Before Germany could mount Operation Sea Lion, a cross-channel invasion of the British Isles, it needed to have complete air superiority over the invasion fleet. Because of the Luftwaffe‘s greater numbers and modern aircraft, German military leadership believed this could best be accomplished by defeating the Royal Air Force in air-to-air combat.
The Royal Air Force had been conserving their limited numbers of pilots and aircraft up to this point in the war. Germany’s plan was to send its bombers against targets that the R.A.F. would be forced to defend. The escorting Messerschmitt Bf 109s (also referred to as the Me 109) would then shoot down the Boulton Paul Defiants and Bristol Blenheims. But the Hawker Hurricanes and Supermarine Spitfires were up to the task. While the Hurricanes went after the Luftwaffe’s Dornier 17 and Heinkel He 111 bombers, the Spitfires engaged their Bf 109 fighter escorts.
Britain used a system of radar-directed ground control of its fighter squadrons. The result was that, although both sides lost about the same number of aircraft, the Battle of Britain was a decisive victory for Great Britain. Germany was forced to give up on its plans for an invasion of England.
During a speech the House of Commons, 20 August 1940, Prime Minister Winston Churchill referred to the pilots of Fighter Command when he said,
“The gratitude of every home in our Island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the world war by their prowess and by their devotion. Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”
Ever since, the Royal Air Force has been known as “The Few.”
Royal Air Force aircraft:
Highly recommended:Duel of Eagles, by Group Captain Peter Townsend, CVO, DSO, DFC and Bar, Royal Air Force. Cassell Publishers Limited, 1970 and Castle Books, 2003.
28 May 1935: Bayerische Flugzeugwerke Aktiengesellschaft (BFW) test pilot Hans-Dietrich Knoetzsch took the prototype Bf 109 V1 fighter, civil registration D-IABI, on its first flight at Haunstetten, near Augsburg, Germany. The duration of the flight was twenty minutes.
The new fighter was designed by Wilhelm Emil Messerschmitt, Walter Rethel and Robert Lusser. It was a light weight, single-seat, single-engine, low-wing monoplane with retractable landing gear.
The first prototype, Versuchsflugzeug 1, was 8.884 meters (29.147 feet) long with a wingspan of 9.890 meters (32.448 feet). The empty weight was 1,404 kilograms (3,095 pounds) and the maximum weight was 1,800 kilograms (3,968 pounds).
Because the Junkers Jumo 210 inverted V-12 engines planned for the new fighter were not yet available, a liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,295.91-cubic-inch-displacement (21.24 liter) Rolls-Royce Kestrel VI single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 was installed. This British engine had four valves per cylinder and a compression ratio of 6.00:1. It produced 695 horsepower at 2,500 r.p.m., and turned a two-bladed, fixed-pitch Propellerwerk Gustav Schwarz laminated composite propeller through a 0.553:1 gear reduction. The Kestrel was 6 feet, 0.35 inches (1.838 meters) long, 2 feet, 11.00 inches (0.889 meters) high and 2 feet, 0.40 inches (0.620 meters) wide. It weighed 955 pounds (433 kilograms).
V1’s maximum airspeed was 470 kilometers per hour (292 miles per hour) and its maximum altitude was 8,000 meters (26,247 feet).
No armament was installed on the prototype.
The Bf 109 V1 was tested for several months before being sent to the Luftwaffe test center at Rechlin for acceptance trials. The prototype’s landing gear collapsed while landing there.
The prototype Bf 109 was revealed to the public when D-IABI flew at the Games of the XI Olympiad (the 1936 Summer Olympics, held at Berlin, Germany).
The Bf 109 (also known as the Me 109, following Willy Messerschmitt’s acquisition of BFW) was produced from 1937 to 1945. Total production was 33,894 aircraft, which amounted to 57% of total fighter production for Germany. Seven plants produced the Bf 109 during World War II.
