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The Me 109 originated in 1934 in a four-way competition for a modern fighter design to be used by the brand-new Luftwaffe. Although it was intended to use the new 610hp Junkers Jumo inverted V-12 engine, when it flew in September 1935, the Me 109V-1 prototype had to use an upright 625hp British Rolls-Royce Kestrel engine. Though it differed little in outline from the new monoplane fighters that were being developed in other countries, the Me 109 was almost revolutionary in its use of a greatly simplified, all-metal structure for mass production and ease of maintenance in the field.
The design was also suitable for "stretch"-the use of higher power, heavier armament and other state-of-the art changes that kept it competitive with Allied fighters until the War's end. Almost its only serious deficiency was with its landing-gear design. The gear was on a narrow track, and the wheels weren't at 90 degrees to the ground. This often gave the pilots serious problems on landing.
In 1934, three Me 109 prototypes were ordered. Designated "Me 109V-1" through "V-3" (Versuchs, or "experimental"), these were followed by 10 more prototypes mixed with preproduction Me 109B models. Designated V models were made until late in the War (reaching V-55). Most were adapted from production models rather than built from scratch as experimental models.
Me 109B. This was the first production model; there was no Me 109A as such. It used the 635hp Jumo 210 engine and drove a fixed-pitch wooden propeller that was later replaced by a two-blade metal controllable-pitch type. Its initial armament was a pair of 7.9mm machine guns that fired through the propeller and a third gun that fired through the propeller's hollow shaft. Early combat experience was gained with 45 109Bs that were sent to the German Condor Legion, which was fighting in the Spanish Civil War. The Me 109B's gross weight was 4,740 pounds, and its top speed was 289mph at 13,120 feet (4,000 meters).
Me 109C. This model was outwardly similar to the B, but it had an improved Jumo 210C engine and two more guns in the wings. Some Cs were used to test a 20mm cannon that fired through the propeller shaft, but this wasn't yet standard equipment.
Me 109D. The Me 109D, which kept the Jumo engine and two-blade propeller, was the first true mass-produced model; several hundred were built. Although it was soon obsolete, some D models saw action during the German invasion of Poland in September 1939, after which they were "retired" to fighter-pilot schools.
Me 109E. A major change came with the Me 109E, which used the 960hp Daimler-Benz DB 600 engine (an inverted V-12 like the Jumo) but had a three-blade propeller and a markedly different radiator arrangement under the nose. Production Es with 1,100hp DB 600A engines entered service with the Luftwaffe early in 1939. During its production life, a wide variety of armament was incorporated in the E, and the nose-mounted cannon was standard equipment.
Certain other Es had cannon in their wings. Provision was also made for the installation of under-wing bomb racks, and a 300-liter drop tank or a 550-pound bomb could be carried under the fuselage.
In combat, the Me 109E was slightly superior to the British Hurricane I and far better than the Curtiss Kittyhawk. Its performance equaled that of the early British Spitfires.
Me 109F. With the late-1940 Me 109F came major changes in appearance. Most notable were the greatly enlarged, nearly hemispherical propeller spinner, rounded (instead of squared) wingtips and horizontal, cantilevered tail that did not have bracing struts. From the F-3 model onward, the 1,350hp DB 601 E engine was used; its gross weight was 6,063 pounds and its top speed was 391mph at 19,680 feet (6,000 meters).
Me 109G. The Me 109G of 1942 was the most produced model. Some featured cockpit pressurization (a new feature for fighters at the time), and from the G-3 onward, the nose guns were 13mm. The larger ammunition drums required for these guns necessitated conspicuous bulges on both sides of the fuselage ahead of the cockpit. Again, wing armament varied-cannon, extra machine guns and rockets. Its gross weight was 6,945 pounds, and its top speed was 387mph at 22,967 feet (7,000 meters).
Me 109H. J. A small series of Me 109H prototypes (intended to be high-performance fighters) was started using F-4 airframes for prototypes and G-5s for early production models. Only a few were delivered before the program was canceled. The "J" designation was used by Messerschmitt for 25 G airframes that were shipped to Spain without engines.
Me l09K. The final production model, which was similar to the 109G, appeared late in 1944. The Me 109K used the 1,500hp DB 605L engine with a two-stage supercharger that could deliver up to 2,000hp for short dashes. Its gross weight was 7,400 pounds, and its top speed was 452mph at 19,606 feet. These figures emphasized the ability of the 1934 design to grow and remain competitive with later fighter designs.
The Avia plant in Czechoslovakia had been building Me 109Gs, and after the War, it continued to build them for the new Czech Air Force, using both DB 605 and Jumo engines. Spain also built Me 109Gs after the War, using Hispano-Suiza engines, which were later replaced by Rolls-Royce Merlins.
Peter M. Bowers