Aviation of Word War II
Heinkel 112. Combat Use.
In early December, four He 112 V6 fighters arrived in the Spanish port of Cadiz, from where they were taken to the Tablada airfield near Seville. The planes were included in the 88th fighter squadron of the Condor Legion, which consisted of German volunteers and armed with German weapons. The Heinkel turned out to be the only cannon fighter not only in the legion, but in the entire Francoist aviation. Therefore, they decided to use it as an attack aircraft against ground targets. Together with Junkers Ju 87A and Henschel Hs 123 dive bombers, he began to strike at republican armored vehicles, field fortifications and artillery positions.
At the beginning of 1937, the Kanonenvogel took part in the battles on the Harama River. On March 16, an attack aircraft under the control of Oberleutnant Wilhelm Baltasar completed his most successful sortie. On that day, he attacked an armored train at the Sesenya station. From the third approach, Belshazzar managed to hit the ammunition rack in one of the armored cars. A powerful explosion blew the car to smithereens and caused the detonation of shells on a nearby armored area. As a result, the composition was completely destroyed. On the way back, the pilot shot the remnants of ammunition at the republican tank and also disabled it.
After this incident, Belshazzar was appointed commander of an experimental assault unit, which consisted of three double Heinkel He 45 biplanes and a Kanonenfogel. In June, the link fought on the northern front, supporting the advance of the Francoist troops on Bilbao. Then, in early July, he was returned to the central front, near Toledo. Not 112 was then piloted by non-commissioned officer Max Schulze. For 10 days of fighting, he reported the destruction of three republican armored vehicles.
The fighting career of the “cannon bird” ended on July 19th. During the landing approach, the engine suddenly jammed at the plane. Schulze tried to make it to the gliding runway, but as a glider the Heinkel was too heavy. The forced landing ended with the fuselage of the Kanonenfogel breaking in half. Surprisingly, the pilot was not injured, but the car had to be written off.
Already at the end of 1937, the Japanese signed a contract for the supply of 30 He 112 fighters and a protocol of intent to purchase another 100 aircraft. At the beginning of 1938, the first four copies of the fighter in the He 112 V-0 variant entered the arsenal of the Imperial Navy. There they were given the designation "sea interceptor A7He1".
Japanese pilots conducted comparative tests and several training battles with the main naval fighter of the "Land of the Rising Sun" A5M2. It turned out that "Heinkel" outperforms its opponent in speed by 65 km/h, but in a battle on bends it invariably loses. In Japan, then the doctrine dominated that the main task of a fighter was just close combat on horizontal lines, similar to the "dog fights" of the First World War. Therefore, local pilots rated the German novelty rather cool. Despite the fact that the Heinkel was not intended to be based on aircraft carriers, its liquid-cooled engine and too long landing run, according to the Japanese, also caused a negative reaction. As a result, they refused to buy 100 copies.
And the remaining 26 of those already purchased arrived by the end of 1938. Before that, they had to serve in the Luftwaffe for several months. This is the history of this episode. In the summer of 1938, during the so-called "Sudet crisis", Germany announced its intention to annex the German-populated Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia by force, finding itself on the verge of war with this country, as well as with England and France that supported it. Having declared his readiness to fight for the Sudetenland, Hitler openly bluffed: neither the army nor the air fleet of the Third Reich were yet ready for a big war with three European powers at once. But the statements needed to be backed up with something, and in Germany they carried out an emergency mobilization of all aircraft that can be used as combat aircraft, including experimental and pre-production vehicles, as well as those built by foreign order. Among them were those that were waiting to be sent to Japan in the warehouses of the Heinkel company.
A separate fourth group was formed from the "Heinkels" as part of the 132nd "Jagdgeshvader" (air regiment). The fighters received military camouflage, identification marks and tail numbers. The group was based in Oschatz near Leipzig, providing air cover for the city.
