The Messerschmitt Bf 109 was a German World War II fighter aircraft designed by Willy Messerschmitt and Robert Lusser during the early to mid-1930s. Often called Me 109, it was originally conceived as an interceptor and was one of the first modern fighters. It included features such as all-metal monocoque construction, with a closed canopy, retractable landing gear, and powered by a liquid-cooled, inverted-V12 aero engine. A total of 33,984 airframes were produced from 1936 up to April 1945.
The Bf 109 first saw operational service during the Spanish Civil War and was still in service at the beginning of the jet age at the end of World War II and was the mainstay of the Luftwaffe’s fighter force. From the end of 1941 it was supplemented by the Focke-Wulf Fw 190. Through constant development, the Bf 109 remained competitive with the latest Allied fighter aircraft until the end of the war.
Messerschmitt Bf 109E
The Bf 109E appeared in 1938 and proved superior in performance and maneuverability to virtually all other fighters as seen through its air campaigns advancing through Poland and neighbouring countries. Production of the Bf 109E mounted so rapidly that Germany could afford to export a large number to other countries.
The Bf 109E remained as the main Luftwaffe version in service throughout the Battle of Britain. The E series extended to E9 and models that were built were fighters, fighter-bomber and reconnaissance aircraft. In July 1940 Fieseler Factory began converting the ten E3’s to Bf 109T (Trager meaning carrier) for proposed aircraft carriers but the project was aborted and they were restored to the original configuration in 1941.
Messerschmitt Bf 109 E-4
A Warbird survivor that was originally built as a BF-109 E-1, but upgraded to the E-4 standard is the Bf 109E owned by the Russell Aviation Group in Canada flew for the first time in 75 years.
It is the only flying example of this variant in the world today with a Daimler Benz DB601 engine. Flown by Jagdwaffe (Fighter Force) ace Hans-Joachim Marseille, it was recovered and repaired after a forced landing on the beach at Calais in September 1940 only to be later abandoned in Russia.
It was recovered in the 1990’s and restored to air worthy standard.
The Bf 109 E-4 was different to previous models and would be the basis for all further Bf 109E developments. The most notable change was by using the modified 20 mm MG-FF/M wing cannon and having improved head armor for the pilot. Some Bf 109 E-4 and later models received a further improved 1,175 PS (1,159 hp, 864 kW) DB601N high-altitude engine, known as the E-4/N. The E-4 was also available as a fighter-bomber with equipment very similar to the previous E-1/B. A total of 561 of all E-4 versions were built.
The next model, the superior Bf 109F was capable of out maneuvering the Spitfire V.
Messerschmitt Bf 109 in Australia
The Australian War Memorial (AWM), Canberra holds a Bf 109 G-6 which is on display in ANZAC Hall. It is the last example to retain its original wartime camouflage and markings, as seen by the comparative photograph from the 1960’s where it is shown outside Sid Marshall’s hanger at Bankstown NSW. It is displayed at the AWM in its 1944 day-fighter scheme, with variations resulting from service repairs and replacements.
Messerschmitt Bf 109 Luftwaffe Aces
Three top-scoring German fighter aces of World War II (Erich Hartmann, Gerhard Barkhorn and Günther Rall) flew with Jagdgeschwader (Day Fighter Group) 52, a unit which exclusively flew the Bf 109 and was credited with over 10,000 victories, primarily on the Eastern Front.
“The 109 was a dream, the non plus ultra. Of course, everyone wanted to fly it as soon as possible,” Gunther Rall, Luftwaffe ace with 275 victories.
Hans-Joachim Marseille, the highest scoring German ace in the North African Campaign, also claimed all of his 158 victories flying the Bf 109, against Western Allied pilots. Marseille won the Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds as well as the Italian Gold Medal for Bravery, which was awarded to only three men in WWII.
Messerschmitt Bf 109 Emblems
There was a widespread use of badges and emblems identifying Luftwaffe units during the Second World War. Most units commonly applied their emblems to both sides of the aircraft, the emblem itself often being handed. The design of a unit emblem was the work of the unit, most often the ground crew.
The Messerschmitt Bf 109E, F & G in the Jagdgeschwader 52 group had a number of interesting examples of emblems on their aircraft. In particular a running boar on a shield, usually placed on the rear fuselage (1939 – 1943) or a winged sword on a red and black shield, introduced in spring 1940 to about 1943.
The Messerschmitt Bf109 is truly a legendary aircraft.
Watch the the feature documentary on the Messerschmitt Bf 109.
© John Parker 2013