The Messerschmitt Bf 109 was a German World War II fighter aircraft designed by Willy Messerschmitt and Robert Lusser during the early to mid-1930s. It was one of the first true modern fighters of the era, including such features as all-metal monocoque construction, a closed canopy, a retractable landing gear, and was powered by a liquid-cooled, inverted-V12 aero engine.
The Bf 109 saw active service in many air forces and was active in several conflicts outside of World War II.
Combat Service in the Spanish Civil War
Dozens of Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighters, including the A, B, C, D, and E variants first saw active service in the Condor Legion against Soviet-supplied aircraft in mid 1937 as a testing ground for the new German fixed-wing fighter plane. The Bf 109 quickly replaced the Heinkel He 51 biplane fighter which suffered many losses during the first 12 months of the conflict. Of the Luftwaffe's Jagdgruppen, 136 Bf 109s were sent to Spain, and 47 of these, including Bf 109Bs, Ds and Es remained behind in service with the Spanish Air Force after the conclusion of the war in 1939. The Republican fighters were no match for the Bf 109, equipped mostly with Soviet built Polikarpov I-15 and Polikarpov I-16s the Republican forces suffered heavy losses to Nationalist and Condor Legion fighters. As many as 20 Bf 109s were lost in Spain to enemy action to both aerial combat and ground fire.
Combat Service with the Luftwaffe
The Bf 109 was credited with more aerial kills than any other aircraft. One hundred and five (possibly 109) Bf 109 pilots were credited with the destruction of 100 or more enemy aircraft. Thirteen of these men scored more than 200 kills, while two scored more than 300. Altogether this group were credited with nearly 15,000 kills between them. Among many of the combatants, ace status was granted to a pilot who scored five or more kills. Applying this to Luftwaffe fighter pilots and their records shows more than 2,500 German pilots were aces. However, the Germans did not use this benchmark; instead they awarded the title of Experte to a fighter pilot who not only demonstrated high skill in combat but also exemplified the best in personal character. The majority of Bf 109 pilots scored their kills against the Soviets, however five pilots did record over 100 claims against the Western Allies. Luftwaffe records show that during Operation Barbarossa, German pilots claimed 7,355 kills on the Bf 109, between the seven Jagdgeschwader (JG 3, JG 27, JG 51, JG 53, JG 54, JG 77, and LG 2) for exactly 350 losses in aerial combat, a ratio of just over 21:1, and the highest achieved by the Germans on the Eastern Front.During the latter part of the war, the Bf 109 was the selected aircraft that was used in the Rammkommando ELBE because of its lighter weight compared to the Fw 190.
Between January and October 1942, a further 18 German pilots joined the select group that had now reached 100 kills over the Eastern Front. During this period Bf 109 pilots claimed 12,000 Soviet aircraft destroyed.
The Bf 109 in the Battle of Britain
Combat service with Italy
- Regia Aeronautica (1942–1943)
From November 1942 to April 1943, the Regia Aeronautica received only 160 new bombers and 758 new fighters from their own production lines. For this reason, the Italian Air Force decided to use German aircraft. General Kesselring accepted a first batch of about 30 Bf 109s that were assigned to 150° and 3° Gruppo. The first unit under command of Maggiore Antonio Vizzotto was ready to operate in April moving to Caltagirone airfield, then on Sciacca's, in Sicily. Just before the Allies landed in Sicily, the 150° Gruppo (363ª, 364ª, 365ª Squadriglia) had 25 Bf 109s operative, while 17 other Bf 109s were with 3° Gruppo (153ª, 154ª, 155ª Squadriglia) on Comiso airfield, in Sicily. Most of them were destroyed by Allied bombers. On 12 July, the fourth day of combat, the two Gruppos had lost nearly all the aircraft. By mid-July, the 150° Gruppo was deployed to Ciampino airfield, just outside Rome with the last three remaining Bf 109s arriving from Sicily. Meanwhile, 23° Gruppo (70ª, 74ª, 75ª Squadriglia) of 3° Stormo, on Cerveteri airfield, in Latium, received 11 Bf 109Gs. By 8 September, when Italy signed the Armistice of Cassibile, only four Bf 109s remained servicable, based on Ciampino airstrip, with 150 Gruppo.
