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Spitfire and Me-109 Legendary Opponents

Updated on September 5, 2016
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A Spitfire at the National Air & Space Museum, March 2000.A Bf 109 at the National Air & Space Museum, Washington, DC, 1999.A Bf 109 at the National Air & Space Museum, Washington, DC, 1999.A Bf 109 at the National Air & Space Museum, Washington, DC 1999.JG 27 emblem on the Bf 109 at the National Air & Space Museum, Washington, DC 1999.The Bf 109 at the National Air & Space Museum, Washington, DC 1999.Rear fuselage of the Bf 109 at the National Air & Space Museum, Washington, DC 1999.Wing roundel on the Bf 109 at the National Air & Space Museum, Washington, DC 1999.Bf 109 engine at the National Air & Space Museum, Washington, DC 1999.A Spitfire at the Andrews AFB Open House, 2005.A Spitfire at the Andrews ADB, MD, Open House, May 2005.
A Spitfire at the National Air & Space Museum, March 2000.
A Spitfire at the National Air & Space Museum, March 2000. | Source
A Bf 109 at the National Air & Space Museum, Washington, DC, 1999.
A Bf 109 at the National Air & Space Museum, Washington, DC, 1999. | Source
A Bf 109 at the National Air & Space Museum, Washington, DC, 1999.
A Bf 109 at the National Air & Space Museum, Washington, DC, 1999. | Source
A Bf 109 at the National Air & Space Museum, Washington, DC 1999.
A Bf 109 at the National Air & Space Museum, Washington, DC 1999. | Source
JG 27 emblem on the Bf 109 at the National Air & Space Museum, Washington, DC 1999.
JG 27 emblem on the Bf 109 at the National Air & Space Museum, Washington, DC 1999. | Source
The Bf 109 at the National Air & Space Museum, Washington, DC 1999.
The Bf 109 at the National Air & Space Museum, Washington, DC 1999. | Source
Rear fuselage of the Bf 109 at the National Air & Space Museum, Washington, DC 1999.
Rear fuselage of the Bf 109 at the National Air & Space Museum, Washington, DC 1999. | Source
Wing roundel on the Bf 109 at the National Air & Space Museum, Washington, DC 1999.
Wing roundel on the Bf 109 at the National Air & Space Museum, Washington, DC 1999. | Source
Bf 109 engine at the National Air & Space Museum, Washington, DC 1999.
Bf 109 engine at the National Air & Space Museum, Washington, DC 1999. | Source
A Spitfire at the Andrews AFB Open House, 2005.
A Spitfire at the Andrews AFB Open House, 2005. | Source
A Spitfire at the Andrews ADB, MD, Open House, May 2005.
A Spitfire at the Andrews ADB, MD, Open House, May 2005. | Source

Legendary Opponents

The Spitfire and the Me-109[i] were iconic World War II aircraft. These aircraft had a deadly rivalry throughout World War II and beyond. These aircraft were generally loved by their pilots. The scream “Spitfire” would send fear in the hearts of Luftwaffe pilots. Royal Air Force (RAF) pilots knew the Me-109 should be respected. Ironically the engine for the Me-109 V1 was a Rolls-Royce Kestrel V.[ii] The Me-109 made its first flight in September 1935. The engine for the prototype Supermarine Spitfire K5054 was a Rolls-Royce Merlin I[iii]. The Spitfire’s first flight was March 5, 1936. There were many variant and sub-variants of these aircraft. Throughout World War II these aircraft had sturdier stable mates. These fighters had short combat radiuses. Through much of the war the RAF and Luftwaffe had other aircraft with comparable or superior performance. These aircraft remained front line fighters throughout World War II.


[i] The technical designation for this aircraft was the Bf-109 but both sides during World War II commonly referred to the aircraft as the Me-109.

[ii] Messerschmitt an Aircraft Album No. 2, by J. Richard Smith, © Ian Allen, 1971.

[iii] Vintage Aircraft Recognition Guide by Tony Holmes, © Harpers-Collins Publishers, 2005, Page 222.

