The Fokker E.II was the second variant of the German Fokker Eindecker single-seat monoplane fighter aircraft of World War I. The E.II was essentially a Fokker E.I with the 75 kW (100 hp) Oberursel U.I 9-cylinder rotary engine, a close copy of the French Gnôme Monosoupape rotary of the same power output, in place of the E.I’s 60 kW (80 hp) Oberursel U.0, but whereas the E.I was simply a M.5K with a 7.92 mm (.312 in) machine gun bolted to it, the E.II was designed with the weapon system integrated with its airframe.
On 13th June 1915, Anthony Fokker demonstrated the first E.II to an audience of German commanders, including Crown Prince Wilhelm of Germany, at a German Fifth Army airfield. On 23rd and 24th June he demonstrated the aircraft at Douai to the German Sixth Army. It was during these demonstrations, only one week before any kills would be achieved in the Eindecker type, that Fokker himself attempted to engage an enemy aircraft but he was unable to find a target.
The major difference between the types was a reduced wingspan on the E.II, intended to increase speed, but handling and climbing performance suffered. The type was therefore quickly superseded by the E.III. The E.II also had a larger fuel capacity of 90 litres (23.75 US gallons) to supply the Oberursel U.I’s 54 litres/hour fuel consumption, as compared to the E.I’s 69 litres (18.2 US gallons) capacity to feed its earlier U.0 rotary, which used 37 litres/hour of fuel. As with the M.5K/MG quintet of production prototype Eindeckers, the pilot was provided with a head support to help him resist the airstream when he had to raise his head to use the gun sights.
The heavier weight of the 75 kW (100 hp) Oberursel U.I rotary engine used to power the E.II necessitated both a somewhat lengthened rear fuselage structure, in comparison to the E.I version to achieve proper balance, with the U.I engine’s larger diameter requiring a larger radius “horseshoe” pattern cowl to enclose it, and the aluminum upper deck of the nose was raised along with it – resulting in metal soffits having to be fitted where the upper deck met the upper longerons, with additional structural metal tubing additions to the forward ends of the upper longerons immediately behind the firewall to support the “soffits” and sides of the raised upper nose panel. This format was continued with the E.III.
The E.II was built in parallel with the E.I and the choice of whether an airframe became an E.I or E.II depended on the availability of engines. In total, Fokker production figures state that 49 E.IIs were built and 45 of these had been delivered to the Western Front Fliegertruppe by December 1915 (Luftstreitkräfte from October 1916 onwards) at which time production switched to the main Eindecker variant, the Fokker E.III, which used the same 75 kW (100 hp) Oberursel U.I engine. Some E.IIs under production were completed as E.IIIs and numerous E.IIs returned to Fokker’s factory for repair were upgraded to E.III specification.
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Few aeroplanes have had such a dramatic impact on the history of aerial warfare as the Fokker Eindecker series of monoplanes, aircraft which are regarded as the first true fighter aircraft in the history of aviation. It was not that these single-wing aircraft were such advanced aeronautical designs, as many of the world’s successful early aircraft were monoplanes (such as the Bleriot XI which crossed the English Channel in 1909), however, they did make use of a particularly sinister innovation. The introduction of interrupter gear synchronised the aircraft’s machine-gun to fire through the arc of the propeller, only allowing it to operate once the blade was clear and crucially, in the pilot’s direct line of sight. For the first time, an aeroplane had been specifically introduced to hunt and destroy other aircraft – the day of the fighter aeroplane had arrived. Despite having a dramatic impact on the Western Front, the Eindecker was still a relatively primitive aircraft and required an immense amount of skill in order to be flown well. This was illustrated by eager young Luftstreitkräfte pilot Baron Kurt von Crailsheim, who on being posted to FFA 53 in the summer of 1915, had his and the unit’s first aerial victory by 22nd September. Just a few days later, he crashed the twitchy Eindecker whilst attempting a landing at Monthois airfield, which resulted in his fighter being written off. He later received a new replacement aircraft, which he once again painted in his personal colours, but was to be the machine which claimed his life. Suffering a similar landing accident on 30th December 1915, his injuries would prove so severe that he died in hospital five days later.
