|Heinkel He 111|
|OTHER GERMAN AIRCRAFT
Messerschmitt Bf109E Junkers Ju87
Junkers Ju88 Messerschmitt Bf110-G Dornier Do17
If there was an aircraft that had done more damage regarding strategic bombing during the Battle of Britain, it was the Heinkel He 111. But, unlike many of Britain's bombers, the He 111 was not specifically made for the Second World War. As we know, Germany was not allowed to have a military air force under the terms of the Versailles Treaty, so many aircraft were being built under strict secrecy, often under the guise of Lufthansa Airlines. The He 111 was no exception. The Luftwaffe had requested that a large commercial airliner be constructed way back in 1934, but it should be designed in such a way that it could be easily and cheaply converted into a bomber adhering to German military specifications.
Walter and Siegfried Günter based their design on the He 70 'blitz' current at the time. Because, as a military aircraft capable of carrying a bomb load, the payload weight would be far greater so the overall size of the aircraft had to be increased. as did the engines powering the aircraft. The first He 111 was to fly in February 1935, and with a few modifications a number of He 111A's were constructed which at the time it was considered that the aircraft performed exceptionally well. But by 1936, it was considered that the He 111 was under powered and those aircraft that had been constructed were sold to China. Heinkel swapped the twin 600hp BMW engines for the far more powerful 1,000hp Daimler-Benz DB600A engines for the next variant the He 111B. Not only would the additional power be more suited to a bomber, but it also increased the top speed to 225 mph. A number of changes took place from 1937, mostly in trying to get the power unit correct. In fact, the number of variants of the Heinkel He 111 reads like a book index.
The variants came, and went using the letters of the alphabet, and a number of experimental or temporary versions were given the letter "V". These variants, were not necessary in alphabetical order, although by looking at the variant listing, it was very close, but the variant used in the battle of Britain was the He 111H. But the variant that laid the foundations to this was in fact the He 111P. Up until the "P" version, the nose of the aircraft was round, but all metal and the pilots cockpit stepped almost Dakota fashion. It was with the "P" that the nose took on the popular look as we know the He 111 to be with its all glazed nose that housed the nose gunner and above him the pilot and the observer. The He 111P was in production in late 1938 and within two months was supplied to KG157 and was used extensively in the build up to the Polish campaign and continued service well into 1940.
The He 111H entered service with the Luftwaffe just prior to the invasion of Poland and made up a total of 810 He 111's of differing variants when war was declared in September 1939 comprising 400 He 111H, 349 He 111P, 40 He 111E and 21 He 111J. Of these it is believed that nearly 100 aircraft had been declared unserviceable which in effect the total Heinkel He 111 strength was only just over 700 aircraft. Those that took part in the Polish campaign claimed many successful missions, and construction was far greater than losses meant that the build up of the He 111 meant that in future campaigns the Heinkel bomber force would be one of great strength. Where there were seven Kampfgeschwadern operating He 111 bombers in Poland, only three operated during the Norwegian campaign, mainly due to the fact that there were no suitable airfields in Norway at the time. It was a formation of 100 He 111 bombers that attacked Rotterdam on May 14th 1940.
By the time that the Battle of Britain had commenced, nearly all bombing missions were carried out by the Heinkel He 111H (and the Dornier 17Z.) most of the other variants had disappeared although records show that one of the Heinkels shot down over Middle Wallop as late as August 14th 1940 was in fact a He 111P which only shows that older variants were still being used in raids against Britain. The Heinkel He 111H variant itself also had a number of supplementary variants being designated by a number following the variant designation. These were He 111H-1, He 111H-2, He 111H-3 and He 111-4. The modifications were mainly in the power unit used, although a few other modifications were made. The original He 111H-1 based on the He 111P used Junkers Jumo 211 engines, an improved Jumo 211A-3 engine was put into the He 111H-2, the He 111H-3 used a Jumo 211D-1 engine and was equipped with a forward firing 20mm cannon and used as an anti-shipping strike aircraft. later models of the He 111H-4 used Jumo 211F-1 engines. The Junkers Jumo 211F-1 engine that produced 1350 hp each replaced the older 211D-1 engine that only produced 1100 hp and was used continuously until the Jumo 213 was introduced on the He 111H-23 much later in the war.
