The Messerschmitt Bf-109

Flying with them:
On May 4, 1940, a Bf.109E (Wn: 1304) was flown to RAF Boscombe Down, where it was appraised by the Aircraft and Armament Experimental Establishment (A & AEE); then later flown to the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) at Farnborough for handlin gtrials, and allocated the serial number AE479. The results of the RAE's evaluation were discussed on Thursday, March 9, 1944 at a meeting of the Royal Aeronautical Society in London, at which M.B. Morgan and R. Smelt of the RAE lectured on 'The aerodynamic features of German aircraft'. About the Bf.109E they had this to say:

This is best done with the flaps at 20 degrees. The throttle can be opened very quickly without fear of choking the engine. Acceleration is good, and there is little tendency to swing or bucket. The stick must be held hard forward to get the tail up. It is advisable to let the airplane fly itself off since, if pulled off too soon, the left wing will not lift, and on applying aileron the wing lifts and falls again, with the ailerons snatching a little. If no attempt is made to pull the airplane off quickly, the take-off run is short, and initial climb good.

Stalling speeds on the glide are 75 mph flaps up, and 61 mph flaps down. Lowering the flaps makes the ailerons feel heavier and slightly less effective, and causes a marked nose-down pitching moment, readily corrected owing to the juxtaposition of trim and flap operating wheels. If the engine is opened up to simulate a baulked landing with flaps and undercarriage down, the airplane becomes tail-heavy but can easily be held with one hand while trim is adjusted. Normal approach speed is 90 mph. At speeds above 100 mph, the pilot has the impression of diving, and below 80 mph one of sinking. At 90 mph the glide path is reasonably steep and the view fairly good. Longitudinally the airplane is markedly stable, and the elevator heavier and more responsive than is usual in single-seater fighters. These features add considerably to the ease of approach. Aileron effectiveness is adequate; the rudder is sluggish for small movements.

This is more difficult than on the Hurricane I or Spitfire I. Owing to the high ground attitude, the airplane must be rotated through a large angle before touchdown, and this requires a fair amount of skill. If a wheel landing is done the left wing tends to drop just before touchdown, and if the ailerons are used to lift it, they snatch, causing over-correction. The brakes can be applied immediately after touchdown without fear of lifting the tail. The ground run is short, with no tendency to swing. View during hold-off and ground run is very poor, and landing at night would not be easy.

The aircraft can be taxied fast without danger of bucketing, but is is difficult to turn quickly; an unusually large amount of throttle is needed, in conjunction with harsh braking, when manuevering in a confined space. The brakes are foot-operated, and pilots expressed a strong preference for the hand operation system to which they are more accustomed.

Lateral Trim
There is no procounced change of lateral trim with speed of throttle setting provided that care is taken to fly with no sideslip.

Directional Trim
Absence of rudder trimmer is a bad feature, although at low speeds the practical consequences are not so alarming as the curves might suggest, since the rudder is fairly light on the climb. At high speeds, however, the pilot is seriously inconvenienced, as above 300 mph about 2 1/2 degrees of port (left) rudder are needed for flight with no sideslip and a very heavy foot load is needed to keep this on. In consequence the pilot's left foot becomes tired, and this affects his ability to put on left rudder in order to assist a turn to port (left). Hence at high speeds the Bf.109E turns far more readily to the right than to the left.

Longitudinal Trim
Five three-quarter turns of a 11.7 in diameter wheel on the pilot's left are needed to move the adjustable tailplane through its full 12-degrees range. The wheel rotation is in the natural sense. Tailplane and elevator angles to trim were measured at various speeds in various condition; the elevator angles were corrected to constant tail setting. The airplane is statically stable both stick fixed and stick free.
'One Control' tests, flat turns, sideslips
The airplane was trimmed to fly straight and level at 230 mph at 10,000 feet. In this condition the airplane is not in trim directionally and a slight pressure is needed on the left rudder pedal to prevent sideslip. This influences the results of the following tests:

Ailerons fixed central On suddenly applying half-rudder the nose swings through about eight degrees and the airplane banks about five degrees with the nose pitching down a little. On releasing the rudder it returns to central, and the airplane does a slowly damped oscillation in yaw and roll. The right wing then slowly falls. Good baned turns can be done in either direction on rudder alone, with little sideslip if the rudder is used gently. Release of the rudder in a steady 30-degree banked turn in either direction results in the left wing slowly rising.

Rudder fixed central Abrupt displacement of the ailerons gives bank with no appreciable opposite yaw. On releasing the stick it returns smartly to central with no oscillation. If the ailerons are released in a 30-degree banked turn, it is impossible to assess the spiral stability, since whether the wing slowly comes up or goes down depends critically on the precise position of the rudder. Excellent banked turns can be done in either direction on ailerons alone. There is very little sideslip on entry or recovery, even if the ailerons are used very harshly. In the turn there is no appreciable sideslip.

Steady flat turns Only half-rudder was used during this test. Full rudder can be applied with a very heavy foot load, but the nose-down pitching movement due to sideslip requires a quite excessive pull on the stick to keep the nose up. When flat turning steadily with half-rudder, wings level, about half opposite aileron is needed. The speed falls from 230 mph to 175 mph, rate of flat turn is about 110.

Steady sideslip when gliding Gliding at 100 mph with flaps and undercarriage up the maximum angle of bank in a straight sideslip is about five degrees. About 1/4 opposite aileron is needed in conjuction with full rudder. The airplane is faily nose-heavy, vibrates and is a little unsteady. On release of all three controls the wing comes up quickly and the airplane glides steadily at the trimmed speed. With flaps and undercarriage down, gliding at 90 mph, the maximum angle of bank is again five degrees 1/5 opposite aileron being needed with full rudder. The nose-down pitching movement is not so pronounced as before, and vibration is still present. Behaviour on releasing the control is similar to that with flaps up.
Stalling Test
The airplane was equipped with a 60 foot trailing static head and a swiveling pitot head. Although, as may be imagined, operation of a trailing static from a single-seater with a rather cramped cockpit is a difficult job, the pilot brought back the following results:
Lowering the ailerons and flaps thus increases CL max of 0.5. This is roughly the value which would be expected from the installation. Behaviour at the stall. The airplane was put through the full official tests. The results may be summarized by saying that the stalling behaviour, flaps up and down, is excellent. Both ruddera nd ailerons are effective right down to the stall, which is very gentle, the wing only falling about 10 degrees and the nose falling with it. There is no tendency to spin. With flaps up the ailerons snatch while the slots are opening, and there is a buffeting on the ailerons as the stall is approached.. Withs flaps down there is no aileron snatch as the slots open, and no pre-stall aileron buffeting. There is no warning of the stall, flaps down. From the safety viewpoint this is the sold adverse stalling feature; it is largely off-set by the innocuous behaviour at the stall and by the very high degree of fore and aft stability on the approach glide.

Safety in the Dive
During a dive at 400 mph all three controls were in turn displaced slightly and released. No vibration, flutter or snaking developed. If the elevator is trimmed for level flight at full throttle, a large push is needed to hold in the dive, and there is a temptation to trim in. If, in fact, the airplane is trimmed into the dive, recovery is difficult unless the trimmer is would back owing to the excessive heaviness of the elevator.

At low speeds the aileron control is very good, there being a definete resistance to stick movement, while response is brisk. As speed is increased, the ailerons bevome heavier, but response remains excellent. They are at their best between 150 mph and 200 mph, one pilot describing them as an 'ideal control' over this range. Above 200 mph they start becoming unpleasantly heavy, and between 300 mph and 400 mph are termed 'solid' by the test pilots. A pilot exerting all his strength cannot apply more than one-fifth aileron at 400 mph. Measurements of stick-top force when the pilot applied about one-fifth aileron in half a second and then held the ailerons steady, together with the corresponding time to 45 degrees banbk, were made at various speeds. The results at 400 mph are given below:

Max sideways force a pilot can apply conveniently to the Bf.109 stick 40 lbs.
Corresponding stick displacement 1/5th.
Time to 45-degree bank 4 seconds.
Deduced balance factyor Kb2 - 0.145

Several points of interest emerge from these tests:
a. Owing to the cramped Bf.109 cockpit, a pilot can only apply about 40 lb sideway force on the stick, as against 60 lb or more possible if he had more room.
b. The designer has also penalized himself by the unusually small stick-top travel of four inches, giving a poor mechanical advantage between pilot and aileron.
c. The time to 45-degree bank of four seconds at 400 mph, which is quite escessive for a fighter, classes the airplane immediately as very unmaneuvrable in roll at high speeds.

This is an exceptionally good control at low air speeds, being fairly heavy and not over-sensitive. Above 250 mph, however, it becomes too heavy, so that maneuvrability is seriously restricted. When diving at 400 mph a pilot, pulling very hard, cannot put on enough 'g' to black himself out; stick force -'g' probably esceeds 20 lb/g in the dive.

The rudder is light, but rather sluggish at low speeds. At 200 mph the sluggishness has disappeared. Between 200 mph and 300 mph the rudder is the lightest of the three controls for movement, but at 300 mph and above, absence of a rudder trimmer is severely felt, the force to prevent sideslip at 400 mph being excessive.

The controls are well harmonised between 150 mph and 250 mph. At lower speeds harmony is spoiled by the sluggishness of the rudder. At higher speeds elevator and ailerons are so heavy that the worn 'harmony' is inappropriate.

These are not easy. Loops must be started from about 280 mph when the elevator is unduly heavy; there is a tendency for the slots to open at the top of the loop, resulting in aileron snatching and loss of direction. At speeds below 250 mph the airplane can be rolled quite quickly, but in the final stages of the roll there is a strong tendency for the nose to fall, and the stick must be moved well back to keep the nose up. Upward rolls are difficult. Owing to elevator heaviness only a gentle pull-out from the dive is possible, and considerable speed is lost before the upward roll can be started.

Fighting Qualities
A series of mock dogfights with our own fighters briought out forcibly the good and bad points of the airplane. These may be summarised as follows:

Good Points;
High top speed and excellent rate of climb
Engine does not cut immediately under negative 'g'
Good control at low speeds
Gentle stall, even under 'g'

Bad Points;
Ailerons and elevator far too heavy at high speeds
Owing to high wing loading the airplane stalls readily under 'g' and has a relatively poor turning circle
Absence of a rudder trimmer, curtailing ability to bank left in the dive
Cockpit too cramped for comfort

Further Comments
At full throttle at 12,000 feet the minimum radius of steady turn without height loss is about 890 feet in the case of the Bf.109E, with its wing loading of 32 lb/sq ft. The corresponding figure for a comparable fighter with a wing loading of 25 lb/sq ft, such as the Spitfire I or Hurricane I, is about 690 feet. Although the more heavily loaded fighter is thus at a considerable disadvantage, it is important to bear in mind that these minimum radii of turn are obtained by going as near to the stall as possible. In this respect the Bf.109E scores by its excellent control near the stall and innocuous behaviour at the stall, giving the pilot confidence to get the last ounce out of his airplanes turning performance.
The extremely bad maneuvrability of the Bf.109E at high speeds quickly became known to our pilots (RAF). On several occasions a Bf.109E was coaxed to self-destruction when on the tail of a Hurricane or Spitfire at moderate altitude. Our pilot would do a half-roll and quick pull-out from the subsequent steep dive. In the excitement of the moment the Bf.109E pilot would follow, only to find that he had insufficient height for recovery owing to his heavy elevator, and would go straight into the ground without a shot being fired.
Pilots verbatim impressions of some features are of interest. For example, the DB 601 engine came in for much favourable comment from the viewpoint of response to throttle and insusceptability to sudden negative 'g'; while the throttle arrangements were described as 'marvellously simple, there being just one lever with no gate or over-ride to worry about'. Suprisingly though, the manual operation of flaps and tail setting were also liked; 'they are easy to operate, and being manual are not likely to go wrong'; juxtaposition of the flap and tail actuating wheels in an excellent feature.
Performance by 1940 standards was good. When put into a full throttle climb at low air speeds, the airplane climbed at a very steep angle, and our fighters used to have difficulty in keeping their sights on the enemy even when at such a height that their rates of climb were comparible. This steep climb at low air speed was one of the standard evasion maneuvres used by the German pilots. Another was to push the stick forward abruptly and bunt into a dive with considerable negative 'g'. The importance of arranging that the engine whould not cut under these circumstances cannot be over-stressed. SPeed is picked up quickly in a dive, and if being attacked by an airplane of slightly inferior level performance, this feature can be used with advantage to get out of range. There is no doubt that in the autumn of 1940 the Bf.109E in spite of its faults, was a doughty opponent to set against our own equipment'.
Selected comments from the men who flew and fought in the Bf.109E make interesting footnotes to the foregoing 'enemy' opinions:

Hauptmann Gunther Schack, 174 victories;
'In March 1941, as a Gefreiter, I joined Jagdgeschwader Molders, JG 51, stationed at St. Over, France. By then I had only taken off with the 109 straight into wind, and never from a concrete runway. On April 4th, during a cross-wind take-off on the concrete runway, the 109 swung so much to the left that I feared it would crashinto some other machines parked along the edge of the field. I closed the throttle and my first crash began. The machine swung left even more, the left undercarriage leg broke, and the 109 dropped on its left wing. This happened to me twice - the second time on April 10th - and my future as a fighter pilot seemed sealed.... In all, I was shot down 15 times.... On one occasion I saw the right wing of my 109 flying right alongside me ! During an attack on a bomber formation, I was hit by an enemy fighter, right in one of the main spar attachment lugs. Luckily, I was over 2,000 metres high, but even then I only succeeded in getting out of the crazily-spinning machine close to the ground. I crashed against the tailplane, and for the next two weeks I could only walk bent in two....'

Major Gunther Rall, 275 victories;
'The 109? That was a dream, the non plus ultra. Just like the F-14 of today. Of course, everyone wanted to fly it as soon as possible. I was very proud when I converted to it.'

