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Siegfried Knemeyer
Nickname Knall Max, Knall Kne, Star Gazer
Born (1909-04-05)5 April 1909
Died 11 April 1979(1979-04-11) (aged 70)
Place of birth Ellerbusch, Germany
Place of death Ohio
Allegiance  Nazi Germany (1939–1945)
 West Germany (1945–1947)
United States (1947–1979)
Service/branch Luftwaffe
 United States Air Force
Years of service 1939–1945, 1947–1979
Rank Oberst
Awards Iron Cross First and Second Class
German Cross in Gold
Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross
Department of Defense Distinguished Civilian Service Award
Other work Aircraft consultant

Siegfried Knemeyer (5 April 1909 – 11 April 1979) was a German aeronautical engineer and aviator. He invented an early flight computer, was the Head of Technical Development for the Reichsluftfahrtministerium during World War II, and invented numerous aviation technologies for the United States Air Force during the Cold War. In the words of his supervisor in the U.S. Air Force, Colonel John Martin, "Kne was a genius in the creation of new concepts in flight control. Many people are good in analysis of ideas after the ideas have been created and presented, but Kne was one of those rare people who could create good ideas, and without exception his ideas proved sound."[citation needed]

Early career[edit | edit source]

Knemeyer enrolled at the University of Göttingen in 1927 and studied physics. After one year he left to attend the Technische Universität Berlin, from which he graduated in 1933 with a dual major of theoretical experimental physics and aeronautical engineering. He was affiliated with the Academic Flying Group, with which he became noted as a stunt flyer. Thanks to these exploits the other students nicknamed him "Knall Max" (dynamic Max).

Shortly after graduating Knemeyer invented the Dreieckrechner, better known to contemporaries as “System Knemeyer”, a flight computer somewhat like the American-invented E6B "whiz wheel" device, that enabled pilots to plan their flight ahead of time and compute the wind triangle for correcting drift in real-time during a flight. “System Knemeyer” was the primary German flight computer for the next decade, through the end of World War II.[1]

In 1935 Knemeyer was a flight instructor for the Reich Air Ministry, a civilian organization at the disposal of the German military. In this capacity he gave practical flying instructions and technology indoctrination to senior military personnel, including Field Marshall Albert Kesselring, General Walther Wever and Colonel General Ernst Udet, the great World War I flying ace. Kesselring referred to Knemeyer’s abilities flying a Heinkel He 111 as “amazing.”[citation needed] Later he was shifted to a more engineering-focused position, where he tested, examined and recommended modifications to aircraft manufacturers based on prototypes they submitted.

During the Spanish Civil War Knemeyer served as a test pilot and also observed planes in combat, submitting written reports analyzing their operational attributes and performance.

In 1938 Charles Lindbergh visited Germany to inspect war planes, aircraft factories and research laboratories. Knemeyer was Lindbergh’s personal pilot during this visit and guided his tours of the Heinkel factory at Oranienburg, the Junkers factory at Dessau and Magdeburg, the Messerschmitt factory at Augsburg, the Dornier factory at Friedrichshafen, and the Luftwaffe experimental station at Rechlin under the command of Oberst Edgar Petersen.

Like many German civilians peripherally serving the military, he resigned his civilian commission and enlisted in the Luftwaffe as a private just after the outbreak of World War II, on 4 September 1939.[2]

With the Luftwaffe[edit | edit source]

After serving as Field Marshal Walter von Brauchitsch’s pilot during the brief Invasion of Poland, Knemeyer was assigned to the Rowehl Reconnaissance Group. During his time with this group Knemeyer flew hundreds of reconnaissance flights in every theater of the German war.[3]

In autumn 1939 Knemeyer flew a reconnaissance mission to Narvik, Norway to observe whether the British had occupied Narvik seaport. While on this mission Knemeyer took photographs of the British Home Fleet at Scapa Flow and outmaneuvered two Spitfires to escape with the photographs. Based on this intelligence the U-47 of the Kriegsmarine sank the renowned British battleship HMS Royal Oak (08) in a famous incident. For this, Knemeyer was awarded his first Iron Cross.

