German Failure to Develop a Four-Engine Bomber

“Amerika” bomber Amerika Bomber: A group of Me 264 aircraft getting ready to take off.

The answer lies with Germany’s theory of war in general. Everyone knew that Germany could not sustain a long-drawn-out war like WWI. Blitzkrieg, to use a simple term, was developed to achieve quick victories of the kind that were essential to Germany’s success. As a result, the sole purpose of the Luftwaffe was to directly support the ground troops in getting that victory through direct intervention on the battlefield.

In general, the twin engine bombers (Do17, Ju88, etc.) were to function in an interdiction role, disrupting supplies and the flow of reinforcements directly behind the battlefield. Strategic bombing, the only use for four-engined bombers, was a waste of time if the war was only going to last weeks or months. If Germany needed strategic bombing, then she had already lost.

A very decent four-engine plane was built, the Fw 200 Condor, but used mainly for reconnaissance in support of the navy. It could be used in a bombing role, but again, to what purpose?

The gross statistic for aircraft production is the weight of airframes produced.

An empty Bf-109 weighs something over 5,000 lbs.

An empty B-17F weighs something over 36,000 lbs.

So a B-17 is not just 4 times as demanding on production as a fighter, it’s more like 7 times.

Additionally, the big bombers suck too much gas. One book I read described a raid in 1944 where the US bombing force that raided a German refinery burned more fuel in that single mission than the targeted German refinery could produce in a MONTH.

A Bf-109 has internal storage for 100 gallons of gas.

A B-17 uses 1,700 gallons of gas.

A B-29 uses 7,000 gallons of gas.

A B-36 (available in 1946) uses 20,000 gallons of gas.

Finally, if you check the stats for the He-111, Ju-88, and Do-217, the Germans had bombers with lifting capacities fully in line with the B-17 and B-24. This is especially true when you realize that the loads carried by 8th Air Force were restricted to 4,000 – 5,000 lbs. of bombs per plane because management had selected the 500-lb. bomb as the standard weapon and only 10 such bombs fit into an American bomb bay.

If the Germans could have assembled a force of 1,000 Do-217Es or Ju-88s dedicated to strategic bombing, they could have done the same damage as 1,000 B-17s or B-24s.

The critical difference is mostly the overwhelming production capacity of the US and England. Canada produced more aircraft than Italy. England produced more aircraft than Germany. American production was limited only by the schools to produce aircrew. And with the Luftwaffe already outnumber 3 or 4 to 1 by the English and Americans, you have to include Russian production, which was also larger than Germany’s.

Eagle Day included sorties by something like 1,500 German aircraft.

D-Day, 6 June 1944, included sorties by 15,000 Allied aircraft, and it wasn’t considered an “air battle”.

As mentioned above, the German’s lack of a dedicated four-engined bomber at the start of the war, was due the philosophical orientation of the German High Command.

At the outset, the German military’s goal was to achieve dominance of mainland Europe. To do so, it was decided that rapid strikes by German aircraft over short distances, in support of ground forces, would be the key to victory. Thus, bombers were to perform a tactical, rather than strategic, role in a European war. In examining this plan, German planners decided that it was better (militarily and economically) to field a large force of small bombers performing pin-point attacks (via dive-bombing) than to have a smaller force of heavy bombers dropping huge loads of bombs with a poorer rate of accuracy.

The need for long range heavy bombers was not seriously considered by the Germans until 1940 when Britain did not sue for peace as Hitler had hoped. The campaign over Britain exposed a number of serious flaws in the Luftwaffe’s long-range capability, which German aircraft designers rushed to rectify.

While it is true that the Fw 200 Condor was a decent four-engined maritime patrol bomber, it was actually derived from a civilian design and had a limited bomb load. For good or bad, the He 177 Greif was destined to be the Luftwaffe’s heavy bomber, but due to demands from the RLM that the plane be capable to perform a multitude of tasks (including medium angled dive bombing attacks), the design was severely compromised from the start. The arrangement of its four engines into pairs driving a pair of large props was complicated and prone to breakdowns with disastrous results. The high incidence of planes lost to engine fires resulted in Luftwaffe crews nicknaming the He 177 “the flying lighter”. These problems and other delays did not see the He 177 coming into large scale production until 1943 when the war was already turning against Germany. Although the plane did see considerable service in the east and was employed fitfully against Britain, it had little impact on the course of the war.

Other designs, such as the “Ural” and “Amerika” bomber programs were also harried by design problems, changing RLM demands and interference by Nazi officials, which prevented their complete development.


For years there has been much debate about the ‘Amerika Bomber’. Today frequent reference is made to an ‘Amerika Bomber’ programme and numerous German bomber projects are regularly associated with it. But there is no contemporary evidence for a programme using that term.

