James Kightly outlines the histories of the collection of Luftwaffe Messerschmitts held by the Australian War Memorial.
In Australia, we are lucky to have a remarkable set of Luftwaffe Messerschmitts including a classic ‘Jaeger’, and two cutting-edge types of the era; one that exemplifies the signpost to the future and the other of the many dead ends the desperate Third Reich attempted as a last ditch defence. All three are held by the Australian War Memorial, today on show within metres of each other.
The Classic ‘Jaeger’ – the 109G Messerschmitt Bf 109G-6 Werknummer 163824
The Messerschmitt Bf 109 will need no introduction as the classic ‘Jaeger’ (fighter) in Luftwaffe service through W.W.II. Most readers will be familiar with the attempted export of this Messerschmitt. But the history of this aircraft is much more interesting than that one – albeit important – episode.
Like many other surviving Axis aircraft, its wartime service is obscure, the best evidence being from examining the airframe. However, unconfirmed reports state that it was probably manufactured in April 1944 at Regensberg with the test flight at Puchhof airfield. We also know that this was one of the last G-6 models built, G-10 production overtaking this sub-variant in April 1944.
Apparently it was damaged in a ground collision with another G-6 on 12 August 1944, and damaged again, after repair, later that year. A painted inscription under the canopy states it was refurbished by Ludwig Hansen & Co at Munster in December, the starboard wing and fuselage stern-frame being replaced at this time, and a high altitude DB 605AS engine fitted. Two other oddities are the (replacement) canopy has red lines for the dive bombing role, and inside the rear fuselage is a curse in Cyrillic script, presumably put there by a Russian forced labourer. The non standard fuselage cowls possibly indicate a change of engine type.
Although this aircraft’s war service has so far not been confirmed, the sister machines before and after in Werknummer sequence served with I/JG5 and were lost in action. Physical clues such as shrapnel damage to the pilot’s seat and patched holes – perhaps from shrapnel or a bullet – just behind the cockpit, as well as other repairs strongly suggest this machine was used in combat, and this evidence counters the lack of unit or specific markings on the airframe.
This aircraft was captured by the British towards the end of the Second World War, after which it left Eggebeck for the UK, and by 1946 it was located at an RAF Maintenance Unit at Brize Norton, Oxfordshire, UK. Soon afterwards, this Messerschmitt and sister type the Messerschmitt 163 Komet (see below) were sent to Australia, but it appears that no information or documentation came with either aircraft. It was presumed that they were a gift from Britain in recognition to Australia’s contribution to the air war in Europe during W.W.II.
On arrival in Australia this aircraft was stored (still crated, for at least eight years) at RAAF Laverton, Victoria, and was transferred and stored at RAAF Tocumwal for a further year until it was finally transferred to the AWM in 1955.
In 1963 it was sold by the AWM to a flying instructor at the Illawarra Flying School at Bankstown, simply as he had enquired and the AWM (partly due to storage and funding pressure) felt able to sell it for £100, less than the scrap metal value. He subsequently sold it to Marshall Airways at Bankstown airport, it becoming part of Sid Marshall’s collection with several other historic aircraft for a number of years.
When the collection was broken up after Sid’s death in the early 1970s, the then-new warbird movement was developing worldwide, and something like a Messerschmitt Bf 109 became a highly sought-after collectable type. The aircraft was sold to famous aircraft dealer Doug Arnold in England UK, with either the intent to restore it to fly, or, in Doug’s usual style, for it to be traded on – at a profit.
In 1979, when the export was attempted, labelled as ‘Mustang aircraft parts’ and after a British civil registration G-SMIT had in fact been sought and allocated, the Messerschmitt was impounded and confiscated by Australian Customs because of recent Australian legislation governing the export of historic aircraft.
During the ensuing court case, it was stored at No 2 Stores Depot, RAAF Regents Park, NSW. After the judgement that export was illegal, the AWM were gifted the aircraft in 1988, conditional that ‘the aircraft will be maintained on display for the general public’.