In April 1943 Knemeyer was appointed the technical officer of General Dietrich Peltz, who was responsible for the air war against England. In this capacity he established a program focused on capturing and re-fitting enemy aircraft, as a means to gain a tactical advantage and assist the Luftwaffe’s internal research efforts.[4]

In 1943, alarmed that Allied advances in aviation technology threatened to tip the balance of the war against Germany, Hermann Göring convened a conference at Carinhall among his senior leadership. Peltz brought Knemeyer with him to this conference, and Göring was enamored with Knemeyer’s innovative ideas. After the conference Göring declared “Knemeyer is my boy!” and in July 1943 re-assigned him to be his personal technical advisor. Several months later Knemeyer was promoted to Oberst and made Director of Research and Development of the Luftwaffe. Göring came to call Knemeyer the “Star Gazer”[5] and would greet him with the question, “Now, my Star Gazer, what do you see in your crystal ball?”[6] In November 1943 Knemeyer was appointed Head of Technical Development for the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (RLM).

By February 1944 Knemeyer had surprisingly never flown a German heavy bomber of any sort, until he got his turn to fly one of the Heinkel He 177B prototypes on February 24 at the Wiener Neustadt military airfield. His favorable opinion on the twin tail-equipped He 177 V102 aircraft's "excellent handling qualities" compelled him to recommend that the Heinkel firm place the He 177B design's priority above that of the Heinkel He 343 four-jet medium bomber design, which was still in its early stages.[7]

Shortly after rising to this appointment Knemeyer became close with old colleague General Werner Baumbach. Thanks in part to their relationship with Albert Speer, the two pursued a progressive agenda through the end of the war. According to Baumbach, Knemeyer was the primary person championing the Messerschmitt Me 262A as the crucial technology to turn the tide in the war.[8][9] Knemeyer was included on a Special Committee of top-ranking Luftwaffe administrators in November 1943 for the purpose of advocating broad adoption of and investment in the Me-262.[10] Smith and Creek credit Knemeyer and General Adolf Galland as the men responsible for Germany’s finally putting the Me 262A-1a jet fighter into mass production.[11]

In 1944 the German hierarchy placed a renewed call for creative plans to reverse the now-inevitable defeat descending on Nazi Germany. Familiar with the newest technologies, Knemeyer conceived of a plan to develop a long-range bomber that would drop a radioactive “dirty bomb” on New York City, in hopes of intimidating the United States out of the war. This idea was embraced, and Knemeyer set up and personally supervised a competition between the three most promising technologies: Wernher von Braun’s Aggregat A-9 rocket missile and A-10 booster rocket; Eugen Sänger’s Silbervogel, and the Horten brothers' Horten Ho 229. While this competition accelerated the progress of leading edge aviation technology, none of the projects were completed prior to the end of the war.[11]

In the summer of 1944 Knemeyer informed Baumbach that Otto Skorzeny had organized a secret unit of German suicide bombers, many of whom were unclear as to the nature of their appointment, some even thinking they were in place to retrieve Mussolini from Italy, if necessary. Knemeyer implored Baumbach to use his influence with Adolf Hitler and the Schutzstaffel to cancel this program, which he believed ran counter to Nazi promises that all soldiers would have some chance of survival in their missions, no matter how slight. Finally Baumbach and Speer took a private meeting with Hitler and convinced him to personally cancel the program.[12]

At the end of the war in 1945, Knemeyer, Baumbach and Speer cooperated to preserve the latest aviation technology for the Western Allies, transporting all relevant records out of Berlin prior to the arrival of the Soviet Red Army.[13] During the war Knemeyer flew every model of production and experimental aircraft produced in Germany, as well as every captured enemy airplane model.

Free agent[edit | edit source]

Knemeyer was captured by British soldiers while attempting to return to his family farm in Bokel disambiguation needed and transferred to an English prison camp in Münster. Upon learning who Knemeyer was, the British government offered to bring him to England as a guest of the Queen, for the purpose of his contributing to their aviation research and development. Thanks to this agreement Knemeyer arranged for British agents to retrieve his sister Hildegard from East Germany. However, when the Labour Party re-gained control of the British government in July 1945 they cancelled many of these deals with ex-Nazis. He was instead interred in the Latimer prison camp.

After his release in May 1946 Knemeyer returned to his family in Bokel. He was contacted multiple times by Soviet agents offering lucrative packages to come to the Soviet Union and take a high-ranking position, but Knemeyer did not consider this an option. Instead he took a 6-month position with the French government for 45,000 francs a month, working at the Arsenal de l'Aéronautique, Kressbroun, Paris researching airplane remote control and gyroscopic technique.

