Aviation of World War II

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Heinkel He-100 for the USSR

D.A. Sobolev, D.B. Khazanov

Heinkel He-100
  • Fighter
  • First flight: 1938
  • Heinkel

A new phase of military and economic cooperation between the USSR and Germany had begun immediately after the signing the non-aggression pact and the subsequent capture of Poland. The Defense Commissariat back in October 1939 had compiled a preliminary list of German military equipment planned to be bought for examination. The section on aviation included Me 109 (Bf 109) and He 112 fighters, Do 215 and He 118 bombers, various trainers, Focke-Wulf helicopters, Jumo 211 and DB 601 engines, Junkers diesel aviation engines, different types of control devices, and armament. Moreover, the plan was to acquire several examples of each type. The total sum allocated for the purchase of military equipment in Germany was the astronomical figure of 1 billion German marks.

At the same time, I. F. Tevosyan, a member of the Bolshevik Party Central Committee, led a large commission that went to Germany in October 1939 to study the achievements of the German aircraft industry and to select examples for purchase. Managers from different industries, designers, military specialists, and employees of scientific research institutes comprised the commission.

General A. I. Gusev headed the aviation group. It included N. N. Polikarpov, A.S. Yakovlev, V.P. Kuznetsov, A. D. Shvetsov, I. F. Petrov, P. V. Dement'yev, and S. P. Suprun, among others. As it was agreed, the German Air Ministry showed the majority of aircraft industry enterprises to the Soviet specialists. In just over a month, the delegation's members traveled all around the country, visited the production factories of Junkers (Dessau), Messerschmitt (Regensburg, Augsburg), Henschel (Berlin), Focke-Wulf (Bremen), Heinkel (Rostock), Arado (Brandenburg), Blohm und Voss (Hamburg), Dornier (Friedrichshaven), and Bucker (Ransdorf). They familiarized themselves with the engine production of BMW (Munich), Junkers (Dessau), Hirt, Argus and Bramo (all three in Berlin); visited factories making propellers (VDM, Schwarz plant), radiators for water-cooled engines (Behr plant), crankshafts (Krupp in Essen), piston rings (Goetze plant in Cologne), bearings (Admos plant), instruments (Askania, Bosch, Siemens, Lorenz, and so on), aircraft armaments (Henschel, Siemens, IG Farben Industry), rubber and Plexiglas products (Continental plant, Plexiglas factory in Darmstadt); and visited the Scientific Research Aviation Institute in Goettingen and the Luftwaffe Scientific Testing Center in Rechlin. And this is not the entire list...

It seemed that Germany was being completely open. The leading Soviet aviation specialists could see many of the combat machines, including airplanes that only recently had entered operational service with the Luftwaffe. The delegation was shown He 100, Fw 187, Ar 197, Bf 109E (with DB 601 engine), and Me 110 fighters; Ju 87, Ju 88, He 111, Do 215, and Do 217 bombers; Bv 138, Bv 141, He 115, Hs 126, and Fw 189 reconnaissance planes; Ar 196 and Ar 198 reconnaissance floatplanes; He 70 and He 116 passenger planes; a four-engine Fw 200; and Ar 79, Ar 96, Ar 199, Fw 44, Fw 58, Bu 131, and Bii 133 sports and training airplanes.

Most of the aircraft were demonstrated not only on the ground, but in the air as well. Soviet pilots were allowed to fly some of them. For one, on November 8th while visiting the Focke-Wulf firm, Gusev and Petrov flew Fw 44 and Fw 58 trainers and pilot V. Shevchenko took to the air in the Fw 189, which later, during the war, became famous as the "Frame". During his visit to the E. Heinkel firm, famous test pilot S. P. Suprun asked for permission to try out the He 100, the aircraft that shortly before had established a world speed record. After some hesitation (due to the large wing loading, the plane was known for its high landing speed), permission was granted and Suprun made an excellent flight.

But, beneath the mask of German friendliness and openness there was a well-planned hidden idea: use German military might to misinform and to intimidate the eastern neighbor. The Soviet specialists never got to know anything about the existence of He 176 and He 178 experimental jet planes, nor did they see a Fw 190 prototype that had been undergoing testing since May 1939.

At the same time, the He 100, which had been passed off as the newest fighter type, was widely advertised. In reality, the Germans were not going to put this essentially experimental airplane into operational service, but simply were trying to frighten the Russians and British, spreading rumors about a special squadron equipped with these machines that allegedly had been formed. Even an emblem for that nonexistent operational unit had been designed.

Based upon recommendations of the delegation that visited Germany earlier, an order for German aircraft and equipment for their detailed examination in our country was arranged through the Commissariat of Foreign Trade in early 1940. It included more than 100 items. In particular, the plan was to acquire five He 100s with evaporative-cooled engines, five He 100s with water-cooled engines, five Me 109Es, five Me 1 lOCs, two Ju 88 and Do 215 bombers, Biicker Bu 131 Jungmann, Bu 133 Jungmeister and Fw 58 trainers (three of each type), a record-holder Me 209, as well as two Fa 226 helicopters. Each airborne vehicle had to be fully equipped and have a set of spare parts. Three spare engines were additionally ordered for each of the He 100, Me 109 and Me 110. Besides that, the plan was to get from Germany two Jumo 207 diesel aviation engines, two Jumo 211 engines, two 1400hp Daimler Benz boosted engines, examples of fuel injection pumps and nozzles, 1500 Bosch spark plugs, 10,000 piston rings, more than 1000 flexible gasoline and oil pipes, 30 propellers, many sets of test equipment (including five Braun Boweri high-altitude test facilities), gun sights, various types of bombs and ammunition for airborne armament, and so on and so forth. The delivery term for most items was 12 months; sometimes (the Me 209, for instance), it could be 15 months. The order totaled tens of millions of rubles. It is known that the Soviet government paid 25 million rubles just for some of the equipment that was delivered to the USSR by the summer of 1940.