Generalleutnant Werner Funck, Inspector of Fighters, 1939;
'The 109 had a big drawback, which I didn't like from the start. It was that rackety - I always said rackety - undercarriage; that negative, against-the-rules-of-statics undercarriage that allowed the machine to swing away.'

v2.0.2 / TOC (3 chapters) / 01 apr 06 / greg goebel / public domain

* While the German Luftwaffe operated many different aircraft during World War II, none were more prominent than the Messerschmitt Bf-109 fighter. A technological marvel when it first flew in 1935, the Bf-109 served on all fronts through the entire war, and was produced in great quantity even as it was becoming increasingly obsolescent relative to Allied fighters. This document provides a history and description of the Bf-109.

[1.0] First Generation Bf-109s

v2.0.2 / chapter 1 of 3 / 01 apr 06 / greg goebel / public domain

* The Bf-109 incorporated the latest aeronautical technologies when it was introduced in the mid-1930s, but due to official resistance there was still an element of luck in its adoption by the German Air Force, the Luftwaffe. However, even the initial variants of the Bf-109 proved impressive, and the type quickly matured to the excellent Bf-109E, which gave Hitler's Reich a great advantage in the opening rounds of World War II. This chapter describes the origins of the Bf-109 and its evolution up to the Bf-109E.


* The path that led Willy Messerschmitt to the Bf-109 was a complicated one. Born in 1898, Messerschmitt formed his own company in March 1926, named the "Messerschmitt Flugzeugbau GMBH", with financial help from the Bavarian state government. However, the state government also had an interest in another aircraft firm named "Bayerische Flugzeugwerke (BFW / Bavarian Aircraft Company)". Unable to support both firms, the state government persuaded them to merge in September 1927, with Messerschmitt providing design and development expertise while BFW handled manufacturing. The company was established in Augsburg, Bavaria.

The first aircraft to be built by the new firm was an all-metal single-engine monoplane transport that could carry 8 passengers, named the "M-20". The aircraft appeared very impressive, and the German state airline, Deutsche LuftHansa (DLH), ordered two. However, the M-20's development encountered delays, and when the prototype crashed during trials in February 1928, killing its pilot, the director of procurement of DLH, Erhard Milch, cancelled the order. BFW built a second prototype in a hurry and put it through successful flight tests. The order was hesitantly reinstated, with Lufthansa requesting a ten M-20s. Unfortunately, there were further crashes. The DLH cancelled the order again, demanding repayment of advance funds.

Germany was in the grips of the Depression at the time and BFW went bankrupt in June 1931. Fortunately, BFW's board of directors were sharp businessmen, and by 1933 BFW was back in operation again. However, the whole fiasco had led to bitter feuding between Messerschmitt and Milch. Since Milch had been given the post of Secretary of State for Aviation when Adolf Hitler came to power in 1932, prospects for contracts for BFW from the new Nazi government appeared slim.

To stay in business, Messerschmitt looked for work outside of Germany and landed two contracts from Rumania, including one for the "M-36" commercial transport, and one for the "M-37" trainer. Milch publicly denounced the transactions as treasonous, and Gestapo officers paid Messerschmitt and other BFW officials visits to investigate. Messerschmitt held his ground and insisted that he had no choice: the German government refused to do business with BFW, and it was either export or go broke. Nothing more came of the investigations, possibly because Theo Croniss, a high official of BFW, was a close friend of Minister of Aviation Hermann Goering, and in fact had been placed at BFW at Goering's request. It also appears that some German government officials were sympathetic to Messerschmitt's complaints about government indifference.

After a long streak of troubles, Messerschmitt and the BFW got a break in late 1933, when the German Air Ministry (Reichs Luftsfahrt Ministerium / RLM) decided that Germany should show off its capabilities in aviation by racing in the 4th "Challenge de Tourisme Internationale" air race, to be held in 1934. BFW and other German aircraft manufacturers were asked to develop air racers for the event.

In fact, BFW had built a racer for the 1932 Challenge de Tourisme Internationale, but their "M-29" was disqualified from the race after two of the four machines built crashed. Unintimidated by this bad luck, Messerschmitt decided to build a new air racer, based on the M-37 trainer he was designing for the Rumanians.

The result was the "Bf-108A", which was first flown in February 1934. The Bf-108A was a two-seat low-wing monoplane with dual controls; a flush-riveted fuselage; retractable "taildragger" landing gear with a tailskid; a Hirth HM-8V inverted-vee engine with 186 kW (250 HP), and a three-blade propeller. It could fly at 320 KPH (200 MPH) and was extremely agile. Five more prototypes followed. Then, on 27 July 1934, just before the race, the initial prototype crashed, killing its pilot. Messerschmitt and his staff worked frantically to ensure that the remaining five Bf-108As were qualified without mishaps.

The Bf-108A came in third in the competition. This was a bit disappointing, but the Bf-108A was clearly an excellent aircraft, and in fact as pilots got their hands on production machines, they started setting records with it. German aviatrix Elly Beinhorn flew one named "Taifun (Typhoon)" from Berlin to Constantinople in one day, and the BFW adopted the name for the aircraft.

The popularity of the Bf-108A Taifun led Messerschmitt to improve the design into a four-seat touring aircraft designated the "Bf-108B" that could also be used for military liaison and air ambulance roles. The Bf-108B featured an Argus As-8C inverted-vee piston engine with 180 kW (240 HP) in place of the Hirth engine, a tailwheel instead of a tailskid, and a two-blade fixed propeller.

The Bf-108B Taifun proved even more popular than the Bf-108A, and hundreds were built.


 _____________________ _________________  _______________________


 spec metric english

 _____________________ _________________  _______________________

 wingspan 10.51 meters 34 feet 6 inches

 wing area 16.40 sq_meters 176.53 sq_feet

 length 8.30 meters 27 feet 3 inches

 height 2.3 meters 7 feet 7 inches

 empty weight 880 kilograms 1,940 pounds

 loaded weight 1,355 kilograms 2,990 pounds

 max speed at altitude 300 KPH 186 MPH / 162 KT

 service ceiling 6,000 meters 19,700 feet

 range 1,000 kilometers 620 MI / 540 NMI

 _____________________ _________________  _______________________

A single "Bf-108C" using a Hirth HM-512 inverted-vee engine with 298 kW (400 HP) was built as a conversion of a stock Bf-108B, and two "Me-208s" with tricycle landing gear were built by the French Societe Nationale de Constructions Aeronautiques du Nord during the German occupation. Nord also built stock Bf-108Bs during the war, and after the war the French firm continued the production of the type, with the Bf-108B sold as the Nord N.1000 "Pingouin (Penguin)" and the Me-208 as the "Nordalpha" and "Ramier (Woodpigeon)", with Renault 6Q or Potez 6 engines.

Interestingly, two Bf-108Bs used by the German embassy in Britain before the war were abandoned by the embassy staff on the outbreak of the conflict, and were impressed into British service as "hacks". They were called "Aldons" by their crews. The Bf-108B also served with the Luftwaffe as a liaison aircraft.

 [1.2] BF-109 ORIGINS

* Messerschmitt and his colleagues were encouraged by the Bf-108, and decided they could compete in a competition for a new fighter for the Luftwaffe. The RLM specification had been issued in early 1934, and dictated a fast monoplane, armed with at least two MG-17 7.9 millimeter machine guns, and capable of being fitted with the new liquid-cooled inverted vee-12 engines being developed by Junkers and Daimler-Benz.

The request had been sent to other German aircraft manufacturers, including Focke-Wulf, Arado, and Heinkel, but Milch had blocked it from being sent to BFW. Lobbying by Theo Croniss with his friend Hermann Goering, enthusiasm by a clique of Luftwaffe officers for the Bf-108A, and heavy demands on German aircraft production overcame Milch's dislike of Willy Messerschmitt, and in 1935 BFW was given a contract to participate in the fighter competition. Milch let it be known that as far as he was concerned there would be no follow-on production contract granted to BFW under any circumstances. Willy Messerschmitt had to decide between going ahead with the fighter or taking a professorship at Danzig Technical University. Messerschmitt, having faith in his design and knowing that Milch expected him to fail, decided to push on with the fighter.

Work on the new aircraft, the "Bf-109A", had been proceeding in parallel with Bf-108 development, and it was ready to fly by August 1935. It was, like the Bf-108, a low wing, all metal, flush riveted monoplane with leading-edge slats and retractable taildragger landing gear. It had a single-seat cockpit, with a fully enclosed canopy that hinged open to the right. These innovations were not new in themselves, but the Bf-108 and Bf-109A were among the first aircraft to put them all together.

Since the advanced German engines were not yet available, the first prototype used a British liquid-cooled Rolls-Royce Kestrel VI twelve-cylinder upright-vee engine with 518 kW (695 HP) take-off power. This engine was used in the other competing fighter prototypes for the same reason.

The first prototype, the "Bf-109V1", where "V1" stood for "Versuchs / Prototype 1", was run through preliminary flight tests in September 1935, and then passed on to the Luftwaffe Test Center at Rechlin. The test pilots were suspicious of the Messerschmitt design. It looked frail compared to the heavier aircraft they were used to; they were uncomfortable with the fully enclosed cockpit, which was cramped in any case; they were unhappy with the aircraft's high wing loading; and didn't like the steep ground angle, which restricted their forward view on take-off. The head of the RLM procurement office, World War I ace General Ernst Udet, was openly contemptuous, saying: "That will never make a fighter!"

The concerns were completely justified in one respect. The main landing gear of the Bf-109A had a narrow track, hinged in the fuselage to retract into the wings. The narrow gear not only made the aircraft a "roller skate" on the runway but were also weak and prone to collapse. In fact, the prototype suffered a landing gear failure when it was handed over to the Luftwaffe for test. Some sources claim that landing gear problems would be a difficulty for the Bf-109 all through its career.

Whatever problems the Bf-109A had on the ground, it was agile and fast in the air, and fighter became one of the front-runners in the competition. Udet overcame his original suspicions and became an enthusiastic advocate of the type.

In the meantime, acting as if he already won the competition, Messerschmitt pressed on with the second and third prototypes. The "Bf-109V2" was completed in October 1935. It was similar to the V1, but used a 455 kW (610 HP) Junkers "Jumo 210A" engine instead of the Kestrel, and had other minor differences, such as a small intake in the cowling to provide cooling for the two machine guns, which were to be mounted there to fire through the propeller arc. The Bf-109V2 was not actually fitted with armament. The third prototype, the "Bf-109V3", was the first armed aircraft in the series, fitted with the required pair of MG-17 7.9 millimeter machine guns, with 500 rounds per gun (RPG). It was otherwise identical to the Bf-109V2. Problems in obtaining the Jumo 210A engine delayed the first flight of the Bf-109V3 until May 1936.

By this time, the Bf-109A was clearly becoming the front-runner in the competition. The Arado and Focke-Wulf entries had fallen to the side early on, due to poor performance and mechanical failures, and the Bf-109A was demonstrating itself superior to the Heinkel machine, the "He-112". German intelligence stacked the deck even more clearly in favor of the Bf-109A when they reported that the British were working on a conceptually similar advanced fighter, the Supermarine "Spitfire".

The RLM was sufficiently impressed by the Bf-109A to order ten preproduction aircraft, though they ordered ten He-112s as well. Willy Messerschmitt had won his gamble, and Milch could only fume that he had given Messerschmitt as many chances as he had.


* The initial Bf-109 preproduction aircraft, the "Bf-109V4", was first flown in November 1936. It was much like the Bf-109V3, being powered by a Jumo 210A engine, but incorporated a third MG-17 machine gun, situated between the engine cylinders and firing through the propeller hub. The engine-mounted weapon fitted in many Bf-109 variants is often referred to as a "Motorkanone", though it is unclear if this term applied to small-caliber guns as well as automatic cannon. The improved armament was the consequence of reports that new British fighters had four guns instead of two. The question of armament would be another long-running issue for the Bf-109.

Two additional preproduction Bf-109s, designated "Bf-109V5" and "Bf-109V6" were flown in the next two months, featuring an improved "Jumo 210B" engine, as well as a number of other minor enhancements, such as a stronger forward windscreen and replacement of the gun cooling intake by three flush cooling slots.

In 1936, Nazi Germany had decided to assist Generalissimo Franco's Nationalist forces in the Spanish Civil War, and participation in a shooting war gave the Luftwaffe an opportunity to evaluate the Bf-109 in combat. The three preproduction aircraft available at the time were sent to Seville in December 1936 and January 1937, to be flown by the German "volunteer" group in Spain, the "Condor Legion". The preproduction aircraft suffered from a number of teething problems in combat service, as would be expected for prototypes. Taking that into consideration, they otherwise gave the Luftwaffe good reason to be excited about the new fighter. The three prototypes were returned to Augsburg, but would be replaced in Spain by improved successors.

In the meantime, the RLM had placed orders for a first batch of 30 production aircraft, with the designation "Bf-109B". The first rolled off the production line in February 1937. They featured a "Jumo 210Da" engine, rated at 507 kW (680 HP) for take-off, driving a Schwarz two-blade fixed-pitch wooden propeller. The third machine gun that fired through the prop spinner was not fitted, since trials had shown it caused engine overheating problems.

The Bf-109Bs were transferred to the Condor Legion in Spain as soon as their pilots had been trained on the new aircraft, which was given the nickname "Bertha". In Spain, the German pilots fought with Soviet Polikarpov I-15s and I-16s. At low altitudes, the maneuverable Polikarpovs could outfight the Bf-109B, and so the Luftwaffe pilots quickly learned to take the fight to high altitudes where they had the advantage.

A Bertha was forced down behind Republican lines later in the civil war when it ran out of fuel, and the French discreetly asked to inspect the aircraft. The Republicans agreed to the request. A French team went to Spain and wrote up a detailed report that praised the aircraft, but the report was made secret to avoid a diplomatic squabble, and few ever read it.

