Fieseler Fi 103R Reichenberg – Desperate Times, Desperate Measures in 1944

Germany, not known for suicide attacks but facing desperate times and total defeat late in World War Two developed a similar concept to the Japanese Yokosuka MXY7 Ohka piloted Kamikaze anti-shipping rocket, in the form of the Argus pulse jet powered Fieseler Fi 103R Reichenberg. This was a piloted variant of the proven V-1 flying bomb / Fieseler Fi 103 aka the “Buzz Bomb” (the first of Hitler’s Vergeltungswaffe or “Vengeance Weapon”) and was intended to be guided into an Allied target by the pilot (why not make the V-1 more accurate and put some poor soul in the thing…).

Fieseler Fi 103R-IV Reichenberg
Fieseler Fi 103R-IV Reichenberg in the summer of 1945 outside the Continental hotel, Antwerp in Belgium

Developed by the manufacturer Gerhard Fieseler Werke (GFW – founded by World War One ace Gerhard Fieseler), the V-1 was an early form of cruise missile fitted with an 850 kg / 1,870 lb Amatol-39 high explosive warhead. They were first launched against London on June 13th, 1944 and 9,521 were then fired upon England, until the launch sites in northern France were overrun by the Allies in September/October 1944. A further 2,448 were fired at Allied invasion targets in Belgium from launch sites further in German held territory, until the last launch site was overrun in March 1945 and they were also air launched intermittently from Heinkel He-111 bombers until the end of the war.

A V-1 is moved by German personnel circa 1944/1945
A V-1 is moved by German personnel circa 1944/1945
A V-1 is presented on a launch rail at the Imperial War Museum Duxford in the UK - photo taken during my visit in 2012
A V-1 is presented on a launch rail at the Imperial War Museum Duxford in the UK – photo taken during my visit in 2012
Thousands of V-1 Flying Bombs (Fieseler Fi 103) were launched by Germany at England in 1944
Thousands of V-1 Flying Bombs (Fieseler Fi 103) were launched by Germany at England in 1944

In the summer of 1944 the Deutsche Forschungsanstalt für Segelflug (DFS – German Research Institute for Sailplane Flight) was given the task of adapting the V-1 to enable a cockpit (with an armoured glass windscreen) and install basic pilot flight controls (just a stick and rudder bar). Flight instruments within the cockpit were kept to the necessary minimum and consisted of a clock, speed indicator, altimeter, turn and bank indicator, gyrocompass and of course a switch to arm the warhead. Some space was gained by removing the V-1 autopilot and reducing the number of compressed-air cylinders from two to one, resulting in the Fieseler Fi 103R Reichenberg (curiously named after in a city in Czechoslovakia). It was envisaged they could be used against the Allied invasion force in the west and against Soviet targets in the east.

Fieseler Fi 103R Reichenberg - that's one cramped cockpit!
Fieseler Fi 103R Reichenberg – that’s one cramped cockpit!

The Fi 103R had a cruise speed of 650 km/h / 400 mph (much the same as the V-1), a top diving speed of 800 km/h / 500 mph and a range of 330 km / 205 miles (further than the V-1 which had a range of 250 km / 160 miles – I assume this was because the V-1 generally used up a certain quantity of fuel to launch from the ground ramp). The Luftwaffe Leonidas Squadron of Kampfgeschwader 200 (KG 200) was the special operations unit designated to operate the Fi 103R (KG 200 was generally tasked with special bombing missions, testing captured aircraft and new aircraft types along with other specialized missions). The Leonidas Squadron was named after the King of Sparta, Leonidas I who in 480BC is said to have stood before the Persian army at the Battle of Thermopylae with just 300 warriors who fought their enemy to the last man. Over 70 volunteer pilots stepped forward to fly the Reichenberg and although unlike the Japanese Ohka, the intention was for the pilot to bail out before impact, this essentially was going to be a suicide unit.

Testing the Argus pulse-jet engine on a Fieseler Fi 103R-IV
Testing the Argus pulse-jet engine on a Fieseler Fi 103R-IV

It was proposed that a Luftwaffe Heinkel He-111 bomber could carry and launch one or two Fi 103R close to the target site (as they had been used in this manner to launch V-1’s). Following launch the Fi 103R pilot would aim it at the target, release the canopy and bail out at the last possible moment (if lucky), parachuting to certain capture below. Can you imagine trying to get the canopy open and bail out at high-speed with a huge pulse jet engine air intake right behind your head? The pilot would have been lucky to survive getting past that engine and apparently it was estimated they only had a 1% of surviving the ordeal!

