The Germans knew the bombers were coming, and they prepared even as the U.S. 457th Bomber Group first assembled in the early morning sunlight over faraway London. That March 18, 1945, raid on Berlin included more than 1,220 Allied bombers and scores of North American P-51 Mustang fighters contending with heavy German flak and tangling with fast-flying German Messerschmitt Me-262 jet fighters employing air-to-air rockets operationally for the first time.
It was the last great air battle of the European war, one that would be a final, deadly encounter for many American flyers and nearly so for Oberleutnant Gunther Wegmann, commander of Jagdgeschwader 7’s 9th Squadron of Me-262 jets. Wegmann led his squadron in a loose formation toward the incoming bombers. He and his two wingmen fired their R4M rockets into one tight formation of some 60 Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress bombers from a distance of 3,000 feet. The scores of rockets created devastation, with bits of aircraft, smoke, and flame erupting from the formation of bombers.