* Following the first batch of 30 Bf-109Bs, in July 1937 the propeller was changed from the fixed two-blade wooden propeller to a variable-pitch two-blade metal propeller. The new propeller was an American Hamilton Standard design, built under license by the German firm VDM.

Some sources claim the preproduction aircraft were "Bf-109B-0s"; the 30 machines with the Schwarz propellers were "Bf-109B-1s"; and the remainder of Bertha production were "Bf-109B-2s". Other sources claim no such distinction was made at the time, with the subvariant designations later applied retroactively.

Whatever the case, BFW couldn't make the Bf-109 fast enough to make the Luftwaffe happy. New manufacturing facilities were in construction at Augsburg, but to fill the need a license manufacturing agreement was signed with Fiesler, who began to roll out the Bf-109 from its Kassel facility in December 1937.

* By this time the improved "Jumo 210G" and "Jumo 210Ga" engines were becoming available. They featured fuel injection, a two-stage supercharger, and were rated at 522 kW (700 HP) for take-off. A Jumo 210G had been evaluated in the "Bf-109V7", which first flew in March 1937, and late Bf-109B-2 production featured this engine fit.

The "Bf-109V8" prototype was fitted with the Jumo 210Ga, as well as an extra pair of MG-17 7.9 millimeter guns, one in each wing with 420 RPG, for a total of four guns. A similar "Bf-109V9" was built as well, but replaced the wing machine guns with MG-FF 20 millimeter cannon with 60 RPG.

The MG-FF cannon was suffering from teething problems at the time, and so the production "Bf-109C-1" was much like the Bf-109V8, with four MG-17 machine guns and the Jumo 210Ga, but also added an "FuG-7" radio that permitted, for the first time in the Bf-109 series, communications with ground troops. Incidentally, the Jumo 210Ga engine was also fitted to very late production Bf-109Bs.

The first "Claras", as the C variant was called by Luftwaffe pilots, were rolled off the production line at Augsburg in March 1938, and were rushed off to fight in Spain.


 _____________________ _________________  _______________________


 spec metric english

 _____________________ _________________  _______________________

 wingspan 9.87 meters 32 feet 4 inches

 wing area 16.17 sq_meters 174.05 sq_feet

 length 8.55 meters 28 feet 1 inches

 height 2.45 meters 8 feet

 empty weight 1,597 kilograms 3,522 pounds

 loaded weight 2,296 kilograms 5,062 pounds

 max speed at altitude 470 KPH 290 MPH / 255 KT

 service ceiling 8,400 meters 27,600 feet

 range 650 kilometers 405 MI / 350 NMI

 _____________________ _________________  _______________________

The Bf-109C-1 was followed by the experimental "Bf-109C-2", which had a fifth MG-17 7.9 millimeter Motorkanone, with improved insulation and cooling mechanisms to hopefully eliminate the overheating problems caused by this fit in earlier Bf-109 subtypes. However, it was not produced.

The "Bf-109C-3" was also an experimental type, like the Bf-109C-1 but featuring wing-mounted MG-FF 20 millimeter cannon instead of the wing-mounted MG-17 machine guns, and the "Bf-109C-4" was similarly like the Bf-109C-1 but had an MG-FF Motorkanone.

* While the improved Junkers Jumo engines were welcome, they still were unable to push the Bf-109 past 480 KPH (300 MPH). What Messerschmitt really wanted for the Bf-109 was the Daimler Benz 600 (DB-600) engine.

The "Bf-109V10" prototype was originally built in a configuration much like that of the Bf-109V8, with a Jumo 210Ga engine, but it was then refitted with a "DB-600a" engine, rated at 671 kW (900 HP) for take-off. Ernst Udet flew the reengined Bf-109V10 at a flying meet in July 1937, in an attempt to make a new speed record, but ended up crash-landing the aircraft.

The Bf-109V10 was replaced for powerplant testing by the "Bf-109V11", fitted with the modestly improved "DB-600A" engine. The following "Bf-109V12" and "Bf-109V13" were similar, but the Bf-109V13 was soon upgraded to the "DB-601", with 876 kW (1,175 HP) for take-off and greater reliability. The improved Bf-109V13 set a world speed record of 610.5 KPH (379.38 MPH) in November 1937.

The DB-601 was expected to be the proper powerplant for the Bf-109. Not only was it very powerful, but it was fuel-injected and could operate effectively in negative-gee maneuvers that would cause a carbureted engine to stall. However, there were problems: working out the bugs in the new engine was proving troublesome, the automatic supercharging system proving a great nuisance; Daimler-Benz couldn't build it in the needed quantities; and priority for engine deliveries had been given to the Heinkel He-111 bomber.

* These difficulties led to the production of an interim aircraft, the "Bf-109D", using Jumo 210D and 210G powerplants that were available. Roughly 200 Bf-109Ds, referred to as "Dora" by Luftwaffe pilots, were built, with subvariants designated "Bf-109D-1" through "Bf-109D-3" and differing in armament fit.

The Bf-109D-1 tried the three-gun armament again, with an MG-FF 20 millimeter Motorkanone, but the weapon tended to jam and still caused overheating problems, and so the Bf-109D-2 went back to the four MG-17 7.9 millimeter guns of the Bf-109C-1. The Motorkanone was also often pulled out of the Bf-109D-1 in the field. The Bf-109D-3 traded up the wing-mounted MG-17s for MG-FF 20 millimeter cannon, a fit like that of the Bf-109C-4, but the Bf-109D-3 actually saw operational service, though it was only built in small numbers.

The Dora was sent to Spain to prove itself in combat, and young Condor Legion pilots like Adolf Galland and Werner Moelders clearly demonstrated its value. Moelders was not merely a good fighter pilot but also an excellent air tactician, and devised new fighter tactics, such as the "finger four" formation that the Germans called the "Schwarm", and a more flexible approach to air-to-air combat than was practiced by other air arms at the time. Moelders would leave Spain with 14 kills, making him the highest scorer of the campaign.

* While the evolution of the Bf-109 was in progress, there was also a significant change at BFW. The fighter had given Willy Messerschmitt international recognition, and so the RLM suggested that BFW could improve its international recognition by changing its name to "Messerschmitt AG". Aircraft already in production by BFW would retain the "Bf" designation for the rest of their careers, but all new aircraft from the company would have the "Me" designation. The name "Messerschmitt" would become even more famous as his designs proved their worth against Germany's adversaries, and Nazi propaganda trumpeted their victories.

[1.4] BF-109E

* The first really satisfactory version of the Bf-109 was the "Bf-109E". The Bf-109V13, mentioned above, was the first "Bf-109E-0", and was followed by seven more Bf-109E-0s ("Bf-109V14" through "Bf-109V20"), with minor variations in equipment fit.

The "Bf-109V21" and "Bf-109V22" are stated in some sources as being Bf-109E-0s, but these two prototype numbers are also applied to the initial two "F" series prototypes, discussed in the next chapter. Duplication of the designations seems unlikely, and given the fact that earlier prototype versions underwent changes in definition it is plausible that they started out as "E" prototypes and ended up being "F" prototypes instead.

The initial "Bf-109E-1" subvariant was first delivered to the Luftwaffe in early 1939 and featured the DB-601A-1 engine, as well as a three-bladed variable-pitch propeller. Although earlier Bf-109 variants had featured a "chin" engine radiator, the Bf-109E featured twin radiators, mounted one under each wing. The Bf-109E was not quite as agile as the Bf-109D but it was substantially faster, and in fact was one of the most potent fighters in the world at the time.

The Bf-109E-1 featured armament of four MG-17 7.9-millimeter machine guns, with two in the cowling and two in the wings. The cowling guns had 1,000 RPG, while the wing guns had 420 RPG. Twenty Bf-109E-1s were turned out in time to be sent to Condor Legion in Spain before the civil war ended in March 1939. By this time, Nationalist resistance was faltering, and the new fighters met little opposition. In the end, a total of some 200 Luftwaffe pilots served with the Condor Legion, obtaining combat experience that would make Germany's fighter pilots an elite in the campaigns to come. They left the twenty Bf-109E-1s behind for the Spaniards.

Manufacture of the Bf-109E, soon referred to as the "Emil" by Luftwaffe pilots, continued to ramp up, although Messerschmitt production was shifted from Augsburg to Regensburg to make way for the Bf-110 twin-engine fighter. Other aircraft manufacturers were brought in to help feed the Luftwaffe's appetite for the Bf-109.

* By the time Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, the Luftwaffe was flying about 850 Bf-109Es and 235 Bf-109Ds. The invasion was a complete success, overwhelming Polish resistance in a rapid "Blitzkrieg (Lightning War)". A little over 200 Bf-109s participated in the invasion, with 67 being lost, mostly to ground fire. After the invasion, things went quiet again as the British and French went passive, resulting in the "Sitzkrieg (Sitting War)".

However, from the start of the war the British Royal Air Force (RAF) performed small-scale raids on German territory. These actions climaxed in the biggest air battle of 1939, on 18 December 1939, when the RAF attacked Wilhelmshaven in daylight with 24 unescorted Vickers Wellington bombers. The Luftwaffe had a party with them, shooting down 12 of the Wellingtons and damaging three others badly. The Luftwaffe lost of two Bf-109s. The British began to seriously reconsider their tactics.

There were intermittent air skirmishes over the French border during the Sitzkrieg. The French and British found the Bf-109 a nasty opponent and needed to figure out its true strengths and weaknesses. Luckily for them, in November a confused Luftwaffe pilot set an Emil down on the wrong side of the border, with the aircraft eventually ending up in England the following spring for flight tests and mock dogfights with British fighters. An Emil had similarly fallen into French hands back in September, but it had been lost in a mid-air collision before serious evaluation could be conducted with it.

The evaluation showed the Emil completely superior to the Hawker Hurricane in almost all respects, and generally superior to a Spitfire Mark I equipped with a two-bladed propeller. With a three-bladed Rotol propeller the Spitfire Mark I had the upper hand at high altitude. This particular Messerschmitt is now in the RAF museum at Hendon in the UK.

* The Doras were gradually phased out as new Emil subvariants were introduced. The "Bf-109E-2" was supposed to have been fitted with the MG-FF 20 millimeter Motorkanone, but this subvariant was not actually built.

The "Bf-109E-3" featured a DB-601Aa engine with 895 kW (1,200 HP) for take-off. The Bf-109E-3 also had a stronger canopy design; armor plate in the seat and above the pilot's head; and replaced the MG-17 wing guns with MG-FF 20 millimeter cannons with 60 RPG. The bigger weapons dictated fit of a blister in the lower wing. The pilot had a selector switch to permit firing one or both cannons.

The definitive Emil variant, the "Bf-109E-4", was very similar to the Bf-109E-3, but the MG-FF wing cannon were updated to MG-FF/M cannon. The MG-FF/M was externally identical to the MG-FF, but had a "softened" recoil mechanism to allow it to fire devastating high-explosive "mine" shells. The softened recoil mechanism also resulted in a higher rate of fire.


 _____________________ _________________  _______________________


 spec metric english

 _____________________ _________________  _______________________

 wingspan 9.87 meters 32 feet 4 inches

 wing area 16.17 sq_meters 174.05 sq_feet

 length 8.64 meters 28 feet 4 inches

 height 2.50 meters 8 feet 2 inches

 empty weight 1,900 kilograms 4,190 pounds

 loaded weight 2,665 kilograms 5,875 pounds

 max speed at altitude 560 KPH 350 MPH / 300 KT

 service ceiling 10,500 meters 34,500 feet

 range 660 kilometers 410 MI / 355 NMI

 _____________________ _________________  _______________________

When the Blitzkrieg against the Low Countries and France began in the spring of 1940, the Emil led the way, quickly gaining mastery over all opponents. The offensive was over in a matter of weeks.

The campaign in France had suggested the need for fighter-bomber ("Jagdbomber" or "Jabo") aircraft, and a number of Bf-109s and Bf-110s were experimentally fitted with centerline bomb racks. They performed attacks on Channel shipping, and the combat tests proved so successful that the Luftwaffe decided to create Jabo Bf-109 squadrons.

The first Bf-109 Jabo subvariant, the "Bf-109E-1/B", was a field conversion of existing Bf-109E-1s, featuring a centerline rack for a single 250 kilogram (550 pound) bomb, though more normally they carried a single 50 kilogram (110 pound) bomb to achieve greater range. Bf-109-E4s were also fitted with the rack in production, this modification being given the designation "Bf-109-E4/B". These Jabo subvariants were not fitted with a bombsight as such, but the standard Revi gunsight could be used in dive attacks with some accuracy, and a line was painted on the windscreen to help the pilot with his attack.

The Bf-109's centerline rack is a confusing subject. Such racks would be fitted to subvariants or modifications of the aircraft through the rest of its evolution, allowing the carriage of a 250 kilogram (550 pound) bomb, four 50 kilogram (110 pound) bombs, or a 300 liter (80 US gallon) drop tank. However, it is very unclear whether the same rack could be alternatively fitted with all three of these stores configurations, or whether different racks handled different subsets of them. As the issue is both insignificant and difficult to resolve, this document makes no judgement on it.

* Despite the success of the Bf-109E in the French campaign, some worries cropped up. For one, the Bf-109's range had proven inadequate. For another, the Bf-109E had come up against the British Supermarine Spitfire fighter during the mass evacuation of Allied troops at Dunkirk, and the British fighter had proven a formidable opponent.

These worries would become critical as the Luftwaffe shifted its attention across the English Channel. At first, things went well for the Luftwaffe. After the beginning of the Battle of Britain on 13 August 1940, the Bf-109s were allowed to range freely and engage British fighters at will, using the fluid tactics devised by Moelders in Spain. The British had been trained in traditional inflexible formation tactics that put them at a disadvantage, but the RAF quickly adopted the Luftwaffe's tactics.

