Monday, June 29, 2015

Bf 109, Workhorse of the Luftwaffe

Bf 109 worldwartwo.filminspector.com


The Messerschmitt Bf 109 (aka ME 109) is a legendary Luftwaffe fighter from World War II. If casual history buffs know any particular German aircraft from the period, this is likely to be it. The Bf 109 was the most-produced aircraft on the German side with 33,984 units, and it saw action everywhere, from the first day of the war to the very last. It unquestionably was the single most important Luftwaffe aircraft, and more aerial kills were made with it than with any other aircraft in history. While I personally do not think that it was the best or most important fighter of the war - I give that crown to the Mustang - opinions on that can vary. However, I do not mean to slight it. By several measures, the "Messerschmidt" as it became commonly known was the dominant aircraft not just of World War II, but of all time.
Bf 109 worldwartwo.filminspector.com

The German Aviation Ministry (Reichsluftfahrtministerium), headed by Hermann Goering, knew from the dawn of the Third Reich era in 1933 that it needed a single-seat fighter. All that were available at the time were biplanes, so the Bf 109 was a huge leap forward. Based upon a March 1933 technical document, Willy Messerschmidt and his chief designer Robert Lusser were allowed by the RLM to enter a competition against Arado and Heinkel (later joined by Focke-Wulf). The two designers began work on Project No. P.1034 in March 1934, and had a full mockup completed by January 1935. The first prototype was ready that May.

Bf 109 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Wind tunnel tests on an advanced version.
Flight testing at Augsburg using a Rolls Royce Kestrel VI engine went well that summer, and subsequent testing took place at Rechlin. The second prototype, V2, used a 600 hp Jumo 210A engine. A third prototype with guns flew in May 1936. The fly-off against the other aircraft took place that March, and at first it did not go particularly well. The pilots were unimpressed with the Bf 109, particularly the lack of forward visibility on the ground. However, the competitors had their own problems, and the lighter basic design of the Me 109 gave it some aerodynamic advantages (such as a thinner wing). With less drag, the same engine gave the 109 better results than the other aircraft. The Messerschmidt design thus was the fastest of the entrants, a key consideration for a fighter, and on 12 March 1936 Messerschmidt had the contract.

Bf 109 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Good view of the armament and landing gear, which opened out from the wing root.
The basic design philosophy of the Bf 109 was to keep it light and aerodynamic. The guns were put in the nose to keep the drag down, but later one MG 17 on each side was added to the wings. Various other weapons combinations were tried out during subsequent development, such as gun pods under the wings, with the usual trade-offs of firepower versus performance.

Bf 109 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
This colorized picture is typically identified as a Bf 109 G-2 III./JG52 'Battle of Stalingrad' from the late Summer 1942. As Raja pointed out below, that indeed is the emblem of the third Staffel of the Gruppe. I incorrectly thought that it might be a Regia Aeronautica symbol, but the two just bear a (to my eyes, anyway) close resemblance.
The reason that the 109 had the "Bf" designation was that it originated from the Bayerische Flugzeugwerke (literally "Bavarian Aircraft Works"), which was Messerschmidt's company before he actually owned it. After 11 July 1938, Messerschmidt himself owned the company, and the plane interchangeably was called both Bf 109 and Me 109 by pretty much everyone (all other planes at the company after that had the ME designation). The official name, however, always remained Bf 109.

Bf 109 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Some leftover Spanish (Hispano) versions. These may have been used for filming "The Battle of Britain" in 1969.
The first variant, Bf 109A, was tried out in the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939. The plane proved superior to its competitors, and it and subsequent versions remained in front-line service through the Polish and French campaigns of 1939-1940. During the Battle of Britain in 1940, the 109 received its first real challenge from the Hurricanes and Spitfires of the Royal Air Force. Much is made of the superiority of British fighters, but that is highly debatable. At worst, the 109 was roughly equal to those planes, and under certain circumstances remained their superior. However, the 109 was taxed when it had to operate far from its French bases, and this imposed its own limitations on the aircraft's accomplishments that the British (for the time being) did not incur.