Baptism of Fire

The Me-109 V1 made a flyover at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.[i] In 1937 the German Condor Legion was flying missions in Spain in support of the Nationalists. The Russians were flying mission in support of the Republicans. The Russian fighters outmatched the obsolescent Luftwaffe fighters. This changed in April when the Me-109B-1s and B-2s arrived. Me-109s were superior to the Russian fighters and the Nationalists soon gained air supremacy. The Russian fighters were more maneuverable but the Germans developed tactics to fight against slower but more nimble opponents.

Spitfires first fired guns in anger on September 6, 1939. Spitfires and Hurricanes were sorted to intercept German aircraft. There were no German aircraft and the British fighters mistook each other for the enemy. The Spitfires shot down two Hurricanes.[ii] On October 16 German Ju-88 bombers launched an attack on Royal Navy ships off the coast of Scotland. The Germans mistakenly believed there weren’t any Spitfires based in Scotland. Spitfires shot down one Ju-88 piloted by Hauptmann Helmut Pohle. Hauptmann Pohle was the only survivor. The Germans lost another Ju-88 in the attack.[iii] On December 3, 1939 British Wellington Bombers attacked Heligoland Bight. Me-109s shot down at least 5 of the bombers, the 6th British bomber lost probably also fell to Me-109 fire.[iv]

The Spitfires and Me-109s fought for the first time during the evacuation of Dunkirk. Me-109s had the numerical advantage because they operated in larger units. The fighter sortie generation was 2,000 German and 1,764 for the British.[v] Over Dunkirk Me-109s and Spitfires were operating near the end of their operating radius. The Germans lost 92 aircraft to the British 106. These losses included 29 Me-109s, 48 Spitfires, and 49 Hurricanes.


[i] Messerschmitt an Aircraft Album No. 2, by J. Richard Smith, © Ian Allen, 1971.

[ii] World War II Almanac 1931-1945 by Robert Goralski, © 1981.

[iii] The Luftwaffe War Diaries by Cajus Bekker© 1966 by Macdonald & Company, Ltd.

[iv] The Luftwaffe War Diaries by Cajus Bekker© 1966 by Macdonald & Company, Ltd.

[v] Luftwaffe Fighter Aces by Mike Spick © 1996.

The Battle of Britain

In the Battle of Britain the Me-109 and the Spitfire were evenly matched. The top speeds were almost identical. Altitude determined which aircraft had the higher top speed in a dogfight. The Spitfire had the advantage in maneuvering. Me-109s had a higher service ceiling and were faster in the climb and dive.

The biggest disadvantage of the Me-109 was its range. Me-109 pilots had to be wary of their fuel otherwise they risked running out of fuel over the English Channel. An example of the fighting intensity and the dangers of the English Channel occurred on November 28, 1940. Helmut Wick became the highest scoring World War II pilot at the time with 55 kills. Later that afternoon he went on another mission. He shot down a Spitfire but was subsequently shot down by John Dundas. Rudi Pflanz then shot down Dundas.[i] Wick and Dundas bailed out over the channel but were never found.

The major difficulty for the Germans was protecting the bombers. At one point Hermann Göring demanded the fighters give the bombers a close escort. Major Adolf Galland pointed out such an escort would involve turning dogfights which would favor the Spitfire. Later when Göring asked the pilots what they needed Galland said Spitfires for his squadron. These words were repeated in the 1969 movie “Battle of Britain”. In Galland’s book, “The First and the Last”, he said he knew he didn’t choose the right words the moment he spoke them. He went on to say he preferred theMe-109 to the Spitfire.

The British won The Battle of Britain. The Germans lost twice as many aircraft as the British lost. Many of the German aircraft were bombers. Since the British were mostly fighting over their territory many of their pilots bailed out or crash landed safely and returned to the fight. Surviving Luftwaffe aircrew mostly became prisoners of war. The battle immortalized the Spitfire and made the Me-109 the legendary nemesis.


[i] Luftwaffe Fighter Aces by Mick Spick © 1996.

