Luftwaffe bomber wing KG 200
This top secret Luftwaffe unit flew the
most special missions with the most special aircraft
Luftwaffe secret weapons - everyone
knows about Germany's V-1 and V-2 missiles and the Luftwaffe jet and
rocket aircraft, but they were no real secret, even during the war, as
London's civilians and allied pilots knew about them and saw them in
action, and allied intelligence knew about them even earlier.
This essay is about the most secret
Luftwaffe unit, which operated its most secret aircraft and flew its most
special missions. A ghost unit which became known to allied intelligence
only after world war 2 ended. This is the story of Luftwaffe wing 200.
Every large air force has squadrons and
aircraft for strategic intelligence missions and for missions
requiring the use of special aircraft and special weapons.
Sometimes "innocent" civilian aircraft are being used for espionage
missions, or even a few captured enemy aircraft. There are also
units that test fly experimental and captured aircraft. These
special and secret aircraft are usually flown by the most experienced and
skilled pilots, and covered by the deepest secrecy, often for decades.
aircraft. The pilots flew the small Messerschmitt Me-109 or Focke-Wulf
Fw-190, which was attached atop a Junkers Ju-88 bomber armed with an
For example, in the post-war United
States these were the SR-71 Blackbird spy plane, the stealth aircraft, the
CIA-operated aircraft, and the captured Russian aircraft and experimental
aircraft flown from Area 51 in Nevada, nicknamed Dreamland.
In Nazi Germany, the top secret
Luftwaffe unit code-named Bomber Wing 200 ( KG 200 ) was all that.
Civilian aircraft photo recon flights
When the German military began to
prepare for world war 2, it needed air photos of the countries it intended
to invade. Since flights by the standard Luftwaffe photo recon aircraft
were not just violation of those countries airspace but also a clear
warning sign of German intentions, the German military intelligence used
aerial cameras carefully hidden in German passenger and commercial
aircraft which flew over those countries.
The rise in landing delays by the
formerly precise German pilots made the the polish intelligence suspect
that the innocent civilian German aircraft are used for photo
reconnaissance, but they could not find the hidden cameras, when they
checked those aircraft when they landed in polish airports.
The Luftwaffe operated civilian aircraft
for photo recon missions all over Europe and north Africa before and
during world war 2. Initially the aircraft belonged to the German military
intelligence, but during the war they were assigned to the Luftwaffe.
When world war 2 started, German spies
and saboteurs had to be inserted to or extracted from allied countries.
Some were inserted or extracted by German submarines, some travelled via
neutral countries, and some, like many allied secret agents, parachuted
from Luftwaffe aircraft.
Flying all Luftwaffe special missions
In February 1944, Luftwaffe headquarters
ordered that all strategic and covert aerial reconnaissance, secret agent
deliveries, special delivery flights to Japan, and experimental aircraft
testing, in fact all special missions, will be concentrated in one new
unit, code-named bomber wing 200. The commander of the new unit was Werner
Baumbach, a very experienced and highly decorated bomber pilot and leader
who survived over four years of bombing missions over enemy territory,
over France, Britain, Russia, and elsewhere.
KG 200 was made of several large
squadrons. It was also geographically spread in multiple bases all over
Europe. The total secrecy in KG 200, as common in such top secret units,
was such that its people knew very little of each other's activity, to
minimize security breach in case of captivity. It had over 100 air crews
and operated over 30 different German and allied aircraft types.
The 1st squadron of KG 200 was in charge
of flying German secret agents to and from allied territory. It had a
long-range group, and a short-range group which was spread all over
Europe. It got its operational orders directly from the SD, the Nazi
party's intelligence service.
The 2nd squadron of KG 200 was in charge
of all other operations, including electronic warfare and special bombing
missions, long range patrols as far as the US east coast, and special
cargo missions which flew all the way to Japanese held north china. It
operated from hidden airstrips all over Europe, usually near forests, used
to hide their special aircraft from allied pilots.
Additional squadrons which were
established but did not become operational before the war ended, were the
German suicide attack unit, equipped with a human-piloted version of the
V-1 cruise missile, and a very long range squadron intended to reach the
US east coast and other remote targets.
All secret agent delivery missions were
night missions, to further minimize exposure to the enemy, and they relied
on the navigation skills of the navigators, which were the best and most
experienced navigators in the Luftwaffe.
To further minimize the risk to both
pilots and agents in secret agent insertion missions, especially when a
team of agents was involved, the Luftwaffe developed a special human air
drop device. It was a bomb-like cylinder carried by a bomber, in which
three secret agents and their equipment could be safely dropped from the
bomber to the enemy ground. The cylinder was equipped with a parachute, a
telephone which enabled the secret agents to speak with the bomber pilot
during the flight, and a shock absorber to further ease the landing. It
allowed the German intelligence to safely land single, or teams, of secret
agents in enemy territory, with heavier equipment and without the common
risk of parachuting leg injuries.
Allied bombers in Luftwaffe service
During the war, the Luftwaffe downed
many allied bombers over German held territory. Others landed because of
technical problems. Some of these bombers remained flyable. Initially
these captured bombers, such as American B-17s and B-24s and Russian Pe-2s
and Tupolevs and other aircraft, were flown by the Luftwaffe for studying
their capabilities for intelligence and technological analysis. These
test-flown bombers were given Luftwaffe markings, like the one in the
Later, KG 200 began to use these
captured long range bombers for its top secret missions. With the growing
air superiority of allied air forces, the German retreats, and the growing
use of radar and radar-equipped night fighters, it became ever harder for
the German bombers to fly deep into allied airspace. Flying long-ranged
captured allied bombers instead of the smaller and shorter range German
bombers was a perfect solution for the Luftwaffe. These bombers could fly
further and could fly over the most protected allied targets, day and
night, without being even shot at, as they looked and sounded exactly like
allied bombers. It was the perfect equivalent of the stealth bomber. The
captured allied bombers used by KG 200 were not given German markings and
remained with their original allied colours and markings for complete day
or night deception of allied pilots and anti-aircraft gunners which saw
them. They could fly anywhere, day or night, make aerial photos, drop
agents, bomb targets, track allied bomber formations and constantly report
their exact position and altitude without being intercepted by their
fighter escorts, etc, etc, and so they did.
