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Heinkel He 112

The Heinkel He 112 was a fighter aircraft designed by Walter and Siegfried Günter[?] at Heinkel[?]. It was one of four planes designed to compete for the Luftwaffe's first fighter contract, one that would eventually be won by the Messerschmitt Bf 109. It was the only one to come close to the 109 in terms of performance, but was more difficult and expensive to build. Small numbers were used for a short time by the Luftwaffe, and small runs were completed for several other countries. It remains one of the least known production fighter designs.

Table of contents

Background

When the re-forming Luftwaffe started to look for new planes in the early 1930s, initially training and utility aircraft, Heinkel was one of the most experienced firms in the country. Contracts were received for numbers of two seat planes, and the He 45, 46 and 50 were born. The company also continued to work on fighter designs, which culminated first with the He 49, and later with the improved He 51. This placed the Heinkel firm in good standing with the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (Reich Air Ministry, or RLM).

The He 51[?] was a workman-like but otherwise uninspired biplane, which first flew in May 1933 when the Luftwaffe was still a secret. Deliveries started in July of the next year, the 51 was intended to replace the earlier Arado Ar 65[?] and 68[?]'s but they ended up flying side-by-side. The He 51 was outdated the day it entered service, and after an initial run of 75 production fighters, the design was switched into the B-2 reconnaissance floatplane for another 80, and then finally the C-1 light ground attack plane for a further 79.

On August 6th, 1936 six of the planes were sent to Spain to fight in the Spanish Civil War. Deliveries continued until there were three squadrons of 12 planes each, and the Legión Cóndor[?] (Condor Legion) was formed from these squadrons in November. Deliveries continued as the hostilities increased, and the plane met and beat a number of older biplane designs.

This time of superiority was short lived. The arrival of the superior Polikarpov I-15[?] started it's downfall, and when the new Polikarpov I-16 monoplane arrived it was clearly hopeless. The He 51 was withdrawn from fighter duty and relegated to the ground attack role, and then eventually to training. After the war the 46 surviving planes would be joined by another 15 new builds, and serve in the utility role in Spain until 1952!

The experiences in Spain would prove once and for all that the days of the biplane fighter were over. Although the later model Fiat biplanes were superior to the He 51 and continued to soldier on in Nationalist service, the I-16 monoplanes were basically untouchable because of their speed. If the conditions were right they could use their heavy armament in a quick pass and then leave, if things weren't so favorable they simply flew away. The lesson learned by all of the participants was that speed was far more important in combat than maneuverability.

Development history

During 1933 the Technisches Amt (the technical department of the RLM) concluded a series of research projects into the future of air combat. The result of the studies were four broad outlines for future aircraft:

  • Rüstungsflugzeug I for a multi-place medium bomber
  • Rüstungsflugzeug II for a tactical bomber
  • Rüstungsflugzeug III for a two-place heavy fighter
  • Rüstungsflugzeug IV for a single-place fighter

The Rüstungsflugzeug IV was intended to be a day fighter, and the requirements were not terribly hard to meet. The plane needed to have a top speed of 400km/h at 6000m (250mph at 19,500ft) which it could maintain for 20 minutes, while staying in the air for a total of 90 minutes. It also needed to be armed with at least three machine guns with 1000 rounds each, or one 20mm cannon with 200 rounds. One other interesting specification was that the plane needed to keep wing loading below 100kg/m$sup2; which is a way of defining the plane's ability to turn and climb. The priorities for the plane were level speed, climb speed, and then maneuverability (in that order).

In October 1933 Hermann Göring sent out a letter requesting aircraft companies consider the design of a "high speed courier aircraft" – a thinly veiled request for a new fighter. In May 1934 this request was made official and the Technisches Amt sent out a request for a single seat interceptor for the Rüstungsflugzeug IV role, this time under the guise of a "sports aircraft".

The specification was first sent to the most experienced fighter designers, Heinkel[?], Arado[?], and Focke-Wulf. The request was later sent to newcomer Bayerische Flugzeugwerk[?] (Bavarian Aircraft Manufacturers, or BFW), on the strength of their Bf 108[?] Taifun advanced sports plane design. Each company was asked to build three prototypes for run-off testing. By the spring of 1935 both the Arado and Focke-Wulf planes were ready.

The Focke-Wulf Fw 159[?] was a parasol wing design based on their earlier Fw 56[?] Stösser (Falcon), used as an advanced trainer. The Stösser was a relatively modest advance in the state of the art, and with the exception of a odd tail arrangement with the elevator on the fuselage deck in front of the vertical stabilizer, the 56 looked basically like a 1920s biplane with the lower wing removed, it even retained the wing struts. The 159 included a fairly small set of changes to their earlier design, primarily a rework of the tail area, a canopy hood, the inclusion of retractable gear, and a new engine.

The gear retraction system proved to be the design's Achilles heel. With no wing to fold into they had to fold into the fuselage in front of the cockpit, somewhere under the engine. The resulting system was terribly complex and failure prone. The first two prototypes were both destroyed because of gear failures, the V1 on it's first flight. It's not entirely clear why they had so many problems, the similar system used on the Grumman Wildcat[?] proved to be robust and highly reliable.

The Arado Ar 80 was a somewhat more advanced design, a low wing monoplane with an elliptical planform reverse-gull wing. Arado mounted the elevator to the rear of the vertical stabilizer, which resulted in excellent spin behavior. Arado didn't have the experience with monocoque construction to build the entire plane, so the forward portion was built of steel tubing covered with removable aluminum skins.

The Ar 80 was supposed to have a gear retraction system that folded the short gear legs in toward the fuselage and slightly to the rear. However a number of bugs turned up in the system, and the prototypes were instead delivered with simple fixed gear. The fixed gear were known to be a major performance hit but this was supposed to be offset by the plane's light weight. As is all too common in the industry the weight crept upwards, and as a result the plane was never able to meet it's performance goals.

Heinkel's design was created primarily by the twin brothers Walter and Siegfried Günter, who's designs would dominate most of Heinkel's work. They started work on Projekt 1015 in late 1933 under the guise of the original courier airplane, based around the BMW XV radial engine. Work was already underway when the official request went out on May 2nd, and on May 5th the design was renamed the He 112.

