Tests with the Arado Ar 234 prototypes dem- onstrated that straight wings retained their good aerodynamic characteristics only at speeds below 800 kph. Near-supersonic flights demanded a completely new approach to wing geometry. On 9th December 1942 two Arado company engineers, Rüdiger Kosin and Walter Lehmann, patented a crescent shaped wing, which had its sweep and chord decreasing from root to tip. In mid-1944 Kosin decided to use his wing design on the Arado 234.
Five variants of the wing were built, designated Versuchsflügel I through V, each differing in its sweep. Nevertheless, none of them was used in practice. The most advanced work on this project was carried out at Dedelsdorf airbase, where the Ar 234 V16 was being re-built as part of this research. The aircraft was destroyed in mid-April 1945 by advancing British troops as they captured the airfield.
Another role to be fulfilled by the Ar 234 was that of high-altitude interceptor. A design was prepared accordingly based on the four-engined Ar 234C-3 equipped with a pressurized cockpit. Its technical description was finalised on 21st March 1944 and delivered to the RLM on 20th May 1944. The aircraft was to be armed with two forward-facing 20 mm MG 151/20 cannons and two additional cannons of the same type mounted on either side of the front lower part of the cockpit. Its primary role would have been to engage Allied escort fighters with height advantage to force them to jettison their auxiliary fuel tanks and lead them away from their charges. This would allow the conventional fighters, Bf 109s and Fw 190s, supported by jet powered Me 262s, to take on the four-engined bombers. Another role for the Ar 234C high-altitude interceptors was to hunt down Mosquito bomber and reconaissance machines, which hitherto had been flying their solo missions with a fair degree of impunity. However, at this late stage of the war the project remained on the drawing boards only. The same fate was shared by the ‘destroyer’ variant, which was to be powered by two Heinkel HeS 11 A-1 with a thrust rating of 1300 kg (12,84 kN) at sea level. The Heinkel powerplants, however, were under-developed and highly unreliable.
In the summer of 1944, the RLM had become interested in converting the Ar 234 into a jet night fighter. In September 1944, Obstlt. Siegfried Knemeyer, in cooperation with Arado engineer Walter Blume, set to work. The new variant was to feature the Ar 234B-2 airframe. The rear fuselage, which in the reconnaissance variant housed the photographic cameras, was rebuilt to make room for a second crewmember who would operate the FuG 218 Neptun airborne radar. The armament comprised two 20 mm MG 151/20 cannons mounted in a ventral pod called a Magirusbombe. The night fighter version was christened ‘Nachtigall’ (“Nightingale”).
The prototype, a rebuilt series-production Ar 234B-2 (WNr. 140 145, SM+FE), was first flown in November 1944. After a few flights the aircraft was damaged during landing and it was not repaired until early December 1944. On 10th December 1944 the machine performed a 25-minute flight in order to check out the radar equipment. Shortly afterwards another Ar 234B-2 (WNr. 140 146) was converted into a night fighter. However, on the night of 17th December 1944, a series-production Ar 234B-2 (WNr. 140 150, SM+FJ) was flown by Oblt. Kurt Welter. At that time he was the CO of 10./NJG 11, a night fighter unit equipped with Messerschmitt 262 jets. Welter’s opinion of the Ar 234 as a night fighter was unfavourable. The extensively glazed cockpit refracted light, occasionally blinding the pilot. The lack of frontal armor endangered the pilot’s life, both in the case of return fire from a bomber and when a pilot had to fly through after-explosion debris. Despite Welter’s criticism, tests of the night fighter version continued. On the night of 13th February 1945, the first prototype (WNr. 140 145) crashed and both members of the crew, Hptm. Josef Bisping (pilot) and Hptm. Albert Vogl (radio operator), were killed. On 1st March 1945 another ace from the Luftwaffe’s night fighter arm, Oblt. Kurt Bonow, arrived at Oranienburg. He flew a dozen or so sorties in WNr. 140 146, attempting to intercept the elusive British Mosquitos. At the same time, Kommando Bonow was formed with three aircraft of the Ar 234B-2/N variant on strength. Nevertheless, by the end of the war the unit had failed to score a single victory.
During operations it became apparent that the FuG 218 antennas produced considerable drag, which decreased the aircraft’s speed. Furthermore, the resultant increased fuel consumption limited the combat worthiness of the Ar 234B-2/N.
In addition to the improvised night fighter adaptations of the Ar 234B-2, there were plans to produce a dedicated night fighter based on the four-engined Ar 234C-3. Two prototypes, the V23 and V27 were to be converted to represent Ar 234C-3/Ns fitted with a radar operator station and a ventral pod with twin 30 mm Mk 108 cannons. However, neither of the two prototypes was completed.
