Me 109 file photo [145]

Bf 109

CountryGermany
ManufacturerMesserschmitt AG
Primary RoleFighter
Maiden Flight28 May 1935

Contributor:

ww2dbaseThe Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighters were designed by Willy Messerschmitt in the early 1930s. After the original manufacturer Bayerische Flugzeugwerk was renamed to Messerschmitt AG, later productions of these fighters carried the designation Me 109, though this designation was used in only few official Luftwaffe documents. The British also referred to them as Bf 109; "By 1945, we were drowning in Bf 109 nameplates", said British aviation expert Bill Gunston, referring to the nameplates of numerous Bf 109 fighters shot down over Britain, "[t]here's no excuse for not referring to the aircraft by its right name". The Americans, however, aircraft of this model were known as Me 109 since the start; "It will always be the Me 109 to me", said retired United States Air Force Colonel James L. McWhorter, who fought against them as a pilot of the US Army Air Force 365th Fighter Group during WW2 from the Normandy Campaign until the end of the European War.

ww2dbaseBf 109 fighters almost did not get a chance to serve. When the prototype first took flight on 28 May 1935, Luftwaffe General Erhard Milch was among the decision makers, and Milch had never forgiven Messerschmitt for the 1931 crash of a Messerschmitt-built aircraft that killed a dear friend of Milch's. Messerschmitt and his Bf 109 design was saved by WW1 pilot Ernst Udet, appointed to high position (Director of Technical Department) in the Luftwaffe as one of Hermann Göring's cronies; although Udet knew little about technical specifications of aircraft designs, the veteran pilot knew a great fighter when he saw one. His initial doubts about this monoplane (he had a great love for open-cockpit biplanes, while the Bf 109 fighters not only had enclosed cockpits but they were rather claustrophobic as well) vanished as soon as he was able to take a flight in the prototype aircraft.

ww2dbaseThe Bf 109 design had weight-savings in mind. All structural points including landing gears were mounted to a single firewall to the front of the cockpit. Their powerful DB 601A engines gave them good speed, but more importantly, they were fuel-injected, thus they could continue running even during steep dives which would starve a traditional carburetor engine of gasoline. This characteristic would lead to the tactic of going into sudden dives when being chased by British fighters; should the British pursuers continue the chase by performing a similar dive, as the steep dive produced negative gravitational force, British fighters' engines might cut out momentarily, thus the Bf 109 fighters would gain a brief advantage to get out of the chase.

ww2dbaseThey suffered a great deal of woes initially. The first Bf 109 fighters sent to Spain crashed on takeoff, while the second crashed on landing. Later, the first production Bf 109B variant crashed at Augsburg, Germany as the aircraft spun out of control, killing the pilot. Some of these issues were addressed one by one as variant models were introduced over the years, but one issue remained present, and at times worsened over time: The undercarriage, attached to the fuselage rather than the wings as mentioned previously, were extremely narrow. This made takeoff and landings tricky, and as more powerful engines were equipped, the greater engine torque made it even easier for the aircraft to lean toward the right side. Asymmetrical rudders were installed to alleviate, but never completely resolve, this problem. Finally, many pilots complained of the reclining seat that decreased visibility to the rear, but the reclining actually helped in terms of preventing black out when pilots experienced high gravitational force during combat.

ww2dbaseBf 109 fighters first saw combat during the Spanish Civil War and were quickly recognized as some of the most advanced fighters in the world. As the European War began, they had already become the standard fighters of the Luftwaffe and quickly became the famed rivals of the British Spitfire fighters. Hans-Ekkehard Bob, a German pilot during WW2, compared the weaponry of the two fighter designs:

In a fraction of a second, I could bring down a Spitfire. If I could hit it twice, I could destroy it. The English had to score a great many hits with their machine guns to bring a plane down, but they didn't need to shoot as accurately.

ww2dbaseCompliments came from the United States as well. In the summer of 1938, United States Marine Corps pilot Major Al Williams, a friend of Udet's, test flew a Bf 109D fighter and claimed that it was superior to any fighter design that the United States had to offer at that time. Famed aviator Charles Lindbergh, who had a chance to fly the German fighter in Oct 1938, was very impressed.

ww2dbaseBf 109 fighters fought over nearly every battlefield involving German forces. They were instrumental in the establishment of German air superiority in Yugoslavia, Greece, and the early phases of the invasion of the Soviet Union. In 1942, they began to be replaced by the newer Fw 190 fighters, though they remained in production through the end of the war. The longevity of the design and the capability of the fighters led them to become the largest production fighter design in history at over 33,000 units built.

