Kit No. 72025
Decals: One version – Luftwaffe
Comments: Engraved panel lines, resin detail parts for cockpit, wheel wells, vacuform B-29-style glasshouse nose
In 1937, Messerschmitt began design work on Projekt 1061, a concept for a long-range, four-engined bomber with a range of 20,000 km (12,428 miles). From the beginning of the Me 264 program, there were competing priorities for Messerschmitt’s production facilities. In the early days, the Messerschmitt Bf 109 and Bf 110 were under development at the same time, and these projects had higher priority – in fact, 109’s were already entering service with the Condor Legion in Spain when work on Projekt 1061 (the future Messerschmitt Me 264) got underway. German strategic thought and military priorities in the late 1930’s dictated the production of tactical aircraft to support the Blitzkrieg doctrine; large, four-engined bombers were not a priority. This state of affairs prevailed until August 10, 1940, when, as the Battle of Britain neared its climax, the German Naval Warfare Department wrote to Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring, asserting a need for an aircraft with a range of at least 6,000 km (3,728 miles), able to reach the planned German Colonial Reich in Central Africa. There was a surreal quality about such official communications, given that the British were even then gearing up to deploy ground forces challenging Axis power in North Africa.
The Kriegsmarine’s specifications dovetailed somewhat with that of the RLM (the German Air Ministry), which had issued a requirement for a four-engined long range bomber with a range of at least 12,000 km (7,457 miles), able to reach the United States from bases in France, in anticipation of the American entry into the war, an event which seemed much more likely with the passage in March 1941 of the Lend Lease Act, a military aid program which dramatically increased shipments of American war materiel to Britain.
The issuance of the RLM specification jump-started Projekt 1061, with Willy Messerschmitt on December 20, 1940 informing designers Wolfgang Degel, Paul Konrad and Waldemar Voigt of the requirements for this long range aircraft. The initial requirements had by then expanded to include capability for military and civilian roles, at least a 5,000 kg (11,023 lb.) bomb load to be carried in an internal bomb bay, and smaller bombs to be carried externally on under-wing pylons, on an otherwise very clean airframe. In early 1941, Messerschmitt received an order to build six prototype Projekt 1061 aircraft, given the designation Me 264. If the aircraft proved capable, a further 24 aircraft would be built for “harassing attacks against the United States.” This specification in part led to the association of the Me 264 with the phrase “Amerika Bomber.” In a splintering of research and development resources that would later become extremely problematic (and was symptomatic of the entire German armaments industry during WWII), Messerschmitt simultaneously pursued design work on a six-engined version of the Me 264, Projekt 1075. Since the Messerschmitt design offices were running at full capacity, part of the design work was delegated to the Fokker Works in Amsterdam.
On January 22, 1941, the General Staff of the Luftwaffe demanded a long range aircraft to support the Kriegsmarine’s U-boat campaign in the Atlantic. The Focke-Wulf Fw 200, Heinkel He 177, Blohm & Voss BV 222, and Messerschmitt 264 were competitively evaluated – on paper – to find the best aircraft for this purpose, despite the fact that the Fw 200 was at that time already patrolling the Atlantic Ocean in support of the U-boats. Because of its overoptimistic performance and weights data, the RLM chose the Me 264. From very early on, Messerschmitt knew that significant improvements would have to be made in order for the Me 264’s actual range to match the performance claims that had been made to the Air Ministry. Several schemes were proposed by the Messerschmitt design bureau to extend its range, including towing an Me 264 to altitude with an identical aircraft before the former started its engines; in-flight refueling by another Me 264; adding two more engines bringing the total to six; and using rocket assisted take-off (RATO) pods for overload takeoff conditions. With these recommendations, it was felt that a range of 18,100 km (11,247 miles) and a bomb load of 5000 kg (11,023 lbs) could be achieved, and a range of 26,400 km (16,405 miles) without bombs in the reconnaissance mode.
Armament was to consist of two to four remote controlled turrets carrying either two MG 131 (13 mm) or two MG 151 (15 mm) machine guns each. In early 1942, General Field Marshal Erhard Milch, concerned about spiraling costs associated with multiple, sometimes duplicative research and development projects, canceled or curtailed several of them, including reducing the number of Me 264 prototypes from six to three, due to the worsening war situation — mainly Germany’s failure to conquer Russia before the onset of the winter of 1941-42. By this time, there were signs that Germany lacked the industrial capacity to develop a new, four-engined bomber while simultaneously producing fleets of tactical front-line combat aircraft; on February 28, 1942, Me 264 development was to be temporarily turned over to the Dornier works, but like Messerschmitt, they too were operating above their capacity. The Wesser Aircraft Works in southern Germany was also considered, but nothing came of this idea, either. The Me 264 languished for lack of industrial resources. Personally dispatched by Milch, a commission headed by a Lt. Col. Petersen arrived at the Messerschmitt-Augsburg complex on April 24, 1942 to check the actual performances of the Me 264. They found that the performances were about 90% of what Messerschmitt had claimed. On the very same day, Willy Messerschmitt, ever the political animal, was in Berlin presenting the RLM with the idea of using the Me 264 in “Atlantic Missions”, and harassing attacks on the American east coast, cementing in their minds the concept of the Amerika Bomber.
