Nazi Germany (1943)
Heavy Fighter – 52 ~ 97 Built
Designed as a stopgap to combat the ever-growing numbers of Royal Air Force bombers and de Havilland Mosquitos, the Focke-Wulf Ta 154 was a project plagued with problems, from the glue used for its wooden construction to the unreliable landing gear. After the construction of dozens of prototypes and variants the project was eventually canceled due to inadequate performance and the lack of skilled workers available able to handle the plane’s specialized wooden construction process.
Until the large RAF (Royal Air Force) bomber offensive on Cologne (Köln), Essen, and Bremen in mid-1942, the Luftwaffe had focused on developing offensive aircraft. Shortly after these raids, Generalfeldmarschall (Field Marshal) Erhard Milch, the Minister of Air Armaments, held a development conference to spark ideas for possible uses of the Jumo 211 engine. Afterward, Milch made it clear that using “homogenous wood” was a viable option for producing light airplane airframes. The term ‘homogeneous’ refers to the fact that the construction material was all of the same type of plywood. Coincidentally, Milch was also very interested in the creation of a new light, high-speed night bomber.
In September of 1942, Focke-Wulf presented the concept of developing a plane equivalent to the De Havilland Mosquito to the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (RLM, the Nazi Ministry of Aviation). It was detailed as being a high-speed, dual-engined, and unarmed bomber. Focke-Wulf’s proposal would be constructed of 50% wood, 39% steel, and 11% fabric (it is not specified whether this was by weight or volume). The RLM immediately gave Focke-Wulf a high-priority contract. The design continued to be refined as a high-speed bomber until 16 October 1942, when Generalfeldmarschall Milch decided to voice the importance of the aircraft’s secondary role as a night fighter. At the time, Germany was in dire need of twin-engine fighters with a large operational range in order to combat the growing waves of Allied bombers, which carried out their missions day and night. In order to satisfy Milch’s requirements, the aircraft was now to be equipped with a FuG 212 search radar and a fixed armament of two MK 103 and two MG 151 cannons.
With the Ta 154 being constructed mostly of plywood and having promising performance estimates, the Technische Amt (Technical Research Office) was highly interested. They believed they had finally found a second generation night fighter that could adapt to the material shortages facing the Reich at that point and capable of replacing the aging Bf 110. Consequently, Erhard Milch focused his attention even more on the Ta 154’s night fighter capabilities and decided to stop pursuing high-speed bomber research. On 13 November 1942, the Technical Research Office continued their support for the project, then known as the “Ta 211” or the “Focke-Wulf Night Fighter,” and urged Focke-Wulf to continue developing the aircraft. Shortly after, the aircraft received the designation “Ta 154,” which it would keep for the duration of its existence.
On 8 January 1943, just days after Focke-Wulf was told to construct ten prototypes of the Ta 154, the “Ta 154 Startup Conference” took place. At the conference, it was made clear that while the project was promising, there were not enough skilled woodworkers to produce the aircraft. In addition, it was correctly theorized that the Jumo 211 wouldn’t produce enough horsepower at altitude to match the enemy’s aircraft development. The Technische Amt requested an armament of four MK 103 cannons, but in March of the same year, an analysis of the plane revealed that the nearly eight foot long cannons would not be able to fit. It was decided in June 1943 that production of the Ta 154 would be separated into three areas, Silesia, Thuringia, and the Warthe District, with the Warthe District being responsible for the most variants.
After only 9 months in the making, the first prototype took flight in early July 1943, flown by Hans Sander. It is often publicized that Kurt Tank, designer of the plane, piloted the Ta 154 on its maiden flight, but this is incorrect, as he was too important to risk in such a potentially dangerous test. Sander later described the plane as being easier to control than the Heinkel 219, which he had flown prior. However, performance was not up to par with the estimates Focke-Wulf started with. Problems continued when it was speculated that installing the FuG 212 radar, flame dampers, and drop tanks requested by the Technische Amt would slow the Ta 154 down to an estimated 360 mph (580 km/h) at altitude. Not only would it slow the aircraft significantly, but it would also lower the service ceiling from 34,100 ft (10,400 m) to 30,800 ft (9,400 m). Due to this, Focke-Wulf demanded the delivery of the more powerful Jumo 213 engines the aircraft desperately needed. Focke-Wulf was promptly declined and were told the engines would be ready in mid-1944.
