Slipping the Bonds
by George Paterson
The Bf 109 was a small aircraft relative to the Allied fighters that it was to encounter during WW II. To understand why this was, we need to go back to the origins of the design.
Willi Messerschmitt's design philosophy, applied with great success to the Bf 108 sport and touring aircraft, was then adapted to a 1933 RLM specification for a modern fighter aircraft.
Four designs were submitted to the Ministry; those from Focke-Wulf and Arado didn't satisfy the RLM requirements, which left the Bf 109 and the He 112, a bigger aircraft of more complex design. The 109 was accepted, partly because it was faster (both used the RR Kestrel II engine), but also because the RLM considered that a small, fast aircraft that was easy to mass-produce was better suited to the tactical needs of a short war.
This was well vindicated in the first two years of WW II. Even the Luftwaffe's failure in the Battle of Britain, due to the Bf 109's limited range, doesn't negate the decision, because the Spitfire, with a range little better than the 109, was not able to gain air superiority when it attempted offensive operations in Northern France in 1941. Effectively, a stalemate situation had arisen, and the RAF's problems only got worse when the Fw 190 arrived on the scene.
In early 1942, the Bf 109G-6 entered service. The G-6 answered the need to increase the fire-power of the 109 by replacing the 7.92 mm. MG17guns above the engine with the much more powerful 13 mm. MG131. Two bulges were needed forward of the windshield to house these, and the G-6 was the first variant of the design to be slower than its predecessor. The limits in the development potential of Messerschmitt's design were at last becoming apparent.
The Initial Image
The G-6's bulges (Beulen) soon attracted various décor features, and the best-known of these was the pair of eyes painted on them by Alfred Surau of 9.JG3.
This photograph is one of a set of 17 of a model of Surau's aircraft; I don't know the builder's name, nor the kit used. It is 900x601 pixels, which is not generous by today's standards, especially because the model is far from filling the frame; my first operation was to crop the image down to 772x491, which still leaves an adequate scarsement round the airframe. The background is quite an intense blue, so I expect colour balance problems within the airframe. Also, the canopy is open, and in starboard-side views that means some important details of the rear part of the canopy are obscured; I have some experience of this problem, and I can fill in the blank bit fairly accurately.
On the plus side, there is good depth of field, so the definition is acceptable over most of the airframe. Also, the perspective is within my comfort zone.
Treatment of the Image
My biggest problem with this image turned out to be the fact that the starboard wing obscures a lot of the rear fuselage, and the setting of the rad. vane and the flap obscures nearly all the rest, apart from a narrow wedge between the vane and the flap, through which the soffit line can be seen. A lot of judgement was needed to restore the full lower profile of the fuselage; establishing the locations of the panel lines for frames 2 to 9 was tricky – and you need to know where frames 4, 5 and 6 are before you can put in the missing lowermost part of the Balkenkreuz.
All other selection work was routine. I had already put in the aerial that projects down just behind the wing, but I couldn't see the loop aerial that should be behind the canopy, so it had to be done from scratch. The model doesn't have the “Rüstsatz 3” installation that allowed the carrying of a droptank below the centre section. I decided to leave it out on this occasion.
I did indeed have problems with the ambient blue of the backing tilting the coloration of the airframe towards blue. The standard remedy is to shift the airframe towards yellow, and that helped, but didn't cure the problem entirely. Next, I selected all the RLM76 areas (the blue undersides of the aircraft), and desaturated those areas. I still wasn't convinced. Then I did something that I've found helpful in the past with blue bias issues – I shifted the whole picture towards red! Now, not only did the blues look more like proper blues, but the yellow areas seemed less anaemic.
I pasted the finished image to a skyscape, and added a secondary aircraft as Surau's wingman. This came from a different model of Surau's aircraft, altered to show a “yellow 3” of the same Staffel. Note that this model had both the loop aerial and the droptank housing, though the tank itself has been jettisoned.
I also put in some rather anonymous B-17's in the top right of the picture.
This last gesture was intended to register the fact that Surau was one of the foremost killers of Allied heavy bombers until his death in combat in October 1943. In a period of just six months before his death he reached a score of 41 victories in the defence of the Reich, but on the 14th October he was wounded by defensive fire from a B-17; he managed to bail out, but died later that day from his injuries.
My comments above about colour biasses remind me of comments I've heard from gardening enthusiasts, to the effect that very few nominally blue flowers are really a true blue; most apparently have quite a lot of red in them, which the eye doesn't pick up easily. Some say that Lithospermums and certain types of Salvia are the only really blue flowers – Violets don't get a mention!