The primary source of inspiration for the 112 is their earlier Heinkel He 70[?] Blitz (Lightning) design. The Blitz was a single engine, 4-passenger plane originally designed for use by Lufthansa, and it in turn was inspired by the famous Lockheed Orion mailplane. Like many civilian designs of the time the plane was pressed into military service, and was used as a two seat bomber (although mostly for reconnaissance) and served in this role in Spain.

The Blitz introduced a number of new construction techniques to the Heinkel company. It was their first low wing monoplane, and the elliptical, reverse-gull wing planform would be seen on a number of later projects. It was also their first all-metal design, built using the then-advanced monocoque construction technique. It also introduced retracting gear for the first time on a Heinkel airplane. The Blitz could almost meet the new fighter requirements itself, so it's not surprising that the Günter's would choose to work with the existing design as much as possible.

In many ways the resulting 112 design was a scaled down He 70. Like the He 70 the 112 was constructed entirely of metal, using a two spar wing and a monocoque fuselage with flush mounted rivets. The gear retracted outward from the low point of the wing's gull-bend, which resulted in a fairly wide 9m track, giving the plane excellent ground handling. It's only features from an older era was it's open cockpit and fuselage spine for the headrest, which were included to provide excellent vision and make the biplane-trained pilots feel more comfortable.

Prototypes

He 112 V1 was completed on September 1st, 1935, but pending the unavailable Junkers Jumo 210[?] engine it instead mounted a 695hp Rolls-Royce Kestrel[?] Mk.II.S. Initial test flights at the factory revealed that the drag was much higher than expected, and that the plane was not going to be as fast as originally predicted. The V1 was sent off to be tested by the RLM at Travemünde in December.

V2 was completed on the 16th of November, it had the now-available 640hp Jumo 210C engine and a three bladed prop, but was otherwise identical to the V1. Meanwhile the data from the V1 factory flights was studied to discover where the unexpected drag was coming from, and the Günter brothers identified the large and thick wing as the main culprit. V2 was kept at the factory and modified with a thinner clipped wing which was expected to improve the speed of the plane by 25 to 30km/h (15 to 18mph) and allow it to compete with the 109. This made the 112 creep over the wing loading requirements in the specifications, but with the 109 way over the limit this wasn't seen as a problem and the V2 was sent off for testing.

The V3 took to the air in January. Minor changes included a larger radiator, fuselage spine and vertical stabilizer, but it was otherwise largely the same as the V2 with the clipped wings. Other changes included a single cover over the exhaust ports instead of the more common "stack", and it also included modifications to allow the armament to be installed in the cowling. It was expected to join the V2 in testing, but instead would be assigned back to Heinkel in early 1937 for tests with rocket propulsion. During such a test the rocket exploded and the plane was destroyed, but in an amazing effort the V3 was reconstructed sporting a number of changes including an enclosed cockpit.

The Contest

The 112V1 started off the head-to-head contest when it arrived at Travemünde on the 8th of February, 1936. The other three planes had all arrived by the beginning of March. Right away the Fw 159 and Ar 80 proved to be rather lacking in performance, and plagued with problems. It was clear that the contest was really between the He 112 and the Bf 109.

At this point in the program the 112 was still the favorite over the "unknown" 109, but opinions changed when the Jumo powered 109V2 arrived on the 21st of March. From that point on it started to outperform the 112 in almost every way, and even the arrival of the 112V2 with the Jumo engine on the 15th of April did little to address this imbalance.

As would be expected the 112 had better turn performance due to it's larger wing, but the 109 was faster at all altitudes and had considerably better agility and aerobatic abilities. During spin tests on the 2nd of March, the 109V2 showed no problems while the 112V2 crashed. Repairs were made to the plane and it was returned in April, but it crashed again and was written off. The V1 was then returned to Heinkel on April 17th, and fitted with the clipped wings.

Meanwhile news came in that Supermarine had recently received a contract for full scale production of the Spitfire, and this caused a wave of concern in the higher command of the Luftwaffe. Time now took on as much importance as any quality of the plane itself, and the RLM was ready to put any reasonable design into production.

That reasonable design was the Bf 109. On the 12th of March the Commission wrote up the outcome of their meetings in a document called Bf 109 Priority Procurement. The plane that was considered a long shot for most of the program suddenly found itself leading the race. But there were some who still favored the Heinkel design, and as a result the RLM then sent out contracts for 15 "zero series" planes from both companies.

Testing continued until October, at which point some of the additional zero series planes had arrived. At the end of September there were four He 112's being tested, yet none was a clear match for the 109. This was likely the final nail in the 112's coffin, from October on the Bf 109 appears to have been selected as the winner of the contest.

There are a number of factors that were considered in the decision. For one the 112 didn't seem to be a single design, every plane that arrived for testing differed from the others, sometimes in rather major ways. As a result it could be said that the 112 didn't really get tested, but even with all of these versions none could beat the 109. It's likely that the crashes also cast some doubt on the quality of the plane, but the 109 had it's own problems here too. In addition some sources have mentioned that the 112 continued to suffer from lateral instability throughout the test period, which caused the plane to "snake" in flight. The various modifications to the vertical stabilizer may be evidence for this problem.

Another issue is that the 112 was more complex than the 109, and it's likely that this had at least some effect on the decision making process. The 112's use of complex curves on almost all surfaces required more working of the metal, notably the large number of hard to build 2-d curves around the wing root and engine cowling. This is also true of the wing, the elliptical planform was often skipped over due to it's complex construction, even though it is provably the most efficient wing design possible. As a result the 112 was considerably more expensive to build, and this is a major concern for a plane that has to be quickly ordered into mass production.

He 112A Prototypes

Heinkel had expected orders for additional aircraft beyond the initial three prototypes, and was able to respond quickly to the new contract for the 15 zero series aircraft. The new planes would be given the series designation He 112A-0.

The first of these new planes, the V4, was completed in June 1936. It included the more powerful 210Da engine with a two speed supercharger that brought the power to 690hp (507kW) for takeoff. The only other change was a slight reduction in the size of the vertical stabilizer.

