The Messerschmitt 109 was Nazi Germany’s primary fighter plane in the Battle of Britain. The Messerschmitt 109 was a worthy adversary to the Spitfire and Hurricane but fought in the Battle of Britain with one major disadvantage.
In the mid-1930’s, Willy Messerschmitt was well advanced in his plan for a monoplane fighter. His award winning 108 developed into the 109. The first trials of the 109 took place in October 1935 and led to the Luftwaffe placing orders for ten prototypes of the 109 and its rival, the Heinkel He 112. In an interesting piece of irony, the first 109 prototypes were powered by British Rolls-Royce Kestrel engines!
The 109 entered service with the Luftwaffe in spring of 1937. The plane was used in the Spanish Civil War but this was not publicised by the Germans at the time. Instead, the Germans attempted to impress the aviation world with displays of the 109 at international air shows where the plane won many awards. Numerous variants of the 109 were built prior to the war and in 1939 alone, 1,400 Messerschmitt 109’s were built. At the start of the war, the Luftwaffe had 1,000 Me 109’s available for the Blitzkrieg attack on Poland.
By the time of the Battle of Britain, the Me 109 that faced Fighter Command had one major advantage over its rivals. Its engine had a fuel injection system that allowed a constant fuel flow even in conditions of negative-g. This meant that a pilot could dive away at a much faster pace than his opponents could do and escape trouble. However, it also had one major disadvantage. The 109 had a limited range (see below) and it could not spend too much time over Britain protecting bombers that carried more fuel than they did. As such, their fighting time was limited. Whereas Spitfires and Hurricanes could land and re-fuel, such an option was not open to a 109.
Some variants of the 109 had a cannon placed in the hollowed out nose cone. However, vibrations caused from its firing meant that the idea was dropped from the early 109’s but it was taken up in later ones when the vibration issue had been sorted out. Most 109’s were fitted with two wing-mounted cannon and two machine guns mounted on the top of the nose cone that fired through the propeller arc.
Maximum speed: 385 mph (620 km/h) at 22,640 feet (6900 metres)
Ceiling: 37,895 feet (11550 metres)
Range: 373 miles (600 km)