By September 1939 Germany had one of the most powerful air forces in Europe following the rapid build-up that had begun in earnest in the mid 1930s. However, the Luftwaffe’s High Command did not anticipate the global war that was about to break out and therefore fine-tuned the air arm to be an efficient force in local confrontations with weaker enemies such as Czechoslovakia or Poland and to present itself as a deterrent to European superpowers.
This strategic vision had to be abandoned when France and Great Britain declared war on Germany on September 3, 1939. Despite the initial success of the blitzkrieg in Poland, Denmark and Norway, followed by victorious campaigns in Belgium, Holland and France, the Germans failed to bring Britain to her knees and to secure a much needed peace treaty.
Origins of the design
In the summer of 1940 the RAF launched a strategic bombing campaign against targets deep inside Germany. The area bombing tactics that was intended to terrorize the civilian population of the Reich forced the Luftwaffe’s High Command to look for appropriate countermeasures. The first step was an immediate decision to build a night fighter force (Nachtjagd) and to beef up the air defenses around the German cities. Initially the British raids caused only limited damage. The RAF bombers appeared in formations that rarely exceeded 200 – 300 aircraft, many of which never made it to the target area. Those that did often dropped their bombs on targets of opportunity.
Matters began to change rather quickly in late 1941. The lethality of British raids increased dramatically thanks to the improvements to navigational equipment and the introduction of twin-engine DH 98 Mosquito aircraft in the pathfinder role to mark targets for the RAF “heavies”. In the spring of 1942 the Bomber Command launched a night-time bombing offensive against Germany, which culminated with operation “Millennium” on the night of May 30 – 31, 1942 when 1 042 RAF bombers dropped bombs on the city of Cologne. The attack was the first of the so called “Thousand Bomber” raids.
Overwhelmed by the massive attack the German air defenses managed to knock down a mere 3.8 percent of the British force. There was more of the same two nights later when 800 RAF bombers struck the city of Essen. Only 37 British machines were lost in that operation.
The Luftwaffe brass responded immediately with orders to increase the use of the Junkers Ju 88 aircraft in the night fighting role. At the same time Heinkel and Focke-Wulf received the urgent requirement for a new purpose-built night fighter aircraft. Generalfeldmarschall Erhard Milch, Generalluftzeugmeister der Luftwaffe1 was immensely impressed with the British DH 98 Mosquito and demanded that a German equivalent (with much improved performance) be immediately developed. The British Mosquito, made almost entirely of wood, was designed as a twin-engine multi-role aircraft that could be employed as a fast bomber or a reconnaissance platform. The Mosquito’s maiden flight demonstrated that the aircraft had a superb performance and remarkable agility, despite its fairly big size, which made the design ideal not just in the bomber or reconnaissance roles, but as a day or night fighter as well.
When they first appeared in front-line service in May 1942, the Mosquitoes came as a total surprise to German air defense units. Not only did they operate at altitudes between 8 000 and 9 000 m, they were also extremely fast. The twin Rolls-Royce Merlin 21 engines developing 1 460 HP each allowed the “Wooden Wonder” to cruise comfortably at 424 km/h and gave it a top speed of 604 km/h. Equipped with external fuel tanks a Mosquito could take a 2 000 kg bomb load all the way to Berlin. Later variants, powered by improved engines, could fly even faster and operate at higher altitudes. The fastest Mosquito version, the P. R. Mk. VIII had a top speed of 697 km/h, while the highest flying night fighting variant, the NF Mk. XV, had a service ceiling of 13 097 m.
During a staff meeting on August 18, 1942 Generalluftzeugmeister GFM Erhard Milch demanded that the platform should be developed to utilize the available stocks of Junkers Jumo 211 F engines. Several weeks later, on September 11, 1942 a decision was made to make a greater use of “Homogenholz” plywood in the design of airframes. Thus the idea was born to build a German version of the Mosquito – a fast bomber of mainly wooden construction powered by a pair of Junkers Jumo 211 engines.
Focke-Wulf design bureau was the first to respond to the RLM requirement. They presented the “Entwurf 1” (Project 1) - a preliminary design of an unarmed fast bomber of mixed construction powered by two Jumo 211 Fs.
Kurt Tank2 had been the chief designer at Focke-Wulf since 1934 and had already made his mark with such world-class designs as the four-engine Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor bomber, or the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighter. It was therefore no wonder that he would be personally responsible for the new project. The chief engineer Ludwig Mittelhuber became the leader of the design development team, while Ernst Nipp would oversee the actual design work. Gotthold Mathias’s team was responsible for the new aircraft’s aerodynamics and Herbert Wolf would oversee flight performance calculations.