In July both the V5 and V6 were completed. V5 was built identically to the V4 with the 210Da engine, and it also sported two fuselage mounted 7.92mm MG17 machine guns. The V6 on the other hand was completed as the pattern plane for the A series production run, and thus included the 210C engine instead of the more powerful Da. The only other change was a modification to the radiator, but this modification would not appear on later A-0 series models. It suffered a forced landing on the 1st of August and was repaired and joined V4 for testing in October.

The last of the prototype A-0 series was the V8, which was completed in October. It switched engines entirely and mounted the Dailmer-Benz DB600[?]Aa, along with a three bladed fully adjustable all metal propeller. The engine was a huge change for the plane, the DB produced 910hp (670kW) for takeoff and was a massive 33.9L at 686kg (2069in³ in at 1510 lbs). Compared that to the Jumo 210Da's 690hp (510kW) from 19.7L (1202in³) – at about the same weight. The V8 was seen primarily as a testbed for the new engine, and more importantly, it's cooling systems. The DB used a dry liner in the engine that resulted in poor heat flow, so more of the heat was removed by the oil as opposed to the water.

In March of 1937 the plane was assigned to rocket propulsion tests at Peenemünde. It completed these tests later that summer (without exploding) and was returned to the factory where it was converted back into a normal model. At the end of the year it was sent to Spain, where it was seriously damaged on the 18th of July, 1938. Once again it was put back together and was flying four months later. No one seems to know what happened to it then.

He 112A-0

At this point the prototype stage was ostensibly over, and Heinkel continued building the A-0 as production line models. The naming changed adding a production number to the end of the name, so the next six planes were known as 112A-01 through 112A-06. All of these included the 210C engine, and were essentially identical to V6, with the exception of the radiator.

These planes were used in just as varied a manner as the earlier V series had been. A-01 flew in October 1936 and was used as the prototype for a future 112C-0 carrier based aircraft. It was later destroyed during rocket tests. A-02 flew in November, and then joined the earlier V models at Rechlin for further testing in the contest. A-03 and A-04 were both completed in December, A-03 was a show aircraft and was flown by Heinkel pilots at various air shows and exhibitions, A-04 was kept at Heinkel for various tests.

The last two models of the A-0 series, A-05 and A-06, were completed in March of 1937. They were both shipped to Japan as the initial machines of the 30 for the Imperial Japanese Navy.

Specifications for the He 112A-0 (from the V4)

Engine:680hp (507kW) Junkers Jumo 210Da liquid–cooled inverted V12
Dimensions:span 11.5m (37ft 8 3/4in)
length 9.0m (29ft 5 3/8in)
height 3.7m (12ft 1 5/8 in)
Weights:empty 1680kg (3,704lb)
max loaded unknown
Wing Area:23.2m2 (250.5ft2)
Wing Loading:102.5kg/m2 (xx.x lbs/ft2)
Performance:maximum speed 488km/h (303mph) at unknown m
unknown at sea level
cruise speed unknown
service ceiling 8000m (26,245ft)
range 1100km (684miles)
Armament:three 7.92mm MG17 mounded in the engine cowling

He 112B Prototypes

In October 1936 the RLM changed the orders for the zero series 112's, instructing Heinkel to complete any A-0's already under construction and then switch the remaining planes to an updated design. This gave Heinkel a chance to improve the 112, which they did by completely redesigning it into a totally new aircraft called the 112B — similar in name only. It's at this point that it becomes a truly modern plane that could compete head to head with the Bf 109.

The 112B had a completely redesigned and cut down rear fuselage, a new vertical stabilizer and rudder, and perhaps most interesting, a completely enclosed cockpit with a bubble style canopy. The canopy was somewhat more complex than later bubble designs, instead of having two pieces with the majority sliding to the rear, the 112B's canopy was in three pieces and the middle slid back and over a fixed rear section. Even with the additional framing the 112 still had excellent visibility for it's day.

Armament was also standardized on the B model with two 7.92mm MG17's in the sides of the cowling with 500 rounds each, and two 20mm MG FF's in the wings with 60 rounds each. For aiming, the cockpit included the then modern Revi 3B reflex sight.

The first B series airframe to be completed was the V7 in October 1936. The V7 used the DB600Aa engine like the V8, and it also used the original V1 style larger wing. This wing was later replaced with a smaller one, but instead of the clipped version from the earlier V models, a completely new single –spar fully elliptical wing was produced. This wing design became standard for the entire B series. V7 was turned over to von Braun in April 1937 for yet more rocket tests, and managed to survive the experience. It was then returned in the summer and sent to Rechlin where it was used in testing.

The next plane was V9 which flew in July of 1937, powered by the 680hp Jumo 210Ea engine. V9 can be considered to be the "real" B series prototype, as the V7 received the DB600Aa originally for experimental reasons (like the A-0 series V8). The entire surface was now flush riveted and the plane had several other aerodynamic cleanups. The radiator was again changed, this time to a semi-retractable design for reduced drag in flight. The plane also underwent a weight reduction program which reduced the empty weight to 1617kg.

As a result of all of these changes, the V9 had a maximum speed of 485km/h (301mph) at 4000m, and 430km/h (267mph) at sea level. This was a full 20km/h faster than the contemporary 109B-2. Nevertheless by this time the 109 was already ramping up production, and the RLM saw no need for another largely similar plane. It's also worth noting that users of the plane generally found it impossible to reach this speed, and rarely managed to exceed 260mph.

The RLM had already contracted for another six 112's so production of the prototypes continued. V10 was supposed to receive the 960hp Jumo 211A (Junker's inexpensive DB600 competitor), but the engine was not available in time and the V10 instead received the new 1,175hp DB601Aa. The new engine drove the V10 to an amazing 570km/h (354mph) and increased climb rate significantly. V11 was also supposed to get the 211A, but instead received the DB600Aa.

The last prototype, the V12, was actually an airframe taken off the B-1 series production line (which had started by this point). The 210Ea was replaced with the new fuel-injected 210Ga, which improved performance of the engine to 700hp for takeoff, and a sustained output of 675hp at the reasonably high altitude of 4700m. Better yet the Ga also decreased fuel consumption, thus increasing the plane's endurance. The new engine gave the V12 such a boost that it became the pattern plane for the planned B-2 series production.

