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.
1 June 1939: At Bremen, Germany, Focke-Wulf Flugzeugbau AG chief test pilot Hans Sander took the first prototype of a new fighter, Fw 190 V1, W.Nr. 0001, registration D-OPZE, for its first flight.
The Fw 190 was designed as a fast, light-weight fighter with a powerful engine, easy to maintain under field conditions and able to absorb a reasonable amount of combat damage. The landing gear had a wide track which improved ground handling and was an advantage when operating on unimproved airfields. The mechanism used the gear’s own weight to lower it into place. Another interesting feature was to use of pushrods and bearings in place of the common cables and pulleys used to operate the flight controls. This gave a more precise, responsive operation. Also, the recent introduction of vacuum forming allowed a large one-piece “bubble” canopy to be used rather than the acrylic plastic/metal framework which was used in other fighters, such as the Messerschmitt Bf 109.
Focke-Wulf frequently named its airplanes after birds. The Fw 190 was known as the Würger, or Shrike.
Fw 190 V1 (Versuchsflugzeug 1) was 8.730 meters (28 feet, 7¾ inches) long with a wingspan of 9.500 meters (31 feet, 2 inches). It weighed approximately 3,000 kilograms (6,615 pounds).
D-OPZE was powered by an experimental air-cooled, supercharged 55.4-liter (3,380.4 cubic inch) BMW 139 two-row, 18-cylinder, radial engine which produced 1,529 horsepower. This engine had been developed from the nine-cylinder Pratt & Whitney Hornet (R-1690) which Bayerische Motoren Werke AG (BMW) built under license. (A redesign of the BMW 139 engine resulted in the 14-cylinder BMW 801 which was used in the production Fw 190.)
The propeller was a three-bladed Vereingite Deutsche Metallwerke (VDM) variable-pitch unit with a diameter of 3.460 meters (11 feet, 4¼ inches). It was driven at 54% of engine speed through a gear reduction unit.
To minimize aerodynamic drag, the large radial engine was tightly cowled and a large propeller spinner used. Cooling air entered through an opening at the center of the spinner and a fan between the propeller and the front of the engine circulated air. This was unsatisfactory and was significantly changed with the second prototype.
After testing by Focke-Wulf at Bremen, Fw 190 V1 was flown to the Luftwaffe test site at Rechlin-Lärz Airfield. Its identification markings were changed to FO+LY. Later, they were changed again, to RM+CA. V1 continued to be used for testing until 29 March 1943.
The Fw 190 was the most effective of Germany’s world War II fighters. More than 20,000 were built in 16 variants. The Focke-Wulf factory at Marienburg and the AGO Flugzeugwerke at Oschersleben were frequently attacked by Allied bombers.
A Focke-Wulf Fw 190 G-3 fighter bomber, W.Nr. 160016, which had been captured in Italy, was flight tested by the U.S. Army Air Force at Wright Field, Ohio, from 25 March to 15 April 1944, flown by Major Gustav Edward Lundquist, U.S. Army Air Force. In a report dated 26 May 1944, it was described as having a length of 29.1 feet (8.87 meters) and wingspan of 34.5 feet (10.52 meters), and was tested with maximum gross weight of 8,535 pounds (3,871 kilograms).
This aircraft was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged and fuel-injected 41.744 liter (2,547.4 cubic inch) BMW 801-D two-row, fourteen-cylinder radial engine which produced 1,750 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. with 41.1 inches of manifold pressure (1.39 bar). It could climb at 4,000 feet per minute (20.32 meters per second) and reach 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) in 7.3 minutes. 160016 had a maximum airspeed of 415 miles per hour (668 kilometers per hour) at 22,000 feet (6,706 meters). The service ceiling was 36,100 feet (11,003 meters).
The fighter was described to have performance “definitely weaker than standard AAF fighters at altitudes above 28,000 feet.” [8,534 meters]
The Fw 190 G-3 was armed with two Waffenfabrik Mauser AG MG151/20 20 mm autocannon with 550 rounds of ammunition.
(Two months later, Major Lundquist was in Europe, flying with the 486th Fighter Squadron, 352nd Fighter Group. On 29 July 1944, his North American Aviation P-51D-5-NA Mustang, 44-13395, was shot down by a Messerschmiit Bf 109 G-6 near Merseberg, Germany. Lundquist was captured and remained a Prisoner of War until the end of World War II. He was officially credited with 2 enemy aircraft destroyed. After the war, he returned to Wright Field and flight test. On 2 September 1946, Major Lundquist won the Thompson Trophy Race (J Division) while flying a Lockheed P-80A Shooting Star. Remaining in the Air Force for 29 years, he rose to the rank of brigadier general.)
