Hitlerjugend: An In-Depth History: The He-162 Volksjäger and the Hitlerjugend
by Arvo L. Vercamer

The origins of the development of the Heinkel He 162 "Volksjäger" can be traced back to 1943. This was a time when Britain's Royal Air Force and the USAAF were gaining control of the skies over Germany. German economic, industrial and military centers were being bombed on a near daily basis and the Luftwaffe was increasingly less effective to offer effective resistance.

It was clear to all that the Reichsluftministerium (RLM) was no longer in a position to command and control the construction and supply of new aircraft for the war effort. As a result, Armaments Minister Alber Speer was given full authority over all aspects of military production requirement. Speer introduced a number of radical changes to the German economy. As a part of those changes, in late 1943, Speer introduced the "Jäger-Programm". This was a consolidated effort to produce Germany's next generation of fighters and bombers, including the "Volksjäger" aircraft, which were to be built from non-strategic materials.

As each day brought Germany closer to defeat, Hitler still had hopes of winning the war - he believed that his aces-up-his-sleeves were his technically advanced "Wunderwaffen" (wonder weapons). The Heinkel He 162 "Volksjäger" counted as one of those, late-war, wonder weapons.

On 08 September 1944, the technical department of the Reichsluftministerium (RLM) ordered Germany's aircraft design bureaus to develop a single engine, jet interceptor fighter. The Arado Airplane Company entered the bidding effort with its Arado Ar E.580 fighter, Blohm und Voss submitted its designs for the Blohm und Voss BV P.210 fighter, and the Junkers Company entered its plans for the Ju EF 123/124. The winning bidder however, was Heinkel, which submitted its plans for the He 162. Oberst Knemeyer of the RLM made the final approval to Heinkel on 29 September 1944.

Of interest is that the He 162 was in fact based on an earlier Heinkel design for the P.1073 jet fighter project. Heinkel essentially modified the basic P.1073 design to create the He 162. To enhance security measures, the He 162 was code named "Salamander" after early October, 1944. It is from this that the airplane received its nickname of He 162 "Salamander".

The He 162 was officially designated as the "People's Fighters" (Volksjäger) by the Luftwaffe, which, when completed, was to be flown by the Hitlerjugend. This aircraft has a rather unique history in the annals of the Second World War. From its initial conception to its final design to its construction in numerous underground factories to its actual deployment against the RAF and USAAF - less than 90 days transpired. Albert Speer had much to do with the project since he was after all looking for an inexpensive way to produce jet fighters. The He 162 also has another worlds first to its credit - it was the world's first operational single jet engine, interceptor fighter.

On 25 September 1944, Adolf Hitler called for the creation of the Volkssturm. Reichs Air Marshal Hermann Göring, who strongly desired to outshine everyone else again, wanted an equivalent of the German Army's "Volkssturm" for his Luftwaffe. The just authorized He 162 program was the answer to this problem. Arthur Axmann, leader of the Hitlerjugend, assured Göring that there were enough Hitlerjugend (boys and girls!) available in Germany to be trained as pilots IF there were jets available. Göring in turn assured Axmann that Armaments Minister Albert Speer could deliver the needed jets as he was already working on such a program. Fritz Sauckel in turn assured Speer that the needed labor force would be available for additional "Volksjäger" airplanes. This seemed to satisfy Göring, and the project was signed off on. Per an immediate order issued by Arthur Axmann, the entire class of 1944 HJ aviation candidates were ordered to commence to accelerate their glider training regimens and to begin to convert to jet aircraft training as quickly as possible. Göring was of the opinion that once one got the hand of gliding, becoming a jet fighter pilot should be an easy task - any HJ member should be up to that task. A training center for future HJ "Volksjäger" pilots was established at Trebbin; they practiced on engineless He 162S models (glider towed).

Due to the intense and severely damaging Allied aerial bombing efforts, Germany could no longer afford to use precious metals and develop high-tech jigs and tools for the manufacturing process of the He 162. It was therefore decided that the He 162 was for the most part to be constructed out of non-strategic materials (wood). A number of furniture factories in the Stuttgart area were prime contractors for these components. Germany's now standard BMW 003A jet engine was selected to be the main propulsion unit. Only a small modification was made to the engine. As the BMW 003A engine was designed to be used with conventionally designed German jet fighters and jet bombers, the position of the mounting brackets for the BMW 003A had to be relocated from the top of the engine (for wing mounting) to the bottom of the engine, so that it could be mounted to the spine of the He 162 (BMW 003E). Semi-skilled workers, unskilled workers, prisoners of war and slave laborers comprised most of the construction work force of the He 162. Sauckel thus made good on his promise to provide the needed manpower.

The technical drawings were completed on 29 October 1944 in Vienna-Schwechat. The first evaluation/test He 162, Werke Nr. 200001 (coded VI+IA), flew on 06 December 1944. It was constructed at the Heinkel factory near Vienna/Schwechat. 69 days had passed since Heinkel won the contract - surely a record accomplishment by any standard.