Bf 109 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
A member of Britain’s Home Guard inspects a Bf109 fighter shot down during the Battle of Britain, 1940. Note the distinctive unit markings on the fuselage.
The Bf 109 went through a sequence of modifications and upgrades during the conflict, just as did the Supermarine Spitfire on the British side. The high point for the Bf 109 probably was Operation Barbarossa in June 1941, when the Soviet fighters proved completely inadequate against it. There were so many Soviet aircraft, though, that the Luftwaffe never really managed to "clear the skies" of the relentless Soviets.

Bf 109 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Hans-Joachim Marseille with Willy Messerschmitt (Right) after trying out the new Gustav at the Messerschmitt plant. Hans-Joachim Marseille was a top Luftwaffe ace in North Africa, with 158 official victories, a very high total on the Western front.

The Bf 109s remained superior in most situations on the Eastern Front to all challengers, though usually their area of superiority was limited to particular areas along the 2,000 mile front. You can only dominate airspace that you can effectively cover, and after 1942 there never were enough airplanes to dominate long stretches of the front.

Bf 109 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
A 1940 Mercedes-Benz advertisement for aircraft motors. The Messerschmitt Bf-109 fighter and its Daimler-Benz 605 inline engine are depicted.

During 1942, Focke-Wulf, which had lost the initial competition against Messerschmidt, began producing the extremely efficient FW 190. It was a somewhat heavier fighter than the 109, more capable at low-level attacks and ground attack (Jabo) missions. After its introduction, the Bf 109 was used more for high-altitude bomber interceptions from that point forward, though the Luftwaffe was so overstretched that generally whatever plane was available handled operations. The Bf 109 was not ideally suited for missions against heavy bombers due to its light armament, but a well-handled Bf 109 could still take out a four-engined Allied bomber with a little luck or draw off the escort fighters so that heavier fighters could tackle the bombers.

Bf 109 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Production line of Bf 109s. Such factories were a major target of the Allied bomber offensive "Big Week" in February 1944.

Many of the major aces of the Luftwaffe (Experten) spent their careers in 109s despite the availability of newer aircraft with better performance features. It was a nimble mount that could get you out of trouble fast.

Bf 109 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
A Bf 109 which did not make it out of Stalingrad. The story goes that in January 1943, there were six flyable 109s left in Stalingrad when their airfield - one of two airfields in the city - was over-run. Five of the planes attempted to land at the other airfield, but all crashed. The sixth gave up and flew out to the west, and that ended all fighter protection over the city. The end followed less than two weeks later.

Aerial dominance on the Eastern Front passed to the Soviets after the July 1943 battle of Kursk due to sheer numbers and attrition, though the Bf 109s individually remained superior to anything thrown at them throughout the conflict. On the Channel Front, the FW 190 took over after 1942, led by JG 26. The 109 became dominant in home defense and secondary theaters, but it still served in some capacity pretty much everywhere.

Bf 109 worldwartwo.filminspector.com


Toward the end of the war, many of the best 109 pilots were transferred to the new jet squadrons flying the Me-262, which served two purposes: it gave the most advanced planes to the best pilots; and it also effectively protected those pilots, as missions by jets were few and far between. The last thing the Germans wanted was one of their top aces shot down, with all the attendant publicity, so many of the pilots with the highest kill totals were gradually removed from active combat one way or the other. Putting them in the jet squadrons neatly solved that problem without diminishing them by relegating them to desk jobs. However, some of the Experten also gained further glory in the jets.
Bf 109 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Erich Hartmann, German fighter pilot. He was the most successful fighter ace in the history of aerial warfare. Nicknamed the Blonde Knight and the Black Devil by his Soviet adversaries. He flew 1,404 combat missions, and participated in aerial combat on 825 separate occasions. He claimed, and was credited with, shooting down 352 Allied aircraft - 345 Soviet and 7 American.

There are about twenty Bf 109s remaining, scattered across the globe in museums. A handful are on display in Germany, while a similar number are in the United States.

Bf 109 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
German armorer loading ammunition into a Bf 109 fighter of JG 54 'Grünherz' fighter wing, Russia, Aug 1941. Those appear to be 20mm cannon rounds (Reiners, Federal Archive).



2015

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 black out the pilot 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 a 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 a 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.







2015

Friday, June 19, 2015

Wartime Couples


World War II couples weddings worldwartwo.filminspector.com


One of the biggest long-term effects of the war was the creation of the "Baby Boom" generation. They were the children of the people who lived through the war, who then had children in the years after World War II when wartime service was a thing of the past and couples could settle down in Levittown and Akron.