With all of these different versions and experimental engine fits during the B series prototype construction, it might seem like the problem with the A series continually changing wasn't being addressed. In fact this was not the case, except for the engine fit the B's are all basically identical. Due to the shortage of just about any German engine at the time, and the possibility that advanced versions could be blocked for export, various models had to be designed with different installations. Thus the B models were different only in their engine, the 210C in the B-0, the 210Ea in the B-1, and the 210Ga for the B-2.

He 112B

Although no clear date is given, in Stormy Life it is Ernst Udet[?] himself that delivers the news to Heinkel that the 109 had entered series production in 1936. He is quoted as saying Pawn your crate off on the Turks or the Japs or the Rumanians. They'll lap it up. Perhaps he was not so far wrong, with a number of air forces looking to upgrade from biplanes and various designs from the early 1930s, the possibility for foreign sales was promising.

In order to show off the design,the V9 spent much of the later half of 1937 being flown by pilots from all over the world. It was also sent around Europe for tours and air shows. The effort was a success and orders quickly started coming in.

The first was from the Imperial Japanese Navy. After seeing the V9 in flight they quickly placed an order for thirty 112B's with an option for 100 more. The first four were shipped in December of 1937, another eight in the spring, and promises for the rest to arrive in May. Before delivery the Luftwaffe unexpectedly took over twelve of the planes to bolster its forces during the Sudetenland Crisis[?]. The planes were then returned to Heinkel in November, but the Japanese refused to accept them this late and Heinkel was left holding the aircraft.

Luckily Spain was so impressed with the 112's performance during evaluation in the civil war, that the Aviación Nacional (Spanish Air Force) purchased the twelve planes in early 1938, and later increased the order by another six (some sources say five). Of the first twelve, two were shipped in November, another six in January, and the rest in April.

In November 1937 an Austrian delegation came to see the plane, led by Generaloberst Alexander Löhr, Command-in-Chief of the Luftstreiktkräft (Austrian Air Force). Test pilot Hans Schalk flew both the Bf 109 and the He 112V9 back to back. Although he felt that both models performed the same, the Heinkel had more balanced steering pressures and better equipment possibilities.

They placed an order on the 20th of December for forty-two 112B's. Pending the license for the MG FF 20mm cannon, these planes would remove the cannon and add six THM 10/I bomb shackles which carried small 10kg anti-personal bombs. The order was later reduced to thirty-six planes due to a lack of funds (the 112B cost 163,278 Reichmarks), but the planes were never delivered due to the disappearance of Austria in the March 1938 Anschluss.

In April it looked like Yugoslavia would be the next user of the 112, and they placed an order for thirty of the planes. Later they cancelled their order and decided to produce other designs under license.

Finland appeared to be another potential customer. Between January and March of 1938 the famous Finnish pilot, Eka Magnusson[?], travelled to Germany to gain experience in new tactics. He had been on similar tours in France in the past and was interested to see how the Germans were training their pilots. On a visit to the Heinkel plant in Marienehe he flew the 112, and he reported it to be the best plane he had flown.

In May Heinkel sent the first of the 112B-1's to Finland to join an air show. It remained on for the next week and was flown by a number of pilots, including Magnusson who had since returned to Finland. Although all of the pilots liked the plane, the cost was so high that the the Suomen Ilmavoimat decided to stick with the much less expensive Fokker D.XXI.

A similar setback would accompany sales efforts to the Luchtvaartafdeling (Dutch Air Force), who were looking to purchase thirty-six fighters to form two new squadrons. A 112B-1 arrived for testing on the 12th of July, and quickly proved to be the best plane in the competition. Nevertheless they decided to purchase the locally-built (and rather outdated) Koolhoven FK.58[?] instead. The plane was not yet ready for production, so in an odd twist they then purchased a number of Hawker Hurricanes because they could be delivered immediately. In the end the FK.58's would never be delivered.

Switzerland was able to receive the 109 and purchased that plane, and both Turkey and Belgium decided on the Hurricane.

Fortunes would be seem to be reversed with Hungary. In June of 1938 three pilots of the Magyar Királyi Honvéd Légierö (Royal Hungarian Home Defense Air Force, or MKHL) were sent to Heinkel to study the V9. They were impressed with what they saw, and on the 7th of September an order was placed for thirty-six planes, as well as an offer to license the design for local building. Through a variety of political mishaps, only three planes were ever delivered and licenced production never happened.

The final, and perhaps most successful, customer for the 112B was Romania. The Fortelor Aeronautica Regalã ale Românã (Royal Romanian Air Force or FAAR) ordered twenty-four planes in April 1939, and increased the order to thirty on the 18th of August. Deliveries started in June, and the last of the thirty was delivered on the 30th of September.

By this point in time war had started, and with better models on the market –including Heinkel's own superlative He100– no one else was interested in purchasing the design. The production line was closed after a total of only 98 planes, 85 of those being the B series models.

Specifications for the He 112B-2

Engine:700hp (522kW) Junkers Jumo 210Ga liquid–cooled inverted V12
Dimensions:span 9.09m (29ft 9 3/4in)
length 9.22m (30ft 11 7/8in)
height 3.82m (12ft 6 3/4 in)
Weights:empty 1617kg (3,565lb)
max loaded 2248kg (4,957lb)
Wing Area:17m2 (183ft2)
Wing Loading:132.35kg/m2 (27.1lbs/ft2)
Performance:maximum speed 510km/h (317mph) at xxxxm (xx,xxxft)
xxxkm/h (xxxmph) at sea level
cruise speed unknown
service ceiling 9500m (31,200ft)
range 1150km (715miles)
Armament:two 7.92mm MG17 with 500 rounds each mounted in the sides of the engine cowling
two 20mm MG FF cannons with 60 rounds each in the wings

He 112 in Legión Cóndor Service

When it was clear the 112 was losing the contest, Heinkel offered to re-equip V6 with 20mm cannon armament as an experimental aircraft. The Technisches Amt was very interested; at the time many tanks were equipped with 20mm guns as their primary anti-tank armament, the same armament on a plane could prove to be a powerful weapon.