Initially, the first few production line He 162's were armed with a MK 108 30mm cannon. But because Soviet forces captured Germany's only remaining plant manufacturing that weapon, the more available MG 151 20mm cannons were used instead. Production aircraft were assembled at Heinkel's production facilities, which included Rostock/Marienehe, Berlin/Oranienburg, subcontracting with the Junkers Werke in Aschersleben-Bernburg-Halberstadt-Leopoldshall-Schönebeck, a salt mine near Salzburg/Eger and a subterranean factory near Vienna/Hinterbrühl. It was originally intended to use the BMW 003E engine on the He 162's, but shortages of these engines at this stage of the war forced the design teams to seek out alternative power plants. At least one He 162 (M42) is known to have flown towards the end of March 1945 in Bad Gandersheim with two Argus As 014 thruster rockets; the same power plants used on the V-1.

Towards the end of January, 1945, the Luftwaffe authorized the newly established Erprobungskommando 162 to begin immediate combat and flight evaluations of the He 162 jet fighter. Fliegertechnische Schule 6, co-located at Neuenmarkt and Weidenberg (near Bayreuth), was tasked with training the needed ground crews and service personnel, as was the (Hitlerjugend) Segelfliegerschule in Trebbin. As a result of these flight evaluations and tests, a number of corrections and modifications were undertaken to the He 162's airframe. One of the modifications was the addition of the now familiar anhedral wingtips.

Although about 120 He 162's were eventually for immediate front line service, they were anything but easy airplanes to fly. Even experienced pilots had to struggle with the airplane on the ground and in the air. Because the engine was mounted on the back and towards the rear, the He 162 was prone to longitudinal rolling. No sudden movements were recommended, as the aircraft was very temperamental and somewhat un-aerodynamic. Interestingly, a few Luftwaffe pilots found the aircraft to have good flight characteristics.

A number of variants were foreseen, but only the A-1 and A-2 variants were built in larger quantities:
He 162 A-1 (w/BMW 003E-1 jet engine and anhedral wingtips)
He 162 A-2 (as A-1, only minor differences)
He 162 B-1 (w/two Argus As 014 pulse engines and anhedral wingtips
He 162 B-2 (w/single Argus As 044 pulse engine and anhedral wingtips)
He 162 C (w/single HeS 011 jet engine sweep-forward wings and "V" tail)
He 162 D (w/single HeS 011 jet engine anhedral wing and "V" tail)
He 162 S (as the A-1 version, except without an engine; HJ glider trainer)

In February of 1945, the first squadron of Jagdgeschwader 1 (I. "Volkssturm"/JG 1) began operational use of the He 162. Later, the second squadron of JG 1 (II/JG 1) also received a batch of operational He 162's. At that time, II/JG 1 was configured as follows:
Staff (Oberst (COL) Herbert Ihlfeld commanding)
I Gruppe (Major (MAJ) Werner Zober)
- 1. Staffel - Hauptmann (CPT) Heinz Künnecke
- 2. Staffel - Hauptmann (CPT) Wolfgang Ludewig
- 3. Stafflel - Oberleutnant (1LT) Emil Demuth
II Gruppe (Hauptmann (CPT) Rahe)
- 4. Staffel - Hauptmann (CPT) Fallowitsch
- 5. Staffel - Hauptmann (CPT) Bergholz
- 6. Stafflel - Oberleutnant (1LT) Zipprecht

While the records are not 100% authoritative, it appears that three individual Luftwaffe pilots did score "credible" kills while flying the He 162 A-1 in combat against the RAF and the USAAF. The first "kill" of I Gruppe/JG 1, is credited to Oberst (CPT) Herbert Ihlefeld's wingman, Sill, near Kirchheim-Treck in early February of 1945. On 21 April 1945, a number of He 162's, belonging to I Gruppe/JG 1, conducted operational missions against Allied ground forces in nothern Germany. At that time, I Gruppe/JG 1 operated out of Leck near the Danish-German border. On 26 April 1945, Unteroffizier Rechenbach, also of I Gruppe/JG1, was witnessed to have downed an Allied aircraft flying his He 162. On 04 May 1945, Leutnant (2LT) Rudolf Schmitt of I Gruppe/JG 1 allegedly shot down an RAF Typhoon near Rostock. Of important note is that official British RAF records do not substantiate this claim. While German Luftwaffe pilots did fly the He 162, and some even scored kills with it - no Hitlerjugend member ever flew the He 162 in combat.

1945 - Heinkel He 162S (Glider variant)
Illustration © Arvo L. Vercamer

1945 - Heinkel He 162A-1, Weisse 23
Illustration © Arvo L. Vercamer

1945 - Heinkel He 162A-1, Gelbe 4
Illustration © Arvo L. Vercamer