This notorious German medium bomber was an all-too-familiar sight over British skies
The terms of the Treaty of Versailles were explicit: in the wake of World War I, the German military was to have no air force capable of offensive action. However, during the 1930s, just as it did with the army, the Nazi regime developed a shadow air force, one that would wreak havoc across Europe by the end of the decade. The Germans established glider ‘clubs’ to train future Luftwaffe pilots, and at the same time embarked on a program that would ostensibly produce aircraft for civilian purposes – but with an easy transition to military applications when war came.
The Heinkel He 111, perhaps the bestknown German medium bomber of World War II, which gained infamy in the skies above Poland, France, the Low Countries and Britain, was such an aircraft. Originally slated for service as a passenger liner for the civilian Lufthansa, the He 111 was large, robust and built for rapid conversion to a bomber configuration.
The Reich Air Ministry promoted competition among aircraft manufacturers, and Heinkel emerged with a contract for a medium bomber based on its proven single-engine He 70 design, which had already set speed records and served as a fast passenger and mail delivery plane. Concurrently, two other medium bombers, the Dornier Do 17 and the Junkers Ju 88, were developed for the Luftwaffe.
Aircraft designer Ernst Heinkel recruited twin brothers Siegfried and Walter Günter to work in his factory at Rostock, and the two produced a twin-engine adaptation of the He 70, which later became distinctive with a glazed nose, elliptical wings and extended fuselage. The first He 111 prototype flew on 24 February 1935 as a civilian aircraft, and the design was affirmed. In January
1936, another prototype was recognised as the fastest passenger aircraft in the world, achieving a top speed of 402 kilometres per hour (250 miles per hour).
ELLIPTICAL WING The elliptical wing design of the He 70 ‘Blitz’, the predecessor of the He 111, was retained, although the surfaces were lengthened to provide more lift for the He 111.
WING EDGES The trailing edges of the He 111 wings were angled slightly forward, while the leading edges were swept back on a line even with the engine nacelles. BOMBLOAD The He 111 was capable of carrying multiple bombload configurations, including 2,000 kilograms (4,409 pounds) in the bomb bay and 3,600 kilograms (7,937 pounds) affixed to external hard points. AERODYNAMIC AND LIGHTWEIGHT The surfaces of the He 111 aircraft were designed for maximum aerodynamic efficiency, while its construction from aluminium and wood provided strength and reasonable weight.