The single-engine Focke-Wulf Fw-190 fighter is rightly considered by many experts to be the best fighter in Germany during the Second World War. The famous Me-109 was a more massive vehicle, but the Messer was inferior in many respects to the Fw-190, which could be used at the front in a variety of roles. In addition to the fighter itself, the Focke-Wulfs-190 were actively used by the Germans as interceptors, night fighters, attack aircraft and escort fighters. In many ways, it was this combat vehicle that became the real “workhorse” of the Luftwaffe, especially at the final stage of the war.
Features of the best German fighter of WWII
The Focke-Wulf-190 fighter began to be actively exploited in August 1941, while over the entire production period in Germany, more than 20 thousand Fw-190 fighters in various modifications were produced. By tradition, engineers at Focke-Wulf gave their aircraft additional bird names, so the Fw-190 began to be called “Würger” (“Shrike”; shrike – a small bird of prey).
The development of a new fighter in Germany began in the fall of 1937. It was planned to use the new combat vehicle in conjunction with the Messerschmitt Bf.109 fighter. Focke-Wulf also took part in the competition for the creation of the new aircraft. Work on the creation of a new machine was led by a team of designers led by Kurt Tank. All variants of the Tank fighters were equipped with air-cooled engines. At the same time, there was no particular interest in projects on the part of the Imperial Ministry of Aviation until the appearance of an aircraft with a new 12-cylinder 1550-horsepower air-cooled engine BMW-139. The installation of a powerful engine on the aircraft promised great dividends in the form of an increase in flight performance.
The first flight of the new fighter took place even before the outbreak of World War II. The first Fw-190 flew into the sky on July 1, 1939. In the very first flight, the new combat vehicle demonstrated its capabilities, developing a speed of 595 km / h, which was 30 km / h higher than the maximum speed of the already mass-produced Messerschmitt models. The flight characteristics of the Fw-190 were excellent. Test pilots noted good visibility from the cockpit to the sides and back, excellent controllability at all flight speeds, and high speed. Another advantage was the wide landing gear, which made it easier for the pilots to take off / land. In this regard, the fighter turned out to be safer than its direct competitor Messerschmitt Bf.109.
Over time, the aircraft was continuously improved, receiving new, more powerful engines, along with which its speed grew, as well as various configurations of weapons. At the same time, the first series of fighters were armed with two automatic cannons and machine guns. Over time, the number of 20-mm automatic cannons increased to four, and two large-caliber 13-mm machine guns supplemented the weight of the side salvo. Even the Allied multi-engine bombers could not withstand such a flurry of fire.
Notable for the Fw-190 and increased survivability, which later made it possible to widely use the aircraft with powerful artillery weapons as an attack aircraft and fighter-bomber. This was primarily achieved through the use of an air-cooled engine, which could withstand a large number of hits and reliably protected the pilot from fire from the front hemisphere. The second important feature of the fighter was the fuel tanks, which the designers installed only in the fuselage. This was an important decision, since when firing from the ground, a large number of shells and bullets hit the wing, which has a large area. Therefore, the probability of hitting the fuselage tanks is less than the wing tanks, and hitting the Focke-Wulf wing did not lead to a fuel leak or fire.
The first acquaintance of the British with the Focke-Wulf Fw-190
The very first acquaintance of the British with the new German fighter made a painful impression on the Allies. The full-fledged combat debut of the Fw-190 took place on the Western Front. The aircraft appeared in France in the summer of 1941. On August 14 of the same year, the first British Spitfire was shot down by a Focke-Wulf Fw-190 fighter. For several months, the British military believed that they had encountered the Curtiss P-36 Hawk aircraft captured by the Germans, which the United States managed to supply to France.
However, it soon became clear that the new radial fighter, which was increasingly taking part in aerial combat, was a new German aircraft and not a trophy of the Luftwaffe. At the same time, the veil finally fell from the eyes of the British pilots when they realized that the new air enemy in all respects, except for the bend radius, surpassed the most advanced fighter of the Royal Air Force at that time, the Supermarine Spitfire Mk V. Superiority in the skies over the English Channel again passed to Germany.
Two major successes of the Fw-190 fighters on the Western Front were Operation Cerberus and repelling the Allied landings in the Dieppe area in February and August 1942, respectively. The first operation involved the escort of large German surface ships from Brest to German naval bases and took place on February 11-13, 1942. Under the noses of the Royal Navy, the Germans returned to Germany the battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, as well as the heavy cruiser Prince Eugen. Ensuring the passage of ships through the English Channel, the German aviation initially reported 43 downed Allied aircraft, later increasing the number of downed vehicles to 60 units: fighters, bombers, torpedo bombers. At the same time, the Luftwaffe lost only 17 aircraft and 11 pilots, including only two Fw-190 fighters. It is noteworthy that most of the lost German fighters crashed while landing in bad weather.
The second major success of the Focke-Wulfs came in August 1942. Reflecting the Allied landing in the Dieppe area, fighters from the 2nd and 26th squadrons, which then had 115 combat aircraft (mainly FW-190A-3), conducted successful battles against the Allied aviation group, consisting of about 300 aircraft. mainly Spitfire Mk V fighters. Both squadrons lost approximately 25 aircraft in battle, claiming 106 victories, including 88 downed Spitfires. In the battles in the Dieppe area, the Allies lost 81 pilots killed and captured, the Germans only 14 pilots.
This state of affairs did not suit the British Air Force command in any way. Among other things, even the option was considered with a special operation to hijack one FW-190 fighter from French airfields for the subsequent comprehensive study of the combat vehicle. However, as is often the case, his Majesty’s chance intervened in the situation. The plane, which the British were ready to hunt with the help of commandos, itself flew to the UK unharmed. The British took possession of a fully operational FW-190A-3 at the end of June 1942.
Armin Faber gave the British a serviceable Fw-190
While the RAF was seriously considering various possibilities of getting their hands on a new German fighter to conduct a comprehensive study and research of the aircraft, chance intervened. On June 23, 1942, Chief Lieutenant of the Luftwaffe Armin Faber from the 2nd Fighter Squadron “Richthofen”, which was based in Breton Morlaix, took to the skies with the 7th Squadron. German fighters flew to intercept Boston bombers, which were escorted by Spitfire fighters operated by Czechoslovak pilots. In the ensuing air battle, the FW-190 fighters once again proved their superiority. Although the Germans did not manage to get to the bombers, they were able to shoot down 7 Allied fighters at the cost of losing two vehicles.
The same FW-190 A-3, which accidentally went to the British in June 1942.
During the battle, which took place over the English Channel, Chief Lieutenant Faber lost his link when he broke away from the Allied fighters and incorrectly determined his own location. During the reconnaissance, the pilot confused the direction and flew north instead of south. At the same time, Faber mistook the Bristol Bay for the English Channel. Calmly flying over the Bristol Bay, Chief Lieutenant Faber made a landing at the first airfield that turned up. At this time, the pilot was still fully confident that he had landed somewhere in France. In fact, Armin Faber landed at RAF airbase in South Wales.
So, by a happy coincidence, a completely intact and serviceable FW-190 A-3 fighter fell into the hands of the British. It was the first Focke-Wulf 190 that the Allies managed to capture. Amin Faber was captured, and his fighter became the subject of comprehensive study. Specialists of the Royal Air Force studied the new German aircraft in detail in order to identify the existing advantages and disadvantages. In the future, the information received was used by the British command to develop recommendations and methodology for conducting air battles against this German fighter. At the same time, both Faber and his plane survived the war. Today, parts of the same Focke-Wulf FW-190 A-3 are still kept in the UK at the Shoreham Aviation Museum.