Hasegawa 1/32 Bf-109K-4
The Bf-109K-4 was the last completely-new version of Messerschmitt’s famous fighter to achieve operational status before the end of the war. While the Bf-109G-10 came to the units of the Jagdwaffe after the Kurfurst, one should remember that the G-10 was largely the result of remanufacturing Bf-109G airframes in order to achieve a production standard that had become hopelessly diverse with all the sub-types in production.
From the introduction of the Gustav series onward, the Bf-109 design was really played out. Major increases in power were almost canceled out by major increases in weight for increased armament, and the G‑series 109 had to be flown at full throttle in the landing circuit to avoid falling out of the sky. Of the major fighters of the war ‑ the Bf‑109, the Spitfire, the Fw‑190, the P‑47 and the P‑51 - the Messerschmitt product was the most backward aerodynamically from the outset, as revealed by its use of external mass balances on the ailerons. As Edgar Schmued, designer of the P‑51, who had received his practical experience in aircraft design as an employee of the Messerschmitt company once told me, "After the 109E was put into production, it was clear that if one wished to participate in the development of a truly world‑class aeroplane, one would have to do it elsewhere than at Messerschmitt." (We should all be thankful that Schmued was so dismissive of the airplane, since he came to the United States and designed the ultimate Messerschmitt‑killer, the P‑51 Mustang.)
In truth, the Bf‑109 owes its reputation more to force majeure and the ability of some outstanding pilots than to any intrinsic quality of the airplane itself. The Fw‑190 was an airplane that was better than the Messerschmitt on all flight qualities other than altitude performance; for combat above 24,000 feet ‑ which is where the Battle of Germany took place between 1943‑45 ‑ the Luftwaffe didn't have anything else it could use.
That said, in fact more pilots were killed in the 109 from landing and takeoff accidents than were lost in combat, and nearly as many 109s were lost due to its vicious takeoff characteristics and difficult landing technique as were shot down in combat. Gunter Rall, the number‑three ranking Luftwaffe experte once told me at an AFAA convention in the 1980s that there were only two kinds of Messerschmitt 109 pilots: those who had survived a ground loop and those who hadn't; contemporary pilots who have flown the few surviving Bf-109s of any series agree with this assessment. The landing gear was weak and the design of the wing left it with an unfortunate tendency to come off in high‑g combat maneuvering, while the design of the cockpit canopy forced the pilot to close it on startup, which severely restricted his view during the two most dangerous parts of a flight in the fighter ‑ takeoff and landing. The truth is, the Bf‑109 became famous in spite of itself.
The Kurfurst came about as a result of the changes in air combat that followed the introduction of the USAAF and the daylight bombing offensive to the ETO. Combat took place at higher and higher altitudes, which meant that the Bf-109 would have to remain in production due to the fact the Fw-190 was at the limits of its performance at 24,000 feet - well below the altitude the Boeing B-17 could operate at. Additionally, the introduction of American escort fighters like the P-47, whose engine could maintain sea level performance to 30,000 feet by use of turbocharging, meant that the speed of the Bf-109 at altitude had to be improved to keep it competitive with the opposition. Design began in late 1943, and the first pre-production Bf-109K-0 fighters appeared in September 1944. The K-0 appeared with the DB605DB engine with GM-1 power boost. This engine required use of higher-octane C-4 fuel, which was constantly in short supply and would become even more so as a result of the Allied air campaign against German fuel production in the summer of 1944. The DB605ASCM engine could operate with 87 octane fuel, and it became the engine of choice for the Bf-109K-4, which was the major production version, providing it with a maximum speed of 452 m.p.h. at altitude. The Bf-109K series also increased the main armament from the 20mm MG151 of the Gustavs to the 30mm Mk.103 (or Mk.108 in late production aircraft).
