Dora Wings (formerly AMG) Bf-109A
Messerschmitt began work in 1933 on a four passenger light “sporting aircraft” of cantilever low wing monoplane design, with retractable landing gear. The BFW M.37 was completed in the spring of 1934. Later redesignated Bf 108 Taifun (“Typhoon”), it was entered in the fourth Challenge de Tourisme Internationale. While it did not win any of the events, its performance impressed the Reichluftfartministerium sufficiently to earn the Bf-108 a production contract.
Before the Bf 108 had made its first flight, Messerschmitt learned the RLM was about to issue a new specification for a modern fighter, to be powered by the Junkers Jumo 210 and to be capable of at least 280 mph. Officially, most German aircraft manufacturers were invited to submit designs; unofficially, only Arado, Heinkel, Fieseler or Focke Wulf could expect serious consideration. Erhard Milch, who hated Willi Messerschmitt and had done everything he could to destroy Messerschmitt’s business, did not even inform the company of the competition. However, unknown to Milch, Hermann Göring, had sent a confidential message to Messerschmitt, ordering him to develop “a lighting fast courier plane which needs only to be a single seater.” It was obvious to Messerschmitt that Göring wanted to see him produce a fighter.
The design team at BFW’s Augsburg factory – Robert Lusser, Richard Bauer and Hubert Bauer – commenced the design of a single-seater that would incorporate the Bf 108’s features: a monoplane with retractable landing gear, enclosed cockpit, leading edge slots and trailing edge flaps. It was known as Projekt P.1034.
The Bf 109V1 rolled out on August 5, 1935, powered by a 583 hp Rolls Royce Kestrel engine in place of the unavailable Jumo 210. Evaluation flights began at Rechlin and revealed the Bf-109 to be in advance of anything else flying. The Bf 109V2, which appeared in October, introduced the 610 hp Jumo 210A as well as a strengthened undercarriage, while the Bf 109V 3, delivered in June 1936, was the first to be armed with an engine mounted 7.92mm MG 17 machine gun.
Luftwaffe pilots were at first afraid of the airplane, and the thoroughly-pedestrian Heinkel He-112, with a low landing speed and an open cockpit, appeared to be the winner until Ernst Udet flew the Bf-109V2 and declared it superior to all others in the competition. Twenty pre-production Bf 109As were ordered in the summer of 1936, followed shortly by two events that would affect the Bf 109’s fate.
In June 1936, the same month that the Bf-109 entered pre-production, the Royal Air Force announced production contracts for 600 Hawker Hurricane fighters and 310 Supermarine Spitfires. The threat posed by those new British fighters added urgency to Germany’s fighter development efforts.
The other major event was the revolt of conservative elements under General Francisco Franco y Bahamonde against the Republican government of Spain in July, 1936, followed by the dispatch of German aircraft to Franco’s aid.
That November, Luftwaffe volunteers were assigned to the Condor Legion to fight for Franco’s Nationalists. At about the same time, the Soviet Union sent aircraft and pilots to aid the Spanish Republic, including the Polikarpov I-15 biplane and the I-16, the world’s first low wing monoplane fighter with retractable landing gear and an enclosed canopy. Both Soviet fighters completely outclassed the Condor Legion’s Heinkel He 51 biplanes.
As a result, the Luftwaffe rushed the Bf-109V4 to Spain in December, 1936, followed in January by the V3 and V6 prototypes, and 15 Bf-109A fighters, the first of which left the production line in February 1937. In May, the first of 55 Bf-109B fighters arrived; the first 12 of these were assigned to 1.J/88, with the rest assigned to both squadrons as they arrived.
The Condor Legion’s first operational unit to fly the Bf-109, 2. Staffel of Jagdgruppe 88 (2.J/88) commanded by Oberleutnant Günther Lützow, began receiving the new Bf-109s in March, 1937. The unit was initially plagued by accidents, but the pilots soon met the challenge of taking off and landing on a narrow track undercarriage in an airplane that tended to drop its left wing, applying plenty of compensation with the rudder.
Lützow scored the first victory for the 109 on 6 April 1937. By the end of the month, a further three Republican aircraft had been shot down by pilots in Bf-109s. The squadron flew as escorts to the Ju-52/3m’s of Kampfgeschwader 88 during the infamous bombing of Guernica on 26 April.
In July, 2.J/88 was transferred from Bilbao to Brunete, to face a Republican offensive. It was now that the I-15 and I-16 fighters were finally met in combat. On 12 July a full fight took place, with Unteroffizier Guido Honess, flying Bf-109A “6-4,” falling victim to an I-16. A second fight on 17 July saw Olympic pentathlon winner Leutnant Gotthard Handrick shot down by American volunteer Frank Tinker, flying an I-16; Handrick survived by baling out. The next day, Unteroffizier Haarbach was shot down and wounded.
