The Messerschmitt 109 acted as Nazi Germany’s most important fighter plane in the Battle of Britain. It proved a solid opponent against the British Spitfire and Hurricane but participated in the battle with a major disadvantage.
Willy Messerschmitt had a very advanced goal for a monoplane fighter in the mid 1930s, and his award winning 108 soon progressed into the 109. The 109’s initial trials happened in October 1935 and went on to the Luftwaffe making 10 prototype orders of the 109 and its rival - known as the Heinkel He 112. The British Rolls-Royce Kestrel engines powered the first 109 prototypes.
The 109 and Luftwaffe entered into service in spring 1937 and was flown in the Spanish Civil War although the Germans did not advertise this fact. They tried to make a good impression on the aviation world instead with 109 displays at international air shows, and it won a lot of awards. Variations of the 109 had been built before the war, and 1939 saw the building of 1,400 Messerschmitt 109’s alone. When the war first started the Luftwaffe had 1,000 Me 109’s for the Blitzkrieg attack on Poland.
Fighter Command’s opposing Me 109 had a favourable opportunity over its rivals when the Battle of Britain took place, as the engine had a fuel injection system, allowing a constant flow even in negative-g conditions. Thanks to this, a pilot could dive away much quicker than his opponents and flee from trouble. It did also have one big disadvantage - the range of the 109 was limited and was unable to protect bombers which carried more fuel than Britain did. Because of this they had limited fighting time. Spitfires and Hurricanes were able to land and re-fuel, but a 109 did not have this option.
Several 109 variants had a cannon put into the hollowed out nose cone, but the vibrations caused by its firing led to the idea being dismissed from the original 109’s. However it was reawakened in later versions when the vibration had been fixed. The majority of 109’s had a two wing-mounted cannon attached and two machine guns positioned on the top of the nose cone which fired through the propeller arc.
See also: Messerschmitt 110
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