwhile still flying day and night in December. Galland’s Fighter Reserve had by now reached respectable proportions and he intended to decimate a major formation of four-engine bombers by a properly coordinated attack using prop fighters in conjunction with their jets. A difficulty facing him, however, was the Me-262’s limited range and flying time. On the other hand its climbing capacity meant that it could take off very late and, the bombers flying relatively slowly, could contact the enemy with great precision.

Steinhoff reckoned to fly their first big operation in early January, since the winter high that usually sets in around that time promised the ideal kind of weather for their plan. To enable Galland to make the best possible use of his fighter power while the bomber formation in the Reich’s air space, he decided to move Steinhoff group to the west of the country. The idea was that the jets should have first go at the enemy in order to scatter the fighter escort and shake up the bomber formation, thus making thing easier for the prop fighter groups of the Fighter Reserve, which would attack further east. With the object of finding two or three airfields suitable for jet fighters, Steinhoff drove west a few days before Christmas to have a look at fields around Soest, north of the Ruhr district, and on the Lower Rhine.

Just as Steinhoff finished his tour, around Christmas, he was informed that a new commander had been appointed in his place, and that further duties would be determined in due course. Steinhoff, knowing it probably would not do much good because Galland himself was on the way out, went to see Galland about his situation. After listening to Steinhoff said “You know yourself I can’t do anything for you. No one up there listens to me any more anyway.”  Galland ended the conversation by stating “’We lost this war long ago,’ he said somberly.”

In all, before the end of the war a grand total of 1,308 Me-262s were said to have been built, although thanks to Hitler’s order that this type should be used as a fighter-bomber, only a small percentage of them became operational owing to the delays caused by the execution of the necessary modifications.And Hitler’s insistence upon the use of the Me-262 as a bomber delayed its production and operational use as a fighter by six months, thereby depriving Germany’s air defense of a new and effective weapon.

The full-citation version of this post can be found here.

Archival Sources:

European Survey Published Reports and Supporting Records, 1937-1945 (Entry I-10 6, NAID 560340), RG 243: Records of the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey.

Interrogation Reports and Transcripts of Interrogations of German Industrial, Military, and Political Leaders, April-July 1945, “USSBS Interrogations,” (Entry I-10 31, NAID 561363), RG 243: Records of the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey.

Published Sources:

Bekker, Cajur. The Luftwaffe War Diaries (New York: Ballantine Books, 1973).

Galland, Adolf. The First and The Last: The Rise and Fall of the German Fighter Forces, 1938-1945, (New York: Ballantine Books, 1957).

Messerschmitt, Dr. Willi. “The ME-262: Development, Experience, Success, and Prospects,” in David C. Isby, ed., Fighting The Bombers: The Luftwaffe’s Struggle Against the Allied Bomber Offensive (Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, 2003).



It might surprise some to learn that government bureaucrats have a sense of humor and that it occasionally appears among the records preserved in the National Archives.  One such instance was recently located in the files of the World War II-era Office of War Information (OWI).  That agency was responsible for formulating and implementing information programs to promote, in the United States and abroad, understanding of the status and progress of the war effort and of war policies, activities, and aims of the U.S. government.

In December 1942, even as the U.S. and its allies made slight progress towards victory in World War II, one official in OWI’s News Bureau prepared a report with the subject “SANTA CLAUS.”  The memorandum dealt with rumors “concerning the alleged appearance of a man in whiskers who . . . come down many chimneys bringing gifts to hundreds of American homes” and provided an analysis of the known “facts.”  Those facts touch on wartime shortages, the Allied alliance, and morale, among other things.  Only reading the original can do justice to the imagination of the writer.

santa.claus.rg.208.1 santa.claus.rg.208.2

Source: Memorandum, December 24, 1942, file Santa Claus, Correspondence of the Chief, News Bureau, Entry NC-148-175, (NAID 895707), RG 208: Records of the Office of War Information, National Archives.  (This document was brought to my attention by my colleague Andreea Vlaicu, who suggested that I prepare this blog post.)