In September a 20mm MG C/30L cannon was mounted to the plane, with the breech to the rear of the engine and the barrel lying between the cylinder banks and exiting in the propellor spinner. This is the first experimental mounting of what would later be called the motorkanone, a feature that would become a standard on most German fighters. She was then broken down and shipped to Spain on the 9th of December.

After being re-assembled she was assigned to Versuchsjagdgruppe 88, a group within the Legión Cóndor devoted to testing new planes. There she was nicknamed the Kanonenvogel, and joined three V series Bf 109's which were also in testing.

The Kanonenvogel was adopted by Oberleutnant Günter Radusch who started flying the plane on the 9th of December at Tablada. From then on it joined the Ju 87A's and Hs 123's already in service and was used as a ground attack plane. On the 6th of February the plane was moved to Villa de Prado near Madrid, and then in March she was re-assigned to Jagdgruppe 88 at Almorox near Toledo.

While sitting at Almorox due to a mechanical problem in his He 45[?]C, Oberleutnant Wilhelm Balthasar heard that a Republican armored train was approaching and talked himself into the cockpit of the V6 by insisting he was a Heinkel test pilot. After teaching himself to fly the plane and managing to get into the air, he found the train parked at the station in Seseña and attacked it. On his third pass one of the 20mm shells punctured the ammunition car and the entire train exploded. Then on the way back to Almorox he came across an armored car and set it on fire.

His exploit in the V6 made him famous, and Balthasar found himself in command of the newly formed combat group with the V6 and three He 45C recon planes. Over the next few months the V6 was flown by a number of pilots, and on the 6th of July Unteroffizier Max Schulze knocked out an additional number of armored cars. On the 19th of July Schulze was once again flying the V6 when the engine seized during landing. Schultze walked away from the resulting pancake landing, but the plane broke her back and was a writeoff.

V8 and V9 were then sent to Spain in the spring of 1938. The V8 was the earlier A series model with the larger DB600Aa engine, but it was only in Spain until July when it crashed. V9 was the B series platform and armed with the twin 20mm cannons. Like the V6 it was then used primarily as a ground attack plane, but it was also flown by a number of experienced Spanish pilots before being returned to Heinkel and becoming the show plane.

He 112B in German Service

The early stages of the Third Reich's expansion plans consisted of a series of annexations of territory where the majority of the population were culturally German. This started with the March 1934 Anschluss, the annexation of Austria. Next on the list came the Sudetenland, a portion of western Czechoslovakia. Czechoslovakia wasn't interested in giving it up, and unlike the Austrian example, it didn't look like France and England were going to simply sit back and watch. Suddenly the possibility of a military confrontation looked very real.

As a result the Luftwaffe pressed every flightworthy fighter into service. At the time the Japanese Navy batch of 112B's was being completed, and these were taken over and used to form IV./JG 132 on the 1st of July, 1938. They were first based at Oschatz, but were moved to Karlsbad on the 6th of October.

The planes moved again on the 17th of November to Mährish-Trübau, where they were reformed as I./JG 331. But by that time the crisis had passed, and I./JG 331 received Bf 109C's in place of the 112B's. The planes were then returned to Heinkel and then shipped to Japan to fulfill the order.

A number of other 112's at the Heinkel plant were used as a factory defense unit, flown by Heinkel test pilots (all civilians). The planes never never saw action in the role, and were replaced with He 100's and then exported.

He 112B in Japanese Service

In 1937 the Japanese Imperial Navy found itself at a disadvantage in combat over the Chinese mainland. The fact that Navy aircraft were fighting over the mainland might seem odd, but interservice rivalry in Japan went beyond the occasional bar brawl and both services fielded complete air forces with their own types of planes.

At the time the Navy air services were small and equipped mostly with older biplanes. Meanwhile the Soviets were supplying the Chinese air forces with the I-15bis and I-16 fighters. Although the new Mitsubishi A5M[?] was largely similar to the I-16, they were just starting to enter service and available in small numbers only. The Navy was concerned about the lack of fighters and went looking for new designs that could be purchased off the shelf to bring the squadrons to strength quickly. At the time the majority of modern design work was taking place in Europe, and with England no longer on friendly terms, they turned to Germany for a new fighter.

In late 1937 a delegation visited the Heinkel plant in Marienehe and saw V9 in action. They were impressed and placed an order for thirty of the B series planes, with an option for 100 more. They even purchased one of the older designs to take back with them immediately (according to the primary source below, this was the V5). Upon arriving in Japan the planes were named A7He1, the A7 refers to the 7th navy fighter design (the Mitsubish Zero[?] was 6th), and the He1 means it's the first version of this particular design, built by Heinkel.

In testing the He 112B proved superior to the A5M2 in many ways, notably in speed where the 112 could easily outrun the A5M to the tune of 65km/h. Yet the test pilots rejected the plane out of hand because the A5M was more maneuverable. Maneuverability was considered to be the single most important factor for any fighter among the IJN pilots, everything and anything was sacrificed to improve it. It could be said that the Japanese were still fighting WWI in the air, and the focus on maneuverability would later prove to be the downfall of their air forces.

In the end the He 112 was rejected and the option for the additional 100 was canceled. The thirty already purchased were delivered over a period in 1937 and '38, drawn from a number of production runs. Upon arriving in Japan they were used for training duties, but the V11 with it's DB600Aa was used for testing. As it turns out the A7 designation would later be assigned to the Misubishi A7M[?], essentially an advanced Zero which never saw combat.

He 112B in Spanish Service

When V9 was sent to Spain in the spring of 1938 it was primarily as a sales effort to interest the Spanish in the He 112 design. It was flown my a number of Spanish pilots in various test and show flights. The pilots reports all praised the plane, but at the same time they all considered it to be underpowered.

Nevertheless the government decided to purchase the 112B and form up a new group under the command of Comandante José Muñoz Jiménez. An order was placed for twelve planes and they started to arrive in November 1938, where they were assembled in León by Heinkel workers. The first two were ready by December, followed by another seven B-1's and ten B-2's in early 1939.

The first seven aircraft were ready by the end of January, and were formed up as 2a Ecsuadra Grupo de Caza 5-G-5 (2nd Squardon of Fighter Group 5-G-5). When another eight were completed the 1a Ecsuadra was formed up as well, and the remaining four were split among them as they became available.