Shortly afterwards, on May 7, 1942, Messerschmitt submitted another detailed report to the RLM stating that the Me 264 with a takeoff weight of 45,000 kg (99,207 lbs.) and powered by four Jumo 211J engines could attain a range of 13,000 km (8,078 miles), and with four BMW 801 engines a range of 14,000 km (8,700 miles) could be reached. To add to the confusion, on May 16, 1942, in a seemingly pointed counter-offensive to Messerschmitt’s politicking, the RLM held a meeting on all long range aircraft, and decided that any flights over 13,500 km (8,389 miles) would need in-flight refueling. This was the beginning of the end for the Me 264, for the RLM had already rejected the practice of in-flight refueling the previous February (even though initial in-flight refueling tests with a Fw 58 and a Ju 90 had been successful). It also ended all discussions of harassing attacks against American targets, severely limiting the Me 264’s usefulness. Still, by mid-July 1942, construction of three Me 264 prototypes was underway. The goal was to have the Me 264 V1 ready for flight testing by October 10, 1942, but flight tests were delayed by late and sometimes missing parts deliveries; by late August 1942 it was clear that the October maiden flight would not happen due to excessive delay in the main landing gear delivery and the promised Junkers engines.
As skepticism about the Me 264 spread, the consensus within the RLM and Luftwaffe General Staff was leaning towards the Junkers Ju 290 and the six engined Ju 390, as construction of the first Me 264 V1 prototype progressed at a slugguish pace at Augsburg. Finally, on December 23, 1942, the Me 264 V1 made its first test flight lasting 22 minutes. However, it was not an unqualified success, as the landing gear had been left down for safety reasons. Test flights were later made at Lechfeld, as it had a sufficiently long concrete runway to accommodate the large Me 264, but could test only the first prototype due to the fact that the airfield facilities only had one hangar large enough to house a single prototype.
The Me 264 V1 had a streamlined, all metal fuselage with a circular cross section. Just behind the glazed nose and cockpit were a galley, crew rest area and walkway to the rear of the plane above the bomb bay. The shoulder mounted wings were slightly swept back and tapered. They contained a single main spar and one auxiliary spar, with the wing loads being transferred through the main spar and two auxiliary bulkheads into the fuselage. The entire fuel supply was stored in the large wings. All control surfaces were conventional, including split flaps on the inner wing. The tailplane, with its twin fins and rudders, was electrically adjustable during flight. A tricycle landing gear was designed, which was unusual for such a large aircraft. Because of the ever increasing weight demands, the main landing gear was also to be strengthened, and even a droppable auxiliary main gear was considered. The exterior of the Me 264 V1 was puttied and sanded all over, to give the smoothest possible finish, increasing both aerodynamic and fuel efficiency. The V1’s engines were the 12-cylinder, liquid cooled Junkers Jumo 211J-1, the same engines used on the Junkers Ju 88A-4, and to save time even the Ju 88 nacelles and radiators were utilized. The Me 264 V2 was to have extended wing tips and 1000 kg (2200 lbs) of armor added around the more vital parts of the aircraft. It was being readied for pre-flight ground tests when it was destroyed in an air raid.
During the flight testing in 1943, the fate of the Me 264 still hung in the balance. Admiral Dönitz and the Supreme Naval War Staff favored the Focke-Wulf Ta 400, a six-engined aircraft similar in appearance to the Heinkel He 177. However, since this aircraft wasn’t due to enter production until 1946, it was decided that the Ju 290, He 177 and the Ju 390 should be produced in the interim to provide maritime reconnaissance. This led to a teletype message being sent to Messerschmitt in May 1943, stating that the Me 264 should be abandoned. This caused some astonishment, because just a week earlier the RLM had insisted upon the completion of the Me 264 prototypes — an example of the divisive command structure and conflicting directives that plagued both the Luftwaffe and the RLM throughout the war. In June 1943, Messerschmitt lobbied Hitler to inform him on how well the Me 264 development was progressing, hoping that Hitler would intervene on his behalf. On July 8, 1943 — three days into the titanic armored struggle at Kursk, on the Eastern Front — at a meeting in the Supreme Headquarters, Hitler promised his support for the continued production of the Me 264 to Messerschmitt, but only for maritime uses. At the same time he dropped his decision to bomb the east coast of the U.S. — in a belated endorsement of a decision taken by the RLM two months before — because “the few aircraft that could get through would only provoke the populace to resistance.” Just one day later, Milch agreed to continue the construction of the three Me 264 prototypes for the purpose of studies only.
