JU-390 "New York Bomber"
|Actual JU-390 being readied for flight|
Adolf Hitler badly wanted to bomb New York City. The Luftwaffe also had a prime target further in on the US mainland: the major automotive plants in Michigan busy churning out four-motor bombers that were wreaking havoc on the German homeland. The generic name for development in this area was the "Amerika Bomber." Both targets were within theoretical reach by war's end, but territorial losses and industrial damage prevented these ambitious objectives from ever being realized.
The Luftwaffe had halted development of strategic bombers in the 1930s - "The Fuhrer does not ask me how big my bombers are, only how many I have," Hermann Goering said rather fatuously - a decision which the Germans regretted as the years passed and the Allies demonstrated the devastating power of four-engine bombers. Some projects eventually were attempted with some success, but it was tough to tool up and develop a capable strategic bomber when the Allies were bombing any factories they could identify as manufacturing advanced aircraft. One project that did manage to get beyond the mere design stage, though, was the "New York Bomber."
The German designers took the basic Junkers 290 design and expanded it for the Ju 390, lengthening the wings to fit a total of six engines and lengthening the fuselage to increase the payload. It would have carried a crew of ten in full operational mode, with two 13mm machine guns in a gondola, two on the beam as in Allied bombers, and a 20 mm cannon in the tail. The plan was to prepare it for maritime reconnaissance, bombing, and transport. The engines were BMW 801D radial piston engines of 1730 horsepower apiece. These would have provided a top speed of 314 mph, better than Allied bombers and comparable to most fighters of the day, with a range of 6,030 miles and a service ceiling of 19700 feet.
|JU-390 in flight|
Two prototypes were built and flown. The first V-1 flight was October 20, 1943, with the second V-2 prototype also flying that month. Tests continued through mid-1944 before all Luftwaffe bomber projects were shelved to concentrate on fighter protection.
|The slightly longer V.2|
The Ju 390 V2 was assembled in Bernburg and was first flown in October 1943. It is said to have been configured for the maritime reconnaissance role. Its fuselage had been extended by 2.5 m (8.2 ft), and it was equipped with FuG 200 Hohentwiel ASV (Air to Surface Vessel) radar and defensive armament consisting of five 20 mm MG 151/20 cannon. Aviation expert William Green notes different armament, specifically four 20 mm MG 151/20s and three 13 mm (.51 in) MG 131 machine guns. The Germans knew all about effect vs. ineffective bomber defensive armament by that stage of the war. The aircraft never left the prototype stage, never saw any kind of action, and were destroyed in Germany by May 1945.
|A Ju 390 with "Amerika" markings|
There is an unproven legend that one of these V.2 flew for 32 hours and came within sight of New York City that spring before turning back to its field in France - possibly within the aircraft's capability, but highly unlikely and fiercely denied by some experts. Other, more exotic legends such as that one actually flew over Detroit and New York are pretty much impossible, however not completely...
Now it is an urban legend time. These are always fun to go through because they smack of science fiction, but they have virtually no known substance. Simply repeating these wild tales makes you sound like a nut who thinks that there were Luftwaffe bases in Antarctica, but I'll take that challenge: I've been called worse. Make no mistake, the rumors of fantastic flights are true; the evidence of such flights actually taking place, non-existent. However, given the capabilities of the Ju 390, the legends are persistent, and once any old German veteran claims to have flown to Timbuktu in some fanciful aircraft, the stories never die. They could serve (and probably have at some point) as the starting points for alternative history novels. Also, with German records being destroyed during the war, the way is open for all sorts of tales that the Ju 390 actually flew in 1942, that there was a fleet of them (or at least seven), and so forth and so on. So, every claim must be treated with extreme skepticism and judged by the standard that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.
The first public mention of an alleged flight of a Ju 390 to North America appeared in a letter published in the November 1955 issue of the British magazine RAF Flying Review, of which aviation writer William Green was an editor. The magazine's editors naturally were skeptical of the claim, which asserted that two Ju 390s had made the flight and that it included a one-hour stay over New York City. This would have required a base at least in the Azores or something of the sort, or some sort of advanced refueling capability. It also would have entailed burning up a whole lot of precious fuel that the Third Reich would have had other, vastly better uses for than circling aimlessly over an enemy city (somehow without being seen) to prove some kind of a point.
In March 1956, the Review published a letter from an RAF officer which claimed to clarify the account. According to Green's reporting, in June 1944, Allied Intelligence had learned from prisoner interrogations that a Ju 390 had been delivered in January 1944 to FAGr 5 (Fernaufklärungsgruppe 5), based at Mont-de-Marsan near Bordeaux, and that it had completed a 32-hour reconnaissance flight to within 19 km (12 mi) of the U.S. coast, north of New York City. The trial flight was made to New York carrying a dummy bomb to prove it could be done. This came from interrogation of a captured German serviceman, photo intelligence Unteroffizer Wolf Baumgart, who claimed to have seen the pictures of the Manhattan skyline. This was duly recorded in Ninth Air Force A.P.W.I.U. Report 44/1945, so it has that means the story never will die. Those who have looked into this have decided that it was "disinformation," i.e., a string of lies for some hidden purpose. A senior (unnamed) Luftwaffe figure is thrown into the mix as having separately corroborated the story.
