Blood Red Skies, Profiles

Blood Red Skies: The Messerschmitt Bf109E

The Luftwaffe dominates the skies over Europe, ably assisted by the revolutionary Bf109E. Only the Spitfire is a match for this Teutonic beast!

Blood Red Skies: The Messerschmitt Bf109E
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The Luftwaffe dominates the skies over continental Europe, ably assisted by the technologically superior Bf109E. Only the nimble Spitfire is a match for this Teutonic beast!

When it was introduced in 1937, the Bf109E was one of the most advanced aircraft in the world, incorporating cutting-edge technologies and design techniques which gave it an edge over the competition. In July of that year, three D-model aircraft debuted at a Swiss airshow, where it took first prize in three categories. In November, it would set a new airspeed record for a piston-engined plane.

Messerschmitt continued to develop their engine technologies, fitting them to successive marks of racing aircraft which went on to break airspeed records. In 1939, a Luftwaffe captain set a speed of 469mph in a race-modified 109, a record that would stand until it was broken by a modified F8F Bearcat in 1969.

Clearly, this design represented a leap forward in aircraft technology and a massive threat to any enemy fighters in its path. Armed with a pair of 7.92mm machine guns in the nose, and two 20mm cannons in the wings, the Bf109 punched well above its weight, outgunning most Allied fighter aircraft.

The Bf109E first saw service during the Spanish Civil War, where Condor Legion pilots savaged the Republican opposition, plucking unfortunate I-15 and I-16s out of the air with ease. Its dominance of European skies continued through the invasions of Poland, France and the Low Countries, only challenged by the vaunted Spitfire during the Battle of Britain.

Its shortcomings boiled down to low fuel capacity and a large turning circle. RAF Spitfires proved to be particularly effective, as their agility gave them an advantage against the much faster Bf 109s.

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Whilst the Luftwaffe’s dominance was challenged over the English Channel, where courageous Spitfire pilots battled the Germans to a standstill, in the North African and Mediterranean theatres, a lack of modern aircraft and experienced pilots allowed some German pilots to rack up cricket score-sized kill counts. 

As the war progressed, German industry continued to design and produce state-of-the-art aircraft, sending shocks through the Allied ranks when they found themselves completely outclassed. Of particular note was the Focke-Wulf 190, which forced British designers to rush through modifications to the Spitfire V, or find themselves on the back foot once again. 

The Germans were also pioneers of rocket and jet technology, using these revolutionary propulsion systems to kickstart a new generation of aircraft. These technologies would be co-opted by the Allies after the war, evolving into jets like the F-86 Sabre and Mig-15. 

Tom Mecredy
Tom spends most of his time buying books and painting miniatures. He enjoys putting animals on the bases of his miniatures and half-finishing side projects. Some say that he lives in a tower on top of some windswept northern hill with his wife and cow-patterned cat, Spaghetti.