Slipping the Bonds
by George Paterson


Bf 109E-4-II.JG77-Merseburg


We are fortunate nowadays to have several airworthy examples of the legendary Bf 109, and many more in museum collections that fall short of airworthy status. The precise number of airworthy ones is a bit vague, but it's around nine.

In my archive there are over 70 photographs of an E-3 which, I think, is resident in the Seattle area, and appears regularly at airshows. Airshows are the source of many in-flight photographs, taken by keen amateurs who often have very sophisticated photo gear. I don't know what percentage of their shots are worth keeping, but in my early days I did a lot of photography of birds in flight, and I guess I had to discard four out of five negatives. The whole thing was worth it, though, because the few pictures that passed muster were impressive.

The owners of vintage aircraft can't spend all their time re-painting them, so anyone who’s Photoshop-savvy can do that job for themselves. The resulting images are geometrically accurate, and to that extent are better than pure art-works.

I've done some of these conversions, including ones where the geometry was changed as well as the décor – I presented an in-flight picture of a Bf 109 Gustav about a year ago, where the original was a Spanish Buchon. The complete engine module ahead of the firewall needed to be replaced.

The Initial Image

This is the E-3 I mentioned above, and it caught my eye because of the unusually pleasing background. The image as downloaded is only 645 X 330 pixels, quite small therefore, so there isn't much detail, especially on the fuselage, which is largely in shadow. I can only change the camo and markings if I know where the fuselage frames lie, and very little of that is visible.

The first step was to extend the image frame aft enough to capture the whole tailplane plus a bit more background. Next I enlarged the image to 4800 pixels in width. The standard size of my master images is 4800 x 3000 pixels, but the resized image was less deep than 3000 pix., so I had to extend it vertically as well.

The laborious task of defining all the frames etc. came next. I found that the Balkenkreuz on the rear fuselage is about a half frame further forward than its standard location; in the first few months of the War the position of the cross varied, and it was sometimes further forward, but by mid 1940 it was usually placed so that the small red cross marking the access to the first-aid kit lay half way out on the rear arm of the Balkenkreuz, and that remained its position for the next five years.

I was aiming to portray the E-4 aircraft of Graf von Merseburg, “Black 13” of II.JG77. This meant adding the unusual white flash that runs almost the full length of the fuselage, and the boot emblem on the engine cowling. There is an artwork on a Hasegawa kit that has a colourful interpretation of the boot, and I followed its colour scheme.

I thought that the fuselage camo needed better differentiation between the upper and lower camo areas, so I shifted the former to be a bit more green, and the latter a bit more blue, as well as slightly lighter. I reduced the mottling on the flanks, and raised the demarcation line on the rear fuselage.

Normally I paste my final airframe image onto a different background image, but this time I was content to leave it as I found it.


Graf von Merseburg was an aristocrat, so you may wonder how he fitted in to the Luftwaffe scenario. The answer seems to be that, whereas the Nazis took the “socialist” part of their agenda quite seriously, it based its recruitment and promotion policy on ability only, that is, not discriminating in favour of toffs, but not against them either.

He doesn't seem to have had a glowing career in the service; I failed to find anything but passing references to him in my searches. My reason for choosing his aircraft for this image was that I liked the way it looked on the Hasegawa box lid. You may wish to compare that image with mine.