The Luftwaffe Museum
The Luftwaffenmuseum der Bundeswehr (German Air Force Museum) lies on the outskirts of the capital city at Gatow, a former Luftwaffe and later Royal Air Force (RAF) base.
As well as being one of Germany`s premier military history museums, it also houses one of Europe`s finest aircraft collections, and an additional bonus is that there is no admission charge.
At the time of my visit (October 2011), if you don`t have your own transport, Bus No.X34 from the Berlin Zoo takes you to Alt-Kladow in around an hour where you hop on another bus for the last few kilometres to Seekorso. A short walk through a housing estate takes you to the low-key museum entrance which is through a portacabin, just inside the perimeter fence. The weather was superb on the day of my visit but the brilliant sunshine and cloudless sky meant that there were plenty of unavoidable shadows across some of the aircraft.
The main exhibition is in Hangar 3 and shows the history of military aviation in Germany from 1884 to the present day and this is where First and Second World War era aircraft can be found. Other areas have displays about the history of Berlin-Gatow and various themed exhibitions. More aircraft are displayed within Hangar 7 which houses the `Fifty Years of the Federal Luftwaffe` collection. Unfortunately it was closed at the time of my visit and may only open during the peak summer season or on special occasions. Nor did I have time to fully check out the control tower which has additional small scale exhibits including uniforms and offers a panoramic view of the airfield.
The Rumpler Taube monoplane was an early, pre-war design, the brainchild of Austria-Hungarian Igo Etrich. In 1911 Taubes were used to drop bombs in Libya and the Balkans and when the Great War began in 1914 the Taube, highly stable in flight, was found to make an ideal observation platform, especially as military aviation was in its infancy and the skies relatively uncongested. Within six months, however, the Taube had become an easy target for the faster and more agile Allied fighters that were being introduced and was therefore withdrawn from front-line duties. It became a highly successful trainer and many of Germany`s future fighter aces learned to fly in a Taube.
Above: The Fokker E.III monoplane first flew in action on the Western Front in May 1915. It was the main variant of the Eindecker fighter which was also supplied to Germany`s allies, Austria-Hungary and Turkey. A total of 249 E.IIIs were produced but this includes a number of E.IIs which were upgraded. The example on display is equipped with a 7.92mm Spandau machine-gun.
Undoubtedly Germany`s most-famous WW1 Fighter Ace is Baron Manfred von Richtofen, (2 May 1892- 21 April 1918), better known as the Red Baron. He was originally a cavalryman who transferred into the Imperial German Army Air Service in 1915 and went on to be officially credited with 80 air combat victories, which is more than any other pilot. Most of these kills were made while he was flying an Albatross fighter but he is most-famously associated with a Fokker DR.I Tri-plane like the one pictured above. During 1917 von Richtofen took over Jasta 11 and then the larger unit Jagdgeschwader 1, which became known as the `Flying Circus` due to the gaudy colour schemes of its aircraft.
This print shows the `Flying Circus` heading into action. Richthofen was shot down and killed near Amiens on 21 April 1918 and there has been continual debate over who actually downed him. Canadian pilot Captain Arthur `Roy` Brown, in his Sopwith Camel, is generally credited with the kill but the fatal bullet could have actually come from soldiers on the ground.
The massive Zeppelin airships had actually been in widespread commercial use prior to the outbreak of World War I, operating scheduled flights. Germany immediately realised the military potential of these machines and they were used extensively by the Army and Navy as bombers and observation and reconnaissance platforms. They were used on numeorus occasions throughout the conflict to bomb the British mainland.
The Junkers D.1 looks as if it belongs to the 1930s but it actually flew late in the First World War. It was the first all-metal fighter to enter service with any air arm and the prototype first flew in September 1917. Three additional aircraft were ordered and subsequently designated J 9s. Tests revealed that the J 9 lacked sufficient manoeuvrability necessary for a front-line fighter, but a batch of 12 naval variants were ordered. These were supplied to a naval unit in September 1918 but the Armistice was declared before the aircraft saw action.
