First testing ground for the Messerschmitt Bf-109 fighter plane was the Spanish Civil War. There the Luftwaffe tried out a new theory of mixed fighter armament embracing the conventional machine guns and cannon. Far out-ranging machine guns, the shell-firing cannon were expected to blast fighters and bombers alike from the skies. Designed by Willie Messerschmitt, the Bf-109 fighter was the direct descendant of several military and racing aircraft that had set world's records for speed, climb and dive ability.
In 1936, a fighter design preceding the Me-109 (the designation was later changed) was shown at the Olympic games held in Berlin. Developed from the M-29, it had a BMW VI inline motor, rounded wing tips, and was flown straight across the stadium by Franke, the German airman who was later decorated for "sinking" the aircraft carrier Ark Royal in 1939. The following year the German Air Ministry accepted the Me-109 as a standard fighter for the Luftwaffe and it was put into production with a Junkers Jumo 210 motor, an armament of two machine guns.
In 1937, at the Zurich International Flying Meet, three Me-109Bs powered by Junkers Jumos and an Me-109D powered by the Daimler-Benz DB-600 motor took part in the air meets. The former took most. of the honors for military types, the latter, piloted by Franke, won speed, climb and dive honors. Several months later, a special Me-109, powered by a Daimler-Benz DB-600R, broke the international landplane speed record at 373.39 mph.
Spring, 1938, saw the first Me-109Bs, armed with two machine guns and a motor cannon, reach General Franco's forces in Spain. Later, these were supplemented by additional Me-109Cs and Me-109Ds, with more powerful motors, altered. armament and generally improved performance.
In the latter part of 1938, the Me-109E went into service with the Luftwaffe. There were two versions of the aircraft, both attaining maximum speeds of 354 mph. On April 26th, 1939, a special Messerschmitt racer listed at the International Absolute Speed Record Contest as the Messerschmitt Bf-109R broke all existing speed records for every type of plane on a three-kilometer course at a speed of 469.22 mph. The next day, the greatest horizontal speed ever attained by man was reached at the speed of 481.4 mph. Flight Captain Fritz Wendel was at the controls, and a special Daimler-Benz DB-600ARJ motor developing 1800 hp powered the aircraft. This record still holds good today. By the time of the Battle of Britain, the armament of the Me-109E had been standardized at two nose machine guns and two wing-mounted cannon. Special fuselage and wing bomb racks were added, and the ships were pressed into service as fighter-bombers. Several machines were powered by Junkers Jumo 211 motors, but the standard type was equipped with the Daimler-Benz DB-601A. The aircraft were used for night fighters, and special night-fighter equipment was tested on several planes. In 1941, the Me-109F1 and Me-109F2 went into active service in Germany. Modifications included the installation of the new DB-601E motor, rounded wing-tips, cantilever tailplanes, retractable tail wheels and revised armaments. Maximum speed was some seventeen mph faster than the Me-109E. Both versions could carry long-range fuel tanks externally under the fuselage, single 550-lb bombs or two 250-lb bombs.
An experimental Me-109F3 was closely followed by the Me-109F4 tropical version for use in North Africa. The main difference between the standard Me-109F models and the Me-109F4 was the installation of bomb racks under the wings for four 110-lb bombs.
During 1942, an order for 234 special Me-109F fighters was placed in France. They were designated the Me-109G, due to the installation of the new Daimler-Benz DB-605 motor. The DB-605 developed various stages of horsepower for takeoff 1350 hp, 1400 hp, 1500 hp and 1700 hp. The more powerful motors were used in cleaned-up versions of the early Me-109Gs and were standard for the later models. Wing cannon on these fighters were slung under the wings, instead of being mounted conventionally as on the Me-109E models. At least one Me-109GV high-altitude pressurized-equipment fighter was built at that time, and all Me-109Gs and the latest Me-109Fs are equipped and fitted for use as photographic reconnaissance airplanes.
It is interesting to note that when the tropical Spitfire Mark VC entered combat in Libya with the Me-109F1s, -2s and -4s that were replacing the older Me-109Es, a special filter for the Merlin XXI had to be installed, due to the corrosive action of the fine particles of sand encountered in North Africa. There was no such filter or any special equipment save for an extra screen on the air-scoop of the Daimler-Benz mounted on the German fighters, so performance was not restricted as on the British models.
