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The Lusty Men

The 9th Air Force: the Destruction of the Luftwaffe and Hunt for Nazi Air Technology

The complete disassembly of the Luftwaffe and the quest for high technology Nazi air weapons, a daunting task at the end of the war.  It fell to the 9th US Air Force with Headquarters in Kissingen.  Those senior commanders and staff personnel played a small role but what their men did out in the field, at the air strips, factories and depots had a lasting significance.  Would a generation of American fighter aircraft design stand on the shoulders of German designers and technicians?

On the one hand, flyable examples of the Messerschmitt 262 fighter, with twin jet engines slung beneath the wings, were needed.  The US military jet program was in a stall and maybe the Germans had the answers.   At Kissingen, only a few airmen and officers at HQ read the reports, after all it was mostly war end logistics and everyone wanted to go home, but those German jet aircraft were suddenly streaking across the peaceful sky and they were heading west to France, the coast and America.

On the other hand, the Allies of 1945 wanted to decimate the German air war capability for all time.  Someone had to do it and the answer was quickly apparent.  What remained after thousands of close air support sorties and medium bomber attacks would be dealt with by men in trucks and jeeps.

What a great interest the 9th Air Force hunters and gathers had with the Luftwaffe and that specialized German air force equipment.

Experts in the Field

Most people have probably seen the recent movie, The Monument Men that told the story of teams of American art experts drafted into the military then working in the immediate post war period throughout Europe locating, recovering and returning significant artworks that had been looted by the Nazis.   Their activities were notable but not particularly unique. 

Within weeks of the Allied landings in Normandy, following close on the heels of the combat units were teams, sections, squads of “ experts “ either by training or civilian experience, tasked with turning - over - every - stone within their particular field of interest. 

Their charters ran through an amazing array of interests, some groups searched for local banks and treasuries to seize and hold Nazi money while others took into safe keeping local reserves of French or Belgium Francs.  Some teams looked for printing presses that created postal stamps, other squads surveyed every meter of railway line to organize repairs.  One team cataloged the most famous public clocks in town squares and two groups inspected every automotive factory in Western Europe.

And then there were teams, pilots and supply men, drivers and clerks, who wanted just one thing.  Simply put, their goal was to touch every German jet aircraft engine and flyable jet they could find.  Then put the plunder into boxes for shipment to Ohio.  The Air Disarmament Division had so many places to go and so much to see and do.  It was the days of searching and counting, disposal and destruction and it was the days of German jets.

Wonder Weapons, the Hunters and Gatherers

Initially, the 8th Air Force, responsible for the heavy bomber fleets, was given the air disarmament mission and began planning and staffing accordingly.  In November 1944, the mission was handed off to the 9th  Air Force, probably because their air support mission brought them closer to the targets at hand as the ground combat units advanced and also, the 8th fully believed that its personnel minus aircraft would be committed to the Pacific Theater.  No need for side mission distractions until Japan was defeated.

The air disarmament mission evolved into two clearly specified tasks: find, identify and secure for shipment, German air weapons and equipment that possessed technology or innovation that could be rapidly exploited by American manufactures to improve the war effort and defeat Germany and Japan.  And then, any other air war materials would be consolidated, disposed of or destroyed as part of an overall disarmament of Germany. 

This mission encompassed everything from Luftwaffe belts, boots and bedding to the highest levels of technology.  Everything would be looked at, counted and cataloged.  On  paper, the mission could begin as early as February 1945 with US forces pressing into Germany but the real job began in April as the war in Europe ended.

As expected, the design of the Air Disarmament Division, ADD, evolved over time but when fully operational and at work, the unit was divided into two Disarmament Wings, # 1 with HQ at Fulda and  #2  HQ at Kaufbeuren with each containing six or seven Disarmament Squadrons.  These were then further broken down into sections and at the high personnel point, over 8000 Army airmen were assigned.  The Division was also tasked with collecting, evaluating and destroying all German flak cannon and associated equipment.  This required men, trucks, tents and jeeps and a chain of command.

Staff planners looked at the least utilized units within the 9th and hit upon the solution.  Selected air defense artillery battalions and other replacement  air units would be converted to Air Disarmament Groups reporting to the Services Command.  Then, as flight units turned in their aircraft, further selected personnel or complete units would be transferred in.  The goal was to get teams of experts onto every German Air Force base, depot, warehouse or facility as soon as practicable.