On 29 October 1943, a very successful Luftwaffe pilot by the name of Thierfelder test flew the Ta 154. Although he praised the Ta 154, RLM’s head of planning, Oberst Diesing, criticized the plane just months later, stating that any ordinary pilot would not have the same positive experience. The Oberst’s critiques didn’t stop there, however, as he alleged that pieces of the aircraft fuselage fell off when firing the guns and airframe vibrations would discourage pilots from flying the aircraft.
During another conference on 17 March 1944, a date for the start of production could not be set due to the lack of trained workers experienced with handling the plane’s bonding materials and insufficient bonding resin. In addition, the delivery of the Jumo 213 engines was set back further, and it was decided to complete the first production model in the coming months. On 12 April 1944, flight captain Hans Sander, who test flew both the Fw 187 and Ta 154, presented a prototype to Hermann Göring. Göring already had a massive interest in the development of the Ta 154, and the demonstration only fortified his overinflated view of the plane. Soon afterward, the prototype construction program called for prototypes V1 through V9 to be fitted with new metal control surfaces. Unfortunately, the V3 had recently crashed, and the V4 was being repaired after it had crashed.
In mid-1944, trials at Langenhagen uncovered more problems, including the weakness of the landing gear and its hydraulics. Focke-Wulf released a report soon after detailing the total number of crashes so far. V1, V3, V4, V5, V8, and V9 had all crashed from 1943 to May 1944. The crash of the V8 had been caused by an engine fire, resulting in both the pilot and radio operator dying in the crash. Had the cockpit been made of metal, the crew would have survived. This motivated all those working on the Ta 154 to produce a metal fuselage or continue working on the C model, which possessed a metal nose and cockpit.
On May 29, 1944, RAF bombers bombed the factory in the Posen province, as well as destroying the glue manufacturing facility owned by the Goldschmitt Company (Tegofilm). There was also an attempt by Allied fighters to strafe the Langenhagen airfield where the Ta 154 was being tested. This was planned by the Allies to stop the planned production of the Ta 154, as it was believed that it could prove a worthy opponent to their air superiority. In the end this, along with shifting priorities, contributed to the termination of the Ta 154 program.
More problems continued to arise in late-1944, as the mounts for the MK 108 cannons could not handle the recoil of the large caliber gun. Consequently, any Ta 154’s that did see combat were only fitted with the remaining two MG 151/20 cannons and did not have a metal fuselage. Those aircraft were deployed in Northern Germany. Furthermore, finding a suitable source for resin was proving ever more difficult. More prototypes had been planned under the names V1a, V11, V14a, and V24, with the last two being planned for static testing of the C variant. During another meeting on May 24th between Kurt Tank, Milch, Galland, Heinkel, Vogt, Frydag, Saur, and Göring, Tank finally admitted that the project was stalled because of the lack of the necessary resin. Moreover, Göring was becoming disappointed in the engine’s performance affecting the entire aircraft and feared that upgrading to the Jumo 213 would still leave much to be desired. Göring continued to voice his concerns with the wooden underside of the aircraft which made belly landings impossible. Tank’s Ta 154 was now on the chopping block. On 6th July, 1944, GFM Milch notified Focke-Wulf that the Ta 154 and Ta 254 programs would be terminated immediately.
All the remaining aircraft were left to sit at airfields. This resulted in most being destroyed in air raids and strafing attacks by Allied planes. Of the few remaining Ta 154’s used by separate night-fighter groups, many were destroyed to prevent capture by Allied troops. Of the 50-100 complete aircraft and many incomplete airframes, the Allies found a single Ta 154 A-1 intact, formerly used by NJG 3 (Nachtjagdgeschwader 3 / Night Hunter Squadron 3) at Lechfeld. The Ta 154 was placed behind a stack of jet engines waiting to be scrapped. It is likely that any captured Ta 154’s were scrapped, as none survive today. There is, however, a replica of the forward sections of the V3 at the Luftfahrttechnisches Museum in Rechlin, placed there in 2006. Many replicas exist at the museum, including the Me 262 HG I, He 162, and Ju 388.
There were many different variants of the Ta 154 built or proposed despite its relatively short lifespan. The first prototype was completed in July 1943, with prototype numbers ranging from V1 to V23. V1 through V10 were the first batch of prototypes ordered by the RLM. V11 through V14 were static airframes meant for destructive tests, with the former three resembling A models, and V14 resembling the C variant. V15 was a prototype of the A-2 variant. The use of V16 through V21 is not clear, but V20 is thought to have been the prototype for the C-1 variant, which was never produced. V22 was particularly special because of its lengthened fuselage, and there exists a photo of its wreckage. V23 is less known, but both the V22 and V23 were test beds for the Jumo 213 A. There is close to no information detailing prototypes past V10. Only brief explanations of their purpose is available.
