Unlike the United States, which threw at least a half-dozen outstanding fighters at the Axis in World War II (the F4F Wildcat, the F4U Corsair, the F6F Hellcat, the P-38 Lightning, the P-47 Thunderbolt, and the P-51 Mustang, just to name a few), Nazi Germany relied heavily on two major fighters throughout the war.
One of those planes was produced in staggering numbers, especially when compared to some of today’s planes. Its time in service extended two decades beyond the end of World War II and, in a stroke of irony, this plane actually went on to help a new country stand up against genocidal foes.
That plane was the Bayerische Flugzeugwerke Bf 109.
Many know this plane as the Messerschmidt Me 109, but that’s a misnomer. While it was designed by Willy Messerschmidt, the planes designed through the early stages of World War II had the prefix ‘Bf,’ which stands for Bayerische Flugzeugwerke, or “Bavarian Aircraft Factories” in English. It was only later that the company took the name of Messerschmidt — and with it, the ‘Me’ prefix.
Nazi Germany built over 33,000 Bf 109 fighters.
(German Federal Archives)
The Bf 109 had a top speed of 359 miles per hour and a maximum range of 680 miles. Depending on the variant, Bf 109s were equipped with either 7.9mm machine guns or autocannons. Over 33,000 Bf 109s were produced during the war, making it the most-produced fighter aircraft in history. Even more Bf 109s were designed and built after the war in Spain and Czechoslovakia as well.
Czech-built versions of the Bf 109, known as the S-199, served in the Israeli Air Force.
Some of the Czech versions, known as the Avia S-199, found their way to Israel where they served in the 1948 Israeli War for Independence. There, they fought against Arab forces in what the Secretary-General of the Arab League called a “war of extermination.” A plane that was once the arm of history’s most infamous genocide stood in opposition of the next.
The planes proved difficult to fly, however, and were replaced by 1950.
Licence-built Bf 109s in Spain had a variety of engines, including the Rolls Royce Merlin.
(Photo by Alan Wilson)
Spain’s Hispano HA-1112, a designed based on the Bf 109, stayed in service until 1965. These variants were notable for using a variety of engines, the Rolls Royce Merlin famously used by the P-51 Mustang.
Learn more about this classic German fighter in the video below.