Me262 attacking B-17s


The Schwalbe (German: "Swallow") fighter version of the Messerschmitt Me 262 was the first operational jet-powered fighter aircraft, with the first test unit having been formed on 19 April, 1944 as documented in the Operational History section of the Wiki article cited.

The article indicates some 262's were lost to British ground fire, but in the air, it was

Too fast to catch for the escorting Allied fighters, the Me 262s were almost impossible to head off. As a result, Me 262 pilots were relatively safe from the Allied fighters, as long as they did not allow themselves to get drawn into low-speed turning contests and saved their maneuvering for higher speeds.

This is not say the Me 262 was invulnerable to enemy fighters:

The Me 262 was difficult to counter because its high speed and rate of climb made it hard to intercept. However, as with other turbojet engines at the time, the Me 262's engines did not provide sufficient thrust at low air speeds and throttle response was slow, meaning in certain circumstances such as takeoff and landing, the aircraft became a vulnerable target.

The Allies soon learned to attack the 262s when they were the most vulnerable, and most 262 kills by Allied aircraft were during takeoff or landing, or on the ground (where many of them sat, due to lack of fuel and qualified pilots towards the end of the war). As the Wiki article confirms:

Allied pilots soon found that the only reliable way to destroy the jets, as with the even faster Me 163B Komet rocket fighters, was to attack them on the ground or during takeoff or landing. Luftwaffe airfields identified as jet bases were frequently bombed by medium bombers, and Allied fighters patrolled over the fields to attack jets trying to land... On 7 October 1944, Lt. Urban Drew of the 365th Fighter Group shot down two Me 262s that were taking off, while on the same day Lt. Col. Hubert Zemke, who had transferred to the Mustang equipped 479th Fighter Group, shot down what he thought was a Bf 109, only to have his gun camera film reveal that it may have been an Me 262. On 25 February 1945, Mustangs of the 55th Fighter Group surprised an entire Staffel of Me 262As at takeoff and destroyed six jets.

The British Hawker Tempest scored several kills against the new German jets, including the Messerschmitt Me 262. Hubert Lange, a Me 262 pilot, said: "the Messerschmitt Me 262's most dangerous opponent was the British Hawker Tempest—extremely fast at low altitudes, highly manoeuvrable and heavily armed." Some were destroyed with a tactic known to the Tempest 135 Wing as the "Rat Scramble": Tempests on immediate alert took off when an Me 262 was reported airborne. They did not intercept the jet, but instead flew towards the Me 262 and Ar 234 base at Hopsten air base. The aim was to attack jets on their landing approach, when they were at their most vulnerable, travelling slowly, with flaps down and incapable of rapid acceleration. The German response was the construction of a "flak lane" of over 150 emplacements of the 20 mm Flakvierling quadruple autocannon batteries at Rheine-Hopsten to protect the approaches. After seven Tempests were lost to flak at Hopsten in a week, the "Rat Scramble" was discontinued.

But there were actual air-to-air 262 kills:

Major Walter Nowotny was assigned as commander [of Erprobungskommando 262 formed at Lechfeld just south of Augsburg, the first operational 262 unit] after the death of Thierfelder in July 1944, and the unit redesignated Kommando Nowotny. Essentially a trials and development unit, it mounted the world's first jet fighter operations. Trials continued slowly, with initial operational missions against the Allies in August 1944, and the unit made claims for 19 Allied aircraft in exchange of six Me 262s lost. [emphasis added]


During March, Me 262 fighter units were able, for the first time, to mount large-scale attacks on Allied bomber formations. On 18 March 1945, 37 Me 262s of JG 7 intercepted a force of 1,221 bombers and 632 escorting fighters. They shot down 12 bombers and one fighter for the loss of three Me 262s. [emphasis added]


Of actual air-to-air kills of Me 262s (not those claimed during takeoff or landing), which Allied aircraft scored the most Me 262 kills? The Hawker Tempest? The Spitfire? The P-51D Mustang? The P-47 Thunderbolt? The IL-2? The Yak-9? B-17 waist or turret gunners perhaps? Something else entirely? Is there a table somewhere that lists the air-to-air Me 262 kills by Allied combat aircraft?


All quotes listed here are from the Wiki article referenced above.

