Australian War Memorial: Messerschmitt Bf 109G-6

Along with the British Supermarine Spitfire and American North American P-51 Mustang, the German Messerschmitt Bf 109 has to be one of the most recognizable fighter aircraft of the World War Two era. First entering service in 1937, Messerschmitt Bf 109  variants were in use with the Luftwaffe for the entire duration of World War Two (1939-1945). By 1945 there had been approximately 34,000 Bf 109’s built, making it the most produced fighter aircraft in the world (over 20,000 were the G model variant alone).

Luftwaffe ground-crew positioning a Bf-109G-6 "Kanonenvogel" equipped with the Rüstsatz VI underwing gondola 20mm cannon kit. JG 2, France, Autumn 1943
Luftwaffe ground-crew positioning a Bf 109G-6 “Kanonenvogel” equipped with the Rüstsatz VI underwing gondola 20mm cannon kit. JG 2, France, Autumn 1943 – a good example of the standard camouflage for that period (Photo Source: German Federal Archives)

Throughout the lengthy air war of World War Two many Bf 109’s were obviously destroyed or wrecked but luckily a number remain either as museum displays or in flying condition around the world. Australia is lucky to have a rare Bf 109G-6 on display at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

Messerschmitt Bf 109G-6 at the Australian War Memorial 1944
1944 Messerschmitt Bf 109G-6 at the Australian War Memorial (photo taken during my January 2016 visit)

The Australian War Memorial Messerschmitt Bf 109G-6 (Work Number 163824) in the Striking by Night exhibit is believed to be the only surviving Bf 109 with its original complete Luftwaffe camouflage paint and markings, a 1944 day-fighter scheme (there are only slight variations resulting from service repairs and replacements). The aircraft was manufactured by Messerschmitt AG at Regensburg-Obertraubling in Bavaria, Germany in mid 1944.

1944 Messerschmitt Bf 109G-6 at the Australian War Memorial
1944 Messerschmitt Bf 109G-6 at the Australian War Memorial (photo taken during my January 2016 visit)

It is fantastic to be able to see such a rare aircraft up close and the war memorial simulates a 1943 night-time air attack by the Bf 109 upon Avro Lancaster “G for George” as part of the Striking by Night multimedia exhibit. Single seat day fighters were used by the Luftwaffe from 1943 in free-ranging Wilde Sau (Wild Boar) night operations, where the fighters were radio guided to the area of bomber operation (not radar guided like the Zahme Sau or Tame Boar method) then the pilots would use their own vision and best judgement to engage RAF Bomber Command aircraft in the nights sky over occupied Europe and Germany itself (obviously this method was limited by cloud cover and areas without sufficient light). Striking by Night is well worth seeing!

1944 Messerschmitt Bf 109G-6 at the Australian War Memorial - this one was sold from the collection in the 1960's but reacquired in 1988
1944 Messerschmitt Bf 109G-6 at the Australian War Memorial – this one was sold from the collection in the 1960’s but reacquired in 1988 (photo taken during my January 2016 visit)

Although the Bf 109G-6 shows evidence of having been damaged in combat (there is a bullet hole behind the cockpit), its service history is unknown other than unconfirmed reports that it was damaged twice in 1944. An inscription painted on the fuselage indicates a rebuild was completed in December 1944 by a sub-contractor to replace the starboard wing, fuselage stern frame, other parts and most noticeably the engine cowls which are non-standard and may indicate the engine type differed from the original one fitted to the standard G model. Following the end of the war though, what is known is that this particular fighter had quite an interesting life.

Found in May 1945 at the Luftwaffe airfield at Eggebeck in northern Germany (near Denmark), this Bf 109G-6 was scooped up by the Royal Air Force and sent to the UK for testing and evaluation. The aircraft remained with the RAF No. 4 Maintenance Unit until 1946 when it was sent to Australia as a war trophy for the Australian War Memorial collection.

Upon arrival in Australia the Bf 109G-6 was placed in storage at RAAF Laverton in Victoria and remained still crated for 8 years, before being transferred to RAAF Tocumwal for a year before finally making its way to the war memorial in 1955. The Bf 109G-6 was armed with 2 x 13mm MG 131 nose mounted machine-guns and a single 30mm Mk 108 cannon which fired through the propeller spinner but by the time this example arrived in Australia the 30mm cannon was not fitted (perhaps removed and examined in detail in the UK, then not replaced?).

1944 Messerschmitt Bf 109G-6 with the original war time livery and markings at the Australian War Memorial (photo taken during my January 2016 visit)
1944 Messerschmitt Bf 109G-6 with the original war-time livery and markings at the Australian War Memorial (photo taken during my January 2016 visit)

Inexplicably it was sold to a private owner in 1963 and then onsold to Marshall Airways at Bankstown Airport in New South Wales, where it was put on display until it was planned to be sold yet again (for a considerable sum) to another private owner in the UK in 1979. Prior to the shipment though, it was seized by Australian Customs due to a change in Australian legislation in relation to the export of historic aircraft plus it was fraudulently labelled as North American P-51 Mustang aircraft parts (nice try gents)!

The Bf-109G-6 (Werknummer 163824) on outdoor display at Bankstown Airport circa 1964
The Bf 109G-6 (Werknummer 163824) on outdoor display at Bankstown Airport circa 1964 (Photo Source: AWM – photo by John Buckman)
The Bf-109G-6 (Werknummer 163824) on outdoor display at Bankstown Airport circa 1964
The Bf 109G-6 (Werknummer 163824) on outdoor display at Bankstown Airport circa 1964 (Photo Source: AWM – photo by John Buckman)
The Bf-109G-6 (Werknummer 163824) on outdoor display at Bankstown Airport circa 1964
The Bf 109G-6 (Werknummer 163824) on outdoor display at Bankstown Airport circa 1964 (Photo Source: AWM – photo by John Buckman)

Whilst court proceedings were going on, the Bf 109G-6 remained in storage at RAAF No. 2 Stores Depot, Regents Park, NSW until a successful court decision was made and the aircraft was reacquired by the Australian War Memorial in 1988 to eventually be put back on display. Luckily not one of the private owners repainted the Bf 109G-6 during all that time!

The AWM Bf-109G-6 features its original war time Luftwaffe livery and markings
The AWM Bf 109G-6 features its original war-time Luftwaffe livery and markings (photo taken during my January 2016 visit to the AWM)

 

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