The initial search area was Bavaria and the American zone of control but it rapidly expanded to the French and British zones where few complaints were registered and then, as expected,  Americans were scooping gear into their trucks in the Russian zone amid angry protests.  It seems the Russians had their own plans for Nazi technology.  In a few key weeks, as diplomats and generals debated, Americans looted as much technology from the Russian zone as they could carry.  It may not have been the most stuff but often it was the key stuff.

So Many Places and So Much to Do - the Gatherers

Beyond the sheer logistics of the operation, there were major intelligence and operational concerns.  Inspection target lists of thousands of locations were generated by looking back at the bombing target lists of the 8th and 9th Air Forces.  Upwards of 60% of the Luftwaffe technology targets had first appeared as bombing targets. Further information came from the interviews of German technicians and review of captured documents.  Progress was slow at first but the technology harvest began in earnest once the men of the ADD learned how aircraft manufacturing and Luftwaffe equipment had been dispersed and hidden in the final year of the war.

The Air Technical Intelligence teams that physically inspected the sites were rather small, a couple of jeeps and maybe a truck, ten or twelve personnel on an initial visit  A typical team would consist of an OIC, a translator, and ten or so men trained in specific technology areas such as radar and radios, target acquisition equipment, rockets and bombs, specialized gear such as high altitude equipment and weather instruments.

Depending upon what they found, larger teams would follow to actually begin the sortation, boxing and shipment of items that might have value. All of this was then either evacuated to the United States through the 9th Air Force logistics chain or destroyed on the spot.  Some found items, such as medicines, certain clothing and bedding were released to German control.

At the same time, Luftwaffe or civilian technical personnel were interviewed and millions of documents were loaded into crates for further study.  The sheer volume led to quality control issues in the gathering process. 

On occasion, shipments would arrive in the United States with tons of mixed equipment and no detailed notes as to origin or possible use.  Through late 1945 and 1946, record keeping and field notes improved and this was appreciated by the men at the evaluation end located primarily at Wright Patterson Army Air Force Base in Ohio.

All of these activities were reported to the Wing chains of command to Bad Kissingen and HQ 9th USAF.  From there, occasionally press releases were issued to  American newspapers detailing the various finds of  Nazi wonder weapons.

The disarmament of the Luftwaffe and search for exploitable technology mission ended in mid 1946.  The After Action Report of the Air Disarmament Division stated in part:

1894 tons of significant German Luftwaffe equipment had been shipped to the United States for further testing and over 1 million tons of equipment of all types related to the German Air Force had been seized and destroyed.

9132 sites had been inspected in the American zone with an additional 4000 sites visited in zones controlled by the British, French and Russians.

The Lusty Men - the Hunters

The search for the highest value targets of German aeronautical technology was code named: Operation Lusty.  A great name, considering the chase aspect of the mission but it was coined as an acronym from: LUftwaffe Secret TechnologY.

This program had its beginnings outside of the general air disarmament plan.  In fact, it was envisioned as an entity on to itself and was staffed accordingly but soon on, if for no other reason than tapping the expedient supply of men and equipment available in the Air Disarmament Division,  the Lusty mission was folded into the 2nd Disarmament Wing and designated as the 54th  Air Disarmament Squadron.   The unit was commanded by Colonel Harold E Watson, who in turn worked for Colonel Donald L Putt - responsible for the entire technology gathering mission in Germany.

Watson was a significant individual in the Army Air Force and had spent much of the war stateside, helping manufacturers trouble shoot and increase production of bomber engines.  He had a firm grasp on the technologies of the day and what would be the emerging technologies of the post war period.  He was also aware of the problems the American aircraft companies were having in producing a jet aircraft the Army could use and his technology assessment and recovery team was tasked with the “ black list “ of Nazi systems and specifically the German jets.

His team came to be known at Watson’s Whizzers and he hand picked experienced fighter pilots to gather, then fly and evaluate the German jets.  The first priority was the ME 262.

ME 262

The twin engine ME 262 was the second operational jet fighter of the war and over fourteen hundred were produced in underground factories throughout central and southern Germany.  It was good but not great … but it was a jet fighter and the Allies had nothing like it.  The British Gloster Meteor got into the sky a bit earlier but had no real impact on the war.

The aircraft featured an innovative modular construction that allowed parts manufactured at various locations to be quickly assembled into an operational fighter without the long traditional assembly line and, with twin jet engines, in some missions, it did have an air to air combat advantage.  In straight line speed, it could out run the Allied fighters and attack into the bomber groups.