As the most famous fighter pilot in the history of military aviation, the name Manfred von Richthofen is familiar to many people and despite the Great War claiming his life more than 100 years ago, the exploits of the Bloody Red Baron continue to be a source of fascination to this day. Originally joining the Luftstreitkräfte as an aerial observer, his fighting ambitions would lead von Richthofen to be selected for fighter training, where he would later become a legend of the air, being credited with more aerial victories than any other pilot of the Great War. He is inextricably linked with the red Fokker Triplane fighter in which he scored his final victories and indeed met his death, however, it would be the famous Albatros series of fighters which would bring him the majority of his victories. During April 1917, in a period referred to by Allied airmen as ‘Bloody April’, von Richthofen and his fellow Luftstreitkräfte pilots would take a heavy toll of British aircraft, with his personal tally standing at an impressive 21 victories. Von Richthofen sustained a significant head wound which almost cost his life whilst engaged in combat with the RFC on 6th July 1917 and although it is reported he was never quite the same person following recuperation and his return to duty, he would go on to score a further 23 victories. One of the aircraft used after his return to combat and before converting to the Fokker Triplane was Albatros DV 2059/17, which he used to claim his 58th and 59th victories. As his unit were converting to the new Triplane and this Albatros was damaged at around this same time, it is thought that this particular machine was repaired and sent for museum display in Germany, the prized aircraft of the world’s greatest fighter pilot.
Although history has dictated that the aerial combat prowess of Manfred von Richthofen ensured he became one of the world’s most famous aviation personalities, the same cannot be said of the leading Allied ‘Ace of Aces’ from the Great War, who has remained largely anonymous to all but the most committed of enthusiasts. Rene Fonck originally shunned the opportunity to become a pilot, preferring instead to share the trenches with his countrymen, as they fought against the Germans. The horrors of war soon changed his mind and led him to the cockpit of an aeroplane, where he was to display a real aptitude for flying and would eventually see him posted to a French Air Force reconnaissance squadron. His impressive airmanship and determination to fight brought about a transfer to the elite Escadrille 103 and the beginning of a long association with the SPAD fighter, an aircraft in which he would quickly begin to score victories. The consummate tactician, Fonck would study the actions of his enemy during combat, watching from a safe distance before decisively launching his attack. Using as little ammunition as possible and perfecting the art of deflection shooting, Fonck would boast that he could direct his bullets so precisely into an enemy aircraft that it was as if he had placed them there by hand. By the end of the war, Fonck had been credited with 75 aerial victories, although his actual total is thought to have been much higher, possibly as many as 100 and even eclipsing the great Red Baron. As it was, his official score made him second only to von Richthofen, the Allied ‘ace of aces’ and the highest scoring fighter ace to survive the war.
Although the history of British aviation can boast many famous aeroplanes amongst its ranks, there can be few that were as visually striking as the mighty Phantom FG.1s of the Royal Navy, which operated from the diminutive deck of HMS Ark Royal. In the seconds prior to launch and whilst connected to the ship’s steam catapult, the aircraft’s nose wheel oleo would be extended to its maximum 40 inch position, giving the Phantom a distinct nose up attitude to increase the efficiency of engine thrust. With steam rising eerily from the ships deck, Navy Phantoms looked like a giant metal praying mantis, ready to spring into action at a moment’s notice. With maximum afterburner selected and the engine power almost melting the ship’s deck, the Phantom was finally released from its shackles and roared into the air – such a spectacular experience for anyone lucky enough to see it. Although most of us will have only ever seen the operation of Ark Royal’s Phantoms on video or in reference books, these iconic images left such an indelible impression that Britain’s Rolls Royce Spey powered Phantoms have since become something of an enigma and still command huge enthusiast interest to this day.
As the Royal Air Force prepared to mark their centenary year in some style, there was no doubt that the world famous Red Arrows would have a significant role to play throughout 2018. Coming at the end of an intensive period of winter training, where approximately 150 practice sorties would need to be flown before the team’s display authorisation could be granted, every Airshow event and ceremonial flypast would hope to boast an appearance from the Red Arrows during the RAF’s centenary year. This would see the team undertake a punishing schedule of more than 60 displays, performing to millions of enthralled spectators all over Europe. The honour of leading the team during this historic year fell to Squadron Leader Martin Pert, his first year as ‘Red 1’ and arguably the most prestigious role within the entire Royal Air Force. The famous red BAe Hawk T1 trainers used by the team represent one of the most successful British aircraft of the post war years and have been the mount of the Red Arrows for an impressive 38 display seasons, taking over from the Folland Gnat in 1979, with their first Hawk displays performed the following year. To mark the centenary year of the Royal Air Force, the distinctive Hawks of the Red Arrows benefited from an additional RAF 100 logo above the roundel, identifying the aircraft as those taking part in these historic commemorations.
