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Heinkel He 111

The He 111 was the main Luftwaffe bomber during the early stages of World War II, and is perhaps the most obvious symbol of the German side of the Battle of Britain. Developed from a pre-war airliner design the 111 was never a great design, and was removed from service as soon a other medium bombers had the range and payload to match that of the 111. Smaller runs were also completed as transport aircraft in the later stages of the war.

Table of contents
1 History
2 Prototypes
3 Early production
4 Specifications


In the early 1930's Ernst Heinkel decided to build the world's fastest passenger plane, a lofty goal met with more than a little skepticism by the German aircraft industry and its newly evolving political leadership. To make matters worse he entrusted the development to the GŁnther brothers, fairly new to the company and basically untested. To everyone's surprise they delivered on the promise, delivering an improved version of the already fast Lockheed 9 Orion. The first example of their soon-to-be-famous Heinkel He 70 Blitz rolled off the line in 1932 and immediately started breaking record after record. In its normal 4 passenger version it cruised at almost 200mph, even though it was powered by only a single 600hp BMW V1 engine.

Following the success of the Blitz, practically every design the brothers penned looked like it. It was only a matter of time before they turned their attention to developing a larger and more powerful twin engine version, producing a plane that had many of the Blitz's features – including its elliptical gull-wing, small rounded control surfaces, and BMW engines. With the engines moved off the nose being the only notable change in looks, their new design was often called the Doppel-Blitz (double-Blitz).


He 111V1 was completed as a bomber prototype and kept secret. It first flew in February 1935, and was followed quickly by the civilian-equipped V2. V2 had a smaller wing, and used the bomb-bay as a four-seat "smoking compartment" with another six seats behind it in the rear fuselage. V2 entered service with Lufthansa in 1936, along with five newly built versions known as the He 111C.

V3 was also completed as a bomber prototype. It supplanted the main bomb-bay with smaller bays in the inner wings, and was armed with three MG15 machine guns for defence. The added weight slowed the plane considerably, which now cruised at a measly 170mph.

Early production

Ten He 111A-0 models based on the V3 were built, but they proved to be underpowered and were eventually sold to China.

In early 1936 the V3 was fitted with 950hp Daimler-Benz DB 600Aa engines. Performance jumped to about 225mph, and the Luftwaffe placed orders for over 300 He 111B models. Some of these planes were sent to Spain to serve with the Condor Legion, where they proved to be able to outfly the majority of fighters sent to intercept them, and it appeared that the light three-gun armament was more than enough to handle the ones that managed to catch them. This would lead the Luftwaffe into a false sense of security, as the days of the bomber being faster than the fighters would be short-lived and the woeful armament would soon prove to be deadly.

The design quickly ran though a series of minor design versions to fix one sort of problem or another. One of the more obvious changes started with the He 111F models, which moved from the elliptical wing to one with straight leading and trailing edges, which was easier to build.

The DB engine was always a problem because the German engine industry couldn't produce enough of them, but as the best engine of it's day it was used in practically every design. Eventually the RLM (the German Air Ministry) decided that all of the DB engines would go to Messerschmitt for use in the Bf 109 and Bf 110. Many promising designs were cancelled due to this decision, while most other designs were forced to switch engines. The result for the He 111 was a slew of minor versions with all sorts of engine installations - basically whatever they could find.

One of these runs was the He 111P, which mounted the updated Dailmer-Benz DB 601 and a newly designed nose section that replaced the 'stepped' cockpit with the now-famous glazed 'dome' over the front of the plane. These improvements allowed it to reach almost 250mph. Several hundred of these were built in 1938, and saw action over Poland.

He 111H

It was at this point that the new 1,100hp Junkers Jumo 211 engine started deliveries. When the Jumo was fitted to the P model it became the He 111H, the most produced version of the design by far. The main versions in the early stages of the war were the H-5 which included additional guns in the rear side windows, and the similar H-6 which could optionally carry torpedos (although they rarely did so). Both replaced the earlier versions in-wing bomb bays with additional fuel tanks for better range.

Even with an upgraded Jumo of 1,300hp the plane was now so overburdened with equipment that it could rarely reach even 220mph. That meant it had neither the speed nor the guns needed to put up a fight with the modern RAF fighters it would meet over England, let alone the cannon-armed planes a year later. Nevertheless the He 111 was kept in production until 1944 because the RLM continually dropped the ball on replacing it: the He 177 Greif was a disaster, and the entire advanced Bomber B program was eventually abandoned. The vast majority of the 7,300 He 111's produced would be the H models, largely identical to the first H introduced in 1939.

Along with the Me 109 the He 111 came to symbolize German air power. This was true in more ways than one - both planes were left in production long after they should have been replaced, and at the hands of rapidly modernizing allied air forces, both would suffer terribly for being a few years too old.