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Aircraft of the Second World War at Sea
Part One: Germany
By Steve Cabral
March 2015

The Luftwaffe

The German Air Force was run as the private fiefdom of its commander, Reichsmarschall Hermann Goring. In 1939 he had the Kriegsmarine air units incorporated into his air force and returned the pilots to the navy for re-assignment. In revenge Admiral Raeder denied the Luftwaffe access to torpedoes claiming they were naval weapons; Goring and his staff agreed. The Luftwaffe had 132 torpedoes from 1939 through 1941. The Italian Fiume F5W was used and a copy of a Norwegian torpedo the F5B was eventually deployed. The navy and air force rarely communicated and so the Luftwaffe, assuming anything at sea was an enemy, frequently bombed Kriegsmarine ships in 1939 and 1940. The Channel Dash in 1942 illustrated how much could be accomplished when the two services worked in unison.

Bases in conquered France and Norway proved to be perfect for anti-shipping (A/S) operations. The primary A/S planes were Ju-87, Do-17, Fw-200, Ju-88, He-111 (when fitted with two torpedoes this plane was devastating), Do-217 and He-177. The latter two were the usual platform for Hs-293 and Fritz X A/S missiles though the Fw-200 and He-111 could also carry them.

One of the main problems of German bombers was poor defensive armament. Most had but 7.92 Machine guns with some 13mm and 20mm occasionally appearing especially late in the war.

Germany had a large number of recon aircraft; most were old bombers like Ju-86’s or Do17’s while some were dedicated like Fi-156, Fw-189 or Bv-141 - all of land-based. At sea a flying boat was excellent at recon work, and Do-18 and Bv-138 flying boats and He-59 and Ar-196 floatplanes did recon work for Germany as well as dedicated Air-Sea Rescue (SAR) duties. The Do-18 and He-59 were quickly reassigned though as they proved too vulnerable to air-air combat.

The Luftwaffe’s SAR was developed before the war and He-59 were the first planes used along with some French captures and Do-18’s. The first major rescue was on 18 December 1939 when a dozen Wellingtons were shot down near the navy’s Heligoland anchorage and the He-59’s rescued about 20 men from them.

The Fighters

Almost no fighters were assigned to dedicated maritime duties. However fighters escorted bombers assigned to such duties flew combat air patrol near naval bases and escorted naval missions on occasion in addition to normal operations. Fighters also escorted SAR missions as the RAF considered SAR planes fair game.


The Messerschmitt Bf-109 (aka Me-109) was the primary single-engined fighter used by Germany in WW2. The Bf-109B saw service with the Kondor Legion in Spain from 1937. When World War Two broke out in 1939 the primary fighter was the Bf-109E with some D models still in service. The E-3 featured 3 x 20mm cannons and 2 x machine guns, and the E-4 (1940) had one 20mm removed. The carrier-borne version Me-109Z was an E variant with larger wings; they proved to be perfectly suited to short Scandinavian runways when rebased there in 1941. In 1941 the Bf-109F was introduced with a 15mm or 20mm cannon and two machine guns as well as superior power and maneuverability. In 1942 the Bf-109G was introduced with an armament of 1 x 20mm cannon and two machine guns; the G-5 onward replaced the two machine guns with 13mm cannon. The G-10 featured an upgrade to a 30mm cannon in place of the 20mm. The ultimate in 1944 was the 109K with one 30mm and two 15mm cannons and a very powerful engine. Messerschmitts were encountered on every front from Norway to Egypt.


The twin-engine Messerschmitt was designed as a long-range escort fighter in the late 1930’s all the major powers had at least one. Though occasionally chopped up in the early Blitzkriegs the Bf-110 generally gave good service. During the Battle of Britain though the 110 failed against the R.A.F. and began a change in use to fighter-bomber and night fighter. It was in the latter role that the 110 excelled. At the outbreak of war the majority of 110’s were C model with some long-ranged D models. The 1941 E version was a fighter bomber as was the 1942 F though the first 110 built as a night fighter was also an F. The 1943 G had bomber destroyer versions and night fighter versions. The C through F featured two 20mm and four machine guns firing a heavy tight pattern as all were mounted in the nose. The G version featured 2 x 30mm and 2 x 20mm cannons and some variants. A rear gunner had a single machine gun pointing rearward; a twin version was eventually introduced. A new aircraft with larger glass cockpit named Me-210 was a failure, and a replacement Me-410 was a better aircraft but never as versatile as the 110.


