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The Messerschmitt Bf109 - A chronology

 

1898-  Birth of W.E. Messerschmitt.

1921-  First all-Messerschmitt design (a glider) flies.

1926-  Messerschmitt starts his own aircraft company, the Bayerische Flugzeugwerke at Augsburg.

1930-  There are a series of crashes involving Messerschmitt designed transport aircraft.

1931-  Bayerische Flugzeugwerke declared bankrupt.

1933- German rearmament under Hitler begins. In May the Bayerische Flugzeugwerke starts up again after agreement with creditors.

1934-  Bf 108 production starts. Bf 109 design work begins.

1935-  Flight of the first 109 prototype in September. It goes to the Luftwaffe test centre at Rechlin. After trials another 10 prototypes are ordered together with 10 of the competing Heinkel He 112 design.

1936-  Flight testing continues. Second prototype completed in January, third aircraft flies in June. Prototype puts on a display during the Olympic Games. In the autumn, after extensive trials at Trevemunde, the 109 is selected for large scale production for the Luftwaffe.

1937- In July and August a team of Bf 109 aircraft compete in the International Flying Meeting in Switzerland. They win the circuit of the Alps race, formation race and climb and dive competitions. Bf 109 B-2s start to operate with the Legion Condor in support of Franco's Nationalist forces. First combats come during the battle for Brunette in July. On 11th November Bf 109 V-13,fitted with a modified DB 601 engine, sets a new world speed record for a landplane of 379 mph. By the end of the year the first Bf 109 D models are in production.

1938- In September the Munich Crisis threatens to start war in Europe. At this time the Luftwaffe had 583 Bf109s on strength. The success of the 109 in Spain continues.

1939- Production of the 109 E series begins. Spanish Civil War ends in victory for the Nationalist forces on March 28th. The Germans hand over 47 Bf109s to the new Spanish Air Force. On 30th March a Heinkel He100 sets a new world speed record of 463 mph. Three weeks later a Messerschmitt 209 aircraft broke the record with a speed of 469 mph. At the time this flight was attributed to a "109 R" to give the impression that the German Luftwaffe was equipped with aircraft capable of this speed.

In September the Germans invade Poland and war begins in Europe. At this point the Luftwaffe has 1,085 Bf109s in service, of which 850 are of the latest E series. The Polish fighter force of PZL parasol wing aircraft is no match for the 109, although numerous Polish pilots escape to fight on with the allies.

On Sept 8th German and French fighters meet for the first time. French pilots flying American built Hawk 75s claim two 109s shot down without loss to themselves.

On September 29th five out of a force of twelve R.A.F. Hampden bombers were shot down by 109s while trying to attack German naval targets. On December 14th a force of twelve Wellington bombers attacking German warships in harbour is intercepted by 109s. Five of the bombers fall to the German fighters and another crashed on landing. Four days later a force of twenty two Wellingtons was met by Messerschmitt 109 and 110 fighters. Ten Wellingtons were shot down and another three crashed on return to base. These losses forced R.A.F. Bomber Command to avoid daylight raids on Germany and switch to operations by night.

Year ends with 109 E production standing at 1,540.


1940- at first the "Phoney War" continues with only occasional clashes between the opposing fighter forces, in these the 109 seems evenly matched with the French Hawk and Morane fighters and the British Hurricanes deployed to France. The Allies have a false sense of security.

On 8/9 th April the Germans invade Denmark and Norway. Thirty Bf 109s form part of the attacking force. Air opposition is light.

On the 10th May the full weight of the Luftwaffe is unleashed and the Germans attack the until-then neutral Belgium and Holland before carrying on to attack France. Much of the Dutch and Belgium air forces is destroyed on the ground, but those Belgian Hurricanes and Dutch Fokker DXXI aircraft that do get off the ground are no match for the Messerschmitt 109s. The French and British air forces find themselves reacting to the German onslaught with small formations, whereas the Luftwaffe concentrates its aircraft to achieve air superiority over the important objectives of the German advance. Some 850 109 E aircraft were available to the Luftwaffe for the assault in the west, while the allies could muster 800 fighters of all types for the defence of France. At the end of May and beginning of June the British Expeditionary Force is evacuated from Dunkirk. Spitfires based in England help to give air cover for the operation and meet 109s for the first time.