The staff of the Textual Records Division sends best wishes for all the Holidays and a Happy New Year!



Today’s post was written by Dr. Greg Bradsher, Senior Archivist at the National Archives in College Park.

As early as 1937, the German Messerschmitt Company developed the jet plane, the Me-262 Schwalbe (Swallow).  It was flown experimentally in 1941 with a piston engine and then successfully in 1942 with jet engines, but was rejected by the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) authorities — perhaps out of the belief that the plane was too complex for practical use and that it would require extensive retraining of pilots.  Additionally, the jet engines of the first experimental Me-262 had a lifetime of only about 4 or 5 hours.  It must be also remembered that in 1942, and even later, the Luftwaffe emphasis in aircraft production was on bombers, with less attention given to fighter development.

A prototype of the Me-262 was flown by Adolf Galland, General of Fighter Pilots, in May 1943 and he expressed himself as highly satisfied with its performance. Erhard Milch, who was then Air Inspector General, agreed to putting the aircraft into large-scale production as a fighter plane. This required additional materials and manpower.  Neither the materials nor the manpower, however, were received in sufficient quantities to be able to mass produce the Me-262 until 1944.

With the beginning of intensive Allied bombing late in 1943 and early 1944, the necessity of developing a fast fighter plane became urgent. The Me-262 was exceedingly fast, with greatest efficiency achieved at maximum speed, and did not need high octane gasoline as fuel, a factor which was very welcome at a time of a growing gasoline shortage. For Galland and other Luftwaffe commanders, the Me-262 seemed just the right aircraft to take on Allied bomber formations without having to worry about their fighter escorts.

Production of the Me-262 began in March 1944, and during April either 13 or 16 were manufactured and delivered to the Luftwaffe. The Me-262 that the Luftwaffe accepted was a single-seat, low-wing monoplane, with sharply swept back wings, a single tail, and powered by two Jumbo turbo-jet units.  It had maximum speeds of 515 mph at 1,640 feet; 530 mph at 10,000 feet; 540 mph at 20,000 feet; and, 550 mph at 30,000 feet. It was about 100 mph faster than the American P-51. It had an endurance of 50-90 minutes depending on speed and altitude.  It had four 30mm cannon fitted in the nose and had a maximum bomb load capacity of 2,200 pounds.  The heavy armament was deadly to bomber formations and the speed made evasion of escorting fighters fairly easy.

In April 1944 at an armament conference, Galland stated that with respect to fighters, the Americans had gained air superiority, and that development was almost to the point of air supremacy. He said something had to be done.  Daylight fighting in the last four months, he said, the Germans had loss more than 1,000 flying personnel.  Among them were many of the best flight captains, squadron leaders, and wing commanders. He said they were having problems, not with numbers, but with experienced pilots.  The first thing to be changed, according to Galland, was that the aircraft industry must guarantee delivery of enough aircraft to build up the fighter arm. Second, they must have technically superior planes, such as the Me-262 or the Me-163 (a rocket-powered fighter aircraft); with them they could achieve a great deal. He stated “We need quality of performance, if only to restore in our own force the sense of superiority, even if our numbers are smaller.”  “At the moment,” he added, “I would rather have one Me-262 than five Me-109’s.”

