Heinrich Schmetz was a pioneer in the testing Hand employment of precision guided munitions in World War II. After beginning his lifetime in aviation piloting gliders at age 14, Schmetz entered the Luftwaffe in 1935 and after navigator training was sent to Kampfgeschwader (KG) 253, the “General Wever” bomber wing, where he flew the Junkers 52, Dornier 23 and Junkers 86. In late 1937, he entered the reserves and resumed studies for a degree in aeronautical engineering.
A few days before the blitzkrieg into Poland, he was recalled to active service in his old wing, now re-designed KG 4. In the spring of 1940, Schmetz was assigned to 7./KG 4 and often flew missions with the Staffelkapitan, Hajo Herrmann, first in the Heinkel 111 and later in the Junkers 88. He participated in the attack on France and the Low Countries and then in Operation Weserubung, the campaign into Denmark and Norway. During the Battle of Britain, Schmetz flew night missions against British industrial complexes and coastal shipping. When his bomber unit moved to Sicily, he saw action from Gibraltar to Greece. On a spectacular night attack on Piraeus harbor, Schmetz scored a direct hit on the British ammunition ship Clan Frazier.
The explosion sank eleven ships and devastated the port. In late 1941, he returned to the Western Front to fly reconnaissance over the North Sea and English Channel. In 1942, this skilled navigator went to pilot training. After earning his pilot’s badge, he was moved to a unit testing radio-controlled bombs, the first effective guided munitions. In 1943, Schmetz was assigned to KG 100 in Dornier 217’s. When the allies made amphibious landings at Salerno, KG 100 mounted an attack. Schmetz scored his first victories in September, hitting the British battleship Warspite and sinking the Italian battleship Roma.
He was chosen to command III/KG 100, a bomber group, just in time to defend against the Normandy invasion. As the allied beachhead expanded, Schmetz led a composite unit of German airmen, soldiers, and sailors in an epic retreat from southern France. As the allied armies closed in on his homeland, Schmetz became manager for unguided rockets, working with Wernher von Braun. After the war, he worked for the French navy, ironically using Junkers 188s, testing captured German guided bombs. In 1956, he joined the newly created Bundeswehr, serving on weapons evaluation teams. In 1965 in Dayton, Ohio, he worked on joint German-American projects to develop a vertical/short takeoff and landing fighter. Returning to Europe, he worked on NATO’s Panavia fighter program, and the MILAN anti-tank and the ROLAND anti-aircraft missiles. He ended his active duty service as liaison to the US Army, Redstone Arsenal.