The Messerschmitt Bf-109 was the backbone
of the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) during World War II.
It began as an entry by the Bayerische Flugzeugwerke in a
fighter competition in the early 1930's. It incorporated one of
the most advanced aerodynamic designs at the time, with
retractable landing gear, an enclosed cockpit, automatic flaps,
cantilever wings, and stressed skin construction. The
redesignation of the Bayerische Flugzeugwerke AG
(Aktiengesellschaft or Corporation) to the Messerschmitt AG in
1938 led many to call it the Me-109, although the official
Luftwaffe designation of the aircraft remained the Bf 109
throughout the war.
The Bf-109B first entered combat
with German-manned Condor Legion units during the Spanish Civil
War. Early in World War II, it dominated the Polish PZL
fighters. In the invasion of France in May 1940, it outfought
French Morane-Saulnier MS 406s and British Hawker
Hurricanes. In the air battles over the English Channel
and later during the Battle of Britain the Bf 109E not only
exposed its Achilles heel, its short range, but also met its
equal, the Supermarine Spitfire. The short range of the Bf 109E
prevented it from escorting Luftwaffe bombers past London,
leaving the greater part of the British Isles free from enemy
attack on training and production sites.
The Bf-109G had a higher top speed, but
was less maneuverable than earlier versions. Some later Gs had
bulges in front of the cockpit caused by the larger 13mm MG 131
machine guns. Pilots found it increasingly difficult to fly
against more capable aircraft such as the P-51D
"Mustang." Despite its limitations, the G series was
the most numerous of the Bf 109 types and remained in production
into 1945. By war's end, Germany had built over 30,000 Bf 109's.
Production of the Bf 109 continued on after the war in
Czechoslovakia until 1949 and in Spain until 1958. It remains to
this day the most produced fighter in history. It is the
only German airplane on display in the Smithsonian's World War
II gallery. The US Air Force Museum has two.
Bf-109 "Adolf Galland"
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