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Group History

First Encounter with the ME-262

“Something I Will Never Forget”

by Eugene T. Jensen

Eugene T. Jensen of the 349th writes about the 100th’s first encounter with the Me-262, 8th Mar 1945.
Article published in the Arizona Republic  & The Phoenix Gazette  on January 6th, 1997.

In 1942, I surrendered my farm-based draft exemption and enlisted in the Army Air Force Cadet Corps. In February of 1944 I graduated from flight school with the coveted silver wings of a pilot

Graduation was followed by training as B-17 crew member, and eventual assignment to a bomber group (the 100th), part of the 8th Air Force, flying out of England. Nothing out of the ordinary, except the inevitable accidents that were a part of air crew training. Death and an empty bunk simply became a part of our lives.

History now proclaims that the war in Europe was drawing to a close in late 1944 when I joined the 100th. But the German Army and Air Force was not then aware of this development. We had lost or damaged aircraft on almost every mission. We lost 12 out 36 aircraft on a single mission on the last day of 1944.

Nature contributed the worst weather in a century. Takeoffs with overloaded aircraft under zero visibility were routine. Flying formation through dense cloud covers was exhausting and perilous. The returns to base in a sky crowded with thousands of aircraft flying in instruments became an airborne lottery. Who would have the next midair collision? Death was still a constant companion, but no one seemed much concerned.

The development and deployment of a super fighter by the German Air Force had been rumored but air crew had not been briefed on the profile or performance characteristics of the air craft.

So it was on March 3rd, 1945, that the 100th was chosen to lead the entire 8th Air Force, perhaps 1,000 bombers, on a mission to destroy one of the remaining truck factories.

My squadron, the 349th, was to fly the lead in the 100th, and three of us were to fly well ahead of the bombers stream to spread “chaff” (metalized strips) that confused anti-aircraft radar. At the briefing we were told it was essential that we deploy the chaff. It was predicted we would be a prime target for the German Air Force, so we were to have an escort squadron of P-51 fighters.

It was a beautiful day! Clear, frigid and not a cloud in sight. There was only one P-51 in sight and it was far away, unusual for an escort aircraft. Behind us the 8th Air Force bomber stream stretched for miles.

As we watched our lone P-51 evolved into an aircraft unlike anything we had ever seen. No propeller!

As we watched it  made a tight high-speed circle, coming in from behind our little formation of three bombers. It became evident that we were to have a new and unpleasant experience. The pilots of the three aircraft abandoned the “chaff” formation and pulled in close together to give us maximum firepower, wingtips only a few feet apart.

Our gunners were fooled by the speed of the aircraft, and despite our massed firepower, we did no apparent damage. The jet flew through our already tight formation so close that we could see the pilot, the rivets in the aircraft skin and the 200mm cannon firing.

The wing of our lead aircraft was cut free from the rest of the aircraft almost as if by a giant chain saw, and the aircraft began it’s lethal tumble to earth. We saw no parachutes.

We were then over the target, our supply of chaff had been over-boarded, and I thought it prudent to seek the relative safety of the main bomber stream. Unfortunately, this maneuver brought us under the lead formation just as their bomb bay doors opened. – which meant  we were only seconds from bomb release. It was quite clear that we were in the wrong place at exactly the wrong time. our luck continued and we avoided the rain of bombs by seconds. Seconds that seemed like hours.

When we returned to base we were interviewed by an Air Force General. I had never seen, let alone talked to a General-Grade Officer.. I had the impression that we were one of the first air crews to experience combat with a jet aircraft. (something I remember whenever I hear a jet from nearby Luke Air Force Base). As a First Lieutenant, I think I was more frightened by the General than the jet fighter. Such is war.

My final mission, the 35th, was flown on March 8th, 1945. I was very ill, really unable to fly the aircraft, but we wanted to do the trip and get it over so the crew could go home. When we returned, I was transferred immediately to the station hospital – the first in series of Military Hospitals that would lead to Camp Carson, Colorado.

On that same day, March 8th, a young nurse in St. Paul, Minn., half a world away, joined the Army Nurse Corps. She was assigned to a hospital in Colorado Springs, where I was to be a patient. We had our 51st wedding anniversary a few days ago. You might say we lived happily ever after.