World War II German Aviation

On September 1, 1939, as the ground forces of Nazi Germany swept into Poland and precipitated World War II, bombers of the Luftwaffe, the German air force, conducted the war’s first air strikes.  During the next year, the Luftwaffe played a principal role in the German Blitzkrieg conquest of almost all of Western Europe.  These early successes spurred the perception that the German war machine, including the Luftwaffe, was invincible.

Yet less than six years later, despite having produced extraordinarily advanced aircraft and weaponry, Germany lay totally defeated, its cities in ruins, and its air force destroyed as an effective instrument of war.

The story of the rise and fall of the Luftwaffe illustrates not only the effective use of airpower and expansion of industrial output under difficult conditions, but also the effects of faulty military strategy and mismanagement of aircraft development programs.  It also underscores the consequences of the German belief that advanced technology could prevent defeat in the face of overwhelming Allied numerical and material superiority.


Arado Ar 234 B Blitz at the Udvar-Hazy Center

Arado Ar 234 B-2 Blitz (Lightning)
The Arado Ar 234 B Blitz (Lightning) was the world's first operational jet bomber and reconnaissance aircraft. The first Ar 234 combat mission, a reconnaissance flight over the Allied beachhead in Normandy, took place August 2, 1944. With a maximum speed of 735 kilometers (459 miles) per hour, the Blitz easily eluded Allied piston-engine fighters. While less famous than the Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighters, the Ar 234s that reached Luftwaffe units provided excellent service, especially as reconnaissance aircraft.

This Ar 234 B-2 served with bomber unit KG 76 from December 1944 until May 1945, when British forces captured it in Norway. Turned over to the United States, it was brought to Wright Field, Ohio, in 1946 for flight testing. In 1949 it was transferred to the Smithsonian, which restored it in 1984-89. This Arado is the sole survivor of its type.

More information: Arado Ar 234 B-2 Blitz (Lightning)

Dornier Do 335 A Pfeil at the Udvar-Hazy Center

Dornier Do 335 A-0 Pfeil (Arrow)
The Dornier Do 335 belongs in the small group of aircraft whose performance put them at the pinnacle of piston-engine aircraft development because it was one of the fastest aircraft powered by a piston engine ever flown. The Germans claimed that a pilot flew a Do 335 at a speed of 846 km/h (474 mph) in level flight at a time when the official world speed record was 755 km/h (469 mph). Two liquid-cooled engines each developing about 1,750 hp powered the Do 335. Dornier mounted one engine in the nose and the other in the tail in a unique low-drag push-pull configuration. This innovative design also featured an ejection seat, a tail fin which the pilot could jettison, and tricycle landing gear. For a fighter airplane, the Do 335 was enormous: tall enough that a person of normal height could walk beneath it and very heavy at 9,600 kg (21,000 lb) loaded. Serious flaws also plagued the design. The rear engine overheated often and the landing gear was very weak and prone to failure.

More information: Dornier Do 335 A-0 Pfeil (Arrow)

Focke-Wulf Fw 190 F at the Udvar-Hazy Center

Focke-Wulf Fw 190 F-8/R1
Nicknamed the Würger (Butcher Bird), the Fw 190 entered service in 1941 and flew throughout World War II on all fronts. It was the only German single-seat fighter powered by a radial engine and the only fighter of the war with electrically operated landing gear and flaps. Some served as fighter-bombers with ground attack units, but the Fw 190 is best known for defending against Allied daylight bombing attacks.

This Fw 190 F-8 was originally manufactured as an Fw 190 A-7 fighter. During 1944 it was remanufactured as a fighter-bomber and issued to ground attack unit SG 2. After Germany's surrender it was shipped to Freeman Field, Indiana, then transferred to the Smithsonian in 1949. Its 1980-83 restoration revealed a succession of color schemes. It now appears as it did while serving with SG 2 in 1944.

More information: Focke-Wulf Fw 190 F-8/R1