The Westland Wessex HC.2 was a licence built turbine powered development of the classic American Sikorski S-58 Helicopter, one of the world’s first truly capable helicopters and one which finally established these aircraft as amongst the most useful for both military and civilian applications. XR500 was one of a batch or 4 HC.2 helicopters delivered in advance of the type’s acceptance into RAF service and was used by the Wessex Intensive Flying Trials Unit at RAF Odiham, in preparation for its squadron introduction. It was later one of the founding aircraft of the re-forming No.18 Squadron, the first operational unit to receive the Wessex HC.2, in January 1964. It would later join No.78 Squadron and from 1967, operate from the vital overseas base at Sharjah in the Trucial States (now part of the United Arab Emirates) where, in conjunction with other RAF units, it would help to ensure the ongoing stability of the region. Wearing this particularly attractive scheme, these hard working helicopters would transport troops and supplies around the region, whilst also being on hand to provide flexible airborne support whenever called upon. XR500 was written off in April 1979 when it crashed into Hong Kong harbour, whilst undertaking a winching exercise in poor weather – thankfully, the crew all survived the experience.
If the intrepid pioneers of flight inspired the world with their determination to achieve manned, powered flight in the years before the First World War, then a similar fascination was surely held for the men engaged in the US Space Programme during the 1960s and 1970s. Millions of people would be glued to their televisions as mighty rockets blasted men into space, with everyone holding their breath until the astronauts safely returned a few days later and the sight of their protective space capsule splashing down in the ocean. Quickly rescued by specially trained US Navy helicopter crews, it would not be before pictures were broadcast of the returning astronauts waving at the gathered crowds that people would finally relax, knowing that another giant step had been taken towards putting a man on the moon. Assigned as the lead recovery helicopter for the Gemini X mission, handsome Sikorsky SH-3A ‘White 63’ from US Navy HS-3 ‘Tridents’ was on the scene seconds after the capsule splashed down, with its specialist diver ensuring the safe extraction of the returning astronauts. With the world’s attention fixed on this latest mission, for a few short moments, the live broadcast of the recovery made this aircraft the most famous helicopter in the world, before it returned to USS Guadalcanal as America’s latest spaceman transporter. After its time in the limelight, the aircraft would return to its usual anti-submarine patrol duties.
As one of the most capable twin engined aircraft of WWII, the Bristol Beaufighter was originally developed as a heavy fighter variant of the company’s Beaufort bomber, already in service with the Royal Air Force. The first examples were pressed into service as nightfighters and whilst the aircraft proved to be a significant improvement over existing types, there was more to come from the mighty beau. As the aircraft received successive upgrades to make it more powerful and capable of carrying a greater array of offensive weaponry, the Beaufighter became a successful multi-role aircraft, with a particular flair for mounting hard hitting anti-shipping strikes into the North Sea, preventing Axis shipping from moving supplies back to Germany. It was during one of these missions that Banff based Flying Officer Maurice Exton was awarded a DFC for outstanding flying skill and determination in the face of the enemy. Flying Beaufighter NE829 on 9th October 1944, Exton and his squadron attacked a large convoy of enemy vessels off the coast of Norway, but his aircraft was hit by heavy flak from the ships. Damaging the aircraft’s flight controls, causing it to almost flip onto its back, Exton wrestled with the Beaufighter’s control column, bringing it back straight and level, before immediately pressing home his attack. He then nursed the damaged aircraft back to Banff, where he managed to land safely. Inflicting heavy damage on the enemy convoy they attacked, this incident says as much about the determination of the airmen of Coastal Command as it does about the resilience of the Bristol Beaufighter.
