The Luftwaffe’s “Amerika Bomber”

by Dr. Marshall Michel
52nd Fighter Wing historian

The “Amerika Bomber” project was an initiative of the World War II German Air Ministry to obtain a long-range strategic bomber for the Luftwaffe that would be capable of striking the continental U.S. from Germany — a range of about 5,800 kilometers.

The first public reference to the Amerika Bomber was on July 8, 1938, in a speech by the Luftwaffe’s commander in chief Reichsmarschall Hermann Göering, and requests for designs were made to the major German aircraft manufacturers early in the war. Even though America was not in the war, it was clearly on the British side, and after the American-British Destroyers for Bases Agreement in September 1940, Hitler announced his desire to “deploy long-range bombers against American cities from the Portuguese Azores islands.”

A 33 page Amerika Bomber project plan was submitted to Göring on April 27, 1942, and specifically mentioned basing in the Azores, where Portuguese dictator Salazar had allowed German U-boats and navy ships to refuel, as a transit airfield. This would allow new, four engine bombers to reach the U.S. with a 5-ton payload. But from 1943 onward, he leased bases in the Azores to the British, allowing the Allies to provide aerial coverage in the middle of the Atlantic.

Though the Luftwaffe had asked German aircraft companies to eschew the development of  heavy bombers in favor of tactical aircraft early in the war, Hitler’s desires meant four companies developed heavy bombers, the most promising being the German Junkers Ju 390, a simple development of the Junkers Ju 290 reconnaissance bombers already in service.

The Ju 390 prototypes were created by simply attaching an extra pair of inner-wing segments onto the wings of basic Ju 290 airframe to help accommodate two additional engines (three to a wing for a total of six BMW 801D 1,730 horsepower radial piston engines). The fuselage was also lengthened by 8 feet, making the Ju 390 112 feet long with a wing span of 165 feet. It had a maximum take-off weight of 166,400 pounds and carried a 10 man crew.

With the second prototype, the plot thickened. According to some post war accounts, this Ju 390 made flight from the German base at Mont-de-Marsan, near Bordeaux, France, to Cape Town in early 1944.

But the most fascinating claim for the second prototype is that in April 1944 it made a 32-hour reconnaissance flight to within 12 miles off the coast of Long Island, N.Y. There is considerable debate among aviation historians about whether this flight really took place. A great circle round trip from France to St. Johns, Newfoundland, was quite possible, but the additional 2,380 miles to Long Island made the flight much more problematic, though certainly not impossible.

What would have been the aim of a small Luftwaffe raid on New York? It might have skewed American strategic priorities like the Doolittle raid did for the Japanese, and it would have certainly forced a diversion of resources to defend the continental U.S. But by this time in the war, U.S. military power was so overwhelming that such a diversion would hardly have been noticed.

In the event, antiaircraft, Allied air strikes and the advance of the Soviet army forced the Germans to concentrate on defense, and the contracts for the 26 Ju 390s were canceled in June 1944. All work ceased in September of that year, but the question of the Ju-390’s mission to the U.S. remains one of the most interesting questions of the war.

(Dr. Michel’s articles appear twice a month in the KA. For questions or comments, e-mail Dr. Michel at