In October, Hitler's dangerous game ended in complete success. Representatives of France and Great Britain, striving to preserve "peace at any cost", signed an agreement in Munich on the transfer of all disputed territories to Germany. At the same time, they did not even ask about the opinion of Czechoslovakia. Left alone, the Czechs did not dare to resist and submitted to the terms of the "Munich agreement". And already on October 6, the first squadrons of the Luftwaffe landed on the Czechoslovak airfields that had just been captured without a fight. The Heinkels flew to the Karlsbad air base (now Karlovy Vary).
In November, due to the fact that the threat of war had passed, the fighters were returned to the owner. A month later they were already in Japan.
All received "Heinkels" the Japanese used only as training. Judging by the documents, not a single car made it to the front. Several copies survived until the surrender of the country in August 1945. One of them was found in October of the same year by soldiers of the American occupation forces. The plane was hidden among the trees near the Atsugi airfield on the island of Honshu. As a trophy, the car was taken to the States. Her further fate is unknown.
Spanish nationalists (francists) purchased 19 Heinkels in the B-1 and B-2 modifications, which differed in engine brand. The B-1 had a Yumo 210E carburetor, and the B-2 had a Yumo 210G with direct fuel injection into the cylinders. The first two cars arrived in November 1938, and the rest in early January 1939. Of these, a new fighter group (Grupa de Casa 5-G-5) was formed, consisting of two squadrons, under the command of Comandante Jose Munoz Jimenez. The group was staffed by experienced pilots who had previously flown Fiats CR-32s and Heinkel He-51s.
The aircraft arrived disassembled and assembled by German mechanics. They retained the Germanic light gray color. As elements of quick identification on the machines of the first squadron, the spinners of the propellers and the tips of the keels were painted red, and on the second squadron - yellow. In addition, Franco emblems - a yoke and crossed arrows - were painted over the fuselage identification marks. The aircraft received tail numbers from 5-52 to 5-69.
The retraining of the Spaniards for the new technique went quickly and without problems. The instructors were pilots who had previously flown He 112 prototypes.
On January 17, the group flew to the Leon airfield and took up combat duty. At first, the Heinkels, together with the Fiats, carried out patrols along the front line. By that time, the outcome of the civil war was already a foregone conclusion. The Francoists launched a large-scale offensive in Catalonia, quickly pushing the Republicans to the French border, and their aircraft seized air supremacy. The Republican Air Force was greatly weakened, and there were few worthy opponents for fighters with black circles.
Nevertheless, already on January 19, the He 112 scored its first and only air victory in Spain, shooting down a Republican I-16. Success was achieved by Captain Garcia Prado. And two days later, the Republicans managed to "equalize the score." Lieutenant Luciano Tabernero Herero in the Super Mosca (I-16 type 10) shot down the new Heinkel, which became the only combat loss among aircraft of this type in the Spanish war.
Heinkel pilots no longer encountered Republican aircraft in the air. Since the beginning of February, they have been reoriented to other tasks. He 112 began to fly reconnaissance and attack enemy troops and railway facilities. The 20mm guns proved to be very effective against locomotives and light armored vehicles.
On February 6, the fighting in Catalonia stopped. The remnants of the Republican troops went to the territory of France. And on February 21, the Francoists held in Barcelona - the capital of the province - a major military parade with the participation of all branches of the armed forces.
The highlight of the parade was the flight over the main square of the city of squadrons of Fiats and Heinkels, lined up in the shape of the letters FET (an abbreviation of the official name of the Francoist party - Falanga Espanola Tradicionalista).
In early March, the 5-G-5 air group was transferred to the Madrid area. Planes often appeared over the city, but there were no encounters with an air enemy. On March 28, during the next patrol flight, the pilots received an order by radio to return to the airfield. The war is over, the republican government has capitulated.
By an evil irony of fate, the first days of peace turned out to be more tragic for Heinkel pilots than the months of the war. Already on March 29, Lieutenant Rogelio Garcia de Juan, performing aerobatics at low altitude, lost control and crashed into the ground. And soon Captain Garcia Prado, during a training air battle, fell into a flat tailspin and died under the wreckage of his aircraft.
