After the war
French and Soviet Fw 190s – and their eventual fate
When Germany was finally defeated, there were hundreds of Focke-wulf Fw 190s left lying around Europe. Some were wrecks, some had been deliberately blown up but still more were intact or could be made complete with only a little work. Both France and Soviet Union seized upon this golden opportunity…
Shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, French aircraft manufacturer Lioré et Olivier began to establish a new factory in a disused underground limestone quarry at Cravant near Auxerre in the Yonne region – southeast of Paris. The quarry was huge, around 35 hectares with ceiling up to 20m high in places, making it ideal for large scale construction activities. Lioré et Olivier was only part way through construction, including building a small air strip and concrete shelters, before the site was overrun and captured by the advancing German army. It remained vacant until 1943 when Allied bombing forced the relocation of the Luftwaffe’s Focke-wulf Fw 190 repair workshops. The German military and civil engineering group Organisation Todt was brought in, under the supervision of FockeWulf contractor Ago Flugzeugwerke, to establish a new central underground workshop facility for Fw 190s of all types in France at Cravant. Work began in late 1943 and was completed on February 6, 1944. It was given the name Sonderreparaturbetrieb G L & Elbag Lager 918 Auxerre or Forward Operational Repair Centre 918. Barges were used to transport damaged Fw 190s to the facility, where a large supply of spares was amassed, before they were offloaded using a crane and taken inside the workshop via a small railway system. The Lioré et Olivier airstrip was expanded to become a full concrete runway and the quarry’s main entrance was enlarged to allow the passage of completed aircraft. The workshop was manned by local French civilians plus Polish and Spanish prisoners of war who were reportedly well treated. Just six and a half months after it opened, however, on August 18, 1944, the workshop was abandoned by the Germans as they
retreated ahead of advancing British and American forces. They tried to blow up the caves but although this caused a lot of damage the resulting fires went out due to oxygen starvation before they had completely done their work. The Allies arrived on August 20 and secured the site before making an inventory of its contents on October 18, 1944, detailed in a report issued the following day. This found the largely complete fuselages of two Fw 190A-2s, one A-3, two A-3/U4S, four A-4s, three A-5s, three A-5/U3S, one A-5/U8, one A5/U12, five A-6s, nine A-7s, three A-7/R6S, 14 A-8s, one A-8/R1, six A-8/R6S, one F-2, one F3, one F-8/R1, one G-2, five G-3s and one G-8. This made a total of 65 useable airframes and another 47 airframes were found either severely damaged by fire or completely stripped of useable components. A further eight burned or crushed Fw 190 wrecks were littered around the airstrip outside. In addition, the investigators found 156 undamaged pairs of wings, 106 stabilisers, 81 flaps, 37 rudders and eight propellers. At the end of August, newly appointed French minister Charles Tillon had visited the site and assessed its contents for himself. Under President Charles de Gaulle, the French were keen to prevent their much more powerful Allies from setting up a government on their behalf and did their best to re-establish their own sovereignty, identity and power. Part of this was rapidly building up French military forces as quickly and cheaply as possible. Buying a Supermarine Spitfire from the British was to cost 12 million Swiss francs – the reserve currency in France at the time – but it was estimated that refurbishing, reassembling or otherwise rebuilding a former Luftwaffe Fw 190 would cost just 1.5 million Swiss francs. The Cravant facility, fire damage aside, was already set up to turn out completed Fw 190s, and many local people had been taught at least some of the skills necessary to do it. Therefore, in November 1944, La Société Nationale de Construction Aéronautique du Centre de Cravant (SNCAC) was established with around 80 workers. This rapidly multiplied until some 1400 people were involved in the project under the supervision of plant manager Roland Echard. It is unknown how many of the bits and pieces found at Cravant were actually used in the construction of the ‘new’ aircraft however, since they are usually referred to as being a combination of Fw 190A-5 and A-8 components – rather than a hodgepodge of numerous different types. It is possible that abandoned aircraft from elsewhere in France were brought to Cravant and simply reconditioned. In any case, the first French Fw 190, the type being rechristened the NC.900 AACR for ‘Atelier Aéronautique de Cravant’ (Aircraft Workshop of Cravant), was rolled out on March 16, 1945, more than a month and