Above: E3349 is an Avro 504K, the only British World War I era aircraft on display at Gatow. By the time World War One ended, more 504’s had been built in Britain than any other aircraft. Officially 8,340 were built by Avro or sub-contractor firms such as Sunbeam, and this made the 504 the most-numerous type to see action of any nation. Production continued until 1932. The Avro 504K was also used by the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) who used four of the machines in November 1914 to successfully bomb the Zeppelin works at Friedrichshafen on the shores of Lake Constance. Soon obsolete as a frontline aircraft, the type proved ideal as a trainer, but in the In the winter of 1917–18 it was decided to use converted 504Js and 504Ks to equip Home Defence squadrons of the RFC, replacing ageing B.E.2cs, which had poor altitude performance. These 504s were converted to single-seaters with a more powerful engine and armed with a Lewis gun above the wing. Over 200 were still serving as fighters when the Great War ended. Following the Armistice, while the type continued in service as the RAF`s standard trainer, large numbers of surplus aircraft were put up for sale, both for civil and military use. More than 300 504Ks were placed on the British civil register and used for training, pleasure flying, banner towing and even barnstorming exhibitions.
The Messerschmitt Bf 109, (above) often referred to as the Me 109, first flew in 1935 and was first used operationally during the Spanish Civil War. Various variants were developed and the type remained in service with the Luftwaffe throughout the Second World War performing a variety of roles, even though more advanced fighters such as the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 came on-line. The Bf109 is most famously associated with the Battle of Britain, taking on the Spitfires and Hurricanes of the Royal Air Force (RAF) while the Luftwaffe bombers continued towards their targets.
This is the wreckage of a Messerschmitt Bf 108 Taifun, DH+DE, which was recovered from a lake in 2009. It is hoped that the aircraft will eventually be restored. The Taifun was designed as a four-seat sport and recreation aircraft but it was utilised by the Luftwaffe during World War II, mainly as a personal transport and liaison aircraft.
In 1919, the Versailles Treaty prohibited Germany from manufacturing and importing aircraft, aircraft and parts but said nothing about gliders. By the early 1920s, numerous gliding clubs were operating all over Germany, training many aviators who would one day form the core of Hitler’s Luftwaffe. In 1933 German glider activity was centralised at Darmstadt under the German Research Institute for Sailplane Flight or DFS (Deutsche Forschunganstalt für Segelflug) and combat capable gliders, such as the museum`s DFS 230, were designed and built.
The DFS 230’s combat debut came during the early hours of May 10, 1940, when nine of these gliders, carrying 78 men of the 7th Fliegerdivision, landed directly on the roof of the Belgian fortress Eben-Emael. The steel and concrete fortress was garrisoned by 1,200 troops and protected two bridges over the Albert Canal which formed a choke point on the Germany Sixth Army`s route of advance. Armed with explosives and flamethrowers, the airborne attackers knocked out armoured gun positions, neutralising the fortress, which surrendered the next day. In May 1941, around 70 DFS 230s were used in the German airborne invasion of Crete and the type also saw operational use in North Africa and during the rescue of Benito Mussolini from a mountain retreat in 1943. In all, more than 1,500 DFS 230s were produced.
The airfield`s control tower has various exhibits including a display titled `Call Me Meier` with Herman Goring`s uniform in a glass case. The Chief of the Luftwaffe had famously boasted `If one bomb falls on Berlin you can call me Meier." (a common German surname). The Reichsmarshall did not have long to wait for his name change - the first RAF raid on the city took place on the night of 25 August 1940 when 81 out of the 95 aircraft dispatched successfully dropped bombs in or around the German capital. Although damage caused was slight the raid boosted the morale of the British public, enraged Hitler and likely caused him to concentrate his efforts on `blitzing` British cities in retaliation rather than the RAF airfields which, on hindsight, proved to be a major tactical error.
