Operation Bienenstock (i)

beehive

This was a German programme to use ramming attacks by fighters against Allied bomber streams over Germany (1945).

The thinking behind the plan reflected the desperate need felt by Germany to inflict a major defeat on the Allied air forces that were destroying Germany’s industrial and fuel-making capabilities, as well as its transportation systems, and at the same time the very poor training of pilots who were therefore committed to combat without the skills to engage effectively in air-to-air combat with Allied aircrews who were altogether more capable as a result of their far greater operational experience.

The brainchild of Oberst Hajo Hermann, the originator of the 'Wilde Sau' night-fighting concept, the Rammjäger (ramming fighter) concept was entrusted to the Sonderkommando 'Elbe', which was the specially established Luftwaffe task force allocated the task of downing Allied bombers by the use of fighters, flown by volunteer pilots, to ram the tail or control surfaces of the bombers with the propellers of their aircraft and then, it was hoped, bailing out. The object was to inflict the level of losses which would persuade the British and Americans to halt or at least reduce their air campaign against Germany.

While the Luftwaffe had large numbers of aircraft even at this stage of the war, it lacked well-trained pilots and adequate quantities of fuel. Despite the poor prospects of survival in such a mission, the unit was not a true 'suicide unit' inasmuch that the pilots were expected either to attempt to bail out just before colliding with the target aeroplane or attempt to bail out after colliding. This made the Sonderkommando 'Elbe' quite unlike the Japanese kamikaze units which attacked Allied ships in the Pacific theatre.

The fighter usually employed by the Sonderkommando 'Elbe' was the Messerschmitt Bf 109G in a form stripped of armour and all armament but one 0.51-in (13-mm) MG 131 machine gun with just 60 rounds in the upper part of the engine cowling. To achieve their task, the pilots of the Sonderkommando 'Elbe' would generally aim to ram one of three sensitive areas on the bombers: the tail unit with its relatively delicate control surfaces, the engine nacelles which were connected to the highly flammable fuel system, or the flight deck.

The last-ditch nature of the whole undertaking is reflected in the fact that the only major mission flown by the Sonderkommando 'Elbe' took place on 7 April 1945 when 134 Bf 109 fighters of a Sonderkommando 'Elbe' sub-unit, the Gruppe 'Raubvögel' (9., 10. and 11. Staffeln) took off from Sachau and assembled over Magdeburg to attack a stream of Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bombers heading for Berlin. The attack targeted 15 bombers, of which eight were destroyed. In additional to the eight fighters lost in making successful attacks, the Germans lost 78 more fighters shot down by the bombers and their escorting fighters, so only some 48 of the German fighters returned.

It is known that the Sonderkommando 'Elbe', which had some 300 pilots, most of them aged 18 to 20 years, undertook some smaller missions and downed 13 aircraft, though some German records claim as many as 24 successful ramming attacks.