a half before the end of the war. It was given the simple serial No. 1. The first test flights were made by a pilot assigned to the plant, a Monsieur Lepreux. Further tests were carried out by Britishtrained French test pilot Colonel Constantin Rozanoff and at least three other pilots. As this work progressed, plans were drawn up to bring the type into service with the Normandie-niemen, a veteran French unit that had fought the Luftwaffe with the Soviet air force flying Yak-3 fighters. The unit was renamed Groupe de Chasse GC III/5 ‘Normandie-niemen’ after transferring from the Russian front to Le Bourget airfield near Paris to a heroes’ welcome on June 20, 1945. Delivery of the first batch of completed NC.900S was stalled when No. 28 broke up in mid-air on January 2, 1946, but by January 30 the assessors were confident that the type was fully fit for service. Seven NC.900S arrived at Le Bourget on February 1 with another seven arriving on February 15. It soon became apparent, however, that the NC.900 wasn’t quite the value for money aircraft that it first appeared. There was a series of incidents and accidents involving the type’s BMW 801D-2 engine. These had been
reconditioned but it was believed that they had been cleverly sabotaged by French resistance fighters, causing them to fail. On the other hand, the Normandie-niemen pilots were deeply unhappy at having to surrender their Yaks in favour of aircraft which only months before they had been shooting down over Eastern Europe. They made it clear that they wanted Spitfires. Whatever the cause of these mysterious problems, a flight ban was imposed on the NC.900S on February 18, 1946, and after a year of production the Cravant factory ground to a halt. The final total built was 64. Spitfires were duly bought for GC III/5 ‘Normandie-niemen’ but on June 16, 1946, nine NC.900S were officially brought back into French service. They were still little used however. The total time pilots spent flying them from October 1 to October 31, 1946, amounted to just 45 minutes. The unit’s remaining NC.900S were finally decommissioned for good on November 1, 1946, and GC III/5 ‘Normandie-niemen’ was re-equipped with de Havilland Mosquitos in April 1947. Around 50 NC.900S were used by the Centre d’essais en Vol (centre for flight tests) at Brétigny-sur-orge and a few were eventually used for flight instruction, with the last recorded flight of an NC.900 taking place on June 22, 1949. All but one of France’s NC.900S are believed to have eventually been sold to Turkey either whole or in parts. A sole survivor, NC.900 No. 62, is now on display at the Musée de l’air et de l’espace in Paris.
The Fw 190D-9 did not enter service until September 1944 and only 600 to 750 were built before the war ended but they were under construction at numerous dispersed factories. Advancing Soviet forces began to overrun Focke-wulf facilities and those of its subcontractors in early 1945 and while the Germans usually attempted to destroy anything of any use before they abandoned them, it was inevitable that the Russians would capture aircraft intact. So when Focke-wulf’s Marienburg plant was taken, following bitter battles around the city in March 1945, the victorious Soviets found at least six newly built Fw 190D-9s that had been awaiting delivery to the Luftwaffe. The factory had, according to surviving records, been turning out eight D-9s a day during December 1944 and it is likely that the six represented Marienburg’s final output. Other examples were also captured, such as a D-9 that landed on a makeshift runway which used a section of the Breslau-berlin autobahn. When the pilot took off it was in German hands, when he landed it had been taken by the Soviets. His aircraft was test-flown by 16 GIAP (Guards Fighter Air Regiment) commander Aleksandr Pokryshkin. The Marienburg six were different, however. They were unused and plentiful spare parts were available for them from the factory. They were duly painted up in Soviet markings and, reportedly, test flown by pilots of 2 GIAP after hostilities ended in May. The two of them were flight tested by VVS NIII KA pilots at Sorau in western Poland and at air bases inside the USSR. The remainder, and perhaps other captured Doras, are believed to have then
briefly served with the Soviet Navy’s Baltic Fleet Air Arm. During 1948 or 1949, a US government publication, Military Review, published photographs which showed two Fw 190D-9s still in Soviet service and stationed at Görden in East Germany, southwest of Brandenburg. They were reportedly still in service in late 1949 as advanced fighter trainers until one of them crashed in Latvia. The full history of the Soviet Union’s Doras may never be known and has been the subject of heated debate between Russian historians. Much of the little that is known for certain comes from a series of photographs clearly showing six D-9s in Soviet colours.