1a Ecsuadra lasted only a short time before they were re-equipped with 190B's and C's handed down from the Legión Cóndor as they received their new 190E's. Grupo 5-G-5 was then incorporated into 7a Ecsuadra de Caza (7th Fighter Regiment) along with 2-G-2 and 3-G-3 with their Fiat CR.32 biplanes. The He 112's were to operate as top cover over the Fiat's, which had considerably worse altitude performance.

Operations started on the 17th of January 1939, and on the 20th the operational plan proved sound when they encountered a number of I-16's over Igualada. The squadron commanding officer, Capitán García Pardo shot one down for his 12th kill, but this would prove to be the only air to air victory for the He 112 for the war. From then on they operated almost solely in the ground attack role and moved about the country as the war wound down, sometimes rejoining 1a Ecsuadra. Two aircraft and their pilots were lost in careless accidents during this time, but it appears none were lost in combat.

The civil war ended on April 1st, leaving Spain with one of the most powerful and modern air forces in the world. 2a Ecsuadra returned to Léon where they had started off, but on the 13th of July they were moved to Sania Ramel in Spanish Morocco. Here they were renamed 1a Ecsuadra and joined a newly formed 2a Ecsuadra flying the new Fiat G.50's (still no match for the 112's). Together they formed Grupo 27.

When Allied forces landed in North Africa, the Spanish forces in Morocco found themselves once again on alert. Due to the navigational difficulties of the day, they found themselves repeatedly intercepting straying aircraft from both Allied and German forces. For instance, on the 8th of November they intercepted C-47's dropping paratroops on Morocco. On other occasions they intercepted Spitfire V's from Gibraltar, and Dewoitine D.520's operated by the Vichy French out of Algeria. None of these incidents resulted in losses.

On March 3rd 1943 a formation of Allied planes was seen straying into Spanish airspace yet again, and Grupo 27's alert plane was scrambled with Teniente Miguel Entrena Klett at the controls. After climbing to 3500m, he spotted the target aircraft and identified them as eleven P-38's. He then positioned for an attack out of the sun (which was to the rear of the formation) and made a diving pass on the trail-end aircraft. Several hits were made with the 20mm rounds (his MG's were later discovered to be unloaded), and the plane started trailing smoke and was forced down in Algeria.

By 1944 the planes found themselves sitting on the ground more and more due to a lack of fuel and maintenance. By 1945 there were only nine left, and they were rotated out of service for repairs in Spain. They continued to be attrited due to accidents and cannibalization over the next few years, eventually returning to the mainland and being assigned to training units (where they rarely flew). The last airworthy example appears on the books in 1952, along with another that couldn't fly. The next year there were none listed.

He 112B in Hungarian Service

Like the Germans, Hungary had stiff regulations imposed on her armed forces with the signing of the Peace Treaty of Versailles. In August 1938 the armed forces were re-formed, and with Austria (historically her partner for centuries) being incorporated into Germany, Hungary found herself in the German sphere.

One of the highest priorities for the forces was to re-equip the MKHL as soon as possible. Of the various planes being looked at the 112B eventually won out over the competition, and on September 7th an order was placed for thirty six planes. At that point in time the Heinkel production line was just starting, and with Japan and Spain in the queue before them it would be some time before the planes could start delivery. Repeated pleas to be moved to the top of the queue failed.

Germany had to refuse the first order at the beginning of 1939 because of their claimed neutrality in the Hungarian/Romanian dispute over Transylvania. In addition the RLM refused to license the Oerlikon 20mm MG FF cannon to the Hungarians, likely as a form of political pressure. This later insult didn't cause a problem, because they planned to replace it with the locally designed Danuvia 20mm cannon anyway.

V9 was sent to Hungary as a demonstrator after a tour of Romania, and arrived on the 5th of February, 1939. It was test flown by a number of pilots over the next week, and on the 14th they replaced the propeller with a new three bladed Junkers design (licensed from Hamilton). While being tested against a CR.32 that day, V9 crashed. On the 10th of March a new 112B-1/U2 arrived to replace the V9, and was flown by a number of pilots at different fighter units. It was during this time that the Hungarian pilots started to complain about the underpowered engine, as they found that they could only reach a top speed of 430km/h (267mph) with the 210Ea.

With the Japanese and Spanish orders filled, things were looking up for Hungary. However at that point Romania placed its order, and was placed at the front of the cue! It appeared that the Hungarian production machines might never arrive, so the MKHL started pressing for a license to build the plane locally. In May the Hungarian Manfred-Weiss company in Budapest received the license for the plane, and on the 1st of June an order was placed for twelve planes. Heinkel agreed to deliver a 210Ga powered plane to serve as a pattern aircraft.

As it turns out the B-2 was never delivered, and two more of the B-1/U2's with the 210Ea were sent instead. On arrival in Hungary the 7.9mm MG17's were removed and replaced with the local 8mm 39.M machine guns, and bomb racks were added. The resulting fit was similar to those oringinally ordered by Austria. Throughout this time the complaints about the engines were being addressed by continued attempts to license one of the newer 30-litre class engines, the Junkers Jumo 211[?]A or the DB600Aa.

Late in March the He 100 V8 took the world absolute speed record, but in stories about the record attempt the plane was referred to as the He 112U. Upon hearing of the record, the Hungarians decided to switch production to this "new version" of the 112, which was based on the newer engines. Then in August the CinC of the MKHL recommended that the 112 be purchased as the standard fighter for Hungary (although likely referring to the earlier versions, not the "112U").

At this point the engine issue came to a head. It was clear that no production line planes would ever reach Hungary, and now that the war was underway the RLM was refusing to allow their export anyway. Shipments of the Jumo 211 or DB601 were not even able to fulfill German needs, so export of the engine for locally built airframes was likewise out of the question.

By September the ongoing negotiations with the RLM for the license to build the engines locally stalled, and as a result the MKHL ordered Manfred-Weiss to stop tooling up for the production line aircraft. The license was eventually canceled in December. At that point the MKHL turned to the Italians, and purchased the Fiat CR.32[?] and Reggiane Re.2000[?]. The later would be the backbone of the MKHL for much of the war.

