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Die hier gezeigten Abzeichen sind zu edukativen Zwecken dargestellt, aus diesem Grund sind sie nicht abgedeckt. Weiterhin möchte ich auf den folgenden Discliamer aufmerksam machen:


Disclaimer: Die hier gezeigten Abbildungen aus der Zeit des "Dritten Reiches", u.a. mit dem damals obligatorischen "Hakenkreuz", dienen der Berichterstattung über Vorgänge des Zeitgeschehens, der staatsbürgerlichen Aufklärung sowie Forschung und Lehre (§ 86a, 86 StGB)



Dedicated to the memory of Oberleutnant Lothar Sieber.

Killed during a Natter test flight on 1st March 1945.

Imagine that you were selected as a pilot for the Natter project in 1945….

PROJECT BACKGROUND

You would probably have served throughout the war on a bomber squadron, you have seen many of your comrades shot down over the years, but somehow you have always managed to survive everything that the enenmy could throw at you. Recently it has been almost impossible to fly bomber missions on the western front, the Allied air forces rule the skies. You may have flown your last mission against a Soviet bridgehead and on returning, you were informed that the squadron is to be disbanded. There was no fuel remaining for the last three Heinkel He111 bombers, thry were set on fire to stop them falling into the hands of the advancing Allied forces.

Some Heinkel bombers would be converted to carry V1 flying bombs under the wing and launch them from the safety of the North Sea. Some aircrew would be sent to the new Arado jet bomber squadrons now entering service, but chances of joining one of these units would be minimal. You would have been sent, along with hundreds of other aircrew to one of the Luftwaffe barracks and re-trained as an infantryman. Perhaps joining one of the Luftwaffe Field Divisions as an infantryman for the final defence of the Reich.

However, late in 1944 several aircraft designers were requested to put forward their designs for a new wonder weapon to intercept the bombers flying over Germany. An evolutional new interceptor was needed quickly to change the war in the air, something that would claw the bombers out of the sky! Erich Bachem won the contract and work started immediately on a vertical take-off interceptor design. The components were put together in small workshops up and down the country and then shipped to the Bachem-Werke in Heuberg.

The Allies knew nothing of this, or the Bachem-Werke would have been bombed out of existence, along with the whole Waldsee area if necessary. The Natter intercepter could be built from scratch within one thousand hours, which included the final assembly in Heuberg. The project was financed and taken over by the SS, Heinrich Himmler was constantly informed of the progress throughout the project.



Preparing one of the 22 test flights

ARRIVAL AT THE NATTER COMPOUND

Late on afternoon you are ordered to attend the commanding officers office, on entering you see several several other pilots, seven in number, you know them from the infantry conversion course. No one knows why they are there, then the CO arrives. The CO admits that he knows nothing as to why eight pilots are required for a special project. He only knows that a brand new aircraft design is to be put into production without a single test flight. You would be told that the project would change the course of the war.

"Gentlemen, you have a chance to take part in a new war winning aircraft project, or you can stay here and complete your infantry training and fight on in the ground role, what is it to be?"

They had been asked to take risks and blindly commit themselves to a new project, without knowing any of the details. The war was about to finish in a matter of weeks, perhaps the war was already lost? But the chance to take part in a brand new aircraft project with war winning possibilities was too much to turn down.

"If you are interested, pack your kit and be back here in one hour, a truck will take you to your new unit, that is all dismissed."

The truck arrives, it is not too late to back down and remain an infantryman. The pilots were all young men and did not want to turn down the chance of one last adventure, which if all went well, could win the war for the Reich.

At about 1 a.m. the truck arrived at a wooded area and stopped at a gate to a fenced off compound. A barrier was lifted and two SS guards walked over and checked the drivers pass. The Luftwaffe pilots ordered out of the truck and were told to wait to one side. The truck moved back on to the road and drove off into the night. The pilots had to wait with the guards for a few minutes until the duty officer arrived.

There are several small wooden buildings, a large green and brown painted building, watch towers, surrounded by a high fence. One of the pilots turn to the guards and asked "What happens if anyone stumbles into the compound from the outside?" The guard replies that anyone found in the compound who does not belong to the project will be put to death.

The guard says this in an unfriendly manner, much to say mind your own business. The conversation ends there. Ther pilots stand around in silence until the duty officer arrives and takes you over to a wooden building.

"Gentlemen, this will be your sleeping quarters, get some rest and someone will come for you in the morning. Your day will begin at 7 a.m. and an escort will take you to breakfast. You will remain in the building, no one is to leave the building without an escort.



Taken from "Der Landser- Das bemannte Geschoß" W.Deparade, May 2003

PILOT TRAINING

The morning comes around fast and you are soon having breakfast. An hour later a staff car arrives from the RLM ( Reich Air Ministry), two officers step out of the car and enter the large building hidden under the trees. You are also invited into the building and you all enter together.