Luftwaffe Fieseler Fi 103R Reichenberg and one aboard a Heinkel He-111 bomber
Luftwaffe Fieseler Fi 103R Reichenberg and the way one would be carried aboard a Heinkel He-111 bomber
Hanna Reitsch German Test Pilot
Hanna Reitsch

Approximately 175 Fi 103R-IV’s (the standard jet powered variant) were manufactured by October 1944. There were also some unpowered glider variants and two-seat powered variants for training which were fitted with landing skids (variants: R-1 basic unpowered glider, R-II two-seat unpowered glider, R-III two-seat jet powered trainer and R-V a jet powered trainer for the He-162 jet).

There were numerous crashes during test flights and even famed test pilot Hanna Reitsch crashed them on a number of occasions. Several pilots died following test flights just trying to land the Fi 103R. Following a number of test flights Hanna Reitsch determined the Fi 103R had a very high stall speed and pilots trying to land at too low a speed was what primarily caused the accidents. The training program was changed immediately for pilots to increase their landing speed.

Fi 103R trainer variants Luftwaffe
Fi 103R trainer variants
Werner Baumbach - KG 200 Commander Luftwaffe
Werner Baumbach – KG 200 Commander

Despite pilots being trained and the Fi 103R being ready, KG 200 commander Werner Baumbach and superiors such as Albert Speer the Reich Minister of Armaments and War Production decided this was not the way of the German military. It was going to be such a pointless waste of life and resources that could be better used in defending the Reich in other ways.

Baumbach preferred to use the Mistel (“Mistletoe”) combination which was a fighter such as the Focke-Wulf 190 or Messerschmitt Bf-109 (control aircraft) attached above a larger drone (a converted bomber such as the Junkers Ju-88 which then became the Mistel) fitted with high explosives which could be released and guided to a target. Mistel’s were used with limited success against Allied targets following the Normandy Invasion and against bridges to slow the Soviet advance into Germany from the East in 1944 and 1945.

A Mistel made up of a Messerschmitt Bf-109 and Junkers Ju-88 Luftwaffe WW2
A Mistel made up of a Messerschmitt Bf-109 and Junkers Ju-88

The Reichenberg program was shelved in late 1944, they were never used in combat and after Hitler was convinced by Baumbach and Speer that the suicide missions were a waste, the “suicide squadron” was disbanded on March 15th, 1945. Sanity in an insane world of violence and destruction had prevailed!

A Fieseler Fi 103R Reichenberg without a warhead captured by British troops in 1945
A Fieseler Fi 103R Reichenberg without a warhead captured by British troops in 1945
Captured Fi 103R 1945
Captured Fi 103R 1945

Five surviving Fieseler Fi 103R Reichenberg examples are held in museums today in the UK, France, Canada and the United States. The Flying Heritage Collection at Paine Field in Washington state in the US, has a great and unique display of an Fi 103 V-1 and a Fi 103R Reichenberg side by side. This display gives you a great appreciation of the desperation in developing such a weapon as a manned missile and also the difficulty any poor pilot would have had getting out of the Fi 103R!

Fieseler Fi 103 V-1 Flying Bomb and Fieseler Fi 103R Reichenberg at the Flying Heritage Collection
Fieseler Fi 103 V-1 Flying Bomb and Fieseler Fi 103R Reichenberg at the Flying Heritage Collection during my visit in 2011 (one of many to this excellent museum and flying collection)
Fieseler Fi 103 V-1 Flying Bomb and Fieseler Fi 103R Reichenberg at the Flying Heritage Collection
Fieseler Fi 103 V-1 Flying Bomb and Fieseler Fi 103R Reichenberg at the Flying Heritage Collection
The manned missile - Fieseler Fi 103R Reichenberg at the Flying Heritage Collection
The manned missile – Fieseler Fi 103R Reichenberg at the Flying Heritage Collection
Fieseler Fi 103R Reichenberg at the Flying Heritage Collection
Fieseler Fi 103R Reichenberg at the Flying Heritage Collection
Fieseler Fi 103 V-1 Flying Bomb at the Flying Heritage Collection
Fieseler Fi 103 V-1 Flying Bomb at the Flying Heritage Collection

References:

Flight Journal

Flying Heritage Collection

Wehrmacht History

Wikipedia

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9 thoughts on “Fieseler Fi 103R Reichenberg – Desperate Times, Desperate Measures in 1944

  1. Yes, thank you. This was very insightful. I did not know they had created this aircraft. Do you know any other museums where they might still have a full-size version of the plane? Because I know in London, The Imperial War Museum and the RAF Museum have V-1 and V-2’s, but I don’t know about this different version of the V-1..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. From Wikipedia – Aircraft on display:
      Flying Heritage Collection, Everett, Washington
      Canadian War Museum, (under restoration 2009).
      Lashenden Air Warfare Museum, Headcorn, Kent
      La Coupole, Saint-Omer, France
      Stinson Air Field, San Antonio, Tx, USA

      Liked by 1 person

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