... The story of air combat over Europe cannot be told without great emphasis being given to the Messerschmitt Bf 109. It gained its fame as the major opponent of the Spitfire during the Battle of Britain and continued intense rivalry with all Allied aircraft until the close of World War II.
Designed by Professor Willy Messerschmitt and manufactured initially by the Bayerische Flugzeugwerke AG, forerunner of the Messerschmitt AG, the single-seat fighter was to gain the distinction of being produced in larger quantities than any other combat airplane except for the Russian IL-2.
The first prototype Bf 109 flew in September 1935, powered, oddly enough, by a Rolls Royce Kestrel 695-hp engine. Follow-on prototypes utilized several other engines until settling on the Daimler-Benz inverted-V, liquid-cooled engine that powered subsequent airframes throughout its wartime production.
The new fighter’s first public demonstration took place at the 1936 Olympic Games held in Berlin, but the plane’s first real impact on the aviation world came during the international flying meet held in Zurich in the summer of 1937. Five Bf 109s took part and demonstrated outstanding climbing, diving, and maneuverability, along with astonishing speed.
While these impressive demonstrations were taking place, twenty-four Messerschmitt fighters were delivered to Spain for the Condor Legion. By the time England declared war on Germany, the already-proven Messerschmitt was being mass-produced in the Bf 109E series and was ready to enter the fight.
The Spitfire, the Bf 109's first major opponent, was slightly faster and definitely more maneuverable, but its performance at altitude was inferior. There was also little difference in pilot ski between the Luftwaffe and the Royal Air Force, although pilots in the RAF had the advantage of fighting over their own country, while the critical range of the Bf 1 09s limited German fighting time to about twenty minutes.
As Allied bomber formations and fighter-bombers pushed the war into Germany, the Bf 109s were forced into a combat role for which they were not designed—that of close ground support. In this capacity the 109s were heavily battered by Allied fighters and ground fire. The Messerschmitt also relentlessly attacked the massive bomber formations, only to be heavily pounded by the bombers’ defensive crossfire. In every air encounter over Europe, the 109s could generally be counted on to appear for a fight.
As new and improved models of Allied fighters entered the combat scene, the Germans countered with upgraded models of the Bf 109 primarily with increased power rating in the Daimler-Benz engine. When German production stopped, the G series of the Bf 109 was produced in far greater numbers than any other model, 21,000 being completed by the end of 1944 Known as "Gustav," the Bf 109G was powered by a DB 605 engine. This machine had two MG 131 machine guns, a single 30-mm MK 108 cannon firing through the spinner, and sometimes carried two underwing MG 151/20 weapons. This combination was ideal for bomber interception but severely reduced the machine’s efficiency in fighter-versus-fighter combat. ...