While the Bf-109s ranged freely, the job of protecting the bombers fell to the twin-engine Bf-110s. The strategy didn't work. The Bf-110s were slaughtered, and so by early September the Bf-109s were ordered to operate as bomber escorts. Forced into a defensive posture, the Bf-109 was at a disadvantage relative to Hurricanes and Spitfires. The limited range of the Bf-109 was also proving a liability, since it could not stay over the battle area for very long before having to return home. After the bombings campaign was switched from British airfields to British cities, the RAF began to gain the upper hand.

The last action of the Battle of Britain was on 31 October 1940. The British had lost 631 Hurricanes, 403 Spitfires, and 115 Blenheim fighters, for a total of 1,149 aircraft. The Luftwaffe lost 610 Bf-109s, along with 235 Bf-110s and 937 bombers, for a total of 1,782 aircraft. Worse, many of the British pilots who had to bail out returned to battle the next day, while Luftwaffe pilots who bailed out went to prisoner of war camps.

From a tactical point of view, the battle was not all that lopsided and could be regarded as a stand-off. However, it was a moral victory for the British, who had been the first to stand up to Hitler and make him back off; and a moral defeat for the Luftwaffe, who had been used to victories.

* The Bf-109 was still a dangerous adversary, and its cannon armament was devastatingly effective against RAF fighters armed with rifle-caliber machine guns, another lesson the RAF would absorb. Werner Moelders was the first of Hitler's Luftwaffe pilots to exceed 50 kills, with Adolf Galland close behind him.

The Luftwaffe was still enthusiastic for the Bf-109, and new versions of the Emil were rolled out. The uprated DB-601N powerplant, with 895 kW (1,200 HP) for take-off, was fitted to the to produce the "Bf-109E-4/N" modification.

"Fighter reconnaissance" subvariants were produced, such as the "Bf-109E-5" and "Bf-109E-6", which deleted the wing guns and featured a camera in the rear fuselage. The Bf-109E-5 was fitted with the DB-601Aa engine, while the Bf-109E-6 was fitted with the uprated DB-601N engine.

A long-range fighter / Jabo variant, the "Bf-109E-7", was produced with a rack for a 300 liter (80 US gallon) centerline drop tank or 250 kilogram (550 pound) bomb. A "Bf-109E-7/U2" modification was produced for ground attack with armor protection for critical engine systems, and a "Bf-109E-7/Z" modification was built for high-altitude operation using GM-1 nitrous oxide engine boost. The nitrous oxide provided supplemental oxidizer for the engine, with the nitrous oxide bottle placed under the pilot's seat. However, the nitrous oxide kit was heavy and its placement disturbed the balance of the aircraft, leading to unpleasant stall-spin characteristics.

Meanwhile, in Africa, after being introduced to the theater in April 1941, the Bf-109E was enjoying the success to which it had been accustomed, racking up large numbers of kills against RAF Hurricanes and Kittyhawks. The Emil was modified for African operations by being fitted with engine sand filters and a desert survival kit. The survival kit contained food and water, a lightweight carbine, signal equipment, and other gear. The result were the "tropicalized" subvariant modifications, designated with the suffix "Trop". "Bf-109E-4/Trop", "Bf-109E-5/Trop", and "Bf-109E-7/Trop" subvariants were introduced.

The last two major subvariants of the Emil were the "Bf-109E-8" and the "Bf-109E-9". The Bf-109E-8 was similar to the Bf-109E-1 in having an armament of four MG-17 7.9 millimeter guns, but had a DB-601E engine with 1,007 kW (1,350 HP) for take-off, and a centerline rack for a bomb or drop tank.

The Bf-109E-9 was a long-range reconnaissance version, with a camera in the rear fuselage, two 7.9 millimeter machine guns in the cowling, and a centerline rack. Some sources claim it had the DB-601E engine and no wing guns, while others say it had the earlier DB-601N engine and an MG-FF 20 millimeter cannon under each wing. The first configuration seems slightly more plausible, since the DB-601N would have been a throwback to earlier subvariants, and wing guns were not fitted to other reconnaissance subvariants of the Bf-109. The mission did not call for heavy armament and removal of the wing guns compensated for the weight of the camera.

In any case, the Bf-109E-8 and Bf-109E-9 were only built in small quantities. They were the last of the roughly 4,000 Emils built. Luftwaffe interest had clearly moved on to something more advanced.

[2.0] Second Generation Bf-109s / Unusual Variants

v2.0.2 / chapter 2 of 3 / 01 apr 06 / greg goebel / public domain

* Although the Bf-109E was an excellent aircraft, Willy Messerschmitt felt he could do more with the design. As a result, the Messerschmitt concern developed the substantially modified and faster "Bf-109F", which would lead to the heavily produced "Bf-109G" and the final German variant of the line, the "Bf-109K". These fighters were mainstays of the defense of the Reich, struggling on against ever-worsening odds as the Allies gained the upper hand.

Given the large numbers of Bf-109s built, it was no surprise that all through its evolution there were side-branches in the form of special modifications and unusual variants that didn't reach full production. This chapter describes the second-generation Bf-109s and the unusual variants.

 [2.1] BF-109F

* Though the Emil was more or less what Willy Messerschmitt had in mind when he designed the Bf-109, he didn't intend to stop there. In early 1940, design work had begun on an evolved version of the Bf-109 to take advantage of improved streamlining and accommodate even more powerful engine types.

The result was the "Bf-109F". The most noticeable difference was a longer and more streamlined cowling ending in a large prop spinner, giving the new variant a cigar-shaped appearance that would be retained in subsequent Messerschmitt Bf-109 variants.

The propeller blades were 10 centimeters (4 inches) shorter, and wider. The underwing radiators were streamlined, with a ducting system introduced to divert airflow through the wing around them to reduce drag. The bracing struts for the horizontal stabilizer were deleted; the wings were extended and had rounded wingtips; and there were other small modifications to the wing, tail, and fuselage. The Bf-109F also featured a semi-retractable tailwheel.

The planned powerplant was the DB-601E, with 1,007 kW (1,350 HP) for take-off. However, since this advanced engine wasn't available in time for initial tests, the first "Bf-109V21" used the DB-601Aa while the next three prototypes, "Bf-109V22" through "Bf-109V24", evaluated the DB-601E.

Problems with manufacturing the DB-601E continued, and so the ten preproduction "Bf-109F-0s" built in late 1940 used the DB-601N engine. Despite the fact that the Bf-109F-0 used the same engine as late production Bf-109Es, there was still a definite improvement in performance due to the aerodynamic refinements.

Deliveries of the very similar initial production "Bf-109F-1" variant began in early 1941. The pilots nicknamed the new version the "Frederick". Some of the early F-1s suffered a mysterious loss of control and crashed, and so they were all grounded while Messerschmitt engineers investigated the problem. It turned out that eliminating the bracing struts from the horizontal stabilizer led to resonant vibration of the horizontal tailplane at certain engine RPM levels. Reinforcing plates were added to fix the tailplane more solidly to the fuselage and the problem went away.

The Frederick was an impressively streamlined aircraft, and in maturity was fast, with a top speed of 628 KPH (390 MPH). It was to be arguably the best of the Bf-109s, and leveled the balance of air power with the RAF Spitfire Mark V, which had been challenging the Emil.

* Early Bf-109F variants were armed with two MG-17 7.9 millimeter machine guns in the cowling and an MG-FF/M 20 millimeter Motorkanone. While moving back to the engine-mounted gun must have worried Messerschmitt engineers, pilots had indicated that they preferred concentrating the guns in the nose to obtain more focused and effective firepower than could be obtained by placing guns in the wings. This decision was to prove controversial, since although Luftwaffe aces could make effective use of such armament, other pilots would protest that they required heavier armament and a wider field of fire than needed by the sharp-shooting aces.

The "Bf-109F-2" replaced the MG-FF/M 20 millimeter cannon with an electrically operated MG-151/15 15 millimeter cannon, with higher muzzle velocity, faster rate of fire, and 200 RPG, using belt instead of drum feed. The Bf-109F-2 was also produced in modifications such as the "Bf-109F-2/B" Jabo aircraft, the "Bf-109F-2/Z" high-altitude fighter with GM-1 nitrous oxide boost, and the "Bf-109F-2/Trop" tropicalized fighter.

* When Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941, the Frederick was in the lead, although many Emils participated as well and would continue to serve in the Jabo role. On the first day of the attack, a thousand Soviet aircraft were destroyed on the ground, while over 300 were shot down.

Samples of the Bf-109E had been provided to the Soviet Union during the period of Nazi-Soviet "friendship", but the Soviets, possibly blinded by chauvinism and dulled by totalitarian bureaucracy, were dangerously unimpressed by the Messerschmitt. Pitted against obsolete Soviet types like the I-16, Luftwaffe aces flying the Bf-109 began to rack up incredible lists of kills.

On 16 July, Werner Moelders became the first ace to score 101 kills. He was quickly recalled to Germany to train new pilots, only to be killed in a crash while on his way to attend Ernst Udet's funeral. Other Luftwaffe pilots were to exceed the hundred-kill mark, with a good portion of those kills provided by the Frederick in the Russian campaign. By the end of the war, the top Luftwaffe aces would be Erich Hartmann, with 352 kills, Gerhard Barkhorn, with 301 kills, and Guenther Rall, with 275 kills. Hartmann would be sent to Russian POW camps for ten years after the war, but returned to serve in the post-war Luftwaffe, along with Barkhorn and Rall. Rall would be the first Luftwaffe pilot to solo in the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter.

* The large number of kills claimed by Luftwaffe aces remains somewhat controversial, as they far exceed the kills claimed by aces of all other combat forces. While it is certainly true that all air arms tend to exaggerate their kills, the Luftwaffe was apparently strict in their accounting standards. There were also other reasons, most of them essentially disadvantages to Germany, why some Luftwaffe fighter pilots could score so many kills.

Germany engaged in combat over several fronts for a long period of time. Luftwaffe aces had a relatively soft time of it in Russia at first, engaging large numbers of obsolete Soviet aircraft that were comparatively easy kills. Even later in the war, when the Red Air Force had better tactics and fighters like the Yak-3 and La-5, the Soviets tended to trade quantity for quality both in terms of aircraft and pilots, and could still win playing that game. It was a "target rich environment", with plenty of things to hunt -- and the same number of potentially lethal threats.

The numeric imbalance that favored the Red Air Force was increasingly reflected in the West as well, meaning that those Luftwaffe pilots that survived had many opportunities to engage Allied aircraft, while Allied fighter pilots found German aircraft relatively scarce. The Luftwaffe's limited resources also meant that while the Allies could afford to pull their best pilots out of combat to train the next generation of fighter pilots, the Luftwaffe simply couldn't do it, no matter how much it paid off over the long run.

* In early 1942, the Bf-109F-2 was replaced on the assembly line by the "Bf-109F-3", which was very similar but finally incorporated the DB-601E engine. The definitive "Bf-109F-4" was produced in parallel with the Bf-109F-3 but in far greater numbers. It also featured the DB-610E engine, but replaced the MG-151/15 cannon with an MG-151/20 20 millimeter cannon with 150 RPG, and added improved self-sealing fuel tanks and better cockpit armor protection.

Later Bf-109F-4 production dispensed with the tailplane reinforcements, with the internal structure of the tailplane redesigned to eliminate the vibration problem. The Bf-109F-4 was also produced in "Bf-109F-4/B" Jabo, "Bf-109F-4/Z" high-altitude fighter, and "Bf-109F-4/Trop" tropicalized fighter modifications.


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 spec metric english

 _____________________ _________________  _______________________

 wingspan 9.92 meters 32 feet 6 inches

 wing area 16.10 sq_meters 173.30 sq_feet

 length 9.05 meters 29 feet

 height 2.6 meters 8 feet 6 inches

 empty weight 2,590 kilograms 5,270 pounds

 loaded weight 3,120 kilograms 6,880 pounds

 max speed at altitude 625 KPH 390 MPH / 340 KT

 service ceiling 12,000 meters 39,400 feet

 range with drop tank 710 kilometers  440 MI / 385 NMI

 _____________________ _________________  _______________________

* Hans Joachim Marseille, the Luftwaffe pilot who scored the highest number of kills against Western aircraft, a total of 158, achieved most of his victories in a "Bf-109F-4/Trop" in North Africa. Having scored five kills in the Battle of Britain, he rapidly accumulated victories over the desert due to his excellent marksmanship. Marseille died at age 22 on 30 September 1942 when his Bf-109G caught fire and he struck the tailplane while trying to bail out. He would be remembered as the "Star of Africa".

* A total of about 2,200 Fredericks were built. While some sources indicate that there were "Bf-109F-5" through "Bf-109F-8" subvariants, the details are unclear except for the fact that if any of these variants were produced, it wasn't in any quantity. There were, however, a number of new subvariant modifications of the Bf-109F-4 built in limited numbers, which became another confusing issue that is discussed in the next section.

There were also a number of experimental conversions of the "Frederick", including fits of the Junkers Jumo 213 engine; a pressurized cockpit; wing fences; tricycle landing gear; a "vee" or "butterfly" tail; and even a BMW 801 radial engine, making it seem like a Bf-109 / FW-190 hybrid.

 [2.2] BF-109G / BF-109K

* The "Bf-109G" was direct follow-on to the Bf-109F. The "Gustav", as it came to be known, was fitted with the still more powerful DB-605-series engine, with was effectively a DB-601 with bored-out cylinders, higher compression, and 1,082 kW (1,450 HP) for takeoff. The new engine was heavier and generated higher torque, requiring airframe reinforcement and modifications. Some Gustav variants also featured a pressurized cockpit. Initial deliveries of the Gustav began in early 1942.

By this time, the Bf-109 was clearly past its prime, and the Focke-Wulf 190 would equip Germany's leading fighter squadrons. However, the Reich had lagged in introducing new fighters. There were never enough FW-190s to go around, while development of advanced jet fighters was delayed for technical and bureaucratic reasons until they would be, fortunately for the Allies, too few and too late to make a difference.