In early 1945 it was decided to start development work on a heavy night fighter version based on the Ar 234C airframe, designated the Ar 234P. This version was to feature an armoured cockpit of a new type, with both crewmembers sitting side by side. In the P-1 variant the engines were to be moved 400 mm further aft in order to balance the weight of the new cockpit. The onboard armament comprised a ventral pod with twin 30 mm Mk 108 cannons and a single 20 mm MG 151/20 cannon installed in the lower port side of the cockpit. The aircraft’s planned top speed was 862 kph and its range 950 km. However, the Ar 234P was another project that never left the designers’ drawing boards.
Yet another variant designed by Arado was the ‘D’ version, powered by two Heinkel-Hirth HeS 011 engines, each of 1300 kg (12,84 kN) thrust. The engines were never developed into series production units, and this fact effectively curtailed the entire project. Attempts were made to adapt the Arado Ar 234 to carry Fi 103 missiles (better known as V-1s). Arado engineers devised two methods of mounting a V-1. The first, code-named Huckepack (‘on the back’), involved fitting the flying bomb to the aircraft’s fuselage by means of special hydraulic extension arms on top of the fuselage or, alternatively, beneath it. In the other method, known as Deichselschlepp, the bomb was towed on a rigid shaft behind the Ar 234C’s tail. This method was actually tested. On 25th February 1945, the Ar 234 S8 took off with an experimental model of the flying bomb on tow. This version of the bomb was designed by DFS and designated SG 5041 V1. The missile was not powered; it featured a ventral pod with tow hook, wheels and streamlined fairings. This set was tested four times in flight. Eventually, the towed missile was wrecked.
Ar 234 in service with reconnaissance units
Allied preparations for the imminent invasion of France were gathering pace in the autumn of 1943, and the German High Command took a keen interest. By that time the Germans’ intelligence network in Great Britain was practically non-existent, and the Allies’ absolute air superiority denied the Luftwaffe opportunities to carry out aerial reconnaissance. It was inevitable therefore that news of the jet-powered Ar234 would catch the attention of the aerial reconnaissance specialists.
On 23rd May 1944, Hptm. Cornelius Noell of Versuchsverband Oberkommando der Luftwaffe (experimental unit of the Luftwaffe High Command), stationed at Oranienburg near Berlin, suggested using Ar 234 prototypes to carry out reconnaissance flights over England. Three days later the idea was approved and the Arado company was ordered to mount sets of two Rb 50/30 photographic cameras in both the Ar 234 V5 and V7.
On 1st June 1944 the modified Ar 234 V5 was delivered to 1./Versuchsverband OKL, where it received the fuselage code T9+LH. The Ar 234 V7 reached the same unit on 29th June 1944 and was coded T9+MH. They were to be flown by Oblt. Horst Götz and Lt. Erich Sommer; both men had trained on the Ar 234 V4 (DP+AY) in June 1944.
After a few test flights the two machines were dispatched to an operational airbase at Juvincourt near Reims, France. On 25th July 1944 both jets took off from Oranienburg, bound for Juvincourt, but only the Ar 234 V7, with Lt. Sommer at the controls, reached the new base. Oblt. Götz was forced to turn back shortly after take-off when one of the engines in his Ar 234 V5 cut out. Repairing the faulty engine took time; the Ar 234 V5 was dismantled and delivered to Juvincourt on board a transport Junkers Ju 352 (coded T9+AB). Meanwhile, immediately upon its arrival the Ar 234 V7 was placed on a trailer and moved to a hangar. For the next few days this example of the most advanced reconnaissance aircraft in the world stood useless pending delivery of its take-off trolley by rail from Oranienburg. Finally, on 2nd August 1944, all the necessary equipment was assembled with the arrival of the other aircraft and personnel to Juvincourt. The unit had a complement of two pilots, 18 ground crew members, two signals men, two Arado technicians and two jet engine specialists from the Junkers company. On the same day, the Ar 234 V7’s first operational sortie took place, as described in the opening paragraphs of this book. During the next three weeks the two aircraft completed 13 missions each. Lt. Erich Sommer recalled his first flights in Ar 234 in the following words:
I was sat all by myself in this magnificent piece of machinery and admired its skinning. Not a wrinkle in sight! Through the extensive glazing of the cockpit I could see everything under my feet. This was an ideal aircraft for reconnaissance missions.
On take-off the trolley remained on the ground. When the cords connected to the brake drums (which were located on either side of the trolley) stopped it, I slipped into the air. At the same instant, the trolley’s braking parachute deployed. These were multi-use trolleys, each manufactured for a specific aircraft, and they had to endure many take-offs. Flying the Arado Ar 234 was a real pleasure; the version fitted with skids could be piloted effortlessly, with two fingers. Landing the machine, however, was a different matter. One had to have knowledge of the ground surface to make a smooth landing. According to the pilot’s instructions, the aircraft was able to land anywhere, but in my opinion that was a very silly idea.