However, Adolf Hitler, at this point, was still obsessed with the production of bombers over fighters.  Reichsmarshal Hermann Goering knew this very well.  At an April meeting Milch, Galland and Karl-Otto Saur, the head of the newly-formed Jägerstab (whose principal task was the expediting of fighter production and of restoring output of damaged factories), presented Goering a plan calling for an increase in the production of fighters of all types to a total of over 5,000 aircraft per month, a figure which was to be attained by a reduction in the output of bombers and other types.  When Saur finished laying out the plan, Goering replied immediately with many and definite objections.  The radical curtailment of the bomber program, especially that of the He-177 and the Ju-88 and their further development, was regarded by him as impossible and he rejected it abruptly.  On the contrary he demanded an increase and a guarantee of a minimum production of 400 He-177 (with an eventual production of 500-600 per month) and 500 Junkers bombers (Ju 88’s and Ju 188’s) per month.  Additionally Goering wanted the manufacture of the Ju 287 and the Ar 234.  At this meeting Goering may or may not have told them that Hitler wanted the Me-262 used as a bomber.  In any event, “The heavy bomber remains the kernel of the armament in the air,” was his final decision. Reich Minister for Armaments and War Production Albert Speer’s aircraft program was changed according to Goering’s directives.  Speer, however, cautioned Galland not to take the decisions as final, and promised to do everything in his power to increase the fighter production.

Hitler, in late April or early May, during a discussion about the emergency aircraft program, asked how many Me-262s were able to carry bombs. Milch answered “None, my Fuhrer; the Me-262 is being built exclusively as a fighter aircraft.”  Hitler foamed with rage. According to Galland officers who were close to Hitler told him later that they had rarely witnessed such a fit of temper.  Hitler raged against Milch, Goering, and the Luftwaffe at length, accusing them of unreliability, disobedience, and unfaithfulness.  Hitler ordered Goering to have the Me-262 be made as a bomber.

A few hours after the discussion, Milch, Karl-Heinrich Bodenschatz (liaison between Goering and Hitler), Wilhelm Messerschmitt (the commander of the testing stations), and Galland were called to Goering.  He communicated to them Hitler’s orders regarding the readjustment and rearming of the whole series of Me-262 as bombers.  To avoid all misunderstanding, Goering said, no one in the future was allowed to refer to the Me-262 as a fighter or even as a fighter-bomber, but only as the “Blitz bomber.” Messerschmitt and Galland tried desperately to argue against the decision, maintaining that the German fighter pilots had a right to demand this superior fighter aircraft for themselves. Galland had the impression that at the bottom of his heart Goering himself was convinced of the correctness of their argument. Goering concluded “So that we may understand each other clearly, I must repeat that a debate or a discussion of the fundamental question cannot be thought of anymore.”

With Hitler’s mandate, during May, while Germany was being increasingly attacked from the air, the Luftwaffe tried to make a bomber out of the Me-262.  Numerous changes had to be made on the aircraft, such as adding auxiliary tanks to increase its range for bombing missions. Pilots had to be trained, tactical methods had to be found, and, bombing had to be practiced. The Germans had to also deal with the fact that for regular dive-bombing the Me-262 was too fast to safely be held on target and be able to make dives upon targets effectively at low altitudes. To address this problem, Hitler expressly forbade shallow angle dives — or indeed any speed exceeding 470 mph.

Meanwhile, in mid-April, a training unit for the first Me-262s produced as fighters was established at Lechfeld just south of Augsburg.  It was commanded by Captain Werner Thierfelder.  There, fighter pilots were trained to be able to handle the Me-262 in combat assignments.  At some point in the late spring the test unit flew one or more missions to help protect the chemical plant at Leuna.

During May Hitler believed that Luftwaffe bombers, including the Me-262 fighter-bomber, could throw back the inevitable Allied invasion and directly support German ground forces should the Allies get a foothold on the Continent. At some point in the early summer Luftwaffe General Karl Koller explained to Hitler that the Me-262 was too fast to be used effectively for bombing.  Koller pointed out that if it were used against Allied advancing columns in France, most of the bombs would fall at some distance from the roads and would be wasted.  Hitler’s reply was “’there are so many Allied vehicles on the roads that if you drop a bomb it is sure to hit something.’”

The Allied invasion came on June 6, and the Me-262 as a “Blitz Bomber” was still not ready for action.  And the few Luftwaffe aircraft available to meet the Allied onslaught were quickly destroyed, so by June 21 the Luftwaffe had been swept off the sky in the West.

