Messerschmitt Bf 109 T the Luftwaffe’s Naval Fighter

Messerschmitt Bf 109 T the Luftwaffe’s Naval Fighter

The ‘weather frog’1 had forecast that weather conditions would improve.

Everything went as I had thought it would: first, the warning; then combat readiness and an ‘alarmstart’ take-off -all part of the routine. However, the first wave of enemy aircraft suddenly turned back and we were ordered to return to base. It seemed to be a ruse employed by the Americans to wear down our fighter force. If so, it failed to accomplish anything for we immediately re-fuelled and at 11:22 hrs took off again. We were vectored south, where another enemy formation had been detected. At 11:42 hrs our four aircraft made first contact with the enemy in the vicinity of Cuxhaven, at 6500 meters. We overtook the Americans and at 11:44 hrs swerved around for a head-on attack. Unfortunately, we did it too early – and before we could close in, the enemy formation changed course, spoiling our attack. Only two of our machines were properly lined up. Our Schwarm2 reformed and again we raced for the head of the bomber formation.

bl04   z1

It took a considerable amount of time because the Americans were flying quite fast. On this occasion our timing was better and as we whipped around, each of us was well positioned. I was flying the No 3 slot, as the leader of the second pair, behind the Schwarmführer and his Katschmarek3 . Six hundred meters to go… five hundred... We were charging headlong into a Pulk4 of 35 heavy bombers, closing the distance at a combined speed of 1,000 kph. I thumbed the machine gun trigger. The nose of ‘my’ Boeing was centered in the crosshairs of my Revi gunsight, illuminated on the windshield. At 300 meters the Boeing’s wings filled the horizontal reticle of my sight. I squeezed the triggers. My guns ripped out three short bursts. I could see a hail of projectiles hitting the bomber’s wings and engines. I pushed the stick forward to pass below the stricken bomber. Its gunners opened up on me with all they had, but it was already too late for them. I hauled back on the stick, rolled to port and watched the drama unfold below me. The Boeing pulled sharply up, leaving a trail of white smoke – then tipped over to starboard and spun down. Its right wing and engines were aflame. I saw two crew members bail out. A moment later the bomber broke apart, and the burning debris fell into the sea between the Wangerooge and Heligoland islands. I yelled ‘Sieg Heil!’ into the microphone and heard others from my Schwarm congratulate me: but our battle was not over yet. Only then did I notice that an explosive round had blasted through my right wing; however, my machine still handled pretty well. I spotted a Boeing in a wide turn and, with the advantage of height, bore in from the rear. Again, I saw the flashes of my impacting rounds. The bomber’s return fire was waning. My second and third passes went unopposed. I closed in to 50 meters and again blazed away. The Fortress was losing height and straggling behind the formation, but still flying. When I engaged for the fourth time, my guns remained silent – I had run out of ammunition. I then moved to the side of the bomber and waggled my wings to inform the pilot that I wanted him to turn back and land. In response I was raked with a burst from the bomber’s waist gun position. I felt a smack against the engine and a sudden pricking pain in my left arm. When I came to my senses and regained control over my aircraft, I was down to 4,000-5,000 meters. A gush of hot oil spewed back at me from the battered engine and poured into my flying boots. I could barely see outside the cockpit. The left sleeve of my jacket was torn. I felt a burning pain but could still use my left hand. The bullet had merely grazed the muscles of my arm and the wound was superficial. Had it strayed some eight centimeters to the left, it would have hit me in the heart.

bl04   z2

The oil gauge showed zero. I could not throttle up for fear of killing the engine. I resolved to semi-glide towards Heligoland, some 20 kilometers away. I needed some power from the failing engine to get to the island. I readied myself to bail out, but at the same time I strove to maintain as much altitude as possible; 3000 meters, 2000, 1000… My crippled machine was steadily losing height. I hesitated. There was still time to take to my parachute. The airstrip at the island was short. If I miscalculated my approach, I would fall into the sea, slam into the pier or nose over.

Whether the jump seemed too risky or I was afraid of the water, I don’t know. Either way, I headed straight for the concrete runway and, using the last burst of power from the engine, I touched down. As I did so the engine quit and I merely rolled down the runway. I tried to brake but the hydraulic installation in the right wheel was also shot up. My ‘Toni’5 veered to port and wobbled towards other aircraft parked in their revetments. At last, it came to a stop only ten meters distant from them. My skin was damp – I had broken into a cold sweat. I clambered out of the cockpit drenched in oil. My ground crew helped me remove my life vest and fur-lined boots. Dressed only in my shirt, trousers and socks, I trudged towards my billet. When I had time to check on my aircraft, I discovered that an explosive round had struck the starboard cannon barrel; there was a hole in the right wing caused by a 12 mm projectile and the right landing gear leg was shot up. Further examination revealed a three-centimeter hole on the right side of the oil tank, which allowed me to track the trajectory of a round which had passed through the tank, damaging some electrical wiring, before penetrating the instrument panel from the inside and finally hitting my left arm.

