Andrew James John Mackenzie
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Reichenberg Suicide Squadrons of the Luftwaffe

During the Second World War, the Pacific Theatre was characterised by particularly drastic military strategies. The Japanese Airforce, in the last stages of war, deployed the first suicide squadrons against its enemies, inflicting terror and wholescale destruction upon US Navy vessels and personnel. Perhaps what is little known is that there were similar strategies planned in the German Luftwaffe. As the Allies were making greater progress in the Western Theatre, the German High Command devised ever more innovative and ultimately ever more horrific terror tactics. Coined Reichenberg IV, there began the production of manned and more targeted V-1 weapons. The Selbstopfermänner: suicide squadrons.

In the closing phases of World War Two, more extreme and more outlandish methods of warfare were devised. V-1 weapons had been in service since 13 June 1944 and were directed against cities across the south-east of England including London. With escalating counter-measures (including interceptor fights, barrage balloons and flak gunners) and increasing inaccuracy and fueling problems, the V-1 campaign had only a limited effect on British morale and a negligible effect on the British war effort, despite the many thousands of civilian casualties. Accordingly, SS-Obersturmbahnführer Otto Skorzeny developed the idea of a piloted V-1 flying armament capable of a precision attack. The Luftwaffe produced and equipped a 900 kilogram bomb for the Fieseler Fi 103R aircraft, codenamed the Reichenberg IV. Pilots would direct their arsenals against key targets and jettison, parachuting out of the aircraft and leaving the aircraft to free fall into the selected target.

In reality, however, pilots would have been unable to escape their aircraft. Essentially, the pilots subscribed to a suicide mission, pledging that "I hereby voluntarily apply to be enrolled in the suicide group as part of a human glider-bomb. I fully understand that employment in this capacity will entail my own death (Gilbert: 2004, p. 504)."Leonidas Squadron, Special unit KG 200 was established to accommodate these suicide squadrons, with 100 volunteer Selbstopfermänner and approximately 70 operational aircraft. In reality, however, pressures of production and pilot recruitment coupled with the speed of Allied military advances prevented the operation of Reichenberg IV suicide squadrons. None were used in aggression against the Allied forces.

Martin Gilbert, The Second World War (2004). Copyright © 2004 Martin Gilbert / Henry Holt and Co.
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