From Crash Landing to Display
Adrian Kerrison: “This is the Messerschmitt Bf 109 E-series. This is one that was shot down during the Battle of Britain in September 1940, and we know a lot quite a lot about its history, we know two of the pilots that flew it during the early stages of the Battle of Britain and during the later stages and it's also in really brilliant condition. It's almost the same as it was when it was shot down apart from some bits that were taken out from the inside. The Bf 109 is the most produced fighter aircraft in history with over 34,000 having been built over an eight-year period. There were many variants and it served in a variety of roles from bomber escort to night fighter to ground attack and it was the Luftwaffe's main single seat fighter for the first few years of the war and probably one of the best fighters during that period.”
Video footage reporter: “Fighters above at high altitudes, fighters on both sides, fighters in the front and in the rear, fighters weaving in and out of the bomber formations. By sheer weight of numbers the enemy again and again broke through the coastal defences.”
Adrian Kerrison: “So, this Bf-109 is from the E-series of Bf-109s. It was very much upgraded from the first Bf-109 that flew in May 1935. So, it had a top speed of 357 miles per hour it could fly up to 36,000 feet and it had quite a powerful armament. Two MG17 machine guns above the engine here and then you'd also have an MG/FF cannon in either wing. Also with the E3s, there was usually another cannon in the nose but often these were removed because pilots found that it caused trouble with the engine.”
James Sanders: “Our recognition was appalling but I think the Germans realized that even theirs was appalling because they painted their 109s with yellow noses so they could recognise each other. You see, a 109 and clipped wing Spit looks fairly much the same actually. But the 109 is for its job, in the hands of a very experienced pilot, such as Galland, it's very deadly. Because it's unstable and a fighter should be unstable.”
Adrian Kerrison: “So, at the time of the Battle of Britain the Bf-109 was a better aircraft than the RAF's Hawker Hurricane but when it came to the Supermarine Spitfire it was more of a match. So, the spitfire was slightly faster and had a better turn radius but the 109 could climb a lot faster and it could be thrown into steep dives thanks to its fuel-injected engine. In terms of armament, the Spitfire was armed with eight machine guns whereas the Bf-109 was armed with two machine guns and two cannon but cannon were a lot more powerful and destructive than machine guns so also kind of a match there as well.”
James Sanders: “And it had inverted carburettors which we didn't have, and it was slightly smaller than the spitfire and the hurricane, the 109. It had two cannons. You see with 303s you can put an awful lot of bullets in before you get before you can get something down but one hit with a cannon and down you go.”
Walter Krupinski: “You know what [unknown] said to Goering, he said give me a Spitfire and that is what everybody, every German fighter who had fought against the Spitfire was thinking, this is a much better aircraft than our 109. During the war later on in '44 when I came back from Russia to Germany and was a group commander, they brought to us different types of enemy aircraft and had refurbished them and gave the commanders of the groups the possibility to fly it and so I flew it during the war. I flew the spitfire, I flew the Hurricane, I threw the Thunderbolt and at that time the Spitfire was absolutely the best aircraft.”
Adrian Kerrison: “This particular Bf-109 here was built as an E-3 variant. It was built in September 1939 by a company called Erla Maschinewerk in Leipzig. It was given the Werk Nummer 1190 and in mid-1940 it was issued to the German fighter unit Jagdgeschwader 26. So, the first known pilot of this Bf-109 was named Karl Ebbighausen. In 1940 he was 26 years old he was a very experienced fighter pilot having flown in the Spanish civil war and he also fought in the Battle of France and during the evacuation of Dunkirk when he shot down about five allied aircraft. So, we believe that this aircraft was flown by Ebbighausen during the early stages of the Battle of Britain in July maybe early August 1940 because it has his victory markings on it and beneath the layers of paint also has the insignia of a grouping commander. He was as I mentioned commander of two group during the battle of Britain.”
Video footage reporter: “German fighters waited overhead for the defending planes of the Royal Air Force, the RAF, to appear. They didn't have long to wait.”
Adrian Kerrison: “So, on the tail fin here we have carl Ebbighausen victory markings so the first two ones uh those are the rondels of the Dutch Air Force and this the third one is around the French Air Force and then the last two are the rondels of the Royal Air Force. And also, on here are the dates that the victories were achieved so all of these were achieved during the Battle of France so from 13th of May and then going to the 14th of June, the last one. So the number four here is the number of the aircraft and then you have the Luftwaffe symbol the Balkan kreuzer and then you have this dash here, with the dash representing the second group of Jagdgeschwader 26 with the colour white representing the first Staffel of the group which is number four.