The Battle of Britain began in earnest on 12th August and at this stage the Luftwaffe had some 800 Bf 109s available for operations against the R.A.F. over Britain. Concentrated in the Pas-de-Calais area the 109s fail to keep the R.A.F. from taking a heavy toll of German bombers. When the fighting switches to attacks on London the short range of the 109 puts it at a disadvantage when escorting bombers to the British capital. The Battle reaches its height on 15th September and then peters out. Some 109s fitted with bombs continue to make attacks into the autumn and winter.

Before the end of the year some pre-production 109Fs are on trial with combat squadrons.

1941- Deliveries of the 109F to re-equip fighter units begin. The Spitfire mark V is introduced at the same time giving the R.A.F. a fighter of roughly equal performance. In February a series of accidents leads to the grounding of all 109 Fs. The cause is traced to failure of the tail assembly, leading to modification of the airframe. The 109 appears in the Mediterranean theatre of operations and tropicalised versions for service in hot and dusty climates appear.

When the Germans attack Yugoslavia the 109s of the Luftwaffe find themselves fighting 109s sold to the Yugoslavian air arm. 109s support the German Balkan campaign and give air cover during the airborne invasion of Crete in May 1941.

On 22nd June the Luftwaffe strikes against the Soviet Union. A large part of the Soviet Air Force is wiped out on the ground in the first hours of the attack. 109s not only provide fighter cover but also act as fighter-bombers. The 109 gives the Germans air supremacy on the eastern front.

In the autumn the Focke Wulf 190 enters service with the Luftwaffe on the Western Front. Superior to the Bf 109 except at high altitude, the FW 190 gives German pilots an advantage over the Spitfires  then in service.

America enters the war on December 7th after the attack on Pearl Harbour.


1942- Although not the easy victory the Germans had expected, the war in the east would seem to still be going Germany's way. The F series is replaced in production early in the year by the G series with the more powerful DB 605 engine.   In Russia the Luftwaffe still has the upper hand. More modern Russian aircraft are appearing, but the Germans still have the better tactics and training.

In the Mediterranean the 109 faces mostly aircraft of inferior performance, such as the Hurricane and Kittyhawk. However as the year wears on more capable British and American aircraft appear in the theatre.

In July the Spitfire XIX appears and gives the R.A.F. an aircraft equal to the FW 190.

The American Daylight raids against the,continent start on a small scale.

At the end of the year the Germans suffer a series of huge setbacks with the British victory at El Alamein, the Torch landings in North Africa and then the Russian triumph at Stalingrad. Now the Germans are on the defensive.

1943- This was the crucial year for Germany. Facing the possibility of defeat, it was only now that German industry faced up to "total war". Production of all armaments soared. It was now that a successor to the Bf 109 should have been in production, but no such successor was ready. Instead the Bf 109 G was made in increasing numbers. Even this could have saved Germany if the fighters were free to go to the fronts in Russia , the Mediterranean and the Channel coast. However the fighter strength in these theatres hardly increased at all, instead the Messerschmitts were forced to defend Germany itself against the increasing allied strategic bombing offensive.

The Americans flew larger and larger formations of B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberators against targets in Germany. As the year wore on the Luftwaffe seemed to be getting the upper hand. Heavier and heavier armament was fitted to the Bf109 Gs making the destruction of the heavily armed and armoured American bombers an easier task. Tube launched rockets could be carried to be fired outside the range of the bomber's own defensive guns. Heavier calibre machine guns and cannon added to the slaughter. This all culminated in the famous attacks against the Schweinfurt ball bearing factory in August and October. The raid of 17th August saw 376 Flying Fortresses sent to bomb Schweinfurt and the Messerschmitt aircraft factory at Regensburg, sixty aircraft did not return. The October 14th raid was an even bigger disaster with sixty, out of a smaller force of 291, shot down and 138 bombers damaged, many beyond repair.

It seemed the Luftwaffe could win the daylight air war over the Reich. However as the year drew to a close Thunderbolt and Lightning fighters were able to escort American bombers further and further into Germany thanks to long range drop tanks. In December the Americans began to receive the first P-51 Mustangs with a range able to take it to Berlin and back.

In the night battles against the RAF 1943 started well for the Germans. Twin engined night fighters equipped with radar were taking a steady toll of Bomber Command's aircraft. Over three years the Germans had evolved an efficient system based on the detection of aircraft by ground based radar with night fighters vectored to intercepts by radio. However on a single night the entire system was made obsolete. On 24th July the RAF used "Window" for the first time, strips of metalised paper dropped in large quantities to produce false radar echoes. It jammed both the ground and airborne radars of the Luftwaffe, but did not affect the higher frequency H2S target finding radar of the British. The result was dramatic, the target city of Hamburg was ravaged by a fire-storm. In the four attacks on Hamburg on the nights of 24th,27th 29th July and 2nd August some 50,000 Germans were killed and 40,000 injured. 1,000,000 people left the city and over half its homes and factories were destroyed.

