During World War II, hundreds of American bombers and fighters were shot down over Germany and German-occupied territory. What did the Germans do with all the wrecks?
The Berge Bataillonen under Luftwaffe control were salvage units. They were kept very busy.
Most planes were so damaged, they were good only for reusable scrap. The wrecks were trucked to a train station and on to a salvage yard. Engines, tires, fuel, and parachutes were all saved for use in German planes. A Junkers bomber was equipped with the salvaged main landing gear assemblies for B-24s.
|The American stars have been replaced with the German insignia six months after Wolf Hound was captured.|
The real prizes for the Germans were the planes that suffered little or no damage. As early as December, 1942, a B-17 Flying Fortress dropped out of formation in a mission to Paris. Wolf Hound had sustained major damaged, and the pilot became disoriented in bad weather. A German fighter intercepted the bomber over the Netherlands. The bomber crew lowered their landing gear in surrender and were guided to an airfield.
The Germans made repairs on Wolf Hound and flew it to the Experimental Center at Rechlin. German engineers studied every system on the plane for three months. Luftwaffe pilots studied it to find its weaknesses to find ways to attack it, and develop new tactics. By September, the Luftwaffe has thousands of pages of technical information to use in the design of their own bombers and to improve their air-to-air tactics.
Some planes were captured when the crews thought they were in neutral countries―Spain, Sweden, or Switzerland. Or they landed carefully to protect seriously wounded crewmates. These planes were sent to Captured Item Depots. Unique equipment was studied.
American crewmen reported seeing unknown B-17s. These were captured bombers used by the Germans for clandestine missions, such as dropping agents behind enemy lines or attacking B-17 formations.
The first P-47 came into German hands when the pilot, out of fuel, thought he was landing at a southern England airfield. He landed near Caen, France, and was captured. This plane was of great interest to the German pilots. It proved to be faster in dives than they expected. Again, it was used for training in tactics to use against the American P-47s.
|A German officer inspects a B-17 in fairly good condition. Allied fighters destroyed it before it could be repaired.|
The Germans were also pleased to get a P-51. The pilot had made an emergency landing and managed to destroy all valuable equipment before capture. The Luftwaffe attempted to repair it, but was hampered by the lack of spare parts. Other P-51s came into their possession, and these, too, were studied to develop tactics.
The Italians captured a P-38 Lightning that landed at one of their airfields by mistake. They studied it, then used it to attack a B-17 formation. One bomber was shot down. Allied fighters were ordered to stay clear of the formation after that, and the captured plane failed to shoot down any more. It was eventually grounded because the bad Italian fuel damaged its engines.
A B-24 Liberator was captured after it landed near the Swiss board. The Germans created a propaganda film about the crew “surrendering.” They then used it to shadow RAF formations.
Some planes were recaptured by the Allies at the end of the war. Others simply disappeared.
From Strangers in a Strange Land by Hans Heiri Stapfer.