In order to ensure the defeat of Germany and the end of the Second World War, the Allied powers knew that they would have to launch a full scale assault against continental Europe, an undertaking fraught with potential dangers. In support of this plan, Allied aircraft began a concerted bombing campaign, targeting aircraft and munitions manufacturing plants, as well as attacking strategic targets in the intended landing areas, all designed to diminish Germany’s fighting capabilities. These attacks were always carefully masked by strong diversion raids, so as not to alert the Germans to where the anticipated Allied amphibious assault would take place, making D-Day as much about deception, as it was about preparation. Finally, after months of planning, the order was given to ‘Go’ and the invasion was on. At RAF Greenham Common in the late evening of 5th June 1944, paratroopers of the US 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions climbed aboard hundreds of Douglas C-47 Skytrains, as they prepared to drop behind German lines in advance of the main seaborne invasion force, the spearhead of Operation Overlord. At the head of this mighty air armada and the aircraft which effectively launched D-Day, Douglas C-47A ‘That’s All Brother’ would lead a force of over 800 Skytrains over the next few hours, as she navigated through thick cloud and German defensive fire to deliver her precious cargo of brave paratroopers onto their designated drop zones in Normandy and the opening combat operations of D-Day.
If the Douglas C-47 Skytrain is considered the most famous multi engined aircraft of D-Day aerial operations, then the single engined equivalent must be the fearsome Hawker Typhoon. Agile and extremely heavily armed, the Typhoon was to see plenty of action during the summer of 1944, either attacking strategic targets in the weeks prior to invasion, such as German radar sites or providing invaluable close air support to ground units breaking out from the landing beachheads. With forward air controllers installed with ground units throughout Normandy, RAF Typhoons were ready to respond to any request for aerial support, with aircraft not already engaged in strike missions holding off the coast of Northern France, ready to be called into action. These missions proved to be incredibly hazardous for Typhoon crews, not so much down to the attention of Luftwaffe fighters, but from the murderous anti-aircraft fire hurled in their direction from seemingly every German gun in the Normandy region. Indeed, in the weeks following the D-Day landings, more than 500 Hawker Typhoons had been lost, less than 10% of which were attributed to enemy fighter attack. Flying at high speed and at extremely low level, the opinion shared by Typhoon crews was that you had not experienced real combat flying until you had spent time on a Typhoon squadron.
One of the most crucial elements of the D-Day air campaign was the gathering of detailed reconnaissance photographs of the entire intended invasion area, which included the assessment of previous bombing raid effectiveness and the identification of future targets. In lessons learned during the disastrous Dieppe raid of 1942, military planners knew they had to have the very latest intelligence information in order to prepare for invasion, disrupting enemy communications and destroying defensive strongholds overlooking the invasion beaches. One of the most effective aircraft in securing this information was the Lockheed F-5E-2 Lightning, the photographic reconnaissance version of the distinctive twin boom P-38J variant. Undergoing modification at squadron level, these aircraft featured enlarged camera windows for more effective information gathering, with this bigger window featuring a teardrop fairing to minimise the impact of addition drag. Lightning 43-28619 was unusual in that it made a feature of this enlarged eye in the sky by the artistic addition of sharks teeth, with the camera windows serving as eyes for the flying beast. Wearing its overall PRU blue colour scheme, nose artwork and D-Day identification markings, this must have been one of the most distinctive aircraft in the skies above the Normandy beaches, even though its mission profile was for the Lightning to remain undetected. On 26th November 1944, this aircraft was intercepted and shot down by a Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighter flown by Luftwaffe ace Hermann Buchner, with its unfortunate pilot becoming a prisoner of war.
The aviation pedigree of the Supermarine Spitfire is second to none. Produced in greater numbers than any other British aircraft, the Spitfire was in constant production throughout the Second World War, with the basic airframe capable of readily accepting upgrades and improvements which maintained the aircraft’s position as one of the most capable single engined fighting aeroplanes of WWII. The combination of the classic Spitfire airframe and the new powerful Rolls Royce Griffon engine produced a ‘Super Spitfire’ and what was regarded by many aviation historians as the finest low altitude interceptor available to Allied air forces during WWII. Having contributed to offensive operations in support of the D-Day landings, the speedy Spitfire Mk. XIVs of RAF No.322 Squadron were given a dangerous new task in the weeks which followed, intercepting the indiscriminate V1 ‘Doodlebug’ flying bombs which were hurled against Southern Britain from their launch sites in France, in the weeks following the successful Allied landings in Normandy. The squadron proved extremely proficient in these ‘Anti-diver’ sorties, with no fewer than 108.5 Doodlebugs falling to the guns of their mighty Griffon powered Spitfires, before advancing Allied ground units could overrun the launch sites, thus taking these terrifying weapons out of range of their intended target areas. Released from their Doodlebug duties, the Griffon Spitfires of No.322 squadron were sent to operate from recently liberated bases in Europe, as Allied air forces continued to take a heavy toll of German forces, both on the ground and in the air.