You pass some stone containers or cistern tanks and someone asks what they are for. The escorting officers tell you that they are T and C stoff, the explosive fuels for the rockets. They have to remain seperated until they are injected into the motor. The explosion when the two chemicals come together power the rocket motor. You walk with the group to another door and as an escorting officer opens the door he grins and says "Now, lets see the main star of the show". The door opens and you are in a 60 meter room with a 12 meter high celling.

In the middle of the room you see a small rocket, a spaceship in miniture is your first thought. A cross between a missile and a small aircraft. An oversized cigar with short wings to keep in on course during the vertical take-off. In the nose is a battery of rockets which will be fired at bomber formations like a shot-gun effect. Between the battery of rockets and the pilots cockpit is an armoured steel plate to protect the pilot from the blast. The instrument panel is basic.

The instruments in the cockpit panel contain horizontal and vertical indicators, another indicator shows the rocket thrust. There is no compass or speed indicator, no hight indicator dial, these instruments would not be needed for the few minutes that the Natter would be in the air. The instrument panel was head hight, the pilot would be lying on his back during take-off.

The Pilots seat was padded and there was extra padding to protect the pilots neck during the accelerated take-off. Behind the pilots seat was a second armoured steel plate, behind which were the T and C stoff containers. Behind the T and C stoff lay the rocket motor. The escorting officer allowed you a few minutes to look over the Natter, then went on to explain how it would work in theory.

The officer went on to explain that the pilot would have to climb the 10 meter ladder to reach the cockpit. Whilst the ladder was being removed, the pilot would have to strap on his seatbelt. The pilot would then press the start button, thus starting the main rocket, a second later he would then have to switch on to full power, the Natter being held in position on the launching pad by a brake or wedge. A member of the ground crew would then light the four Schmidding powder booster rockets by hand, using a burning wick on the end of a long bamboo cane. When all motors were burning for at least 10 seconds, the brake would then be released. It would then leave the launch pad at a speed of 800km, the Natter would be controlled from the ground for the first 1.5km, control would then be handed over to the pilot. The four Schmidding powder rockets would burn out after the first 1km.

Once the Natter was under the control of the pilot, he would then search out the biggest concentration of Allied bombers and head towards them. Pressing the firing button would then set of several functions at the same time. A plexi glass cover over the missles would fall away, the missiles would fire altogether in a staggered salvo towards the on coming bombers, a bit like a shotgun effect. 24 or 34 missiles depending on the Natter version in use. At the same time the rocket motor would detach and return to earth on a paracute, to be retrieved and used again. The pilot would also return using an automatic parachute. The rest of the aircraft parts were made of cheap wood construction and would be lost after the flight.



A Natter in the USA after the war, note the USA built car in the background

THE FIRST UN-MANNED TEST FLIGHT

Next day there would be the first test flight which would be carried out using a leather test puppet. The observers gathered in the ring of trenches around the test site, it was thought there would be tree branches and stones thrown up by the blast, due to the site being in a wooded area. The Natter was launched within a short time and flew for a few seconds when there were several explosions, which due to the smoke and cloud could not be seen. The observers could only wait until the sky cleared. Then everyone saw the two parachutes decending towards the ground, one with the motor and the other carrying the leather test puppet. A truck went out to retrieve them, which took a good two hours.

Heinrich Himmler was then informed by telephone, he in turn informed Hitler, Goering and Goebbels, a meeting was held and on 28th January 1945, the Natter project was given the go ahead regardless of the cost! No one now thinks of sleep, all are excited and wish to push the project forward.

Our group of pilots are now joined by a ninth man, a pilot without rank because he had lost his rank due to going absent without leave in a drunk state, after taking part in dangerous missions on the Eastern Front in an Arado bomber unit, where he had taken part in neck breaking dive bombing attacks on Russian formations. He had also flown several captured Allied aircraft, including a B-17. He was 23 year old and he would be flying the first manned Natter rocket aircraft.

An SS sergeant arrived at the building and showed the assembled pilots a film of the Natter missiles being test fired. You and the other pilots saw how the missiles, 50mm R-4-M Rockets eat through a 70cm thick metal plate and cut through trees like a hot knife through butter. Any aircraft hit by these missiles would not stand a chance!

Other developments went ahead, the RAD built ten concrete masts, 10 meters high, on the Autobahn between Stuttgart and Ulm, these were the planned launching sites once the Natter became operational. The pilots finish their training, although they had yet to take part in a manned flight. The Bachem-Werke produced a further 30 Natter aircraft to supplement the 6 already built.

The pilots all agreed that the Natter was perfect and that they would risk the manned test flights.



A manned launch, was this pilot Lothar Sieber?

THE MANNED FLIGHT

If you had been one of the project pilots you would have been sitting in the barrack building that day. It was forbidden for you to leave the building, the project leaders did not want you to witness the test launch. If it went wrong then it may destroy your will to carry on with the test flights. As the eight pilots sat on their beds, each deep in thought, the ninth man was driven away in a kubelwagen to the launch site.