While the Allied forces moved inland during June and July, Allied air power pounded targets in France, the Low Countries, and in Germany.  Hitler still insisted that the Me-262 be constructed and used as a bomber, thus depriving the Luftwaffe of a significant resource to fight the Allied bombers.  During June, 28 Me- 262s were produced as bombers and during July 59 Me-262s were produced as bombers; none during those two months produced as fighters. Also hampering the Luftwaffe Fighter Command was the continued insistence by Hitler and Goering during the early summer to maintain bomber output.

Late in July Johannes Steinhoff came from Italy, where he served as commander of the 77 fighter wing, to Wolfsschanze to receive the Swords pendant to the Knight’s Cross Oak Leaf Cluster.  There were two other officers also present to receive their decorations.  Hitler said he wanted to know from them how things really were. He asked if the Messerschmitts and Folke-Wulfs were inferior to the American planes.  One of the Lieutenants answered affirmatively, stating they were between fifty and seventy kilometers an hour faster. They could fly higher and they were more maneuverable.  Hitler said he thought the German planes had methanol-injection engines making them extremely powerful. The Lieutenant said even so, the Americans were faster. Steinhoff jumped in stating they need a new and better aircraft, adding he was thinking of the jet fighter. “He turned to face me, fixing those dead eyes on me. I had evidently broken a taboo because a flush came to his cheeks. The fingers of his left hand began to drum nervously on the table ‘When will people stop trying to go behind my back and use my tried and tested front-line commanders to put pressure on me….” Steinhoff quickly said that he had flown the Me-262 a few days previously and thought it was a magnificent aircraft. Steinhoff wrote:

His voice suddenly had a metallic, threatening edge to it: ‘I don’t wish to hear any more of this nonsense! I’ve had enough of it! Fate hands me this one chance of wreaking a terrible vengeance-and here are you people trying to deprive me of it with short-sighted squabbles between bomber and fighter pilots. My decision is made. This aircraft is a bomber, a Blitz bomber-my instrument of revenge! It is not a fighter and it never can be a fighter.’

Steinhoff wanted to put in another protest but Hitler cut him short. After talking about how the Me-262 was really not suitable as a fighter, Hitler launched into another lecture about how the German people showed greatness in adversity; he expected a historical turning-point laying just ahead, and expressed his confidence in victory in the end as long as the brave fighting men did their duty. He ended with “’The German people is capable when its back is to the wall, of incredible, magnificent achievements. I shall astonish the world by mobilizing the entire nation in a way the world has never seen before. I shall repay terror with terror.’”

Hitler, in the meantime, in early July at the insistence of the Luftwaffe and the aircraft industry, agreed to cut down bomber output in favor of the manufacture of fighters.  The Jägerstab issued an industrial program on July 15, which reduced bomber production to less than 200 per month (excluding Me- 262s still carried as bombers), deleted the He-177 bomber from production, and effected a decrease in the number of aircraft types.  This reduction of types permitted the industry to concentrate on mass production of fighter aircraft.

At some point, probably in July, Captain Thierfelder’s Me-262 fighter training unit received formal permission to commence operations.  It did so, attacking Allied planes intent on bombing the airfields at Lechfeld and Leipheim.  Claims were made that the Me-262s successfully dispersed bomber formations and Royal Air Force Mosquitoes.  During one of the first operational sorties Thierfelder was killed when his aircraft crashed in flames.

During August, 15 Me-262s were produced as bombers, while only five were produced as fighter planes.  And it was not until August that the first Me-262 fighter-bombers (the so-called “blitz-bomber”) were ready for action.During the summer crews of I/KG 51 (Luftwaffe bomber wing) were chosen to fly the Me-262 fighter-bomber operationally. In horizontal trials they failed to hit a thing; their bombs often landing a mile from the target.  Only after the airframe has been strengthened, and they could attack on a shallow dive, did results improve.

