The most common images of Germany’s famous Messerschmitt fighter are of the well refined “E” or “G” models during World War II. But earlier versions of the fighter saw combat too, and the decision to use the type fighting for the Fascist Spanish Nationalist side in the Spanish Civil War provided experience that would serve the German Luftwaffe well at the outbreak of World War.
Join me for a look at that earlier conflict.
When Germany first decided to help Francisco Franco and his Fascist revolutionaries against the Republican government of Spain, the Luftwaffe’s main fighter was the He51 bi-plane. The German contingent, fighting alongside Italian CR.32 fighters were initially dominant. But when the Republicans gained help from the Soviet Union the situation quickly reversed itself. The Soviet I-15 and I-16 fighters were far superior to the German He51. The Italian CR.32 fared better; although still a bi-plane, it was faster and more capable than the German fighter.
This led to Germany sending a number of their new Bf109 fighters. Initially this even meant pre-production types that struggled to achieve parity with the Soviet I-16. Ultimately this struggle served Germany very well. It led to serious studies of tactics, and much of the Luftwaffe leadership gained valuable experience in Spain. Most famous of these was Werner Molders, who was the Luftwaffe’s top ace and tactician. Molder’s greatest contribution was more flexible and fluid tactics that would make the Luftwaffe very hard to beat over the next few years.
The Bf109D was a direct follow on of the Bf109C with only minor changes, and these aircraft achieved total domination of Spanish skies. Very late in that war a few Bf109E models were used, but it was these earlier models that carried most of the burden. When the Fascists finally won the war in early 1939, all the foreign “helpers” returned home but 60 or so Messerschmitts of all models were left behind.
This particular aircraft is from the Hobbycraft kit with Aeromaster decals. It shows a plane flown by Hauptmann Gotthardt Handrick. His main claim to fame was having won an Olympic Gold Medal in Pentathlon at the 1936 games. He was an ace with five kills in Spain (although records only confirm two, both scored in this airplane). In World War II he scored another ten kills, but was quickly promoted to the point where he flew little combat.