While the Me-109Fs could easily surpass 371 mph maximum speed in their tropical versions and retain a service ceiling of above 37,000 ft, speed on the Spitfire VC was cut from 387 mph to 360 mph, and service ceiling was limited to 36,000 ft. Bomb load of the Messerschmitt was 440 lbs, while the Spitfire carried a load of only 250 lbs. The Daimler-Benz powering the Messerschmitt has performed brilliantly under all conditions, whether in -30° F in Russia, or 110° F in Libya and Tunisia. The most simplified engine mount of any warplane in the world is an outstanding feature of the Me-109, presenting a minimum of servicing problems. The Daimler-Benz motor of today must be ranked with the superb Rolls-Royce Merlin LXI as one of the two greatest liquid-cooled motors in the world. Even the powerful Napier Sabre, powering the mighty Typhoon, and some 500 hp greater than the Daimler-Benz, cannot compare with the all-round fine qualities of this German engine.
The Me-109G6 in action today may be termed as one of the best approaches of this war to the perfect fighter plane. It certainly is one of the hottest and best fighters that ever grew wings. Wingspan is 32' 7"; length, 29'8", and height 7'6". Design is very clean, and small size plus a low wing loading give the aircraft excellent maneuverability.
Light but strong construction gives the Messerschmitt a rate of climb and dive termed phenomenal by the British. Gross weight is 7706 lbs, and head armor of 8 mm affords maximum protection for the pilot.
Body armor is 5.8 mm, while other vital parts of the aircraft are likewise heavily armored. Maximum speed of the models powered with the 1350- and 1400-hp motors is from 385 to 395 mph at 22,000 feet, and cruising speed is 306 mph at 18,000 feet. Normal range is 655 miles at 210 mph, and maximum ferrying range is 1250 miles at 210 mph, while combat range is 400 miles at the extremely high speed of 360 mph for combat patrol.
A two-speed, two-stage supercharger on the Daimler-Benz affords a minimum service ceiling of 41,000 feet, which is standard for the 1350-hp model, while the 1500-hp model has a ceiling of above 42,000 ft. This would indicate pressurized equipment on these types, as it is absolutely necessary for the pilot to have this equipment to live at altitudes above 40,000 ft. Even breathing 100% oxygen is not sufficient, due to the tremendous loss in pressure at these extreme altitudes.
The Me-109G5 is a special high-altitude fighter, has been used for extensive tests in developing pressurized equipment for the Messerschmitt.
The Me-109G6 is the latest in the Me-109 series in action and incorporates all the best features of the preceding models. There have been reports of an Me-209 fighter powered by the Daimler-Benz DB-605 high altitude motor developing 1600 hp. This aircraft is reported to have pressurized equipment for the pilot and engine, reportedly has an extremely high speed of well above 400 mph. A peculiar feature of the Messerschmitt is its leading edge slots, which will open automatically at slow speeds when it is flying at a steep negative angle to preserve the smooth flow of air over the top of the wing. Due to the excellent characteristics of these slots and aileron control, the Messerschmitt can land slowly and is easily operated out of small fields. Ironically, these slots are of British Handley-Page design.
There is a wide variety of armament specifications on the Me-109G models. The Me-109G2 has two 20-mm cannon slung under the wings, while the Me-109G3 has two nose guns of 13 mm, plus the wing cannon. The Me-109G4, seen more often than any other type, has two 20-mm cannon slung under the wings, two 7.9- or 13-mm nose guns, and a 20- or 15-mm hub cannon. Special Me-109G2s and Me-109G4s are equipped with three 22-mm rocket cannon, and two nose guns of either 7.9 or 13 mm.
The Mauser nose cannon mounted on the Messerschmitt has been proclaimed the greatest weapon of its type in the world, due to its extremely high firing rate of from 800 to 900 rounds per minute. Nose gun firing rate is reduced to 600 rounds per minute, due to the synchronization of the guns firing through the airscrew disc.
Production on Germany's other first-line fighter, the Focke-Wulf FW-190A4, has been tapering off, while production on the Messerschmitt has increased to the point where it is now more than double that of the FW-190A4. This gives an indication of what the Luftwaffe thinks is the best fighter to combat the overwhelming Allied air fleets; it must be good to rate that distinction with the German High Command.
This article was originally published in the May, 1944, issue of Air News magazine, vol 6, no 4, pp 26-29.
The original article includes 4 three-view outline drawings of Me-109B, Me-109E, Me-109F1, and Me-109G4, (4) photos of each type, and 7 other photos of Me-109s.
Photo credits are garbled in the magazine. Appropriate photo credits seem to be Wide World, International, British Combine, Rudy Arnold, British Information, Press Association and Air News.