World War II couples weddings worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Lockheed worker "Big Jim" Dougherty and his lady, June 1942. Do you recognize the blushing bride? I think you know a lot about her. She was just 16, and her initials in later years were MM. 

The Boomer generation is generally considered to have begun in 1946 and ended in 1964.

World War II couples weddings worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Tyrone Power with his first wife, French actress Annabella, 1943.

Here are some pictures of the couples who likely participated in making the Boomer generation happen. Most of them are wedding photos, though not all. This is another of my "pointless" pages, such as my one on cats in World War II, which simply aims to capture a moment in time, the reality of life for ordinary people without dramatizing things by showing some epic battle or valiant deeds. This sort of scene was as relevant, or actually more relevant, to the people pictured than dramatic images of some shell exploding on a beach or a random plane firing its guns.

I have names for some of these couples, but really, that kind of detail is kind of irrelevant to my purpose. I'm just trying to show life during the war, what it was like on the home front.

World War II couples weddings worldwartwo.filminspector.com

World War II couples weddings worldwartwo.filminspector.com

World War II couples weddings worldwartwo.filminspector.com

World War II couples weddings worldwartwo.filminspector.com
It was fashionable at the time for brides to wear their best dress/outfit in their wedding photos rather than their actual wedding gown.

World War II couples weddings worldwartwo.filminspector.com

World War II couples weddings worldwartwo.filminspector.com

World War II couples weddings worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Wait.. what? Two mokes in a photo booth, probably on 42nd Street.

World War II couples weddings worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Just to be, you know, fair about these things.... The Bronx lady on the right has a classic '40s look, if it's not her own wedding it is probably someone else's. I assume her mink is inside; she could use a nice brooch to complement the necklace. I don't know what the foofy thing is on her shoulder, it look somewhat familiar but in any event it's a bit much. I am a little surprised at the dark gloves, but they do go with the purse and shoes; personally I think white or tan would have been a better choice, but then, this isn't a color photo so I can't really tell. They are probably very nice leather. Let me just say that lady is sharp. Word is this is 1949, so I'm cheating a bit on the war connection, but she made the dress herself. As for the other lady, her godmother, I hope her leg didn't hurt too bad where those band-aids are.


World War II couples weddings worldwartwo.filminspector.com


World War II couples weddings worldwartwo.filminspector.com

World War II couples weddings worldwartwo.filminspector.com


German Section



World War II couples weddings worldwartwo.filminspector.com
An SS wedding.
World War II couples weddings worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Maybe a future wedding?
World War II couples weddings worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Wehrmacht wedding.
World War II couples weddings worldwartwo.filminspector.com
You know what they say about working for the same employer....
World War II couples weddings worldwartwo.filminspector.com
He survived long enough to get all those decorations, he'll survive marriage, too.
World War II couples weddings worldwartwo.filminspector.com
These two actually seem to like each other.
World War II couples weddings worldwartwo.filminspector.com
These two also. I sense a possible match. Mom and dad look okay with it, too.

World War II couples weddings worldwartwo.filminspector.com

World War II couples weddings worldwartwo.filminspector.com






2015

Saturday, June 6, 2015

US Air Force Thunderbirds



Ok, so this particular page is not about World War II. However, it is on a military-themed site for sure, and thus some of my readers may enjoy these pictures that I took of the 2015 Air Force Thunderbirds at the US Air Force Academy Graduation. The tenuous connection to World War II, if such is needed, is that the Air Force Academy was authorized in 1954 by World War II General Dwight D. Eisenhower, then US President. But, seriously, this is just a chance to look at some modern jets.

I am not trying to provide the most stunning shots ever taken of these, because that has been done and there is nothing that I could possibly add to the professional photographers who specialize in this. However, these shots should provide some idea of what it is like to be on the ground as an average spectator on an average day (it rained about 15 minutes after the ceremonies) as high-performance jets thunder overhead.


























All photos usable only by permission of the author.

I shot some video. First, the short (edited) 8-minute version.


And, the long (15 minute) unedited version.


And finally, a third (completely different) video of the jets from the same event. This one is the shortest of the three, and is what I saw when I pulled up twenty minutes early (they had begun the ceremony early because weather was closing in).



2015

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