History and Development
The story of air combat over Europe cannot be told without great emphasis being given to the Messerschmitt Bf 109. It gained its fame as the major opponent of the Spitfire during the Battle of Britain and continued intense rivalry with all Allied aircraft until the close of World War II.
Designed by Professor Willy Messerschmitt and manufactured initially by the Bayerische Flugzeugwerke AG, forerunner of the Messerschmitt AG, the single-seat fighter was to gain the distinction of being produced in larger quantities than any other combat airplane except for the Russian IL-2.
The aircarft shown here is a Bf 109G-6 series and was flown with one 300-litre drop tank fixed under the fuselage to extend its range.
The first prototype Bf 109 flew in September 1935, powered, oddly enough, by a Rolls Royce Kestrel 695-hp engine. Follow-on prototypes utilized several other engines until settling on the Daimler-Benz inverted-V, liquid-cooled engine that powered subsequent airframes throughout its wartime production.
The new fighter’s first public demonstration took place at the 1936 Olympic Games held in Berlin, but the plane’s first real impact on the aviation world came during the international flying meet held in Zurich in the summer of 1937. Five Bf 109s took part and demonstrated outstanding climbing, diving, and maneuverability, along with astonishing speed.
While these impressive demonstrations were taking place, twenty-four Messerschmitt fighters were delivered to Spain for the Condor Legion. By the time England declared war on Germany, the already-proven Messerschmitt was being mass-produced in the Bf 109E series and was ready to enter the fight.
The Spitfire, the Bf 109's first major opponent, was slightly faster and definitely more maneuverable, but its performance at altitude was inferior. There was also little difference in pilot ski between the Luftwaffe and the Royal Air Force, although pilots in the RAF had the advantage of fighting over their own country, while the critical range of the Bf 109s limited German fighting time to about twenty minutes.
As Allied bomber formations and fighter-bombers pushed the war into Germany, the Bf 109s were forced into a combat role for which they were not designed—that of close ground support. In this capacity the 109s were heavily battered by Allied fighters and ground fire. The Messerschmitt also relentlessly attacked the massive bomber formations, only to be heavily pounded by the bombers’ defensive crossfire. In every air encounter over Europe, the 109s could generally be counted on to appear for a fight.
As new and improved models of Allied fighters entered the combat scene, the Germans countered with upgraded models of the Bf 109 primarily with increased power rating in the Daimler-Benz engine. When German production stopped, the G series of the Bf 109 was produced in far greater numbers than any other model, 21,000 being completed by the end of 1944 Known as "Gustav," the Bf 109G was powered by a DB 605 engine. This machine had two MG 131 machine guns, a single 30-mm MK 108 cannon firing through the spinner, and sometimes carried two underwing MG 151/20 weapons. This combination was ideal for bomber interception but severely reduced the machine’s efficiency in fighter-versus-fighter combat.
The design of the Me 109, originally known as the Bf 109 (for Bayerische Flugzeugwerke), was begun in 1934, the prototype flying in the following year. The first production version, the Bf 109B, was given an operational tryout in the Spanish Civil War. Many shortcomings were then revealed, including wing flutter and tail buffeting and, although efforts were made to eliminate these failings in subsequent models, it was some time before they were eradicated. The Bf 109B had a 20mm cannon firing through the propeller boss but this cannon seized badly and in the Bf 109C it was replaced by two machine-guns in the wings. This installation aggravated the wing flutter problem, which was eventually cured by balancing the ailerons and stiffening the leading-edge of the single-spar wing.
With the reconstitution of the company as Messerschmitt AG, the designation of the 109 was changed to Me 109, the first production version to carry this designation being the Me 109E, with which the Luftwaffe went to war in September 1939. The Me 109 was the subject of continuous development throughout the war through the E, F and G series and their many sub-types. The G series was very extensively used in all theatres of the war from late in 1942 to the final capitulation of Germany in May 1945. The following are the main sub-types of the G series:
Daimler Benz 601 E engine. Armament: two 7.9 mm MG 17 machine-guns and one or three 20mm MG 151/20 cannon.
DB 605 A engine. GM-1 (nitrous oxide) emergency power-boost equipment optional. Pressurized cockpit. Armament as for G-0.
Similar to G-1 but without the pressurized cockpit and GM-1 equipment.
Similar to G-1 except for radio equipment (FuG 16Z instead of FuG 7A).
Similar to G-2 except for radio change as in G-3.
DB 605 A or D engine. Similar to G-1 except for cabin blower and the substitution of two 13mm MG 131 for the 7.9mm MG 17 machine-guns.
DB 605 A, AS, AM or D engine. As G-5 but no pressurized cockpit. The G-6/U4 had an armament of one or three 20mm MK 108 cannon and two 13mm MG 131 machine-guns. Later production G-6s were fitted with a wooden tail-unit to conserve light metal.
DB 605 A or D engine. Photo-reconnaissance model fitted with two Rb 12.5/7 or two Rb 32/7 cameras. The MK 108 engine cannon was optional.
DB 605 D engine. MK 108 engine cannon optional.
Two-seat trainer. DB 605 A engine and reduced tankage.
DB 605 A, AM, AS, ASB, ASM or D engine. MK 108 engine cannon optional. Later production G-14s were fitted with a wooden tail unit to conserve light metal.
The Me 109H was a long-span high-altitude development of the Me 109 which did not go into service. The span was increased by the incorporation of a centre section between the outer wings.
This development of the Me 109 was essentially similar to the 109G but was fitted as standard with the DB 605 D engine and incorporated minor structural differences. Sub-types included the following:
DB 605 D engine and MW-50 emergency power-boost equipment. The take-off weight was 7,400 lbs (3,360 kg). Maximum speed was 440 mph (704 km/h) at 24,600 ft (7,500 m). Range was 365 miles (584 km) and endurance was 50 minutes.
DB 605 D engine and MW-50 equipment. Maximum armament consisted of two 13mm MG 131 cowling guns, one 30mm MK 108 engine cannon and two 30 mm high-velocity MK 103 cannon slung under the wings. Take-off weight was 7,920 lbs (3,596 kg), maximum speed 440 mph (704 km/h) at 19,700 ft (6,000 m).
DB 605 L engine and MW-40 power-boost equipment. This model did not go into service. Top speed of 455 mph (728 km/h) at 37,750 ft (11,515 m) with an armament of one MK 108 cannon and two MG 131 machine-guns was claimed.
Specifications Bf 109G-6
Type: Single-seat fighter/fighter-bomber
Powerplant: One 1,455 hp (1,085 kW) Daimler Benz DB 605A-1 liquid-cooled inverted 12-cylinder piston engine
Wing Span: 32 ft. 6 in. (9.925 m)
Length: 29 ft. 7 in. (8.95 m)
Height: 8 ft 2 in (2.60 m)
Wing Area: 173.3 sq ft (16.40 m2)
Empty Weight: 5,893 lbs (2,247 kg)
Maximum T/O Weight: 7,495 lbs (3,400 kg)
Maximum Level Speed: 398 mph (640 km/h) at 20,000 ft (6,300 m)
Initial Climb: 3,345 ft (17.0 m) per minute
Service Ceiling: 39,370 ft (12,000 m)
Range: 528 mi (850 km) with drop tank 620 mi (1,000 km)
Armament: 1 x 30mm canon MK 108 or 20mm MG 151 cannon firing through propeller shaft and two 0.51 in (13mm) MG 131 machine-guns above engine, firing through propeller disc; for special roles some were equipped to carry also 2 x 30mm or 20mm cannon beneath the wings