Classic Books' Me-163 Rocket Interceptor


Stephen Ransom and Hans-Hermann Cammann


Classic Publications, 2021




Scott Van Aken

Notes: Classic #8/9. Hardbound, 406 pages. ISBN

This is a revised edition that replaces the previous two volume set produced in 2002. None of the previous material has been deleted and there is additional information provided. It is also less expensive to the buyer to get the entire story this way.

The book starts with a history of tail-less aircraft and after covering early pioneers such as Etrich, Weiss, Dunne,  and Espenlaube, concentrates on the work of Alexander Lippisch. I must confess that after reading the Horton Brothers book reviewed many years back, I had a definite dislike for Lippisch. This book does not change my personal opinion of this man, but gives more in-depth information on his designs and his machinations as he tried to get his designs to be accepted by a very conservative military establishment.

The next section is on rocket propelled aircraft in general and there is the only photo I have ever seen of the rocket powered He-176. This entire chapter is particularly fascinating if you have an interest in early rocket motors. This is followed by a chapter on Lippisch's own views of events of the time as was written in 1942. As you might expect, they differ from other historical accounts!

Section 4 is on the development and production of the Me-163. I was particularly surprised by Messerschmitt's real lack of desire to see this design come to fruition. They literally stalled the project by a considerable amount of time. In fact, the real construction of the plane was turned over to Klemm and Junkers, with very few actually having been built by Messerschmitt. The complete opposite attitude was shown by Walther who designed the rocket motor and was always on hand to assist with the development of the motor. It was also enlightening to learn that the plane was not the pilot killer it was supposed to be nor was it as hazardous to operate as I had thought.

Next is a section which is basically the operational diary of Erprobungskommando 16, who was tasked with operational testing and development of the Me-163. It is literally a day to day account of the unit from April 1942 until October 1944. Some may find this a bit dry, but I was fascinated by the lack of direction provided this unit by the higher command of the RLM and the lack of support that was given it by Messerschmitt.

Chapter 6 is on JG 400 from March to the end of the war. These folks were basically operating many of the surprising number of prototype and preproduction aircraft that were built. Their operational debut was less than inspiring and the unit was shuffled around the country quite  a bit. Throughout the book each aircraft is identified either by serial number, or code numbers to help readers track the history of specific aircraft.

We then go into the operations of EKdo 16, the 163 training unit. Also included in this are the various glider types and training required to fly the 163. You see, the Luftwaffe didn't want regular aircraft pilots for the 163, but wanted those who could land the plane on the first attempt as there was no way to do a 'go around' if something wasn't right. This meant trained glider pilots. Specially developed gliders that would give high landing speeds were developed just to give the proper sensation of landing the high speed Me-163.

Also included in the book are sections on the two seat Me-163S, then the Me-263/Ju-248, a later development of the aircraft and the Japanese J8M1 Shusui. In addition, there is a section on captured aircraf and on surviving aircraft and their locations. The usual fine appendices are provided that include unit organization, production summaries, flight log of production aircraft, a full list of personnel who flew the plane, a section on biographies of selected individuals, and a listing of all known flights of the large number of prototype aircraft.  All of this makes for a most fascinating read.

Frankly, I seriously doubt if there will be anything around in quite a while to top this one. If you have any interest in the type, you could not find a better reference than this. Most highly recommended to enthusiasts and modelers alike.

April 2021

Thanks to Specialty Press for the review copy. You can get yours today at this link.

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