However, there are several references in contemporary British intelligence reports indicating that the Me 264 had indeed been given a nickname by German personnel. Was this the ‘Amerika Bomber’?

A. I. 2.(G) Report No. 2208 of December 26, 1943, states: “The information which has been received concerning the Me 264 is of a rather spectacular nature. It was originally believed that this was to be a twin-engined aircraft but more recent reports describe it as a four-engined long-range recce-bomber. Particular emphasis is laid upon range, which has been variously indicated as 9300 miles; 6200 miles (with four- ton load); and ‘sufficient to attack the USA’. There has also been a reference to sleeping accommodation for four out of a total crew of nine.”

A later account, A. D. I.(K) Report No. 169/44 of April 18, 1944, says: “Two P/W [prisoners of war] who were at Lechfeld during the summer of 1943 had seen an aircraft which they referred to as a Me 264 at that airfield. It appears that one aircraft of this type was standing in the open at Lechfeld airfield for several months up to August 1943 when it suddenly disappeared.

“It aroused P/W’s interest owing to its reputed prodigious range; it was usually referred to as the ‘USA Bomber’, as it was supposed to be capable of attacking the United States, and one P/W asserts that it has been flown to Tokyo and back.”

A. D. I.(K) 1346 dated October 18, 1944, refers to the “Me 264 ‘York Bomber’” presumably meaning ‘New York Bomber’. The most oft-stated reference for the Me 264 as being the ‘Amerika Bomber’ comes from a speech given by Hermann Göring at his Carinhall retreat on March 18, 1943. He is quoted as saying: “I well remember that at Augsburg – it was exactly a year ago – I was shown an ‘Amerika Bomber’ that really called for nothing more than to be put into mass production.” In fact, word for word, the original transcript actually says: “I remember – it is years ago now – when I was in Augsburg, I was shown an ‘America’ aircraft which had only to be put into large-scale production.”

This interesting speech is reproduced in its entirety elsewhere in this publication. So there appears to be no contemporary source that puts ‘Amerika’ and ‘Bomber’ together. Where, then, does this common ‘secret projects’ term come from?

The earliest verified reference appears on p15 in the November 1952 issue of American magazine Flying and is used in reference to a postwar Soviet-supervised Junkers design, the EF 132. It states: “More German scientists and equipment arrived and more German aircraft and engine plants took roots in Russian soil. Professor Doctor Schiebe, Freundel, Wocke, Hartmann and hundreds of others went to work on different projects, such as the most secret Luftwaffe plan of transatlantic bombing with the JuEF 132 – The ‘Amerika Bomber’.”

There is scant evidence from the 1960s but writing in his highly influential 1970 work The Warplanes of the Third Reich, William Green stated that the Me 264 was ‘dubbed unofficially the Amerika-Bomber’. Green was writing at a time when most if not all documents and reports relating to German projects were still classified and unavailable. He therefore did what he could with what he had.

No doubt as a consequence of this description, Herbert Molloy Mason stated in his 1973 book, The Rise of the Luftwaffe, that the Me 264 was known as the Amerika-Bomber, and in his 1978 Illustrated Encyclopedia of 20th Century Weapons and Warfare, Bernard Fitzsimons said the Me 264 was ‘popularly called’ the Amerika-Bomber. In the 1987 Smithsonian Book of Flight, Walter J Boyne also uses ‘Amerika Bomber’ to refer to the Me 264.

Nathan C Goldman, writing in 1992, used the term to refer to Eugen Sänger’s suborbital bomber, as did NASA writer A M Springer in 2003. In 1999, Isolde Baur called the Me 264 an ‘Amerika-Bomber’ in her biography of her husband, Messerschmitt test pilot Karl Baur.

Perhaps most influentially in recent times, David Myhra referred to the Horten XVIII as an Amerika Bomber in his 1998 book Secret Aircraft Designs of the Third Reich. This followed his interview with Reimar Horten in 1980, where Horten stated: “The Ho 18 was to have been a very long-range all-wing bomber which Walter and I were ordered to design and build for Hermann Göring in April 1945. The project already had a nickname – it was being called the ‘Amerika-Bomber’.”

Suffice to say that only Göring and perhaps Horten himself ever used the ‘nickname’ since the XVIII was entered for a competition that was meant to result in a bomber capable of attacking England and, to a limited degree, supply vessels in the Atlantic. Following Myhra’s lead, Walter J Boyne also refers to the Horten XVIII as the ‘Amerika-Bomber’ in his 2002 Air Warfare encyclopaedia, as does Jean-Denis G G Lepage in his 2009 Aircraft of the Luftwaffe, and Lance Cole in his 2015 Secret Wings of World War II.