At a time when Britain and her Commonwealth were enduring their ‘Darkest Hour’, the nation were in need of inspirational heroes and perhaps nobody answered this call more famously than Douglas Bader. Losing both his legs as a result of a pre-war flying accident, Bader’s determination to re-join the RAF saw him playing a significant role in leading Fighter Command’s defiant resistance against the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain and later taking part in fighter sweeps over Northern France, as the RAF went on the offensive. It was during one of these operations on 9th August 1941 that Bader’s Spitfire collided with another aircraft, severing the tail and sending him spinning towards the ground. Although managing to exit the aircraft and parachute to safety, one of his prosthetic legs had remained stuck in the cockpit and crashed to earth with the stricken Spitfire. Clearly a huge propaganda coup for the Germans, they contacted the RAF with news of Bader’s capture and to offer safe passage to an aircraft bringing a replacement leg for their illustrious guest. Not wanting to allow the Germans an even greater propaganda victory, the RAF planned to parachute drop a new leg, not by accepting the safe passage option, but as part of a full ‘Circus’ bombing raid. On 19th August 1941, six Blenheim Mk.IVs supported by a large force of Spitfires launched an attack against the power station at Gosnay, with Blenheim R3843 also carrying a rather unusual payload, Douglas Bader’s new leg. The wooden box containing the prosthetic limb was unceremoniously bundled out of the Blenheim over the target area, before all six bombers turned for home, their bombs unreleased, due to heavy cloud cover over the target area and the fear of inaccurate bombing causing civilian casualties. The protecting Spitfires did not fare so well, with eight aircraft lost during the operation.
One of the most significant factors in reducing the effectiveness of Luftwaffe bombing operations during the Second World War was their lack of a capable heavy bomber which could be deployed in large numbers. By comparison, the Allies were almost spoilt for choice and following the introduction of the four engined Short Stirling, Bomber Command’s operations took on a new dimension of offensive capability. The second four engined ‘Heavy’ to enter squadron service was the Handley Page Halifax, an aircraft which would go on to see constant development throughout the rest of the war and result in more than 6,000 aircraft eventually being produced. Underlining the incredibly dangerous missions these mighty aircraft were designed to undertake, out of this number, only five Halifax’s would manage to set the impressive mark of completing 100 or more operational sorties and taking their place in the annals of Bomber Command history. Handley Page Halifax B.III LV937 ‘Expensive Babe’ was one of those five aircraft – entering RAF service with No.578 Squadron in March 1944, she only served one month with this unit, before being transferred to No.51 Squadron at Snaith the following month. She would see extensive service with this squadron over the next few months, recording her landmark 100th operation on 25th March 1945, on a raid to Osnabrück. Highlighting the international contribution to Bomber Command during WWII, the crew on this significant date was made up of Australian, New Zealand and British airmen, who were all greeted by the station commander on their return. As well as the nose artwork and impressive mission tally, this Halifax also features a single white swastika on the port front fuselage and represents a Luftwaffe Ju88 claimed as destroyed.
With its famed short field landing and take-off performance, the distinctive Westland Lysander was in widespread service at the beginning of the Second World War, performing such duties as Army cooperation, artillery spotting, reconnaissance and light bombing missions. The Battle of France was disastrous for Lysander units, proving the vulnerability of the aircraft and its inability to defend itself against fighter attack, however, despite this, large numbers of Lysanders would have been sent against landing German forces, had their planned invasion of Britain took place the following year. Significantly, the performance of the Lysander made it the ideal aircraft to undertake clandestine nocturnal operations into enemy occupied France and a number of aircraft were specially modified to transport and recover agents and people of interest, working with the Special Operations Executive and the French resistance. Unarmed and using nothing more than maps, compass and the moonlight for navigation, these dangerous missions were flown at low level to avoid detection and landing in fields which were marked by the French resistance. Knowing that the Germans would show them no mercy if they were captured during one of these missions, they helped to provide essential intelligence to Allied military planners in advance of the D-Day landings and required levels of flying skill, bravery and tenacity which were only found in a small number of special airmen.