 
Me-109E-3
Spitfire I
Engine HP
1,100hp
1,030hp
Wing Loading
32lb/sq'
24lb/sq'
Max Speed
354mph
355mph
Ceiling
36,091'
34,000'
Rate of Climb
3,281'/min
2,530'/min
Range
412 miles
575 miles
Source: Luftwaffe Fighter Aces by Mike Spick (c) 1996

Advantage Luftwaffe

After The Battle of Britain the fighting over the Channel Front shifted to air combat over the English Channel and over France. This meant most of the surviving British pilots shot down became POWs. The Germans deployed the Me-109F which had an advantage over the Spitfire V in most areas. The Germans also deployed the Focke-Wulf FW-190. The FW-190 was also better than the Spitfire V in most areas. The Spitfire was still better than these aircraft in turning. Many considered the Me-109F the best version of the Me-109. It was a “pure fighter” designed primarily to shoot down other fighters. The Germans held this technological advantage over the British until the RAF deployed the Spitfire IX in force.

On August 19, 1942 the British launched a large scale amphibious raid on Dieppe. The RAF and USAAF[i] flew almost 2,500 fighter sorties in support of the raid. The amphibious raid ended in disaster. The British believed they won the day in the air. The reality was the Allies lost 114 aircraft, 92 of these were fighters, the Luftwaffe lost 48 aircraft 20 of these were fighters.[ii]


[i] United States Army Air Forces

[ii] Luftwaffe Fighter Aces, by Mike Spick © 1996.

 
Bf 109F-3
Spitfire VB
Engine
1,300hp
1,440hp
Wing Loading
35 lb/sq'
28 lb/sq'
Max Speed
391mph
374mph
Service Ceiling
39,370'
37,000'
Rate of Climb
4,291 '/min
3,650 '/min
Range
440 miles
470 miles
Source: Luftwaffe Fighter Aces by Mike Spick (c) 1996.

Spitfire Takes the Lead

The Spitfire IX was superior to the Me-109F. The Germans deployed the Me-109G which was better suited for dealing with bombers than the Me-109F but not as good in a fighter versus fighter combat. When the Me-109G was first deployed there were a series of crashes. One cost the life of Hans-Joachim Marseille, the leading ace against Western flown aircraft. His Me-109G caught fire in flight. He bailed out but his parachute failed to open.[i]

The Spitfire XIV increased the advantage the Spitfire had over the Me-109. The Luftwaffe deployed Me-109Ks at the end of 1944. It included many of the improvements that were in some of the later Me-109G sub-variants. These improvements included a fully retractable tail gear and a more streamline airframe. Few Me-109Ks saw service.


[i] Luftwaffe Fighter Aces, by Mike Spick © 1996.

 
Bf 109G-6
Spitfire IX
Engine
1,800hp
1,710hp
Wing loading
40lb/sq'
31lb/sq'
Max Speed
387mph
408mph
Service ceiling
38,550'
44,000'
Rate of climb
4,560'/min
4,150'/min
Range
450 miles
434 miles
Source: Luftwaffe Fighter Aces by Mike Spick (c) 1996.

Friend and Foe

The first fighters in the Israeli Air Force were a Czechoslovakian variant of the Me-109G , the Avia S199. The S199s were fitted with a Junkers Jumo 211F engine instead of the usual Diamler Benz 605 engine. Me-109s always had poor takeoff and landing characteristics. The Jumo 211F’s high torque made these poor characteristics worse. The Czech pilots nicknamed the S199 the Mezec (mule). It was also unpopular with Israeli pilots. The Avias flew a number of ground attack and escort missions. On July 10, 1948 Syrian forces staged a counter attack against Israeli forces. Armed Harvard trainer aircraft supported the Syrian attack. S199 pilot Maurice Mann shot down a Harvard. Lionel Bloch pursued a Harvard over the Golan Heights. Bloch did not return. On July 18 Modi Alon shot down an Egyptian Spitfire. On October 16 Rudolph Augarten shot down a Spitfire. Later Israel also acquired Spitfires. In the 1948 conflict and aftermath the Avia S199s shot down 6 aircraft. The Israeli Spitfires shot down 15 aircraft.[i] The Spitfire kills included 3 RAF Spitfires shot down on January 6, 1949 and an RAF Tempest shot down on January 7, 1949. RAF pilot Ron Sayers and RAF Pilot Officer David Tattersfield died in these incidents.[ii]


[i] Fighters Over Israel, by Lon Nordeen© 1990.