The Fiesler Fi 156 Storch (Stork) (above) was a reconnaissance and liaison aircraft built and used by the Germans during the Second World War. The Stork`s excellent STOL (short take-off and landing) properties led it to being used in the rescue of the deposed Italian dictator Benito Mussolini from a remote mountain retreat. German paratroopers under Otto Skorzeny had secured the location and a Storch landed on a short strip to uplift II Duce and Skorzeny and take them to Hitler in what was a major propaganda coup.
This is a Henschel Hs293 A-1 anti-ship guided missile. It was used on numerous occasions to attack not only Allied shipping during the Second World War but also bridges. Vessels sunk by the weapon included the troop transport HMT Rohna which went down with over 1,000 souls on board. Although various aircraft had been adapted to carry the missile it was only Heinkel He 177s that used the weapon operationally in combat.
The twin-engined Messerschmitt Me262 Schwalbe (Swallow), represented at Gatow by this large-scale model, was the world`s first operational jet fighter with the aircraft coming on-line with Luftwaffe squadrons in May 1944.
The Me262s flew as fighters and light bombers and their high-speed made them ideal for reconnaissance. There was even an experimental night fighter version. Although the Me262s could out perform all opposing Allied fighters, and proved particularly effective against massed bomber formations, the type was introduced too late in the War to redress the balance of Allied air-superiority. The Luftwaffe`s Me262 pilots claimed that over 540 Allied aircraft fell victim to their jets against a loss of 100 of their own.
Germany developed and successfully flew a number of jet fighter designs during the war. On display at the museum is this Messerschmitt Me-163B Komet, serial number 191904. These revolutionary jet fighters initially caused the Allied pilots great concern when they were first used in action in 1944 due to their high-speed and excellent manoeuvrability. The Komet`s main drawback, however, was its short flight duration and they could be easily picked-off on their return to base. This particular aircraft is one of a very few WW2 German military aircraft, restored and preserved in a German aviation museum, that still has the swastika (a banned symbol) visible, in this case on its tailfin.
The Bachem Ba 349 Natter (Viper) was basically a manned surface-to-air missile. The rocket-powered interceptor was designed to take-off vertically and thereafter be guided by Autopilot to meet incoming Allied bomber formations. Once the pilot had selected a target he would line-up his aircraft and fire his nose-mounted rockets. After the engagement the pilot would jump and both he and the fuselage section containing the rocket motor would parachute back to earth separately. In March 1945 the Natter`s first and only vertical take-off test flight ended in disaster when, after reaching an altitude of 1500m, the aircraft nose-dived and the pilot was killed. Only one Natter remains and is currently on display in the Smithsonian Institute, Washington DC. The museum at Gatow has this replica.
The Arado Ar 234 was the world's first operational jet-powered bomber although very few actually flew during the war. Despite being designed as bomber the Ar234 was used almost entirely in the reconnaissance role. In April 1945 one of these jets flew over England and became the last Luftwaffe aircraft to do so before hostilities ended. A Walter 109-500 engine from an Arado 234 is pictured below.
This statue of two Luftwaffe pilots re-enacting a dogfight stands outside the control tower. Over 70 aircraft are on open-air display including several West German Air Force (WGAF) Lockheed F-104 Starfighters. The Luftwaffe was one of the prime operators of the F-104 but in the mid-1960s accidents with the type when flown by German pilots soared. During the Starfighter`s operational career with the Luftwaffe around 30% of the fleet were lost due to accidents, a large proportion but not quite as bad as the Canadians who lost over 50% of thier F-104s.
In the mid-1930s an academy, complete with hangars, barracks and a runway, was constructed here as one of four air combat and technical training facilities for Luftwaffe officers as Nazi-Germany increased its military strength. Just before the Second World War ended, the Soviets captured the airfield when they advanced on central Berlin. However, in 1945 following the collapse of the Nazi regime, the victorious Allies split the German capital into four sectors and Gatow passed into British control, operating as an RAF base until 1994.
During 1948 and 1949, Gatow was one of the main airfields that the Allies utilised during the Berlin Airlift to fly in thousands of tons of supplies to prevent the city`s population from starving following the Russian blockade. From 1970, RAF Gatow was also used by the British Army Air Corps who initially operated Westland Souix and later Aérospatiale Gazelle AH 1 helicopters.
