Slipping the Bonds
by George Paterson
A few months ago I presented an image of a Bf 109D-1in a dark 1939 camo, and carrying some unusual white markings on the upper surfaces of its wings and tailplane. On each of the wings there was a very large white cross, which I take to be a reference to the Luftwaffe's role in the Spanish Civil War; the tailplanes had a large white marking that looked like a coat hanger or perhaps a question mark, the meaning of which I couldn't guess at all.
As a wingman for the primary image I used a model photo from the same review, by Scott van Aken, but since it would be small on the finished image I did very limited work on it. However, it was in my mind from the start that I would elaborate my treatment later to get a result that could be used as the subject of a new picture. Therefore, the selection of the main structure elements was done carefully.
The initial Image
The original is only 550 pixels wide, but Scott has squeezed the airframe into the space, losing only the tiniest sliver of each wingtip, so it's really equivalent to a wider starting image. The next step was to enlarge the image to 4800x3000 pixels, and start constructing the internal details.
Treatment of the Image
I have some photographs of real Doras that show the forward fuselage in detail, and I based my treatment of the area ahead of the firewall on those alone. I re-selected the spinner to be more slender, with a smaller diameter where it meets the fuselage. I left the fuselage lower profile, but needed to drop the upper profile to meet the spinner without an excessively deep “brow”; this was achieved by introducing a gentle downward curve ahead of the MG muzzles. In other words, the engine axis is lowered and the profile of the fuselage forward of the windscreen is not a single straight line, as shown on most profiles.
Aft of the engine module the fuselage is almost identical to that of the familiar DB-powered Emils. Likewise the details of the flying surfaces, though there are no MG's in the wings.
I wanted to add a secondary aircraft, and the obvious choice was a PZL P.11. I chose a photograph of a P.11c that is displayed at Lublin airport. I ended up quite enthusiastic about these P.7's and P.11's, and I intend to do more of them shortly. The design was streets ahead of its contemporaries when it first flew in 1930 or thereabouts, and it's only a pity that the Polish aero industry then rested on its laurels for the next ten years.
In September 1939 both of these aircraft were behind the state of the art. The Bf 109D was manifestly inferior to the new Emils, and to the Spitfires now arriving with the RAF squadrons, but just a year or two earlier it had been the latest kit. The P.11 was seriously outclassed by the Messerschmitt, and the outcome was inevitable.
One example of this obsolescence is very telling. The Polish fighters had no radios, and could only communicate by hand signals within a formation. They couldn't communicate with ground controllers at all! Bf 109's, up to and including some -C's, didn't have the mast behind the cockpit or the little tab at the top of the fin, but the Dora has both, as shown in Scott's model. Luftwaffe experience in Spain had taught them the value of on-board radio.
The P.11 still had advantages; it was much more manoeuvrable than the 109's, and the gull wing layout gave the pilot a superb field of view. So the Luftwaffe did suffer some losses to Polish fighters, but ground fire was a much more important cause.