This radial engine Focke Wulf fighter was introduced in September of 1941 and devastated the Spitfire V’s then in use. The British aborted the new Spit VIII and had to re-design the Mk V as the Spit IX in late 1942. The aircrafts main deficiency was a loss of performance above 20,000 feet. The primary FW was the A version which served from 41-45. The F and G versions were fighter bombers and in 1944 the designer Kurt Tank when thwarted in the production of the new Ta-152 took an A air frame mated it to a Ju88 bomber engine and apologized that this piece of junk was all he could offer. Amazingly the Fw-190D proved to be an outstanding fighter at any altitude. The different A versions carried an amazingly diverse armament from 7.92mm Machine guns to 30mm cannon. In the invasion of Dieppe the Fw-190 achieved a 4:1 kill ratio over the RAF.


Very advanced twin-engined night fighter privately built by Heinkel. It caused much infighting in the Luftwaffe High Command and few were built. Ground crews even assembled new aircraft from spare parts to keep up with demand. It entered service in 1943 and armament was 6 x 20mm and 2 x 30mm cannon. Most versions had ejector seats installed, a new innovation.


The world’s first operational jet fighter and the most advanced jet of World War Two with superior characteristics and better armament than the Meteor or Bell P-59 contemporaries it entered combat in 1944. The plane was twin-engined with 4 x 30mm cannon and options for bombs. A two-seat radar equipped night fighter was also produced. It benefited from the partially swept wing design. The engines were the main problem as the metallurgy was too brittle for the heat they generated.

The Bombers

Any Luftwaffe unit could be assigned a maritime strike. However a number of units were formed purely for anti-shipping (A/S) duties. KG 40 (Biscay) and KG 100 (Mediterranean), KGr 106, 206, 306, 406, 506, 606, 706, 806, 906; seven SAGr were sea recon units, seven independent squadrons and a minesweeping gruppe with converted Ju-52MS aircraft. KG 26 and 30 kept units in Norway aimed at Murmansk convoys with Ju-88 and He-111, SG 5 had Ju-87D and a Kirkenes-based unit had Ju-188E bombers. An Fw-200 unit from KG 40 was in Norway along with a number of independent squadrons usually with He-111, He-115 or Ju-88. Torpedoes came from pre-war stocks and Italy prior to 1942 and captured Norwegian weapons which were the standard for Germany. KG 26 was specially trained for low level bomb attacks at sea and eventually received torpedoes. Most German medium bombers were woefully under armed with four to six 7.92mm machine guns the later war bombers carried improved defensive armament but never on the American scale.


A three engined commercial airliner that was used as a bomber in the Luftwaffe’s early days. After the introduction of better bombers the Ju-52 "Tante Ju" spent the war as Germany’s primary air transport. A minesweeper Ju-52MS was used to detonate mines magnetically using a large ring.


A twin-engined bomber that was just being phased out at the start of WW2 was thereafter used for high altitude reconnaissance. The engines were diesel powered and special Ju-86 were re-manufactured for high altitude work during the war until 1943. It too was originally built as an airliner.


One of the most famous planes of World War Two, the Junkers dive bomber known as the Stuka began a reign of terror in Spain when Guernica was bombed and was feared until the Battle of Britain in 1940. Losses were severe and the aircraft was withdrawn from France. It served in Norway and the Mediterranean through 1943 and in Russia until early 1945. The aircraft's main weakness was slow speed that made it an easy target for enemy fighters. Used overwhelmingly in the ground war it was capable of doing great damage against naval targets. Graf Zeppelin’s Ju87 squadron fought in Poland in 1939 and sank an enemy destroyer. The B model was available in 1939 with some long ranged R variants. The C model was for the carriers while the 1942 D was an improved B. A special anti-tank version the G was used in Russia from July 1943.


Introduced in December 1939, the fast Junkers bomber proved adaptable to night fighter, medium bomber, dive bomber (rarely used) and was used against enemy shipping particularly from Norway and Mediterranean bases. Most were A series with C and G being night fighter variants. In 1943 the Ju188 appeared about 500 A and E versions were produced, most were bombers and a few were torpedo planes.


