Walter Sharbo and the German Jet
On this date in 1923, Walter Sharbo was born in Williston. He became a fighter pilot during World War 2, flying a P-47 Thunderbolt. Walter served with the famous 56th Fighter Group, also known as Zemke’s Wolf Pack, so-named for Commander Hubert Zemke. Zemke’s Wolf Pack was part of the 8th Air Force and flew air cover for bombers attacking German occupied Europe.
Sharbo survived being shot down twice while flying air cover. He credited his survival to the rugged construction of the “Jug,” as the P-47 was known. Sharbo became an Ace with five and a half confirmed victories, two of which were Me-109s shot down on Christmas day, 1944.
But a tougher foe would soon emerge. The Messerschmitt 262 was the world’s first operational jet fighter. It was developed by the Germans during the Second World War. The ME 262 first flew in the summer of 1942 and would have been the perfect weapon to stem the tide of Allied bombers attacking Germany because its superior speed left American fighter cover defenseless. But instead of developing the 262 into an attack fighter, Hitler insisted it be a bomber. This delayed the fighter development for many months, and when it was finally deployed in limited numbers during the summer of 1944, it was too little, too late. Still, the 262 achieved an impressive number of victories from mid-1944 to the end of the war in 1945. Some sources state that over 700 Allied fighters and bombers were lost to the jet.
The fastest Allied fighters could not catch the 262 so different tactics were developed. It was most vulnerable when taking off and landing, so fighters tried to hit them at their airfields.
On April 10, 1945, while returning from a fighter sweep in the Berlin area, Walter Sharbo caught sight of several airborne 262s and managed to make a diving pass at one of the speeding jets, hitting it with the jug’s fifty caliber machine gun, which sent the jet crashing to the ground. It was the last known air-to-air victory over a Messerschmitt ME-262, and the last air-to air-victory for the 56th Fighter Group.
After the war, Walter worked for JC Penny in Williston, raised a family, and eventually managed the Penny’s story in Belle Fourche, SD. Walter Sharbo passed away at his home in 2006 at the age of 82.
Dakota Datebook written by Scott Nelson
Sources: Walter Sharbo obituary, Wikipedia Me 262,
Books- 56th Fighter Group by Roger Freeman, Beware the Thunderbolt by David McLaren