Helena Schrader's Historical Fiction

Dr. Helena P. Schrader is the winner of more than 20 literary accolades. For a complete list of her awards see: http://helenapschrader.com

For readers tired of clichés and cartoons, award-winning novelist Helena P. Schrader offers nuanced insight to historical events and figures based on sound research and an understanding of human nature. Her complex and engaging characters bring history back to life as a means to better understand ourselves.

Friday, May 14, 2021

Fighter Aircraft of the Battle of Britain - Me 109

 The German fighter that caused the most damage to the RAF during the Battle of Britain was not the heavy "Destroyer/Zerstoerer" but the smaller Me109. It has been compared to a vampire, and it proved such a good design that, with modifications, it remained in service throughout the Second World War. Altogether, nearly 34,000 Me109s were built, more than any other World War Two fighter.

The Me109 was the brain-child of Willi Messerschmitt, who had started his career in aviation as a glider designer. The Me109 inherited from Messerschmitt's glider designs wings with superior lift and an overall design that was streamlined and light. 

This design, however, created other problems. The wings were too delicate to carry eight machine guns, ammunition boxes or support the weight of the aircraft when on the ground. As a result a series of work-arounds had to be developed. Two machine guns fired from beside the engine cowling and two cannons were fitted on the wings rather than eight machine guns. (Latter versions removed guns from the wings altogether and had cannons fired through the spinner of the propeller. The ammunition boxes were located in the fuselage and the guns fed by belts that stretched to the wingtips and back. But the problem was the very narrow undercarriage was never really solved and caused many accidents while taxiing and landing throughout the war.  Furthermore, because the canopy was hinged and opened to the side, it could not be left open during take-off and landing; this meant the pilot could not simply lean out to look around the long nose (that blocked forward vision); he had to weave back and forth slightly to see where he was going.

In the air, the Me109 fitted with a 1,000 hp engine was without doubt a superb fighter. At the duel between prototypes competing for the Luftwaffe contract in 1935, the Me109 preformed a spectacular series of spins and a power dives that blasted the competition right out of the game.  It was easy to handle, and in the hands of an expert was extraordinarily maneuverable and agile. Fitted with fuel-injection engines, the Me109 had a maximum speed of 357 mph at 12,300 feet and a service ceiling of 36,000 feet -- substantially higher than that of its opponents in the Battle of Britain. Americans who test flew the Me109 before the start of the war (including Charles Lindbergh) considered it superior to any fighter aircraft the U.S. had at the time. 

Yet it had drawbacks in the air too. The canopy was made up of several panels fit into a metal frame and that created bars that blocked the pilot's vision -- that could be fatal in a dogfight.  The Me109 could not be trimmed to fly straight and level; it required constant right ruder to counter the torque of the propeller. Perhaps the most serious drawback was the canopy that opened sideways and could not be readily released during an emergency. Without doubt many German pilots died because of this feature. 

Although much is usually made of the turning radius of a fighter, in the Battle of Britain, the Me109, the Hurricane and the Spitfire had technical radii so similar that it was the capabilities of pilot more than those aircraft that were the deciding factor in a dogfight. Pilots were more likely to black-out in a tight turn than for the aircraft to stall. Experienced pilots with a better feel for their aircraft were able to push their machines closer to the latter's limit, while inexperienced pilots often stalled, lost consciousness or were unnecessarily afraid of tearing the wings off. Nevertheless, technically both the Spitfire (by a very small margin) the Hurricane (by a considerably greater margin) could out-turn the Me109, so in the hands of a skilled and confident pilot, this was a British advantage.

When all was said and done, the Me109s accounted for 3/4 of the 1,023 RAF fighters shot down in the Battle of Britain,  Me110s, bombers and accidents accounting for the rest. Thus, on a fighter-to-fighter basis, the Me109 was the clear victor of the battle , shooting down 770 Spitfire and Hurricanes for losses of just 650 of their own number. Yet the RAF fighters combined shot down 223 Me110s, and more importantly 1,014 bombers for a total of 1,887 German aircraft. The Me109 alone, at least not in the numbers deployed, could not win the Battle of Britain.

“Where Eagles Never Flew” shows the Battle of Britain from both sides of the Channel by following the fate of German characters as well as British ones. The leading German characters are pilots and women auxiliaries serving with and Me109 Gruppe in Northern France. Find out more about “Where Eagles Never Flew” at:  https://crossseaspress.com/where-eagles-never-flew or see an video teaser at: 



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