The choice of aircraft bought for examination in the USSR was, in general, correct. Most of the aforementioned airplanes were widely employed by the Luftwaffe and for several war years were its backbone. Nevertheless, mistakes were made. The first was the heightened attention paid to the He 100 airplane that Germany passed off as a series-produced fighter superior in speed to the Me 109- The Russians swallowed the bait and ordered 10 He 100s in Germany, more than any other type. But, in reality, because the evaporative cooling system was not developed properly and an aircraft with wing surface radiators was highly vulnerable in combat, not to mention a series of other technological and operational deficiencies, the He 100 never entered operational service. It was designed as a racing airplane and remained such, despite the two machine-guns it carried. The following was noted in the conclusion of an Air Forces Scientific Research Institute report written when He 100 testing in the USSR concluded: "The airplane is not developed to the requisite level for combat duties".

The scornful attitude towards the Ju 87 dive-bomber was the second mistake. In his memoirs A. S. Yakovlev wrote: "When in October 1939 we were granted an opportunity not only to see, but to purchase the German aircraft, then these woeful tacticians flatly refused to buy the Ju 87. 'Why should we spend money for nothing? An obsolete, low-speed type,' were their arguments. However, on the first days of the war, these 'obsolete, low-speed machines' inflicted innumerable miseries on us".

And finally, the selection of the Do 215 instead of the more modern Do 217 is hard to understand. The Germans employed this airplane in limited numbers mainly for reconnaissance duties and withdrew it from production in 1941.

Many groups of specialists went to Germany in February-March 1940 to supervise this order, which was unprecedented in scope and variety. They included aircraft industry and scientific research institute managers, factory directors, test pilots, Air Forces representatives, specialists on engines, armament, instruments, radio equipment, and so forth—more than 40 persons in all.

At the Soviet delegation's request, General Udet allowed German pilots to ferry the aircraft to speed up their delivery to the USSR. Thanks to this decision, there was no need for long procedures to legalize the entry of Soviet crews into Germany. Flights were to be carried out via the well-known Berlin-Koenigs-berg-Moscow route.

In connection with this decision, A. I. Mikoyan, Deputy Chief of the USSR Council of People's Commissariats, signed the following directive 14 April 1940:

In order to support the transit of the airplanes from Germany, I order:

1. The Commander of RKKA Air Forces Comrade Ya. V. Smushkevich to supply:

a. Central Airfield, as well as en route airfields, for reception of airplanes.

b. Gates and processing of permits to use them at the NKVD, Air Defense Command, and so forth.

c. Guards for aircraft on intermediate airfields and at Moscow Airport.

d. Fuel and lubricants at intermediate airfields.

e. Servicing the crews at intermediate airfields (interpreters, premises, hot water, food, transportation).

2. The Chief of the Main Directorate of the Civil Air Fleet Comrade Molokov to supply:

a. Confirmation, together with Comrade Smushkevich, of the exact departure time in accordance with German proposals.

b. Full meteorological support along the route, including transmission of weather reports in German.

c. Air-ground radio communications.

d. Radio navigation.

e. Accurately informing crews in Koenigsberg or Berlin about the transit route, gates, procedures for passing through them, and general transit flight conditions.

f. Constant flight traffic control of all airplanes until their landing at Moscow Airport.

g. Parking of airplanes at Moscow Airport.

h. Servicing the crews during their stay at Moscow Airport (premises, hot water, food, transport on the airport itself).

3. Head of the People's Commissariat of Transportation Engineering Department Comrade Mashtakov:

a. Through the appropriate channels, formulate permission for the crews to fly to the USSR. Through the appropriate channels, formulate permission for the crews to fly to the USSR.

b. Ensure that the crews are met at Moscow Airport (interpreters, transport in the city, hotel) and support them during their stay in Moscow, as well as organize their departure from the USSR (passports, visas, and so on).

The first German airplanes flown by German pilots arrived in Moscow on April 28th. A report addressed to Stalin and Molotov gives witness to this:

We report that two Dornier Do 215 bombers arrived at Moscow Central Airport at 15:32 on 28 April 1940.

Five Messerschmitt 110 fighters after an en route stop in Velikiye Luki arrived at Moscow Central Airport at 18:50 on 28 April 1940.

A. Yakovlev, A. Shakhurin.

Soon all the ordered German aircraft were delivered to Moscow. Most of them came under their own power, while some (five He 100, in particular) came by train. The ordered engines, equipment and instruments were also shipped by rail. The "sanitary cordon" between the USSR and Germany no longer existed and deliveries of all goods were carried out unhindered and unmonitored.

The German aircraft and other aviation equipment were brought for examination to the Air Forces Scientific Research Institute, the newly founded Flight Research Institute (LII), TsAGI, TsIAM, and other organizations. Moreover, at the request of the People's Commissariat of the Aviation Industry, some airplanes were flown to factory airfields of aviation enterprises in Gor'kiy, Voronezh, Kazan', and Khar'kov.

Photo Description
Drawing He 100 D-1

Drawing He 100 D-1

Next to an He 100, Germany, 1939. In the center - test pilot S. P. Suprun

Next to an He 100, Germany, 1939. In the center - test pilot S. P. Suprun


  • "The German Imprint on the History of Russian Aviation " /D.A. Sobolev, D.B. Khazanov/