During the 1930s, under the terms of Treaty of Versailles, Germany
was not allowed to develop weapons for war. Therefore, it had
to develop its future strike aircraft in secret or disguised as
something else. One of the best known and most widely used
German bombers of World War II, the Heinkel He 111 was developed as
a commercial airliner from 1934 onwards. It therefore made its
first public appearance as a commercial airliner capable of carrying
ten passengers. However, the intention had always been that it could
be quickly and cheaply converted into a medium-range bomber adhering
to German military specifications.
By mid-1935, the first He-111A bomber variants had entered
production, but the Luftwaffe refused to accept them when it became
clear that the BMW engines were not powerful enough to carry the
amount of bombs required. So, the first He 111As which rolled
off the production line were sold to the Chinese government, to help
raise much needed hard currency for Germany. Subsequent
versions had either Daimler-Benz DB 600 or Junkers Jumo 211 series
liquid-cooled inverted V-12 engines, which also helped to increase
the top speed to 225 mph.
Many other modifications to the original design were made during
1936 and 1937, resulting in a rising number of variants which used
letters of the alphabet (and not necessarily in strict alphabetical
order). Experimental or temporary versions were given the
letter "V". It was the "P" version, in production from late
1938, which first had the famous all glazed nose housing the nose
gunner and above him the pilot and the observer - a profile now so
closely associated with the Battle of Britain.
The He 111 saw its first combat with the Condor Legion in Spain in
1937, where they proved fast enough to evade most of the fighters
trying to attack them. This, and other experiences, lead the
Luftwaffe to believe it could operate fast medium bombers against
any country, without having to provide them with fighter escorts.
This tactic worked during the Blitzkrieg, the lightening war into
France, but failed miserably in the autumn of 1940, during the
Battle of Britain.
During the Battle of Britain in 1940 and in the first half of 1941,
KG55 used primarily HE111Ps. By the summer of 1941 the H
models had been adopted as the more successful variant and continued
to be used for the next few years, even though it had become
patently obvious that the bomber's two or three gunners firing
hand-operated light machine guns were no match for the faster and
more maneuverable Spitfires and Hurricanes which rose to defend
Britain. The Germans quickly learned that they had to provide
fighter escorts, usually Bf 109s, for the bombers, but the short
range of the fighters limited them to only about ten minutes
endurance over Britain, and provided little or no cover when the
bombers were heading for targets in the Midlands or the north
west of Britain as far as Liverpool.
Being so vulnerable to Allied fighters, the Heinkel HE111 therefore
became quickly obsolete. However, because the Luftwaffe had no
replacement, it stayed in production until the end of 1944.
About 7,300 were built, and most of the final batches were equipped
to launch the V-1 flying bombs against English cities after the
ground launch sites had been captured. There were many special
versions, including torpedo carriers, magnetic-mine cleansers and