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Messerschmitt Bf 109



The Messerchmitt Bf 109 stands alongside the Spitfire as perhaps being the most famous combat aircraft ever to have flown. Throughout the almost seven years of World War II the Messerschmitt 109 and the Spitfire were locked in a continuous struggle for control over the skies of Europe.

The Messerschmitt 109 was designed in the early 1930's by Germany's legendary designer Willy Messerschmitt and first flue operationally in 1937. The 109 first saw combat in the skies over Spain; flying with Germany's Condor Legion in support of General Franco's Nationalists. By the time that World War II began both the plane and the pilots who flew it were already proven and they initially swept all opposition aside in the skies over Poland and France.

By the beginning of the Battle of Britain, the standard Messerschmitt 109 was the E or “Emil” version. During World War II the public in Britain were led to believe that the Messerschmitt 109 was inferior to the Spitfire, or even the Hurricane. In fact the “Emil” was one of the greatest combat aircraft ever to have flown and was undoubtedly superior in most respects to the Hurricane and on a par with the earlier variants of the Spitfire, and actually surpassed them in some respects.

Amongst the Emil's qualities were an engine with fuel injection which allowed it to accelerate, begin a climb or enter a dive faster than its British opponents, a vital requirement to hold the initiative in a dog fight. The Emil was also fast, compact, cheap and easy to make and packed a powerful punch in its mix of cannon and machine gun armament. RAF pilots given a chance to test fly a captured 109 noted that it was not as manoeuvrable in a turn as the Spitfire or Hurricane and that it had restricted visibility from its cockpit, especially towards the rear. During the Battle of Britain, the Messerschmitt 109 was initially hampered by its limited ability to linger in the combat area. Later in the Battle, strict adherence to a requirement to stick in close company with the bombers that they escorted robbed Messerschmitt pilots of much of their power of manoeuvre and initiative. Despite this when released to perform offensive fighter sweeps (Balbo's) the Messerschmitt 109 continued to be a very dangerous opponent

The Messerscmitt Bf 109 was updated continually throughout the war serving on all fronts as a fighter and fighter bomber. Later variants such as the G or “Gustav” were unforgiving machines to fly and perhaps tried to pack too much onto the original airframe, although, like the Spitfire the maximum speed was boosted by almost 100 mph. In total over 30,000 Bf 109's were manufactured making them the most numerous fighter aircraft to have ever been built. The 109 was also responsible for shooting down more enemy aircraft than any other aircraft in history. After World War II the 109 continued in service with the Hungarian, Finnish and Romanian air forces until the mid 1950's. The Messerschmitt 109 also equipped the early Israeli air force whilst some 109's in the Spanish airforce were ironically powered by the same Rolls Royce Merlin engine used for the Spitfire.

Several Messerschmitt Bf 109's are preserved in the UK including examples at the RAF Museum, Hendon and Imperial War Museum at Duxford. The statistics below are for the Bf 109E.

Type: Single seat fighter
Powerplant: 1,300 hp Daimler Benz 601E inverted V12
Maximum Speed: 354 mph
Service Ceiling: 36,900 feet
Range: c 460 miles
Armament: 3 x 20 mm MG FF Cannon and 2 x 7.92mm MG17 machine guns.

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