The only rocket propelled interceptor ever to be used operationally, the Me163 Komet was deployed by the Luftwaffe in a desperate attempt to combat the Allied strategic bombing offensive during the closing stages of the Second World War.
The Me163 stemmed from a research programme conducted during the late 1930s and flight trials of the first powered prototypes began at the Peenemunde West rocket test centre in the latter months of 1941. Although the Me163’s Walther rocket motor endowed the aircraft with a maximum speed far in excess of any other fighter of the period, the volatile reactants employed often caused the aircraft to explode.
The sole Luftwaffe unit to become operational with the Me163 was Jagdgeschwader (Fighter Wing) 400. Tasked with protecting the vital Leuna oil refineries near Leipzig, Me163s from this unit first engaged Eighth US Army Air Force B17 Flying Fortresses on 16 August 1944. By the end of the war nine Allied aircraft had been shot down by JG 400; however, severe fuel shortages and technical problems hampered operations and the unit suffered heavy casualties. Limited by its short range, lack of endurance and unreliability, the Me163 represented little more than a futile, if ingenious and courageous, attempt to wrest control of the air over Germany from the Allies.