SECURING THE SKIES

Messerschmitt 109

Overview

Designed by Willy Messerschmitt during 1934, and originally powered by a Rolls-Royce Kestrel V engine. This aircraft was instrumental in testing the Roll-Royce PV-12, later to become the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine. The Me109 won a fighter competition in October 1935. During the process of progressive development in the pre-war years the aircraft appeared in successively more powerful and heavier armed versions; and the Me109B and C models achieved great success in Spain with the Legion Condor's fighter unit. Many of the Lufwaffe's most successful wartime fighter pilots received their operational blooding in Spain on the early 109 models. By August 1940 twenty-three Gruppen were in action on the Channel front mainly equipped with the improved Me109E-3 which mounted two machine guns in the nose, and two in the wings. Provision for a cannon firing through the spinner was also made in the design, but due to heating and vibration problems, this was never used in action.

The various strengths and shortcomings of the Messerschmitt, the Hurricane, and the Spitfire largely cancelled out in combat. The Hurricane's comparative weakness in acceleration was offset by its extreme strength and ruggedness. There was little to choose between the Spitfire and the Me109 between 12,000 and 17,000 feet, but above 20,000 feet the Messerschmitt was undoubtedly the better machine. It dived faster than its opponents, but required much more physical effort to fly. The weak, narrow undercarriage caused many accidents, but despite this and the cramped cockpit, the aircraft was popular with its pilots.

Recognition

Sleek, shark-like fuselage with square, faired-in caopy and small tail surfaces. 'Clipped' wing-tips and narrow-track mainwheels

Power and specifications
PowerplantOne 1,150 hp Daimler Benz DB601 twelve-cylinder liquid-cooled engine
Span32ft 4½in (9.87m)
Length28ft 8in (8.74m)
Max Speed357 mph (575km/h) at 12,300 ft (3,749m)
ArmamentTwo 7.9mm machine guns mounted on the engine crankcase firing through upper nose decking and two 20mm cannon in wings.
AccommodationPilot only