In the summer of 1939, the remaining Heinkels were brought into one squadron at number 27 and sent to Morocco, a Spanish colony in Northwest Africa. In 1940, the aircraft received tricolor camouflage and new identification marks - red and yellow circles on the wings.
Over the next three years, Spanish pilots in Africa had to "fight" only with heat, sandstorms and equipment failures. But when, on November 8, 1942, the Anglo-American troops launched Operation Torch - landing troops in Algeria and French Morocco, the Spaniards had to remember their air combat skills. The fact is that the Americans were not going to reckon with the neutrality of Spain and from the very first minutes of the operation they constantly violated the airspace of Spanish Morocco. Many times Heinkels and Fiats took off to intercept, but their pilots only simulated attacks. The Spanish government, not wanting to aggravate relations, gave the order not to open fire.
This continued until March 3, 1943, when an incident occurred that almost provoked a war between the United States and Spain. On that day, a group of Lightnings, numbering 11 vehicles, once again violated the border. Soon she was overtaken by the lone "Heinkel" of Lieutenant Miguel Entrena, who took off on alarm. It is not known whether the lieutenant acted on his own initiative or whether he received a secret order from his superiors to teach a lesson to the insolent Yankees, but, be that as it may, he attached himself to the tail of one of the Lightnings and fired a cannon burst. The left engine of the twin-engine fighter flared up.
The rest of the Americans, already accustomed to the fact that the Spanish pilots never shoot, were clearly confused. It seems that they did not even realize that only one Heinkel attacked them. The Lightnings hurriedly dropped their external tanks and rushed off at full throttle over the border line. A downed fighter with a long tail of black smoke slowly “pulled” after them. Entrena could have finished off the intruder, but instead he approached the American almost closely and gestured through the cockpit glass for him to jump or sit down on the emergency. However, the Lightning pilot was stubborn. On a burning car, losing height, he nevertheless crossed the border river Melilla and “flopped”, without releasing the landing gear, on the eastern, Algerian coast.
The fuel tanks dropped by the Lightnings were picked up by the Spanish soldiers on the same day as evidence that the battle took place over their territory. But the Americans were not interested in formalities. They were burning with the desire for revenge. The next day, more than 20 Lightnings made an apparently provocative low-altitude overflight of the Nador airfield, where the Heinkels were based. However, there was no battle. The Spanish pilots, having received the strictest order from Madrid the day before, "sat out" on the ground. They were allowed to take off only if shells and bombs rained down on them. But the American pilots did not dare to such "chaos". As a result, the war was avoided, and the incident was settled diplomatically. The Americans promised to continue not to violate the air borders of Spain and its colonies. True, in the future, aircraft with white stars sometimes appeared over Morocco, but this was due only to pilot errors and it did not come to firing.
Meanwhile, "Heinkels" continued to suffer losses due to accidents and disasters. In 1941-46, three planes crashed, two pilots died. A few more cars had to be written off due to engine wear and lack of spare parts. By early 1947, eight He 112s remained in service.
The following year, the “Moroccan” squadron was re-equipped with the “new” HS-132L biplanes (“Fiats” CR-32, built in the 40s in Spain under an Italian license), and the Heinkels were transferred to the flight school in Moron. In the summer of 1952, the last two machines were still flying there, but they were soon transferred to the category of training aids.
The service of the He 112 in Hungary turned out to be much shorter and less interesting. In June 1938, after a Magyar delegation visited Heinkel's company, the Hungarian War Ministry announced its readiness to purchase 36 He 112s. But these plans remained unfulfilled. At the beginning of 1939, only four cars entered the country, one of which almost immediately crashed in a demonstration flight. The rest of the purchases were soon abandoned, believing that the Yumo 210 was an outdated and insufficiently powerful engine for a fighter, and Heinkel was not allowed to sell aircraft with Daimler-Benz. Also, the plans to organize licensed production of He 112 in Hungary did not materialize. The three Heinkels received were included in the Hungarian Air Force, but they did not participate in hostilities, but were used only as training ones. By 1944, they were written off due to breakdowns and physical wear and tear.