  • 4
    According to Wikipedia, "Levine, Alan J. The Strategic Bombing of Germany, 1940–1945. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger, 1992. ISBN 0-275-94319-4" states that only about 100 were shot down other in the air. If accurate, the sample size is likely much too small for statistical significance of the results by opposing plane type. Sep 9, 2018 at 22:30
  • @PieterGeerkens agreed, likely statisctically insignificant (it could depend on the number combinations of aircraft that actually engaged the 262, and of those numbers which percentage emerged the more victorious, but even so, these are small numbers so yeah, not much statistical significance could be attached). But there is historical curiosity at stake :-)
    – Kerry L
    Sep 9, 2018 at 23:55
  • 2
    B-17s didn't have door gunners. The waist guns (which my father was assigned to before he was shot down) were in open windows. Sep 10, 2018 at 15:59
  • 3
    @PieterGeerkens First, any reminder that statistical rigour should be followed deserves an upvote - you got mine. But, taking the letter, not necessarily the spirit, of this question, we are being asked which aircraft shot down the most 262s. Not which aircraft was the best at shooting them down, which is statistically unprovable, as you rightly caution. Sep 10, 2018 at 16:51
  • 1
    I don't have a resource to cite, but I recall a video interview with a then-elderly Mustang pilot who described the speed of ME262 climb and said he shot one down by out turning it and "setting up a line of 50 cal" for it to fly into. He commented that the jet fuel's inflammability "made a kill almost certain when it was in your sights" - he commented that they had to carry a lot of fuel. Sep 11, 2018 at 8:39

3 Answers 3


By combining the three tables, of known Me262 losses; claims by USAAF; and claims by RAF, in Foreman, Me 262 Combat Diary (1990), assuming that the German numbers are correct, and also that all the dates are as stated, I have obtained the following statistics. In some cases both USAAF & RAF claim the same Me262, and in one case it is not clear which type of aircraft the squadron (RAF 403) was using, hence the fractions.

Shot down by USAAF Mustang        92.5
Shot down by USAAF Thunderbolt    18.83
Shot down by USAAF Lightning       3
Shot down by RAF Spitfire          9.83
Shot down by RAF Tempest           5
Shot down by RAF Typhoon           2
Shot down by RAF Mustang           1.83
Shot down by unknown Mustang       1
Shot down by Russian aircraft      3
Shot down by unknown aircraft     21
Unsubstantiated USAAF claims      46
Unsubstantiated RAF claims        10
Rammed unknown Spitfire            1
Rammed bomber                      3
Shot down by bomber (?)            2
Shot down by enemy flak           10
Shot down by own flak              2
Strafed when landing               1
Destroyed on the ground           34
Mechanical failure/pilot error   146
Other cause/unknown               13

Total losses                     370

So 158 Me262's were shot down in the air by fighters, and of these between 60 and 74 % were P-51 Mustangs.

(The figures are not totally reliable. I have found twelve pairs of duplicate Werknummers, i.e. planes that were apparently destroyed twice. There is a newer edition of the book, but I do not have it.)


Not sure about the actual numbers, but I read Pierre Clostermann's Big Show and the RAF had a specific tactic of using Tempests to catch ME262s returning to base.


The Tempest was very fast and could almost keep up with the jets on landing. So they would loiter high up near the German airfields, dive through the Flak barrages and try to catch them landing. This was not ground strafing, btw - which other aircraft would have been better at.

See also this old Google Groups thread, probably back from Usenet times: https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/rec.aviation.military/L7m7gZlpnKQ

  • 1
    Yes, thanks Italian Philosopher - this tactic used by Tempests, called the Rat Scramble was included in the referenced Me 262 Wiki article and cited above in the Question. Appreciate the additional link.
    – Kerry L
    Sep 10, 2018 at 16:21
  • 1
    yes, after answering I re-read the question in more detail 🐑 -ish. but it's a pretty good book ;-) Sep 10, 2018 at 16:23
  • 2
    I may take a look at that book, thanks. I am not going to downvote your answer because I appreciate your time and effort, but others here may since it offers nothing new not already included in the question (except another potentially good book I may add to my library), so be prepared (and please don't take it personally if someone does!)
    – Kerry L
    Sep 10, 2018 at 16:26
  • 4
    This is not an answer but just a repeat of the same point made in the question: "most 262 kills by Allied aircraft was during takeoff or landing, or on the ground ...". The rat scramble is not an air-to-air kill, it is a landing ambush, and easily foiled by the Germans with flak as soon as they figured it out Sep 10, 2018 at 17:48
  • @PieterGeerkens So, as soon as an OP mentions a possible answer it is off limit to everyone then? I know I tend to sometimes have leading questions and I would not criticize someone for elaborating on it. Anyway this seems like a popular question. A quick Google tempest me 262 kills got me, among others, this: groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/rec.aviation.military/… Keep in mind the flip side of 100 or so air losses you warned against: with such low numbers it's easy to get in the top ranks. Whether the Tempest took the actual top or not I leave for others to say. Sep 10, 2018 at 19:00

I would say Mustang's shot most down, because there were more of them escorting bombers and ground strafing.

  • 2
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