The Messerschmitt Me-262 Schwalbe (German for "Swallow") saw action from late summer of 1944, sharing the title of first operational jet fighter with the British Gloster Meteor.
Me-262 began life in 1938, when Willy Messerschmitt was called upon to design a new fighter to be powered by two gas turbine engines. The configuration eventually chosen featured a sleek streamlined fuselage with the two podded engines carried beneath a low-mounted wing. Although the first airframe was ready to fly by 1941, the B.M.W. engines were suffering prolonged development delays, which slowed the project significantly.
Developed steadily over the next two years, and using Jumo 004 engines, the Luftwaffe began committing the remarkable Me 262A-1a to combat in mid-1944 when they were pitted against the columns of heavy bombers making daily raids on German cities and military targets. Despite being well-armed with 30-mm cannons and air-to-air rockets, the Me 262 was simply too little too late to turn the tide of war in Germany's favor. Further variants appeared, most notably two-seater night-fighters and a reconnaissance version, although only in small numbers. Maintaining production was difficult due to Allied attacks on industrial centers, many aircraft being destroyed on the ground before they could ever fly.
Some 1,430 total aircraft were built, though only about 300 ever saw combat. The Me 262 had a negligible impact on the course of the war, shooting down an estimated 150 Allied aircraft for the loss of 100 Me 262s, the majority of aircraft being grounded too often for lack of fuel.