Hitler’s “Amerikabomber”

The idea of flying planes into skyscrapers didn't originate with al-Qaeda

Toward the end of World War II, with most of the German military establishment convinced that the war was already lost, an increasingly desperate Adolf Hitler ordered his engineers to begin an intense campaign to develop new types of unconventional weapons—Wunderwaffen, or "miracle weapons," as they came to be called. The program also included plans, now largely forgotten, for what was called "Projekt 'A'"—a huge plane intended to fly repeat missions over the Atlantic, where it would release a smaller bomber that would continue on to carry out an attack against a target along the eastern coast of the United States. Hitler and his close associates referred to the plane as the "Amerikabomber."

A technical drawing of the Amerikabomber, prepared in 1944 by Fritz Nallinger, an aeronautics engineer working for Daimler-Benz, accompanies the print edition of this article. Drawings of the plane appeared in Die deutschen Flugzeuge 1933-1945, an obscure single-volume encyclopedia, long out of print, devoted to airplanes of the Nazi period. Recently brought back to light by Ulrich Albrecht, a professor of political science at the Free University in Berlin, the drawings show prototypes for a large, multi-engine mother aircraft with a smaller plane attached to its underbelly. The plans for this smaller plane, which was designed to fly almost at the speed of sound, clearly lack landing gear and weapons systems. Accompanying technical descriptions note that the plane was not expected to be "recovered"—strongly suggesting that it was intended to be used as a bomb.

The Nazis' interest in suicide bombing was no secret. In 1943 Heinrich Himmler, the leader of Hitler's SS, had enthusiastically endorsed a plan to sink Allied ships with suicide air attacks. Hitler opposed the idea at the time, but in 1944, with the war going badly, he agreed to the formation of special squadrons of suicide bombers. A hundred and four volunteers were selected as pilots of one squadron; each signed a statement saying, "I understand that I will die at the end of my mission." Wearing all their military decorations, and listening to music and women's voices on their headphones, sixteen of these pilots flew suicide missions on April 16 and 17, 1945, in a desperate effort to defend Berlin from the advancing Red Army.

Hitler's desire to attack the United States was also no secret. "I have never seen him so infuriated as towards the end of the war," Albert Speer, Hitler's architect and the Nazi minister responsible for arms production, recalled in his diary in 1947.

It was almost as if he was in a delirium when he described to us how New York would go up in flames. He imagined how the skyscrapers would turn into huge burning torches. How they would crumble while the reflection of the flames would light the skyline against the dark sky.