Estimates vary, but an estimated 35,000 Bf 109s were produced through the 1950s, including the Czech Avia S-99/S-199 and Spanish Hispano Buchon Ha-1109/Ha-1112 variants produced after WW II. According to statistics from the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, Aircraft Division Industry Report, Exhibit I - German Airplane Programs vs Actual Production, 33,984 Bf 109s were constructed from September 1939 to May 1945 alone, with 2,193 A to E models produced before the war, from 1936 to August 1939. Czech and Spanish production continued until 1948 and 1958, respectively. Following WW II, Bf 109s saw action with the Israelis in 1948 and continued to be operated by many of the world's air forces, including those of Switzerland, Romania, Finland, Yugoslavia and several other countries. A number of Spanish-built Hispano Buchons enjoyed a new lease on life in the late 1960s, when they were sold by Spain and used in the aerial sequences of the epic movie The Battle of Britain.
While the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 entered the fray in 1941/1942, the Bf 109 soldiered on and despite its limitations, proved remarkably adaptable to such roles as fighter/bomber, night-fighter, and air-defence roles, remaining a deadly adversary to the end of hostilities. Power and armament were constantly upgraded, with the Bf 109 continuing to be dangerous and effective to the end, particularly in the hands of skilled pilots. More aerial victories were scored by pilots flying the Bf 109 than any other type during the war, with an estimated 105-109 Bf 109 pilots accounting for nearly 15,000 "kills" alone!
While the Bf 109 remains without doubt one of the the greatest and most highly-produced piston-driven fighter aircraft of all time, very few survive intact today. Of those, most are static museum display pieces and a mere handful remain airworthy. In particular, while the Bf 109 G and its subvariants were produced in the greatest numbers of all, none are believed to remain airworthy today.
Loosely assembled, with the wings bearing remarkably preserved white and black Luftwaffe cross markings, Bf 109 G-6 410077 patiently awaits a new owner and restoration. Alternatively, with its incredible documentation, unbroken provenance and inventory of parts, it could even form the basis for a great museum display "as is". It is accompanied by an assembled and remarkably detailed DB 605 V-12 engine, complete with turbo-supercharger and fuel-injection plumbing.
This plane, 1943 Messerschmitt BF 109 G-6 was sent to the Eastern Front and assigned to Luftwaffe Gruppe IV, JG 54 (Grune Herzen=Green Hearts) based out of the Dorpat Airfield on the Western Front of Lake Peipus, north of Lake Swiblo, Estonia-Russia. The plane arrived there in late 1943 and entered the fight. At that time, Gruppe IV was heavily engaged in attacking Soviet troops and armour in the area.
JG 54 was the second-highest scoring Luftwaffe fighter wing of all time (JG 52 the highest), and enjoyed initial success over the English Channel and South-East England during the Battle of Britain in the summer of 1940. Next, the unit transferred East in the Spring of 1941 for Operation Barbarossa – the German invasion of the Soviet Union. JG 54 Aces (Experten) included Walter Nowotny, Otto Kittel, Freiherr Peter Grunhertz, Hans "Phips" Philipp, Gunther Lutzow, Emil "Bully" Lang (holds the record for most kills in a day, 18), Helmuth Osterman, Dietrich Hrabak, Werner Schroer and Hannes Trautloft.
JG 54's Commanding Officer was General Kurt Pflugbeil, a highly decorated General der Flieger, and one of only 882 recipients of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves. He was a direct report to Luftwaffe Chief of Staff, Generalmajor Klaus Siegfried Uebe.
The Gruppe IV Luftwaffe pilot of this aircraft, 410077, was (Over Lieutenant) Oberleutnant Josef Gröene, a Staff Officer of JG54, who was also the Technische (Technical) Officer of the Geschwader (Geschwader is roughly the equivalent to a Royal Air Force Group).
Each Geschwader had a Kommodor, Adjutant, Operations Officer, Technical Officer and Chief of Staff. Their aircraft were marked as such:
< - + - , < I + , < - + , < I 0 + , and < II + (the + is the fuselage insignia).
There were four fighter Gruppen (groups) under the command of the General:
I./JG 54 (Turku)(Finland)
II./JG 54 (Reval-Laksberg)
III./JG 54 (Reval-Laksberg)
IV./JG 54 (Dorpat)- This is the one Oblt. Josef Gröene served in.
This aircraft, 410077, was saw its last fight above Lake Swiblo on the Estonian-Russian border, where it was hit by Soviet AA fire south easterly of Lake Swiblo, which damaged it sufficiently to force it down.
Oblt. Gröene successfully landed on the lake's ice, bending only the propeller and stopping some 200 meters from the Western Shore. He quickly exited the aircraft, taking his gunsight and clock, heading off towards the western shore and German lines in great haste to make his escape. In fact, it is believed that Oblt. Gröene was shot down again and survived the war.
The Germans, not wanting to leave a war trophy for the Russians, fired on the plane with machine guns. Being on the fast-moving Russian front, the plane was soon forgotten and in the Spring of 1944, with the warmer weather, it slipped under the ice into the frigid Arctic lake.
Next post, I will cover the recovery of the Bf 109 and its offering today.