- Hitler’s Jet Plane: The Me 262 Story
For readers interested in Luftwaffe history who do not read German, this book is a long awaited translation of (Herman) Mano Ziegler's Turnbinenjäger Me 262 (Stuttgart: Motorbuch Verlag, 1978, 1998) into English. Although it lacks scholarly qualification, the book is an important contribution to the historiography of World War II Luftwaffe and aviation literature. [End Page 879]
Ziegler was involved, as he states, in the development and testing of Luftwaffe cutting-edge aircraft in World War II. He piloted the rocket-powered Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet and was intimately connected with the Luftwaffe and German aviation communities in general. His other contributions include English and German books on the Me 163.
The Me 262 Story is a pseudo-memoir account of the development, testing, and combat record of the world's first combat operational jet aircraft. Ziegler briefly reconstructs the development of the Messerschmitt project, and the projects it competed with in the Third Reich. By the third chapter, Ziegler turns to the controversial Hitler order to construct the jet as a bomber. Ziegler perpetuates the argument that Hitler delayed the production of the aircraft as a more useful fighter by up to a year. Ziegler insists that Hitler's order, in spite of unspoken consensus that the Me 262 should have been a fighter plane, hindered the operational availability of the jet to the Luftwaffe. Thus, the unbending will of the Führer doomed the program as a whole.
While this book is a thinly veiled apologist view of the Luftwaffe and Ziegler's wartime pilot friends, it is still a fantastic reference for biographical information on various Luftwaffe rocket- and jet-pilots, and can be used as such. But unfortunately, there are a number of persistent myths that recent primary document research has overturned. Ziegler blames Hitler for a lack of German jets while idolizing the pilots (and backers) of the plane.
However, the book does provide valuable information on the actual pilots and exploits of the Me 262 in combat. Ziegler recounts the adventures of the Luftwaffe pilots in the closing days of the war in the most advanced aircraft of the war. He tells of the triumphs and tragedies of his comrades in the closing days of the Third Reich.
Unfortunately, the book is based on Ziegler's memory. He does not provide source material, references, or footnotes for his assertions and information. His "notes" section is comprised of eleven extended anecdotes intended to clarify the text. His "selected works" refer to a selection of books—all older than the first 1978 German edition—where a reader might find further information.
Hitler's Jet Plane does not offer new information on the idea and development of the first German jets. The strength of this book is in the personal recollections of the author about his own and his colleagues' exploits in high-technology aircraft at the end of the war in Germany. The book is useful, therefore, as an insider's view of the operations of the Me 262 and its role in the air war in World War II. With this in mind, I do recommend this book for historians of the Luftwaffe and aviation in general.