Now it is shown, dramatically poised, as though attacking the Lancaster in the ANZAC Hall, and a key element in the Striking by Night display. It is believed to be the most completely original surviving Messerschmitt 109, and it is probably the only surviving example still wearing the original paintwork which was applied by the Luftwaffe in 1944.
Tale of a Tail
There are a number of other relics in the AWM collection, including one worth particular mention, the tail fin of an even rarer Messerschmitt, and worth noting as (like the 109) this type served throughout W.W.II, but even fewer airframes (and even parts) survive today. It is a tail fin from a Messerschmitt Bf 110G, notable as it was flown by Major H W Schnaufer of NG 4. He was the most successful German night fighter pilot of W.W.II with 121 victories (as marked on the fin) over western allied night bombers (some with Australian crews) in 164 operational sorties. Remarkably, Schnaufer survived the war but was killed in a road accident in 1950. The Imperial War Museum in London has the partner fin in their collection.
Rocket Flea – The 163 Messerschmitt Me163B, Komet, Werknummer 191907
The Messerschmitt Komet is most noteworthy as an extreme example of technical achievement in desperate circumstances, as its effect on the allies, despite the interest at the time, was in reality, minimal.
It is believed 191907 was built in early 1945 and allocated to II/JG 400 at Husum in Schleswig-Holstein, one of a group of stored machines believed to be reserves, but as the fuels had all but run out, it was flown little if at all, and we know it was not given unit markings. Captured by the British, it was taken to England for evaluation and given the serial AM222, and later shipped to Australia with the 109G 163824. Retaining its original paint, but left in store until 1970, for ‘lack of space’, it was loaned to the RAAF Museum at Point Cook.
Unfortunately, during that period most of the original paint was stripped, and a non-original scheme applied in 1978. In 1982 at the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation, a more accurate scheme, matched to surviving paint samples on the aircraft and photographs was applied, with further detail work undertaken, and following its return to the AWM’s store in 1986, the rocket fighter went on show in 2001.
Nazi Swallow – the 262 Messerschmitt Me 262 Werknummer 500200
The Messerschmitt Me 262 was the world’s first fully operational jet powered aircraft. The AWM’s Messerschmitt Me 262, ‘Black X’ of II/KG(J)51, was captured at the war’s end at Fassberg, Germany. It had been flown from Zatec in Czechoslovakia by Lieutenant Fröhlich and surrendered to the British. Equipped with the two bomb racks on the nose, it was one of Hitler’s preferred bomber 262s. It had been test flown at Regensberg-Obertraubling, probably in February 1945. It may have flown missions in the Speyer and Kaiserslautern areas with 4 Staffel of II/KG(J)51, before being attached to Gefechtsverband Hogeback (battle unit Hogeback) and then flown west to avoid the Russian’s advance.
One of nine Me 262s used by the British for evaluation, 500200 was ferried to the UK and then flown by Squadron Leader Tony Martindale and Captain Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown for evaluation and demonstration. After the programme was completed (restricted due to uncertainty over the engines’ remaining, very limited ‘life’) this aircraft was selected as a gift to Australia, and arrived at RAAF Laverton via Port Melbourne on 22 December 1946.
It remained in store until extricated from RAAF Base Fairbairn by airmen loaned from various RAAF units, including the Aircraft Research and Development Unit. Later in 1965 it was loaned to the RAAF Museum until 1988, then travelling to the Treloar Centre, Canberra for storage that year after which it was prepared for exhibition and was put on show in 2003, also in Striking by Night.
Removing the 1950s RAAF over-paint revealed firstly the 1945 British Air Ministry ‘P’ for prototype and serial AIR MIN 81, and under that the original single coat Luftwaffe colours. (Over the years two other Wk. Nos have been quoted for this aircraft; 500210 112372, but the paint investigation settled the correct identity.) More intriguingly was a ‘half inch bullet hole’ in the wing, evidence of combat, but so far no documents or records have been found to detail these events.
With acknowledgement to the following sources: ‘War Prizes’ by Phil Butler, Midland Counties. ‘A Unique Flight’, Michael Nelmes, New Holland. ‘Here is their Spirit’, UQP. AWM Website and sources http://cas.awm.gov.au.