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The Ural bomber was a program to develop a long-range bomber for the Luftwaffe, created and led by General Walther Wever in the early 1930s. Wever died in an air crash on June 3, 1936, and the program ended almost immediately. Albert Kesselring took over his position in the Luftwaffe, abandoning most of his designs and turning others into tactical bombers.

Wever, the chief of staff of the newly formed Luftwaffe in 1933, realized the importance that strategic bombing would play in a war. In war with the Soviet Union he expected that German forces would not attempt to move very far east of Moscow, which would leave much of Joseph Stalin's recently relocated industry out of reach of existing bombers. Wever proposed using a strategic bomber to reduce these factories, ending their ability to fight even without the need for ground forces to advance.

One of the Dornier Do 19 prototypes in flight

Under the Ural bomber program, he began secret talks with two of Germany's leading aircraft manufacturers, Dornier and Junkers, requesting designs for a long-range bomber. The two companies responded with the Dornier Do 19 and the Junkers Ju 89 respectively and the RLM (Reichsluftfahrtministerium, "Reich Aviation Ministry") ordered prototypes for both aircraft in 1935.

Wever was killed in an air crash in June 1936, and the dream of a strategic bomber force died with him. His replacement, Albert Kesselring, saw no need for such a force, and was much more interested in building a larger number of smaller tactical aircraft instead. He canceled the program outright on April 29, 1937, and the prototypes of the Ju 89 and Do 19 were used for flight research and cargo duties.

A Junkers Ju 89 prototype passes overhead

The Ju 89 also inspired the Junkers Ju 90 after Deutsche Lufthansa requested a passenger version with lower-powered engines. When the Ural bomber program was canceled, the partially completed 3rd prototype was converted to passenger layout and served as a Ju 90 prototype instead. Ironically the Ju 90 was later pressed into military service as a patrol aircraft, as it was one of the few really long-range designs available in Germany. The Ju 90, in turn, led to the small-production series of Junkers Ju 290 four engined maritime patrol and long-range reconnaissance aircraft, and even to the two produced prototypes of the six-engined Junkers Ju 390, which became one of the pair of airworthy entrant designs in the Amerika Bomber project.

According to some sources,[citation needed] the Ju 89 was considered to be the better performing of the two Ural bomber prototypes and after the cancellation of the project on 29 April 1937 the V1 and V2 prototypes continued to carry out flying trials and briefly served with the transport unit KGrzbV 105 during the Norway invasion.

Some sources contend[citation needed] that contrary to popular belief, it was not Kesselring who killed off the Ural bomber concept; rather it was Hermann Göring who ceased strategic bomber development in Nazi Germany before the start of World War II, upon the advice of Kesselring, Ernst Udet and Erhard Milch. Kesselring was a vocal supporter of twin engine bombers and backed up Udet who preferred dive bombers. This was the questionable decision that was made to convert the Ju 88 medium bomber and the even more disastrous decision to convert the Heinkel He 177 heavy bomber, into a form of "Big Stuka" dive bomber, on the very day it was given its RLM airframe number of 8-177 on November 5, 1937. This move countered the request of Ernst Heinkel one year later, for the third and fourth He 177 V-series prototypes to be specifically built as true, four-separately-engined heavy bomber prototypes, rather than with the specified pair of DB 606 "twinned DB 601" power systems, required for the He 177A to have the streamlining to accomplish dive-bombing missions.

Milch wanted the project canceled simply because at that stage the German airplane industry was incapable and would remain so, of building a large fleet of heavy bombers. Thus, Göring shelved the project and is later supposed to have said, "The Fuhrer will never ask me how big our bombers are, but how many we have."

It was in the spring of 1942 that what could be considered to be a resuscitation of the Ural Bomber idea, the now trans-oceanic range Amerika Bomber proposal arrived in Göring's offices at the RLM, with the Messerschmitt Me 264, Junkers Ju 390 and the nosewheel gear version of the Heinkel He 277 emerging as major competitors. These designs arrived much later than the operational shorter-range heavy bombers of both RAF Bomber Command and the USAAF had first been flown before, and early in, World War II. As 1943 progressed, Göring bemoaned the lack of a heavy bomber fleet and cursed those who had told him the medium bomber was superior to the heavy bomber. "Well, those inferior heavy bombers of the other side are doing a wonderful job of wrecking Germany from end to end," was his acid-tongued response. Göring also had thought, as early as the previous year, that the He 177A was actually a "separately engined", true four-engined heavy bomber[1] but since the A-version of Heinkel's "heavy" was actually using the cumbersome Daimer-Benz DB 606 and 610 "power system" powerplants, which the Reichsmarschall derided as zusammengeschweißte Motoren, or "welded-together engines" on numerous occasions from August 1942 onwards,[2] the He 177B development of the A-version was an attempt to solve the problem and was well underway by the summer of 1943 and four prototypes of the Daimler-Benz DB 603-powered B-version were commissioned, with three of them built and two flying by the end of 1943.[3]

The He 177B and especially the later Heinkel He 274 high-altitude design and the paper-only Heinkel He 277 Amerika Bomber as the Heinkel trans-Atlantic range design competition's candidate - the eventual trio of "four-engine" development programs emerging from the He 177A design - came the closest to providing the Luftwaffe with a true heavy bomber from the Heinkel firm's engineering departments. The original He 177A design, with its troublesome coupled Daimler-Benz 606 and 610 "power system" engines, was the basis for the He 177B and He 274 and the initial inspiration for the BMW 801 radial powered He 277, whose nosewheel-equipped fuselage for its Amerika Bomber design entry had much more of the general appearance of an enlarged Heinkel He 219. The conversion of four He 177As of various models was the method of creating the flying prototypes of the initial trio of He 177B prototypes built in Austria (with the V104 fourth prototype airframe underway), and the start of the construction of a pair of He 274 prototypes to be built in France. Both the quartet of commissioned He 177B prototype airframes and pair of He 274 prototypes used four individual Daimler-Benz DB 603 engines apiece, with the 274's powerplants having additional turbocharging for high altitude flight, and would have provided the Luftwaffe with a bombing capability on par with the RAF Bomber Command's Avro Lancaster.

Of course, the German heavy bomber projects were not dead. After pleas from the Chief of Branch 1 of the Luftwaffe Operations Staff, Major Paul Deichmann to Göring, an amazing about face occurred in late 1937, when specifications were issued to develop an aircraft to deliver a five-ton bomb load to New York. By March 1942, the Amerika Bomber project was initiated.

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References[edit | edit source]

  1. Griehl, Manfred; Dressel, Joachim (1998). Heinkel He 177 - 277 - 274. Shrewsbury, UK: Airlife Publishing. p. 52. ISBN 1-85310-364-0. 
  2. Griehl, Manfred; Dressel, Joachim (1998). Heinkel He 177 - 277 - 274. Shrewsbury, UK: Airlife Publishing. p. 53. ISBN 1-85310-364-0. 
  3. Griehl, Manfred; Dressel, Joachim (1998). Heinkel He 177 - 277 - 274. Shrewsbury, UK: Airlife Publishing. p. 163. ISBN 1-85310-364-0. 

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