Hasegawa 1/32 Bf-109K-4
Another big Hasegawa Bf-109 model from January 2004, according to the site map at Modeling Madness, the 109K-4. The markings are inspired by a color photo in one of Jeff Ethell's "WW2 in Color" books of a shot-down late-war 109, with wings and fuselage painted elsewhere before being assembled together. As for whether there was ever a 109K in these markings, the photographic record is sparse.
The Bf-109K-4 was the last completely-new version of Messerschmitt’s famous fighter to achieve operational status before the end of the war. While the Bf-109G-10 came to the units of the Jagdwaffe after the Kurfurst, one should remember that the G-10 was largely the result of remanufacturing Bf-109G airframes in order to achieve a production standard that had become hopelessly diverse with all the sub-types in production.
From the introduction of the Gustav series onward, the Bf-109 design was really played out. Major increases in power were almost canceled out by major increases in weight for increased armament, and the G‑series 109 had to be flown at full throttle in the landing circuit to avoid falling out of the sky. Of the major fighters of the war ‑ the Bf‑109, the Spitfire, the Fw‑190, the P‑47 and the P‑51 - the Messerschmitt product was the most backward aerodynamically from the outset, as revealed by its use of external mass balances on the ailerons. As Edgar Schmued, designer of the P‑51, who had was one of the first American designers to study a captured 109 in 1940, and saw several others, once told me, "After the 109F was put into production, it was clear that if one wished to participate in the development of a truly world‑class aeroplane, one would have to do it elsewhere than at Messerschmitt."
In truth, the Bf‑109 owes its reputation more to force majeure and the ability of some outstanding pilots than to any intrinsic quality of the airplane itself. The Fw‑190 was an airplane that was better than the Messerschmitt on all flight qualities other than altitude performance; for combat above 24,000 feet ‑ which is where the Battle of Germany took place between 1943‑45 ‑ the Luftwaffe didn't have anything else it could use.
That said, in fact more pilots were killed in the 109 from landing and takeoff accidents than were lost in combat, and nearly as many 109s were lost due to its vicious takeoff characteristics and difficult landing technique as were shot down in combat. Gunter Rall, the number‑three ranking Luftwaffe experte once told me at an AFAA convention in the 1980s that there were only two kinds of Messerschmitt 109 pilots: those who had survived a ground loop and those who hadn't; contemporary pilots who have flown the few surviving Bf-109s of any series agree with this assessment. The landing gear was weak and the design of the wing left it with an unfortunate tendency to come off in high‑g combat maneuvering, while the design of the cockpit canopy forced the pilot to close it on startup, which severely restricted his view during the two most dangerous parts of a flight in the fighter ‑ takeoff and landing. The truth is, the Bf‑109 became famous in spite of itself.
The Kurfurst came about as a result of the changes in air combat that followed the introduction of the USAAF and the daylight bombing offensive to the ETO. Combat took place at higher and higher altitudes, which meant that the Bf-109 would have to remain in production due to the fact the Fw-190 was at the limits of its performance at 24,000 feet - well below the altitude the Boeing B-17 could operate at. Additionally, the introduction of American escort fighters like the P-47, whose engine could maintain sea level performance to 30,000 feet by use of turbocharging, meant that the speed of the Bf-109 at altitude had to be improved to keep it competitive with the opposition. Design began in late 1943, and the first pre-production Bf-109K-0 fighters appeared in September 1944. The K-0 appeared with the DB605DB engine with GM-1 power boost. This engine required use of higher-octane C-4 fuel, which was constantly in short supply and would become even more so as a result of the Allied air campaign against German fuel production in the summer of 1944. The DB605ASCM engine could operate with 87 octane fuel, and it became the engine of choice for the Bf-109K-4, which was the major production version, providing it with a maximum speed of 452 m.p.h. at altitude. The Bf-109K series also increased the main armament from the 20mm MG151 of the Gustavs to the 30mm Mk.103 (or Mk.108 in late production aircraft).
JG26 and the Kurfurst:
In late November, 1944, III/JG26 became one of the first units of the Jagdwaffe to receive the Bf-109K-4, which were operated alongside the Bf-109G-14s the unit had received in October. Uffz. Georg Genth - one of the ill-trained new pilots sent to the Gruppe during the Normandy disaster - found that above 28,000 feet the Bf-109K-4 had a tendency to float, being unnaturally sensitive and giving him the same signals he had learned to associate with a stall. At high altitude, formation speed had to conform to that of the lead aircraft; a small change in its speed caused the pilots following to start “swimming” in space due to the thin air.