Uprating the Bf-109 helped plug the gap for a while, but at a price. While the Bf-109 was maneuverable, it had never been light on the controls, and as it became faster it also became more difficult to fly. Its handling on the ground, never good, only kept getting worse. The Gustav was a handful for experienced pilots and downright dangerous to inexperienced ones.

Ironically, while the Spitfire was upgraded in a similar fashion through the war, the basic Supermarine design proved more adaptable to increased horsepower, armor, firepower, and weight, and later model Spitfires like the Mark IX were more than a match for contemporary Bf-109s. A Luftwaffe pilot would land his Bf-109G at RAF Manston by mistake later in the war and allow comparison of the Messerschmitt against current Allied types, showing it to have few advantages and many disadvantages relative to the Spitfire Mark IX and XIV, as well as the P-51C Mustang. This Gustav was lost in an accident before it could be tested against a Tempest Mark V.

Despite the limitations of the type, as conditions became increasingly desperate, the Bf-109G would roll off the production line in tremendous numbers, with as many as 24,000 produced by Germany and her allies. Over 14,000 of these were built in 1944 alone.

* Work on 12 preproduction "Bf-109G-0s" began in the summer of 1941, with the last of this batch delivered in October. Due to problems with obtaining the new engines, the preproduction Gustavs were fitted with DB-601E engines. They had the same armament fit as the Bf-109F-4, with twin MG-17 7.9 millimeter guns in the cowling plus an MG 151/20 20 millimeter Motorkanone, and had a pressurized cockpit.

The initial production "Bf-109G-1" began to arrive at Luftwaffe units in March 1942. It was identical to the Bf-109G-0, except that it was fitted with the proper DB-605A-1 or DB-605B-1 engine, with two new small cooling intakes in tandem on each side of the nose, just behind the propeller. The four intakes were added because the DB-605 engine tended to overheat or even catch fire while the aircraft was idling on the runway on hot days. GM-1 nitrous oxide boost was standard.

The Bf-109G-1 was built in a number of modifications, one of the most significant being the "Bf-109G-1/Trop" tropicalized fighter. This modification replaced the MG-17 7.9 millimeter guns in the cowling with MG-131 13 millimeter guns with 300 RPG for additional punch, in case the nose-mounted MG-151/20 jammed.

To accommodate the MG-131s, a pair of bulged fairings were fitted to the cowling just ahead of the cockpit, giving the Bf-109G-1/Trop and similar variants the nickname "Beule (bump)". The bulges did nothing to improve the Bf-109's already poor field of vision while on the ground.

* The topic of Gustav modifications is extremely complicated. Messerschmitt had moved to a process of modification through factory conversion kits, or "Umrust-Bausatz", designated by "U" modification codes; and field upgrade kits, or "Rustsaetze", designated by "R" modification codes. These kits had been implemented in late Frederick production, but reached full development with the Bf-109G.

There were many of these kits; sources tend to be contradictory in descriptions of the kits; and it appears that the same modification code might have different meanings when applied to different subvariants. To complicate matters, a single Gustav might have several kits, or be adapted to different kits over time, but its designation might only reflect one of them. Finally, towards the end of Gustav production many of these modification kits were built in as standard. The issue is very confusing, is unlikely to ever be sorted out with any certainty, and is little more than a headache for anyone who doesn't consider it their life's work.

In general outline, kits included Jabo conversions (codes variously given as "R1" and "R2"); long-range fighters, with a centerline rack for a drop tank ("R3"); reconnaissance fighters ("R2", again, and "R4"); and "bomber destroyers". The bomber destroyer fits were particularly interesting and significant, as they were used in numbers to help defend the Reich against Allied bombers.

The first bomber destroyer modification ("R6") involved fit of an MG-151/20 cannon in a gondola under each wing, giving the Bf-109G a total of five guns. This fit affected the aircraft's handling for the worse -- increasing its weight, reducing its roll rate, and causing roll instability. Such modifications were at a disadvantage in tangling with Allied fighters. The bomber destroyer modification was referred by pilots as the "Kanonboote (Gunboat)".

This armament fit led to kits that provided an MK-108 30 millimeter cannon under each wing instead of the MG-151/20 cannon ("R5"), or fit of launch tubes for 21 centimeter (8.27 inch) WGr-210 "Dodel (Penis)" rockets in place of the underwing cannon ("R21"), for use as a "Polk Zerstoerer (formation breaker)". The big rockets were not very accurate and rarely hit anything, but they were useful for disrupting bomber formations. Pilots would simply lob them into a formation, where they would explode after being set off by a timed fuze.

There was also a modification kit that exchanged the MG-151/20 Motorkanone for an MK-108 30 millimeter cannon ("U4"), and a similar kit that swapped the MG-151/20 for an MK-103 30 millimeter cannon.

The MK-108 was a short barreled, low-velocity weapon that could fire mine shells. It didn't have much range, but it could be devastating if it scored a hit. Crews called it the "Jackhammer" because of its appearance and the sound of its firing.

The MK-103 was a long barreled weapon and more potent than the MK-108, as it used a full-length round. It could fire tungsten-core armor-piercing rounds for use as an anti-tank weapon or incendiary rounds for air combat. Lack of availability of these heavy cannon meant they were a somewhat unusual weapons fit, and some sources claim they were never actually used on the Bf-109.

There were specialized kits, such as a radiocompass ("R7"); GM-1 nitrous oxide boost ("U2"); and "MW-50" water-methanol engine boost system ("U3"). Water-methanol boost permitted higher combat power by spraying the water-methanol mixture into the cylinders as a cooling measure. The water actually did the cooling, the methanol was only added as anti-freeze for winter and high-altitude operation.

Another set of modification kits were implemented to provide a tail assembly with a wooden frame ("U2" again) in order to avoid use of increasingly scarce metals, and then a similar wooden tail assembly with a taller rudder ("U4" again).

* The "Bf-109G-2" was produced in parallel with the Bf-109G-1, and differed in lacking the pressure cabin and GM-1 nitrous oxide boost. The Bf-109G-2 was built in substantially larger numbers than the Bf-109G-1, and was produced in a wide range of modifications.

* Although a "Bf-109G-3" variant was produced, the next version of the Gustav to be introduced was actually the "Bf-109G-4", with initial deliveries in October 1942. It was very similar to the Bf-109G-2, the major difference initially being that the FuG-7A radio was replaced with an FuG-16ZY radio with longer range. After initial production, the Bf-109G-4 was also fitted with larger mainwheel tires, to handle the greater weight of the Gustav, and to accommodate the bigger tires a bump was built into each wing. This particular bump may have also led to the Gustav being known as the "Beule".

The Bf-109G-3 followed the Bf-109G-4 into production, and was basically a Bf-109G-1 with an FuG-16ZY radio. Some later production featured the wooden tailplane assembly.

* Again, although a "Bf-109G-5" was built, the "Bf-109G-6" was introduced into service first, and in fact was the major Gustav production variant. The Bf-109G-6 was the first subvariant to feature the twin MG-131 13 millimeter cannon as standard fit, along with the MG-151/20 Motorkanone. It did not have cockpit pressurization. Late Bf-109G-6 production featured items such as a taller rudder and longer tailwheel leg to improve ground handling; radio compass as standard fit; and the new "Galland hood", a bulged canopy to improve visibility.

The Bf-109G-6 was the most heavily produced of the Gustavs, with different subvariants using different versions of the DB-605. It was sometimes fitted as a Jabo but particularly used as a bomber destroyer, with the "gunboat" modifications.


 _____________________ _________________  ___________________


 spec metric english

 _____________________ _________________  ___________________

 wingspan 9.92 meters 32 feet 6 inches

 wing area 16.10 sq_meters 173.30 sq_feet

 length 9.03 meters 29 feet 7 inches

 height 2.5 meters 8 feet 2 inches

 empty weight 2,673 kilograms 5,890 pounds

 max loaded weight 3,400 kilograms  7,500 pounds

 maximum speed 621 KPH 385 MPH / 335 KT

 range with drop tank 1,000 kilometers  620 MI / 540 NMI

 _____________________ _________________  ___________________

One of the more interesting Bf-109G-6 modifications was the "Bf-109G-6/N", referred to in some sources as the "Bf-109G-6/U4N", which was fitted as a night-fighter with "FuG-350 Naxos Z" electronics to home in on centimetric radars used by RAF bombers. The night fighter was also fitted with exhaust flame dampers and a radio compass, with the directional loop antenna fitted to the bottom of the aircraft as the Naxos Z antenna was fitted to the top, and was configured as a "gunboat". The radio compass was needed to help the pilot get back to base in the dark. Radar wasn't fitted, since German radars of the time were generally bulky and required a second crewman as a radar operator.

The Bf-109G-5 was identical to the Bf-109G-6 except that it had cockpit pressurization. There was no production "Bf-109G-7". The "Bf-109G-8", introduced in late 1943, was a reconnaissance fighter modification of the Bf-109G-6, with a camera in the rear fuselage, a gun camera in the left wing, and the twin cowling guns deleted.

* Gustav gunboats were one of the mainstays of the Luftwaffe's defense of the Reich against Allied bombers, and many techniques were used to knock down the attackers. Gustavs were even used to drop fragmentation bombs with time-delay fuzes to break up the formations, but this approach was not very successful.

As a night fighter, the Gustav was used in what were referred to as "Wilde Sau (Wild Boar)" tactics, in which day fighters fitted with little or no night-fighting equipment were sent to fly at high altitude over the target area. The target area, far from being blacked-out, would remain lit up, both by city lights and fires resulting from the bombing, to reveal the black silhouettes of RAF bombers below the Wilde Sau fighters.

The Wilde Sau program was the idea of a bomber pilot, Major Hajo Hermann, and many of its warriors were bomber pilots as well. Initial experiments in the tactic were conducted starting in the spring of 1943, but Wilde Sau became the "only game in town" when the RAF starting dropping "window", or strips of aluminum foil designed to jam radar, in July 1943, blinding German air-defense radars and night fighters. Wilde Sau proved effective in killing RAF bombers, but night flying in aircraft poorly equipped for the task proved dangerous, particularly in bad winter weather. Trying to find someplace to put down could be a problem, and in many cases Wilde Sau pilots simply bailed out of perfectly good aircraft when their options ran out.

Only a few of the Bf-109G-6/N night fighters were built, since by the time they began delivery the Wilde Sau groups were being disbanded, both because of combat attrition and the fact that the Germans had been able to overcome RAF electronics countermeasures to an extent. Had the Bf-109G-6/Ns been available earlier, they might have made a difference since they also had a radio compass, allowing them to find their way back to base at night.

* The "Bf-109G-10" was basically an attempt to standardize Gustav production, incorporating gear provided in various modification kits for earlier subvariants as standard, and fitted with a DB-605D engine with MW-50 water-methanol injection that gave it a top speed of 690 KPH (429 MPH) at altitude. Armament consisted of an MG-151/20 20 millimeter Motorkanone and twin MG-131 13.7 millimeter guns in the cowling, and the subvariant was fitted with the FuG-16ZY radio. Later production featured the taller tail, longer tailwheel leg, and Galland hood introduced with late-production Bf-109G-6s.

The "Bf-109G-12" was a tandem two-seat trainer, field-modified from the Bf-109G-1 to help the inexperienced pilots the Reich was throwing into battle obtain survival skills from their elders. A trainer subvariant derived from the Emil, to be designated "Bf-109S", had been considered in 1940, but it wasn't until 1942 that the idea was finally implemented using the Gustav. The Bf-109G-12s were all field conversions from other Gustav variants.

The "Bf-109G-14" was the last operational Gustav, with a DB-605AS or DB-605AM engine, three-gun armament, and Galland hood. The new Daimler-Benz engines had improved supercharging, which had been judged to be more effective than either nitrous oxide or water-methanol boost.

The "Bf-109G-16" was similar, but had the earlier DB-605D engine, standard five-gun armament, and a centerline rack. It was apparently intended for the ground attack role. It was not produced in any numbers, if at all.

The Gustav was the main player in "Operation Bodenplatte", a major attack against Allied airfields in France and the Low Countries to smash enemy fighter-bombers on the ground. The attack destroyed about 450 Allied aircraft, but resulted in serious losses for the Luftwaffe. The Allies could make good their losses easily, while the Luftwaffe couldn't replace them at all, and most of the pilots who were shot down and survived fell into Allied hands.

* The extraordinary number of modifications of the Gustav proved counterproductive. The lack of standardization of the aircraft made maintenance and supplying spares difficult. Attempts to solve the problem with later Gustav subvariants such as the Bf-109G-10 didn't prove successful, and so the RLM, in effect, ordered Messerschmitt to try harder.

The result was the "Bf-109K" or "Konrad" series, which was based on the Bf-109G-10. The preproduction "Bf-109K-0" was very much like the final Gustav production subvariants, but featured a raised cowling, a longer prop spinner, a Galland hood, taller tailfin, and fully retractable tailwheel with an extended leg to improve ground visibility.

The Bf-109K was fitted with a DB-605B engine with GM-1 nitrous oxide boost as standard. By default, the Bf-109K was armed with twin MG-131 guns in the cowling and an MG-151/20 Motorkanone, but Bf-109Ks were also evaluated with an MK-108 30 millimeter cannon and twin MG-151/15 15 millimeter cowling guns. Some sources also state that the MK-103 cannon was evaluated as well, but there is some controversy over this claim. A standard MK-103 would not fit in the nose of a Bf-109K, but an "MK-103M" variant with a slender barrel was built that could fit. It may have been evaluated, but if so it doesn't appear to have entered formal service.

The initial production models were the "Bf-109K-2" and the "Bf-109K-4", with deliveries beginning in October 1944. The Bf-109K-2 was fitted with the DB-605ASC or DB-605DC engine, with GM-1 nitrous oxide boost as standard, and three-gun armament, featuring an MK-108 Motorkanone and twin MG-151/15 cowling guns. The Bf-109K-4 was identical but featured cockpit pressurization.

