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 though 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.)
22 May 1991: After nearly 30 years in service with West Germany, the F-104 Starfighter made its last flight before retirement. The Luftwaffe was the largest single operator of the Lockheed F-104 with nearly 35% of the total worldwide production in West German service. 915 F-104F two-place trainers and F-104G fighter-bombers were built, with most going to the Luftwaffe, but 151 were assigned to the West German Navy.
Designed by the legendary Kelly Johnson as a Mach 2 interceptor, the Starfighter was used as a fighter bomber by Germany. The F-104G was most-produced version of the Lockheed Starfighter. It had a strengthened fuselage and wings, with hardpoints for carrying bombs, missiles and additional fuel tanks. Built by Lockheed, they were also licensed for production by Canadair, Dornier, Fiat, Fokker, Messerschmitt and SABCA.
The F-104G is a single-seat, single engine fighter bomber, 54 feet 8 inches (16.662 meters) long with a wingspan of just 21 feet, 9 inches (6.629 meters) and overall height of 13 feet, 6 inches (4.115 meters). The empty weight is 14,000 pounds (6,350.3 kilograms) and loaded weight is 20,640 pounds (9,362.2 kilograms).
The F-104G was powered by a General Electric J79-GE-11A engine, a single-spool, axial-flow, afterburning turbojet, which used a 17-stage compressor section and 3-stage turbine. The J79-GE-11A is rated at 10,000 pounds of thrust (44.48 kilonewtons), and 15,800 pounds (70.28 kilonewtons) with afterburner. The engine is 17 feet, 4.0 inches (5.283 meters) long, 3 feet, 2.3 inches (0.973 meters) in diameter, and weighed 3,560 pounds (1,615 kilograms).
The maximum speed is 1,328 miles per hour (2,137.2 kilometers per hour). It has a combat radius of 420 miles (675.9 kilometers) or a ferry range of 1,630 miles (2,623.2 kilometers). The service ceiling is 50,000 feet (15,240 meters).
The Starfighter’s standard armament consists of a 20 mm General Electric M61A1 Vulcan 6-barreled Gatling gun, with 725 rounds of ammunition, and up to four AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air heat seeking missiles could be carried on the wingtips or under wing pylons. In place of missiles two wingtip fuel tanks and another two underwing tanks could be carried.
On NATO alert, the F-104G was armed with a B43 variable-yield nuclear bomb on the fuselage centerline hardpoint. The B43 could be set for explosive force between 170 kilotons and 1 megaton and was designed for high-speed, low-altitude, laydown delivery.
The Starfighter had an undesirable reputation for high accident rates. 270 German F-104s were lost in accidents, resulting in the deaths of at least 110 pilots. In reality, this was not unusual, and can be attributed the the nature of the mission: high-speed, low-altitude flight, in the poor weather conditions of Europe. The German press, however, gave it the name Witwenmacher (“Widowmaker”).
The last Luftwaffe F-104 to fly was 26+40 from Ingolstadt Manching Airport, 22 May 1991.
31 March 1945: Messerschmitt Aktiengesellschaft test pilot and technical inspector Hans Fay (1888–1959) defected to the Allies at Frankfurt/Rhein-Main Airfield, Frankfurt, Germany.
He brought with him a brand-new Messerschmitt Me 262 A-1 twin-engine jet fighter.
Fay had been waiting for an opportunity to bring an Me 262 to the Americans, but feared reprisals against his parents. When he learned that the U.S. Army controlled their town, he felt that it was safe to go ahead with his plan.
On 31 March, Fay was ordered to fly one of twenty-two new fighters from the Me 262 assembly factory at Schwäbisch-Hall to a safer location at Neuburg an der Donau, as they were in danger of being captured by advancing Allied forces. His airplane was unpainted other than low visibility Balkenkreuz markings on the wings and fuselage, and standard Luftwaffe markings on the vertical fin. Fay was the fourth to take off, but instead of heading east-southeast toward Neuburg, he flew north-northwest to Frankfurt, arriving there at 1:45 p.m.
