It is ironic that the Bf109, the foremost German fighter of the
Second World War, started out and ended its life with British engines. When Willy
Messerschmitt was designing the 109 the specification called for the use of the Jumo
210 engine of 610 horsepower, an engine that was so new that none were available. Instead
Messerschmitt was forced to use a Rolls-Royce Kestrel VI engine of 695 hp. German engines
of the time lagged behind those being developed in Britain, but the Germans were catching
up fast. It is important to note that the Messerschmitt was initially designed around a
much less powerful engine than the 1000 horsepower plus Merlin engine that British
designers were planning to put in their new creations. This is one reason why the 109 is
smaller than its contemporaries.
The Jumo 210, when it did arrive, was a twelve cylinder, liquid-cooled engine with its cylinder blocks forming an inverted "V" . The engine was developed from the A and B models (610hp) through the D (635hp), to the E (640hp) with a two stage supercharger to increase altitude performance, then to the G with 670 horsepower and fuel injection. These engines powered the 109 Bs and Cs, with many aircraft being updated with the later Jumo engines after being initially built with the slightly less powerful earlier models. The first Jumo 210 engines used a fixed wooden propeller, but later they used two bladed metal variable pitch models.
The next production version was the D designed around the Daimler-Benz DB600A engine of 960 horsepower. This could be distinguished by having to have radiators mounted under the wing for the first time. The earlier Jumo engined B and C had only a chin radiator under the nose. Fitted with the new engine the 109 reached a new peak in performance. To use fully the power available a three blade propeller was fitted, all later wartime 109s used three blades as well. 250 D series aircraft were produced and it used to be a bit of mystery what happened to them, there being very few photographs of them in service. Research now seem to show that there were never enough DB600 engines and that most of the "D" airframes built were actually fitted with the Jumo 210 engine, making them look almost identical to the earlier B and C series.
In 1937 the DB601 engine was used in a specially modified "sprint" form to power the Bf 109 V13 that gained the world landplane record for Germany. This engine could produce 1,650 hp for a limited period. In its production form it could deliver 1,175 hp. This is the engine that, in its DB601A form, powered the aircraft that swept all opposition from the sky in 1939/40 and carried the 109 into the Battle of Britain. It was a fuel injection engine, which meant that a measured dose of fuel was injected into each piston, doing away with a carburettor. This gave the 109 pilots an advantage in combat, in that they could do negative "g" manoeuvres without the engine failing. A Messerschmitt pilot could push over into a dive that a Spitfire or Hurricane pilot could not follow without losing vital moments of engine power.
The 601A engine, with its capacity of 33.9 litres was an outstanding power-plant, closely cowled it did not produce the aesthetic lines of the Spitfire or Hurricane when married to the smaller 109 airframe, but it did produce a powerful and purposeful looking aircraft, which one RAF pilot said, "looked all engine." It should be noted however that the British Merlin engine produced almost as much power out of an engine capacity of only 27 litres.
The F series that followed was also powered by the DB601, albeit more highly developed versions that, when fitted in the redesigned contours of the 109Fs nose, gave a much more pleasing appearance. The DB601E used in the F gave 1,200 horsepower.
The next stage in the engine story was the DB605A, which kept to the twelve cylinder inverted V layout of the Jumo 210 and DB601, but produced 1,475 horsepower out of a capacity of 35.7 litres. Intended for the 109 G series, production was delayed, so the first of the G line, the G-0, made do with the DB601E. The DB605A employed the GM1 power boost system that injected nitrous oxide into the supercharger to increase performance at altitude.
The DB605D used methanol/water injection and an increased compression ratio to boost power to a staggering 1,800 horsepower in an emergency, allowing a top speed of over 400mph for the first time. In fact, when mated with the G-10 airframe a top speed of 428 mph was claimed, making it the fastest of any of the Bf 109G types.
However the fastest of all the Bf 109s was the K-14, fitted with the DB605L engine, this was reported to be capable of 455 mph made possible by an engine of 1,500 hp boosted to 2,000hp for short periods. Only two were ever used in combat.
Graph showing the increase in Bf109 Engine power
After the war the models of 109 produced in other countries progressed back through Jumo and Rolls-Royce engines! First the S 199 made in Czechoslovakia had a Jumo 211 engine fitted, this engine, to the familiar 12 cylinder inverted V pattern of German developed engines, produced similar power to the DB605.
In Spain the Hispano factory turned out versions of the 109 with the 1,300 Hispano HS-12Z engine. This was considered unsatisfactory and Rolls-Royce Merlin engines of 1,400 hp were fitted instead. These are easily identified by their four blade propeller, deep chin radiator and the bulges on top of the nose for the cylinder banks in their upright "V" configuration.
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