Göring, Milch, and Messerschmitt met on October 14, 1943 to discuss further development possibilities in light of the limitations on German industrial capacity. According to Messerschmitt, the components for the first five Me 264 prototypes were completed, but he lacked the necessary space and facilities in which to construct them. To get the space for the production of the Me 410, a twin-engine fighter, all the Me 264 final assembly building jigs were moved from the Augsburg plant and stored at Gersthofen. Later that day, Milch wanted to stop the Me 264 completely, in order to concentrate on the Me 262 jet fighter, to which Göering agreed. One day later, the production orders for the Focke-Wulf Ta 400 were canceled, overriding Donitz and the Kriegsmarine, mainly because the Focke-Wulf resources were needed for the Fw 190D-9 and Ta 152 production to defend Germany against increasing numbers of Allied bombers. This chaotic, reactive decision making process was partly responsible for the Me 264’s failure to enter production.
On June 29, 1944, the Trial Establishments Headquarters stated that the Me 264, as well as the Ju 390, would be unsuitable for operational deployment since their specifications for military equipment and payload would excessively increase the takeoff weight and the wing load. Then on July 18, 1944, the only completed Me 264 prototype was destroyed in an air raid along with the assembled components of the following two prototypes and 80% of the production facilities. Although numerous attempts were made to save the Me 264 program, Admiral Dönitz got Hitler to agree on September 23, 1944 that all work on the Me 264 project should be stopped. Less than a month later, on October 18, 1944, Messerschmitt received an unmistakable directive: Reichsmarschall Technical Order Nr. 2″ stated: “The production of the Me 264 is herewith canceled.” This confirmed the end of the eight-year development program that led to only one test aircraft that was far from being operationally ready.
Even before the first prototype had flown, further developments of the Me 264 were being proposed, including long-range reconnaisance, long-range bomber, and high-altitude bomber versions, but none went further than the drafting board. Even after the October 1944 cancellation of the program, work continued by many Messerschmitt engineers and designers through at least December 1944 on a courier version of the Me 264, with a range of 12000 km (7457 miles) and a load of 4000 kg (8818 lbs.), but this was merely a way to protect the Messerschmitt employees from being conscripted into the Wehrmacht.
Messerschmitt’s Me 264 “Amerika Bomber,” while an advanced design that showed great promise, never entered production due to a combination of finite German industrial capacity, the lack of a cohesive, strategic vision of how to employ available resources, and a fractured command structure within the Luftwaffe, the German Air Ministry, and the Nazi government that controlled them both. In addition, throughout World War II there was the tendency of German research and development efforts for new weapons to pursue a myriad of projects simultaneously, rather than concentrating on a few of the most promising ones. While this tendency was overcome in a few notable cases such as the Me 262 jet fighter and the V-2 rocket, in general it served to scatter resources and prevent a number of potentially effective weapons from being brought to bear against the Allies.
Special Hobby’s Messerschmitt Me 264 is molded in both pale and neutral grey and consists of 95 injection molded plastic parts, 27 resin detail parts for the entire cockpit (consisting of a floor, seats, bulkheads, main instrument panel, control yoke, rudder pedals, and side instrumentation), wheel wells, propeller spinners, engine faces, and two clear vacuform parts for the glazed B-29-like nose of the aircraft — along with two vacuform spares, just in case. The instructions, while they contain no text, are well-illustrated and include a detailed paint guide calling out Humbrol colours. They also provide the helpful reminder of the need for nose weights, recommending two weights of 30 grams each on either side of the fuselage interior immediatey aft of the rear cockpit bulkhead (one of the resin detail parts).
Modelers should note that there are no locator pins or other aids in attaching either the wings or elevators to the fuselage, or the completed engine assemblies to the wing, so a quick drying cyanoacrylate glue will be needed at those stages of construction, given the smooth surfaces of all the attachment points – although this can be mitigated with a bit of sanding beforehand to roughen them up and assist adhesion. The clear illustrations will be particularly helpful when it is time to attach the clear vacuform nose to the fuselage — once the dome-like nose tip is trimmed and ready for attachment, the instructions direct you to trim away another small section at the bottom to make room for the nose landing gear. The one significant drawback to this kit is that the framing on the vacuform parts could be more distinct. It will be a challenge to paint them, and a paint mask, whether aftermarket or home-made, will probably be needed. The kit markings are thin, clear, and in register with an appropriately glossy sheen. The instructions include a schematic of the finished aircraft sporting a splinter camouflage scheme of the only Me 264 V1 prototype to fly: dark green/RLM 71 and black green/RLM 70 over light blue/RLM 65.
This kit may not be for beginners, as it will require a bit of skill in working with quick drying cement and vacuform parts, and may also demand skill in cutting your own paint masks. But it will make an interesting addition to your Luft ’46 collection. Highly recommended for those interested in German experimental aircraft of World War II.