The A-0 model was the pre-production version, of which a total of about twenty-two were constructed. They were equipped with FuG 220 radar, but had their flame dampers removed. The A-1 was the first production variant, very similar to the A-0, of which six were built. The A-2 variant was almost identical to the A-1 in all aspects, and four were built. The A-4 variant featured the addition of upturned wing tips to aid in lateral stability. Only two A-4s are known to have been built.
After the first A model Moskitos were tested, the B model was drawn up. It was based on the A-4, but incorporated a bubble canopy and a metal nose section to protect the pilot in case of belly landings. In early December 1943, however, Technische Amt decided to abandon the Ta 154 B model, and instead focus on the production of the C model, which also had a bulbous canopy, but now had an extended fuselage. It was during this time that the D variant was also realized, but was soon renamed the Ta 254. It would be equipped with Jumo 213 engines, MW 50 injection, and larger wings. No B, C, or Ta 254 models were built.
The process to build the Ta 154 was not expensive in regards to the amount or costs of the necessary materials, but was pricey in terms of the manpower required for its careful assembly. The fuselage of the Ta 154 alone took four hundred hours to complete. All kinds of jigs and presses were constructed to aid in the process of molding the wood to the correct shape. The key to making so many Ta 154s was having as many workers as possible, but the curing process for the glue resin that was used took up to a full day to cure, which meant lots of time was spent waiting rather than working. Unfortunately for Focke-Wulf, the amount of workers that were experienced in working with these materials were few and far between. This meant the quality of the planes came down to the craftsmanship of each individual worker. Compared to the quality of the RAF Mosquito, the Ta 154 was inferior. The German wood workers were not used to the pressures of wartime production that the British were accustomed to.
The Ta 154 was trialed in some unorthodox ways. To test the strength of the components, a mockup missing both engines and a large portion of its wings was built specifically to be dragged underwater by a towing unit. This was done in 1943 at Lake Alatsee in Füssen, Bavaria. The towing unit was an “FGZ”, a trio of pontoon boats with a large crane in the center of the three. The mockup was dragged underwater at speeds up to 8.45 m/s (16 knots, 30 km/h) to simulate the pressure of flying. There were a total of six of these tests, and on the sixth test, the damage to the mockup became extensive. The nose cone became deformed, each end of the cut-off wing sections were mangled, and the canopy was broken.
The Ta 154, although originally intended to be a high-speed bomber, was fully realized as a night fighter. The purpose of a night fighter is to counter aircraft, specifically bombers in this case, at night or in low visibility conditions. Such an aircraft was highly valued by the Luftwaffe in their efforts to counter the nightly RAF bombing raids targeting German industrialized zones.
Very limited information is available on the actions of the Moskitos assigned to 3.NJGr 10 and NJG 3, however, on March 22, 1945, four Ta 154s were spotted at Stade Airfield. They were observed next to Ju 88 and He 219 night fighters, as well as one undergoing armament tests at a range on the base. Three of the four Ta 154s were covered in light-colored paint, while the last was in a spotted camouflage. To back up the evidence that several were in operational service, a document from Junkers on March 16, 1945, details several Ta 154s being assigned to III./NJG 3. The document proceeds to tell of the experience of the Ta 154s against De Havilland Mosquitos, a fight during which the British plane usually came out on top. Another document from the British, ATI 2nd TAF Report A 685, was made on May 10, 1945. This report detailed the discovery of a crashed Ta 154 in operation as a night fighter on May 6, 1945. The camouflage pattern was a light blue on the majority of the aircraft, with gray spots decorating the top half of the plane. The crew of the aircraft was nowhere to be found, and the aircraft was looted by locals. In addition, the horizontal stabilizer was completely metal, and an angled wing tip device was fitted to improve stability. This points to one of two A-4s produced.
The Ta 154 “Moskito” was a twin-engined heavy fighter with shoulder-mounted wings, fuselage-mounted horizontal stabilizers, a tricycle landing gear arrangement, while being composed almost entirely out of wood. Perhaps the least noticeable characteristic of the Ta 154 that gave it major problems was its wings. They had no dihedral, which resulted in instability in turns. This problem was fixed in the A-4 variant that took advantage of upturned wingtips. The problem that affected the Ta 154 the most was failure of the front landing gear assembly. Because of the tricycle landing gear arrangement, the front gear had to be long enough to allow clearance for the propellers on the ground. The length of the front landing gear and the lack of thick supports meant failures happened often. The crew of the Ta 154 almost exclusively consisted of a single pilot and a radio operator. The Ta 154 was equipped with a multitude of different radio and radar instruments. This includes the FuG 212 or FuG 220 search radar, FuG 17 VHF Transceiver, PeilG VI direction-finding set, FuBL 2F, FuG 101 altimeter, FuG 25 IFF set, and FuG 28a transponder.
