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The standard German fighter plane throughout World War II was a single-engine, low-wing monoplane known as the Messerschmitt Bf-109, of which more than 35,000 were produced during a ten-year span from 1935 until the war's end. The Bf-109 was designed by Willi Messerschmitt and, in 1937, set a new world speed record for land planes by flying at just a fraction under 380 miles per hour.
In combat, the Messerschmitt was armed with two 20-millimeter cannons, plus a pair of 7.9-millimeter machine guns. The weight of this armament, plus armor plate to protect the pilot, and a full load of fuel reduced the Bf-109's maximum speed in combat to just under340 miles per hour.
Still the Messerschmitt was the world's fastest and deadliest operational fighter plane when it first saw service during the Spanish Civil War. With the outbreak of World War II in early September of 1939, the Bf-109 continued its mastery in the skies over Europe as the Nazi blitzkrieg, or "lighting war," swept across Poland, the Low Countries and France.
However, during the first months of the Second World War, as was the case earlier in Spain, the Messerschmitt Bf-109 never faced serious competition in combat. For no country on the continent of Europe possessed a fighter plane that could come close to matching the plane's speed, armament or overall performance.
The German Luftwaffe's overwhelming advantage came to an end, however, in the six week Battle of Britain during the summer and fall of 1940, when more than 600 Bf-109s were downed by England's Spitfire and Hurricane fighters. The Messerschmitt remained an effective fighter, but the world now knew it could be beaten.
The Messerschmitt Bf-109 was powered by a 12 cylinder, water-cooled Daimler-Benz engine producing over 1,000 horsepower. Its service ceiling was about 35,000 feet, and its maximum range was just over 400 miles.
Over the years the Bf-109 was consistently modified and improved with a
series of new and more powerful engines to enhance its speed and performance. By the
end of the war the final model of the fighter could attain a speed approaching 450 miles
The preceding information was extracted from the pamphlet,
"The Great Airplanes Sterling Silver Miniature Collection", published by The Franklin Mint, 1979.
Permission was granted to ALLSTAR by The Franklin Mint to use the preceding materials.
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Updated: March 12, 2004