The intention of the Austrians to acquire 42 He 112 disappeared by itself after the "Anschluss" (voluntary occupation) of Austria by the Third Reich. Heinkel fighters were also offered to the Finns and the Dutch, but the former preferred the cheaper and easier to maintain Fokkers D-XXI, while the latter relied on machines of their own design - the same Fokkers and Kolhovens FK-58.
The only country that actively used the He 112 in World War II was Romania. The Romanian Royal Air Force bought only 30 of these fighters, but they fought, as they say, "to the fullest."
The contract for the sale of aircraft was concluded in April 1939. During the summer, Romanian pilots in groups of 10 people arrived at the Luftwaffe airfield in Regensburg, where they underwent retraining and drove fighters to Bucharest on their own. During training, one Heinkel crashed, but the Germans later compensated for this loss with a new car. By the beginning of October, all fighters had reached their destination. Of these, the 5th fighter air group was formed as part of two (51st and 52nd) squadrons. The emblem of the air group was the dog Pluto from the cartoon popular in those years, however, it was not drawn on all aircraft.
Shortly after the arrival of the first Heinkels, the Romanians conducted comparative tests of a German fighter with a new machine of their own design, the IAR-80. The comparison was not in favor of the "German". Insufficient engine power fully made itself felt. The IAR-80, equipped with a 900-horsepower engine and a larger wing area, developed a maximum speed approximately equal to that of the Heinkel, but surpassed its competitor in maneuverability, rate of climb and ceiling. In addition, he was easier to pilot. The only advantage of the He 112 was its cannon armament, since the "Romanian" had only rifle-caliber machine guns.
As a result of the tests, the Heinkels, just like in Spain, decided to be transferred to the category of attack fighters. In this capacity, they met the beginning of the war with the Soviet Union. By that time, 28 combat-ready He 112s remained in the Romanian Air Force.
In the early Sunday morning of June 22, 1941, the Heinkels, together with the twin-engine Potez-63s from the 2nd bomber air group, suddenly attacked the Soviet Bolgrad airfield in southern Bessarabia. But the aircraft stands were empty. The aviation command of the Odessa Military District issued an order the day before to disperse and camouflage aircraft at operational sites. Then the Romanians flew to the alternate target - the airfield of the 67th IAP in Bolgaritsa. However, here the Soviet fighters met the attackers already in the air.
A fight ensued. Lieutenant Theodor Moscu dived on the I-16, the last to leave the runway and not yet had time to retract the landing gear. From the cannon fire, the "donkey" flared up and crashed into the trees on the edge of the airfield. Coming out of the dive, Moscu saw the second I-16, going across from him, and pressed the trigger a fraction of a second earlier than the Soviet pilot. The shell hit directly on the wide "forehead" of the red star machine. The lieutenant managed to notice how several cylinders flew out of the donkey's engine. The fighter with the engine stopped abruptly went down. There was no time to watch him: a machine-gun burst ripped open the fuselage and the right wing of the Heinkel. Gasoline gushed out of the punctured tank. Mosk was lucky that there were no incendiary bullets in the ammunition of the Soviet fighter that came in his tail. Having miraculously dodged the blow, the lieutenant left the battlefield and flew to the west, watching with fear as the petrol gauge needle was rapidly approaching zero. Nevertheless, he managed to "reach out" to the nearest Romanian airfield. According to official figures, Teodor Moscu won the first two victories of the Romanian Air Force in World War II.
The next day, the Heinkels attacked Soviet airfields again. And again they had to endure the battle with the I-16, but this time neither side was successful. But the Soviet anti-aircraft gunners distinguished themselves by shooting down the Non-112 adjutant Angel Kodrut. The pilot jumped out with a parachute and was captured.
On June 24, two Heinkels collided while taxiing, and the damage was such that both cars had to be written off. By the way, one of them was controlled by the commander of the 5th air group, Major Gheorghe Miculescu.
