Royal visit

Orléans, France, late June 1940. The wreck of a French Potez 63.11, the reconnaisance version in the Potez family of twin-engined heavy fighters and light bombers, has ended up on the Pont Royal bridge. The bridge was renamed “Pont George V” after the war as recognition of Britain’s role in the war. The city of Orléans was a transport hub for the German occupation forces, and became the target of extensive bombing.

The Potez 630 family was the French equivalent of the German Messerschmitt Bf 110. While reportedly pleasant to fly, it was somewhat underpowered and not heavily armed. Its performance wasn’t impressive, and it suffered if faster enemy fighters were present.

 

Your tax money at work

Curious German civilians crowd around a Messerschmitt Bf 109, probably an E-1, patiently waiting in line to get a chance to take a look in the cockpit. It’s apparently a publicity stunt, showing the people that Germany possessed some of the finest fighter aircraft in the world. The all-metal construction, powerful engine, and, starting with the E-3, improved armament made it a respected adversary on all fronts.

The Bf 109 was the mainstay of the Luftwaffe, serving in different versions during the entire war. 33,984 were built between 1936 and 1945, making it the most numerous fighter aircraft in history. It was the mount of aces like Adolf Galland, Hans-Joachim Marseille, Gerhard Barkhorn, Günther Rall, and the ace of all aces: Erich Hartmann, who with his 352 aerial victories will probably never be bested.

Today, just a few original Bf 109’s are in flying condition. The roar of their Daimler-Benz engines can still be heard at some airshows, and I hope to see one in the air sometime before I die.

 

Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines

In the skies above Paris… Not really. An army Unteroffizier and his navy buddy have their photo taken in a studio in Paris, 1940. I have seen this very set used in at least one more photo, so I guess it was a rather popular souvenir back then.

Those were the happy days being a German soldier. Sure, at least 27,000 of them had been killed in the Battle of France, but the campaign was short and triumphant, and the humiliation of the defeat in 1918 paid back. The war against the Soviet Union was a year off in the future, and instead the German soldiers could enjoy occupation duty in France. There were plans and preparations for the invasion of Britain, Operation Seelöwe, but while the Luftwaffe fought in the skies over England, soldiers on leave had a fun time in Paris. A year and a half later, many of them would be freezing to death on the Eastern Front…

Junked Junkers

A crash-landed Junkers Ju 88, probably an A-4. The Ju 88 was a twin-engined multirole combat aircraft, which turned out to be one of the most versatile and successful airplane designs of WW2. This one didn’t enjoy much success, though, but at least the crew had a decent chance of walking away from the wreck.

The Ju 88 saw service in many different version, like a bomber, dive bomber, radar-equipped night fighter, torpedo bomber, reconnaissance aircraft, heavy fighter, and even flying bomb. In 1943, 105 Ju 88 A-4s were used in the attack on the port of Bari, one of the most succesful Luftwaffe attacks of the war, resulting in the sinking of 28 Allied ships. The Germans lost just one aircraft in the raid. One covered up effect of the attack was the release of mustard gas, which was carried on one of the sunk US ships, injuring hundreds of sailors, medical personnel and civilians, killing at least 83. One of the reasons the presence of chemical weapons was hushed down was that the Allies didn’t want the Germans to consider using gas on the battlefield. Hitler, who had been a victim of a gas attack during WW1, opposed its use (one of the few moral things he did), and if it had become known that the Allies had a ship full of artillery gas grenades, he might have reconsidered that decision.

Only two complete Ju 88s have survived the war. I’ve seen one of them, which is kept at the RAF Museum in Hendon, just north of London. The museum is a must to visit if one has an interest in combat aircraft of the 20th century.

Grounded

A Petlyakov Pe-2 light bomber will never fly again. It’s hard to tell whether it was destroyed on the ground, or crash-landed after being hit by German fire. For the German infantrymen the question is moot; that’s one less enemy bomber to worry about.

A successful design, over 11,000 Pe-2 were built during WW2. The aircraft was designed by Vladimir Petlyakov while in prison as a result of false accusations during Stalin’s purges in 1937. He was released in 1940 and awarded with the Stalin Prize in 1941, but wasn’t happy that his trained aircraft builders were conscripted to the army. He was on his way to Moscow (in a Pe-2) in January 1942, when his plane crashed and he was killed.

Belly landing

A couple of army soldiers inspect a piece of equipment from a belly-landed Dornier Do 17M-1. Judging by the state of the wreck, the crew probably escaped the crash with minor injuries at worst. Soon a salvage crew will arrive, detach the wings and load the aircraft on a trailer to be either repaired or cannibalized for parts.

Developed in the 1930’s, the Do 17 was a medium bomber with a slim fuselage, which earned it the nickname “the flying pencil”. It saw action in the Spanish Civil War and the early years of WW2, but production stopped in 1940 in favor of more powerful bombers as well as the Do 217.

A flawed concept

Luftwaffe officer salutes in front of a Messerschmitt Bf 110 heavy fighter. The heavy fighter concept was developed by several nations prior to the outbreak of WW2, but the increase in firepower and range didn’t make up for the loss in manoeuverability. This wasn’t a problem when aerial superiority was enjoyed, but when enemy fighters were around, the Bf 110 units suffered losses. In the case of the Bf 110, the heavy fighters eventually needed escort by single-engined fighters. Later versions of the Bf 110 were equipped with radar and deployed as night fighters, a role that suited the airplane really well, with several nightfighter aces scoring many kills against predominantly British bombers.