Osprey's Messerschmitt Bf-109 A-D series
64 pages, 7¼ x 9¼
One of the most widely built combat aircraft was the Bf-109. This was only surpassed by the IL-2 and if one takes into account trainers, the Po-2 will have beaten them both in terms of sheer numbers. Some consider the Jumo engine 109s to not be the full production type. The author is amongst those who think that the full production 109 started with the 109E, but the truth is that over a thousand of these early planes came off the production line.
The 109 came about through the usual machinations of the German military and aircraft industry, a place where if someone did not like you, then your products would not be built. So it was with Willy Messerschmitt and Erhard Milch. Milch was in charge of aircraft procurement in the early years and did not like Messerschmitt. If Messerschmitt had not garnered the favor of Goering, the 109 may never have seen the light of day.
The author states that there are a few myths about the early 109 that have been repeated over and over again. One is that the aft fuselage was weak and that it would easily break away in hard maneuvers. Combat showed that not to be the case, yet German pilots were often wary of putting any stress on the plane. Another is that the landing gear was weak and though not like the gear of other planes, it was just as strong as on aircraft like the Hurricane or P-40, though its narrow track did require a bit more attention to things.
The 109 was Messerschmitt's first fighter as previous to this he had only built civil aircraft and racing planes. He was quite a stickler for saving weight as that meant improving performance. What really set his designs apart was the four place Bf-108, an aircraft that was much appreciated by those who flew it and it was this design that carried over to the 109.
The type was hampered from the beginning by an engine that did not produce the sort of power that was desired. The Jumo 210 was supposed to provide 700 hp and yet the production versions were only capable of 640 hp. While engine power improved slightly as the different variants were produced, it was realized that it could never get any better and a switch was later made to the Daimler Benz that was used in the 109E.
The aircraft saw extensive service in the Spanish Civil War and its introduction was able to put the Nationalists on an even par with the Republicans in the air. Though not superior to the Soviet I-16 that was flown by Republican pilots, it did have its plusses which included good diving speed so the dive and zoom tactics were used with much success by German pilots. Once WWII got underway, the type was quickly replaced by the superior 109E, though the D version was used in Poland and actually produced a single ace on the type during that campaign.
The book covers the background of the designer as well as the results of the fly-off that got the 109 its first production contracts. It then goes into the differences in the variants and it covers its operations during the Spanish Civil War. A chart of all the pilots who became aces during that conflict is provided as well as information on prototypes and camouflage schemes. There are a number of excellent photos of the aircraft and some equally nicely done artwork. As usual, there is a large cutaway on the back two pages. A great read and highly recommended.
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