Nevertheless the three B-1/U2 aircraft continued to serve on. In the summer of 1940 tensions with Romania over Transylvania started to heat up again and the entire MKHL was placed on alert on the 27th of June. On the 21st of August the 112's were moved forward to the Debrecen airfield to protect a vital railway link. The next week a peaceful resolution was found, and the settlement was signed in Vienna on the 30th of August. The 112's returned home the following week.

By 1941 the planes were ostensibly assigned to defend the Manfred-Weiss plant, but were actually used for training. When the Allied bomber raids started in the spring of 1944 the planes were no longer airworthy, and it appears all were destroyed in a massive raid on the Budapest-Ferihegy airport on the 9th of August.

After the licensed production of the 112B fell through in 1939, the plan was to switch the production line to build a Manfred-Weiss designed plane called the W.M.23 Ezüst Nyíl (Silver Arrow). The plane was basically a 112B adapted to local construction; the wings were wooden versions of the 112's planform, the fuselage was made of a plywood over a steel frame, and the engine was a licensed built version of the 1000hp class Gnome-Rhone Mistral-Major[?] radial.

It would seem that this "simplified" plane would be inferior to the 112, but in fact the higher powered engine made all the difference and the W.M.23 proved to be considerably faster than the 112. Nevertheless work proceeded slowly and only one prototype was built. The project was eventually canceled outright when the prototype crashed in early 1942. It's still a mystery why so little work had been done in those two years on what appeared to be an excellent design.

He 112B in Romanian Service

At the end of WWI Romania had been granted large tracts of land as a "reward" for siding with the allies. The lands were taken as penalties from surrounding countries, so they instantly made enemies of the USSR, Bulgaria and Hungary. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s Romania entered a number of alliances with nearby nations who were in a similar situation, notably Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. They were interested in blocking any changes to the Versailles treaty, which could eventually lead the loss of the land grants.

Germany looked on Romania as a rather important supplier of needed war material, notably oil and grain. Looking to secure Romania as an ally, throughout the middle of the 1930s Germany placed increasing amounts of pressure on them in a variety of forms, best summed up as the "carrot and stick" approach. The carrot came in the form of generous trade agreements for a variety of products, and by the late 1930s Germany formed about half of all of Romania's trade. The stick came in the form of Germany's continued siding with Romania's enemies in various disputes.

On the 26th of June, 1940, the Soviet Union gave Romania a twenty-four hour ultimatum to return Bessarabia and cede northern Bukovina, the later of which had never even been a part of Russia. Germany's ambassador to Romania advised the king to submit, and he did. In August Bulgaria reclaimed southern Dobruja with German and Soviet backing. Later that month German and Italian foreign ministers met with Romanian diplomats in Vienna and presented them with an ultimatum to accept the ceeding of northern Transylvania to Hungary.

Romania was placed in an increasingly bad position as her local allies were gobbled up by Germany, and her larger allies (Britain and France) assurances of help proved empty when they did nothing during the invasion of Poland. Soon the king was forced from the throne and a pro-German government was formed.

With Romania now firmly in the German sphere of influence, her efforts to re-arm for the coming war were suddenly strongly backed. The primary concern was the FARR. Their fighter force at the time consisted of just over 100 Polish PZL P.11[?] aircraft, primarily the P.11b (or the locally modified f model) and P.24E. Although these aircraft had been the most advanced fighters in the world in the early 1930s, by the late 1930s they were hopelessly outclassed by practically everything.

In April of 1939 the FARR was offered the Bf 109 as soon as production was meeting German demands, in the meantime they could take over twenty-four 112B's that were already built. The FARR jumped at the chance and then increased the order to thirty planes.

Late in April a group of Romanian pilots arrived at Heinkel for conversion training, which went slowly because of the advanced nature of the 112 in comparison to the PZL.'s. When the training was complete, the pilots returned home in the cockpits of their new aircraft. The planes, all of them B-1's or B-2's, were "delivered" in this manner starting in July and ending in October. During that time two of the planes were lost, one in a fatal accident during training in Germany on the 7th of September, and another suffered minor damage on landing while being delivered and was later repaired at SET in Romania.

When the first planes started arriving they were tested competitively against the locally designed IAR.80[?] prototype. This interesting and little known plane proved to be superior to the 112B in almost every way. At the same time the test flights demonstrated a number of disadvantages of the 112 in general, notably the underpowered engine and poor speed. The result of the fly-off was that the IAR.80 was ordered into immediate production, and orders for any additional He 112's were cancelled.

By the 15th of September enough of the planes had arrived to form up, and as a result the Escadrila 10 and 11 were re-equipped with the 112. The two squadrons were formed into the Grupul 5 vânãtoare (5th Fighter Group), responsible for the defense of Bucharest. In October they were renamed as the 51st and 52nd squadrons, still forming the 5th. The pilots had not been a part of the group that had been trained at Heinkel, so they started working their way toward the 112 using Nardi F.N.305 monoplane trainers. Training lasted until the spring of 1940, when a single additional 112B-2 was delivered as a replacement for the one that crashed in Germany the previous September.

During the troubles with Hungary the 51st was deployed to Transylvania. MKHL Ju-86's and He-70's started making recon flights over Romanian territory, and repeated attempts to intercept them all failed because of the 112's low speed. On the 27th of August Locotenent Nicolae Polizu was over Hungarian territory when he encountered a Caproni Ca.135bis biplane bomber flying on a training mission. Several of his 20mm rounds hit the bomber, which was forced down safely at the Hungarian Debrecen airbase – home of the Hungarian 112's. Polizu became the first Romanian to shoot down a plane in aerial combat.

When Germany prepared to invade the USSR in 1941, Romania joined them in an effort to regain the territories lost the year before. The FARR as a whole was made part of Luftflotte 4, and in preparation for the invasion Grupul 5 vânãtoare was sent to Moldavia. At the time twenty-four of the 112's were flyable, the remaining three were left at their home base at Pipera to complete repairs (two others had been lost to accidents, the remaining one is unaccounted for). On the 15th of June the planes moved again, to Foscani-North in northern Moldavia.

