Luftwaffe's Go-To Fighter
Willy Messerschmitt's best known product began life as a four-seat civilian sportplane known as the Me 108 "Taifun." Constricted by terms of the Armistice that ended World War I, a bitter Germany began gearing up for war in the 1930s by disguising its aeronautical development in the sheep's clothing of civilian aircraft. Messerschmitt's "cruiser" design used stressed-skin construction, leading-edge wing slats, outwardly retractable landing gear and a modern in-line, liquid-cooled engine — all traits that were well advanced at that time, and later incorporated into the fighter. Early versions of the Me 109 saw combat during the Spanish Civil War, where the Luftwaffe honed its tactics and Messerschmitt refined his fighter. During the Battle of Britain, the Me 109 was Germany's primary escort, though its short range limited its time over London to 10 minutes, leaving the Luftwaffe's bombers to the mercy of the Royal Air Force's Spitfire and Hurricane fighters.