From the perspective of a Luftwaffe fighter pilot, the sight of hundreds of American Flying Fortresses in formation and heading towards them must have been magnificent and terrifying in equal measure. As the Allies pressed home their increasing aerial supremacy throughout 1944, not only would the Luftwaffe have to contend with a wall of defensive fire from the tightly packed bomber formations, they also knew that their protective fighter cover would be on them both before and after they made their almost suicidal attack run. The latest and definitive ‘G’ variant of the B-17 introduced the electrically operated Bendix chin turret, which had been developed to combat the frontal attacks preferred by Luftwaffe fighter pilots against earlier models and further increased the defensive firepower of these heavily armed bombers. Chelveston based B-17G ‘Flak Eater’ of the USAAF 364th Bombardment Squadron certainly wanted any attacking fighter to know that she was equipped with the new nose armament and sported distinctive ‘shark mouth’ artwork to act as a visual deterrent to any enemy pilot looking for a potential target. Despite the frantic nature of the European air war around the time of D-Day, the decision to apply the turret teeth was vindicated, as they helped ‘Flak Eater’ through at least 28 combat missions and to survive the war relatively unscathed. The bomber returned to the US in June 1945, where she was later scrapped at Kingman Army Airfield in Arizona, a fate which awaited the majority of aircraft which had fought so valiantly during WWII.
The opportunity to capture and evaluate the latest versions of your enemy’s aircraft was of great interest to both Allied and Axis military planners throughout WWII, not only in order to asses the technology itself, but also to develop tactics which would be useful to squadron pilots when meeting the aircraft in combat. Most of these aircraft would come into the possession of their new owners following combat and usually after suffering varying degrees of damage, however, there were rare occasions when Luftwaffe aircraft were unwittingly delivered in tact to a grateful Royal Air Force. Such an occurrence took place on 21st July 1944, when a pair of bomber hunting Messerschmitt Bf109G-6/U2 fighter pilots became disorientated and landed at Manston airfield in Kent. One of the pilots appeared to be distracted whilst approaching the unfamiliar airfield and fearing he was running out of runway, retracted his undercarriage and made a belly landing. The other machine, ‘White 16’ flown by Horst Prenzel made a perfect landing and therefore presented the RAF with a pristine example of this latest variant of the Luftwaffe fighter. Later evaluated by famous test pilot Captain Eric Brown, it was destroyed only a few months later in a take off accident whilst serving with the Air Fighting Development Unit at RAF Wittering.
Describing the Junkers Ju87 Stuka as one of the most famous aircraft of WWII would certainly be accurate, although it could be argued that the word infamous would be more appropriate – the Stuka was without doubt, one of the most terrifying weapons from the early years of the Second World War. Taking a huge toll on Allied shipping, armoured vehicles and general military and civilian infrastructure, the Stuka was a close air support and strike attack aircraft, capable of providing precision bombing support to advancing Wehrmacht ground units. Destroying strategically important targets before they could become a problem, these aircraft were feared more than any other weapon during the opening months of the Second World War, with the sight (and sound) of approaching Stukas usually signifying that devastation was heading your way. During the Battle of Britain, the RAF exposed the deficiencies of the Stuka in combat and they took a heavy toll of these much vaunted dive bombers. Losses became so severe that Stuka operations over England were restricted to night raids against coastal targets in the South East during the winter of 1940, with these aircraft being specially prepared for nocturnal operations. With the light blue under-surfaces completely overpainted with a black wash, all national insignia and most unit markings were also blacked out, in an attempt to make the aircraft less vulnerable to night detection by Britain’s defences.
The Battle of Britain had proved to be a chastening experience for the Messerschmitt Bf110 heavy fighter units of the Luftwaffe, but despite their disappointing performance against the fighters of the RAF, Messerschmitt’s fighting twin would go on to perform effectively in other theatres. Seeing extensive service on the Eastern Front, North Africa and the Mediterranean, the extra range and firepower possessed by the Bf 110 helped it to live up to its pre-war reputation, especially when not facing effective fighter opposition. It would however, be night operations against RAF Bomber Command which proved to be the aircraft’s most suited operating environment, especially when equipped with the latest air interception radar equipment available to the Luftwaffe. With many of the world’s most successful nightfighter aces perfecting their skills whilst flying the Bf 110, this would become an important aircraft in the nocturnal struggle against the hundreds of RAF bombers crossing the coast of Northern Europe each night. This sinister looking all-black Nachtjagdgeschwader 1 Messerschmitt Bf110E is equipped with the early FuG 202 Lichtenstein B/C air interception radar, which was introduced during 1942 and featured the complex ‘Matratze’ aerial antenna array on the nose of the aircraft. The radar operator in the rear cockpit would use a pair of oscilloscopes to help him direct his pilot to a possible interception.
