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.
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.
29 December 1944: Flying Officer Richard Joseph Audet, Royal Canadian Air Force, was a section leader of No. 411 Squadron, an RCAF squadron under the control of the Second Tactical Air Force, Royal Air Force. The squadron was based at an advanced airfield in The Netherlands.
In the early afternoon, Audet’s Yellow Section engaged a flight of twelve Luftwaffe fighters, four Messerchmitt Bf 109s and eight Focke-Wulf Fw 190s, near Rheine, in northwestern Germany.
Flying a Supermarine Spitfire LF Mk.IX .5, RR201, Flying Officer Audet led his section into the attack. He later reported:
I was leading Yellow section of 411 Squadron in the Rheine/Osnabruck area when Control reported Huns at Rheine and the squadron turned in that direction. An Me 262 was sighted and just at that time I spotted 12 e/a on our starboard side at 2 o’clock. These turned out to be a mixture of approximately 4 Me 109’s and 8 FW 190’s.
1) I attacked an Me 109 which was the last a/c in the formation of about twelve all flying line astern. At approximately 200 yds and 30° to starboard at 10,000 feet I opened fire and saw strikes all over the fuselage and wing roots. The 109 burst into flames on the starboard side of the fuselage only, and trailed intense black smoke. I then broke off my attack.
2) After the first attack I went around in a defensive circle at about 8500 feet until I spotted an FW 190 which I immediately attacked from 250 yards down to 100 yards and from 30° to line astern. I saw strikes over cockpit and to the rear of the fuselage. It burst into flames from the engine back, and as I passed very close over top of it I saw the pilot slumped over in his cockpit, which was also in flames.
3) My third attack followed immediately on the 2nd. I followed what I believed was an Me 109 in a slight dive. He then climbed sharply and his coupe top flew off at about 3 to 4,000 feet. I then gave a very short burst from about 300 yards and line astern and his aircraft whipped downwards in a dive. The pilot attempted or did bale out. I saw a black object on the edge of the cockpit but his ‘chute ripped to shreds. I then took cine shots of his a/c going to the ground and bits of parachute floating around. I saw this aircraft hit and smash into many flaming pieces on the ground. I do not remember any strikes on this aircraft. The Browning button only may have been pressed.
4) I spotted a FW 190 being pursued at about 5,000′ by a Spitfire which was in turn pursued by an FW 190. I called this Yellow section pilot to break and attacked the 190 up his rear. The fight went downwards in a steep dive. When I was about 250 yards and line astern of this 190 I opened fire. There were many strikes on the length of the fuselage and it immediately burst into flames. I saw this FW 190 go straight into the ground and burn.
5) Several minutes later while attempting to form my section up again I spotted an FW 190 from 4000 feet. He was at about 2000 feet. I dived down on him and he turned in to me from the right. Then he flipped around in a left hand turn and attempted a head-on attack. I slowed down to wait for the 190 to flypast in range. At about 200 yds and 20° I gave a very short burst, but couldn’t see any strikes. This a/c flicked violently, and continued to do so until he crashed into the ground. The remainder of my section saw this encounter and Yellow 4 (F/O McCracken) saw it crash in flames.
—Post Mission Report of Flying Officer R. J. Audet, 29 December 1944
This air battle had been Flying Officer Audet’s first engagement with enemy aircraft. It was over within a matter of minutes. For his actions of 29 December 1944, Richard Audet was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Air Ministry, 16th February, 1945.
The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the following awards in recognition of gallantry and devotion to duty in the execution of air operations:—
Distinguished Flying Cross.
Flying Officer Richard Joseph Audet (Can/J.20136), R.C.A.F., 411 (R.C.A.F.) Sqn.
This officer has proved himself to be a highly skilled and courageous fighter. In December, 1944, the squadron was involved in an engagement against 12 enemy fighters in the Rheine/Osnabrück area. In a most spirited action, Flying Officer Audet achieved outstanding success by destroying 5 enemy aircraft. This feat is a splendid tribute to his brilliant shooting, great gallantry and tenacity.
Richard Joseph Audet was born 13 March 1922 at Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada. He was the sixth child of Paul Audet, a rancher, and Ediwisca Marcoux Audet. “Dickie” Audet rode a horse to school at the age of ten years, traveling about 18 miles (29 kilometers) every morning.
Audet studied at Garbutt Business College in Lethbridge, and worked as a stenographer and bookkeeper at RCAF Air Station High River.
Dick Audet enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force at Calgary, Alberta, 28 August 1941. He was trained as a fighter pilot and was commissioned as a Pilot Officer, 24 October 1942. His pilot’s wings were presented to him by The Right Honourable William Lyon MacKenzie King, tenth Prime Minister of the Dominion of Canada.
Pilot Officer Audet was sent to England, crossing the North Atlantic aboard ship and arriving 6 December 1942. He was assigned to the No. 6 Elementary Flying School at RAF Little Rissington, Gloucestershire, and then No. 17 Advanced Flying Unit at RAF Calvely, Nantwich, Cheshire. He was promoted to Flying Officer 23 April 1943, and transferred to No. 53 Operational Training Unit at RAF Heston, west of London, where he transitioned to the Supermarine Spitfire fighter.
Flying Officer Richard J. Audet married Miss Iris Christina Gibbons of Pinner, a village in the London Borough of Harrow, at Northhampton, Northamptonshire, England, 9 July 1944.
Audet joined No. 411 Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force, 14 September 1944. He was promoted to the rank of Flight Lieutenant, 23 October 1944.