On November 27, 1944, Genth nearly lost his life when the canopy of his Kurfurst, “White 8" iced over, leaving him only able to see directly ahead through the armored glass panel. As number four in his formation, this was not good. He managed to clear a small area of the left rear of the canopy by breathing on it, in time to see two P-47s closing! “Being totally unable to defrost my canopy, I reported my condition, and dove in a split-S into the clouds a few hundred meters below.” Once in the clouds he realized he hadn’t switched on the artificial horizon, which he immediately did though he knew he had no chance of aligning the gyro. When he saw he was at 650 km/hr, he tried pulling back on the stick but his speed increased to over 700 km/hr, and he realized he was inverted. Pushing the stick forward, his speed dropped off and he left the cloud in a 60 degree inverted bank, 1,500 feet above forested hills below. The control forces were so great he could only move the stick by slapping it as hard as he could. “The amazing happened and the brave old 109 flipped over into a normal steep descent, which I could then pull out of with the help of the trim wheel.” The engine panels had pulled off, and the oil lines had split from too much pressure; the canopy had unfrozen, however, and he was able to land at Rheine airfield a few kilometers away. Genth wasn’t the only member of the flight with a canopy problem. “As I stood on the landing ground at Rheine, I heard three aircraft crash with overstraining engines all right around us! To this day I have not been able to strike these ghastly noises from my memory.”
JG26's first major combat operation with the Bf-109K-4 came on New Year’s day, 1945, in Unternehmen Bodenplatte, the Luftwaffe’s planned strike against Allied airfields supporting opposition to the Battle of the Ardennes. The mission had been originally scheduled to take place on the opening day of the offensive the previous December, but bad weather forced cancellation. By the time it was flown, the German offensive in the forests below had been stopped. The Luftwaffe managed to shoot up a few Allied aircraft that were easily replaced in a matter of days, while losing experienced flight leaders to Allied flak and fighters who were irreplaceable. After Bodenplatte, the Luftwaffe was a spent force unable to defend itself against the Allied air forces between then and the end of the war.
By this time, III/JG26 - which was detailed to Brussels-Evere airfield - was operating 40 Bf-109K-4s along with 20 Bf-109G-14s. The German flak belt west of the Zuider Zee took out one fighter. Once across the Scheldt, they overflew a Canadian Army encampment and came under fire, losing a second aircraft and damaging the engine of Gruppe Kommandeur Walter Krupinski, whose first instinct was to turn back; discovering the engine still worked he remained at the lead of the formation, though his guns were now inoperable. Moments later, his engine began running rougher and he ordered his wingman Genth to accompany him back to Plantleunne airfield. The survivors of the Gruppe arrived over Brussels-Evere on schedule at 0920, where the unit spent 15 unopposed minutes strafing the Spitfires of 416 Squadron and everything else they saw on the field. Returning through the German flak belt, two 109s exploded from direct hits while two others were hit and managed to make successful crash landings behind German lines. Their total confirmed kills at Evere amounted to three Allied aircraft.
Most of January 1945 was spent on the ground due to the atrocious weather of the worst European winter in 50 years. Morale in III Gruppe became low, due to the poor leadership demonstrated by Krupinski since he had assumed command of the unit the previous October following the death in combat of Major Klaus Mietush, the previous Kommandeur (in his defense, Krupinski, who had been in continuous combat on the eastern front since 1941, was undoubtedly suffering from combat fatigue by the time he came to JG 26). The unit had never really recovered from the losses of experienced flight leaders and other veterans over Normandy following the invasion. Pilots of the Gruppe would use excuses to visit the fields where I and II Gruppen were based, inasmuch as their supply officer - the brother of one of the Geschwader’s “names” - was selling their rations on the black market. By this time, none the Gruppe’s Staffelkapitaene were professional officers, all having been promoted from enlisted status with no formal officer’s or formation leader’s training. Many flew as little as possible and returned early from those missions they could not avoid; only the enlisted pilots, who had no choice, flew when ordered without question. As Genth put it, “One must keep in mind that after the Normandy invasion it was clear to any level-headed German serviceman that the Germans would lose the war. I freely admit that often after a combat sortie I considered flying off in the wrong direction - that is, to the west - and surrendering myself.”
In mid-February, II Gruppe was to transfer to the Fw-190D-9. Training was grossly inadequate, with Genth receiving three touch-and-goes at Plantluenne and a 30 minute formation flight. On February 22, while flying in formation over their field, four III Gruppe pilots were hit by Tempests of 274 Squadron led by Squadron Leader Donald “Foob” Fairbanks, losing two of their number before the Tempests flew off. On February 28, the Gruppe flew their first mission in Dora-9s. Shortly after takeoff they were hit by 274's Tempests, again led by Fairbanks; one Dora-9 was shot down, but Fairbanks and his wingman also went down; Georg Genth may have been the pilot who shot down the top-scoring Tempest ace of the war. The mission could have gone far in starting the Gruppe off on a good note, but two Doras collided in the landing pattern on return.
Uffz. Georg Genth was shot down March 7, 1945, by Flt. Lt. B.M. Vassiliades of 3 Squadron, after a 10 minute chase in and out of clouds. Hit in the rear by the Tempest’s 4 20mm cannon, Genth bailed out at minimum altitude, and was taken prisoner by British ground troops. Pieces of his airplane were found in the crash site 40 years later.
III Gruppe was disbanded on March 24, 1945, with its place taken within the Geschwader by IV Gruppe, which had originally been III/JG54.
13 additional images. Click to enlarge.