Operation Elbe (iii)

(Elbe river)

'Elbe' (iii) was a German largely unrealised plan for the use of special Rammkommando units to undertake ramming interceptions of Allied bombers streams over Germany (March/8 May 1945).

The Sonderkommando 'Elbe' was the Luftwaffe special task force assigned to bring down Allied bombers by the use of fighters to ram Allied bomber in mid-air, and was designed to persuade the British and US strategic air forces to reduce the scope of, if not actually to halt, their attacks on German targets for fear of catastrophic losses.

Germany had a ready supply of aircraft even in these last two months of the war, but was totally hampered in the air war by its lack of adequately trained pilots and fuel.

Despite the poor chances of survival in any ramming mission, the unit was not a 'suicide unit' in the precise meaning of the term, unlike Japanese kamikaze units, inasmuch as the pilots were expected to either attempt to bail out just before colliding with their Allied target aircraft, or attempt to bail out after colliding.

Most of the aircraft prepared for the use of the Sonderkommando 'Elbe' were Messerschmitt Bf 109G fighters stripped of their armour as well as most of their armament and military equipment. The aircraft were each armed with just one 0.51 in (13-mm) MG 131 machine gun with 60 rounds, which was more a psychological crutch rather than a militarily significant armament.

For their mission, Sonderkommando 'Elbe' pilots would typically seek to impact one of three sensitive areas on the bomber target: the tail unit with its relatively delicate control surfaces, the engine nacelles which were connected to the highly volatile fuel system, or the cockpit.

The only known Sonderkommando 'Elbe' mission took place on 7 April 1945. Some 180 Bf 109 fighters took off, and while these attacked just 15 Allied bombers were attacked, eight of these were destroyed.

Luftwaffe records suggest that an overall total of between 22 and 24 US aircraft fell victim to the Sonderkommando 'Elbe'.