Ebbighausen was actually shot down on the 16th of August off the southern coast of England. He was killed but he was not flying this aircraft probably having upgraded to the latest variant which was an E-4. At some point after that this was partially upgraded to an E-4 so it was given a more powerful DB601 engine and then sometime in September it was issued to a relatively inexperienced pilot named Horst Perez who was 22 years old. So, Perez was flying this bf-109 on 30th September 1940 he was involved in sort of an escort mission escorting bombers over the channel and towards London and this was actually one of the last major daylight raids uh during the battle of Britain and at some point Perez was flying over Eastbourne with his wingmen and he was bounced by Spitfires of 92 squadron. One of the pilots that is believed to have shot him down was named Don Kingaby. He was known as the 109 specialist because he had a penchant for shooting down Bf-109s and at some point Perez's engine failed we're not sure if Kingaby had actually hit him because bullet holes were not found in the aircraft afterwards but Perez basically decided to force land in a field and he landed it wheels up in a field near East Dean in Sussex.
So, this is how the 109 would have looked when it crashed it has the bent propellers it has the landing gear up and it's sort of been restored to look as it would have on the day it crashed. So, this bf-109, after it was acquired by the Imperial War Museum, having languished in a scrapyard for several decades, it wasn't in a great state. So, it's been restored to look as it was when it was shot down on the 30th of September, so a lot of that is having been repainted. And if we go over here, we can look inside the cockpit...
You can kind of get an idea for what it was like for Ebbighausen and Perez to sit in there. So, the inside of the cockpit in those decades that it was sitting in a scrap yard a lot of the stuff was taken out so the sort of dials and a lot of the stuff in here is not original to this aircraft but they are original parts so it's part of the restoration process.”
Gunther Rall: “Yes, the 109 had some problems you know the 109 was a hit for instance undercarriage they had very high struts very narrow this means if you accelerate your throttle push you further forward and the aircraft starts rolling and you give forward pressure to get a tail up. As soon as the tail gets up you feel the torque effect and you have to give immediately opposite rather so there are some uh problematic features but as a whole, I flew all the different Marks under 109 just to give my judgment uh I liked it, the 109, I was very familiar with that plane and looking at the 109 today I never could figure out how I could survive or fly that for five and a half years because it was a very narrow cockpit, very tiny and the view to the back was very very limited you know, we didn't have these cockpits as we have today. But if you get used to it you know, we flew it in Russia, out of snow and mud and everything and I felt familiar.”
Adrian Kerrison: “Perez landed the aircraft in this field, and he was pretty relatively uninjured and he was pretty much immediately arrested by the local Home Guard Unit as well as the Police and he was sent to a prisoner of war camp in Canada where he spent the remainder of the war. Damage to this aircraft was very light, a testament to how Perez landed it in the field. So, it was sent to the Royal Aircraft Establishment in Farnborough for research and testing and then in October 1940 Lord Beaverbrook agreed to send it to Canada to the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire and from there it was it went on a tour of Canada to raise money for Britain's war effort and then in 1941 it was sent to the United States to do another coast-to-coast tour, this time raising money for Bundles for Britain. And it was very popular because it was the first captured enemy aircraft to tour the United States who had not yet entered the war.
So, on this side of the aircraft, we have an unrestored section of the wing and you can see sort of what's left of the original paintwork but another interesting thing that you can really see on this wing are all the names that are sort of scratched into it and this was part of the Bundles for Britain campaign, the tour that it did through North America. So in addition to buying an entry ticket to see the aircraft, you could also scratch your name on it as well if you paid a little bit extra and there were a lot of celebrities that signed their names onto it as well including the boxer Jack Dempsey and the singer Lawrence Tibbett, and it's just another sort of interesting historical insight that you can see on the aircraft itself.
So, the 109's fundraising tour ended in May 1942 and then it remained in North America until the 1960s when it was rescued from a scrap yard. In 1998 it was acquired by the Imperial War Museum with support of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, and it was restored to what it looks like now.
So, the Bf 109 is a really interesting aircraft in particular because it was the most produced fighter aircraft in history ,it was one of the best aircraft of its type at the time and it was continually upgraded throughout the war. And this particular Bf-109 is quite interesting because it's one of the few surviving samples that was actually flown during the Battle of Britain and it's also in excellent condition and allows us to tell the story of the RAF's nemesis during the Battle of Britain.
Thanks for watching I hope you enjoyed the video and make sure you like and subscribe to the IWM YouTube channel.”
The Messerschmitt Bf 109 was matched only by the Supermarine Spitfire. It was the Luftwaffe’s only single seat fighter for the first few years of the Second World War and the RAF’s nemesis during the Battle of Britain. Duxford’s Bf 109 is an E-3/E-4 variant. It was attacked by Spitfires in late 1940 and crash-landed in a field in relatively good condition. Because of this smooth crash landing, the aircraft ended up touring North America before going on display at IWM – the tourists’ graffiti from these tours can still be seen on its wings.
In this video, our expert shows us how much we can learn from looking closely this Battle of Britain icon. Take a look in the cockpit and hear from the pilots who flew the Bf 109 during the Second World War.