Underappreciated Stalwart of the Luftwaffe
One of the true unsung heroes of aviation history is Kurt Tank. Unknown outside circles such as, well, this one, Tank came up with truly phenomenal designs that gave the Luftwaffe its bite. As lead designer at Focke Wulf, Tank was behind such masterpieces as the fast Fw 200 Condor, which Hitler used as his personal transport. The crowning jewel of Tank's career was the Focke Wulf Fw-190.
Tank's team prepared two main alternatives using the same airframe, one using a traditional in-line engine (Daimler Benz DB 601), the other a somewhat radical radial engine (BMW 139 18 cylinder). Radial engines were disfavored at the time because they were bigger (less aerodynamic) and less available and tested. In this case, though, the radial engines had a few advantages:
- radial engines required less sophisticated cooling than in-line engines with their pipes and radiators, and thus were more sturdy in battle;
Kurt Tank also knew that overseas air forces such as that of the US Navy were using radial engines. The RLM took some convincing, but Tank afterward denied that it was a "hard sell."
|The captured Focke-Wulf Fw 190A-3 of III/JG 2 Richthofen (Armin Faber) at RAF Pembrey, June 1942.|
The Fw-190 A-1The first production series, the Fw 190 A-1, went into service in July 1941. After the pilots became familiar with it, the A-1 encountered Supermarine Spitfire Mark V's in September 1941. The armament of four machine guns, though, was lacking, as the standards of the day required both machine guns and 20 mm cannon. The cannon, along with some improved engines, were included in subsequent "A" versions which included specific types for different purposes (fighter-bomber). The Fw 190 A series stretched out to 1943, with a maximum speed of 389 mph (626 km/hr) at altitude.
The Allies, of course, noticed the new German fighter immediately. It was obviously an excellent design with high performance and a tough customer for the Spitfires. The FW 190s were considered superior to the Bf 109s at lower altitudes where many interceptions took place. The competition spurred both the Allies' designers and the Luftwaffe to continue enhancing their designs. The plane was considered so special that the British planned a special operation to capture one from France, but then one literally fell into their hands without any effort at all.
The Fw-190 DWhile the Focke-Wulf Fw-190 design was superb, the real key to its success, as with any World War II fighter, was the engine. Kurt Tank defied convention by trying a huge Junkers Jumo 213A V-12 engine in the Fw 190 airframe, and it worked spectacularly. The new version was much faster than the Fw 190 A series, as the engine could generate a phenomenal 2,240 hp when called upon. The Jumo engines were very long and created a noticeable elongation of the front of the plane, so the Fw 190 D series became known as the "Long-nosed Doras."
|An Fw-90D long-nosed Dora.|
The Fw-190 F/GBy 1943, the Fw 190A series was considered mature and at least the equal of the older Bf 109, though the two fighters were roughly interchangeable. It had some potential that the Bf 109 did not, though, and among those was its usefulness as a fighter-bomber. Tank developed the Fw 190F and Fw 190G which involved more than just minor series enhancements.
|A late-war Fw 190 equipped for serious tank-busting.|
|The Fw 190 cockpit.|
Focke Wulf Ta. 152By the end of the war, Kurt Tank was acknowledged as one of the top aircraft designers in the world. He was given the supreme honor of having the last version of the classic Fock Wulf fighter bear his initials rather than those of the company. This was the Ta. 152, a radical re-design of the Fw 190 which was the ultimate culmination of the entire project.
|The Ta 152.|
|A streamlined Ta 152, successor to the Focke-Wulf Fw-190.|
|Focke-Wulf Ta 152 H-0/R11.|
ConclusionThe Fw 190 series was hugely important to the Luftwaffe. Some 20,000 were built, 13, 367 of them as interceptors. Some 23 copies still exist in museums. While inferior fighters could be extremely useful on some of the fronts, pilots fighting the most advanced Allied designs on the Western Front needed every bit of performance that they could get. The Fw 190 kept the Luftwaffe truly competitive deep into 1944 and gave it a versatility that it otherwise would not have had. One of the least-appreciated aircraft of the war in relation to its true value, the Focke Wulf Fw 190 must be considered the "best" German fighter which accomplished the most for the Luftwaffe.
|Kurt Tank with Josef "Pips" Priller, one of the Luftwaffe's top fighter pilots on the Western Front with 100 victories.|