Warren “Smoky” Schrader commanded the only allied jet fighter squadron to see combat in World War II. Born in Wellington, New Zealand in 1921, he joined the Royal New Zealand Air Force at age 19. After basic training he traveled to Canada and England, where he completed flight training. In his first operational unit, 165 Squadron, he flew a number of uneventful sweeps and patrols. He then shipped to Malta via Algeria in March 1943, where he flew Supermarine Spitfires with the 1435 squadron. He gained combat experience on fighter-bomber missions to Italy and in operations during the Allied landings in Sicily. His squadron moved to the Italian mainland in November 1943, where, as Commander of “A” Flight, 1435 Squadron, he flew Spitfires.
On 12 November 1943, Schrader destroyed his first enemy aircraft, a Savoia-Marchetti SM-79, on the ground in Albania. Soon his squadron upgraded to even more powerful Spitfires and Schrader shot down two Messerschmitt Me 109s that December 1943. On 3 January 1944, he shared in another victory and received the Distinguished Flying Cross. Then in May 1944, he went to Egypt as an instructor. He was assigned back to England in 1945, and transitioned to Hawker Tempests. He joined 486 Squadron (New Zealand) at Volkel, Holland, that March, and within 1 month was made Officer Commanding. In the final weeks of the war in Europe, Schrader finally became an Ace, destroying 9 1/2 aircraft in just 3 weeks, including 3 1/2 during one sortie on 29 April 1945.
This brought his total to 12, and the squadron’s total to 29, just in April. Meanwhile, RAF “brass” hoped their new jet airplane, the Gloster Meteor, might be able to shoot down a German aircraft, preferably a Messerschmitt Me 262. So on 2 May 1945, after a hurried local check-out in the Meteor, Schrader led an uneventful two ship sortie. He led two more sorties that day with similar results; however, 3 May 1945 was more exciting! On his first flight, in heavy rain, his left wing and engine passed through the top of a “fast-growing tree.” With the one engine shut down, he flew at 180 knots and made it safely home. On the day’s next sortie, his aircraft was hit by small arms fire and damaged by debris from the ground. On the third sortie of the day however, Schrader destroyed an Me 109, a Heinkel He 111, and a Junkers JU 87 at an airfield near Kiel.
After fighting came to a halt on 4 May, Schrader got a chance to fly a captured Me 262. He put on a spectacular airshow and beat up the field, but then found he could not get the nose gear down. Schrader prepared to land anyway, and just to be safe, added 20 knots to the approach speed “for Mum and the kids.” Without a nose gear, the engine nacelles made contact with the runway. They eventually wore down and caught fire. Top Ace Johnnie Johnson roundly congratulated him on a “bloody marvelous show!” Today, that Me 262 is on display in England. After the war, Schrader returned home and flew for New Zealand National Airways for 30 years, until his retirement as Chief Pilot.