In 1944, Captain Diether Lukesch test flew and helped develop the Arado Ar 234, the
world's first jet bomber and reconnaissance aircraft. In that same year, he made history's
first jet bomber attacks, in an attempt to stop the Allies' advance in Western Europe.
Lukesch was fascinated with aviation as a young boy in the 1920's, when aircraft flying
the first regular route between Munich and Vienna would pass directly over his family home
in Austria. Gazing up at the planes, Lukesch swore he would become a pilot. By 1937, at
the age of 19, Lukesch had earned his glider permit. The next year, he joined the
Luftwaffe. In early 1940, as lieutenant, Lukesch was assigned to the famous
Kampfgeschwader (bomber wing) KG 76.
In 1940-41, flying the Dornier Do 17Z and the Junkers
JU 88, Lukesch attacked targets throughout the United Kingdom--from the southern coast of
England, to Scotland and Northern Ireland. By mid-1941, Lukesch was flying on the Eastern
Front. At times using maps captured from the Soviets, he flew to the very gates of Moscow.
He devastated a Soviet headquarters, and twice made it back to his unit after being shot
down behind enemy lines. For overall skill and bravery, Lukesch was awarded the
Ritterkreuz (Knights Cross). As the war progressed, Lukesch was promoted to oberleutnant,
As a squadron commander, he flew missions all along the Eastern
Front--from Leningrad in the north to Stalingrad in the south. Lukesch dive-bombed
fortifications at Sevastopol, provided close air support for the army's drive to
Stalingrad, attacked oil refineries and storage sites along the Volga and in the Caucasus,
destroyed armament factories in Gorky, and attacked troop transports along the Siberian
Railway. Lukesch flew two low-level night attacks against aircraft factories in Rybinsk on
the Volga. After another attack at Rybinsk, his target, a petroleum facility, burned for
days. Lukesch is credited with sinking 14 tankers and 2 cargo ships on the Volga, and even
shooting down 6 aircraft, with a bomber! In the Mediterranean Theater, he attacked harbors
from Libya to Algeria.
In May 1944, when Lukesch was stationed in Italy, his commander
told him and other officers they would return to Germany and transition to a new
bomber--one with no propellers. Suppressing smiles, the men said, "The old mans gone crazy
once again!" Soon, however, Lukesch was test flying the experimental jet "wonderbird," the
Arado Ar 234. In October 1944, as his Arado training proceeded, Lukesch was awarded
Eichenlaub (Oak Leaves) to his Ritterkreuz. On the day before Christmas 1944, Lukesch led
nine Ar 234 B-2's in the first jet bombing missions ever, supporting the German
counterattack out of the Ardennes.
The target was a factory complex at Liege, Belgium.
Returning home, Lukesch came up behind a patrolling British Spitfire. The
Spitfire pilot had no way of knowing that the Ar 234 carried, as yet, no defensive
armament--only Lukesch and his pistol--and the Spitfire veered off. In the days
that followed, Lukesch and the Arado pilots attacked Allied troops, rail yards, and other
positions. On New Year's Day 1945, Lukesch led history's first jet, night-bombing sortie,
attacking targets at Brussels and Liege. He concluded the war with a total of 436 bombing
and long-range reconnaissance missions. After the war, Lukesch worked at first for US
Armed Forces in Austria. He then became a commercial airline pilot, flying for 18 years
first with KLM, and later Lufthansa.
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A week earlier, on Christmas Eve Day 1944, Captain Diether Lukesch had led the
first bombing missions of the world's first jet bomber, the Arado Ar 234,
against Allied targets at Liege, Belgium. Now several missions later, on New
Year's Eve Day, Lukesch took off with 10 Arados for an attack on US troops
near Bastogne. Lukesch and the other Arados had just reached their planned
altitude, 20,000 feet, when they met an armada of Allied bombers and fighters
coming the opposite direction. It was too late and too risky to turn aside.
Lukesch and his fellow pilots were flying straight through the middle of the
Allied formation! The Arados went on to hit their targets at Bastogne, they
survived an attack by a wave of Mustangs that followed and, on this fortunate
occasion, all returned home with no more than slight damage from gunfire.