After the war ended, Czechoslovakia produced a variant until 1948. Another Spanish-built variant remained in production until 1958.
11 November 1937: At Augsburg, Germany, Dr.-Ing. Hermann Wurster set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a 3 Kilometer Course when he flew a prototype Bayerische Flugzeugwerke AG Bf 109, D-IPKY, to an average speed of 610.95 kilometers per hour (379.63 miles per hour) in four passes over a 3-kilometer course.¹ This broke the speed record set two years earlier by Howard Hughes with his Hughes H-1 Special, NR258Y, by 43.83 kilometers per hour (27.23 miles per hour).²
Versuchsflugzeug 13, the BFW Bf 109 V13, Werk-Nr. 1050 (FAI records describe it as a Messerchmitt BF113, and contemporary news reports referred to it as the Messerschmitt BF 113R), was one of four prototypes built from production Junkers Jumo 210-powered Bf 109B airframes to test the Daimler-Benz AG DB 600 engine. It was given a civil registration, D-IPKY. Along with two Bf 109B fighters, V13 was part of an aerial demonstration team which was sent to the International Flying Meeting at Dübendorf, Switzerland, during the last week of July 1937. It was equipped with a Daimler-Benz DB 600 rated at 960 horsepower.
On its return from Switzerland, V13 was prepared for a speed record attempt. It was given a standard drag reduction for racing airplanes, with all its seams filled and sanded smooth, and a coat of paint. A modified version of the DB 601 engine was installed, reportedly capable of producing 1,660 horsepower for five minutes, with its maximum r.p.m increased from 2,500 to 2,800. It used special Bosch spark plugs. A three-bladed variable-pitch propeller was driven through gear reduction, although the gear ratio is unknown.
Like the Jumo 210, the Daimler-Benz 601 was a liquid-cooled, supercharged, single overhead cam, inverted 60° V-12, though with a much larger displacement. The DB 601 had a displacement of 33.929 liters (2,070.475 cubic inches). An improvement of the DB 600, the 601 series used direct fuel injection rather than a carburetor, and a hydraulically-driven two-speed supercharger.
A production Daimler-Benz DB 601 A had a compression ratio of 6.9:1 and was rated at 1,050 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m. at 5.2 inches of pounds per square inch (0.36 Bar) of boost, for take-off (1 minute limit). It could produce 970 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. with 2.4 pounds per square inch (0.17 Bar) of boost at 12,000 feet (3,658 meters). Its propeller gear reduction ratio was 14:9. The DB 601 A was 67.5 inches (1.715 meters) long, 29.1 inches (0.739 meters) wide, and 40.5 inches (1.029 meters) high. It weighed 1,610 pounds (730.3 kilograms).
The Bf 109D production variant was developed from V13.
In 1938, BFW became Messerschmitt AG. The Bf 109 (also commonly called the Me 109) was produced from 1937 to 1945. Total production was 33,894 aircraft, which amounted to 57% of total fighter production for Germany. Seven plants produced the 109 during World War II. After the war ended, Czechoslovakia produced a variant until 1948. Another Spanish-built variant, the Hispano Aviación HA-1112, remained in production until 1958.
Herman Wurster was born at Stuttgart, Germany, 25 September 1907. In 1926, he began studying aircraft at Königlich Bayerische Technische Hochschule München (TH Munich) and at TH Stuttgart (the Stuttgart Technology Institute of Applied Sciences). He earned a doctorate in engineering (Dr.-Ing.) in 1933. He then became the chief designer for the German Research Institute for Aviation (Deutschen Versuchsanstalt für Luftfahrt) in Berlin.
In 1935 and 1936, Dr.-Ing. Wurster was a test pilot for the Luftwaffe‘s testing site at Rechlin, Mecklenburg, Germany. From 1936 until 1943, he was the chief test pilot for Bayerische Flugzeugwerk and Messerschmitt at Augsburg. From 1943 until the end of the war, Wurster was responsible for the development of Messerschmitt’s rocket-powered surface-to-air guided missile, the Enzian E.1 and its variants.
