The Mistel was a composite weapon, made up of an un-manned bomber backed with explosives, pilots from a single seat fighter mounted above the bomber. The idea was for the pilot of the smaller aircraft to guide the bomber to its target, aim it and then detach his aircraft, leaving the unmanned bomber to hit the target while he flew back to safety. It developed from a pre-war idea for using the upper aircraft to improve the performance of the lower one (especially useful for getting heavily laden transport aircraft into the air), and a similar idea in the Soviet Union involving a glider as the lower aircraft.
After a brief look at these earlier plans, we move on to the development of the German military variant, which was first suggested in 1941 but didn't enter full development until 1943. This is an interesting tale of technological progress, as the idea went from untested concept to potentially usable weapon. We then move onto a detailed study of the limited combat use of the Mistel. This started with a series of largely unsuccessful operations on the Western Front, in which the Mistel combination proved to be very vulnerable to Allied fighters. Next came a plan for an attack on the Royal Navy base at Scapa Flow, which would have taken place early in 1945, by which time it would have had little or no effect on the war. Finally the Mistel did get some use on the Eastern Front. A grandiose plan to attack power stations around Moscow had to be abandoned after the airfields needed to launch it were lost to the Russians, but the weapon did at least see some use, attacking bridges as the Russians advanced into eastern Germany.
One has to come to the conclusion that the Mistel programme was a major waste of effort. By the time the first attacks were carried out in July 1944 the war had turned irrevocably against the Germans. The few attempts to use them in the West were near total failures. On the eastern front the weapon was used with limited success against bridges, but none of the plans for a major operation resulted in anything (including one to attack the Royal Navy at Scapa Flow, hardly an urgent target by early 1945, and a second to hit the power stations around Moscow that might have been useful three or four years earlier). This is very much a theme of mid to late war German weapons programmes, which diverted attention away from urgent immediate requires and on to long term or pointless projects such as the Jagdtiger, the massive Maus tank or the Mistel.
This is a fascinating look at a weapon that I was familiar with, but didn't know much about in detail, supported as ever with Osprey by an excellent selection of wartime photos and good colour illustrations.
An Inauspicious Debut
Battles at the Oder and the Vistula
Author: Robert Forsyth