The Messerchmitt Me 262 Schwalbe was the first production jet fighter. It was a single-place, twin-engine airplane with the engines placed in nacelles under the wings. It was 34 feet, 9 inches (10.592 meters) long with a wingspan of 40 feet, 11½ inches (12.484 meters) and overall height of 11 feet, 4 inches (3.454 meters). According to Fay, the fighter’s empty weight was 3,760 kilograms (8,289 pounds) and the maximum gross weight was 7,100 kilograms (15,653 pounds) at engine start.¹
The Me-262 wings had 6° dihedral. The leading edges were swept aft to 20°, while the trailing edges of the inner panels swept forward 8½° to the engine nacelle, then outboard of the engines, aft 5°. The purpose of the sweep was to keep the airplane’s aerodynamic center close to the center of gravity, a technique first applied to the Douglas DC-2.
The Me 262 A-1 was powered by two Junkers Jumo TL 109.004 B-1 turbojet engines. The 004 was an axial-flow turbojet with an 8-stage compressor section, six combustion chambers, and single-stage turbine. The 004 engine case was made of magnesium for light weight, but this made it vulnerable to engine fires. The engine was designed to run on diesel fuel, but could also burn gasoline or, more commonly, a synthetic fuel produced from coal, called J2. The engine was first run in 1940, but was not ready for production until 1944. An estimated 8,000 engines were built. The 004 B-1 idled at 3,800 r.p.m., and produced 1,984 pounds of thrust (8.825 kilonewtons) at 8,700 r.p.m. The engine was 2 feet, inches (0.864 meters) in diameter, 12 feet, 8 inches (3.861 meters) long, and weighed 1,669 pounds (757 kilograms).
During interrogation, Hans Fay said that for acceptance, the production Me 262 was required to maintain a minimum of 830 kilometers per hour (515 miles per hour) in level flight, and 950 kilometers per hour (590 miles per hour) in a 30° dive. The fighter’s cruise speed was 750 kilometers per hour (466 miles per hour).
A number of factors influenced the Me 262’s maximum range, but Fay estimated that the maximum endurance was 1 hour, 30 minutes. U.S. Air Force testing establish the range as 650 miles (1,046 kilometers) and service ceiling at 38,000 feet (11,582 meters).
It was armed with four 30 mm Rheinmetall-Borsig MK 108 autocannons with a total of 360 rounds of ammunition. It could also be armed with twenty-four R4M Orkan 55 mm air-to-air rockets. Two bomb racks under the wings could each be loaded with a 500 kilogram (1,102 pounds) bomb.
1,430 Me 262s were produced. They entered service during the summer of 1944. Luftwaffe pilots claimed 542 Allied airplanes shot down with the Me 262.
Hans Fay’s Messerschmitt Me 262 A-1, WNr. 111711, was transported to the United States and was tested at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio.
711 was lost during a test flight, 20 August 1946, when one of its engines caught fire. The test pilot, Lieutenant Walter J. “Mac” McAuley, Jr., U.S. Army Air Corps, safely bailed out. The Me 262 crashed 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) east of Lumberton, Ohio, and was completely destroyed.
¹ A technical report from RAE Farnborough gave the empty weight of the Me 262 as 11,120 pounds ( kilograms). Its “all up weight,” less ammunition, was 14,730 pounds ( kilograms).
24 March 1944: At about 2230 hours, the first of 76 Allied prisoners of war interred at Stammlager LuftIII (Stalag Luft III) began to escape through a 30-foot-deep (9 meters), 320-foot-long (98 meters) tunnel, code-named “Harry.”
The prison, located just south of Sagan (Żagań) in East Silesia (now a part of Poland) was specially constructed to house captured Royal Air Force and other Allied airmen, and was controlled by the German air force, the Luftwaffe. Prior to this escape, the German captors had discovered at least 98 tunnels at the prison.
The weather was the coldest in thirty years and five feet of snow lay on the ground. The last escapee left the tunnel at 0455, 25 March. Of the 76 prisoners who escaped, 73 were soon recaptured, and of those, 50 were murdered by the Gestapo.
Popularly known as “The Great Escape,” this was the subject of a 1950 book, The Great Escape, by Paul Brickhill, who was a POW at the prison. His book was adapted into a very popular motion picture, “The Great Escape,” in 1963.