In August an operational team of Me-262 fighter-bombers was posted to Juvincourt, near Rheims, and assigned to participate in the battle. At the outset they had just nine aircraft.  Of these, two broke up leaving Germany owing to faulty servicing.  A third aircraft was lost in the course of the intermediate landing at Schwabisch-Hall.  The pilot of the fourth failed to find Juvincourt, had to force land, and was likewise lost to the strength.  Now five planes were left. By the end of October they had been reinforced by another twenty-five, though II/KG 51 joined them with the fighter-bomber version of the Me-262. When the aircraft did go into action, the chances of a success at that point were minimal because the Allied advance was quite spread out. During these actions a few bombs were dropped daily somewhere on enemy territory. Very rarely was one able to say what, if anything, they had hit, or with what result.

The full-citation version of this post can be found here.

Archival Sources:

European Survey Published Reports and Supporting Records, 1937-1945 (Entry I-10 6, NAID 560340), RG 243: Records of the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey.

Interrogation Reports and Transcripts of Interrogations of German Industrial, Military, and Political Leaders, April-July 1945, “USSBS Interrogations,” (Entry I-10 31, NAID 561363), RG 243: Records of the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey.

Published Sources:

Bekker, Cajur. The Luftwaffe War Diaries (New York: Ballantine Books, 1973).

Galland, Adolf. The First and The Last: The Rise and Fall of the German Fighter Forces, 1938-1945, (New York: Ballantine Books, 1957).

Messerschmitt, Dr. Willi. “The ME-262: Development, Experience, Success, and Prospects,” in David C. Isby, ed., Fighting The Bombers: The Luftwaffe’s Struggle Against the Allied Bomber Offensive (Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, 2003).

Today’s post was written by Dr. Greg Bradsher, Senior Archivist at the National Archives in College Park.

The Monuments Men — the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives (MFA&A) specialists assigned to General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) — had begun operations in France in June 1944 and by December had moved into Germany.  Their mission: to protect and salvage cultural property, whether Allied or German.

In mid-December 1944 there were 16 MFA&A officers operating in the field under SHAEF direction, overseen by British Lt. Col. Geoffrey Webb and Capt. Marvin C. Ross (USMCR). They were Lt. George L. Stout, USNR with the 12th Army Group; Capt. David K. Young with the 6th Army Group; Maj. R. E. Balfour (Br.) with the First Canadian Army; S/Ldr J. E. Dixon-Spain (Br.) with the Second British Army;  Capt. Walker K. Hancock; Capt. Everett P. Lesley and Capt. Asa M. Thornton (Archivist) with the First US Army; Capt. Robert K. Posey with the Third US Army; Capt. William C. Bryant (Part-time); Capt. Walter J. Huchthausen and 2nd Lt. Martin Rogin (Archivist) with the Ninth US Army; and, Capt. Ralph W. Hammett, 1st lt. Roger A. Clark, 1st Lt. Daniel Kern, 2nd Lt James J. Rorimer, and, Maj. Lord Methuen (Br) with the Zone of Communications.  There was no officer then with the Seventh Army, though Capt. Young with 6th Army Group also handled some of the Seventh Army MFA&A duties.

Colonel Henry C. Newton reported on December 20, that “The MFA&A officers in the field…are most zealous in carrying out their mission-they work constantly in the forward areas, regardless of weather or the hazards of combat operations.” The assignment of Stout to 12th Army Group [had been with the First US Army], Newton observed, would put him in position where he can implement the directives and policies of SHAEF, coordinate all MFA&A activities over the broad front in which these armies are operating and properly coordinate the activities of MFA&A officers within the Armies forming that Group.

Based on the first month and half of operations in Germany, the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Section, G-5 Operations Branch, SHAEF, on December 16, 1944, issued a report entitled “The Problem of Movable Art Objects in Germany.”  It began by noting that “the new importance of the problem of movable works of art, finding them, housing them safely, etc., seems likely to be the main difference between the tasks of the MFA&A Officers in Germany and in the liberated countries.” It indicated that up to mid-December that MFA&A was more involved with damaged buildings and billeting problems than with the care of pictures, furniture, and other cultural property.