ww2dbaseOutside of Germany, nations such as Finland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, and Slovakia operated Bf 109 fighters as well. The Finnish Bf 109 fighters, in particular, performed extremely well; against Soviet fighters, Finnish Bf 109 fighters had a high kill ratio of 25 to 1.

ww2dbaseAfter the war, Bf 109 fighters of a modified design were manufactured in Czechoslovakia under the model name of Avia S-99 and Avia S-199. Some of these fighters were sold abroad; some made their way to the newly formed Israeli air force and saw action against Egyptian Spitfire fighters. Some were also manufactured in Spain. While Hungarian Bf 109 fighters were scuttled on 6 May 1945, Finnish Bf 109 fighters remained in service until Mar 1954. Romanian Bf 109 fighters remained in service until 1955.

ww2dbaseSources:
Kate Moore, The Battle of Britain.
Robert Dorr and Thomas Jones, Hell Hawks
Stephen Bungay, The Most Dangerous Enemy
Wikipedia

Bf 109 Timeline

28 May 1935 The first flight of Willy Messerschmitt's Bf 109 fighter took place. Powered by a 695 horsepower Rolls Royce Kestrel engine, the Bf 109 fighter was the first all-metal stressed-skin monocoque single seat fighter monoplane with an enclosed cockpit and retractable undercarriage to enter service. The Bf 109 fighter proved so successful that over 30,000 would ultimately be built before the end of the war.

SPECIFICATIONS

B
MachineryOne Junkers Jumo 210D inverted-V12 liquid cooled engine rated at 635hp
Armament3x7.92mm Rheinmetall-Borsig MG 17 machine guns
Span9.87 m
Length8.51 m
Height2.59 m
Weight, Empty1,580 kg
Weight, Maximum2,200 kg
Speed, Maximum470 km/h
Service Ceiling8,100 m
Range, Normal700 km

D
MachineryOne Daimler-Benz DB601N rated at 1,000hp or one DB601E rated at 1,300hp
Armament4x7.92mm Rheinmetall-Borsig MG 17 machine guns
Span9.87 m
Length8.64 m
Height2.59 m
Speed, Maximum520 km/h
Service Ceiling8,100 m
Range, Normal700 km

F
MachineryOne Daimler-Benz DB601E rated at 1,300hp
Armament2x7.92mm Rheinmetall-Borsig MG 17 machine guns, 1x20mm MG FF cannon
Span9.92 m
Length8.85 m
Height2.59 m
Weight, Empty1,964 kg
Weight, Maximum2,746 kg
Speed, Maximum628 km/h
Service Ceiling11,600 m
Range, Maximum700 km

G
MachineryOne Daimler-Benz DB605A-a rated at 1,475hp or DB605D rated at 1,800hp
Armament2x7.92mm Rheinmetall-Borsig MG 17 machine guns, 1x14mm MG151 machine guns
Span9.92 m
Length9.04 m
Height2.59 m
Weight, Empty2,667 kg
Weight, Maximum3,400 kg
Speed, Maximum690 km/h
Service Ceiling11,600 m
Range, Normal700 km

K
MachineryOne Daimler-Benz DB605A rated at 2,000hp with MW50 boost
Armament2x7.92mm Rheinmetall-Borsig MG 17 machine guns, 1x30mm MK 108 cannon
Span9.92 m
Length8.94 m
Height2.59 m
Weight, Empty2,722 kg
Weight, Maximum3,375 kg
Speed, Maximum729 km/h
Service Ceiling12,500 m
Range, Normal700 km

Photographs

A Bf 109 being serviced, date unknownFrench Air Force Chief of Staff General Vuillemin inspecting the JG 2 of the German Air Force, with German Generals Erhard Milch and Hans-Jürgen Stumpff, Aug 1938German Bf 109B fighters on an airfield, Poland, Sep 1939A Bf 109E aircraft being tested at Luftfahrtforschungsanstalt, Völkenrode, Germany, date unknown
See all 67 photographs of Bf 109 Fighter



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Visitor Submitted Comments

1. Commenter identity confirmed BILL says:
29 Mar 2009 01:43:11 PM

In 1999 Bf 109 G-6 W.Nr.163306 was recovered from Lake Trzebun. Fifty Five years earlier, Feldwebel Ernest Pleiness took off, his aircraft stalled and crashed killing him. Divers recovered his body and he was buried in a Cemetery in Jaworze. Restoration work took many years. The aircraft is now at the Krakow Aviation Museum, Poland
2. 109K4/C3 says:
30 Oct 2009 09:31:12 AM