The Fw 190’s Fate
When the war ended, almost all surviving Fw 190s were gathered together into large collection areas and systematically scrapped. In the process of collecting them all up, the Allies were surprised to discover just how dispersed the German aircraft industry had become by the end of the war. The main Fw 190 production centres, from small beginnings at Bremen, had grown to encompass major facilities at Tutow/mecklenburg, Marienburg, Neuhausen/cottbus, Sorau/silesia, Neubrandenburg and Schwerin. Ago built them at Oschersleben, Arado produced them at Babelsburg, Brandenburg, Warnemunde, Anklam, Rathenow, Wittenberge and Neuendorf and Fieseler had its main works at Kassel. In addition, small Fw 190 production lines turned up in the most unusual places – from a shed in Kölleda, a town in the district of Sömmerda, Thuringia, to bunkers beneath Berlin’s Tempelhof airport. Then there were camouflaged storage areas around airfields where hundreds of Fw 190s had waited for months due to fuel shortages while the war was still ongoing. In addition to the French rebuilds and the handful of Soviet operated examples, 11 captured Fw 190s were given Air Ministry numbers by the British – four A-8s, a trio of two-seater F-8/U1S, a two-seater F-8/S1, a D-9, an F-8/R15 torpedo carrier and an A-6/R6. Others were captured but these, along with most of the examples listed here, were also scrapped. The Americans had also accumulated a fair number of captured Fw 190s by the war’s end. Eleven were given ‘foreign equipment’ numbers and nine of these, alongside a single Ta 152, were wrapped in plastic and shipped across to the US, along with a variety of other ‘interesting’ German aircraft, on the deck of a British aircraft carrier, The arrived at Newark on July 31, 1945, and the aircraft were transported to the USAAF test centre at Wright Field. The 11 Fw 190s comprised a single A-3 that had been captured in North Africa, three Fs of unknown sub-type, one F-8, one F-8/R1, a G-3, a trio of D-9s and a D-13/R11. Three of these still survive – see pages 126-128 of this volume – two were wrecked in crashes and the remainder were scrapped. Turkey was the only neutral country to operate the Fw 190 and all of its examples are believed to have been scrapped during the late 1940s or early 1950s. Seven Fw 190s fled to Sweden as the Third Reich collapsed in the spring of 1945, these too were scrapped or turned over to the Soviets – along with their unfortunate pilots. Romania captured nine Fw 190s at the end of the war but these were confiscated by the Soviets. Hungary’s Fw 190s were destroyed during the war and the many captured by the Soviets in less than perfect condition were almost certainly scrapped. All of which means that just a handful of Fw 190s survive today.
The broken remains of Fw 190 ‘Black 3’ lie abandoned. Hundreds of similar wrecks were collected up and scrapped at the end of the war, alongside pristine newly built examples and everything in between.
Around 70 NC.900S like this one were built but it is uncertain whether they were based on intact airframes abandoned by the Germans at Cravant or other airframes brought to the facility at a later date. French pilots allocated the NC.900 hated flying the fighter of their defeated enemy.there were a number of ‘incidents’ and the type was briefly grounded before being returned to service. As a money-saving exercise, equipping French pilots with ex-luftwaffe aircraft was a disaster.the squadron given them, GC III/5 ‘Normandie-niemen’, wanted Spitfires instead and eventually ended up with de Havilland Mosquitos. After the war, the French reconditioned dozens of Fw 190s at Cravant, an underground former Luftwaffe repair centre.the aircraft were extensively tested before entering service with the French air force as the AACR NC.900 and had substantial spares backup. NC.900 No. 23. After their rejection as a front line fighter by the French air force, the NC.900S were used for training or sold to Turkey, which still maintained active squadrons of Fw 190s until 1948.
US Army quartermaster troops inspect newly built Fw 190s amid the ruins of the huge Ago factory at Oschersleben, Saxony-anhalt, Germany. An example of the wide dispersal of the German aircraft industry by the time of the Third Reich’s defeat in 1945, this Fw 190 assembly plant was overrun in the suburbs of Kölleda,thuringia, by the US 1st Army on April 15, 1945. One of at least six Fw 190D-9s captured by the Russians at Focke-wulf’s Marienburg factory in March 1945 and given Soviet markings. The engine of a Soviet Fw 190D-9 is run up in front of a Lisunov Li-2 – a licence built version of the Douglas DC-3. The cargo of H,MS Reaper when it set sail for the United States in July 1945, was a selection of captured German aircraft. Amid Messerschmitt Me 262s, a Heinkel He 219 and a Dornier Do 335, on the left, are a selection of Fw 190s, all wrapped in protective black plastic covers.treasured as they were at the time, few of these aircraft ultimately escaped the scrap man’s attentions.
Six propellers can be seen in this line-up of Soviet Fw 190D-9s.the aircraft also appear clean and new – not caked in grime like most Fw 190D-9s photographed at the end of the war. The tail of this Soviet-operated Fw 190D-9 has been jacked up. Its eventual fate, like those of its fellow D-9s and indeed that of every other Fw 190 captured by the Russians is unknown. The serial number of this Fw 190D-9 is almost entirely obscured by the large red star painted on its tail. It is known that this particular example was used for testing by the Soviets and it does appear to be one of the six pictured following their capture at Marienburg. Clear-up crews had to drag wrecked Fw 190s out of the strangest places and situations after the war. Here a flock of sheep vie for a shady spot beneath the wreck of Fieselerbuilt Fw 190A-8 WNR. 682989 in the vicinity of Nuremberg, Bavaria, in 1946.