Messerschmitt Bf 109 A-D

The Messerschmitt Bf 109, also known as the Me 109, is without a doubt one of the most remarkable fighter designs in the history of military aviation. Built in the record-breaking numbers (over 32 000 examples) it was one of the iconic symbols of the Luftwaffe’s might. The Bf 109 produced not only German top-scoring aces of the war, including Erich Hartmann (352 kills), Gerhard Barkhorn (301 victories), Günther Rall (275 kills), Hans-Joachim Marseille (158 kills), Werner Mölders (114 victories) or Adolf Galland with 104 confirmed kills, but also fighter aces from other nations: Finland’s Ilmari Juutilainen (94 kills, including 58 in Bf 109s), Hans Wind (75 victories, 36 in Bf 109s) and Eino Luukkanen (56 air-to-air kills, of which 39 were scored at the controls of the Bf 109); Hungarians - Dezsö Szentgyörgyi (31 kills) and György Debrödy (26 victories); Croatians - Mato Dukovac with 44 kills and Cvitan Galic (38 air-to-air victories); Slovaks - Ján Režnák (32 kills) and Izidor Kovárik (28 victories); Romanians - Alexandru Serbanescu (49 kills) and Constantin Cantacuzino (43 air-to-air victories); Bulgarians - Stojan Iliev Stojanov (5 kills) and Petar Angelov Bochev (5 victories), or Italian aces Adriano Visconti di Lampugnano (26 kills) and Teresio Martinoli with 23 aerial victories.
The Messerschmitt Bf 109, similarly to its nemesis the Supermarine Spitfire, was the aircraft that already at its inception set new trends in the development of fighter designs. It was one of the first mass produced single-seat, all-metal monoplanes with retractable landing gear and fully enclosed cockpit. For ten years, from the start of production in 1935 until the war’s end in 1945, it remained one of the world’s most potent fighter aircraft.
The Bf 109 will always be associated with its chief designer Wilhelm Emil Messerschmitt (better known as Willy). Born in Frankfurt am Main on June 28, 1898 Willy moved with his family to Bamberg in 1906 where his father was to take over his brother’s wine merchant’s business. Willy began to build his first rubber-powered models when he was only 12 years old. A year later he met the pioneer of German glider design, Friedrich Harth, who recognized the young Messerschmitt’s talents and invited him to join his design team. Shortly before the outbreak of World War I they finished work on the S 4 glider.

Messerschmitt Bf 109 V4, W.Nr. 878, D-IALY, made its first flight on September 26, 1936 with Dr. Hermann Wurster at the controls.  [Kagero's Arc hive]

Soon thereafter Friedrich Harth was drafted into the army, while the S 4 glider, stored in a shed on Heidelstein mountain near Bischofsheim, was vandalized. The 16 year-old Messerschmitt used the materials from Harth’s workshop to build his first full-fledged flying machine – the Harth-Messerschmitt S 5 glider. Friedrich Harth flight tested the glider in early September 1915 during his short leave from the service. Harth made several flights ranging from 80 to 300 meters, but was not overly impressed with the machine’s performance. Shortly thereafter he designed and built its successor, the S 6.
In the meantime Messerschmitt passed his final high school exams in 1917 at Oberrealschule Nürnberg and was promptly drafted into active military service. Between June 5 and November 8 he underwent basic training at Fliegerpionierabteilung Milbertshofen. Willy continued working closely with Harth, who by that time had finished work on the S 7 glider, followed by the S 8 design that was ready soon after the war’s end.
Between 1918 and 1923 Willy Messerschmitt studied engineering at Technische Hochschule München. It was during that time that he set up his first company: Later on, in 1923, 25 year-old Messerschmitt enlisted his brother’s help to set up the ‘Flugzeugbau Messerschmitt Bamberg’, a company specializing in aeronautical design and engineering. It was in a primitive shed at 41 Lange Straße that Willy built the first Messerschmitt gliders. Originally the business was underwritten by Willy’s brother Ferdinand. Among the first original Messerschmitt’s designs were the S 14 glider (which was also Willy’s engineering degree project) and the S 15 powered glider.[“Mitarbeiter berichten von den Anfängen des Messerschmitt-Flugzeugbaues“ in: Messerschmitt-Nachrichten nr 3/1963.]
The S 14 design enjoyed some success at the Rhön glider competition held on August 20, 1923. Messerschmitt’s glider came in first in the maximum flight ceiling category and second in the flight endurance event. The S 15 was a high wing, all plywood design powered by the 10 HP Victoria engine. The machine was ready in the early spring of 1924. Within the next few months Messerschmitt designed and built two more powered gliders – the S 16a and S 16b. The machines also took part in the Rhön competition, but did not fare well due to a series of engine malfunctions. The man who stole the show and took virtually all prizes was Ernst Udet at the controls of his famous “Kolibri”.
Discouraged by the lackluster performance of his powered gliders, Messerschmitt turned his attention to the design of light aircraft. His first machine, designated M 17[The letter “S” stood for Segelflugzeug, or a sailplane, while the letter “M” designated Motorflugzeug, a powered aircraft.], was a two-seat, all-wood light aircraft that featured cantilevered high wing and a conventional puller propeller. Messerschmitt built seven examples of the aircraft powered by various types of powerplants ranging from 24 to 28 HP.