Document created: 1 March 06
Published: Air & Space Power Journal - Spring 2006

American Raiders: The Race to Capture the Luftwaffe’s Secrets by Wolfgang W. E. Samuel. University Press of Mississippi (, 3825 Ridgewood Road, Jackson, Mississippi 39211-6492, 2004, 384 pages, $35.00 (hardcover).

At the end of World War II, the US Army Air Forces (AAF) knew it had to exploit superior German technology in order to maintain its leadership in the postwar world order. Gen Hap Arnold in Washington, DC, and Gen Carl Spaatz at US Strategic Air Forces in Europe had the foresight to set up units to obtain captured materiel and, in the case of Luftwaffe aircraft, actually obtain flyable examples to return to Wright Field in Ohio so that the AAF could fly, test, copy, and employ these weapons. The Luftwaffe had developed a variety of weapons that the AAF did not have: jet fighters, gliding bombs, TV-guided bombs, rockets, surface-to-air missile systems, and ballistic missiles. General Arnold realized that not only weapons but also development and testing undertaken by the Luftwaffe and its weapons designers would allow the AAF to move into the next phase of modern warfare.

A good portion of this interesting and very readable account is devoted to the AAF’s attempts to obtain Me 262 fighters at Lechfeld in Bavaria and an Arado Ar 234 jet bomber from Denmark, then located in the British zone. At Lechfeld the AAF found Messerschmitt pilots, designers, and mechanics. Damaged and surrendered Me 262s were repaired and then flown by 10 P-47 pilots chosen upon deactivation of the 1st Tactical Air Force in 1945. These 10 fighters, along with other important Luftwaffe aircraft and parts, were shipped on a British carrier to the United States and then transported to Wright Field. Generals Arnold and Spaatz were well served by the officers they chose to pick up this valuable materiel and fly it to America.

Considering the number of teams involved—from the Army, AAF, Navy, and State Department, not to mention Gen Leslie Groves’s (Manhattan Division) team, which sought to find Nazi uranium scientists—it is a wonder that anything got accomplished. Samuel paints a very detailed picture of the conditions inside Germany’s occupation zones in the summer and fall of 1945. Furthermore, from intercepted decryptions, the United States knew about the collaboration between Germany and Japan but not the exact extent. The AAF feared that the Japanese air force would soon have the same weaponry that the Luftwaffe had employed in the closing days of World War II. Although Japan never used what it had obtained, AAF intelligence teams located documents and Luftwaffe staff who knew what had taken place and shipped them to Washington, DC, for analysis and questioning.

Of equal interest to the AAF was the large Ju 290 transport aircraft, three damaged examples of which had been captured in North Africa. The ability to load cargo via a small ramp had fascinated American aircraft designers and test pilots for some time. The crew of another of these aircraft surrendered to the Americans in Germany on 8 May 1945; with the help of the German pilot and mechanics, AAF personnel flew it back to Wright Field.

The book concludes with a lengthy account of how the AAF, despite problems from the US defense establishment, obtained the services of German scientists who helped develop some of America’s most important Cold War weapons, including the B-47. Drawing on the experiences of its intelligence teams, the AAF established technical-intelligence offices in embassies and began to train officers to exploit such intelligence on the battlefield so that combat forces could take advantage of enemy weaknesses. In an afterword, Samuel reveals what happened to all of the AAF officers and German personnel mentioned in the book, making for a useful and satisfying conclusion.

The book does have a few shortcomings. Maps would be useful, as would good pictures of all of the German aircraft types acquired by the AAF; the ones offered here are small and dark. American Raiders is the first book to talk in detail about postconflict technical intelligence, especially as a lead-in to Operation Paperclip (the transfer of Nazi scientists to Germany under the nose of the State Department). A useful contribution to airpower history, it also clearly discusses the incorporation of German technology into weapons developments following the Korean War.

Capt Gilles Van Nederveen, USAF, Retired
Fairfax, Virginia


The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.

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