The problem facing the MFA&A officers, it reported, was not exclusively one of loot though that aspect of it would certainly increase in importance as time went on.  Such experience as they had of conditions in Germany showed that the enemy had dispersed the contents of their local museums in a series of small depots, many of them far from ideally chosen either from the point of view of safe guarding or as storage accommodation.  It reported that Aachen was in no way exceptional and that similar small deposits may well be found round any town large enough to possess a museum, as the advance penetrates further into the country.  It reported that bank vaults were also said to have been used extensively for storage of the more precious objects both from public and private collections. In addition to the Aachen caches, MFA&A officers in the field had already encountered the problem of the safeguarding and disposal of art objects and other valuable found in large country houses in the battle area. These objects include pictures, sculpture, furniture, rare books, jewelry, and coin collections of some value and importance.

The movable art objects that had fallen into Allied hands up to mid-December in Germany, according to the MFA&A Section, were not works of international importance. They were the less important possessions of provincial museums or the select contents of a large country house. Nevertheless, it reported, they were of very considerable historical and educational importance and of more than very considerable monetary value.

The MFA&A Section noted that none of the objects thus far encountered came under suspicion as loot—they were the possession of enemy public authorities or private nationals.  Very large proportion of the objects with which the MFA&A Officer would have to deal would undoubtedly be of similar character. Yet, it was among such collections of objects that much of the loot from Allied countries had probably been dispersed, for it is known that apart from the actual bulk seizure and shipment of objects, e.g., from France, “such was acquired for museums all over Germany, either by buying in a rigged market or by exchange for looted objects or works seized from Jewish collectors within the Reich.”  Such objects were therefore to be given all protection possible, not only in accordance with policy of preserving objects of cultural interest and historical value in general, but as an essentially preliminary stage of the process of securing and preserving looted objects for eventual restitution.

The MFA&A Section reported that the first and most obvious problem raised by the uncovering of such small caches of objects in considerable numbers was that of safeguarding against both theft and physical deterioration.  It noted that in forward areas, it was very difficult, generally impossible, to arrange transport to bring bulky objects such as furniture into places suitable for safekeeping.  They most often were left to be handled at a later and more stable phase of operations. It was clear, the report noted, that occasions of exceptional importance may arise where every effort would have to be made to get transport, but usually such precautions as are practicable would have to be arranged on the spot. The problem was further complicated by the frequent movement and relief of such units as divisional military police and command posts which may on occasion be charged with the responsibility for safeguarding a cache. The report noted that arrangements made with such units were liable on short notice to be cancelled, and movement may occur without the knowledge of Military Government officers.

The MFA&A Section opined that, in part, the problems belonged also to Property Control Officers, who under Military Government Law 52, were charged with taking into custody works of educational and cultural importance. This was a point, it believed, which should not be lost sight of.  It believed that Property Control custody may help considerably in the solution of some of the difficulties. The conditions whereby a large part of the civil population had been evacuated from the battle area, and where there was therefore no owner or responsible custodian available—as had been the case with most of the caches uncovered—brought this matter of the cooperation of Property Control and MFA&A into special prominence.

It was also reported that one part of the problem of the discovery of looted art objects was the proper use of intelligence/information. The correspondence and the accession lists of museums since 1939, it believed, would be of very great importance in determining concealed loot. Intelligence from Allied Governments and other sources may, according to the MFA&A Section, reasonably be expected to yield not only information about the destination of large scale consignments of confiscated works, but the report noted, individual addresses of private persons who had acquired works of art in occupied territory. Such information came in irregularly, and may not be available at the first arrival of the Allied forces in any given area, so that in the first instance, the general policy which applied to all objects applied equally to articles which may have been looted.

