Genesis of Prewar Messerschmitt Me 109s
Although production was approved by the RML, the new fighter made an name for itself. In July 1937 already, three Bf 109Bs took part in the Flugmeeting airshow in Zürich (under the command of Major Seidemann), winning the First prize in a 202 km speed race and class A category in the international Alpenrundflug for military aircraft, and the international Patrouillenflug category. On 11 November 1937, the V13 flown by Messerschmitt's chief pilot Dr. Hermann Wurster set a new world air speed record. Thanks to a 1,230 kW (1,650 hp) DB 601R racing engine, it reached 610.95 km/h (379.62 mph). The V13 was a Bf 109D conversion.
Heinkel, eventually gave up the He 112 and turned to the He 100, and on 6 June 1938 the V3 (Ernst Udet) broke the record at 634.7 km/h (394.4 mph). Hans Dieterle reached 746.61 km/h (463.92 mph) with the V8 on 30 March 1939, but Willy Messerschmitt regained the lead on 26 April 1939 with Flugkapitän Fritz Wendel. This time flying the 209 V1 (planned replacement for the Me 109 and called 109R for propaganda purposes) at 755.14 km/h (469.22 mph). It was powered by the DB 601ARJ (1,156 kW or 1,550 hp with a supercharger to reach 1,715 kW (2,300 hp). This world record for piston-engines stood until 1969 (Grumman F8F Bearcat Conquest I at 777 km/h (483 mph))
The Me 109A
Despite these racing trophies, Willy Messerschmitt and Robert Lusser designed initial production models of the A, B, C and D series with relatively low-powered, 670–700 PS (660-690 HP) Junkers Jumo 210 series engines. Later some prototypes were converted to use the more powerful DB 600.
The Bf 109A was the very first version of the Bf 109. It was considered as a pre-serie. Armament initially planned of only two cowl-mounted 7.92 mm (.312 in) MG 17 machine guns but with intelligence about the Hurricane and Spitfire, experiments were carried out with a third machine gun firing through the propeller shaft. The prototype V4 and some A-0 were also given the 640 PS (631 hp, 471 kW) Junkers Jumo 210B engine. The propelled was a two-blade fixed-pitch one, later changed to a 670 PS (661 hp, 493 kW) Jumo 210D when available.
The A-0 serie got production changes on the flow and diverged in their appearance. Outside the engine, cockpit and machine gun ventilation holes/slats were revised, and location of the oil cooler. These Bf 109 A-0 served with the Legion Condor, assimilated by B-series aircrafts (tactical markings 6-1 to 6–16). The 6–15 ran out of fuel and was forced to land behind enemy line, captured by Republicans on 11 November 1937 and transferred to the Soviet Union. It incorporated several improvements from the Bf 109B production program included a planned variable-pitch propeller. According to RLM archives only 22 aircraft were delivered A-series prototypes.
The Me 109B
The Bf 109 B-1 was the first large-scale production fighter, fitted with the 670 PS (661 hp, 493 kW) Jumo 210D engine, and still two-bladed fixed-pitch propeller. A more modern variable-pitch propeller was later introduced and retrofitted, these modied planes being unofficially known as B-2s. The Bf 109B saw combat with the Legion Condor during the Spanish Civil War. They only had two machines guns, but tests with an engine-mounted machine gun failed because of engine vibrations and overheating. Therefore fitting of two more machine guns in the wings followed showing they needed strengthening. The V9 prototype tested wing 20 mm MG FF cannons. 341 Bf 109 B-1s were built by Messerschmitt, Fieseler, and the Erla Maschinenwerke total.
The Me 109C
The Bf 109C arrive in the production lines in the spring of 1938. It was powered by a 700 PS (690 hp, 515 kW) Jumo 210G engine, with direct fuel injection. The wings were strengthened to carrying two machine guns, for a total of four 7.92 mm (.312 in) MG 17s. C-0s were pre-production models, C-1s were production models, and the C-2 was a prototype to test yet another engine-mounted machine gun. The C-3 had 20 mm MG FF wings cannons but either production or conversions to this model remains unknown. The planned C-4 had tested an engine-mounted Motorkanone MG FF and remained as a prototype. 58 Bf 109Cs according to the RLM (versions) has been delivered to the Luftwaffe.
The Me 109D "Dora"
The "Dora" was the second production batch of the early series, twice as much being delivered than Mark Bs. The V10 prototype, differed little from the V8, except for its Jumo 210G engine. The following V10, V11, V12 and V13 prototypes used Bf 109B airframes but with the DB 600A engine, with performances in mind. The DB 600A was quickly replaced by the DB601A with direct fuel injection. Developed from the V10 and V13 prototypes, the Bf 109D became the standard Bf 109 in service with the Luftwaffe, just before the start of World War II.
The type saw limited service as all of the 235 Bf 109Ds available at the beginning of the Poland Campaign were replaced by the Bf 109E, for a few night fighter units that kept these into early 1940. Variants of the D-series included the D-0 and D-1 models, both fitted with a Junkers Jumo 210D engine, armed with two wing-mounted and two nose-mounted 7.92 mm MG 17s. The D-2 experimented an engine-mounted machine gun agains, but without much success. In addition the next D-3 received 20 mm MG FFs in the wings.
A total of 647 Bf 109Ds of all versions were built by Focke-Wulf, Erla, Fieseler, Arado and AGO. While only four Bf 109Ds, possibly D-0 preproduction series has been originally manufactured by Messerschmitt, the others being licenced. Some Bf 109Ds were sold to Hungary, and 10 to Switzerland (built by Arado-Flugzeugwerke GmbH, Warnemünde).
Me 109A V-1
Me 109B-2 in flight, circa 1938
Me 109B 3 view tech drawing
Me 109C 3 view tech drawing
Me 109C-1 JG/88 Legion Condor, Spain circa 1938