As a result of the RAFs first bombing raid against Berlin on 25th August 1940 and incorrectly assuming that Fighter Command were all but knocked out of the war, the Luftwaffe were directed to leave Britain’s fighter stations alone and concentrate their efforts against London. In a period which became known as the Blitz, from October 1940, British cities were targeted by German bombers on a nightly basis and whilst these raids had a devastating effect on the civilian population, it allowed Britain to galvanise its defences and re-equip its battered fighter squadrons. Arguably the most effective bomber available to the Luftwaffe during WWII was the Junkers Ju88, a pre-war ‘Schnellbomber’ which proved to be both capable and adaptable, seeing service throughout WWII and produced in significant quantities. For the switch to night bombing operations over Britain, most of III./KG51s Ju88s benefited from some field applied camouflage modifications, which helped to make the aircraft less visible to British defences. The under-surfaces of the aircraft were given a black paint wash, which effectively masked all national insignia and fuselage markings were similarly blacked out. Only the top wing balkenkreuz was retained, presumably to aid with friendly unit recognition and to avoid incidents of friendly fire losses. It is interesting to note that of the many KG51 Ju88s lost over Britain during the night Blitz offensive, one machine lost during November 1940 was thought to have been the first victim of a radar equipped Bristol Beaufighter nightfighter. Unfortunately, many more aircraft on both sides would be lost before the war was over.
Undoubtedly one of the most distinctive aircraft of the Second World War, the tri-motor Junkers Ju52 can trace its origins back to a first flight in October 1930 and even though it was obsolete at the start of the conflict, it would go on to see extensive use and be produced throughout the war. From the early days of his political career, Adolf Hitler was one of the first major world figures to use aircraft as his preferred mode of transport and on becoming Chancellor of Germany, he began to establish his own private air fleet, which was based at Berlin Tempelhof Airport. Preferring to use the roomy and reliable Junkers Ju52, his aircraft were named after famous German airmen of the Great War, such as Immelmann, Richthofen and Boelcke, with his personal pilot Hans Baur overseeing the internal fittings of the aircraft to ensure Hitler’s comfort. Ju52 3/m D-2600 ‘Immelmann II’ was one of the famous aircraft operated as a Fuhrermaschine, usually serving as the lead aircraft (and Hitler’s preferred aircraft) but backed up by several other Ju52s to ensure constant availability. The aircraft were also available for use by other high ranking officials and in order to ensure Hitler’s safety, a number of aircraft were often operated at the same time, to minimise the risk of attack. At the insistence of Hans Baur, Hitler upgraded his main transport aircraft to the new four engined Focke Wulf Fw 200 Condor in 1939, however, he retained links to his trusty Junkers by naming the new aircraft ‘Immelmann III’ and transferring the registration D-2600 – it appears Hitler was rather superstitious.
Just one week after the D-Day landings and the successful Allied invasion of enemy occupied Europe, the Germans were determined to show that the war was far from over and launched the first of their V-1 Flying Bombs against Southern England. Described as their first ‘Vengeance Weapon’, these pulse jet powered unmanned flying bombs emitted a distinctive sound from the intermittently firing engine and quickly became known as ‘Doodlebugs’, with the indiscriminate nature of their targeting spreading panic amongst the British population. At its peak, more than 100 V-1s were hurled against England from their launch sites on the French and Dutch coasts, however, although they spread panic amongst the population, the range of these attacks was restricted to southern English counties. In an attempt to extend the range of these attacks, a specialist bombing unit was formed and equipped with modified versions of Heinkel He-111H bombers, which could carry a Doodlebug slung beneath the starboard wing, between the wing root and the engine. With an electric connection running from the bomber to the V-1s engine, the optimum delivery method was for the Heinkel to reach a height of approximately 2,000 feet, before entering a shallow dive to reach a launch speed of 150mph. This was the speed needed for the V-1 to fly and once reached, the pulse jet engine was remotely fired, allowed to run for a few seconds, then released, with the parent aircraft diving away for a low level return to base. Many factors would then come into play and dictate where the V-1 fell, such as heading, wind direction and performance of the rather basic jet engine.
That’s all for this week, thank you for reading this week’s Newsletter.