Messerschmitt Me 109 “Lake Find” (Pt. 1)

Photographed by a former owner in Australia, who was attempting a restoration/reassembly to non-flying status for display and taxiing with running engine. Loosely assembled, with the wings bearing remarkably preserved white and black Luftwaffe cross markings, Me 109 G-6 410077 patiently awaits restoration.

This post and its sequel are by far the most-visited blog posts I have ever written, testament to the worldwide interest in unusual and historic finds and the emotions stirred up by wartime artifacts. These posts were posted since late 2010 on an old blog of mine, when I was involved in locating a buyer for this aircraft and the huge cache of parts, components, and documents that accompanied it. This project was nearly 2 years in the making, with hundreds of collectors, museums, and warbird operators relentlessly contacted by me. Many wanted the colections, but were unwilling to pay anything for it, others would gladly accept a donation to their charitable foundations, and other collectors – WW II veterans who became wealthy businessmen, wanted nothing to do with that “Nazi stuff.” One man (a former B-17 crewman) even confided, “I shot back at so many of those bastards, I don’t want to own one.”

My persistence and focus eventually paid off, with the eventual buyer seeing my blog posts and contacting me to get the ball rolling. Even then, he talked himself out of purchasing the project during our first call, but we had developed a genuine rapport and he offered to call me back if his plans changed, which he did. The offering of this amazing warbird find took about 20 months from initial offering to sale, and it could not have gone to a better home. The eventual buyer was an ophthamological (eye) surgeon, who had already won the “Pebble Beach” of the warbird community at the EAA Oshkosh show with his impeccably restored North American P-51D Mustang. The Messerschmitt’s airframe and accompanying items occupied two shipping containers and when everything was inspected onsite by the buyer and his team of warbird restoration experts, everyone found the package was even better than expected. The purchase was completed during April 2012 and restoration is well underway. A couple of magazine articles have been published on the find and restoration since then. I can hardly wait to see this fighter return to friendlier skies! To those less familiar with this Messerschmitt’s significance, kindly read on.

The brainchild of Willy Messerschmitt and based heavily on his groundbreaking Bf 108 Taifun (Typhoon) aerobatic/sport plane of 1934, the Bf 109 fighter aircraft revolutionized military aviation and conclusively ended the biplane era. The Bf 109 was first flown (with British Rolls-Royce Kestrel power!) in 1935 before its eventual Battle of Britain adversaries, the Sydney Camm-designed Hawker Hurricane and Reginald Mitchell-penned Spitfire. With advanced all-metal stressed-skin construction, the Bf 109 was designed with ease of production and field serviceability in mind. Fast, maneuverable, and heavily armed, Messerschmitt’s design was thoroughly developed along four variants and already combat-proven in Spain prior to the outbreak of war in Europe. In testament to its many attributes, the Bf 109 remained a front-line Luftwaffe fighter type to the very end in May 1945.

The deadly Messerschmitt was known during the war as the Bf 109 for the Messerschmitt factory-built examples, and the Me 109 for those license-built by other manufacturers. Estimates vary, but an estimated 35,000 Bf 109s were produced through the 1950s, including the Czech Avia S-99/S-199 and Spanish Hispano Buchon Ha-1109/Ha-1112 variants produced after WW II. According to statistics from the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, Aircraft Division Industry Report, Exhibit I – German Airplane Programs vs Actual Production, 33,984 Bf 109s were constructed from September 1939 to May 1945 alone, with 2,193 A to E models produced before the war, from 1936 to August 1939. Czech and Spanish production continued until 1948 and 1958, respectively. Following WW II, Bf 109s saw action with the Israelis in 1948 and continued to be operated by many of the world’s air forces, including those of Switzerland, Romania, Finland, Yugoslavia and several other countries. A number of Spanish-built Hispano Buchons enjoyed a new lease on life in the late 1960s, when they were sold by Spain and used in the aerial sequences of the epic movie The Battle of Britain.

While the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 entered the fray in 1941/1942, the Bf 109 soldiered on to great effect. Despite its limitations, the Bf/Me 109 proved remarkably adaptable to such roles as fighter/bomber, night-fighter, and air-defense roles, remaining a deadly adversary to the end of hostilities. Power and armament were constantly upgraded, with the Bf 109 continuing to be dangerous and effective, particularly in the hands of skilled pilots known as “experten.” More aerial victories were scored by pilots flying the Bf/Me 109 than any other type during the war, with an estimated 105-109 of its pilots accounting for nearly 15,000 “kills” alone!