[ii] Israel v the RAF – Caught in the middle – air combat between Israel and the RAF, (http://www.spyflight.co.uk/iafvraf.htm), last accessed September 3, 2016.

Performance versus Bragging Rights

The Spitfire and the Me-109 were evenly matched at the beginning of World War II. The advantage went to the Me-109 with the Me-109F. The advantage went to the Spitfire with the Spitfire IX. The Spitfire XIV increased that advantage and probably made it out of reach for the Me-109. The Spitfire was arguably the best piston engine fighter of World War II.

It seems allied pilots who flew the Me-109 thought little of the aircraft. Rudolph Augarten, who flew Avias, Spitfires, and P-51s for the Israeli Air Force preferred the Spitfire over the other two fighters. He made the preference on the strength of the Spitfire’s handling qualities.[i]

More Me-109s were built than any other fighter plane. Only the Ilyushin Il-2 “Stormovik” attack plane may have been built in greater numbers. Me-109s shot down more planes than Spitfires, and probably more than any other aircraft in history. The highest scoring fighter pilot, Erich Hartmann, scored his kills in Me-109s. Me-109 pilot Erich Rudorffer holds the record for shooting down the most planes in a single sortie, 13.[ii]


[i] Fighters Over Israel, by Lon Nordeen© 1990, P21.

[ii] Messerschmitt Aces, by Walter A. Musciano, © 1982.

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    • Robert Sacchi profile image
      Author

      Robert Sacchi 7 months ago

      Yes, the Spitfire was a very popular aircraft with its pilots.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 7 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Robert

      Not sure if I mentioned it before, but the 'Eagle squadrons' (the American pilots who flew with the RAF before America entered the war) flew Spitfires and Hurricanes.

      Apparently at the beginning of when America entered they only transferred to the USAF provided they were allowed to keep their Spitfires! (I've got pictures of the Spitfire in USAF decals on my Hub 'Eagle Squadron')

      Lawrence

    • Robert Sacchi profile image
      Author

      Robert Sacchi 7 months ago

      Impressive, yes lucky Mom.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 7 months ago from England

      I mentioned my mum before, but I didn't tell you that she actually had a ride in the Spitfire! Yep she went up in the darn thing! lucky thing! lol!

    • Robert Sacchi profile image
      Author

      Robert Sacchi 11 months ago

      Thank you, you are very kind. The Spitfire was a front line fighter from the beginning until the end of World War II. Its success in the Battle of Britain, and the Allied victory in WWII, insured its place in Aviaiton history.

    • colorfulone profile image

      Susie Lehto 11 months ago from Minnesota

      Robert, you truly know the Spitfire like you know your own name. I remember hearing about the Spitfire over the years. They are a legendary plane for sure, and an important part of American and world history.

    • Robert Sacchi profile image
      Author

      Robert Sacchi 11 months ago

      True the Bf 109's fuel injection system was a big advantage. A Bf 109 pilot tactic was to strike the opposing fighters then dive away. If all is well they would leave the surviving Spitfires safely behind. Their advice was to avoid turning dogfights where the Spitfires and Hurricanes had the advantage.

      Spitfire and Bf 109 pilots tended to be very loyal to their aircraft. Interesting since the aircraft had completely different personalities. The Spitfire is often described as a "lady". The Bf 109 was no lady :-)

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 11 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Robert

      Really enjoyed this article, there were two disadvantages the British had in the Battle of Britain not really mentioned here though.