JG26 and the Kurfurst:
In late November, 1944, III/JG26 became one of the first units of the Jagdwaffe to receive the Bf-109K-4, which were operated alongside the Bf-109G-14s the unit had received in October. Uffz. Georg Genth - one of the ill-trained new pilots sent to the Gruppe during the Normandy disaster - found that above 28,000 feet the Bf-109K-4 had a tendency to float, being unnaturally sensitive and giving him the same signals he had learned to associate with a stall. At high altitude, formation speed had to conform to that of the lead aircraft; a small change in its speed caused the pilots following to start “swimming” in space due to the thin air.
On November 27, 1944, Genth nearly lost his life when the canopy of his Kurfurst, “White 8" iced over, leaving him only able to see directly ahead through the armored glass panel. As number four in his formation, this was not good. He managed to clear a small area of the left rear of the canopy by breathing on it, in time to see two P-47s closing! “Being totally unable to defrost my canopy, I reported my condition, and dove in a split-S into the clouds a few hundred meters below.” Once in the clouds he realized he hadn’t switched on the artificial horizon, which he immediately did though he knew he had no chance of aligning the gyro. When he saw he was at 650 km/hr, he tried pulling back on the stick but his speed increased to over 700 km/hr, and he realized he was inverted. Pushing the stick forward, his speed dropped off and he left the cloud in a 60 degree inverted bank, 1,500 feet above forested hills below. The control forces were so great he could only move the stick by slapping it as hard as he could. “The amazing happened and the brave old 109 flipped over into a normal steep descent, which I could then pull out of with the help of the trim wheel.” The engine panels had pulled off, and the oil lines had split from too much pressure; the canopy had unfrozen, however, and he was able to land at Rheine airfield a few kilometers away. Genth wasn’t the only member of the flight with a canopy problem. “As I stood on the landing ground at Rheine, I heard three aircraft crash with overstraining engines all right around us! To this day I have not been able to strike these ghastly noises from my memory.”
JG26's first major combat operation with the Bf-109K-4 came on New Year’s day, 1945, in Unternehmen Bodenplatte, the Luftwaffe’s planned strike against Allied airfields supporting opposition to the Battle of the Ardennes. The mission had been originally scheduled to take place on the opening day of the offensive the previous December, but bad weather forced cancellation. By the time it was flown, the German offensive in the forests below had been stopped. The Luftwaffe managed to shoot up a few Allied aircraft that were easily replaced in a matter of days, while losing experienced flight leaders to Allied flak and fighters who were irreplaceable. After Bodenplatte, the Luftwaffe was a spent force unable to defend itself against the Allied air forces between then and the end of the war.
By this time, III/JG26 - which was detailed to Brussels-Evere airfield - was operating 40 Bf-109K-4s along with 20 Bf-109G-14s. The German flak belt west of the Zuider Zee took out one fighter. Once across the Scheldt, they overflew a Canadian Army encampment and came under fire, losing a second aircraft and damaging the engine of Gruppe Kommandeur Walter Krupinski, whose first instinct was to turn back; discovering the engine still worked he remained at the lead of the formation, though his guns were now inoperable. Moments later, his engine began running rougher and he ordered his wingman Genth to accompany him back to Plantleunne airfield. The survivors of the Gruppe arrived over Brussels-Evere on schedule at 0920, where the unit spent 15 unopposed minutes strafing the Spitfires of 416 Squadron and everything else they saw on the field. Returning through the German flak belt, two 109s exploded from direct hits while two others were hit and managed to make successful crash landings behind German lines. Their total confirmed kills at Evere amounted to three Allied aircraft.
Most of January 1945 was spent on the ground due to the atrocious weather of the worst European winter in 50 years. Morale in III Gruppe became low, due to the poor leadership demonstrated by Krupinski since he had assumed command of the unit the previous October following the death in combat of Major Klaus Mietush, the previous Kommandeur (Krupinski, who had been in continuous combat on the eastern front since 1941, was undoubtedly suffering from combat fatigue by the time he came to JG26). The unit had never really recovered from the losses of experienced flight leaders and other veterans over Normandy following the invasion. Pilots of the Gruppe would use excuses to visit the fields where I and II Gruppen were based, inasmuch as their supply officer - the brother of one of the Geschwader’s “names” - was selling their rations on the black market. By this time, none the Gruppe’s Staffelkapitaene were professional officers, all having been promoted from enlisted status with no formal officer’s or formation leader’s training. Many flew as little as possible and returned early from those missions they could not avoid; only the enlisted pilots, who had no choice, flew when ordered without question. As Genth put it, “One must keep in mind that after the Normandy invasion it was clear to any level-headed German serviceman that the Germans would lose the war. I freely admit that often after a combat sortie I considered flying off in the wrong direction - that is, to the west - and surrendering myself.”
