When the men of the 225th AAA Searchlight Battalion arrived at the former Luftwaffe airdrome at Unter Biberg (Advance Landing Ground R-85) just south of Munich on May 7, 1945, the war was all but over. Less than 24 hours later, they along with the rest of the world would be celebrating V-E Day (Victory in Europe). As members of an occupying army, and before passes to nearby Munich were issued, they had little to do but explore the large airfield, which was to become their home until the end of the year (nick-named "Camp Rattle" for a reason no one seems to recall). In late April and early May, German pilots from scores of Luftwaffe squadrons began flying into Unter Biberg to surrender to the Allies. As a result, most of the field was covered with aircraft of all types, most out of fuel or stripped for parts. Many had flown a long way from overrun air bases in the East. There were mostly Fw190s, Me109s, and Me110s, but there were a few rarities, including several Me262 jet-powered fighter-bombers hidden in the nearby woods. It didn't take the more curious Skylighters long to discover a strange-looking airplane that to many of them must have seemed right out of a Saturday afternoon serial. It had two propellers, one in the nose of the plane and the other in the tail! Surely, Jules Verne or Edgar Rice Burroughs had thought that one up! Could the front and the back halves of the craft separate and fly off in different directions, one pushing and one pulling?
The plane turned out to be a Dornier Do335 "Pfeil" ("Arrow"). History itself has proven that no one could accuse WW II German aircraft designers of conservatism and, while the majority of combat aircraft were of traditional design, there were several which pushed the leading edge of aeronautics. One of the most famous of the bizarre shapes which took to the air over Germany was the Dornier Do335, a brave attempt to provide the Luftwaffe with a potent fighter-bomber, night-fighter, and reconnaissance platform. Claudius Dornier of Dornier-Werke GmbH had long been interested in the field of centerline thrust, whereby two engines shared the same thrust line (one pulling and one pushing). Benefits of this system were obvious over a conventional twin layout, with only the same frontal area as a single-engined aircraft, the wing left clean of engine nacelles and attendant structures, and no asymmetric pull if one engine cut out. The unconventional tandem engine layout was patented by Claudius Dornier in 1937, and after seven years of development, the first test models began appearing at Luftwaffe bases at about the same time the young men of the 225th were hunkering down in their tents at USAAF airstrips just behind the West Wall, hoping for a end to hostilities by Christmas.
The following article describes what happened when an air-worthy Do335 visited Unter Biberg in Summer 1945. Obviously, the writer was not aware that another, unserviceable Do335 had been abandoned there a few weeks earlier and had become a favorite subject for snapshots that the resident GIs to send home to their friends and family (other 225th men had discovered a Luftwaffe photo lab in the basement of one of the barracks buildings and had set up an assembly line to produce souvenir photos for the entire battalion; by the time they left for home, most men had a set of the same photos from the units exploits in the ETO, including several of the strange push-pull plane). The 225th's Do335 (actually Do335A-0 VG+IK/105 240105 assigned to Erkdo 335) had been captured by U.S. units at Lechfeld, Germany in April 1945 and appears in
HOW TO DRAW A CROWD 1945: ETO STYLE
by Merle Olmsted, via C. E. Bud Anderson.com
Start with a US airbase in recently defeated Germany, add one strange, exotic airplane, and stir well. The crowd, from hangars, shops, offices, clubs, and ramps, will appear like magic.
At least they did when a Dornier 335 "Arrow" made its debut arrival at Neubiberg Air Base in the summer of 1945. In the first photo, the crowd is relatively small, even though the aircraft had made a low, high-speed pass across the base, the very noisy engines getting many people's attention.
In Photo 2, taken two or three minutes later, the forward engine is still running and the crowd has increased dramatically. This writer is somewhere in the group (recognizable by his mechanic's overalls), and about to begin taking his own photos of the very odd machine. The two arrival photos were taken by Tech. Sgt. Arthur Schalick, who was on duty in the control tower at the time. Photo 3 shows the German pilot leaving the aircraft; he is the figure in white coveralls at the trailing edge of the wing. The identity of the other man who apparently had flown in with him is unknown. Photo 4 was taken an hour or so later by this writer. An A-20 with 357th Fighter Group red and yellow checked cowls has arrived and parked behind it. Most of the crowd has dispersed, except for a few diehards seated on the grass.
Neubiberg Air Base, Station R-85, just outside Munich, had been occupied since about July by the 357th Fighter Group, late of the Mighty Eighth Air Force. It had come here to die, and did so a year or so later when it lost its identity in a series of redesignations.
The Do335 had been found, probably at the Dornier factory at Oberpfaffenhofen, and was flown to R-85 for temporary safe-keeping. It still bore German markings, but U.S. insignia was applied before its departure. A single-seat Do335, which arrived later, was in bare metal finish with U.S. markings.
We did not know it at the time but postwar publications tell us that about 30 "Arrows" were built, the first flying in the fall of 1943. Apparently, only about five were two-seaters, the one here being the second production aircraft, No. 112, seen on the upper fin. William Green (The Warplanes of the Third Reich) illustrates this type with the author's photo, as seen here.
The airplane was flown several times, and the story goes that it was flown once by Capt. Robert D. Brown in a dogfight with 357th ace Major Don Bochkay. The big Dornier was very fast, but not as agile as the P-51.
The identity of the German pilot is unknown, but another 357th pilot, Lt. Mike Becraft, got to know him quite well and remembers his name as Hofmann (Hoffmann?). There was a Ludwig "Willi" Hofmann involved in ferrying Me-262s to a French port [Webmaster's Note: the port was Cherbourg; as part of Operation Seahorse, two of the surviving single-seat Do335s were put aboard the U.S. aircraft carrier Reaper there and shipped back to the United States for detailed evaluation by the U.S. Navy] earlier in the Summer of 1945, and this may well be the same man. Becraft traded pilot's wings with him and still has the Luftwaffe badge. Dornier 335A-12, No. 112, was transferred to the RAF, departing Neubiberg on 7 September 1945 with a Squadron Leader McCarthy ferrying the aircraft to Britain. It met its end on 18 January 1946 when a fire developed in the rear engine, which destroyed the elevator controls. Group Captain Alan Hards was killed in the ensuing crash.
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