Wednesday, June 24, 2015

First Capture of a Focke-Wulf FW190

The Allies and Germany engaged in a little-remembered technological race throughout World War II that only ended with the war itself. It was the constant competition to field the most capable fighter. There were several changes of the lead over the years, and arguably the Germans won that particular competition with the first jet fighter to see active combat, the ME-262.

In mid-1942, however, long before the Me 262 appeared, the Germans were falling behind. The Messerschmidt Bf 109 was still capable and formed the backbone of the Luftwaffe fighter wings. However, it had been the primary German fighter since before the war and was getting a bit long in the tooth as the limits of its airframe were reached and the Allies learned all of its tricks. The latest Spitfire was at least its equal and perhaps its superior, with the proviso that every different aircraft type has its peculiar advantages, whether it be turning radius, climb rate, sheer speed or any of a number of attributes. Thus, a top pilot could take a slightly inferior fighter and still produce good results. It was undeniable, though, that the Bf 109 badly needed another fighter to share the load. The Bf 109 remained a mainstay of the fighter force right to the end of the war, but a brilliant new fighter did come along at just the right time.

The FW 190 had a low pilot seat which kept the pilot's legs straight out. This made high G turns less likely to cause the pilot to blackout due to circulation effects. The 190 had a high roll rate, so it could do a split S to break off from unfavorable positions. This agility enabled Faber to shoot down his pursuer.
The Focke-Wulf FW190, designed by Kurt Tank, was the new entrant, and even its early versions proved superior to the latest Bf 109. The British noticed the appearance of the capable new fighter, and while British pride might not admit that the FW 190 was superior to anything on the Allied side, that was a reasonable conclusion to draw. With the Royal Air Force and Luftwaffe in rough parity at the time, any change in the balance of power was of grave concern to either side.

The Focke-Wulf 190 instrument panel, control stick and rudder pedals.
Luftwaffe head Hermann Goering wanted to maintain the Luftwaffe's advantage for as long as possible. He issued an order that no FW 190 was to cross the English Channel. If an FW-190 was over the Channel, it was under strict orders to turn back to France at the halfway point. Later in the war FW 190s did venture over to England with permission on Jabo (ground attack) missions, but in mid-1942 the plane was just being introduced and the Germans wanted to keep its qualities secret.

The British were desperate to learn the capabilities of the mysterious new plane, and 1942 was a time of extensive special ops missions (such as the Dieppe Raid, the assault on the Saint Nazaire port facilities and the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich). A daring plan was formulated for Combined Operations by Captain Philip Pinckney of E Troop, 12 Commando to steal one of the new Focke-Wulfs from its base in France. Captain Pinckney planned to have a British pilot, most likely his friend Jeffrey Quill, smuggled into France to hijack an FW-190 and fly it back to England intact. It was a daring plan, one straight out of a Hollywood movie such as that year's "Desperate Journey" starring Errol Flynn and Ronald Reagan.

JG 26 Commander Josef "Pips" Priller (101 victories) with Professor Kurt Tank (chief designer at Focke-Wulf), September 1942. Pips was one of the few Luftwaffe pilots to fly over the D-Day beaches on 6 June 1944, and the famous helicopter sequence from "The Longest Day" is portrayed as taken from his FW-190A-8.
However, just as the plan was being drawn up, it suddenly became unnecessary. On 23 June 1942, Oberleutnant Armin Faber, who was the Gruppen-Adjutant of the 7th Staffel of JG2 Richthofen, was flying with Egon Mayer’s Squadron. As an administrative leader of Staffel, Faber knew all about Goering's order and in fact, had been the one to issue it to the other pilots. Staffel administrators didn't always fly missions, but there had been a lot of attrition and Faber was fully capable, so up he went.

Captured German Focke-Wulf Fw-190D-9 fighter-bombers appropriated for use in the Russian army
Faber's mission was to intercept a force of 12 Douglas DB-7/A-20 Havoc attack bomber. They had been sent to attack a Luftwaffe aerodrome at Morlaix, which is at the southern end of the English channel. The bombers were escorted by elements of 310, 312 and 313 (Czech) Squadrons led by Wing Commander Vašátko. Faber was flying with Uffz Wilhelm Reushling, who shot down a Spitfire but then had his own plane destroyed by the British plane's explosion. Faber then had to face the remaining Spitfires alone. He was trailed by one Spitfire, but via a brilliant textbook maneuver (Immelmann turn) managed to turn the tables and shoot down the pursuing Spitfire. The chase and battle, however, had taken him over the Channel to the British coast, which Faber thought was France.

FW 190 & Bf 109 Flying Heritage Collection, USA
Faber, running low on fuel, thus innocently landed at the first airport that he saw. Unfortunately for him, though, it turned out to be an RAF base at Pembrey in South Wales. He was quickly arrested by a surprised British Sergeant, and the British had their first peek at the new plane.

"Fw 190A-3 JG 2 in Britain 1942" by RAF - This is photograph MH4190 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons 
The Germans and the British continued their fighter development programs. The FW 190A-3 that was captured was soon outlclassed by further versions, such as the "Long-nose Dora" FW-190D, and by newer Allied planes. However, it was the only FW190 fighter (as opposed to other versions, such as Jabos) captured intact by the Allies until near the close of hostilities.

An advanced FW-190, the Focke Wulf Fw 190D9 JV44 Red 3 Waldemar Wubke, Germany, 1945.


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