In mid-February, II Gruppe was to transfer to the Fw-190D-9. Training was grossly inadequate, with Genth receiving three touch-and-goes at Plantluenne and a 30 minute formation flight. On February 22, while flying in formation over their field, four III Gruppe pilots were hit by Tempests of 274 Squadron led by Squadron Leader Donald “Foob” Fairbanks, losing two of their number before the Tempests flew off. On February 28, the Gruppe flew their first mission in Dora-9s. Shortly after takeoff they were hit by 274's Tempests, again led by Fairbanks; one Dora-9 was shot down, but Fairbanks and his wingman also went down; Georg Genth may have been the pilot who shot down the top-scoring Tempest ace of the war. The mission could have gone far in starting the Gruppe off on a good note, but two Doras collided in the landing pattern on return.
Uffz. Georg Genth was shot down March 7, 1945, by Flt. Lt. B.M. Vassiliades of 3 Squadron, after a 10 minute chase in and out of clouds. Hit in the rear by the Tempest’s 4 20mm cannon, Genth bailed out at minimum altitude, and was taken prisoner by British ground troops. Pieces of his airplane were found in the crash site 40 years later.
III Gruppe was disbanded on March 24, 1945, with its place taken within the Geschwader by IV Gruppe, which had originally been III/JG54.
Hasegawa’s Bf-109K-4 differs from their previous Bf-109G-6 primarily with the fuselage. Rather than being separated just ahead of the tail surfaces, this fuselage is separated just aft of the cockpit. Those 109 enthusiasts “in the know” say this means the Bf-109G-10 will follow, since the primary differences between the two sub-types involve the shape of the forward fuselage. The asymmetric bulges of the cowl associated with the Kurfurst sub-type are accurately reproduced here. Past the differences in the fuselage, a different instrument panel, different wheel fairing bulges for the upper wing, different sized wheels, a deeper oil cooler and paddle-blade propeller blades are provided to cater to the differences of the Bf-109K.
While it is obvious that the 109 cockpit "out of the box" is acceptable for those who do not need total detail, the Cutting Edge cockpit does provide that "extra edge" of detail that convincingly adds to the realism of the model. I used that cockpit, other than the starboard side, for which I used the kit part since that area is significantly different between the Bf-109G-6 and Bf-109K-4. I also used the kit-supplied Bf-109K instrument panel.
I painted the cockpit overall RLM66, then painted the details according to the instructions that come with the Cutting Edge set. In this scale, even with there being more detail than you get with a 1/48 kit, all the work was mostly taking the time to do the painting, and most of it can be done with a 000 brush, though I did use my 00000 brush for some of the smaller items.
While the cockpit was being painted in stages and while the paint was drying, I proceeded with sub-assemblies for the airframe.
All the kit parts fit beautifully, and I only used a very little bit of Mr. Surfacer for the centerline seam of the fuselage, and the leading edges of the wings. Following the instructions is easy and there are no "glitches."
I cut off the elevators from the horizontal stabilizer and re-set them in the “drooped” position.
Returning to the cockpit, I used the new Cutting Edge positionable resin seatbelts. These are very different from photo-etch belts, and require a lot of "fiddling." As you can see from the photo of the unassembled cockpit here, though, the end result is highly realistic. If you're only going to do one of these kits as a detailed model, these belts add greatly to the overall look of the final result.
I then assembled the fuselage halves before proceeding to insert the cockpit and glue the fuselage halves together. While this was setting up, I assembled the wings.