This fanciful claim by the prisoner was rejected just after the war by British authorities. Aviation historian Dr. Kenneth P. Werrell states that the story of the flight originated in two British intelligence reports from August 1944 which were based in part on the interrogation of prisoners, and titled General Report on Aircraft Engines and Aircraft Equipment; the reports claimed that the Ju 390 had taken photographs of the coast of Long Island. These photos have never been discovered and we can assume that they in fact never existed. However, it also has not been explained why British Intelligence came up with this story in the first place, and what interrogations it was based upon. If some German prisoner made the claim, who was it? No names have been adduced. If the report is true, that information (the interrogation report) may be sitting in some storage facility.
These wild tales go on and on. Independently, there is a probably spurious report that there was a third Ju 390 constructed which either crashed, was intentionally destroyed or simply disappeared. The wreckage was reported in 1944 of a large six motor aircraft with very dark green and black paint in the sea off Owls Head Lighthouse, Maine, but nothing conclusive is known about that supposed incident. There is no reason to think that it was a Ju 390 aside from the basic configuration. This was about 17-19th September 1944. Three bodies were supposedly found in the area on the 28th of September, 1944 and taken by the U.S. Coast Guard to Rockland Maine Station. One of the witnesses stated that he saw one body in German Luftwaffe Signal Corps Uniform, (grey-blue with yellow/brown collar tabs), which suggests the rank of Hauptmann (Luftwaffe Captain).
The FBI, US Secret Service, Military Intelligence etc reportedly told locals at the time that whatever they had witnessed was a submarine. Anyone who persisted was told that they had better forget what they saw. The witnesses insisted it was no submarine but rather an airplane, but followed instructions. Local Mr. Ruben P. Whittemore claims to have had relatives who eye-witnessed this event. The supposed proof ends there, though there again are unproven, fanciful tales of unexplained Luftwaffe wreckage having been found in that vicinity years later.
A Ju 390, which may or may not have been the V2, is claimed by some to have made a test flight from Germany to Cape Town in early 1944. The sole source for the story is a speculative article which appeared in the Daily Telegraph in 1969 titled Lone Bomber Raid on New York Planned by Hitler, in which one Hans Pancherz reportedly claimed to have made the flight in question. What the Germans would have wanted to find or do in Cape Town - a British Commonwealth nation actively fighting the Reich - is a little difficult to fathom.
Regarding the supposed Ju 390 flight to Manchuria, the story goes that there were problems with planning this that went beyond the merely technical. The best route and the one initially (supposedly) considered, would have been from northern Norway east across the frozen Arctic Ocean, with a final jog south over Siberia. The Japanese, however, were practically hysterical at the thought of a German overflight of Russia to Manchuria provoking Russia to declare war on Japan. The second route would have been a southern one, slightly more direct but infinitely more dangerous, across the Caucasus from forwarding German bases in the Balkans or Ukraine. The plane used would have to have been a V. 2, whose range was enough to make the trip. In-flight refueling tests were made with the Ju 390, and it was at least theoretically possible to get there. The story usually is that it was a Ju 290 that was enlarged to make trips to Manchuria under Lufthansa (German civilian airliner) markings.
If the war had continued, the JU-390 would have had major strategic implications. The impact would not have been the bomb damage caused by the craft but from the predictable Allied response. The Americans were notorious for taking extreme security precautions against proven threats. For instance, they instituted extensive convoys and other defensive measures in response to the short-lived U-Boat operation in 1942 off the American coast (Operation Paukenschlag). These remained in place long after the German operation was discontinued in September 1942.
|Messerschmitt Me 328 Prototype fighter on a Ju 390.|
According to Thomas Powers's book "Heisenberg's War," the Germans had a concrete plan to take the war to American shores if the war had lasted longer. Another plane, the Me 328, was designed with this specific role in mind. Plans for this tactic are said to have been hatched during a meeting between Generalfieldmarschall Erhard Milch and Generalmajor Freiherr von Gablenz at Berlin on 12 May 1942. After release, the Me 328 pilot would release a bomb over Manhattan and then ditch at sea near a U-boat. The Me 328 thus was intended as a parasite bomber for the larger Amerika Bomber program. The small one-way plane was to be carried by or towed behind either a Me 264 or a Ju 390 to attack New York. It would be a one-way trip for the Me 328, using all of its fuel in a one-way dash to New York City or Washington, D.C., with the host Ju 390 not having to get too close to shore in order to avoid detection. Why this could not have been done much easier with a U-boat carrying a small plane (the Japanese had lots of these aircraft carrier submarines, one of which they used to bomb Oregon - twice - and the French had one or two as well) is a bit unclear.
|Some Very Large Planes photographed at the German advanced projects airfield at Peenemunde.|
The Axis was full of such grandiose plans late in the war. The Japanese had a somewhat similar plan to knock out the Panama canal using planes launched from submarines. However, they ran out of time and resources.
|Ju 390 v.2.|
If even a few of the "New York Bombers" had bombed continental US targets, the US would undoubtedly have instituted costly air patrols, perhaps putting up observation and barrage balloons off the coast, and instituted naval surveillance for air attacks. This could even have involved diversion of an aircraft carrier or two from the Pacific, picket lines of destroyers, and the like. Such an additional defense programme would have cost the US greatly and diverted resources from other pressing tasks (just as Operation Paukenschlag forced costly coastal convoys and coastal air patrols on the US for the last few years of the war). It never happened, though, with the JU-390 project basically abandoned once the Allies captured the French airfields in August 1944. The planes based there were flown to Germany and destroyed.
An idle speculation is that Hitler (or others) could have flown this bomber somewhere far away as the Reich collapsed. It had the range to go almost anywhere, especially if modified for that express purpose. However, where would he have gone? What would he have done when he got there? There were no safe havens, nowhere to run.