While the Bf/Me 109 remains, without doubt, one of the greatest and most highly-produced piston-driven fighter aircraft of all time, very few survive intact today. Of those, most are static museum display pieces and a mere handful remain airworthy. In particular, while the Bf 109 G and its subvariants were produced in the greatest numbers of all, none are believed to remain airworthy today.

The impressively preserved Me 109 G-6 pictured above is currently offered for sale, accompanied by an incredible inventory of parts and documentation. It was manufactured by Erla Maschinenwerk in Leipzig, Germany during late September 1943, with the Erla plant manufacture number 28077 and assigned Werk Nummer 410077. Erla began Bf 109 manufacture during 1941 and had produced an impressive 9,063 Bf 109s, representing nearly one-third of the type’s total production by wars end in 1945. The Daimler-Benz DB605 inverted V-12 engine was installed on September 15, 1943. This original engine remains with the aircraft and is numbered 9-605.100.001 with 601 cylinder heads numbered 601.305-001 E1 3205.4.

This plane, 1943 Messerschmitt Me 109 G-6 was sent to the Eastern Front and assigned to Luftwaffe Gruppe IV, JG 54 (Grune Herzen=Green Hearts) based out of the Dorpat Airfield on the Western Front of Lake Peipus, north of Lake Swiblo, Estonia-Russia. The plane arrived there in late 1943 and entered the fight. At that time, Gruppe IV was heavily engaged in attacking Soviet troops and armor in the area.

JG 54 was the second-highest scoring Luftwaffe fighter wing of all time (JG 52 the highest), and enjoyed initial success over the English Channel and South-East England during the Battle of Britain in the summer of 1940. Next, the unit transferred East in the Spring of 1941 for Operation Barbarossa – the German invasion of the Soviet Union. JG 54 Aces (Experten) included Walter Nowotny, Otto Kittel, Freiherr Peter Grunhertz, Hans “Phips” Philipp, Gunther Lutzow, Emil “Bully” Lang (holds the record for most kills in a day, 18), Helmuth Osterman, Dietrich Hrabak, Werner Schroer and Hannes Trautloft. JG 54’s Commanding Officer was General Kurt Pflugbeil, a highly decorated General der Flieger, and one of only 882 recipients of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves. He was a direct report to Luftwaffe Chief of Staff, Generalmajor Klaus Siegfried Uebe.

The Gruppe IV Luftwaffe pilot of this aircraft, 410077, was (Over Lieutenant) Oberleutnant Josef Gröene, a Staff Officer of JG54, who was also the Technische (Technical) Officer of the Geschwader (Geschwader is roughly the equivalent to a Royal Air Force Group). Each Geschwader had a Kommodor, Adjutant, Operations Officer, Technical Officer and Chief of Staff. Their aircraft were marked as such:

< – + – , < I + , < – + , < I 0 + , and < II + (the + is the fuselage insignia).

There were four fighter Gruppen (groups) under the command of the General:

I./JG 54 (Turku)(Finland)

II./JG 54 (Reval-Laksberg)

III./JG 54 (Reval-Laksberg)

IV./JG 54 (Dorpat)- This is the one Oblt. Josef Gröene served in.

This aircraft, 410077, saw its last fight above Lake Swiblo on the Estonian-Russian border, where it was hit by Soviet AA fire southeasterly of Lake Swiblo, which damaged it sufficiently to force it down. Oblt. Gröene successfully landed on the lake’s ice, bending only the propeller and stopping some 200 meters from the Western Shore. He quickly exited the aircraft, taking his gunsight and clock, heading off towards the western shore and German lines in great haste to make his escape. In fact, it is believed that Oblt. Gröene was shot down again and survived the war.

German forces, not wanting to leave a war trophy for the Russians, fired on the plane with machine guns. Being on the fast-moving Russian front, the plane was soon forgotten and in the Spring of 1944, with the warmer weather, it slipped under the ice into the frigid Arctic lake.

Next post, I will examine the recovery of the Me 109 and its pre-sale offering.

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