The "Bf-109K-6" was a bomber-destroyer derivative of the Bf-109K-4. It differed in that MG-131s were used for the cowling guns instead of MG-151/15s, and two MK-108 guns were fitted in the wings, not in gondolas, for a total armament of three 30 millimeter and two 13.7 millimeter guns. It also had a gun camera. Few were produced since the Reich was falling apart at this time.

There were a few other Konrad variants, but they were produced in very small numbers if any were actually built at all. The "Bf-109K-8" was a reconnaissance fighter version of the Bf-109K-6, with a camera in the rear fuselage and no cowling guns, the troughs for the barrels being faired over. The "Bf-109K-10" was very similar to the Bf-109K-4, but had MG-131 cowling guns instead of MG-151/15s and a DB-601D engine. The "Bf-109K-14" featured a DB-601L engine with a two-stage supercharger and MW-50 water-methanol injection, plus three-gun armament. It could attain a speed of 725 KPH (450 MPH).

* Something like 34,000 Bf-109s were built to the end of the war, and the type had fought all through the conflict. In the beginning they swept all before them. In the end, there were about 400 Bf-109Gs and 400 Bf-109Ks left to oppose the Allied air fleets, when the Luftwaffe could even find gas to fly or pilots to fly them. In the air, they lived the lives of the hunted, fighting on in desperation as Allied fighters roamed the skies in swarms. One of the last acts of the Bf-109 in combat was "Operation Wehrwulf", where the Messerschmitts were stripped down and used to ram USAAF bombers. A "Rammkommando Elbe" unit was formed under Hajo Hermann, and flew its first and last mission on 7 April 1945, destroying 8 bombers for a loss of 60 fighters.

Adolf Galland's autobiography was titled THE FIRST AND THE LAST. The same title could just as easily be applied to the story of the Bf-109.


* Given the large quantity of Bf-109s built, unsurprisingly there were many odd experiments and unusual variants.

Limited experiments were performed early in the war with a Bf-109E-8 fitted with skis for winter operations, but the skis caused a performance penalty, and regular production Messerschmitts had no great troubles in using wheels under winter conditions. The idea went no further.

Another idea that went nowhere were experiments in 1942 with underwing and overwing fuel tanks, fitted to a Bf-109E-4. They did little to interfere with the aircraft's flying characteristics, but centerline drop tanks had proven generally about as effective, so the idea of wing tanks was dropped.

It was revived again a year later in the form of overwing containers that could each carry a parachutist and his gear. This scheme was apparently intended for saboteur drops and could also be used for medical evacuation. In any case, although the containers, like overwing fuel tanks, proved to hardly impair the Bf-109's performance, mercifully for those who would have had to ride in the thing the idea generated little interest and was forgotten.

Some unusual armament fits were experimentally applied to Gustavs. One involved fit of a pack with twin rearward-firing MG-17 7.9 millimeter machine guns to a reconnaissance fighter as a means of self-defense. Another involved fit of three MG-151/20 cannon gondolas, one under each wing and the third under the centerline.

Fiesler also experimented with a Bf-109G-0 that was refitted with a DB-605A engine and could carry a 500 kilogram (1,100 pound) bomb and dual wing drop tanks. This experimental aircraft was redesignated the "Bf-109G-2/R1". The bomb was so large that it could not clear the ground on takeoff, and so a fixed landing-gear leg was attached to the aircraft just behind the bomb to jack the aircraft's tail up. The spare leg was ejected by an explosive charge after takeoff and returned to earth by parachute for re-use. The idea was not adopted for operational use. Some sources say the tests went well, but others plausibly claim the aircraft was so overloaded as to be dangerous to fly.

* Another unorthodox idea was to use the Bf-109 as a glider tug. A Bf-109E was experimentally mounted on struts above a DFS-230 troop transport glider, but the idea was not adopted. In a similar scheme, however, the Bf-109 was mounted on top of an unmanned Junkers Ju-88 bomber that was packed with explosives and used as a flying bomb. The FW-190 was also used as a controller aircraft with the Ju-88 and other bombers. The two aircraft took off together, with the fighter releasing the bomber and guiding it to target. The scheme was known as "Mistel" ("Mistletoe") or "Beethoven", and saw little operational use. It is described in more detail in a companion document, CRUISE MISSILES.

 [2.4] BF-109T / BF-109H / BF-109TL / BF-109Z

* The Bf-109E-1 was used as the basis for a German naval fighter built by Fiesler, the "Bf-109T", with the "T" standing for "Traeger (Carrier)". The "Toni" was to be used on board the German aircraft carriers GRAF ZEPPELIN, which was launched but never completed for operations, and PETER STRASSER, which was never built.

The Bf-109T featured folding wings with longer span; arrester hook in front of the tailwheel; catapult attachment gear; spoilers on top of the wings; interconnected ailerons and flaps; and full-span leading-edge slats. Ten "Bf-109T-0" preproduction aircraft and 60 "Bf-109T-1" production aircraft were ordered from Fiesler, since Messerschmitt was too heavily committed to existing production orders to do the job themselves.

Fiesler delivered the ten Bf-109T-0s. However, work on the carriers was abandoned and the 60 Bf-109Ts were completed in 1941 as land-based fighters designated the "Bf-109T-2", stripped of such carrier-specific gear as could be removed. They had twin MG-17 7.9 millimeter guns in the cowling and an MG-FF cannon under each wing, and were fitted with a centerline rack for bombs or drop tank. They had excellent short-field performance and were assigned to short-length fields in Norway, where they provided excellent service. In 1942, they were moved to the German island of Heligoland and remained in service until 1944.

* The "Bf-109H" was a high-altitude fighter ("Hochleichtungsjaeger"), featuring extended wings, a pressurized cockpit, and high-altitude engine fits, built in response to an RLM requirement issued in early 1943.

At first, the Bf-109H was conceived as basically a Frederick with wing inserts to provide extended span for high-altitude operation. The wing inserts had the incidental effect of moving the main landing gear outward, giving the aircraft a wider ground track.

However, this concept was abandoned since it could not meet RLM requirements. Messerschmitt then suggested that their new "Me-209H" fighter, then in development and discussed in more detail in the next chapter, could do the job. The Me-209H was to have a new DB-628A or DB-603A turbocharged engine for high-altitude operation, but delivery of the Me-209-II was not expected until 1944. As an interim measure, the RLM ordered Messerschmitt to go ahead with the Bf-109H and redesign it for use with the new engines.

A Gustav, designated "Bf-109V49", had already been fitted with a mockup of the DB-628A as part of the Me-209-II program, and so it was a straightforward step to install an operational DB-628A in another Gustav for Bf-109H flight tests as the "Bf-109V50". While this aircraft was undergoing trials, a third Gustav was fitted with both the DB-628A and the extended wings.

While Messerschmitt worked on Bf-109H prototypes with the DB-628A engine, the company also built of up a batch of "Bf-109H-0" fighters for engineering tests and "Bf-109H-1" fighters for field evaluation, all modified from Fredericks and powered by the more conventional DB-601E engine with GM-1 nitrous oxide boost.

The Bf-109H-1s were evaluated by the Luftwaffe in France in early 1944. The trials went well, except for the fact that the aircraft demonstrated an unhealthy wing flutter in dives. Tests were conducted on some of these aircraft back in Augsburg, and in April 1944 one lost a wing during a dive. This apparently stalled the program, which was then presently cancelled in favor of the Focke-Wulf Ta-152H. A number of additional H-series subvariants were considered but never reached prototype stage.

* Messerschmitt even considered development of a jet-powered version of the Bf-109, tentatively designated the "Bf-109TL", as a backup plan in case the Messerschmitt Me-262 jet fighter project ran into serious obstacles. The Bf-109TL used a modified Bf-109 fuselage with armament in the nose, and a new wing with two Junkers Jumo-004B turbojets. The idea was that the Bf-109TL would be able to leverage off existing production tooling, but to no great surprise as the design evolved the details of the Bf-109TL diverged from those of standard Bf-109 production enough to ensure that the design provided no real advantages. The idea was abandoned in 1943.

* Another extreme variant was the "Bf-109Z Zwilling (Siamese Twin)", which consisted of two Bf-109F-4 airframes joined together to make a single aircraft. It was conceptually similar to the American P-82 Twin Mustang, except that only the left fuselage had a cockpit. Messerschmitt proposed the idea as a means of providing the Luftwaffe with a long-range Jabo that would leverage off existing Bf-109 production tooling.

Messerschmitt got the go-ahead from the RLM in early 1942. Two variants were planned, including the "Bf-109Z-1" bomber destroyer ("Zerstoerer") with five 30 millimeter guns, and the "Bf-109Z-2" Jabo with twin 30 millimeter cannon and a one-tonne bomb load. Advanced versions with the Junkers Jumo 213 engine were considered. The prototype was finished in mid-1943, but damaged by Allied bombers before it could fly. Attempts were made to repair it, but then the RLM ordered that the program be abandoned. Interest had moved on to improvements to the Focke-Wulf FW-190 and new jet-powered aircraft.

[3.0] Bf-109 Follow-Ons / Foreign Users / Variant Summary

v2.0.1 / chapter 3 of 3 / 01 apr 06 / greg goebel / public domain

* Messerschmitt attempted to build a number of follow-on fighters to replace the Bf-109, but none were successful. The Bf-109 remained the most prominent fighter of the Reich from the beginning of the war to its end, and was also flown by Germany's allies and some neutrals. After the war, some of these foreign operators would continue to build their own versions of the Bf-109, though saying they improved on it would be a bit arguable.

This chapter discusses the follow-on versions of the Bf-109; the type in foreign service; and postwar production. It concludes with a variant summary.

[3.1] ME-209 / ME-309 & ME-609 / ME-209-II

* The first Bf-109 "follow on" was the "Me-209", but it was a "follow on" in name only. The Me-209 was assigned mostly for propaganda purposes, and the Nazi propaganda machine also gave it the even more misleading name of "Me-109R".

The Me-209 was essentially a purpose-built air racer whose only real commonality with the "Bf-109" was its DB-601 engine. It won a world speed record of 756 KPH (almost 470 MPH) on 26 April 1939. Willy Messerschmitt decided to see if the racer might make a good fighter, and came up with the "Me-209V4" prototype, which performed its initial flight on 12 May 1939. The fighter prototype strongly resembled the original Me-209 air racer, but had many changes, including a new wing, taller vertical tailplane, and provision for two MG-17 guns in the cowling and an MG-FF/M Motorkanone.

An air racer is a highly specialized aircraft and is not generally suited for military use. The Me-209V4's ground and flight handling were terrible, and successive tweaks over a year's time did nothing but raise the aircraft's weight until it couldn't win an air race against an Emil, much less the improved Frederick that was in the works. Messerschmitt finally cut his losses and gave up on the idea.

* In late 1940, as the Frederick was moving towards production, Messerschmitt began to consider a true successor to the Bf-109 series, designated the "Me-309". It incorporated many new features, including tricycle landing gear, an all-round vision canopy, a retractable radiator, and a reversible propeller. Many of these elements were test-fitted to Fredericks for evaluation.

When Messerschmitt proposed the aircraft to the RLM, there was no great interest at the time. The Reich was doing so well on the battlefield that there was a dangerously complacent belief the war was all but won, and so there was no urgency to develop new weapons. The initial prototype, the "Me-309V1", didn't fly until 18 July 1942. It was fitted with a DB-603A engine.

The Me-309V1 suffered from some teething problems with the cooling system and showed some directional instability or "snaking" in flight, but the reversible propeller worked only too well. On its first test in September, it halted the aircraft so abruptly that it nosed over, breaking the nose gear and causing other damage. The prototype was laid up for repairs into November. It returned to flight status with a taller tailfin to deal with the snaking problem. Mock combat with a Bf-109G showed the Me-309 to be faster, but the Gustav could easily out-turn it.

The "Me-309V2", with the DB-605 engine intended for production aircraft, performed its first flight on 29 November 1942. It was also its last, since its nosewheel collapsed on landing and the aircraft broke in half, totalling it.

The "Me-309V3" first flew in March 1943, but by this time the RLM had given up on the effort. The Me-309's performance was not enough of an improvement over that of the Bf-109G to compensate for its lack of maneuverability, and it was judged too demanding for most pilots. Ironically, the landing gear track turned out to be too wide, making it difficult to handle on the runway with an obnoxious tendency to swerve.

Messerschmitt did complete one more aircraft in the series, the "Me-309V4", which was the prototype for the proposed "Me-309A-2" heavy fighter, with an armament of no less than four MG-131s, two MG-151/20s, and two MK-108s! It performed its first flight in July 1943. The Bf-109V4 was later destroyed in an Allied bomb raid. The other two surviving prototypes were used for various experiments. Of course, proposed developments, including the "Me-309B" dive bomber and the "Me-609" Zwilling variant, were never built.

* The last evolved version of the Bf-109 that Messerschmitt tried to build was the "Me-209-II", which confusingly had nothing to do with the original Me-209 racer. The "clean-sheet" Me-309 having proven a failure, Messerschmitt decided to see if the Bf-109G design could be modified to create the next-generation fighter he had wanted.

The Me-209-II had a redesigned tail; landing gear that hinged in the wings instead of the fuselage, eliminating the Bf-109's troublesome narrow track; an uprated engine; a taller tailfin; and a DB-603 engine with an annular radiator that misleadingly suggested a radial engine. However, as design of the Me-209-II progressed, one change demanded another, and it became increasingly dissimilar to the Bf-109G.

The first prototype, the "Me-209V5", following in number sequence of the entirely different Me-209V4 of 1939, took to the air on 3 November 1943. It was supposed to be the prototype for the "Me-209A-1" production aircraft, with an MK-108 Motorkanone and an MG-131 in each wingroot. A number of experimental modification kits were developed for this prototype, including MK-108s mounted in a fairing that extended back over the top of the wing. This fit actually turned out to improve the aircraft's flight characteristics and the idea would be used on some other aircraft designs later.