Following Germany`s reunification, the British vacated the base in June 1994 and control was transferred to the German Federal Armed Forces. Now, the hangars, tower and most of the apron and runways form the core of the air museum. The aircraft displayed include numerous ex--East German and Warsaw Pact examples.
The Rockwell OV-10 Bronco was developed in the 1960s to fulfil a counter-insurgency (COIN) combat role, and one of its primary missions was to act as a forward air control (FAC) platform. Up to three tons of external munitions could be fitted and the OV-10 has the ability to loiter for more than three hours. Used extensively by the US Air Force, US Navy and US Marine Corps during the Vietnam War, a total of 81 were ultimately lost during the conflict, not all as a result of enemy action. Eighteen Broncos were supplied to the West German Air Force from 1970 onwards, including 99+33 above, to be utilised as target tugs. They served until 1990 when they were replaced by Pilatus PC-9s.
BF-106 is an ex-Luftwaffe Republic F-84F Thunderstreak. The type was introduced in 1954 and saw service with a variety of Air Forces across the globe. By the mid-1960s, the jet was replaced in USAF front-line units by the F-100 Super Sabre, with operational aircraft being relegated to duty in the Air National Guard (ANG). The last F-84F Thunderflash retired from the ANG in 1971 but the type remained in service with other countries` air forces for a number of years.
The Transall C-160 was developed by a consortium of French and German aircraft manufacturers for their air forces and that of South Africa. The prototype first flew in 1963 and the type remained in production until 1985. A total of 214 were built mainly for military use, although operators in France, Switzerland and Indonesia ordered civil variants.
This is a Republic RF-84F Thunderflash, serial number EB-344, which is the photo-reconnaissance version of the F-84F Thunderstreak fighter-bomber. The last operational F-84s were three RF-84Fs of the Hellenic Air Force that were finally retired from service in 1991.
RAF aircraft from the Cold War era on display include BAC Lightning F.2 XN730 (J) and Harrier GR.1 XV278.
This is an RAF Hawker Hunter F.6 XG152 (20). The subsonic, single-seat Hunter was developed in the 1950s as a fighter although later variants operated as fighter-bombers and reconnaissance aircraft. Two-seaters remained in use for training and secondary roles with the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy until the early 1990s. Hunters have been widely exported and served with no less than 21 other air forces. The Lebanese apparently still have some of these machine on their operational strength, a remarkable achievement for a 60 year-old jet aircraft.
Parked next to the Hunter is Hawker Sea Hawk FGA.6, WV865 of the Royal Navy. The Sea Hawk served with the Fleet Air Arm as well as the German Navy, Royal Netherlands Navy and Indian Navy. Six Sea Hawk squadrons saw action in the Suez Campaign in 1956 / 57 when Egypt attempted to nationalise the Suez Canal. The single-seater jets were utilised to great effect in a ground-attack role, damaging or destroying a variety of military targets.
This Dassault Mirage IIIE, serial number, 13-QL (57) is a supersonic jet fighter that dates from the late 1950s. The French-designed plane was manufactured not only in France but also in a number of other countries and has served with various air forces around the world including Israel and Argentina. The IIIE seen here is an all-weather fighter bomber variant previously operated by the French Air Force.
Above: Dassault Super Mystere B.2, Serial number 10-SA, of the French Air Force (Armée de l'Air). The B-2 was the final version of the Dassault Mystere fighter and thanks to the introduction of a `sawtooth` wing leading edge, thinner more sharply swept wings and after-burning engine, the Super was the first European jet aircraft reaching the production phase, that could attain supersonic speed. The Super Mystère served with the Armée de l'Air until 1977. In 1958, 36 Mystère aircraft were sold to the Israeli Air Force and they saw action in both the 1967 Six-Day War and the 1973 Yom Kippur War where they were found to be more than a match for the Arab MIG-19s in a dogfight.
ex-Warsaw Pact Aircraft
The iconic MIG-15 jet fighter (NATO Codename Fagot) is represented at Gatow by this silver Czech Air Force example, serial number 3905. The MiG-15 was successfully flown in anger in the skies above Korea where, early in the war, Chinese MiG-15s took part in the first ever jet-versus-jet dogfights.
