June 1st in German History: The First Flight of the Focke-Wulf Fw 190

Fw 190A-3 JG 2 in Britain 1942.jpg
A Fw 190A.

Much is often made of German wonder weapons. They are the subject of pop documentaries on the History Channel and of countless books and papers. For the most part, though, the potential and impact of these weapons are greatly exaggerated. German weapons during the Second World War were generally not decisively superior over their allied equivalents. This is true for German tanks especially. One area in which the Germans were superior, at least at times, to the Allies was in the quality of their fighters. The German Bf 109 was the best fighter of the early war, and its replacement, the Fw 190, reestablished qualitative superiority over the British for a time. The Fw 190 first flew on June 1st, 1939.

Development on the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 started in 1935. It was initially meant to counter possible future Allied fighters that could be superior to the Bf 109. The fighter was designed by Kurt Tank and was developed for four years before its first flight. The Germans continued to fine-tune the machine until 1941 when it began flying missions over France. It proved itself superior to the Spitfire MK. V, the main British fighter at the time. It was used on the Eastern front starting in December 1942 and was very effective against Soviet planes and as a ground attack craft. The fighter was able to secure German air superiority in the West until June of 1942 when the Spitfire MK IX was introduced, which was equal in quality to the Fw 190. The one flaw of the aircraft was that its performance decreased at high altitudes, which made it a poor interceptor against Allied strategic bombers. However, the Fw 190 D mitigated this flaw and allowed the aircraft to play a key role in the fight to defend Germany’s cities. Production facilities for the Fw 190 were major targets for Allied bombing campaigns. However, the Germans were able to produce more than 20,000 of them during the war. Although it never fully replaced the Bf 109, the Fw would be the main fighter in the Luftwaffe by the end of the war. It was considered superior in firepower and superior maneuverability at most altitudes. The Fw 190 would be seen less and less as the German airforce was ground down by the numerically superior Allies, especially following Operation Bodenplatte. Despite Germany’s defeat it would continue to be used in various nations around the world for several years, most notably Turkey.

The Fw 190 was not the end of German WWII fighter development. The Germans developed the Me 262, the first widely sued jet fighter, to replace it. The Me 262 was far too expensive and developed far too late to replace propeller planes in the Luftwaffe, however. Even if the Germans had been able to produce the Me 262 sooner or if they had instead decided to produce more Fw 190’s, superior Allied numbers, training, and fuel supplies would in every scenario have led to German defeat in the air.

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