VIII Bomber Command Mission Number 113 was an attack by nearly 100 American heavy bombers on the Focke-Wulf Flugzeugbau AG aircraft factory at Marienburg, East Prussia (Malbork, Poland), where the Luftwaffe‘s Fw 190 fighter was being built. Early in the war, German fighter production had been dispersed and it was thought that Marienburg was beyond the range of Allied bombers.
The Fw 190 was the most effective of Germany’s fighters. More than 20,000 were built in 16 variants.
100 B-17 Flying Fortress bombers were assigned to the target and 96 of these reached the plant. Between 1253 hours and 1302 hours, the B-17s arrived over the target in five waves at 11,000 to 13,000 feet (3,353 to 3,963 meters). They dropped 217.9 tons (197.7 metric tons) of bombs with a very high degree of accuracy.
During the mission, two B-17s were lost with 13 more damaged. Three airmen were wounded and 21 listed as Missing in Action. The bomber crews claimed 9 Luftwaffe aircraft destroyed and 2 probably destroyed in air-to-air combat. Target assessment estimated that 15 Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighters were destroyed on the ground.
Casualties among the factory work force were high. Of 669 workers, 114 were killed and 76 injured.
Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles Portal, KCB, DSO, MC, Royal Air Force, described the Marienburg attack as the “. . . most perfect example in history of the accurate distribution of bombs over a target.”
14 August 1942: The 27th Fighter Squadron (Twin Engine), 1st Fighter Group, VIII Fighter Command, was ferrying its Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighters across the North Atlantic Ocean from Presque Isle, Maine to England as part of Operation Bolero. Iceland was a mid-Atlantic fuel stop on the Northern Ferry Route.
Just over a week earlier, 6 August 1942, 30 Curtiss P-40C Warhawks of the 33rd Fighter Squadron had been flown off the aircraft carrier USS Wasp (CV-7). Among the 32 Army Air Corps pilots who boarded the carrier with the fighters at Norfolk, Virginia, was Second Lieutenant Joseph D.R. Shaffer, U.S.A.A.C., service number O-427002.
On the morning of 14 August, a Royal Air Force Northrop N-3PB Nomad of No. 330 Squadron (Norwegian) tracked a German Luftwaffe Focke-Wulf Fw 200 C-4 Condor four-engine maritime reconnaissance bomber, marked NT+BY, flying near a convoy south of the island. The bomber then proceeded northward and overflew the peninsula west of Reykjavik.
Lieutenant Shaffer, his squadron now assigned to the 342d Composite Group, Iceland Base Command, one of the units responsible for the air defense of Iceland, located and attacked the Condor with his P-40, damaging one of the bomber’s engines.
At 11:15 a.m., two P-38s of the 27th Squadron, flown by Major John W. Weltman and Second Lieutenant Elza E. Shahan, followed up Shaffer’s attack. Shahan was flying Lockheed P-38F-1-LO Lightning, serial number 41-7540.
The Fw 200 was hit in and around the bomb bay. It exploded and went into the sea approximately 8 miles northwest of Grotta Point. Its crew, F Ofw. Fritz Kühn, Ofw. Phillip Haisch, Ofw. Ottmar Ebner, Uffz. Wolgang Schulze, Ofw. Arthur Wohlleben and Ofw. Albert Winkelmann were all killed.
This was the very first U.S. Army Air Forces air combat victory in the European Theater of Operations during World War II. Lieutenants Shaffer and Shahan both shared credit for the victory. They were awarded the Silver Star for their actions.
10–11 August 1938: The first non-stop flight between Berlin and New York by a heavier-than-air aircraft was flown by a prototype four-engine airliner. Under the command of Deutsche Luft HansaKapitän Alfred Henke, Brandenburg, a Focke-Wulf Fw 200 S-1 Condor, D-ACON, departed Flugplatz Berlin-Staaken, 6 kilometers west of Spandau, at about 7:30 p.m., on Wednesday, 10 August 1938.
The other members of the crew were Hauptmann Rudolf Freiherr von Moreau, of the Luftwaffe, co-pilot; Paul Dierberg, flight engineer; and Walter Kober, radio operator. There were no passengers on board.
Brandenburg flew a Great Circle course across the North Atlantic Ocean and landed at Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn, New York at 1:50 p.m., local time, Thursday, 11 August. The distance flown was 6371.302 kilometers (3,958.944 miles). The total duration of the flight was 24 hours, 56 minutes, 12 seconds. The Condor averaged 255.499 kilometers per hour (158.760 miles per hour).
Although they encountered severe weather, the flight was relatively uneventful. Upon landing, it was discovered that the prototype airliner had suffered some damage to an engine cowling and that one engine lubricating oil tube had cracked, causing a leak.