The Ta 154 was often equipped with flame dampers, which are fitted to the exhaust of the engines. The purpose of flame dampers is to dampen engine noise and decrease the visibility of flames exiting the exhaust. The Ta 154, with the exception of very few variants, was equipped with two Jumo 211 F/N/R engines. The variants that did not have those specific engines were provided with Jumo 213 A/E engines that marginally improved the Ta 154’s performance. The A-1 and A-2 variants were equipped with MW 50 injection, which was a combination of water and methanol that both increased boost pressure substantially and allowed the engine to suck in more air. This injection could result in up to hundreds more horsepower than the engine would normally run, but could only be used in short bursts. GM 1, a nitrous-oxide injection system, was also proposed for the A-2 variant. Concerning armament, the Ta 154 was armed with two 20 mm MG 151/20 and two 30 mm MK 108 cannons, although field modifications were made to individual planes. Some modifications included replacing the original armament with two or four MG 151/20’s, or, in rare cases, four MK 108 cannons. The typical ammo count for an armed Ta 154 was 300 rounds total for the MG 151s, and 200 round total for the MK 108 cannons. A bomb load of a single 500kg bomb was proposed for the A-2 variant, but it is unknown whether or not this was attempted. More than one Ta 154 is alleged to have been converted to A-2/U4s, which were equipped with Schräge Musik. Schräge Musik was the German name for upward firing guns that allowed an aircraft to fire on enemies without facing directly at them. This allowed night fighters like the Bf 110 and Do 217 J to catch enemy bombers unaware with gunfire from below them.
At the end of the Ta 154 program, a radical idea to rig up an Fw 190 on a superstructure above spare Ta 154s was realized. The interior of the Moskito would be filled with explosives, as well as replacing unneeded fuel tanks with more explosives. The Ta 154 fly unmanned, and the pilot of the Fw 190 would maneuver both planes on a course into an enemy bomber formation, where the pilot would detach from the Moskito fully laden with explosives. Once the Moskito reached the middle of the formation, it would be remotely detonated by the pilot of the Fw 190. Just like many variants of the Ta 154, this was also never completed.
- Ta 154 V1 – First prototype, designated TE+FE, not fitted with armament or flame dampers and equipped with Jumo 211F engines powering three-bladed VS 11 propellers, later retrofitted with Jumo 211N engines. Its first flight took place on July 1, 1943, and it crashed during testing on 31 July 1943 due to landing gear legs collapsing upon landing.
- Ta 154 V2 – Second prototype, designated TE+FF, fitted with flame dampers and FuG 212 C-1 radar but unarmed. Later retrofitted with Jumo 211N engines. Destroyed in an air raid on August 5, 1944.
- Ta 154 V3 – Third prototype, designated TE+FG, identical to V2 except for a larger vertical stabilizer. Crashed on 28 February 1944 due to the nose wheel buckling and destroying the nose section. Later damaged beyond repair in an air raid in mid-1944.
- Ta 154 V4 – Fourth prototype, designated TE+FH, first flight took place on 19 January 1944. Later retrofitted with a raised canopy and an MG 81 in the dorsal position behind the pilot. Crashed on 18 February 1944 due to landing gear experiencing an uncommanded retraction upon landing.
- Ta 154 V5 – Fifth prototype, designated TE+FI, crashed on 7 April 1944 due to landing gear failure on landing.
- Ta 154 V6 – Sixth prototype, designated TE+FJ. Possibly captured by Soviet troops at Rechlin.
- Ta 154 V7 – Seventh prototype, designated TE+FK, painted in RLM 75/76 camouflage pattern, fate unknown.
- Ta 154 V8 – Eighth prototype, designated TE+FL, first Ta 154 equipped with Jumo 213 engines and VS 111 propellers. Crashed on 6 May 1944 due to an engine fire, both crew members, Otto and Rettig, were killed on impact.
- Ta 154 V9 – Ninth prototype, designated TE+FM, crashed on 18 April 1944 due to the right wingtip striking the ground, killing H. Meyer on the ground.
- Ta 154 V10 – Tenth prototype, designated TE+FN, equipped with Jumo 213A engines, fate unknown.
- Ta 154 A-0 – Pre-production variant fitted with FuG 220 Lichtenstein SN-2 radar and flame dampers removed.