The MFA&A Section reported that up to mid-December the greater part of movable works in enemy areas had been found by chance and reported by combat personnel to Military Government officers. It also noted that the active cooperation between Civil Affairs/MFA&A with other units would depend to a large degree on the success of the search for loot. All finds will not be of great value, but in all cases, careful inspections will have to be carried out and personnel who reported the finds should realize that they had done a valuable service.

The revised Handbook for Military Government in Germany Prior to Defeat or Surrender was issued in December 1944.  It contained in Part III, Chapter XVI (Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives) information regarding MFA&A activities.  The handbook pointed out (para. 1175) that “Germany is rich in monuments of worldwide significance and possess, in addition, an accumulated wealth of public and private picture galleries, museums and similar institutions, which are to be found as often in her smaller towns as in her cities.  In recent years these collections have been much augmented property stolen from occupied territory.” It noted (para. 1184) that the German authorities had undoubtedly maintained air raid and other precautions to protect monuments and works of art. Valuable collections had been evacuated to depots remote from danger, and therefore remote also from the cities, with the result that extremely valuable caches of works of art may be found in relatively remote parts of Germany. In the event of a breakdown of administrative control such isolated depots would be exposed to theft and damage by fire and weather.

Regarding policy matters, the handbook stated (para. 1186 a) “It is the policy of the Supreme Commander to take measures to facilitate the eventual restitution of works of art and objects of scientific or historical importance which may have been looted from United Nations Governments or nationals. Military government legislation forbids sale, movement, concealment, or destruction of any work of art or object of scientific or historical importance” and (para. 1186 c) that it was “the policy of the Supreme Commander to maintain or re-activate the civilian agencies charged with the care of monuments and fine arts in Germany and to eliminate active Nazis and ardent Nazi sympathizers therefrom.”

The handbook instructed (para. 1189) Military Government Officers to take steps to prohibit the sale, transfer or movement of all movable works of art and that (para. 1192) they will immediately take steps to secure by guards all large accumulation of art objects from clandestine removal and would require regular inspections to insure the material security of such accumulation from deterioration by exposure to weather, dampness, fire, etc.  The Military Government Officers were informed (para. 1194) that where the preservation of movable works of art from deterioration necessitated their removal, a list should be made of all such works and a note made of the location of the new storage place. Such removal, they were informed, should whenever possible be carried out with the advice of MFA&A specialist officer. Further, “no works of art to be removed unless absolute necessary to prevent damage or looting.” The Military Government Officers were (para. 1195) to report as soon as possible any information about caches of works of art to the appropriate higher echelon or the near MFA&A Specialist Officer.

Just before Christmas, Colonel Webb wrote a series of personal letters to many of MFA&A officers.  “You will, no doubt,” he wrote Posey at Third US Army, “be gratified to hear I no longer have fleas and have managed to make the gas-water heater work if only at half pressure and so the worst has been averted.” Webb informed Bryant at Ninth Army that there was little news other than Ross had been to Strasbourg and found it exciting enough, with prisoners and unexpected finds of paintings, “and Goodness knows what.”  He noted that “Marvin contrived to get himself arrested by some overzealous Frenchmen the other night who could not fathom the difference between a Marine and a soldier…fortunately it was not of long duration.”  He wrote Huchthausen at Ninth Army that he must have settled down at his new station, and “I hope you have not met any more than the usual run of headaches.” He informed him that Stout, at 12th Army Group, “should be a tower of strength to you all if any picture puzzles crop up as they almost certainly will.”  Webb wrote Lesley at First Army he was writing Hancock and that as he may suppose, “you have been much in our minds these last few days.” This was a reference to the German Ardennes Counteroffensive (Battle of the Bulge) that had begun on December 16.