With the opening of the war on the 22nd, the 112's were in the air at 10:50am supporting an attack by Potez 63's of Grupul 2 bombardment on the Soviet airfields at Bolgrad and Bulgãrica. Although some flak was encountered on the way to and over Bolgrad, the attack nevertheless was successful and a number of Soviet planes were bombed on the ground. By the time they reached Bulgãrica fighters were in the air waiting for them, and as a result the twelve 112's were met by about thirty I-16's. The results of this combat were mixed, Sublocotenent Teodor Moscu shot down one of a pair of I-16's still taking off, and when he was pulling out he hit another in a head-on pass and it crashed into the Danube. At this time he was set upon by several I-16s and received several hits, including a puncture of the fuel tanks which didn't seal. Losing fuel rapidly he formed up with his wingman and managed to put down at the Romanian airfield at Bâlad, and his plane was later repaired and returned to duty. Of the bombers, three of the thirteen dispatched were shot down.

Over the next few days the 112's would be used primarily as ground attack aircraft, where their heavy armament was considered to be more important than their ability to fight air-to-air. Typical missions would start before dawn and would have the Heinkel's strafe Soviet airbases. Later in the day they would be sent on search and destroy missions, looking primarily for artillery and trains.

Losses were heavy, most not due to combat, but simply because the planes were flying an average of three missions a day and weren't receiving the maintenance they needed. This problem effected all of the FARR, who didn't have the field maintenance logistics worked out at the time. On the 29th of July a report on the readiness of the air forces listed only fourteen 112's in flyable condition, and another eight repairable. As a result the planes of the 52nd were folded into the 51st to form a single full strength squadron on the 13th of August. The men of the 52nd were merged with the 42nd who flew IAR.80's, and were soon sent home to receive IAR.80's of their own. A report from August on the 112 rated it very poorly, once again noting it's lack of power and poor speed.

For a time the 51st continued in a front line role, although they saw little combat. When Odessa fell on the 16th of October the Romanian war effort ostensibly ended, and the planes were considered to be no longer needed at the front. Fifteen were kept at Odessa and the rest were released to Romania for training duty (although they seem to have seen no use). On the 1st of November the 51st moved to Tatarka and then returned to Odessa on the 25th, performing coastal patrol duties all the while. On the 1st of July, 1942 the 51st returned to Pipera and stood down after a year in action.

On July 19th one of the He 112's took to air to intercept Soviet bombers in what was the first night mission by a Romanian plane. As the Soviets were clearly gearing up for a night offensive on Bucharest, the 51st was then re-equipped with Me 110 night fighters and became the only Romanian night fighter squadron.

By 1943 the IAR.80 was no longer competitive, and the FARR started an overdue move to a newer fighter. The fighter in this case was the barely competitive Bf 109G. The 112's found themselves actively being used in the training role at last. The inline engine and general layout of the German designs was considered similar enough to make it useful in this role, and as a result the 112's came under the control of the Corpul 3 Aerian (3rd Air Corps). Several more of the 112's were destroyed in accidents during this time. It soldered on in this role into late 1944, even after Romania had changed sides and joined the allies.

Conclusions

A swirl of controversy still surrounds the He 112, and why it was not chosen over the Bf 109. Some say the 112 was doomed from the start, to be mired down in the Luftwaffe's endless political system that was tilted against Heinkel. Others, including Heinkel it seems, have claimed that the 109 won out because of Messerschmitt's own political abilities.

Reading over the available information makes it clear that this is simply not the case. The 112 was considered the favorite for much of the competition and had the backing of many of the major players – including Udet. Meanwhile the 109 was considered a long shot from a new and somewhat suspect company with a bad track record. There's nothing to suggest that politics played any large part in the process, with the possible exception that BFW's plant was better located to develop the industry outside the tight knit group in northern Germany.

However tempting these stories might be, it's clear that the 109 beat the 112 fair and square. The early He 112 models submitted for testing were inferior to the 109; they were a blend of old and new features that place it more in competition with the I-16 than the all-modern 109. It was only after the huge number of changes for the 112B that the design matured into a true match for the 109, an effort that speaks of both Heinkel's abilities, and their will to win the contract. Yet by that point in time the need for production right away had already handed the contracts to Messerschmitt.

Another way to look at this is that the two planes were developed in very different ways. The He 112 was developed to meet the requirements of the original 1934 contract, the Fw 159 and Ar 80 demonstrates just how limited the specification was. On the other hand the Bf 109 wasn't really developed to meet the specifications at all, it was an effort to adapt the lessons from the Bf 108 to a fighter. In fact Messerschmitt personally rejected the requirements, stating that they would result in fighters that would be slower than the bombers then being designed. He was given a free hand (it being unlikely he would win anyway...) and the 109 was simply a far more advanced design. It's not at all surprising that it won as a result.

Ernst Heinkel seems to have never accepted the fact that the 112 may have simply not been as good as the 109. Instead he laid the blame for the loss at the feet of the technical director for the project, Heinrich Hertel. Heinkel claimed that Hertel's background at the Research Institute for Aviation gave him the overwhelming drive to tinker with designs. With Heinkel himself tied up with other contracts there was no one to say "no", and as a result every plane that exited the factory was different. Whether or not this is true, Hertel left Heinkel and joined Junkers in May of 1939.

References:

Heinkel He 112 in action, Dénes Bernád, Squadron/Signal Publications, 1996
Stormy Life, Ernst Heinkel, E.P. Dutton, 1956
He 112 Took Only Second Place (http://www.flug-revue.rotor.com/FRheft/FRH0001/FR0001d.htm), Karl-Heinz Kens in Flug Revew 1/2000, Motor-Presse Stuttgart, 1999

External links:

The Luftwaffe Resource Group (http://www.warbirdsresourcegroup.org)'s He 112 (http://www.warbirdsresourcegroup.org/LRG/he112) page
This page (http://avia.russian.ee/air/germany/he-112) has some details on the 112, along with illustrations and a three-view.
This site uses frames, so I'll point you directly to this page (http://www.unsere-luftwaffe.de/archiv/jagdflz/100.htm) with basic information on both the 100 and the 112. (in German)

Source:

This article is based on the original by Maury Markowitz at Heinkel He 112 (http://www.csd.uwo.ca/~pettypi/elevon/baugher_other/he112)



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