One of the most common variants used was the He 111H-5. The modification here was that additional fuel tanks were installed where the wing bomb cells were, and this extended the normal range of the aircraft to 1,212 miles (1950 Km). Two external bomb racks were fitted with each one capable of holding a 2,205lb (1000kg) bomb. The all up weight of the He 111H-5 was now increased to 30,985 lbs (14055kg) and obviously was to slow the aircraft when under a full load, but these aircraft were filled to capacity during the night raids on London during the 'Blitz" and caused devastating results.
The next variant was the He 111H-6, and although not used during the Battle of Britain, it was used in great numbers in bombing raids on London and all major British cities from early 1941. This variant as well as the He 111H-5 and other German bombers continued night attacks on British targets to which Britain really had no answer. The He 111H-6, equipped to carry torpedoes, although it was mostly used in normal bombing missions, was used as a shipping strike aircraft from Bardufoss and Banak in Norway against shipping convoys plying the North Cape route from mid-june 1942 onwards with great success.
As the later models of bomber was introduced by such aircraft as the He 177 and Do 217 the role of the He 111 was becoming outdated and the aircraft was reverted to the role of a transport although later variants of the He 111 still continued to serve in the Middle East and along the Eastern Front in a bomber role. It was during the move on Stalingrad between November 1942 and February 1943 that in the role of a supply aircraft flying in food and ammunition to the German 6th Army that under the extreme cold conditions the Luftwaffe was to lose a total of 170 He 111 bombers of different variants. This was to place an additional strain on other bombers and pilots, and on the Luftwaffe itself, as it meant pulling other aircraft away from important duties, or ceasing supply operations at Stalingrad, the latter was really out of the question.
In 1944, Germany had developed the V-1 flying-bomb. These early versions were launched from aircraft and not rocket launchers as they were later in the war. The idea was for an aircraft to carry the V-1 at extreme low level to avoid detection from British radar, then as they approached the British coast they would sharply increase their altitude to about 1,500ft (450m) before releasing the V-1, then generally using cloud cover or low level flying to make good their escape back to their bases. The aircraft chosen to carry out this task was the He 111H. A number of these including the He 111H-6, the He 111H-16, the He 111H-21 and the He 111H-22, were modified to carry the new projectile which actually was a Fieseler Fi 103 flying bomb, but known as the V-1. All these aircraft, after modification became the He 111H-22. They were delivered to III/KG3 that was based in the Netherlands, and for the next six or seven weeks it has been reported that the He 111H-22 carried and launched over 300 V-1 rockets against London, 100 against Portsmouth and Southampton and 20-30 against Bristol. The use of the He 111H-22 and the V-1 rocket was such a success, that over 100 He 111H aircraft were modified to He 111H-22 standards and delivered to KG53 for the sole purpose of launching the V-1 at British targets.
But the success was no where near the great height achieved on the initial missions. In the next six months, only 20% of 1,200 V-1 rockets reached their intended targets, many of then falling and exploding in empty fields or in out of the way suburbs, and some eighty He 111H-22 aircraft were destroyed either by the RAF or by AA gunfire. Later, the rockets were launched from specially constructed launch pads.
One of the great success stories of the He 111 comes from the Soviet airfield of Potavia on June 21/22 1944 where, after the bombing of Berlin by B17s and their P-51 escorts the U.S were using the airfield at Potavia. The Luftwaffe sent a formation of He 111 bombers to make a surprise attack on the airfield. Some forty-five B17 bombers and 15-20 P-51 fighters were destroyed. Through German eyes, a glittering finale to the workhorse of the Luftwaffe. An aircraft that could take a lot of punishment and still be able to fly, possibly one of the reasons that so many damaged He 111 bombers made it back to their base. An aircraft that took on many roles, not all of them successful, but it was against London in 1940 to 1942 that the bomber will best be remembered.