As soon as the aircraft landed, the ground crew would hoist it up by means of jacks; thereafter, they would slide a trolley beneath the machine and tie it down using the bomb racks. Then a tractor would come up and tow the aircraft away. All that time I was sitting helplessly in the cockpit. What a relief it was when we finally received an aircraft with a regular landing gear.
The small unit, comprising only two aircraft, was unofficially called Kommando Götz. Thanks to the intensive operation of both aircraft the Germans were finally presented with a full review of the positions held by the Allied forces and the directions of their advance. Nevertheless, by that time even the most detailed intelligence data was of little value when placed against the Allies’ overwhelming numerical and logistical superiority. Another problem was that analyzing the photographic images took a long time. As the Allies swiftly advanced in the latter part of August 1944, the thousands of pictures taken by Kommando Götz were only of archival value to the Wehrmacht High Command, documenting stage by stage the already lost battle. Nonetheless, the aircraft’s superb performance, and the skill of the pilots, was clearly demonstrated by the fact that, despite regular reconnaissance missions being flown over enemy-held territory, the unit’s operations went completely undetected by the Allies.
On 28th August 1944, when American tanks approached Reims, Götz was ordered to evacuate his unit to Chičvres. Most ironically, German Flak gunners at Chičvres airfield achieved what the Allies had failed to do over Normandy. As Oblt. Götz began to execute a landing circuit over the airfield in the Arado Ar 234 V5, German anti-aircraft batteries opened up on him. Confronted with Allied dominance in the air at this stage of the war, German gunners took no chances, firing madly at any approaching aircraft. One well-aimed projectile tore into the fuselage beneath the Arado’s cockpit, damaging some electrical components; more importantly, however, the hydraulic unit, which operated the flaps and landing skids, was also disabled.
Götz immediately broke off and headed for his home base at Oranienburg. There, he could be sure that his shot-up machine would be expertly repaired. The aircraft reached Oranienburg without problems and, despite its high landing speed of 300 kph, smoothly bellied in. It seemed that Götz had managed to save his precious machine from anything worse than minor damage. However, at that very same moment, one of the new pilots from the base began to take off for a training flight in a Focke-Wulf 190. Unaware of the Arado, he unfortunately rammed into its tail at full throttle as it lay helplessly in the middle of the landing ground. The Fw 190’s propeller chewed into the Ar 234’s empennage, smashing it to pieces. Oblt. Götz suffered minor injuries from splinters of aircraft’s glazing. Worse still, the Fw 190 pilot was killed in the accident. The Ar 234 V5 was damaged beyond repair and written off.
In the meantime, Oblt. Sommer made it to Chievres; but only two days later he was forced to retreat to Volkel in Holland as the Chievres base was overrun by American tanks. On 3rd September 1944, Volkel was bombed by over 100 Lancasters of the RAF. The airfield premises suffered badly but, by a stroke of luck, the hangar where the Ar 234 V7 was parked was not hit. The densely cratered airfield was practically put out of action. Repair teams hastily filled in some bomb craters and the following day Oblt. Sommer managed to get off the ground, heading for Rheine, which was to be the new base for the Luftwaffe’s reconnaissance jets.
The experience gained during operations over Normandy was later summed up in a report by Oblt. Götz, who stated:
As ordered, 1./Versuchsverband d. OKL created an Ar 234 operational unit, which fielded two machines: The V5 and V7, both equipped with Jumo 004B-1 engines and landing skids (…)
After a short familiarization period directed by the Arado company the unit was transferred to Juvincourt airfield near Reims on 20th July 1944 (…).
The aircraft were towed to their taking-off position at the end of the runway, which took approximately 20 minutes. After take-off, the trolley and rocket boosters that had been jettisoned on parachutes were picked up by a truck (…) The jacks, hoists and take-off trolley were then loaded onto a truck to await the aircraft’s return. Putting the aircraft back on the take-off trolley after landing took about 30 minutes. Overall, it took about an hour (from the moment of landing) to place the aircraft back in its dispersal pen (…).
The return of both aircraft to the Reich marked the end of operational service for the prototypes equipped with a take-off trolley and landing skids. By that time, the first Ar 234B-2s, fitted with a tricycle undercarriage, were ready for action. Their slightly wider fuselage, housing the landing gear struts and wheels, reduced the aircraft’s maximum speed by about 30 kph. However, the aircraft still held a considerable speed advantage over any Allied fighter that might attempt to intercept it. Since the changes to the airframe had also led to a reduction in the aircraft’s range, it was now standard practice to rig up two 300-liter drop tanks under the engine nacelles. On the other hand, the wheeled undercarriage offered greater manoeuvrability and made the awkward and time-consuming take-off and landing procedures redundant.