On June 28, Heinkel pilots were ordered to attack the fortress and port of Izmail, covered by strong air defense. Romanians met with such powerful anti-aircraft fire for the first time. Soon, from a direct hit, the plane of Lieutenant Konstantin Smeu shattered into pieces. The second "Heinkel" was shot down by Soviet fighters taking off to intercept. Sub-sub-tenant (junior lieutenant) Konstantin Stancu with difficulty flew across the Prut River and sat down “on his belly”.
On July 2, the Romanians again tried to storm the Bolgaritsa airfield. It cost the lives of two more pilots. The fighters of Sergeant Oldie Serges and Adjutant Ion Igescu were shot down by anti-aircraft gunners. The burning plane of Iguescu crashed right onto the airfield, and Serges managed to land the damaged car. He tried to escape, but was shot dead by the Red Army. Photos of the captured Heinkel were soon published by Soviet newspapers.
The next attack on Bolgaritsa took place on July 5th. The Romanians announced the destruction of two fighters: one on the ground and one more - trying to take off under fire. On the same day, Lieutenant Runescanu was killed in a battle with I-16.
On July 9 and 10, two more Heinkels were damaged in air battles. The pilots managed to return to the airfield, but their aircraft lost their combat effectiveness for a long time.
On July 12, the Romanians stormed artillery batteries on the eastern bank of the Prut. During this raid, they had to fight with a patrol of Soviet fighters. Lieutenant Ion Zaharia managed to shoot down one of them. Ours, in turn, shot down the plane of Lieutenant Ion Lascu, a former test pilot from the IAR factory, who volunteered for the front. For Lascu, this was the first and last sortie. From hitting the gas tank, his "Heinkel" exploded in the air.
On July 24, the thinned Romanian squadrons flew to the Comrat airfield in the newly captured Bessarabia. By that time, 14 Heinkels remained in service - exactly half of the original composition. During the month of fighting, seven aircraft were shot down, two were written off as a result of accidents, and five more were under repair. Due to high losses, the 52nd squadron was soon disbanded, and its surviving vehicles were poured into the 51st.
In September and the first half of October, the Heinkels provided air cover for the troops besieging Odessa, and after the evacuation of Soviet troops from the city, they flew to the Odessa airfield.
The 51st squadron was based in Odessa until the spring of 1942. At that time, it was already a deep rear of the German-Romanian troops, and there was little combat work for the pilots. They mainly flew for maritime reconnaissance and patrolling the coastal zone from the mouth of the Prut River to Ochakovo. On one of these flights, Sergeant Constantinescu went missing. His fate is still unknown. Most likely, the pilot got lost and fell into the sea. He became the last casualty among He 112 pilots in World War II.
In July, the 51st squadron, in which only nine combat-ready Heinkels remained, was understaffed with Hurricanes and taken to Romanian territory. Now she was to become an air defense night squadron. Until the end of the year, He 112s unsuccessfully tried several times to intercept Soviet bombers raiding Constanta, Bucharest and Ploiesti. At the beginning of 1943, the squadron was re-equipped with Messerschmitt-110s, better suited for the role of night fighters.
With this, the combat service of the He 112 ended. The surviving machines were transferred to the category of training. The last one was scrapped in 1947.
The assessment of the He 112 by Romanian front-line pilots was not high, but this is partly due to the specifics of their combat use. The aircraft, which did not have armor and protectors on the fuel tanks, had to, incurring heavy losses, storm ground targets. The situation was aggravated by the high vulnerability of liquid-cooled engines and the location of gas tanks in the wing, which increased the area of the affected surface. In air battles, the Heinkels fought with Soviet fighters on an equal footing, but do not forget that only the old I-16s were their opponents.
Summing up, we can say that the Heinkel 112 is far from the worst combat aircraft of its time, but the choice of the Messerschmitt as the main fighter for the Luftwaffe must still be recognized as correct. And "Heinkel" played the episodic role assigned to him by history, forever remaining in the shadow of a more successful competitor.