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Aircraft used by Kampfgeschwader 55

 

Messerschmitt Bf109

Surprisingly, when the Messerschmitt Bf 109 was first developed and entered production in the mid to late 1930s, it was considered an inferior aircraft by the Allies who compared it to the Spitfire and other RAF fighters of the period.  However, the Bf 109 subsequently became the most widely produced, the most respected, and the most varied Luftwaffe fighter. Over 30,000 of the nine major variants of the aircraft were built. It was so successful that the Spanish Air Force was still using them up until 1967 (allowing them to be borrowed by the production team on the MGM film "The Battle of Britain" which went into production in 1968, some 30 years after the first prototypes had gone into production prior to the Spanish Civil War (1937).

Initially, its developer, Dr Willy Messerschmitt wanted to develop a new fast super plane.  However, in the 1920s, Erhard Milch - Hitler's Secretary of State for Aviation - would not give his support or the finances to support its development.  Messerschmitt ended up developing his plane for the Romanian government.  But in 1933 the newly formed Luftwaffe suddenly contacted him and asked him to design a sports plane for an upcoming international air race.

The result was the first prototype, the Bf 108, which flew in February 1934 with a top speed over 200mph.  It flew well enough in the races - but it took time for Messerschmitt to win the kind of contract from the Luftwaffe he had wanted.  It was therefore not until August 1935 that the prototype Bf 109V-1 first appeared, called a "Bf" after the company name at the time: Bayerische Flugzeugwerke.

The Bf 108 was a low wing, all metal construction monoplane, with flush rivets, leading edge slats, and retractable landing gear. Its single-seat cockpit had a fully enclosed canopy. It was powered by a 695 HP twelve cylinder Rolls-Royce Kestrel engine. Despite some teething problems with frailty, high wing loading and narrow track landing gear being prone to failure, its speed and agility impressed the Luftwaffe top brass to allow Messerschmitt to press on and perfect the design.  V-2 and V-3 variants soon followed: the V-3 being the first to carry armaments - two 7.9mm MG17 machine guns and 1000 rounds of ammunition.

Throughout 1936, further refinements were made in response to the Allies progressing with their Spitfire.  The V-4, V-5 and V-6 appeared that year: the V-4 had a third machine gun in the nose, whilst the latter variants were equipped with improved Jumo 210B engines. As Germany offered to help the Spanish Civil War effort, it was these variants which were rushed into service with the Condor Legion. The first actual production aircraft were designated the Bf 109B - Bertha, the first 30 of which saw service in Spain, but their engines were not as powerful as the more maneuverable Russian Polikarpov I-15s and I-16s used by the opposition. 

After 1937, the aircraft underwent yet more improvements to its performance with newer, faster engines and yet more machine guns, for example, the V-8 had four 7.9mm guns.  The V-9 trialled 20mm cannons in its wings, but these proved unreliable.  The Daimler Benz powerhouse engine, the DB 600, powered four later developmental models: the V-10, V-11, V-12, and V-13. The V-13 (equipped with the DB601) set the world speed record in November 1937, at 379.38mph.

The Bf 109C - Clara rolled off the assembly line in March 1938 and was also rushed to Spain where its newer engines capable of 290mph turned the tide against the opposing Russian-built aircraft. It was also during 1938 that, as people really began to take notice of the aircraft and Messerschmitt's capabilities as a designer, it was the Air Ministry who suggested changing the company name to "Messerschmitt A.G.".  Subsequent aircraft would be identified with the "Me" prefix; those already in production, the 109, would retain the "Bf" designator. Nonetheless, many people began referring to the "Me 109," including the USAAF; contemporary air combat reports are filled with references to the "Me 109."

In late 1938 the Bf 109D - Dora appeared, powered with the with Daimler Benz state-of-the-art DB 600 series engines with a fuel injection system that would not stall out during sharp aerial maneuvers.  In early 1939 it was the Bf 109E - Emil powered with the cutting edge Db 601A engine that was the latest stage of development - and, with four rifle calibre machine guns (two in the cowlings and two in the wings) it was with this model that Germany entered WWII following their attack on Poland.  In September 1939, the Luftwaffe had almost 1,000 Bf 109ís in service, mostly E models: 200 took part in the Polish campaign and about one third of them were lost, mainly to ground fire.

The Bf 109 proved a superior aircraft, easily outclassing its opponents in the blitzkrieg against France of May 1940.  During the Battle of Britain during the summer of 1940, however, as the Bf 109 engaged the Hurricanes and Spitfires of the RAF in a momentous struggle for air superiority over the Great Britain, it was the large distance from bases and the need to use the Messerschmitt in a bomber escort role which took their toll. By the end of October 1940, the British had lost 1,149 airplanes, mostly fighters, but the Luftwaffe had lost almost 1,800 aircraft, one third of them Bf 109s.

By the time the Luftwaffe had been virtually defeated by the Allies, in the later war years, KG55 were assigned a number of Messerschmitt models, including the Bf 109G- Gustav. Powered with the latest 1450 horsepower DB 605A engines, some 24,000 of these aircraft would be built from 1942 onwards.  Some variants had pressurized cockpits for higher altitude flying; engine mounted 20mm Mauser MG 151 cannons, a pair of cowling mounted 7.9mm MG 17 machine guns.  Some of the numerous, more obscure variants were even armed with larger and more numerous weapons such as extra 20mm or 30mm cannons in under-wing pods, 21cm Dodel rocket launchers, and a short-barrelled MK-108 30mm cannon that fired a low-velocity mine shell.  The Bf109G-10 variant had the latest DB 605D engine that could reach a top speed of 429mph.

 

More detailed information about Messerschmitt Bf109 on other websites:

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