The dark horse

Aviation Classics - - AVIATION - Dan

Few air­craft have the abil­ity to ra­di­ate men­ace like the Focke-wulf Fw 190. Its an­gu­lar canopy, sharp fuse­lage, bulging ra­dial-en­gined nose and heavy weaponry all say ‘threat’ and they do not say it very qui­etly. It is dif­fi­cult to avoid com­par­isons with its stable­mate and ri­val the Messer­schmitt Bf 109 – they were two very dif­fer­ent air­craft de­signed and called upon to do the same job, but the Bf 109 came first. With its stubby wings, rec­tan­gu­lar win­dows and, at least ini­tially, tail sup­port struts, the Bf 109 is plainly a fighter of the 1930s. While its light­weight de­sign was rev­o­lu­tion­ary in its day, it still had that pre­war pro­pa­ganda tool look that as­so­ci­ated it so closely with the rise of Hitler and his Nazis, and ev­ery­thing that they stood for. The Fw 190, de­signed af­ter Focke-wulf’s Kurt Tank had taken a good long look at the Bf 109 and spo­ken with its pi­lots, was a war ma­chine for the 1940s: ruth­lessly func­tional, overtly pow­er­ful, tech­no­log­i­cally ad­vanced, rugged, heavy and armed to the teeth. Hitler, and the Nazis as­so­ci­ated with the Fw 190 – and it is un­shak­ably as­so­ci­ated with them – were a dif­fer­ent bunch. By the time it reached front line ser­vice in any num­bers, the self-sat­is­fied pos­tur­ing and lazy con­fi­dence had evap­o­rated. Tank had a fond­ness for nam­ing his com­pany’s air­craft af­ter birds and he named the Fw 190 ‘Würger’, the Ger­man name for the shrike or ‘butcher bird’, but no-one out­side Focke-wulf seems to have used this name at the time. It ap­peared on the front of com­pany brochures of 1942 but the name only seems to

have en­tered truly com­mon us­age af­ter the war. The shrike is a Eurasian species that in­hab­its most of Europe and Asia – per­haps Tank was mak­ing a ref­er­ence to the panEurasian am­bi­tions of the Third Re­ich when he picked the name. What­ever the case, the Fw 190 cer­tainly suc­ceeded in men­ac­ing the RAF when it first ap­peared in the skies over Europe. Bri­tish in­tel­li­gence had known its name and ba­sic lay­out for some time but no-one ex­pected the im­pact it would have. Even the most ad­vanced Spit­fire had met its match and one af­ter an­other they fell be­fore the Fw 190’s guns. A Bri­tish in­tel­li­gence re­port of 1942 re­veals the con­fu­sion that reigned dur­ing those early en­coun­ters. Was this ra­di­alengined fighter that kept ap­pear­ing a cap­tured French Cur­tiss Mo­hawk? Or per­haps a Bloch MB.152? How about a Kool­hoven F.K.58? A clip­ping from a Swedish news­pa­per is ap­pended to the re­port, de­scrib­ing the Fock­eWulf 190 as the ‘world’s fastest fighter’. There’s also a grainy photo of the gen­uine ar­ti­cle as seen while div­ing away from a Bri­tish bomber. As the war dragged on and Ger­many be­gan to suf­fer re­ver­sals and set­backs on ev­ery front, the Fw 190 was en­ter­ing ser­vice with more and more Luft­waffe units un­til it was on a par with the Bf 109. When the war en­tered its fi­nal phase, Fw 190s formed the last des­per­ate line of aerial de­fence for the Third Re­ich. The much­vaunted jets and rock­et­planes came far too late and the Fw 190 bore the brunt of the Al­lies’ fi­nal as­sault. RAF, USAAF and Soviet fighter unit logs are filled with de­tails of en­coun­ters with Fw 190s dur­ing the last months of the war. It be­came a sym­bol of Ger­man de­fi­ance and ul­ti­mately of de­feat. To­day the Fw 190 still looks the part. Its stern fea­tures gen­uinely seem like they were de­signed to ab­sorb pun­ish­ment and dish it out in equal mea­sure. And some­where out of sight, but still not too far away, lies the wreck­age of the Third Re­ich. I hope this pub­li­ca­tion serves not to glo­rify the regime un­der which the Fw 190 flew in ac­tive ser­vice but sim­ply to present the facts and tell the story of a re­mark­able aero­plane and the brave men who flew it.

The Na­tional Ar­chives GDC

The cover of a 1942 Focke-wulf brochure for the ‘sin­gle-seat fighter Fw 190 Würger’.the name was lit­tle used out­side the com­pany. Bri­tish in­tel­li­gence strug­gled to pos­i­tively iden­tify the Fw 190 when it first ap­peared. Was it (from top) a Bloch MB.152? A Cur­tiss Mo­hawk? Or per­haps a Kool­hoven F.K.58? No, no and no, as it turned out.

GDC The Na­tional Ar­chives The Na­tional Ar­chives

A Focke-wulf doc­u­ment, bear­ing con­tem­po­rary hand­writ­ten notes, shows the lay­out for the Fw 190 ‘Nor­maljäger’ with BMW 801D en­gine in Novem­ber 1942. One of the ear­li­est com­bat pho­tos ever taken of a Fw 190.Taken on March 24, 1942, it shows a 190 from JG 26 div­ing away be­neath Dou­glas Bos­ton bombers of 226 Squadron dur­ing Cir­cus 116A – an attack on Comines power sta­tion.the op­er­a­tion re­sulted in seven Spit­fires be­ing shot down for the loss of just one Fw 190. In­tel­li­gence gath­er­ing isn’t just about spies and com­mu­ni­ca­tions in­ter­cepts – this cut­ting from a news­pa­per in neu­tral Swe­den, dated April 1942, shows a Focke-wulf com­pany press photo un­der the head­ing “World’s fastest fighter”.the text reads:“the Focke-wulf 190, men­tioned in Ger­man re­ports from the Chan­nel coast in re­cent weeks, is a new Ger­man air­craft de­signed by en­gi­neer Kurt Tank – cre­ator of the Con­dor – and is de­scribed as the world’s fastest. The en­gine is 14 cylin­ders.”

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