A second prototype, the "Me-209V6", followed. It was similar to the Me-209V4 but fitted with a Jumo 213 engine with annular radiator, and MG-151/20s replacing the MG-131s in the wing roots. It was supposed to be the prototype for the "Me-209A-2" production aircraft.

A third prototype, for a high-altitude fighter variant designated the "Me-209H", was rolled out in the spring of 1944. The "Me-209HV1" featured extended wings and a DB-603E engine. The variant was supposed to be fitted with advanced turbocharged Daimler-Benz engines such as the DB-628A, but by late spring 1944 all work on the Me-209 had been abandoned, since its compatibility with existing production lines had almost completely evaporated. The RLM settled on the Focke-Wulf Ta-152H as the Reich's high-altitude fighter.


* Even from the earliest days, the Bf-109 was used extensively by Germany's allies, and some neutrals.

The Hungarians bought three Doras in 1938 for evaluation. As a close German ally, they later operated large numbers of Bf-109s, acquiring Emils and then Gustavs to a peak strength of nine squadrons. The Hungarians also produced about 600 Gustavs, many of them delivered back to the Luftwaffe. Although Hungary surrendered to the Soviets in January 1945, many Hungarian units continued to fight on against the Allies from Austria. Nearly all the Hungarian Bf-109s were destroyed to prevent them from falling into Allied hands.

The Rumanians obtained 69 Bf-109E-4s in 1942, and began to receive Gustavs in numbers the next year. The Rumanian IAR concern assembled 30 Gustavs from kits and built 16 more on their own until Allied bombers put a stop to this activity. After Rumania switched sides in August 1944, their Bf-109s operated against the Luftwaffe. The Rumanian Bf-109s were obsoleted in 1948.

The Bulgarians acquired 19 Bf-109E-4s in 1940, and then acquired 130 Gustavs starting in 1943. They defended Bulgaria from American bombers, scoring at least 65 kills, though some of the Messerschmitts were lost in the air and in bombing raids. In September 1944, the Bulgarians switched sides and flew their Bf-109s against the Germans. At the end of the war, over a hundred Gustavs that had been found at an Austrian factory were passed on to the Bulgarians, though over half were given to Yugoslavia as war reparations. Bulgaria withdrew its Bf-109s from service in 1946.

73 Bf-109Es were sold to Yugoslavia and fought the Luftwaffe when the country was overrun in 1941, but spares were scarce, serviceability poor, Yugoslav pilots were poorly trained in the hot aircraft, and they offered little effective resistance against the Germans. After the war, the Yugoslavs would acquire a number of Gustavs, mostly from Rumania as mentioned above, and operated them into the early 1950s.

Fredericks and Gustavs were provided to German-allied Italian forces beginning in 1943, and the Italian pilots flew them with distinction. The German-dominated Slovak and Croat states also operated the Bf-109 under German control. Five Bf-109E-7s were provided to the Japanese in 1941, but while they were interested in the DB-601 engine and license-built it for their Kawasaki Ki-61 "Hien" fighter, they had little interest in the Bf-109 itself.

* The Finns acquired their first Bf-109s in the spring of 1943, obtaining an initial batch of 16 Gustavs. They ultimately flew 150 Bf-109s, naming the type the "Mersu", scoring 270 kills with the loss of 22 of their own number up to the time of the armistice with the Soviets in September 1944. Finnish ace Eino Juutilainen scored 94 victories, making him the highest-scoring non-Germanic fighter pilot in all history. The Finns would operate their Gustavs into the early 1950s.

The Finns were so enthusiastic about the Bf-109 that they designed their own follow-on to the type, the "VL Pyoerremyrsky (Whirlwind)". Development was protracted, with a single prototype finally flying in November 1945, after the end of the war. By this time, it was no longer needed.

The Pyoerremyrsky had an unmistakeable resemblance to a Bf-109F or Bf-109G, and used a German DB-605AC engine. Its armament configuration much like that of some Bf-109s, with two Finnish LKK/42 12.7 millimeter guns in the cowling and an MG-151/20 Motorkanone. However, it clearly differed in details, with a different wing planform, lengthened cockpit glazing, and landing gear hinged in the wings to give it a wider track for rough-field operation. It was also optimized to make the best use of materials the Finns had available to them, and for operation in severe winter conditions.

* Switzerland purchased a dozen Bf-109Ds in 1938, fitting them with four Swiss-built 7.45 millimeter machine guns. The cowling guns had 480 RPG while the wing guns had 418 RPG. The Doras were intended to provide familiarization for 80 Emils that followed in 1939 and 1940. The Swiss Emils were also fitted with Swiss guns, as well as a Swiss radio. The Swiss used their Bf-109Es in several furious dogfights with the Luftwaffe over airspace incursions during the invasion of France, with the Luftwaffe losing a handful of He-111s and Bf-110s, to the loss of a few Swiss Bf-109s.

Despite these fits of unneighborliness, the Swiss obtained a dozen Gustavs late in the war. They had placed an order with the Germans in 1943 but could not get delivery, until a Bf-110 night fighter carrying sophisticated electronics and armament strayed into Swiss airspace in late April 1944, and landed near Zurich due to engine trouble. The Germans became more cooperative with the Swiss in delivering the Gustavs, bargaining with the Swiss for the destruction of the Bf-110 lest Allied intelligence get their hands on it. However, the Gustavs were of very shoddy quality and were "hanger queens", and the Germans ended up refunding half of what the Swiss paid for them.

Swiss Bf-109s also intercepted Allied bombers that strayed into their airspace, forcing them to land and be interned. There were rarely problems, but during one such incident, a USAAF P-51D Mustang shot down a Swiss Bf-109 and damaged another. The Swiss tried painting their Bf-109s with loud red and white stripes to emphasize the Swiss cross markings, but this was discontinued because the Luftwaffe mistook them as Allied aircraft painted in invasion stripes.

The Swiss interned a number of Luftwaffe Bf-109s during the war and even built nine Bf-109Es themselves at the end of the war, one of them assembled from spares. The Swiss Bf-109s finally scrapped in 1949.

* The Bf-109 was manufactured by Avia in Czechoslovakia during the war. After the war, Avia continued to manufacture the Bf-109G as the "S-99", with some two-seat Gustavs produced as "CS-99s".

Avia had a stock of Daimler-Benz engines for the aircraft stored in a sugar refinery, but the refinery burned to the ground and took all the engines with it. The only alternative was a stock of Junkers Jumo 211 engines that were to have been used for He-111 bombers, and so Avia engineers mated the Jumo 211 to the Bf-109G airframe, resulting in the Avia "S-199".

It wasn't a happy marriage. The Jumo 211 was optimized for low RPM and high torque using a big paddle-bladed propeller, and the S-199 was a nightmare to fly, with performance inferior to a Bf-109E. Czech pilots gave it the contemptuous nickname of "Mezec (Mule)". Nonetheless, Avia built a number of S-199s and a two-seat conversion trainer variant, the "CS-199", and even sold a batch of them to the new state of Israel in 1948. The Israelis found them a threat to their own pilots and ineffective in combat, and quickly phased out the Mezecs in favor of Spitfire Mark IXs and P-51Ds.

* When the Condor Legion departed Spain after the civil war there, they left behind their Bf-109Es, making Spain one of the first foreign users of the type. The Spanish received a number of Fredericks during the war, and in 1942 Hispano of Spain came to an agreement with Messerschmitt to license-manufacture 200 Gustavs. The consequences of this action would be lengthy, complicated, and confusing.

Hispano was supposed to get kits and assemblies to begin production, but as things went from bad to worse for the Reich, deliveries faltered. By late 1944, Hispano had 25 Gustav airframes but no DB-605s, and knew they weren't going to get any more. As a result, Hispano re-engineered the airframe to use the Hispano-Suiza 12Z 89 engine, with 970 kW (1,300 HP) for take-off. An Emil was fitted with the engine as an experiment and proved satisfactory, if not the equal of a real Gustav, though the new engine did improve the Emil's performance.

The Hispano-Suiza engine had a substantially different form from the Daimler-Benz engines, demanding airframe changes, and it also rotated in the opposite direction, requiring tweaky aerodynamic modifications. The first of the 25 modified Gustavs with the Hispano-Suiza engine was flown on 10 July 1947, with the designation of "HA-1109-J1L", and the rest of the batch were completed in the same configuration. However, the Spanish Air Force (Ejercito del Aire / EdA) did not regard them as satisfactory and did not accept them.

Hispano thought the matter over and decided to use the Hispano-Suiza 12Z 17 instead. It wasn't any more powerful than the 12Z 89, but it had many improvements, including fuel injection, and was generally regarded as more satisfactory. The company began to roll out the new variant of the fighter in 1951, giving it the designation "HA-1109-K1L", and was accepted into EdA service as the "C-4J".

* By this time any thought of using the aircraft for air-to-air combat was completely ridiculous. Although one of the small batch of HA-1109-K1Ls was fitted with the intended armament of a Breda-SAFAT 12.7 millimeter machine gun in each wing, a few others in the batch were used for experiments with other armament fits to test their usefulness in the close-support role. One was fitted with twin Breda-SAFAT guns in the cowling and underwing launchers for eight 80 millimeter Oerlikon rockets, while another was given rocket launchers but no guns.

A third was fitted with one Hispano HS-404 20 millimeter cannon in each wing, plus rocket racks. The EdA found this configuration acceptable and implemented it on most of the other HA-1109-J1Ls. These aircraft were then given the new company designation of "HA-1112-K1L", though they retained the EdA C-4J designation. Two prototypes of an unarmed two-seat conversion trainer were also built, with the designation "HA-1110". The EdA also called them C.4Js.

* Even with the desired armament, the EdA did not find the HA-1112-K1L very satisfactory, and it was only used as an operational trainer. In the meantime, Hispano-Suiza then abandoned production of the 12Z engine, and so in 1953 Hispano engineers turned to the British Rolls-Royce Merlin 500-45 engine, with 1,200 kW (1,610 HP) for takeoff. The British had earlier refused to provide Merlins as part of arms embargoes, but fortunately for the Spaniards the embargoes had finally been lifted.

The first conversion to Merlin power, designated the "HA-1109-M1L", took to the air on 30 December 1954 and demonstrated much improved performance, though it was still not as fast as a Gustav due to the clutter of the rocket racks and other close-support gear. The Merlin-powered aircraft went into production is the "HA-1112-M1L" and entered service with the EdA in 1956 as the "C-4K". 171 were delivered in all, some of them upgrades from Hispano-engined aircraft.

The HA-1112-M1L had a Hispano HS-404 or HS-808 cannon in each wing, with a large wing fence outboard of the gun to compensate aerodynamically for the long barrel. The aircraft had a four-bladed Rotol propeller and a nose with a "deep-breasted" appearance to accommodate the Merlin, and so was known as the "Buchon (Pigeon)". Both of the HA-1110 two-seaters were re-engined with the Merlin, and were redesignated "HA-1112-M4L", though the EdA still called them C.4Ks.


 _____________________ _________________  _______________________


  spec metric english

 _____________________ _________________  _______________________

 wingspan 9.92 meters 32 feet 6 inches

 wing area 16.10 sq_meters 173.30 sq_feet

 length 9.10 meters 29 feet 10 inches

 height 2.60 meters 8 feet 6 inches

 empty weight 2,655 kilograms 5,855 pounds

 loaded weight 3,180 kilograms 7,010 pounds

 max speed at altitude 675 KPH 420 MPH / 365 KT

 range 475 kilometers 475 MI / 415 NMI

 _____________________ _________________  _______________________

The first Bf-109 had used a Rolls-Royce engine, and ironically so did the last. The Buchon was phased out in 1965, a relic in comparison to the F-104 Starfighters then being operated by the Spanish Air Force. 23 Buchons were purchased for filming the movie BATTLE OF BRITAIN in 1968, and went on to private ownership as airshow trophies after that. They are almost always seen in dubious Luftwaffe markings.

* There are, at last notice, no true German Bf-109s still flying. A British-restored Bf-109G belonging to the Imperial War Museum was flying into 1997, but was grounded by an accident, and had been scheduled to return to static display in any case. There is a flying Bf-109G in the UK, but it is a conversion from a Buchon.


* Bf-109 prototypes:

Bf-109V1: Initial prototype with Rolls-Royce Kestrel vee-12 engine and fixed-pitch two-blade wooden propeller. Unarmed.

Bf-109V2: Junkers Jumo 210A engine, also unarmed.

Bf-109V3: Also with Jumo 210A engine, but armed with twin MG-17 7.9 millimeter machine guns fitted in the cowling ahead of the cockpit.

Bf-109V4: Fourth prototype, first Bf-109B-0 preproduction aircraft, with Jumo 210A engine, similar to the V3 but with a third MG-17 firing through the prop spinner. Similar "Bf-109V5" and "Bf-109V6" prototypes were built as well, with Jumo 210B engine and minor incremental changes.

Bf-109V7: Similar to Bf-109V6 but fitted with Jumo 210G engine, which featured fuel injection and a two-stage supercharger. Prototype for Bf-109C series.

Bf-109V8: Also prototypes for the Bf-109C series, with Junkers Jumo 210Ga and four MG-17 7.9 millimeter guns -- two in the cowling, one in each wing.

Bf-109V9: Similar to Bf-109V8 but with 20 millimeter MG-FF cannon in the wings instead of the MG-17 guns. This fit was not followed up at the time due to cannon teething problems.

Bf-109V10: Precursor of the Bf-109D series, originally similar to the Bf-109V8 but then fitted with the DB-600 engine. Crashed in 1937.

Bf-109V11 & Bf-109V12: Prototypes for the Bf-109D, but fitted with the DB-600A engine.

