The Messerschmitt Bf 109 was the first truly modern fighter. With its all-metal stressed-skin construction, mono-wing design, enclosed cockpit, and retractable landing gear, the Bf 109 had no equal. It was the fastest military plane in the sky for six years—until another German plane, the Focke-Wulf Fw 190, supplanted it.
Pilots sometimes complained about the Bf 109’s difficult handling, lack of rear view, and limited range, but the plane proved a potent adversary throughout the war. The addition of thick armor plating, bullet-resistant glass, and more formidable weaponry helped the plane maintain its edge. Though Allied fighters eventually surpassed it in speed, maneuverability, and firepower, the Bf 109 remained in service until Germany’s surrender.
History of the Artifact
This Bf 109 was assigned to Jagdgeschwader (fighter wing) 51 and piloted by Eduard Hemmerling, a veteran of combat in France. On July 29, 1940, during an air battle over Dover, Hemmerling earned his third victory in combat. But his own aircraft was mortally wounded, and Hemmerling turned toward home. His failing airplane crashed off the coast of Cap Blanc Nez, killing the 27-year-old pilot.
In 1988, a man walking on the beach near Calais noticed a piece of metal sticking out of the sand—the tip of this plane’s wing. The Bf 109 was excavated and later moved to England for reconstruction and restoration. The plane was added to the Flying Heritage & Combat Armor Museum in 2007.
Did you know?
The Bf 109 is the most-produced fighter plane in history.