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The Messerschmitt BF-109 Prototype

Messerschmitt BF-109 prototype, the V1

the BF-109 V1, the first prototype

    Messerschmitt 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.

    More 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

    In 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

click for the conclusion of the Bf109 Story






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