Af­ter the war

French and Soviet Fw 190s – and their even­tual fate

Aviation Classics - - CONTENTS -

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.

Stalin’s Do­ras

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.

Edi­tor’s col­lec­tion

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.

Edi­tor’s col­lec­tion Gilles Pouil­laude col­lec­tion Edi­tor’s col­lec­tion Gilles Pouil­laude col­lec­tion Edi­tor’s col­lec­tion

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.

Edi­tor’s col­lec­tion LOC Edi­tor’s col­lec­tion Edi­tor’s col­lec­tion Edi­tor’s col­lec­tion

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.

Edi­tor’s col­lec­tion Edi­tor’s col­lec­tion Edi­tor’s col­lec­tion Edi­tor’s col­lec­tion

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.

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