Bachem Ba 349 Natter (Adder / Viper) Vertically-Launched, Rocket-Powered Interceptor
The Bachem Ba 349 Natter was designed to quickly respond to incoming Allied bomber formations and attack with high-explosive rockets.
Authored By Dan Alex; Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com
The Bachem Ba 349 Natter (translated to "Adder" though also known as the "Viper") was one of the late-war German aircraft initiatives intended to shift the balance of the Allied air campaign in favor of the Reich. The Natter was developed throughout the final years of the war, initially rejected by the German Air Ministry, and eventually constructed in over 20 to 30 usable examples. However, even before a single unit could carry out a mission in anger, Natter launch positions were overrun by advancing American Army personnel, formally tying yet another German Luftwaffe "secret weapon" to the pages of history and nothing more. By its very design, the Natter was nothing more than a piloted rocket of sorts though its launch and cockpit facilities were reusable after recovery - its rocket armament payload having been spent in the attack phase.
Luftwaffe air superiority, which had largely controlled the skies of World War 2 prior to 1943, was now challenged to the point that the German Air Ministry sought to curtail the damaging results incurred by the relentless Allied bombing campaign. The campaign centered primarily around use of American heavy bombers during the day and British heavy bombers during the night, creating a potent, non-stop, "one-two" punch against German installations of value. The Allied bombers proved such a detrimental component on the German military that it began to prioritize fighter production and development for the sheer purpose of self-defense to protect its airfields, oil reserves, factories, supply depots, bridges and strategic cities and towns. By 1944, the situation was growing ever dimmer as targets within Germany herself were being targeted with regularity. As such, a certain level of unspoken desperation began to sink in and the German Air Ministry began entertaining many different approaches to solve the Allied bombing campaign problem.
Up to now, rocket propulsion was in its relatively infancy concerning aircraft of war. The Messerschmitt Me 163 "Komet" and its volatile fuel mixture first flew on September 1st of 1941 but would not enter feasible production and subsequent operational service until 1944 with only 370 built in all. German Erich Bachem, a one-time engineer at the Fieseler aircraft concern, struck out on his own in 1943 and began his Bachemwerke GmbH facility based out of Waldsee. Bachem held a substantial claim to fame during his time at Fieseler for he was responsible for the design of the world-renowned Fieseler Fi 156 Storch ("Stork"), an excellent light liaison aircraft built around a robust and flexible airframe with superb short take-off and landing (STOL) qualities. As such, Bachem was no stranger to rather unconventional aircraft developments and, from his newly established Waldsee location, contributed various flight control surfaces to a variety of Luftwaffe projects from then on.
However, with losses across the German-held territories beginning to mount, the Luftwaffe developed an all-new requirement based around a low-cost, quick production interceptor intended to combat the Allied bomber formations directly. Bachem, always the observer, could study the incoming waves of enemy bombers over his own town and noted general tactics and overall implementation used when traversing German airspace. As such, he began to develop an interceptor that could reach attack altitude quickly and unleash a potent payload directly into the enemy aircraft formations. To reach the required altitude, the design would be launched vertically to avoid unnecessary time-consuming take-off procedures with help from rocket thrust propulsion. Construction would be primarily of plywood wood (held mainly by glue and screws) save for the nose assembly for German wartime materials such as metal were required elsewhere in the war effort. Bachem nicknamed his development the "Natter" to coincide with the deadly nature of the Adder viper.
In early 1944, the Luftwaffe requirement was officially fleshed out and revealed to interested parties. Bachem enrolled his initial plan - assigned the designation of "Ba P.20" - into the endeavor while other submissions were delivered from German aviation stalwarts Heinkel, Junkers and Messerschmitt. After the first line of reviews had concluded, the Bachem submission was pushed aside as being too far-fetched, more of a comical gesture than a serious design submission. The German Air Ministry sought a more conventional aircraft for its interceptor requirement and the Bachem submission came off more as a manned rocket than anything else. The Air Ministry also sought a reusable flight system to help keep production costs down and the Bachem design was seemingly centered around a disposable airframe. To keep his efforts alive, Bachem then teamed with famed German aviator Adolf Galland to help push through his interceptor design but even venture this fell to naught, leaving the Natter initiative in limbo for the time being.
Bachem's next option was to tap Heinrich Himmler - Adolf Hitler's right-hand man - and was granted an interview. Himmler, always interested in the unorthodox and exotic, took to the Bachem design and agreed to further the Viper program by whatever means necessary. Himmler's power within the German hierarchy was such - sometimes usurping that of Hitler himself - that Bachem received a call from the German Air Ministry in less than a day to speak of his once-rejected Natter. At one point Himmler even suggested the opening of a new concentration camp to provide the "skill laborers" the Natter development would require but Bachem politely turned down this despicable notion. Himmler instead committed hundreds of his Waffen SS troops to the program - a valuable waste of critical manpower to say the least.