Authored By Dan Alex (Updated: 4/22/2016):
Successful long-range, multi-engine bombers with ideal payloads were hard to come by for the German Luftwaffe during World War 2. Much of their production efforts had always been placed into their fighter lines and this became evermore important as the war turned into a defensive fight for the Vaterland. As such, development of a heavy-hitter comparable to the what the Allies were fielding in their Avro Lancasters and Consolidated B-24 Liberators proved quite elusive to the most powerful military in the world. The most competent of the German crop became the multi-role Focke-Wulf Fw 200 "Condor" - a large four-engine design achieving first flight in 1937 and only seeing production totals of 275 aircraft. Another front-runner of note was the Heinkel He 111, but this was a 1930's-era twin-engine medium bomber with limited range and equally-limited ordnance-carrying capabilities. Comparatively, the He 111 was produced in over 6,500 examples.
The Fw 200 Condor was assigned to work alongside the Kriegsmarine, becoming active across the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean as Germany's territory expanded. The Fw 200 proved a vital component in disrupting the Allied shipping lanes during the "Battle of the Atlantic" to the point that Winston Churchill himself tagged the German aircraft as the "Scourge of the Atlantic". However, the limited numbers of the Condors would soon restrict their direct combat activities as the war began progressing in favor of the Allies. By the end of 1943, the aircraft was relegated almost exclusively to the transport role. The Allied invasion of France further removed the Condor from any type of maritime operations. In the reconnaissance role, the Fw 200 was ultimately replaced by the newer Junkers Ju 290, this coming late in the war.
Development of a long-range reconnaissance platform began in 1937. The German declaration of war against the United States began to advance the project. Hitler envisioned hitting targets within America from territories under German (and Japanese) control. In effect, Hitler wanted "harassing" actions against the country in an effort to disrupt production and instill fear into the American populace. At the same time, the German Navy was also looking for a long-range aircraft for use in maritime reconnaissance and bombing. Messerschmitt developed their P.1061 model and, by 1941, the type was ordered in six prototype forms (later reduced to three) as the Me 264. The prototypes were committed to this endeavor in three developmental forms as the Me 264 V1, Me 264 V2 and the Me 264 V3.
After a protracted construction period, the Me 264 V1 achieved first flight on December 23rd, 1942, with 4 x Jumo 211J series liquid-cooled inline piston engines of 1,340 horsepower each and was built sans armor or weapons. By the end of 1943, the powerplants were replaced by 4 x BMW 801G radial piston engines of 1,750 horsepower each. It was hoped that the V1 would be ready for flight testing as early as October 10th 1942, but this proved optimistic to say the least. In-flight testing revealed some inherent faults in the design with the major factor being high wing loading - this itself leading to a host of handling and performance issues. Wing loading essentially represented the loaded weight of the aircraft divided by the area of its wings. A fully-loaded Me 264 was soon found to exhibit a poor rate-of-climb and equally degraded maneuverability - this before armor and weaponry were even added to the mix. Performance from the BMW 801 series (G or H) radial engines netted the Me 264 a top speed of 350 miles per hour with an impressive range of 9,500 miles. The service ceiling was a reported 26,000 feet with a rate-of-climb equaling 390 feet per minute.
The Me 264 V2 was constructed with armor in place though sans its defensive guns but was not fully completed. The Me 264 V3 was given its guns and full armor (this one too never fully completed) but by this time, German interest in the project had waned. The Me 264 faced a slew of material delays and underperformed in tests despite claims made by the people at Messerschmitt. The German Navy (and the RLM for that matter) instead decided to focus their attentions on using the Junkers Ju 290 in the preferred roles and wait on its intended long-range, six-engine cousin - the Ju 390 - to achieve operational status. The official call for cancellation involving the fruitless Me 264 program came to an end in Reichsmarschall Technical Order Nr. 2. The Me 264 program was closed down officially on September 23rd, 1944.