The radial engined Dornier began life as a fast mail plane but was found suited for bomber duties. Production ended in 1940. Used primarily against ground targets the Do-17Z and the fast inline engine variant Do-215 (originally meant for export) were used against British Channel convoys in the opening days of the Battle of Britain. Heavy losses caused transfer east to Russia and the Mediterranean. The type was retired from bomber duty in 1942. KGr.606 a Kiel-based Coastal unit operated three squadrons of Do17Z from 11/39-12/41.


The replacement for the Do-17 proved to be a very capable A/S aircraft it was used by KG 40 in France and KG 100 in France and the Mediterranean Sea. It was the first missile-equipped aircraft when the Hs-293 guided missile was introduced for A/S attacks. A Do-217K sank the new battleship Roma with a Fritz X when it attempted to join the Allies. The E version was introduced in 1941 and the K version in late 1942. It carried 6600 lb of bombs against the 2200 Do-17 or 4400 He-111/Ju88; it also had a torpedo version.


This former Heinkel airliner was Germany’s primary bomber in 1939 and served throughout the war. Used in anti-shipping role frequently it excelled as a torpedo bomber. In late 1942 the H-16 version was introduced with a 7000 lb payload but needed Rocket Assisted Take-off (RATO).


A large floatplane used in the invasion of Holland. Transferred to Norway the plane gave excellent service in the A/S role and had both bomber and torpedo capabilities.


A four-engine heavy bomber that had two propellers, was fast and agile and used by KG 40 from French bases as a dedicated A/S plane. The model was prone to fires from the twin engines in one nacelle. A prototype He-277 with four propellers solved the problem but few were built. The plane could carry 2200 lb of bombs and 2x Hs-293 missiles or Fritz X anti-warship glide bombs.


Another converted airliner this was Germany’s first four-engine bomber. It was designed by Focke Wulf chief designer Kurt Tank. It entered combat with KG 40 in April 1940 and was initially based in Denmark. Rarely were more than 12 planes operational and only KG 40 had combat versions. The plane carried 2000 lb of bombs (4x 250 kg) until a new version in 1941 which carried 4600 lb of bombs (4x 500 kg plus 12x 50 kg bombs). A version was created allowing the carrying of 2 x Hs-293 missiles. Being an airliner the plane was very fragile, many fell apart from landings and take-offs, fighters found them easy prey even Sunderland flying boats could kill them with ease. They were withdrawn from combat after their Biscay bases were overrun in 1944.


A single-engine biplane dive bomber, it served little time in that role being replaced by Ju87’s barely a year after introduction. As dive bombers they were unsuccessful carrying just four 110lb bombs and two Machine guns. However they proved to be excellent close air support aircraft and night intruders that could absorb tremendous damage. The crews loved them and they served in Spain, Poland, France and finally Russia through 1944.


This twin-engined heavily armored aircraft was designed as a tank buster, a role at which it excelled though it was underpowered with French-produced engines. It was so cramped inside some instruments were mounted outside the cockpit. Armament varied with 2 x 20mm cannon and either 2 x machine guns or 2 x 20mm in addition. A 30mm, 37mm or 75mm cannon was carried in a pod underneath the fuselage or 8 x 110lb bombs were carried there. At Kursk a Hs 129 unit with Fw 190 escort wiped out a Soviet tank brigade, the first time in history a ground attack was stopped from the air alone.


The twin float plane from Arado in 1937 was probably the best single-engined plane of its type in service in World War Two. Armed with 2 x 20mm and one machine gun forward and another machine gun facing rearward, the plane could even intercept bombers. The aircraft was used aboard German ships and from seaplane bases they were used for recon and anti-submarine duty. On May 5, 1940 Ar-196’s captured sub HMS Seal that surfaced to surrender after 29 hours of bombing.


The Luftwaffe’s primary long range naval recon plane entered service in 1939. The plane was heavily armed with two 20mm and one 13mm cannon plus an optional machine gun and could absorb heavy damage. British Sunderland and Hudson bombers that approached Bv-138’s usually lost an aerial duel. The early version carried three 110 lb bombs or two depth charges, later versions increased to six or four respectively.


A successful helicopter design by Anton Flettner the Fl-282 was his third prototype to be introduced. The earlier Fl-265 and Fl-184 were both destroyed before testing. The Fl-282 was tested in1941 and 20 of the 24 prototypes were entered into combat in 1942 as fleet recon escorts and ASW bombers. In early operations the 'copter was found to have all-weather capability and 1000 more were ordered. The factory was destroyed in an Allied bomb raid so production never started. Only Storm or Gale weather conditions should ground the copter.

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