Swiss Air Force Centre: Messerschmitt Bf 109E-3

Prior to the commencement of World War Two in September 1939 the Swiss Air Force was mostly equipped with obsolete aircraft including the hopelessly outdated Dewoitine D-27 fighter, a 1927 designed and poorly armed parasol monoplane of which 66 were produced in Switzerland from 1931 (it was armed with just two 7.5mm machine guns). This was until January 1939 when they received 10 Messerschmitt Bf 109D-1 Dora fighters (fitted with a two-bladed propeller, Junkers Jumo 210D engine and armed with two wing-mounted and two nose-mounted 7.92 mm MG 17 machine guns) from Germany to help train pilots for the arrival of 80 Bf 109E-3 Emil fighters.

Dewoitine D-27 fighter at the Swiss Air Force Centre Dubendorf
The new Bf 109 fighter replaced the obsolete Dewoitine D-27 fighter Swiss service in 1939 – Here are restored D-27 is pictured at the Swiss Air Force Centre (photo taken during my December 2015 visit)
10 Messerschmitt Bf-109D-1 Dora fighters were delivered to Switzerland in January 1939
10 Messerschmitt Bf 109D-1 Dora fighters were delivered to Switzerland in January 1939 (note the two-bladed propeller and very different profile of the Junkers Jumo 210D engine compared to the Daimler-Benz DB 601Aa engine of the Bf 109E-3

The first Messerschmitt Bf 109E-3 Emil fighters (fitted with an uprated Daimler-Benz DB 601Aa engine, tri-bladed propeller and increased armament including the standard two 7.92 mm MG 17 machine guns above the engine and new 20mm MG FF wing cannons) were delivered from Germany between June 1939 and April 1940 (30 were originally purchased and delivered in June 1939, 50 more were delivered between October 1939 and April 1940). So by the serious outbreak of war in Western in 1940 the Swiss, although outnumbered could at least provide an adequate defence of their airspace with a  modern fighter aircraft.

Swiss Air Force Bf-109E-3 fighters in action
Swiss Air Force Bf 109E-3 fighters in action

A beautifully restored Bf 109E is on display today at the Swiss Air Force Centre in Dübendorf (Flieger Flab Museum).  This was also once the base for the first Bf 109E’s of Flight Company 21 of the Swiss Air Force in 1939. In 1940 they were used to intercept and in some cases bring down German Luftwaffe aircraft such as the Heinkel He 111 bomber and Messerschmitt Bf 110 heavy fighter that crossed the Swiss border.

Swiss Air Force Messerschmitt Bf-109E-3 Emil at the Swiss Air Force Centre in Dübendorf
Swiss Air Force Messerschmitt Bf 109E-3 Emil at the Swiss Air Force Centre in Dübendorf during my visit in December 2015
The Bf-109 provided a huge leap in capability for the Swiss Air Force leading into World War Two
The Bf 109 provided a huge leap in capability for the Swiss Air Force leading into World War Two
Swiss Air Force Messerschmitt Bf-109E-3 and its engine a Daimler-Benz DB 601Aa at Dübendorf
Swiss Air Force Messerschmitt Bf 109E-3 and its engine a Daimler-Benz DB 601Aa at Dübendorf during my visit in December 2015
Swiss AF Bf-109E-3 Emil Dubendorf
Bf 109E-3 Emil
Swiss Air Force Messerschmitt Bf-109E-3 Emil at the Swiss Air Force Centre in Dübendorf
Some of the World War Two era Swiss Bf 109E-3’s had elaborate markings and even sharks teeth but the Dübendorf example is quite sedate in comparison
Swiss AF Bf-109E-3 Emil Dubendorf
Bf 109E-3 armed with 2 x 7.92mm MG 17 machine guns and 2 x 20mm MG FF cannons

There were 6,501 instances of border violation by German and Allied aircraft in Swiss airspace during World War Two; 244 foreign aircraft landed (forced or with issues), crashed or were shot down (including several Luftwaffe aircraft in 1940) over Swiss territory; 1,620 aircrew were interned. 3 Swiss aircraft were shot down by German aircraft in 1940, the Swiss high command then decreed that only anti-aircraft guns would be used to engage foreign aircraft, which lasted until October 1943 when air operations commenced again. In September 1944 another Swiss fighter was shot down by a USAAF aircraft.

Swiss AF Bf-109E-3 Emil Dubendorf
What a difference from the ungainly Dewoitine D-27 fighter to the sleek and powerful Bf 109E-3!

Whilst Allied and German aircraft entered Swiss airspace, it seems large Swiss markings were applied to the underside of the wings of the Bf 109 more for the benefit of Swiss anti-aircraft gunners on the ground so as to not mistake them for intruders. Later most Swiss aircraft received red and white neutrality stripes on the wings and fuselage to help with their national identification (see the historical Bf-109 photos above, they were not trying to sneak up on anyone, they were there to noticeably defend Swiss airspace!).

Swiss Bf-109E-3 larger underside national markings
The larger underside national markings
Swiss AF Bf-109E-3 J-355
A historic photo of Swiss Bf 109E-3 J-355 with different underwing and tail markings
Swiss AF Bf-109E-3 Emil Dubendorf
Smaller upperside national markings were applied to this Bf 109E-3

References:

History of the Swiss Air Force by Hugo Freudiger

Swiss Air Force Centre

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13 thoughts on “Swiss Air Force Centre: Messerschmitt Bf 109E-3

  1. Interesting that skirmishes occurred between the Swiss and both allied and Luftwaffe aircraft. It’s no wonder they were attacked, it must have been difficult to distinguish them from the Luftwaffe at first. A real step up as you say.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Indeed I can believe it. I have come across a few examples myself. In fact in some recent research I was doing I came across the first two heavy bombers to land in Switzerland. I also know of one crew who landed in Sweden. It was more common that perhaps we think. A really interesting aspect of the war though.

        Liked by 1 person

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