The Communist jets initially outclassed all opposing straight-winged Allied fighters such as the F-80 and Gloster Meteor, as well as the piston-engined P-51 Mustangs and F4U Corsairs that were still in use. Fortunately the US-built F-86 Sabre could match them and the American pilots adapted their tactics accordingly. Allied losses to the MIG-15s remained high, however, particularly when they attacked mass formations of B-29 Superfortresses.
Mikoyan-Gurevich MIG-21F-13 Fishbed, serial number 645 with No.596 alongside. The MIG-21 is one of the most-produced supersonic jet aircraft in aviation history and has been flown by over 50 countries across the globe since it was introduced in 1959. Indeed, many countries still operate later variants.
The Antonov An-26 Tactical Transport first flew in May 1969. The type made its public debut at the 27th Paris Air Show where the second prototype, CCCP-26184 (c/n00202), was shown in the static aircraft park. The design, which was based on the An-24, proved very successful and over 1,400 were built with many still operational in Russia as well as with the Pakistan and Vietnamese Air Force. The An-26 has a secondary bomber role with underwing bomb racks and was used extensively in the bombing role by the Sudanese Air Force during the Second Sudanese Civil War and the War in Darfur. Also, Russian Forces train with the An-26 as a bomber. The An-26 is also manufactured in China by the Xian Aircraft Factory as the Y-14 and, later the Xian Y7 series.
Vehicles, Missiles and Radar Systems.
There are a large number of missiles and mobile launchers on display including their radar control systems and support vehicles. Helicopters are also well represented and include the main types that were operated in the East.
Above: The SA-2B Guideline I (S-75 Dwina) is a Soviet-designed, high-altitude, command guided SAM and since it became operational in 1957, it has become the most widely-deployed and used air defence missile in history. It`s first success was in 1959 when it downed a Taiwanese RB-57D that had been flying over China at an altitude of 65,600 ft!
Parked just inside the entrance is this MIL Mi-8 transport helicopter 93+51, NATO codename Hip, which belonged to the East German Air Force prior to reunification. More Russian-built Mi-8`s have been produced than any other helicopter and the type is operated in more than 50 countries across the globe. They can be adapted to perform a variety of both civil and military roles.
Below: The Bell UH-1 Iroquois was developed in the early 1950s to meet the US Army`s requirement for a medical evacuation and utility helicopter. The type went into production in March 1960 and since then more than 16,000 have been produced worldwide. The helicopter was originally designated HU-1, which led to it being nicknamed Huey. Although this changed to UH-1 a couple of years later, the popular nickname stuck. Approximately 7,000 UH-1 aircraft saw service in the Vietnam War alone. Between 1967 and 1981 Dornier built no less than 352 UH-1D variants under licence in Germany. In addition to the Federal Border Guard the machines also saw service with the Federal Defence (Bundeswher), the German Army and the German Air Force.
D-HATE is a civilian registered Bell UH-1D of the Bundesgrenzgeschutz, the Federal Border Guard which was established in West Germany in 1951. Although the BGS was an armed paramilitary-style organisation it remained a police force controlled by the Ministry of the Interior rather than by the Ministry of Defence.
A pair of light-grey camouflaged ex East German Air Force MIL Mi-24 Hind gunships are on open-air display. Originally nicknamed `Flying Tanks` by their Soviet pilots, these heavy Russian-built attack helicopters can also carry up to 8 troops and their use was well publicised during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. There, they were operated by both the Russians and Afghan Army against Mujaheddin fighters. Many machines fell victim to portable SAM Missiles including the U.S. supplied heat-seeking Stingers. Hinds have been used operationally during numerous conflicts by numerous air arms throughout the world over the years. NATO has designated the MIL Mi-25 and Mi-35, both export versions, Hind D and Hind E respectively.