bl04   z3

I was taken to a first aid station run by the Navy, where my wound was properly dressed. It had been a hell of a day and my nerves were really frayed. Two American airmen, who had bailed out, were brought to Heligoland. They personally confirmed my victory. One of my bursts had hit the bomber’s cockpit area and killed all the crewmembers in the front section. Another burst had torn into the wing fuel tank and damaged one of the engines. That was enough to knock it down. Initially, the Americans had laughed at the four Messerschmitts that dared to challenge their 35 ‘heavies’. However, the smiles were quickly wiped from their faces. They were shot down on their first sortie”.

bl04   z4

“Graf Zeppelin” and her aircraft

The German-British agreement signed on
18th June 1935 allowed the German Reich
to construct two aircraft carriers. On 28th December 1936 at Deutscher Werf shipyard in Kiel construction work commenced on a carrier designated “Träger A”. Less than two years later, on 8th December 1938, the ship was launched. Her godmother was Helga Gräfin von Brandenstein-Zeppelin, daughter of the famous airship designer Graf Ferdinand Zeppelin. The aircraft carrier was christened after him. The launch ceremony was attended by the Reich’s Chancellor Adolf Hitler and Herman Göring, the chief of the Air Ministry and the Luftwaffe. The latter made a speech to the audience of 15,000 spectators. The “Graf Zeppelin” measured 250 meters from stem to stern (the flight deck was 241 m long and 30.7 m wide) and her displacement was estimated at 31,400 GRT. She was propelled by steam-geared turbines which gave a power output of 200,000 shp, enough to propel her to 34 knots. Initially it was planned to equip the “Graf Zeppelin” with biplanes only, but in 1937 the decision was made to adapt the most modern machines in the Luftwaffe’s inventory for carrier-borne service: the ship was to carry a complement of 13 Ju 87 Stuka dive-bombers and 10 Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighters. The only biplane carried was to be the multi-role Fieseler Fi 167 (20 aircraft). In September 1939, at the outbreak of World War 2, the “Graf Zeppelin” was still under construction. On 12th July 1940, when she was 90% completed, it was decided to move the carrier to Gotenhafen (presently Gdynia, Poland) to await the end of the war – which at that time was thought to be near.
However, the fortunes of war proved to be unpredictable: on 16th March 1942 the Oberkommando der Marine (OKM) ordered construction work on the ship to be resumed in order to prepare her for a move back to the Kiel shipyards. In fact, the carrier did not arrive there until 6th December 1942. At this time a project to re-build four ships into auxiliary aircraft carriers was investigated, but the idea was eventually dropped. The defeat at Stalingrad, Hitler’s personal aversion to big surface ships and a change at the head of the Kriegsmarine caused a further delay in the construction of the ship, only one month after it was resumed. On 20th April 1943 “Graf Zeppelin” was towed to Stettin (presently Szczecin, Poland), where it remained until the war’s end. On the evening of 24th April 1945 the ship’s turbines, power generators, lifts and other crucial elements were demolished with explosive charges by German combat engineers. As a result of the Potsdam conference, which settled the division of war booty among the victors, the badly damaged and unfinished “Graf Zeppelin” was taken over by the Soviet Union. The new owners turned the barely floating hulk into a practice target for bombs and torpedoes. On 18th August 1947 “Graf Zeppelin” was hit in the bow by a torpedo fired from the destroyer “Slawniy” and sank.


bl04   z5


Design work on Germany’s first carrier-borne fighter started at the Messerschmitt plant during the winter of 1937/38. In February 1938 the prototype Messerschmitt Bf 109 V17 (W.Nr. 1776, D‑IYMS), based on a Bf 109 C powered by Jumo 210 D engine, was ready for tests. The aircraft was fitted with a tailhook and landing gear wheel fairings designed to prevent the undercarriage fouling the arrestor cables. The machine was test-flown at Haunstetten airfield, and in May 1938 it was passed to an experimental station (E-Stelle) at Travemünde. In July 1938 the aircraft was badly damaged in a take-off accident. After repairs flight tests were resumed. On 16th September 1939 it was coded TK+HK7.
The other aircraft used to test the Messerschmitt 109’s capabilities as a maritime fighter was a Bf 109 B (W.Nr. 301, registered as D-IKAC) delivered to the Augsburg plant on 25th March 1938. It was similarly equipped with an arrestor hook and undercarriage fairings. Shortly afterwards it was transferred to E-Stelle Travemünde, where its civil registration was replaced by TK+HM code. In January 1939 the first test landings with the tailhook were carried out. They showed that the wheel fairings, which were intended to prevent the landing gear from getting entangled with arrestor wires, were redundant. It also transpired that the undercarriage was too rigid, which caused the aircraft to bounce and hop over the arrestor wires. Out of 31 trials carried out in February 1939 the hook missed the cables on 15 occasions. Hence, on 17th February 1939 new landing gear struts with modified shock absorbers were delivered from the Luftwaffe Test Station at Rechlin. This aircraft was also used in experimental launches from a K5 steam-powered catapult. The first four launches were performed between 18th April and 6th May 1940. The catapult accelerated the Bf 109 to 140 kph, while the pilot experienced gravity forces up to 2.4 g.



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