Slipping the Bonds
by George Paterson
Ulrich Steinhilper was the pilot of a Bf 109E-1 that suffered an embarrassing landing accident at Calais in September 1940, when the Battle of Britain was at its climax. Somehow he ended up with the spinner of his plane deeply embedded in the ground, and the fuselage inclined at about 45 degrees to the horizontal – what was jocularly known as a Fliegerdenkmal, or pilot's monument, to the local ground crews.
Such incidents were not uncommon, given the difficult ground handling characteristics of the Bf 109, but the photograph in my archive that shows the aftermath of the incident is interesting, showing as it does the elaborate eagle insignia carried by aircraft of 6 Gruppe of JG52 at that time. For some reason, Steinhilper's “yellow 2” is the only aircraft of 6 Gruppe that is shown in models and art-works, at least I've been unable to find any others. To add to the confusion, a “yellow 2” of 6.JG52 crashed near Dorking on 30. September 1940, and its pilot was not Steinhilper, but Gustav Strasser, who survived with serious burns about his head and face.
The Initial Image
Of the five model builds that I've seen, the best review is of a model by Juraj Bojkovsky. This is one of 14 photographs in his review. It's a big image, 1200 pixels wide, and there are lots of clear details. I was bothered about the dark grey background, but it gave me no difficulties in practice.
Treatment of the Image
Apart from the closure of the canopy, very little work was needed to get the model airborne, but firstly I chose to modify the geometry to reduce the perspective a little. I also revised the eagle insignia and clarified some details, mostly in the engine area.
Juraj seems to have followed the camo pattern shown in the excellent 3-views in the Eduard site's coverage of this aircraft. The scheme shows the early splinter pattern on the topsides, such as had been used on 109B, C, D and E-1 aircraft, merging into a softer 70/71 pattern on the flanks. One of the peculiarities of the splinter scheme is clearly visible on the fuselage spine just aft of the canopy, where the darker colour doubles back on itself at a very acute angle, with an even more acute angle where it meets the port-side camo. Not all portrayals of this aircraft use this pattern, and some use the simplified splinter scheme that was introduced in 1940. This later scheme was considerably different, especially on the wings.
The Eagle insignia is often shown as being black with white edging. Some eyewitnesses of the aircraft that crashed near Dorking were sure that the darker colour was blue.
By the way, I did an article on this aircraft in January 2016, and in my text then the muddle of who actually flew it is just as opaque as it is now. Steinhilper's post-war carrier is outlined in my earlier text, and apparently he was a very innovative guy.