The launch should have been carried out at 9 a.m. but due to bad weather it had been set back three hours. At 12 a.m. the pilot climbed into the cockpit at the top of the 10 meter high ladder. He had been promised that on his return the charges against him would be forgotten and he would be reinstated as an officer in the Luftwaffe, in fact they promised to promote him to Oberleutnant, but that was not in his thoughts at this moment.

A last chat with the engineers, a last chance to go over some last questions. The plexi glass canopy was put in place, he looked down at the ground crew and waved one last time, now he was alone as he lay on his back in the seat, ready for the vertical take-off.

A last look at the instrument panel and he started the main rocket motor, the motor was allowed to warm up, then he pushed the control to max. A ground engineer armed with a long bamboo cane with a burning wick, lit the four booster rockets, a few seconds later the brake was released and the Natter took off at 800km.

It shot up some 50 meters and then changed direction, going forward 90 degrees and then exploded. Through the cloud and smoke nothing could be seen, when it cleared no parachute in sight, but everyone was silent, everyone knew that it had gone wrong. Later parts of the pilots body were found in a crater 7km away. He had been in the air for just 55 seconds.

His remains were buried three days later and he was promoted Oberleutnant posthumously. 



Photographed in the UK in 1946, the swastikas on the wings were added by the British

WHY HAD THE NATTER CRASHED?

There are two versions, I will explain both.

It should be noted however that the project leaders did not wish to tell Hitler that there was any technical failure, or the project would be killed. They had to look for some human failure, if the project were to continue.

1/ The explanation given by W.Deparade in "Das bemannte Geschoß" (Der Landser 2003).

The neck padding on the pilots seat had been too hard, the pilots neck broke with the G-force on take off, killing him instantly. This problem had not shown up on the leather test puppet. The dead pilots hand on the controls caused the aircraft to change direction 90 degrees, this in turn caused the fuel tanks to come loose causing an explosion. This version of events states that there was no radio fitted and that there was no contact with the pilot after take off. This version of events states also that no body parts were found. In "Das bemannte Geschoß" it also says that there was a further three manned tests.

2/ The explanation given in Wikipedia and several Luftwaffe websites.

This version states that he may have taken manual control over the Natter on take-off because he did not trust the idea of a ground controlled take off. Be that as it may, he seems to have lost control of the aircraft and radioed for permission to bail out, this had been denied. This version of events also say that pictures released of the Natter were altered to hide the fact that a radio was in fact fitted. The cause of the crash was a technical fault, one of the booster rockets failed to ignite causing the aircraft to go off balance. In deed the report states that a booster rocket was found at the crash site. This version suggests that there was in fact only one manned test flight, not four as stated in the first report. It also says that parts of the body were indeed found, his left arm and left leg, which would suggest that they were outside of the aircraft when it crashed, which would mean he was in the process of bailing out.

Which version is the real one? Perhaps a mixture of both. I cannot imagine that a radio would be fitted, why? For the few minutes the aircraft would be in the air and then the radio would be lost in the disposable part of the aircraft. I do believe however that he did try to bail out and that body parts were found, he does have a grave near the crash site.


Click on image to download Discovery Channel: Short film of the Bachem Ba349 Natter, interesting to note that Discovery Channel claims seven manned test flights. Interesting clip showing the cockpit instrument panel

THE CONCLUSION OF THE NATTER PROJECT

For a whole month engineers worked night and day perfecting the faults in the Natter. The beginning of April the project was moved to Kirchheim unter Teck and the pilots and ground crew were quartered in local farm houses. A Luftwaffe Nachrichten unit was stationed 10 kilometers away, contact with this unit was maintained using motorcycles. The start ramps were in position on 18th April 1945 between Kirchheim unter Teck and Aichelberg on the autobahn.

19th April 1945 the pilots are still waiting for the next batch of Natter aircraft, 22 had been used in tests. They were still waiting for fuel too! The messenger with the motorcycle returns "The Nachrichten unit has moved to an unknown area to the south, there are burning tanks to the north of Göppingen!" The American tanks were only 15 kilometers away!

Each man of "Sonderkommando Natter" were issued with a panzerfaust and two handgrenades. 10 minutes later they were under air attack and it was time to move out. The group headed south and reached Waldsee two days later. 10 Natter aircraft at Waldsee were covered in petrol and set on fire. Six boxes of high explosive Natter rocket missiles were buried deep in the ground near the Bachem-Werke, they are probably still there today. The Sonderkommando made its way further south to the Alps. Four Natter aircraft fell intact into enemy hands, three to the Americans and one to the Russians.



Photo taken from the website of Rolf Stabroth

Clicking on the image above will take you there direct

This is a German language website where you can see some fantastic out of this world pictures of a scale model rocket powered Natter in flight, highly recommended.



 
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