But the ME also exhibited clear disadvantages that every American fighter pilot knew.  It was slow and unwieldy in take off and landing, had a long and slow turn profile allowing piston driven fighters to cut inside and gain advantage and the jet engines were difficult to manufacture and not particularly reliable.  In the poker game of aerial dog fights, you could hedge your hand with a bit of skill and luck. 

Nevertheless, America wanted as many examples as they could find and Watson was fast to the hunt.  He scooped up several flyable examples in southern Germany, tons of repair parts and fresh engines and perhaps most importantly, dozens of both Luftwaffe and German civilian technicians and pilots who saw a trip to the United States as an attractive alternative to an uncertain fate in Germany.

Soon Watson and several American pilots were flying the jet aircraft on their own, sometimes well in the sky and sometimes plowed into the ground.

What the Hunters had in the Bag and the Verdict

Ten operational ME 262s and thirty - one additional Black List or other interesting German aircraft were loaded on the British aircraft carrier HMS Reaper in mid Summer 1945 for transit to the United States.  In addition  were several other disassembled and crated aircraft.

Watson chose to return to the US at the controls of an experimental German four engine bomber while other whizzer pilots and team members continued the search for, recovery and refurbishment of more ME 262 examples.  By late 1946, the missions of the Air Disarmament Division and Watson’s 54th Squadron were completed; all they left behind were the wrecks and piles of parts and pieces.  They did not get them all, the Russians had their share - but the Army Air Force had more than enough.

Captured German jets in American markings flew for the next few years in the skies over Ohio and Indiana as part of the testing and evaluation program.  In due course, the American F80 jet fighter took to the air as America’s first production war jet; there may have been some lessons learned from the ME 262 but it seems that industry had solved many of the initial F80 issues and by 1949 the ME 262 was becoming an obsolete curiosity.  There really was no resemblance or direct link between the ME 262 and the F 80.

But this is not to say that the search and recovery efforts were in vain.  Rather, Lusty showed American engineers and designers possible routes to explore, exploit or dismiss.  And when you win the war, it is easy to believe that your design, testing and evaluation processes are the best.  Was there German blood in the F4 or F16 - that is very difficult to say.

How much was gained from the other tons of exported German air technology is unknown.  The Air Force spent about two years going through their treasures and sharing what was learned with the hundreds of American manufactures and engineers touring through Wright Patterson.  Beyond the ME, many of the other Black List aircraft were finally disregarded as interesting but not significant except for the twin engine Arado 234 bomber that was considered an important technological innovation.

Approximately fifty Black List German aircraft were returned to America in the post war period and a few survive today on static display at Wright Patterson or the Smithsonian Air Museum.  Some were traded to the British and French air force over the years and many simply crashed in test flight or were considered no longer critical to Air Force study and scrapped.

But the story does not quite end there.  Just as we began with a reference to a  modern movie, we must end with a current zombie movie.  As the Air Force got rid of its German aircraft fleet, the planes were cut up or shredded.  But souvenir hunters and amateur aircraft hunters will not be denied and the dead and destroyed never sleep easily in their Mid West graves.

Nazi planes buried in an Indiana field


Of all of the Black List targets, by far the most significant finds returned to the United States were the complete V2 rockets and many tons of parts, plans, paper data, technicians and scientists.  This mission was largely taken outside of Operation Lusty and activities of the Air Disarmament Division and then was executed as Operation Paperclip, location and evacuation of Nazi V2 scientists and skilled technicians and Operation Overcast and Special Operation V2:  physical recovery of rockets and components.

Beyond the fact that some of the German rocket scientists were briefly housed in a Bad Kissingen hotel under Army supervision as they waited for final disposition and movement to the United States, there appears to be no link between the 9th Air Force, Kissingen and the V2 post war exploitation process.

MG Harold E Watson bio 

LTG Donald L Putt bio

Items and aircraft related to the high priority targets were handled by special disarmament teams and named the Black List project.  That target list consisted of nine flight systems:

Click for outside links.

BUT, the story does not end. Air enthusiasts create modern ME-262s to take to the sky once again. 

Reader Note:

There is no original research in this piece.  It was assembled from the various magazine articles that have been written on the hunt for Nazi technology, the published After Action Report of the ADD and the single best book on the subject:  American Raiders by Wolfgang W. E. Samuel.

April 2016


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