      One was manpower, the Luftwaffe had about two thousand trained pilots, roughly half of which were experienced fighter pilots, the RAF had just a couple of hundred pilots mist of whom had little experience (most of the experienced RAF pilots were lost in the Battle for France where the RAF lost 3-400 planes)

      Second was design in that the Spitfire would stall in a barrel roll and then flood the carburetor as it came out!

      You can see what I mean in the opening sequence of the Battle of Britain movie where a Spitfire does a barrel roll, you hear the engine stall and white smoke as it restarts with a flooded carburetor (you hear the spluttering and see the white smoke).

      Enjoyed the bit about the Israeli Airforce.

      I just noticed about the pilots preferring. The Eagle squadrons all flew Spitfires and only agreed to transfer to the US air force if they could keep their 'Spits'

      Lawrence

    • Robert Sacchi profile image
      Author

      Robert Sacchi 12 months ago

      LOL.

    • Randy Godwin profile image

      Randy Godwin 12 months ago from Southern Georgia

      Yes, I would suppose most pilots would be more comfortable with what they were accustomed to flying the most. I can with all honesty say that he showed me what the P-51 could do. It took me all day to get over the G's we pulled that day.

      I also took a ride in a Russian Yak my cousin the crop duster bought after Russian was selling off a lot of their military training aircraft. Needless to say, I found out why they called it a Yak.....cause that's what I did after my cousin got through flying in every direction except levelt and right-side up. LOL!

    • Robert Sacchi profile image
      Author

      Robert Sacchi 12 months ago

      Thanks for the link. It seems American pilots tended to like American aircraft. Not surprising one could say, built by Americans for Americans. A common complaint, among many, I've read about the Bf 109 from American pilots was it had a cramped cockpit. I remember reading about a German pilot who test flew the P-51. He didn't like it because everything in the cockpit was so out of reach:-) Yes, the P-51H was the fastest piston engine plane deployed during World War II.

    • Randy Godwin profile image

      Randy Godwin 12 months ago from Southern Georgia

      Yes, he was my best friend's father. He was typical of the WWII fighter jocks you've seen in the movies. Hard drinkin', hard fightin', and afraid of nothing but boredom and old age. I tell about him on this hub if you care to read about how he ended up:

      http://hub.me/ajihC

    • Robert Sacchi profile image
      Author

      Robert Sacchi 12 months ago

      Thank you. Yes, if I were writing for a warbirds magazine I would write the article differently. I tend to approach the articles assuming the reader may not know anything about these aircraft. That was the reasoning behind referring to the aircraft as an Me-109 rather than a Bf 109.

    • Robert Sacchi profile image
      Author

      Robert Sacchi 12 months ago

      Yes, just about every WWII fighter has their advocates. The Spitfire had a definite disadvantage on take-off and landing because of its landing gear. Let me guess, the pilot you mention was an American?

    • Randy Godwin profile image

      Randy Godwin 12 months ago from Southern Georgia

      Great article, Robert! I love WWII fighter planes and was privileged to fly in a P-51 two seater piloted by a veteran fighter pilot who also flew p-38's during the war. He also flew as a test pilot after the war and flew many other allied and axis planes in the process. He preferred the P-51 Mustang as the best fighter rather than the Spitfire, but then, you did say "arguably" didn't you?

      Enjoyed the read!

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 12 months ago from Houston, Texas

      Much may have been written about them but I dare say...not so much on HubPages. So you are offering your expertise in that area for those of us who might not be searching elsewhere.

    • Robert Sacchi profile image
      Author

      Robert Sacchi 12 months ago

      You're welcome. Yes, the Spitfire is arguably one of the best known aircraft of all times. I hesitated to do an article about the Spitfire and the Bf-109 because so much has been written about both of them. I figured the best option was a match up article.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 12 months ago from Houston, Texas

      While I don't know that much about different types of airplanes...even I had heard of the Spitfire. My brothers when young assembled many a model airplane and had some of them suspended from their bedroom ceiling. I would not be surprised if a Spitfire was among their collection. Thanks for this informative hub.