During January 1945, Flight Lieutenant Audet was credited with destroying another 6.5 enemy aircraft: 4.5 Focke-Wulf FW-190s (one shared) and two Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighters (one on the ground), and a third Me 262, damaged.
On 3 March 1945, Flight Lieutenant Audet was strafing railway trains near Coesfeld, Coesfelder Landkreis, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany, when his Spitfire LF Mk.IXE, MK950, was shot down. The Spitfire was seen to crash in flames and explode. Audet was listed as missing in action, and was presumed to have been killed. His remains were not recovered.
On 9 March 1945, Flight Lieutenant Richard Joseph Audet was posthumously awarded a Bar to his Distinguished Flying Cross (a second award).
There is no grave for Dick Audet. His name appears with those of 20,287 others on the Runnymede Memorial, Surrey, England, and among the nearly 400 on the Lethbridge Cenotaph at Lethbridge, Alberta. Audet Lake, north of Fort McMurray, Alberta, and Rue Richard Joseph Audet in Saugenay, Quebec, were named in his honor.
The aircraft flown by Dick Audet on 29 December 1944, was a Supermarine Spitfire LF Mk.IX .5 (redesignated LF Mk.IXe in 1945), Royal Air Force serial number RR201. The identification letters on the fuselage were DB-G. It was built at built at the Castle Bromwich Aircraft Factory, at Warwickshire, West Midlands, in late summer or early fall 1944.
The Supermarine Spitfire was a single-place, single-engine low-wing monoplane of all-metal construction with retractable landing gear. The fighter had been designed by Reginald Joseph Mitchell CBE. The prototype first flew 5 March 1936.
The Spitfire LF Mk.IXe was optimized for low-altitude operations. The Spitfire F Mk.Vb was 29 feet, 11 inches (9.119 meters) long with a wingspan of 36 feet, 10 inches (11.227 meters) and overall height of 11 feet, 5 inches (3.480 meters). The exact dimensions of the LF Mk.IXe are not known but are presumably similar. Some Mk.IXe fighters had “clipped” wings, while others did not.
The LF Mk.IXe had an empty weight of 5,749 pounds (2,608 kilograms) and gross weight of 7,450 pounds (3,379 kilograms).
The Spitfire LF Mk.IXe was powered a liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,648.959-cubic-inch-displacement (27.022 liters) Rolls-Royce Merlin 66 single overhead camshaft (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine with a compression ratio of 6.00:1. It was equipped with a two-speed, two-stage supercharger. The Merlin 66 was rated at 1,315 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. and 12 pounds per square inch boost (0.83 Bar), for Take Off; 1,705 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. at 5,750 feet (1,753 meters) and 1,580 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. at 16,000 feet (4,877 meters), with 18 pounds boost (1.24 Bar). These power ratings were obtained with 130-octane aviation gasoline. When 150-octane gasoline became available, the Merlin 66 was cleared to use 25 pounds of boost (1.72 Bar). The Merlin 66 had a propeller gear reduction ratio of 0.477:1 and drove a four-bladed Rotol Hydulignum (compressed laminated wood) propeller with a diameter of 10 feet, 9 inches (3.277 meters). The engine weighed 1,645 pounds (746 kilograms).
The Spitfire LF Mk.IXe had cruise speed of 220 miles per hour (354 kilometers per hour) at 20,000 feet (6,096 meters); a maximum speed of 384 miles per hour (618 kilometers per hour) at 10,500 feet (3,200 meters), and 404 miles per hour (650 kilometers per hour) at 21,000 feet (6,401 meters). Diving speed was restricted to 450 miles per hour (724 kilometers per hour) below 20,000 feet (6,096 meters). The airplane’s service ceiling was 42,500 feet (12,954 meters).
The Spitfire LF Mk.IXe was armed with two 20-milimeter Hispano Mk.II autocannon, with 135 rounds of ammunition per gun, and two Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns, with 260 rounds per gun. The .50-caliber machine guns were mounted in the wings, just inboard of the 20 mm cannon.
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.
17 August 1943: Mission No. 84. One year after the Eighth Air Force first attacked occupied Europe with its B-17 Flying Fortress four-engine heavy bombers, a mass attack of 376 B-17s attacked the Messerschmitt Bf-109 factory at Regensburg, Germany, and the ball bearing factories at Schweinfurt.
Over Germany for over two hours without fighter escort, 60 bombers were shot down and as many as 95, though they made it to bases in Allied territory, were so badly damaged that they never flew again. 55 air crews (552 men) were listed as missing in action.
Of the 146 B-17s of the 4th Bombardment Wing which attacked Regensburg, 126 dropped their bombs, totaling 298.75 tons (271.02 Metric tons), destroying the factory and seriously slowing the production of the Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter. After the attack, the 4th Bomb Wing headed for bases in North Africa. 122 B-17s landed there, half of them damaged.
The 1st Bombardment Wing (Heavy) sent 230 B-17s to Schweinfurt. Weather delays caused the planned diversion of two separate attacks to be unsuccessful. Cloud buildup over the Continent forced the bombers to fly at 17,000 feet (5,182 meters), nearly 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) lower than planned, increasing their vulnerability. Just 183 bombers made it to the target and dropped 424.3 tons (383.9 Metric tons) on the five factories in the target area. Then they headed back to their bases in England, under fighter attack most of the way. The 1st Bombardment Wing lost 36 bombers.
Though the raid did cut production of ball bearings as much as 34%, the losses were quickly made up from stockpiles. The two attacking forces succeeded in shooting down 25–27 German fighters.