After the war, Dr.-Ing. Wurster founded a building materials company at Nördlingen, Bavaria. He died in Augsburg 17 October 1985 at the age of 78 years.
12 October 1944: During World War II, First Lieutenant Charles Elwood Yeager, Air Corps, United States Army, was a P-51 Mustang fighter pilot assigned to the 363d Fighter Squadron, 357th Fighter Group, stationed at RAF Leiston (USAAF Station 373), near the village of Theberton, Suffolk, England.
Recently promoted from the warrant rank of Flight Officer, Lieutenant Yeager—as one of the most experienced pilots in the group— was leading the 357th on a bomber escort mission against Bremen, Germany. While the Group’s 362nd and 364th Fighter Squadrons remained with the B-24 bombers, Yeager and the 363d patrolled 50 to 100 miles (80 to 160 kilometers) ahead.
At 25,000 feet (7,620 meters) over Steinhuder Meer, northwest of Hanover, Yeager sighted a group of Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighters (also called the Me 109). He was soon able to count 22. Yeager and his squadron of 16 Mustangs circled and attacked out of the sun.
As Chuck Yeager maneuvered his P-51D Mustang, named Glamorous Glenn II, to fire at a trailing Bf 109, the German fighter suddenly turned left and collided with his wingman. Both pilots bailed out of their fighters and the two Bf 109s went down.
“It was almost comic, scoring two quick victories without firing a shot. . . By now, all the airplanes in the sky had dropped their wing tanks and were spinning and diving in a wild, wide-open dogfight. I blew up a 109 from six hundred yards—my third victory—when I turned to see another angling in behind me. Man I pulled back the throttle so damned hard I nearly stalled, rolled up and over, came in behind and under him, kicking right rudder and simultaneously firing. I was directly underneath the guy, less than fifty feet, and I opened up that 109 as if it were a can of Spam. That made four. A moment later, I waxed a guy’s fanny in a steep dive; I pulled up at about 1,000 feet; he went straight into the ground.“
— Yeager, An Autobiography, by Chuck Yeager and Leo Janos, Bantam Books, New York, 1985, at Page 57.
Lieutenant Yeager’s official report of the air battle reads (in part):
“H. Five Me. 109s destroyed
“I. I was leading the Group with Cement Squadron and was roving out to the right of the first box of bombers. I was over STEINHUDER LAKE when 22 Me. 109s crossed in front of my Squadron from 11:00 O’Clock to 1:00 O’Clock. I was coming out of the sun and they were about 1½ miles away at the same level of 25,000 feet. I fell in behind the enemy formation and followed them for about 3 minutes, climbing to 30,000 feet. I still had my wing tanks and had close up to around 1,000 yards, coming within firing range and positioning the Squadron behind the entire enemy formation. Two of the Me. 109s were dodging over to the right. One slowed up and before I could start firing, rolled over and bailed out. The other Me. 109, flying his wing, bailed out immediately after as I was ready to line him in my sights. I was the closest to the tail-end of the enemy formation and no one, but myself was in shooting range and no one was firing. I dropped my tanks and then closed up to the last Jerry and opened fire from 600 yards, using the K-14 sight. I observed strikes all over the ship, particularly heavy in the cockpit. He skidded off to the left. I was closing up on another Me. 109 so I did not follow him down. Lt. STERN, flying in Blue Flight reports this E/A on fire as it passed him and went into a spin. I closed up on the next Me. 109 to 100 yards, skidded to the right and took a deflection shot of about 10°. I gave about a 2 second burst and the whole fuselage split open and blew up after we passed. Another Me. 109 to the right had cut his throttle and was trying to get behind. I broke to the right and quickly rolled to the left on his tail. He started pulling it in and I was pulling 6″G”. I got a lead from around 300 yards and gave him a short burst. There were hits on wings and tail section He snapped to the right 3 times and bailed out when he quit snapping at around 18,000 feet. I did not blackout during this engagement due to the efficiency of the “G” suit. Even though I was skidding I hit the second Me. 109 by keeping the bead and range on the E/A. To my estimation the K-14 sight is the biggest improvement to combat equipment for Fighters up to this date. The Me. 109s appeared to have a type of bubble canopy and had purple noses and were a mousey brown all over. I claim five Me 109s destroyed.