Several of the stated weapon outfits are wrong. D Series got either the stated or 2 7.92mm MG17 and 2 20mm MG FF. Same for the E Series which is missing entirely. F Series didn't have MG FF but 15 mm MG151 or 20mm MG151/20 depending on the sub-series, F1 to F2 for the former and F$ onwards for the latter. G Series started with same armament as F Series but the MG17 were swapped for 2 13mm MG131 starting with the G4 variant. Some later Bf 109 G also got the 30mm MK108 instead of the MG151/20, like it was standard on the K Series. K Series got the MG131 too...Serial Production ended with Bf 109 K4. Weapon outfits of the 109s got messy with the introduction of so called "Umbautsätze" and "Rüstsätze", the former was a factory modification (example Bf 109 G6/U3), the latter a field modification kit (example Bf 109 G6/R6). To complicate matters even more, several of these could be combined, a Bf 109 G6/U3/R6 would be fitted with a MK108 motorcannon and two MG151/20 in underwing gondolas. I didn't look at the other data in depth but i guess there are errors there too.
3. Commenter identity confirmed Bill says:
2 May 2010 11:04:25 AM

"Fly Till You Die" The Luftwaffe trained pilots at a peace-time pace, even during the first years of the war hoping for a short conflict. As the war dragged on, and pilot and aircrew losses mounted, there was a crash program to replace both aircraft and pilots. The policy of "Fly Till You Die" no rotation home for experienced pilots to train and pass on combat lessons learned. Such a policy slowed the flow of trained pilots, crewmen and ground crew. Later during the was, the shortage was so bad, that ex-bomber pilots were re-trained to fly fighters.The lack of fuel,spare-parts, training aircraft and hours needed to train new pilots, were gone. The Luftwaffe lost its Air-superiority over the Fatherland. Veteran pilots continued to fly until they were killed,wounded or crippled. The shortage was so bad, that training schools were striped of what aircraft it had, and even taking the instructor pilots to fill the losses suffered by operational squadrons. Trainee pilots were rushed into combat with fewer and fewer flight training hours. Most replacement pilots, were lost within their first couple of missions. The failure of the Luftwaffe to support the Wehrmacht caused many German soldiers to quip: "If the airplane in the sky is Silver, its American, If the plane is Blue, its British, If its invisible its ours." "The situation is hopeless,but not critical" Feburary 1944 the Luftwaffe lost: 33% of its aircraft, and 18% of its pilots. March: 56% of it aircraft, and 25% of its pilots. April: 43% of its aircraft, and 20% of its pilots. May: 50% of its aircraft, and 25% of its pilots. The Luftwaffe was losing over 1,000 aircraft a month and another 500 on the Eastern Front. One pilot said: " Every time I close the canopy of my plane, its like closing the lid on my own coffin." The few Luftwaffe fighter pilots left, were the only air-protection the German people had. Production of fuel was down to 6,000 tons per-day not enough needed for daily flight operations. By April 1945 fuel was down to 76 tons, on April 30, 1945 the Luftwaffe flew its last known 96 combat missions.
4. Commenter identity confirmed Bill says:
29 Nov 2010 12:53:41 PM

Messerschmitt AG Messerschmitt worked as an engineer designing gliders in the 1920s. In the 1930s designed single-engine aircraft. Messerschmitt builtup his Bayerische- Flugzeugwerke with the prefix Bf. In 1931 the company filed bankruptacy, when Lufthansa refused to buy anymore aircraft after the crash of a single-engine transport, and wanted its money back. In 1933 after an agreement with creditors, the company started operations again. His most famous design was the Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter, over 33,000 were built during WWII. After WWII Messerschmitt served tow-years in prison for using slave-labor. After his release he rebuilt his company. Like other aircraft companies in Germany, he couldn't build aircraft, and produced consumer goods. Messerschmitt worked in Spain and later went to Egypt to design and built that countries first supersonic jet aircraft the HA-300 In post-war Germany,Messerschmitt became the massive company Messerschmitt-Bolkow-Blohm founded in 1969. Messerschmitt died in 1978 After WWII the little Messerschmitt fighter continued to serve post-war air forces in Europe. Spain used the fighter until 1967, Czechoslovakia built variants of the fighter and used them into the late 1950s. Finland retired the last of its Bf 109s in 1954. Messerschmitt AG AG means Aktiengesellschaft, Joint Stock Co.
5. Commenter identity confirmed Bill says:
3 Dec 2010 02:59:33 PM

