The Focke-Wulf 190

This German fighter almost helped the Luftwaffe win the war, but a major boo-boo by one of their pilots helped put an end to their success.

Beginning its service during WWII in late 1941, the Fw 190 A, designed by Kurt Tank and powered by a BMW air-cooled radial engine, proved to be an outstanding fighter and bomber destroyer. It displayed excellent maneuverability, had a top speed of 660km per hour and a ceiling of 10,600 meters.

In addition to its two 7.9mm machine guns in the engine cowling, two 20mm cannons on the wing roots and two 20mm cannons at mid wing, its armament could be beefed up to include as many as four more 20mm cannons. This made it a potent bomber destroyer and it played a major role in successful mass attacks on un-escorted B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator defensive formations. It’s success in this role was cut short with the introduction of P-38 Lightning and P-47 Thunderbolt escorts which were turbo supercharged and outclassed the Fw-190 above 9,100 meters.

Captured Fw-190

Faber's captured Focke Wulf Fw 190A-3 at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough, with the RAE's chief test pilot, Wing Commander H J "Willie" Wilson at the controls, August 1942.

As a fighter it outperformed the Spitfires in use at the time in almost every way. Predominantly used in air to air combat over France, Spitfire losses were so great against the Fw-190 that the RAF suspended cross Channel fighter sweeps. The Fw-190’s dominance as a fighter lasted until the Spitfire IX arrived in July 1942. The Spitfire IX had a better turning circle and a better climb rate at high altitudes than the Fw-190, but despite this the German plane still managed to hold its own for another year.

The RAF desperately wanted an intact Fw-190 so they could work out the secrets of Hitler’s great fighter and even the score against the Luftwaffe. They hatched a few outlandish schemes in an attempt to get their hands on one, but incredible luck was on their side. A perfect specimen just happened to land at an RAF airfield without any intervention required.

On the evening of the 23rd June 1942 the Luftwaffe elite JG 2 fighter unit were tasked with intercepting 12 RAF Boston bombers over the English Channel. During the chase Oberleutnant Armin Faber joined a dog fight with one of the bombers Spitfire escorts. After much twisting and turning he finally shot down his opponent who managed to safely bail out. All the maneuvering left the German pilot disorientated and he mistakenly identified the Bristol Channel as the English Channel. Setting his course back to France based on this notion, instead he ended up over South Wales.

Fast running low on fuel the German was getting desperate to land. Spotting an airfield he quickly landed in relief and cut his engine, only to be completely confused when a man in a blue uniform came running towards him. By the time he figured out what had happened he had a pistol to his head and it was too late to get away. The RAF was now the proud owner of one of the greatest prizes of WWII, along with its stunned and incredibly unlucky pilot.

Squadron Leader Richey – one of the pilots who had come up with a crazy scheme to steal a Fw-190, rushed to RAF Pembrey to take a look at their newest acquisition. He was very impressed by what he saw, and British test pilots were equally impressed when they put the Fw-190 through its paces.

“We gave the Focke Wulf the once over; it was a beautifully designed thing,” he recalled. “I think it must have been the best fighter of the war.”

With the valuable insights gained from the captured aircraft, the allies gradually regained control of the skies over northern France, allowing for a successful D-Day invasion, sealing Hitler’s fate. All thanks to one of his elite Luftwaffe fighter pilots making a major boo-boo.

This awesome aircraft resides in The Aviator Experience virtual hangar. You can relive the dog-fights between a Fw-190 A or D and Spitfire IX over Normandy France in either aircraft with up to three friends, either as your opponent or your wing-man. May the best pilot win!

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