“J. Ammunition Expended: 587 rounds .50 cal MG.
“Charles E. Yeager, 1st Lt, AC.”
Lieutenant Yeager had destroyed five enemy fighters during a single battle. He became “an Ace in one day” and was awarded the Silver Star. Of the twenty-two Me 109s, the 363rd had destroyed eight without losing a single Mustang.
Yeager’s Glamorous Glenn II, flown by another pilot, was destroyed six days later when it crashed in bad weather.
The P-51D was the predominant version of the North American Aviation World War II fighter. It was a single-seat, single-engine fighter, initially designed for the Royal Air Force. The P-51D was 32 feet, 3.5 inches (9.843 meters) long, with a wingspan of 37 feet (11.278 meters). It was 13 feet, 4.5 inches (4.077 meters) high. The fighter had an empty weight of 7,635 pounds (3,463 kilograms) and a maximum takeoff weight of 12,100 pounds (5,489 kilograms).
The P-51D was powered by a right-hand tractor, liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,649-cubic-inch-displacement (27.04-liter) Packard V-1650-3 or -7 Merlin single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine with Military Power ratings of 1,380 horsepower at Sea Level, turning 3,000 r.p.m with 60 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-3), or 1,490 horsepower at Sea Level, turning 3,000 r.p.m. with 61 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-7). These engines were versions of the Rolls-Royce Merlin 63 and 66, built under license by the Packard Motor Car Company of Detroit, Michigan. The engine drove a four-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed propeller with a diameter of 11 feet, 2 inches (3.404 meters) through a 0.479:1 gear reduction.
The P-51D with a V-1650-7 Merlin had maximum speed at Sea Level of 323 miles per hour (520 kilometers per hour) at the Normal Power setting of 2,700 r.p.m. and 46 inches of manifold pressure, and 375 miles per hour (604 kilometers per hour) at War Emergency Power, 3,000 r.p.m with 67 inches of manifold pressure (5 minute limit). At altitude, using the Military Power setting of 3,000 r.p.m. and 61 inches of manifold pressure (15 minute limit), it had a maximum speed of 439 miles per hour (707 kilometers per hour) at 28,000 feet (8,534 meters). With War Emergency Power the P-51D could reach 442 miles per hour (711 kilometers per hour) at 26,000 feet (7,925 meters).
The P-51D could climb to 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) in 6.4 minutes, and to its service ceiling, 41,600 feet (12,680 meters), in 28 minutes. The airplane’s absolute ceiling was 42,400 feet (12,924 meters).
With 180 gallons (681 liters) internal fuel, the maximum range of the P-51D was 1,108 miles (1,783 kilometers).
The P-51D was armed with six electrically-heated Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns, with three mounted in each wing. 400 rounds of ammunition were provided for the inner pair of guns, and 270 rounds for each of the other four guns, for a total of 1,880 rounds of ammunition. This was armor piercing, incendiary, and tracer ammunition. The fighter could also carry a 1,000 pound (453.6 kilogram) bomb under each wing in place of drop tanks, or up to ten rockets.
A total of 8,156 P-51Ds were produced by North American at Inglewood, California, and Dallas, Texas, and another 200 by the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation, Melbourne, Australia.
The North American Aviation P-51D Mustang remained in service with the United States Air Force until 27 January 1957, when the last aircraft were retired from the 167th Fighter Squadron, West Virginia National Guard.