The German response was the "Wilde Sau" tactics of Major Hajo Herrmann. Single engined fighters were vectored towards the bomber's target where they tried for visual interceptions aided by the light from the burning target and the target marking flares dropped by the bombers. Other Luftwaffe aircraft would add to the light by dropping flares. Searchlights would be shone onto the base of clouds to silhouette bombers flying above. Antiaircraft fire from the ground was limited to a certain height, above which the Wilde Sau fighters would operate. First used on the night of 2nd July (before the first use of Window on 24th July) the tactics enabled the Germans to continue to take a toll of British bombers until jamming resistant radars were available. Single engined fighters remained in the Luftwaffe night fighter force until the end of the war, sometimes equipped with the NAXOS Z device to home in on the H2S radar of the British bombers.

On the Russian front the Bf 109 found itself facing aircraft with of broadly similar performance to itself at low and medium altitudes, where the Russians conducted all their offensive operations. However the Russians now have a distinct numerical advantage. The year ends with the Germans in retreat in Russia after the reverses at Kursk and Kiev.

The British and Americans secure North Africa, take Sicily and start the long slog up Italy. They have almost complete air supremacy, with only small raids by Luftwaffe fighter-bombers.

Production of Messerschmitt Bf109 fighters during 1943 came to 6,418.

1944- Early in 1944 a small number of Bf 109 H high altitude aircraft were used by a fighter-reconnaissance unit at Guyancourt in France.

Now with fighter escort the Americans press home their bomber offensive. The heavily armed Bf 109 fighters with rocket tubes and cannon underneath the wings are no match for the Mustangs and Thunderbolts. The 109s are split into "heavy" and "light" Gruppen. The "light" fighters retain only the fuselage machine guns and engine mounted cannon, they are used to take on the American fighters while the "heavy" formations go for the bombers. The American numerical superiority is too great however and in four months the Germans loose over a 1,000 pilots. The back of the German day fighter force has been broken.

In June the Allies land in France, the much reduced Luftwaffe fighter strength in the west is unable to do anything to stop the invasion. Fighter units are flown in from other theatres and from the Reich defence forces. However the bases they used were under repeated attack by the British and American air forces, it was all the Bf 109 units could do to defend themselves let alone protect the German army from attack or conduct offensive operations.

By this time the American Mustangs and Thunderbolts and the British Typhoon, Tempest and Spitfire XIV all have the advantage in performance over the Messerschmitt.

On the eastern front the Bf 109, long outnumbered, faced fighters such as the Mig 3 and La 7 that were at least its equal.

In September deliveries of the Bf 109K began. This was the month that 109 production reached its peak with 1,605 delivered. That is nearly twice the number of 109s the Luftwaffe started the war in the west with in 1940 produced in a single month! However due to fuel shortages most of these aircraft would never see combat.

During 1944 a total of 14,212 Messerschmitt 109s were produced.

1945- On new years day the Luftwaffe launched its last great attack, operation "Bodenplatte". 800 fighters and fighter-bombers attacked allied airfields in Belgium, France and Holland. Originally timed to support the German attack in the Ardennes, the "Battle of the Bulge",the operation had to be postponed due to the weather. When it was carried out it caused the loss of 144 allied aircraft destroyed and 62 damaged. The Germans lost some 200 aircraft, many to anti-aircraft fire.

In the closing months of the war the 109 took less and less part in the action. It was the Messerschmitt 262 jet fighter that the allies feared most in 1945. The war in Europe ended in May 1945.

Production of Bf 109s was around 30,000

Production still continued in Spain and Czechoslovakia.

1948- Deliveries of Avia S 199 to the Czech Air Force begin. Others are sent to Israel where they are in combat during the Arab-Israeli war of 1948/49.

1949- Switzerland retires its Bf109 fighters.

1952- Deliveries of Hispano derivatives of the Bf109 to the Spanish air force begin.

1954- Last use of the Bf 109 G-6 by the Finnish Air Force.

1958- Spanish production of the Hispano derivativesstops.

1967- Last operational use of the Hispano "Buchon" by the Spanish air force.

1978- Death of Willy Messerschmitt.

1991- A true Messerschmitt Bf 109 (a G-2) takes to the skies once more on March 17th at RAF Benson after an 18 year restoration project.

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