- ANR (1943–1945)
The Aeronautica Nazionale Repubblicana (ANR) was the airforce deployed by the Repubblica Sociale Italiana (RSI). Although the ANR was organised by the RSI, much of its operational control came from the Luftwaffe. At first, the ANR fighter units (I° Gruppo Caccia and II° Gruppo Caccia) used Macchi C.205s and Fiat G.55s respectively. Notwithstanding the G.55s gave a good account of themselves against Allied fighters like the Spitfire and Mustang  the Luftwaffe's Jagdfliegerführer (Fighter Controller or Jafü), considering that many of the unit's pilots had experience flying the Bf 109Gs of the Regia Aeronautica over Sicily, directed that the Fiat G.55s of II°Gr.C would be replaced by Bf 109Gs. Ex-JG 4 Bf 109 G-6 aircraft started arriving at Cascina Vaga on 29 May, and two G-12 trainers were delivered two weeks later. By 22 June, the unit was ready for its first operations.
The unit's first operation with the Bf 109 occurred on 22 June 1944; eleven Bf 109s sortied from the airfield, although nothing was achieved.
I°Gr.C continued to use a combination of Macchi 205s and Fiat G.55s although, for various reasons, the unit rarely operated from August 1944 through to December, when the first Bf 109 G-12 trainer arrived. Still in December, the remaining 17 pilots of I° Gruppo were moved to Rangsdorf, in Berlin, to start a training course on Me 163 rocket fighter. In November 1944, I°Gr.C was transferred to the Luftwaffe flying school at Holzkirchen in Germany to convert to the Messerschmitts. At the beginning of February, 57 of I° Gruppo's pilots were ready for operations with the Me 109; 51 (52, according to other sources ) G-6s, G-10s and K-4s, most of which came directly from Germany, were available at the end of the month. The fighters were placed on the heath between Lonate Pozzolo and Malpensa airfields, and carefully camouflaged to protect them from Allied air raids. The first combat operation occurred on 14 March 1945. I° Gruppo attempted to intercept B-25 Mitchells of the 321st Bomb Group near Lake Garda but, in turn, were bounced by P-47 Thunderbolts of the 350th Fighter Group. 1° Gruppo had three pilots dead, one wounded, three aircraft lost and six damaged; in return one P-47 was claimed by the Commander Adriano Visconti.
The other ANR fighter unit, II° Gruppo, that had given at the end of May 1944 its G.55s to I° Gruppo, had been re-equipped with 46 ex I./JG 53 and II./JG 77 Bf 109 G-6. On 22 June 1944, it took off on its first operational flight with its Messerschmitts and three days later it shot down two P-47s from the Gaullist French G.C.II/3. At this stage, Luftwaffe ordered ANR pilots to operate outside Italian borders. For instance, on 25 July, 18 Bf 109Gs fron 2° Gruppo were ordered to move to Tulln, in Austria. Here they were subordinated to JG 53. They operated together with German pilots against an Allied bomber raid. During this combined mission eight B-24 Liberators were shot down.
On 2 April 1945, II° Gruppo 29 Bf 109s, from Aviano and Osoppo bases, intercepted a large formation of B-25s over Ghedi, Brescia, escorted by P-47Ds of 347 Fighter Squadron. In the air battle that ensued, ANR pilots suffered a heavy defeat: 14 Bf 109s were shot down and six Italian pilots killed, without scoring a single air victory. On 10 April, three Bf 109s, flown by Sottotenente (Flying Officer) Umberto Gallori, Maresciallo (Warrant Officer) Mario Veronesi and Maresciallo Dino Forlani, intercepted P-47s from 57° Fighter Squadron over Milan and Como. Forlani claimed a P-47 damaged, but the other two Italian fighters were hit and lightly damaged. On 19 April, 1° Gruppo "Asso di bastoni" had its last combat, last claim and its last loss.