Luftwaffe Mistel Project: Piggyback Aircraft Drone

Piggyback aircraft

In 1943 German engineers had the crazy idea to develop the Mistel (mistletoe) composite bomber, also known as “Father and Son,” or “piggyback” aircraft. It consisted of a fighter, a Messerschmitt Bf-109 or a Focke-Wulf Fw-190 sitting on top of a Junkers Ju-88 airframe. The fore part of Ju-88, where the crew would normally sit, was turned into a large hollow-charge warhead nose with 7,700 lbs of high-explosive inside, so effectively a drone.

The whole system was flown by the pilot of the upper aircraft, who then released the lower one on a direct course to the target. The purpose of this somewhat monstrous design was the destruction of battleships and aircraft carriers, as well as heavily fortified land targets.

Junkers Ju 88 and Focke Wulf Fw 190 ww2
A member of the 439th Troop Carrier Group, USAAF, looks over a captured German Junkers piggyback plane (Junkers Ju 88 and Focke Wulf Fw 190) at an air base somewhere in France, May 4 1945

The Mistel first went into action in June 1944 off the coast of Normandy. The deadly load nearly missed HMS Nith, which however, still sustained some damage due to the tremendous blast.


In 1945, when the Germany’s situation became increasingly desperate, the Luftwaffe command came up with a daring plan to bomb the Royal Navy’s base at Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands. The operation was codenamed Drachenhöhle, or “Dragon’s Lair.” A task force flying from Tirstrup, Denmark, would include about a dozen Mistels. Each pilot was assigned a specific ship as a target. Upon completing the mission, they were supposed to head for Stavanger, Norway, for landing.

Focke-Wulf Fw 190A
Focke-Wulf Fw 190A

Scapa flow

On February 14, as the German pilots were awaiting the order to depart for Scapa Flow, a pair of de Havilland Mosquito FB.VIs appeared over the airfield flying at a treetop level. Those Mosquitos, based in Ford, Sussex, regularly flew on strafing missions against enemy airfields and other targets. On that day they took off to check up on the Tirstrup airfield. Arriving at the site, they found a bunch of Fw-190s mounted on top of Ju-88s and strafed them, setting at least one “piggyback” on fire.

Junkers Ju 88
Junkers Ju 88 Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-363-2258-11 / Rompel / CC-BY-SA 3.0

British Intelligence

It is now known that British intelligence was aware of the deployment of Mistel to Danish airfields as early as in January. So, that raid by Mosquitoes was probably not a coincidence, although the pilots had not been informed on what sort of targets they would find at Tirstrup. There’s even a theory that the Scapa Flow attack plans were leaked to the British intelligence by Werner Baumbach, German commander responsible for the operation, who deemed that mission unnecessary and nearly suicidal.

The underside of the RAF Museums Fw 190
The underside of the RAF Museums Fw 190. One of the attachment points to the lower aircraft can be seen on the right. Photo: Hugh Llewelyn

For some reason Mistel’s raid on Scapa Flow was postponed after that. Some German documents point to a change in fuel supply priorities in favor of another raid on the Eastern Front. Whatever the reason, Luftwaffe command decided that the operation “Dragon’s Lair” could not be carried out at the moment. And it wasn’t, either then, or ever after.

A German "Mistel" composite aircraft
A German “Mistel” composite aircraft (Focke-Wulf Fw 190 mounted on a Junkers Ju 88) is examined by soldiers of the 102nd Infantry Division, 9th U.S. Army, at Gardelegen airfield, Germany, circa in May 1945