The problems were repaired while Hauptman von Moreau made an unexplained trip to Washington, D.C. Brandenburg was ready for a return flight to Germany the following day.
Taking off from Floyd Bennett Field before 9:30 a.m., on Saturday, 13 August, Brandenburg was flown to Flughafen Berlin-Templehof. With more favorable winds on the eastbound flight, the 6,392 kilometer distance (3,972 miles) was covered in 19 hours, 56 minutes, with an average speed of 321 kilometers per hour (199 miles per hour).
Following their return to Germany, Captain Henke (who was also an Oberleutnant in the Luftwaffe) and Hauptman von Moreau were congratulated by Adolph Hitler. In photographs, Henke is easily identifiable by the prominent “dueling scar” on the left side of his face.
D-ACON was the prototype Condor, designated Fw 200 V1, Werk-Nr. 2000. It had first flown at Neulander Feld, site of the Focke-Wulf plant in Bremen, 27 July 1937. The test pilot was Kurt Waldemar Tank, an aeronautical engineer and the airplane’s designer.
Tank had proposed the airplane to Deutsche Luft Hansa as a long-range commercial transport for routes from Europe to South America. While British and American airlines were using large four-engine flying boats for transoceanic flight, their heavy weight and aerodynamic drag reduced the practical passenger and cargo loadings. A lighter-weight, streamlined land plane would be faster and could carry more passengers, increasing its desirability and practicality. Also, while the flying boats had to make an emergency water landing if one engine failed during the flight, the Focke-Wulf Condor was designed to be able to remain airborne with just two engines.
The Fw 200 V1 was an all-metal low-wing monoplane powered by four engines, with retractable landing gear. It had a flight crew of four, and was designed to carry a maximum of 26 passengers. It was 78 feet, 0 inches (27.774 meters) long with a wingspan of 108 feet, 0 inches (32.918 meters) and overall height of 20 feet, 0 inches (6.096 meters). The airliner had an empty weight of 24,030 pounds (10,900 kilograms) and gross weight of 37,479 pounds (17,000 kilograms). This increased to 39,683 pounds (18,000 kilograms) after modification to the Fw 200 S-1 configuration.
As originally built, the prototype Condor was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged 1,690.537-cubic-inch-displacement (27.703 liters) Pratt & Whitney Hornet S1E-G single-row 9-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.5:1 and gear reduction ratio of 3:2. The S1E-G was rated at 750 horsepower at 2,250 r.p.m. to 7,000 feet (2,134 meters), and 875 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. for takeoff. It was 4 feet, 1.38 inches (1.254 meters) in diameter, 4 feet, 6.44 inches (1.383 meters) long, and weighed 1,064 pounds (483 kilograms).
Brandenburg‘s Pratt & Whitney engines were later replaced by Bayerische Motorenwerke AG BMW 132 L engines. BMW had been producing licensed variants of the Pratt & Whitney Hornet since 1933, and had incorporated their own developments during that time.
The Fw 200 V1 had a maximum speed of 233 miles per hour (375 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level. Its cruising speed was 205 miles per hour (330 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters). The airliner’s service ceiling was 20,000 feet (6,096 meters). It could maintain level flight at 13,000 feet (3,962 meters) with 3 engines, and 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) with just two engines running. Its range at cruise speed with a 7,000 pound (3,175 kilogram) payload was 775 miles (1,247 kilometers).
For the Berlin-to-New York flight, the Fw 200’s fuel capacity was increased to 2,400 gallons (9,084 liters).
D-ACON made a series of long distance flights to demonstrate its potential. On 20 November 1938, Brandenburg flew from Berlin to Hanoi in French Indo-China (now, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam). The crew was the same as the Berlin-New York flight, with the addition of G. Khone. This flight set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over Courses of 243.01 kilometers per hour (151.00 miles per hour).¹
On 6 December 1938, while on approach to Manila, capital city of the Commonwealth of the Philippines, all four of D-ACON’s engines stopped. Unable to reach the airfield, the Condor was ditched in Manila Bay. All aboard were quickly rescued. The cause of the engines failing was fuel starvation. One source states that the crew had selected the wrong tanks. Another source says that a fuel line had broken. A third cites a fuel pump failure.
The wreck of the first Condor was recovered, however, the airplane was damaged beyond repair.
While the Focke-Wulf Fw 200 had been designed as a civilian airliner, it soon found use as a long-range maritime patrol bomber. The Fw 200 V10 was a military variant requested by the Imperial Japanese Navy. With the outbreak of World War II, Condors were produced as both bombers and transports. They saw extensive service searching for and attacking the Allies’ transatlantic convoys.