The Messerschmitt BF-109
BF-109 V1, the first prototype
went all out on the design of his first fighter plane, incorporating every
bold innovation possible at the time. It was designed to be the lightest,
smallest airframe that would take the JUMO 210D engine....then the best that
Germany could produce. The construction was all metal, stressed-skin.
The thin aerodynamically efficient wings employed Handley Page leading edge
slots to offset the inevitable high wing loading, as well as slotted ailerons
interconnected to the flaps. The narrow undercarriage retracted outward so the
fuselage, rather than the wings, bore the aircraft's weight.
The German Air Ministry required two machine guns....these were mounted in the
cowling above the engine. A 20 mm cannon could be mounted in the
"Vee" of the engine, firing through the airscrew hub. This left the
thin wings free of guns. However, at this time, German intelligence learned of
the British plans for eight gun monoplanes. So a re-design, with guns in the
wings became mandatory.
The prototype made
its first flight in September, 1935, at Augsburg-Haunstetten.
Ironically, it was powered by an imported British Rolls-Royce Kestrel
engine, as a Jumo engine was not available. It performed well enough to
quickly eliminate its chief competitors, the Arado AR 80, the Heinkel He
112, and the Focke Wulf Fw159.
prototypes were built, this time with the inverted "Vee" Jumo
engine, and, following an impressive series of demonstration flights, the 109
was finally ordered into full scale production.
Baptism of fire - the
Spanish Civil War
the summer of 1936 the Luftwaffe decided to send aid to the Nationalist Forces
fighting in the Spanish Civil War. A multi-role combat force called "The
Condor Legion" was dispatched to this end. The Germans discovered that
the Russian-supplied Polikarpov I-15's and I-16's being used by the Republican forces were far superior to their Heinkel He 51 bi-planes.
A bold decision was made to send three of the Messerschmitt prototypes over
for trials under combat conditions. Under the primitive conditions in Spain
they didn't do well and none of them even encountered the enemy before they
were shipped back. The pilots who flew them, however, realized their
superiority and pressured their leaders to send them production models when
they became available.
In 1937 the first
production Bf-109 B's rolled off the assembly line. The first of these went to
II Gruppe of Jagdgeschwader 132 based at Jueterbog-Damm. The next 16 were
crated and sent to 2 Staffel of Jagdgruppe 88 in war torn Spain. Here, the
Messerschmitts proved their immediate superiority, especially at high
altitudes. There were never many of them employed here but they achieved
success far out of proportion to their numbers. By 1938 the Republican Forces
were beaten and the final encounter was on March 27, 1939. The Condor Legion
passed all of its 47 Bf-109's to the new Spanish Air Force.
During these hostilities the Luftwaffe got a head start in developing modern
fighter tactics that became standard throughout World War II. Many of the
Condor pilots went on to become aces during the next few years, notably Adolf
Galland and Werner Mölders
for the conclusion of the Bf109 Story