After the fuselage had set up for about an hour, I attached the wings and tail and oil cooler. I glued the flaps and the upper part of the moveable rear portion of the wing radiators in position and allowed the model to set up overnight. Construction was complete.
Overall, this entire effort described above took about 6 hours of actual work over about 10 hours while paint dried and parts set up. Admittedly, I have 30 years experience putting these things together and much of that effort is now second nature to me - your mileage and performance may vary. But even if you are someone who needs to read the instructions twice and test fit the parts three times before gluing once, this is an easy model to build.
COLORS AND MARKINGS
Since most Bf-109Ks were very “anonymous” by 1945 even if they were flown by a famous experte, I decided from reading about Georg Genth in Donald Caldwell’s “JG26: Top Guns of the Luftwaffe” that I would do his “White 8,” the Kurfurst that nearly killed him. There are no photos of this airplane, but there is a color photo of a Bf-109K-4 “White 8" on an Eagle Cals decal sheet. JG26 Bf-109s never carried the black/white Rechverteidigung stripes, and by this time - when JG26 was a Front Geschwader - no one in the unit carried kill markings or other personal insignia, including the Geschwader badge. From that photo, it could be seen that the fuselage had been painted the “tan” color tentatively identified as “RLM84", with RLM81 painted over the forward fuselage and RLM82 on the rear, with lots of overspray bringing the colors down to the lower edge of the fuselage, to provide maximum cover on the ground against strafing attacks.
After pre-shading the model, I painted the “Tan” RLM84, using Gunze-Sangyo “Sail Color,” which is almost an exact match to the color on a part from a Fw-190 shown to me by Jerry Crandall. I used Gunze-Sangyo “Olive Drab I” mixed with some Tamiya “Red Brown” to create the Messerschmitt factory version of RLM81 Braunviolett, and Gunze Sangyo “RAF Dark Green” for the RLM82 Dunkelgrun. The lower wings, horizontal stabilizers, elevators, and main gear doors were painted with Gunze-Sangyo “RLM76 Lichtblau.” The spinner was painted black, and the propeller blades were painted RLM70 Schwarzgrun. Once all this was dry, I gave the model a coat of Future.
I used national insignia and all the stenciling from a new Eagle-Cals 1/32 Bf-109K sheet, with the white 8 from an Eagle Cals sheet for the Bf-109G. Eagle Cals decals are very accurate and printed by MicroScale, so they go down without any problems. When the decals were dry I washed the model to get rid of setting solution residue and gave the model another coat of Future.
According the Genth’s story, “White 8" was a new airplane, so I only weathered it a bit, with most of that going to exhaust stains and oil stains on the lower fuselage, which were done with Tamiya “Smoke.” I then gave the model two coats of thinned Testor’s Dullcote, to give it a “semi-flat” finish with a dulled “satin” sheen, which is the way German airplanes looked when newly produced.
The “109 Cuckoos” have already determined that the shape of the rear of the cockpit decking and the canopy framing of this kit are off by a detestable thirty-one-bazillionths of a micro-millimeter, meaning they will be forced to spend another $10 on a properly-shaped resin aftermarket piece and an additional $15 on a corrected canopy or the model will be “undisplayable, I tell ya, just terrible to look at.”
The rest of us will find that this is another nice 1/32 kit from Hasegawa which, when completed, looks a whole lot like a Bf-109K-4, available at a very decent price, with acceptable accuracy, that allows those who want to have more than one of these kits in their collection to do that without having to recompute the national debt. With the myriad of aftermarket decals out there, one should have no difficulty producing a colorful model of this last of the Augsburg Eagles.
Caldwell, Donald: “JG26: Top Guns of the Luftwaffe;” New York: Orion Books; 1991.
Green, William: “The Warplanes of the Third Reich;” London: Doubleday, First Edition; 1972.
HobbyLink Japan for the review kit.
If you would like your product reviewed fairly and fairly quickly, please contact
the editor or see other details in the Note to
Contributors. Back to the Main Page Back to the Review
If you would like your product reviewed fairly and fairly quickly, please contact the editor or see other details in the Note to Contributors.
Back to the Main Page
Back to the Review Index Page