Messerschmitt Bf 109
The Messerschmitt Bf 109 was a German fighter aircraft that served in the Luftwaffe from 1937 to 1945, and was one of the most famous planes of World War II. Over its development and deployment it pioneered monocoque wing construction, methanol injection directly into the cylinder head, and probed the limits of inline piston aircraft engines.
Spanish Civil War
When the Spanish Civil War began, Germany gave massive support to Francisco Franco, including supplying aircraft for his air force. After the Soviet Union started supplying the Republicans with modern fighters, Germany sent in the latest model Bf-109s. The first unit became operational in 1937, and it drew first blood for the German fighter on July 8 when Bf-109s shot down two government Tupolev SB-2 bombers. One of the pilots involved in that action, Guido Honess, later became the first Bf-109 pilot to killed in combat just four days later while attacking another SB-2. Honess was shot down by an I-16 monoplane fighter flown by Frank Tinker, the highest scoring American to fly in the war. Bf-109s also took part in the infamous attack on the town of Guernica. The Bf-109 was the most modern airplane in the war, but was only available in limited numbers. Even at the height of German involvement, there were never more than 60 of the fighters in operation in Spain, in contrast to six squadrons of Soviet-made I-16s. The clear superiority of the 109 over anything the Republicans could field made up for the disparity of numbers, and then some.
The Spanish Civil War made the Bf-109’s reputation, and it gave Luftwaffe pilots that flew in it vital combat experience and led to the development of more flexible fighter tactics which gave the German pilots a great advantage in the first year of the war before the Allies adapted. In many ways, the experience of the Bf-109 in Spain paralleled that of the Mitsubishi Zero in China.
World War II
At the outbreak of the war it was easily the best purpose-built fighter in the world. The type received plenty of competition from both domestic and Allied competition, especially as the war waned. Some of these capable competitors from the Allies included aircraft such as the P-51 Mustang and the P-39 Airacobra. Popular with with both pilots and crews the Bf 109 served with distinction until the end of hostilities.
Finland was a co-belligerent with Germany against the Soviet Union (see: Continuation War), and acquired its first Bf-109s in March 1943 The first batch of thirty, all G (“Gustav”) models, equipped a new squadron (Lentolaivue) of the best pilots in the Finnish air force, and the first victory for the type came on March 24 when two Messerschmitts shot down a Pe-2 bomber. The Bf-109 was Finland’s most modern fighter during the war, equal to the Yaks and LaGGs flown by the Soviets. Finland’s top ranked ace, Ilmari Juutilainen, flew the Gustav for the last year of the war, and scored 58 victories in the aircraft. Bf-109s eventually equipped four squadrons, and most Finnish aces in the war scored at least one kill with this fighter.
Not only was Spain the first country in which Me 109s were used in combat, but it was also the last country to have them in service.
When the civil war ended, the Condor Legion left behind its Bf-109Es for the Spanish air force. In 1942, Spain acquired the F model, and later built the G model under license with a Spanish engine.
Although Spain was officially neutral in World War II, Franco sent volunteer troops and pilots to fight alongside German forces in the Soviet Union. The pilots flew Me-109s (later FW-190s) and were credited with downing 156 Soviet aircraft.
Spain continued to produce 109s after the war ended, and later units were fitted with British Rolls Royce engines. Spanish Bf-109s were operational up to the mid-60s.
Ironically, the Bf-109 was the first fighter plane in the air force of the new Jewish state of Israel. 24 Czech-built Bf-109s were delivered in April 1948 and went into action in late May. On June 3, 1948, an Israeli-piloted Bf-109 shot down two Egyptian bombers for the first aerial victories ever for the IAF. The Hebrew name for the plane was Sakin (“knife”). Later in the war, the Messerschmitts served alongside their WWII nemesis, the Supermarine Spitfire.
- "Dirty Little Secrets of World War II" p. 267
- Aces of the Spanish Civil War
- The Spanish Civil War, by Frances Lannon, Osprey Publishing, 2002
- The World’s Great Fighters: From 1914 to the Present Day, by Robert Jackson, Amber Books, 2001
- "D-Day" p. 301
- Me-109s to Finland
- Finnish Aces of World War 2, by Kari Stenman and Kalevi Keskinnen, Osprey Publishing, 1998
- The “Blue Division”
- Avia S-199 Messerschmitt at the official IAF website