5 September 2008
WWII buffs can get a good look at
notorious German Messerschmidtt
Me 109 Anyone who has ever wanted to get up close and personal with a Me
109 will have a chance soon at the National World War II Museum. The notorious
fighter plane, backbone of the Luftwaffe, Germany's air force, has been high on
the museum's wish list for years. There were 33,000 Messerschmidtts
produced in Nazi Germany during the war years -- more than any other fighter plane
Recently acquired, the plane will sit on the floor of the
museum's cavernous entry pavilion for five days before being hoisted into the
air to take its place with the other aircraft in the collection. Alongside it
on the floor will be the museum's Spitfire, the Me
109 opposite number as the pre-eminent fighter plane of England's Royal Air
The exhibit commemorates the Battle of Britain, which frequently
pitted the two planes against each other. The battle began in September 1940,
Hitler launched the Blitzkrieg against London, bombing it mercilessly for
months on end in preparation for his planned invasion. The battle, in which the
English prevailed, was one of the turning points of the war, the one that Winston
Churchill famously called "Britain's finest hour." "The Me
109 ranks right up there in the top 10 of historically significant aircraft
of World War II," said Tom Czekanski, director of collections and exhibits
at the museum. "It ranks with the Sherman tank, the Japanese Zero, the Higgins
landing craft, the Flak
Every American soldier in Europe knew what a Me
109 looked like.
"If a veteran of the 8th Air Force comes in
here and sees this plane, he's going to remember he had a lot of trouble with
it," Czekanski said. "He would have both feared and respected it."
Like all fighter planes, the Me
109 is small and light, approximately 30 by 30 feet; two of them could fit
easily in a classic New Orleans shotgun.
The plane was introduced in
1935 as the BF109 but it
soon became known by the name of its designer, Willy
Messerschmidtt. It was prized for its firepower, with a 20
mm cannon that shot out of its nose, for its maneuverability, its speed and
its ease in handling. But most of all, it was prized for its power-to-weight ratio,
which means it packed a lot of muscle inside its light frame.
109 did have its shortcomings. For one thing, it didn't have a very long range,
unlike its American counterpart, the P51, so it wasn't able to perform escort
functions for the Luftwaffe's bombers. For another, it had problems with the grass
fields that served as impromptu airstrips during World War II.
wasn't very good at landing," Czekanski said. "If the field were wet,
the tires could dig in and you stop a little too fast and the tail comes up because
it's light and the nose goes down because it's heavy and then the propeller ends
up stuck in the grass." This Me
109, purchased from a seller in Austria, is an assemblage of parts, some recovered
from crash sites, some found unused in former factories and some carefully replicated.
The Spitfire, which has been in the museum's collection since 2000, was retrieved
from a marshy site in England, where it went down when its pilot got lost in the
fog and bailed out in 1944. It has never before been available for viewing at
close range, which affords an appreciation of the airplane's diminutive size.
"You can relate to it when it's on the ground," Czekanski
said. "The size of it is amazing. It's tiny.
The cockpits are
very cramped and very sparse. The dashboard is the busiest part. The seats are
minimal, no upholstery. You've got a little bit of a frame and then the outside
skin of the plane. "Lots of engine, lots of armament. And off you go."
. . . . . . .
Elizabeth Mullener can be reached at email@example.com
WORLD WAR II PLANE
What: A German Me
109 and a British Spitfire are on display.
When: Scheduled Tuesday
through Sept. 14, but the display might be delayed due to Hurricane Gustav. Regular
museum hours are Tuesdays through Sundays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
World War II Museum, 945 Magazine St.; main entrance on Andrew Higgins Drive.
Cost: Free with admission: $14, $8 students and seniors, $6 children
and retired military with ID; military in uniform get in free.
Call 504.527.6012 or go online to www.nationalworldwar2museum.org.
© Elizabeth Mullener.
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