Bf-109V13: Originally similar to Bf-109V11 and Bf-109V12 with the DB-600A engine, but later reengined with the uprated DB-601 to set a world speed record. The Bf-109V13 was effectively the first prototype of the Bf-109E series.

Bf-109V14 through Bf-109V20: Bf-109E prototypes, with DB-601A engines and minor variations in fit. The Bf-109V13 and Bf-109V14 were also referred to as "Bf-109E-0" production prototypes.

Bf-109V21: Initial prototype for the Bf-109F series, with DB-610Aa engine rather than production DB-601E engine.

Bf-109V22 through Bf-109V24: Prototypes for Bf-109F series, with DB-601E engines and minor variations in fit.

Bf-109V49 and Bf-109V50: Bf-109Gs fitted with of turbosupercharged DB-628A engine. The Bf-109V49 was fitted with a mockup, the Bf-109V50 was fitted with an operational engine. Predecessor of short-lived Bf-109H series.

Bf-109V54: Bf-109G with DB-628A engine and extended wings. Prototype for Bf-109H series.

* The initial prototypes were referred to as "Bf-109As", so the first production variant was the Bf-109B or "Bertha".

Bf-109B: Initial full production variant, similar to prototypes but with uprated Jumo 210Da engine, with production moving to Jumo 210E and then Jumo 210G. Early production had a two-bladed propeller, later production had a two-bladed metal propeller licensed from Hamilton Standard.

* Bf-109C ("Clara") series:

Bf-109C-1: Initial production Clara, generally similar to Bf-109V8, but with FuG-7 radio.

Bf-109C-2: Like Bf-109C-1, but added fifth MG-17 7.9 millimeter gun firing through the prop spinner. Experimental only.

Bf-109C-3: Like Bf-109C-1, but replaced wing-mounted MG-17 machine guns with MG-FF 20 millimeter cannon. Experimental only.

Bf-109C-4: Like Bf-109C-1, but added MG-FF 20 millimeter cannon firing through the prop spinner. Experimental only.

* Bf-109D ("Dora") series:

Bf-109D-1: Initial production Dora, an interim model with Jumo 210 powerplant produced until Daimler-Benz DB-601s became available. Fitted with twin MG-17 7.9 millimeter machine guns in the cowling and an MG-FF 20 millimeter Motorkanone.

Bf-109D-2: Deleted the MG-FF Motorkanone and added an MG-17 7.9 millimeter gun under each wing.

Bf-109D-3: Replaced the wing-mounted MG-17s with MG-FF 20 millimeter cannon.

* Bf-109E ("Emil") series:

Bf-109E-1: Initial production Emil, with DB-601A-1 engine, three-bladed variable pitch propeller, underwing radiators, and four MG-17 7.9 millimeter guns, with two in the cowling and one under each wing. A "Bf-109E-1/B" Jabo modification with a centerline bomb rack was built as a field conversion.

Bf-109E-3: Uprated DB-601Aa engine, improved canopy and cockpit armor. Replaced the MG-17 wing guns with MG-FF 20 millimeter cannon.

Bf-109E-4: Wing MG-FF cannon were upgraded to MG-FF/M to fire HE "mine" shells. Modifications included the "Bf-109B-4/B" Jabo aircraft with a bomb rack, the "Bf-109E-4/N" with the uprated DB-601N powerplant, and the "Bf-109E-4/Trop" tropicalized fighter.

Bf-109E-5: Fighter-reconnaissance variant, with two 7.9 millimeter guns in the cowling, no wing guns, a camera in the rear fuselage, and a DB-601Aa engine. A "Bf-109E-5/Trop" modification was built.

Bf-109E-6: Fighter-reconnaissance variant, similar to the Bf-109E-5 but with DB-601N engine.

Bf-109E-7: Long range fighter, similar to Bf-109E-4/N but with centerline rack for a drop tank or bomb. Modifications included a "Bf-109E-7/U2" with engine armor protection, a "Bf-109E-7/Z" with nitrous-oxide boost, and a "Bf-109E-7/Trop" tropicalized fighter.

Bf-109E-8: Similar to Bf-109E-1 with four MG-17 7.9 millimeter guns, but with DB-601E engine and centerline rack for a drop tank.

Bf-109E-9: Improved fighter-reconnaissance variant with DB-601E, centerline rack for a drop tank, two MG-17 7.9 millimeter guns in the cowling, and no underwing guns. Some sources claim it had a DB-601N engine and MG-FF 20 millimeter wing cannon.

* Bf-109F ("Frederick") series:

Bf-109F-0: Preproduction Frederick variant, with new cowling and prop spinner, modified propeller, longer wings with rounded tips, no bracing struts on horizontal tailplane, and many other changes. Fitted with DB-601N engine, armed with two MG-17 7.9 millimeter guns in the cowling and an MG-FF/M 20 millimeter Motorkanone.

Bf-109F-1: Initial production Frederick, similar to Bf-109F-0.

Bf-109F-2: Replaced the MG-FF/M 20 millimeter cannon with an electrically operated MG-151/15 15 millimeter cannon. Modifications included the "Bf-109F-2/B" Jabo, the "Bf-109F-2/N" high-altitude fighter with GM-1 nitrous oxide boost, and the "Bf-109F-2/Trop" tropicalized fighter.

Bf-109F-3: Principal production version of the Frederick, with uprated DB-601E engine, otherwise identical to Bf-109F-2.

Bf-109F-4: DB-601E engine, replaced MG-151/15 cannon with MG-151/20 cannon, added self-sealing fuel tanks, armor glass, and improved cockpit armor. Modifications included the "Bf-109F-4/B" Jabo, the "Bf-109F-4/N" high-altitude fighter with GM-1 nitrous oxide boost, the "Bf-109F-4/Trop" tropicalized fighter, and a limited number of factory conversions and field upgrades similar to those later implemented on the Bf-109G.

* Bf-109G ("Gustav"):

Bf-109G-0: Preproduction "Gustav", very similar to Bf-109F-4 with DB-601E engine and pressurized cockpit.

Bf-109G-1: Uprated DB-605A-1 engine, with additional engine cooling intakes and GM-1 nitrous oxide boost system. The "Trop" modification introduced two MG-131 13 millimeter cannon in the cowling to replace the traditional MG-17 7.9 millimeter guns. Distinctive "bumps" ("beule" in German) were added to the cowling to accommodate the new weapons, which were featured on many later Bf-109G subvariants.

The Bf-109G-1 also featured a large number of modifications through Umrust-Bausatz (factory update kits) and Ruestsaetze (field upgrade kits) that are too numerous and confusing to detail. Later Gustav subvariants would be fitted with similar kits.

Bf-109G-2: Like Bf-109G-1 with the MG-17 guns, but no cockpit pressurization or GM-1 nitrous oxide boost. The "Bf-109G-2/R1" modification was a specialized experimental fighter-bomber, carrying a 500 kilogram bomb and fitted with an extended, discardable tailwheel.

Bf-109G-3: Like Bf-109G-1, but with FuG-16ZY long-range radio.

Bf-109G-4: Similar to the Bf-109G-2, but with FuG-16ZY radio.

Bf-109G-5: Standardized armament of twin MG-131 cannon and one MG-121/20 cannon, also had pressurized cockpit.

Bf-109G-6: Similar to Bf-109G-5 but with no cockpit pressurization. The "Bf-109G-6/N" modification was a night-fighter version, with "Naxos" radar homing gear and a radio compass.

Bf-109G-8: Reconnaissance fighter variant with camera in the rear fuselage, gun camera, and no cowling guns.

Bf-109G-10: Uprated DB-605D engine with MW-50 water-methanol engine boost and standard twin MG-131 cowling guns.

Bf-109G-12: Tandem two-seat trainer, field modified from other Gustav variants.

Bf-109G-14: DB-605AS or DB-605AM engine, three-gun armament, and Galland hood as standard.

Bf-109G-16: Similar to Bf-109G-14, but with DB-605D engine, standard five-gun armament, and centerline rack. It was apparently intended for use as a close-support aircraft. Did not enter service.

* Bf-109K ("Konrad") series:

Bf-109K-0: Similar to late Gustav subvariants, but with raised cowling, longer prop spinner, Galland hood, raised vertical tailplane, fully retractable tailwheel with long leg, DB-605B engine with GM-1 nitrous oxide boost. Three-gun armament standard.

Bf-109K-2: DB-605ASC or DB-605DC engine with GM-1 nitrous oxide boost, plus twin MG-151/15 cannon in the cowling and an MK-103 or MK-108 30 millimeter Motorkanone. As with the Gustav, a variety of modification kits were provided for the K-series subvariants.

Bf-109K-4: Like K-2, but with pressurized cockpit.

Bf-109K-6: Bomber destroyer, similar to Bf-109K-4 but with MG-131 cowling guns, two underwing MK-108 30 millimeter cannon, and a gun camera.

Bf-109K-8: Reconnaissance fighter version of Bf-109K-6, with a camera in the rear fuselage and no cowling guns.

Bf-109K-10: Similar to Bf-109K-4, but with MG-131 cowling guns and DB-601D engine.

Bf-109K-14: Fitted with DB-601L engine with two-stage supercharger and MW-50 water-methanol injection, and three-gun armament. It could attain a speed of 725 KPH (450 MPH).

* Unusual variants, proposals, and derivatives:

Bf-109H-0: High-altitude fighter variant, derived from "Frederick" but with extended wings, and DB-601E engine with GM-1 nitrous oxide boost.

Bf-109H-1: Field evaluation version of Bf-109H-0.

Bf-109S: Proposed tandem-seat trainer version of Bf-109E.

Bf-109T-0: "Traeger (Carrier)" version of Bf-109E-1 with folding wings, arresting hook, and other gear. Ten conversions to this configuration by Fiesler. The carrier was never completed and all "Tonis" were passed over to the Luftwaffe.

Bf-109T-1: Production version of Toni with DB-601N engine. None delivered.

Bf-109T-2: Actual production lot of Bf-109T-1s, modified for land-based operation by removal of carrier-specific fittings and fitted with centerline rack.

Bf-109TL: Proposed jet-powered Bf-109 variant with twin Junkers Jumo 004B turbojets, not built.

Bf-109Z "Zwilling (Siamese Twin)": Twin-fuselage Bf-109F with one pilot. One prototype built but destroyed before flight test.

Me-209: Air racer derivative, little in common with the Bf-109.

Me-209-II: Evolved Bf-109G. Abandoned.

Me-309: Bf-109 derivative with tricycle landing gear and all-round vision canopy. Prototypes only.

Me-609: Zwilling version of Me-309, not built.

* Foreign postwar manufacture:

Avia S-199: Czech-built postwar Bf-109G with Jumo 211 engine, notoriously dangerous to fly.

Avia CS-199: Two-seat conversion trainer version of S199.

Hispano HA-1109-J1L: Spanish-built Bf-109G with Hispano 12Z 89 engine.

Hispano HA-1112-K1L: Spanish-built Bf-109 close-support derivative built in the early 1950s, with Hispano-Suiza 12Z 17 engine, two HS-404 20 millimeter cannon in each wing, and racks for eight 80 millimeter Oerlikon rockets.

Hispano HA-1110: Two-seat conversion trainer for the HA-1112-K1L, two built.

Hispano HA-1112-M1L "Buchon (Pigeon)": Improved version of the HA-1112-K1L, with Rolls-Royce Merlin 500-45 engine and four-bladed Rotol propeller.

Hispano HA-1112-M4L: The two HA-1110 conversion trainers fitted with Merlin engines.


* For some reason I've never been able to become very fond of most World War II German aircraft; I just don't much care for their looks. Despite that, the prominence of the Bf-109 makes it an essential element in any study of the topic, and there are of course many detailed sources available.

The large number of subvariants makes it something of a tricky job, and I have to admit that the subvariant list here is almost certainly not completely trustworthy. For example, most sources are fuzzy about the distinction between the MG-FF and MG-FF/M cannon, since the difference between the two weapons was so slight. It appears that the MG-FF/M was introduced with the Bf-109E-4 and I have simply assumed that all subsequent variants specified to have the MG-FF actually had the MG-FF/M.

Some of the sources also had clear errors, such as claiming the Bf-109G-6/N night fighter had radar, which was implausible given the bulk of German radar sets. There were also disagreements between different sources on the nature of some of the subvariants, and some of the authors had the honesty to admit they found the whole thing extremely confusing, too. The list is a starting place.

* I wasn't entirely aware of how confused the development history of the Bf-109 really was when I released the v1.0 version of the document, partly because I only used a few sources and so didn't get tangled up in the contradictions. The v2.0.0 version of this document only started out as a minor cleanup, using some new sources, with the variant list. However, it completely spiraled out of control as I became more aware of just what a muddle the whole thing was, and ended up being a serious rewrite.

The v2.0.0 version was clearly a major improvement over the v1.0 version, which had some clear bugs, but I still had my worries. There came a time when further attempts to probe into the modification kits simply glazed my eyes over, and I could push myself no further. I've done minor updates since then and have had no inclination to do a lot of double-checking on the material, which suggests that I've learned about as much about the Bf-109 as I'm ever going to.

* Sources for this document include:

WARPLANES OF THE LUFTWAFFE, edited by David Donald, Aerospace Publishing Limited, 1994.

MESSERSCHMITT BF 109 by Robert Grinsell, from THE GREAT BOOK OF WORLD WAR II AIRPLANES, Bonanza Books, 1984.

"Messerschmitt Bf-109: The First Generation" by David Donald, WINGS OF FAME, Volume 4, 1996, 38:77.

"Messerschmitt Bf-109: The Later Variants" by David Donald, WINGS OF FAME, Volume 11, 1996, 46:109.

THE ILLUSTRATED ENCYCLOPEDIA OF 20TH CENTURY WEAPONS & WARFARE, general editor Bernard Fitzsimons, Columbia House, 1977 edition.

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