In world war 2, Germany led in the
development of guided bombs and missiles. In addition to operating normal
guided weapons, such as the Hs-293 missile and Fritz X bomb,
KG 200 operated the heaviest and most unique type of weapon operated by
the Luftwaffe, the Mistel bomber-size missile.
Mistel was a
bomber, usually a Junkers 88, that was transformed to a huge missile by
replacing its cockpit with a four tons warhead, placing a mount on its
back for carrying a mounted fighter aircraft (picture above), and
connecting the unmanned bomber's flight controls to the fighter, so that
the fighter's pilot could fly the dual aircraft all the way to the target,
usually a large fixed strategic target such as a dam, a power station, or
a large bridge, aim the bomber to its final dive to the target, and then
disconnect the fighter from it and fly home. The Mistel bomber-missile had
a long range and could smash the largest targets.
In their first attack, in June 1944,
four Mistels sank ships in the English channel. One of the major planned
Luftwaffe attacks was supposed to destroy Russia's largest hydro-electric
power stations with Mistels, and by doing so reduce Russia's electricity
production by 75%, but most of them were destroyed on the ground by a US
air attack before the operation. The Mistel's last attack, in march 1945,
was personally led by Werner Baumbach, commander of KG 200. A large group
of Mistels took off for the mission, most of them were shot down, but five
Mistels destroyed large bridges over rivers in east Germany, in order to
delay Russian advance into Germany.
The German suicide units
The Mistel was like a suicide aircraft
but without the suicide. As Germany was losing the war, there were some
fanatic and influential Nazi officers like Hanna Reitsch, a famous female
test pilot and pre-war gliding champion, Otto Skorzeny, a special
operations expert, and Hajo Hermann, a senior bomber and night fighter
leader, who suggested, unrelated to the Japanese use of kamikaze suicide
pilots, that Germany will use volunteers as suicide pilots in order to
overcome the allied technological and numerical advantages with their
fanatic spirit. The idea had roots in German mythology that was glorified
by Nazi propaganda, it was "Totenritt", a death ride.
Hitler was reluctant, but eventually
agreed to Reitsch's request to establish and train a suicide attack air
unit, in condition that it will not be operated in combat without his
approval. The new unit, nicknamed the Leonidas Squadron, also became part
of KG 200.
Leonidas was the
Greek warrior king of Sparta who in 480BC stopped the invading Persian
army at the narrow Thermopylae pass in east Greece with just 300 elite
warriors who fought to the last man. Their sacrifice saved Greece from
occupation, and a statue of Leonidas still stands at Thermopylae. The
desperate Nazi fanatics thought they can save Germany too by suicide
The aircraft to be used was the Fi-103
Reichenberg, a manned version of the German V-1 cruise missile, equipped
with a small cockpit and flight controls. After two volunteers were killed
trying to test fly it, it was successfully flown by Hanna Reitsch, the
experienced test pilot who was the first to sign as a volunteer suicide
pilot. 24 V-1 cruise missiles were initially modified to manned suicide
missiles and over 70 volunteers, mostly young recruits, began training to
fly the V-1 as a suicide missile. They were called 'self-sacrificers'.
Theoretically they were supposed to try to bail out after aiming their
piloted missile to its final dive at the target, but it was clear that the
chances of survival were very low. Also, unlike the much faster
rocket-powered Japanese Okha suicide missile, that was much faster than
all allied fighters, the jet-powered V-1 was slow enough to be
The suicide squadron of KG 200 was never
used in combat because Werner Baumbach and his superiors considered it an
unnecessary waste of life and resources, and preferred the Mistel.
Baumbach claimed that Mistel was better than both a manned bomber and a
suicide missile, because of the minimal loss of crew lives, as losing a
manned bomber meant the loss of a full crew while Mistel was flown by a
single pilot, and unlike a suicide missile pilot, the Mistel pilot had a
chance to return safely.
Eventually another German suicide tactic
was used in combat. It was the interception of heavy bombers by ramming,
as suggested by Hajo Hermann, head of the German night fighters command.
Fighter wing 300 (JG 300) was assigned to use this tactic very late in the
war, equipped with ordinary Me-109 and FW-190 fighters, but it was used
just a few times, with little success. Few bombers were destroyed by
collisions, and few suicide pilots who managed to bail out were killed by
the furious gunners of the other bombers.
The end of KG 200
At the last days of world war 2,
Luftwaffe bomber wing 200 retreated its remaining special aircraft to
south Germany, the documents about its secret activities were destroyed,
and that's were its secret war ended.
In march 1945, shortly before the end of
world war 2, Werner Baumbach, the highly decorated bomber pilot, and
commander of KG 200, was promoted to commander of what was left of the
German bomber command. After the war, still a Nazi, he wrote an
autobiography. The total secrecy spirit of KG 200, which remained even
after the war, is best demonstrated by the fact that while he describes
his long and distinguished wartime service as a Luftwaffe bomber pilot in
the book, he does not mention KG 200 there with a single word. Like many
other Nazis, he immigrated after the war to Argentina where he worked as a
test pilot. He was killed in 1953 at age 36 during a test flight, taking
many secrets of KG 200 with him.