By December 29 Hancock, somewhat depressed, wrote Webb that little had been accomplished.  “My estimate,” he wrote, “is: 97% of effort goes toward coping with Army procedure, 3% left for doing the job. Despite this I think our 3% has amounted to something. But, as you know, our wings have been clipped in the last few days.” In concluding Hancock wrote “When you can do let us have a line direct from you. I’ve never felt so much like an orphan as I do now.”

The year 1944 ended, finding the MFA&A officers facing the same problems as they had in the summer, including lack of personnel and transportation, and Allied forces ignoring “Off Limits” signs that had been posted to protect cultural monuments.  In January 1945 Posey wrote Ross that he was still facing handicaps to accomplishing his mission, but “after having gone through one entire campaign with them they are so much a part of the job that I am sure I should miss them if they were to no longer be problems.”

The year 1945 would bring with it new challenges and difficulties to the Monuments Men.  But, as will be seen in future posts, much was accomplished in terms of protecting cultural property and recovering and restituting looted cultural property.

The full-citation version of this post can be found here.


Subject Files, August 1943-1945 (Entry UD-55, NAID 612714), RG 331: Records of Allied Operational and Occupation Headquarters, World War II.

Materials Accumulated for a Conference on Captured German and Related Records at the National Archives, 1968-1968 (Pomrenze Collection) (Entry UD-282-BB, NAID 6922180), RG 242: National Archives Collection of Foreign Records Seized.

Earlier this month millions of Americans voted. Voting is one of the hallmarks of our democracy, and one method to make their elected officials accountable to the people. Government accountability, for the elected and the unelected, is also found through peaceful protest, letters, petitions, journalistic exposes, court actions and other expressions of complaint and praise, such as the civil rights movement. The 20th century fight for civil rights, the struggle against unfair treatment by governing authorities was not just the big cases and marches we remember. It was also made up of smaller battles, like that found in the Transcripts of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People v. Chief of Police Robert V. Murray and the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia, 1957 (NAID 12527082, entry P 48), from Record Group 351, Records of the Government of the District of Columbia.

At the time this event took place, the District of Columbia, also known as Washington, DC was governed by a three man Board of Commissioners, appointed by the President of the United States. It is from the Board of Commissioners’ transcripts we have the words of people seeking accountability from their government. Their interests were represented by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, also called the NAACP who brought before the Commission charges against the city’s police chief and the police department of discriminatory racial bias against African Americans.

Through several days of hearings, experts, criminals, policemen, and community leaders testify on the condition of the police department and its practices. Transcripts read like a script, where you can read what each person says in the record. In the October 29, 1957 hearing, E. Lewis Ferrell, for the NAACP questioned Harry R. Chase, a Sanitary Engineering employee, about a mishap where a police officer struck him:

Q. You mentioned some bleeding. Where were you bleeding?

A. From my mouth and head.

Q. And how did your mouth get hurt?

A. Well, his blackjack hit me up in here (demonstrating), and my tooth came through my lip.

Chase was also questioned by Roger Robb, council for Robert V. Murray, the Chief of Police about a statement Chase signed. Robb read the statement into the record:

MR. ROBB: “2655 Birney St. S.E. Apt. 204

Harry Chase at 7 P.M. Tues. Oct. 15, 57 said he did not wish to make a statement as he thought the motorcycle officer was a pretty good fellow & there was just a misunderstanding at that time. He said he thought the motor-man was a Perfect Gentleman.

            /s/ Harry R. Chase

 Area newspapers covered the hearings (not included in the series), and their articles give a sense of how well the NAACP presented their case. For example, in a November 17, 1957 Washington Post article, “Police Quiz Called Blow to NAACP”, Commissioner Robert E. McLaughlin remarked that he found the evidence presented, “scanty”. McLaughlin did say that the Board of Commissioners would consider a six-point program suggested by the NAACP, part of which included more active hiring of African Americans in the police force. Evidence of a greater effort by the Board of Commissioners to integrate the DC government workforce and hire African Americans can be found in the John B. Duncan Papers, 1951-1968  (NAID 12052591), also in Record Group 351.