In 1942 The Spanish Government arranged with Germany to built the Messerschmitt Bf 109G-2 under license. Germany hard pressed to deliver fighters to the Luftwaffe, sent 25 airframes minus tail sections, and half the engineering drawings were delivered. No propellers, engines, weapons and instruments were delivered. Hispano used the 1300 hp Hispano-Suiza inline engine and the aircraft flew in 1944. The other 24 airframes were flown during 1947 1949. An improved variant appeared in 1951, as the HA-1112, 200 were planned, but only 65 were built. The last variant HA-112-MiL was powered by the Rolls-Royce Merlin Engine and was armed with 2x20mm cannons and could carry a pack of 80mm rockets. The fighters were retired in 1965. Some HA-1112s are still flying and are part of private collections. The HA-1112s had a starring roll in the 1969 film, The Battle of Britain. From the 1940s to the 1970s, Spain used the Junkers Ju 52 and Heinkel He 111.
6. Anonymous says:
29 Jul 2011 09:54:22 PM

I was surprised to find a flyable 109 in Tillamook, OR, at the air museum there. Evergreen Aviation in McMinnville, OR, also is listed as having one, though the one at Tillamook is not a registered survivor, not that I could find - I wonder if the two museums share it. Anyway, I was happy to be able to get a close-up look at this beautiful aircraft and had to marvel at how small it was (especially compared to the P-47 parked nearby, haha) and how absolutely cramped the cockpit was when I looked inside. You can read about its size all you want but it really takes a good look for yourself to get a good idea. I found how easy it is to imagine why German pilots later felt closing the canopy was comparable to closing the lid on their coffin, when flying to meet Allied aircraft often meant death late in the war. My hat goes off to the men flying into combat in one of those.
7. Ovidio says:
13 Jan 2013 01:07:34 PM

Hello, I would like to inform you that also the Repubblica Sociale Italiana, the new State born after the surrender of Italy, used the BF 109, mainly the Gustav version. Over and above this, thank you very much for this very interesting website! Greetings from Italy Ovidio
8. Commenter identity confirmed Bill says:
3 Feb 2014 08:25:10 PM

MESSERSCHMITT BF 109G-12 TRAINER: The Bf-109G-12 was a two-seat version of the single-seat Bf-109 fighter. With the Luftwaffe's need to re-train transport, bomber and dive-bomber pilots, as well as new replacement pilots right out of flying schools a trainer was needed. Older Bf-109G-2, G3, and G-4 airframes were used in the conversion. 500 were planned, but only 100 were built. To make room for the instructors seat, who sat behind the pilot trainee in the front cockpit fuel was reduced from 400 to 240 liters, aircraft flew with a 300 liter belly tank. Armament was removed, some aircraft were armed with 2 x 7.92mm machine guns or 2 x 13mm machine guns in the upper cowling. The G-12 was really a makeshift trainer that was speeded into service students from basic flight schools, has less than 100 hours and were now rushed into flying fighters. ITALIAN ALLIES: A few Bf-109G-12s were used by the Pro-German (ANR) Aeronautica Nazionale Reppubblicana to covert pilots from Macchi C.205 and Fiat G.55 fighters, when the Italians started to use the Bf-109-Gs in 1944 one unit was the 3 Squadriglia 2 Gruppo Caccia based at Aviano, Italy in 1944 Veteran pilots had experience flying the Bf 109G models.
9. Commenter identity confirmed Bill says:
4 Feb 2014 01:26:12 PM

WISH LIST: Did you know that Italian pilots had experience with the Messerschmitt Bf-109E model from 1939 to 1941. After the Spanish Civil War, four Bf-109Es were tested by the Italians at the Guidonia Test Center. Italian pilots were impressed with the Bf-109s performance, and requested the Regia Aeronautica Staff for one hundred Bf-109 fighters to establish an Italian Air Group but this was rejected by the High Command. ALL FOR ITALIA! As the war continued for Italy, and the need for fighters the Regia Aeronautica (Royal Italian Air Force) received from Luftwaffe stocks about ninety Bf-109Gs in 1943. The fighters were assigned to the 70th Squadriglia 23rd Gruppo, 3rd Stormo based in Rome and the 154th Squadriglia, 3rd Gruppo based in Sicily in August 1943. Other Squadriglia's were equipped with the Bf-109 the first examples flown by Italian pilots were Bf-109Fs followed later by the G-2, G-4 and G-6 models.
10. Derrick says:
24 Nov 2014 02:25:52 PM

Many reference books quote the top speed of the BF109 G2 as 402mph at 28,000 feet. This puzzles me as other sources quote the G6 as under 400mph at a lower altitude of about 22,000 feet. How is it that the G2 (which did not have methanol boost) is faster overall and can achieve this at a higher altitude than the more powerful G6? Could the following explain this: The G2 performance was measured with the high altitude nitrous oxide boost system installed? The G6 performance was measured with the addition of two underwing 20mm guns?

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Bf 109 Fighter Photo Gallery
A Bf 109 being serviced, date unknown
See all 67 photographs of Bf 109 Fighter




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