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Forerunner of the Drone: The Luftwaffe's Mistel and Vati- Sohan( Daddy- Son) Weapon System

A senior air warrior, graduate from the Staff College and a PG in military studies. He is qualified to write on war and allied matters.

captured Mistel being examined by US aircrew.

captured Mistel being examined by US aircrew.

Background

Vati and Sohan stand for Daddy and Son, a composite bomber put into use by the Luftwaffe during the Second World War. This was also known as the Mistel. Though the concept was revolutionary, yet its effect on the war was minimal, mainly as this weapon system was introduced very late in the war, when the Luftwaffe had lost control of the air to the Allies. In addition, too few Mistel’s appeared in the combat zone.

The Mistel weapon system is one of the strangest concepts to achieve operational status in Germany. The original idea was formulated in 1941 by Siegfried Holzbauer. He was a Junkers test pilot. His idea was to use Ju-88 airframes packed with explosives and fly them near a target and crash them on the target.

The first test took place in July 1943. It was relatively successful and the project was given the code name Beethoven. It was used successfully against the French battleship Oran. Over 250 Mistel's with a number of combinations were built they proved too little and too late to alter the course of the war.




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The Weapon System


The new weapon system essentially consisted of a Ju- 88 bomber nose being replaced by a high-value explosive. Essentially only the airframe of the bomber was used. The Ju-88 was attached by struts to a fighter aircraft mostly the Messerschmitt 109, which then took off with the attached bomber loaded with high incendiary explosives. The fighter flew towards the intended target and then released the bomber which was guided to its target. The bomber would then strike the target and destroy it.

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How the Mistel worked

The Ju-88 had high explosives fitted in its nose. With the loaded weaponry it weighed almost 2 tonnes and the warhead could penetrate reinforced concrete to a depth of 7 meters. The Luftwaffe tried out some 250 Mistel weapon systems, but their effect on the theater of war was almost negligible. Mistel pilots later, after the war claimed that they had made many hits, but Allied war records do not substantiate their claims. There is a possibility that the Luftwaffe pilots in reality scored hits against the French battleship Courbet which was used as a decoy by the allies.

The Mistel was a revolutionary concept, but as the war was lost when the Mistel appeared, there was no time to perfect the weapon system.

Results

Theoretically, it looks like the weapon system would be a success but in practice, it failed to give the desired results. The first composite bomber flew in mid-1943 and the German top brass was suitably impressed with the program and it was given the go-ahead. But the weapon system never had extensive trials as every month the Germans were getting more and more on the back foot, especially after the defeat at Stalingrad in end of 1943. With defeat staring in the face the weapon system had to be inducted without perfecting or fine-tuning it.

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Further developments and use against the Red army

The Mistel was a revolutionary weapon system, but the Luftwaffe had no time to fine-tune the weapon system. Later towards the end of the war, this contraption was tried with the world’s first jet fighter the Messerschmitt Me 262. However, this project did not take off, and towards the end of the war, with the war lost, the Me 262 Mistel bomber was not used. Had the Me 262 appeared a year earlier, this weapon system may have produced better results, for the Me 262 was almost 200 mph faster than the best Allied or Russian fighter.

.The Mistels were used against the Soviet armies as they advanced across Eastern Europe. In operation "Iron Hammer "in late 1943 and early 1944, the Mistels were used to attack key Soviet facilities. But they had limited success and later were used to attack and destroy the bridges to stop the Red army’s advance. The Mistels were used against the bridgehead at Kustrin on 12 April 1945, but they could only delay the advance by 24 hours.

The Russians were surprised on seeing the composite bomber missile, but they took adequate measures. Another reason for the lack of success was the few numbers available for missions. A concerted attack with a large fleet may have some effect. However, the Russians were able to brush aside this challenge of the Luftwaffe.


Werner Baumbach (1916-53)

Werner Baumbach (1916-53)

Conclusion


The Mistel, though a promising weapon system can be classified as a failure. There are 2 reasons for it. Firstly the number of Mistels used was too few and secondly, the weapon system was never fully perfected. The Mistel had only one notable success when they struck the HMS Nith on 24 June 1945 and the ship had to be towed back for repairs with a loss of 9 killed and 26 injured. Just for the record the last major Mistel 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 the Russian advance, but it was not decisive.

After the war, Werner Baumbach was arrested and served 3 years as a POW. He migrated to Argentina where he died in an air crash while testing a Lancaster bomber for the AAF. The Mistel is now just a footnote in the history of World War II.

Further reading

The life and death off the Luftewaffe byWerner Baumbach

Mistel: German Composite Aircraft and Operations 1942-45 by Robert Forsyth

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