Over the course of July, 2.J/88 scored eight Republican victories. With the Brunete offensive halted, the squadron was sent back to Vitoria to cover the Nationalist offensive that ended with the fall of Santander at the end of August and Gijon in late October, giving the Nationalists control of the entire Biscayan coast. Hajo Harder’s 1.J/88 joined 2.J/88 during this offensive, which saw the German fighter come into its own in combat with the Soviet fighters flown by the Republicans. Lützow scored his fifth victory in September to become the first fighter ace of the new Luftwaffe, and was returned to Germany.
1938 saw extensive combat as the Nationalists pushed toward the Mediterranean coast. During the year, German pilots began scoring regularly. By November 1938, when he was finally ordered home, Leutnant Werner Mölders had scored 14 victories to be the leading ace of the Condor Legion in Spain. When Bf-109E-3s began to arrive in early 1939, the surviving Jumo-powered Bf-109s were tranferred to the Nationalist Grupo 5-G-5. Of the 15 Bf-109As sent in 1937, seven were shot down during the war, with another three lost in operational accidents.
Kits of early Bf-109s have been thin on the ground, with Hobbycraft releasing a series of early 109s 25 years ago; these were not terribly accurate. In 2004, Classic Airframes released an accurate early 109 that could be built as an A, B, C, or D sub-type. These have been unavailable since the company went out of business and now command collector’s prices.
Dora Wings is the new name of AMG, a Ukrainian company that released a series of early 109s last year, each kit having the various differences between sub-types, unlike the Hobbycraft early 109s which were basically the same kit in a different box. At the time of their release, a well-known muddled dud at That Other Place declared these kits “very difficult” and published photos of his model with putty over every joint. That was not my experience with the AMG kit, or with this re-release by Dora Wings. If one takes the time to clean up parts – particularly getting rid of sprue nubs – and test-fitting and modifying where necessary until satisfied with the fit before gluing, the result will be a model that only requires putty along the centerline of the upper cowling and the lower radiator.
This Dora Wings kit differs from the earlier Bf-109A/B kit in that the decals are for 109s in the Spanish Civil War. Decals are provided for four aircraft, “6-10″ which was flown by 2.J/88 commander Günther Lützow and “6-15,” which was flown by Oberfeldwebel Otto Polenz; it was captured by the Republicans on 4 December 1937 when Polenz was shot down, later being transferred to the USSR for technical analysis. Both of these are in the early silver/NMF finish. The other decals are for two Bf-109B-1s in later camouflage of RLM 62/63/65 flown by 1.J/88. These are excellent decals that are thin and go on without difficulty.
This is a limited-run kit and requires care in cleaning up parts and test-fitting. Taking care here will result in a very nice model.
I first assembled the wing, which presented no problems at all; I kept the ailerons and flaps separate, since they would be painted RLM02, while the airframe would be painted in different metallic colors. I then painted and assembled the cockpit. I used Eduard seat belts. I fitted this inside the fuselage and glued the fuselage halves together. When that was set up, I glued the wing sub-assembly to the fuselage.
The nose is made up of eleven parts and is quite fiddly. I assembled the upper cowling parts as a sub-assembly, and the lower radiator housing also as a separate sub-assembly. When the fuselage was glued together, I first attached the radiator housing, then the upper engine cowling. I only needed filler along the centerline seams of these sub-assemblies.
It is unclear whether the Bf-109As were delivered in natural metal unpainted finish, or painted RLM01 Silver. Several photos in Lynn Ritger’s Datafile “Part 1: Prototype fo E Variants” show what seems to be different hues on different panels, so I decided it was likely NMF (I have recently run across an in-flight photo of 6-10 that leads me to believe the cowling and radiator were unpainted, with the rest of the airframe painted silver, with a silver-grey area inside the wingwalk – of course that was discovered after this model was completed). I used Vallejo Acrylic Metallics: Duraluminum for the engine cowling, White Aluminum for the wings and horizontal stabilizers, Aluminum for the fuselage, and White Aluminum and Duraliminum for the radiator housing. I first applied a primer coat of thinned Tamiya Gloss Black, which gives a much smoother finish than the Vallejo black primer. The fabric-covered control surfaces were painted with Xtracrylix RLM02.
I chose to do “6-10,” the airplane flown by Günther Lützow (the kit painting instructions say it was flown by a different pilot, but Ritger identifies it as Lützow’s – the pilot identified by Dora Wings “inherited” the airplane). The kit decals went on without difficulty, though I had to apply several coats of Solvaset to get them to snug down in the engraved panel lines.
I attached the landing gear, then attached the control surfaces. I unmasked the canopy and installed it in the open position.
This is not a “shake and bake” Tamiya kit, but it is well-designed and if you take your time in assembly, it goes together at least as well as the Zvezda 109s. The only “fiddly” part is the engine cowlings. When completed, it looks good sitting next to any Tamiya, Eduard or Zvezda 109 model. Recommended for modelers who want to commit the revolutionary act of following the instructions and taking the time to do detail clean-up of the parts. The result is the best early 109 available.
10 additional images. Click to enlarge.