While performing his contract with the French Knemeyer was approached by agents from the United States who hoped to recruit him for Operation Paperclip. At the time Knemeyer was considering a long-term agreement with France. However he was concerned that the French political climate might be swinging toward communism and instead decided to join the United States. In June 1948 he was awarded a permanent contract of employment with the United States Air Force, Air Material Command, at a salary of five hundred ninety dollars a month, based at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio. His family was then able to join him in America.

With the U.S. Air Force[edit | edit source]

Knemeyer began with the United States War Department on July 1, 1947. Since he oversaw all technical development for the Luftwaffe, it is believed[by whom?] by UFO conspiracy theorists that he oversaw the technical review of the wreckage from the Roswell UFO Incident when it was supposedly transferred to Wright Field some months after the July 8, 1947 crash. However these files remain classified and attempts at gathering evidence via U.S. Freedom of Information Act requests have been ignored by the government.

Knemeyer was positioned to be the Technical Director of the Flight Control Laboratory at Wright Field but requested to serve as a consultant instead, so he could focus on new inventions and technical developments as opposed to the bureaucracy he observed within the organization. In this position he provided technical vision and leadership to hundreds of aviation advances including:

- Establishment of the Pilot Factors program, which pioneered the transition of technologies from the paradigm of subsonic flight to supersonic flight
- Flare-Out System for All Weather Touch-Down of Aircraft
- Flight Instrument Panel for T-33 Shooting Star Jet Aircraft
- Flare-Out Unit for Push-Button C-54
- Doppler-Inertial Systems
- Flight Instrument Panel for F-102 Delta Dagger Jet Aircraft
- Force Steering (or, Control Stick Steering) Technology
- Horizontal Situation Display Instruments for air speed, Mach number, rate of climb, and altitude instruments, used in the F-105, F-106, X-15, C-141 and F-111
- Scanning Beam Technology
- Horizontal Situation Indicator
- Control Force Disconnect
- Radar to detect electrical storms

As acknowledgement of his collective contributions, in 1966 he received the highest civilian award granted by the U.S. military, the U.S. Department of Defense Distinguished Civilian Service Award.

Awards[edit | edit source]

In Germany

In the United States

Notes[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. "Dreieckrechner". Sliderulesite. https://sites.google.com/site/sliderulesite/dreieckrechner. 
  2. Herwig & Rode 1998, p. 14.
  3. Kahn 1978, p. 115.
  4. Smith, Creek & Petrick 2003, p. 70.
  5. Baumbach 1949, p. 199.
  6. Knemeyer 1985, p. 23.
  7. Griehl, Manfred and Dressel, Joachim. Heinkel He 177 - 277 - 274. Shrewsbury, UK: Airlife Publishing, pp. 166–167
  8. Baumbach 1949, pp. 198–199.
  9. Smith & Kay 1972.
  10. Green 1970, pp. 622–623.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Smith & Creek 1982, p. 89. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Smith & Creek 1982, p. 89." defined multiple times with different content
  12. Baumbach 1949, pp. 218–221.
  13. Baumbach 1949, p xi.
  14. Fellgiebel 2000, p. 262.
  • Baumbach, Werner (1960). The Life and Death of the Luftwaffe. Ballantine Books. Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 60-11283.
  • Fellgiebel, Walther-Peer (2000). Die Träger des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939–1945 (in German). Friedburg, Germany: Podzun-Pallas. ISBN 3-7909-0284-5.
  • Green, William (1970). The Warplanes of the Third Reich. Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 88-29673.
  • Herwig, Dieter and Rode, Heinz (1998). Luftwaffe Secret Projects: Strategic Bombers 1935–1945. ISBN 1-85780-092-3.
  • Kahn, David (1978). Hitler’s Spies. ISBN 0-02-560610-7
  • Myrha, David and The History Channel (2005). Nazi Plan to Bomb New York. DVD. ASIN: B001CU7W76.
  • Shepelev, Andrei and Ottens, Huib (2006). Horten Ho 229: Spirit of Thuringia. ISBN 1-903223-66-0.
  • Smith, J. Richard and Creek, Eddie J. (1982). Jet Planes of the Third Reich. ISBN 0-914144-27-8.
  • Smith, J. Richard, Creek, Eddie J. and Petrick, Peter (2003). On Special Missions: The Luftwaffe’s Research and Experimental Squadrons 1923–1945. ISBN 1-903223-33-4.
  • Smith, J.R. and Kay, Anthony L. (1972). German Aircraft of the Second World War. ISBN 1-55750-010-X.

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