- Ta 154 A-1 – Production variant, fitted with Jumo 211F, N or R engines
- Ta 154 A-1/R1 – equipped with GM 1 and an MG 81 in a new dorsal position.
- Ta 154 A-2 – Fitted with two MG 151/20s and two MK 108 cannons, proposed to equip GM 1 NOS injection and one 500 kg bomb.
- Ta 154 A-2/U4 – Night fighter variant, same armament as A-2, with the addition of two diagonally placed MK 108 cannons in the rear fuselage. (Schräge Musik)
- Ta 154 A-4 – Fitted with two MG 151/20 (200 rpg) and two MK 108 (110 rpg) cannons and FuG 218 radar. The most interesting part of the A-4 was the addition of upturned wingtips.
- Ta 154 B-1 – Proposed two-seat night fighter variant with a raised canopy, metal nose section, drop tanks, and Jumo 211N engines. Research discontinued in favor of the C variant with Jumo 213 engines.
- Ta 154 C – Proposed variants to be fitted with Jumo 213A engines and incorporating a metal nose section as well as a raised canopy.
- 5 cm B.K. armed Ta 154 C – A concept of a Ta 154 C variant armed with a 5 cm B.K. 5 cannon conceived in early 1944. None were produced.
- Ta 254 A – Proposed variant family with Jumo 213E engines, MW 50, four broad-blade VS 9 airscrew assembly and longer wings, enlarging the wing area to 452 ft2 (42 m2)
- Ta 254 B-1 – Proposed two-person night fighter variant with metal nose section, powered by two DB 603L engines driving VDM propellers.
- Ta 254 B-2 – Proposed three-person day fighter variant with metal nose section, powered by two Jumo 213F or G engines equipped with three-bladed VDM propellers.
- Ta 254 B-3 – Proposed one-person all-weather fighter, powered by two DB 603L engines and to be fitted with MW 50 field modification.
- Ta 154 Mistel – A proposed variant of an unmanned Ta 154 A-4/U3 filled with explosives with an Fw 190A attached above via a detachable superstructure. The 190 pilot would fly the two planes into an enemy bomber formation, detach the superstructure, and detonate the Ta 154’s explosives.
- Nazi Germany – A-1 variants were used by the 3rd Staffel of the Nachtjagdgruppe 10 (3.NJGr 10) and Nachtjagdgeschwader 3 (NJG 3). It is not known whether they were lost in combat or achieved any air victories.
|Wingspan||52 ft 6 in / 16 m|
|Length||41 ft 4 in / 12.6 m|
|Height||11 ft 10 in / 3.6 m|
|Wing Area||348¾ ft² / 32.4 m²|
|Wing Loading||56.58 lbs/ft2 / 276.23 kg/m2|
|Engine||2x 1,410 hp (1036 kW) Jumo 211F/2 liquid-cooled inverted V12 piston engine|
|Propeller||2x 3-blade VS 9 broad-blade airscrew assembly|
|Fuel Grade||87 Octane Leaded Gasoline|
|Fuel Capacity||422 US Gal / 1,600 L|
|Oil Capacity||42⅓ US Gal / 160 L|
|Climb Rate||1,770 ft / 540 m per minute|
|Maximum Speed||385 mph / 620 km/h at 19,700 ft / 6,000 m|
|Cruising Speed||332 mph / 534 km/h at 9,800 ft / 3,000 m|
|Landing Speed||115 mph / 185 kmh|
|Range||990 mi / 1,600 km|
|Maximum Service Ceiling||31,200 ft / 9,500 m|
|Crew||1 pilot + 1 radar operator|
Illustrations by Ed Jackson
- D.(Luft) T.3803 Junkers Verstelluftschrauben-Anlage Jumo 211 F und J. (1943)
- Jumo 211 F und J – Baureihe 1 – Leistungsschaubild. (1941)
- Focke-Wulf Flugzeugbau GmbH Nr.26a-Mistel Ta 154 A – Fw 190 A-8 “Beethoven”. (18 July 1944)
- Wagner, Wolfgang. “Twin-Engined Wooden Night Fighter.” Kurt Tank – Focke Wulf’s Designer and Test Pilot, by Wolfgang Wagner, Schiffer Pub., 1998, pp. 193–198.
- Griehl, Manfred. Focke Wulf Ta 154. Vol. 12, Schiffer Pub., 1999.
- Ledwoch, Janusz. Focke-Wulf Ta 154 “Moskito”. No.303 ed., LXX, Wydawnictwo “Militaria”, 2008.
- Spenser, Jay P. Moskito. Vol. 22, Monogram Aviation Publications, 1983.