Thursday, 11 October 2012

It isn't a Messerschmitt Mr Cameron

Today, during his trip to the Imperial War Museum David Cameron referred to the Museum’s Focke-Wulf Fw 190 as a Messerschmitt. Normally this would not be a problem but unfortunately he said it within earshot of an amateur Luftwaffe historian – me.

Now it may not seem like too much of an error but to put it into context it would be like comparing a Spitfire to a P. 51 Mustang.

So if you’ll bear with me I will provide a brief biography of both aircraft and within you will see the differences.

BF 109 G's note the Daimler Benz inline engine & small cockpit
The Messerschmitt Me 109 was designed by Robert Lauser and Willi Messerschmitt at the Bayern Flugzeugwerke with the first prototype flying in September 1935 with a Rolls Royce Kestrel engine. It was designed as the Messerschmitt entry to a RLM specification for a new single seat fighter to replace the aging He. 51 biplane. The 109 saw of challenges from Focke-wulf and Arado fairly easily. The big competitor was the Heinkel He. 112, the competition was so close that both machines were dispatched to the Condor Legion in Spain to take part in the civil war. Despite the superiority of the Heinkel machine the 109 was chosen.

The 109 was the first fighter to kick off the revolutionary designs that would come to the frontlines of air forces around the world including the Dewoitine D.520 and Supermarine Spitfire. The 109 was the first all metal fuselage fighter with an enclosed cockpit with a new high-powered engine. The Me 109 R (later listed BF 209) one many pre war air races. During its brief spell in Spain the 109 acquitted itself excellently ripping through the older Soviet models of the Republican forces and hand in hand with the modern Heinkel He 111 and Junkers Ju. 52 bombers (as well as the excellent Junkers Ju 87 Stuka) handed aerial superiority to the Nationalists.

By the outbreak of the Second World war the Messerschmitt 109D (dora) was the standard model of the Luftwaffe which was slowly being replaced by the superlative E (emil) model. Whilst on a par with the Spitfire, Hurricane and D.520 they’re massed numbers over the Panzer thrusts and with superior tactics with experienced officers who had served in Spain quickly gained superiority.

When it came to the Battle of Britain the 109 E with its four machine guns and two MG FF cannons maintained superiority in the early months of the battle. It was only when the OKL directives to push the 109s to fly deeper over England that losses began to mount and the limits of the range became apparent. When the Luftwaffe switched targets to London the 109 was working at the limits of its range and only had enough time for twenty minutes of air combat over the capital which would mean that the Jagdflieger would have to keep an eye on the fuel gauge or risk ending up in the drink on the way back to France.

The pinnacle of the 109 design, the F (Friedrich) model was coming into the frontline. The F was superior to anything else in the air at the time and quickly maintained superiority over the RAF in the Balkens, Africa (where Marseille shot down six Hurricanes in one day – TWICE!) and Russia. When Hauptmann Pingel crash landed his Friedrich outside Dover in ’41 he handed the RAF an intact model for evaluation and soon the Spitfire was modified to meet the design.

The G (Gunther) came out in ’42 but was only meant to be a stop gap for the proposed BF 209 fighter but when it didn’t come it continued to be the mainstay of the Jagdflieger. The G was covered with “boils” with extra armament and additions to the fuselage but it took its toll on performance and the model was quickly out performed by the P-47 Thunderbolt, P-51 Mustang and the newer models of Spitfire – even by Yak 9’s in Russia.

Despite this there was the 109K (Kurfaust) which saw limited production which was designed for high altitude fighting, the 109 T which was a 109 E with an arrester hook for Aircraft carriers and the post war models including the Hispano Ha. 1112 in Spain (which was powered by the Rolls Royce Merlin and a squadron were used in the making of the Battle of Britain movie) and the Avia S-99 (powered by a Junkers Jumo 211 engine, which had been used in Heinkel He. 111 bombers.) which served with the Israeli airforce.

The 109 was the highest scoring fighter in the war. Aces like Erich Hartmann who scored over three hundred kills aided this. It was also the most heavily produced aircraft of all time until recent years with 30,573 machines built in Germany during the war accounting for 47% of all aircraft built for the Luftwaffe!

FW 190 A- note the radial engine and bubble cockpit
The Focke-wulf 190 was designed by Kurt Tank with the maiden flight being in June 1939 and, unlike the 109 was powered by a radial engine rather than the sleek inline liquid cooled engine. The Radial engine, which many experten claimed was a hindrance, actually gave the craft a greater lift and able to carry heavier loads. This led to the 190 being used for torpedo aircraft roles, anti-tank ordinance and the MistellenThe original A1 model was fitted with four 7.92 mm Machine guns (two in the fuselage and two in the wing) and two outboard MG FF cannon on wing mounted pods which gave it quite a punch and it was swiftly nicknamed the Butcherbird.

After its eventual introduction in 1941 it quickly proved itself superior to anything the RAF had to offer until the Spitfire Mk. IX came to the front line which levelled the playing field again. On its arrival to Russia in 1942 it made an immediate impact despite the Soviet’s believing the 109 was the threat. With modifications the ground attack units became quite a menace to the Soviet armour.

The big problem with the 190 A was that its manoeuvrability at high altitude was quite poor in comparison to other craft but more than made up for it at medium and low altitudes. Focke-wulf quickly rectified this problem by using the inline Junkers Jumo 213 engine thus creating the amazing long nosed Fw 190 D (dora). However this model lacked the high rate of turn and roll that the A model had had. The Dora was supposed to be a stop gap according to Kurt Tank for the Ta. 152 which when tested by Herr Tank left six Mustangs that “bounced” the prototype in its dust!

However positive feedback of the Dora from the pilots changed the minds of OKL. Unfortunately for the Luftwaffe it was too little to late as it didn’t come into service until the end of 1944. The retreating Wehrmacht and destroyed German production meant that there was a shortage of numbers being produced and the ageing 109, far beyond its useful production life and the vicious 190 were unable to stop the tide of Allied aircraft.

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