Fieseler Fi 103R Reichenberg

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Fi 103R Reichenberg
Reichenberg 1945.jpg
Fi 103R Reichenberg (without warhead) captured by British troops in 1945
Role Piloted missile
National origin  Nazi Germany
Manufacturer Fieseler
Primary user Luftwaffe
Number built c.175

The Fieseler Fi 103R, code-named Reichenberg, was a late-World War II German manned version of the V-1 flying bomb (more correctly known as the Fieseler Fi 103) produced for attacks in which the pilot was likely to be killed (as with the Japanese Ohka rocket-powered suicide anti-ship missile) or at best to parachute down at the attack site, which were to be carried out by the "Leonidas Squadron", Group V of the Luftwaffe's Kampfgeschwader 200.

History[edit]

Background[edit]

The Leonidas Squadron, part of KG 200, had been set up as a suicide squadron. Volunteers were required to sign a declaration which said, "I hereby voluntarily apply to be enrolled in the suicide group as part of a human glider-bomb. I fully understand that employment in this capacity will entail my own death."[1] Initially, both the Messerschmitt Me 328 and the Fieseler Fi 103 (better known as the V-1 flying bomb) were considered as suitable aircraft, but the Fi 103 was passed over in favour of the Me 328 equipped with a 900 kilograms (2,000 lb) bomb.[2]

However, problems were experienced in converting the Me 328 and Heinrich Himmler wanted to cancel the project. Otto Skorzeny, who had been investigating the possibility of using manned torpedoes against Allied shipping, was briefed by Hitler to revive the project, and he contacted famous test pilot Hanna Reitsch. The Fi 103 was reappraised and since it seemed to offer the pilot a slim chance of surviving, it was adopted for the project.[3]

The project was given the codename "Reichenberg" after the capital of the former Czechoslovakian territory "Reichsgau Sudetenland" (present-day Liberec), while the aircraft themselves were referred to as "Reichenberg-Geräte" (Reichenberg apparatus).[3]

DFS development[edit]

In the summer of 1944 the DFS (German Research Institute for Sailplane Flight) at Ainring took on the task of developing a manned version of the Fi 103, and an example was made ready for testing within days and a production line was established at Dannenberg.[4]

The V-1 was transformed into the Reichenberg by adding a small, cramped cockpit at the point of the fuselage that was immediately ahead of the pulsejet's intake, where the standard V-1's compressed-air cylinders were fitted. The cockpit had basic flight instruments and a plywood bucket seat. The single-piece canopy incorporated an armoured front panel and opened to the side to allow entry. The two displaced compressed-air cylinders were replaced by a single one, fitted in the rear in the space which normally accommodated the V-1's autopilot. The wings were fitted with hardened edges to cut the cables of barrage balloons.[4]

It was proposed that a He 111 bomber would carry either one or two Reichenbergs beneath its wings, releasing them close to the target. The pilots would then steer their aircraft towards the target, jettisoning the cockpit canopy shortly before impact and bailing out. It was estimated that the chances of a pilot surviving such a bailout were less than 1% due to the proximity of the pulsejet's intake to the cockpit.[5]

Variants[edit]

There were five variants:[6][7] By October 1944 about 175 R-IVs were ready for action.[8]

  • R-1 - The basic single-seat unpowered glider.
  • R-II - Had a second cockpit fitted where the warhead would normally be. Unpowered glider
  • R-III - A two seater, powered with a pulsejet.
  • R-IV - The standard powered operational model.
  • R-V - Powered trainer for the HE162 (shorter nose)

Operational history[edit]

Training[edit]

Volunteers trained in ordinary gliders to give them the feel of unpowered flight, then progressed to special gliders with shortened wings which could dive at speeds of up to 300 kilometres per hour (190 mph). After this, they progressed to the dual-control R-II.[5]

Training began on the R-I and R-II and although landing them on a skid was difficult, the aircraft handled well, and it was anticipated that the Leonidas Squadron would soon be using the machines. Albert Speer wrote to Hitler on 28 July 1944 to say that he opposed wasting the men and machines on the Allies in France and suggested it would be better to deploy them against Russian power stations.[5]

Test flights[edit]

US troops inspect Fieseler Fi 103R, 1945

The first real flight was performed in September 1944 at the Erprobungsstelle Rechlin, the Reichenberg being dropped from a He 111. However, it subsequently crashed after the pilot lost control when he accidentally jettisoned the canopy. A second flight the next day also ended in a crash, and subsequent test flights were carried out by test pilots Heinz Kensche and Hanna Reitsch. Reitsch herself experienced several crashes from which she survived unscathed.[5] On 5 November 1944 during the second test flight of the R-III, a wing fell off due to vibrations and Heinz Kensche managed to parachute to safety, albeit with some difficulty due to the cramped cockpit.[9]

Cancellation[edit]

When Werner Baumbach assumed command of KG 200 in October 1944, he shelved the Reichenberg in favour of the Mistel project. He and Speer eventually met with Hitler on 15 March 1945 and managed to convince him that suicide missions were not part of the German warrior tradition, and later that day Baumbach ordered the Reichenberg unit to be disbanded.[9]

Aircraft on display[edit]

Specifications (Fi 103R-IV)[edit]

General characteristics

Performance

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Gilbert, Sir Martin (2004). The Second World War. Henry Holt and Co. p. 504. ISBN 0-8050-7623-9. 
  2. ^ Hyland, p. 219
  3. ^ a b Renneberg, p. 115
  4. ^ a b Hyland, p. 220
  5. ^ a b c d Hyland, p. 221
  6. ^ Kay, p. 84
  7. ^ O'Neill, p. 192
  8. ^ O'Neill, p. 193
  9. ^ a b Zaloga, p. 39
  10. ^ Flying Heritage Museum - Artifacts Retrieved: 19 November 2010.
  11. ^ Lashenden Air Warfare Museum -Fi 103R-4 Reichenberg Retrieved: 19 November 2010.
  12. ^ La Coupole (French language) Retrieved: 19 November 2010.
  13. ^ [1] Retrieved: 17 March 2011.

Bibliography[edit]

  • Hyland, Gary; Anton Gill (1999). Last Talons of the Eagle. Headline. ISBN 0-7472-5964-X. 
  • Kay, Antony L. (1977). Buzz Bomb. Boylston: Monogram Aviation Publications. ISBN 0-914144-04-9. 
  • Kay, Antony L.; J. Richard Smith; Eddie J. Creek (2002). German Aircraft of the Second World War. Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-55750-010-X. 
  • O'Neill, Richard (1981). Suicide Squads: Axis and Allied Special Attack Weapons of World War II : Their Development and Their Missions. London: Salamander Books. ISBN 0-86101-098-1. 
  • Renneberg, Monika; Mark Walker (1999). Science, Technology, and National Socialism. Headline. p. 115. ISBN 0-521-52860-7. 
  • Young, Richard Anthony (1978). The Flying Bomb. New York: Sky Book Press. ISBN 0-89402-072-2. 
  • Zaloga, Steven J.; Jim Laurier (2005). V-1 Flying Bomb 1942-52. Botley, Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 1-84176-791-3.