Focke Wulf Fw190: Powerful German Shortrange Interceptor
Before the official beginning of World War II, the powers that were left wanting from the understandably lopsided provisions of the Treaty of Versailles began massive rearmament preparations in order to prepare themselves to strike back at their enemies and achieve revenge. This was particularly true of Germany and Italy; both nations were hankering for an empire and had the sort of leaders in Hitler and Mussolini that would serve as enablers for these dreams.
The Spanish Civil War was used as a practice session by many powers, and the future Axis had military planners and troops there from many of its countries (with the notable exception of Japan). What this experimental war taught the Axis powers was that air superiority would be a key concept in the upcoming struggle for European supremacy. Though Germany engineered many fantastic designs with incredible speed, it was their conventional aircraft such as the Messerschmitt Bf 109 and the later Fw 190 "Butcher Bird" that were the "workhorse" aircraft of German air superiority.
The development of the Fw 190 was the result of a Reichluftministerium (translated Reich air ministry) requirement for another workhorse aircraft to complement the Bf 109, then considered the Luftwaffe heavy lifter. The Bf 109 and other aircraft had led the assault on the R.A.F. and failed, and Germany was looking for an improved edge over enemy air forces. Designer Kurt Tank of Focke-Wulf settled upon a radial-engined design based upon the air-cooled BMW 801. Some initial overheating problems caused difficulties until a better cooling fan was installed, but the aircraft proved it had a solid airframe and fantastic handling.
When the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 design first appeared over the English Channel and in conflict with Germany's primary rivals the British, it produced a nasty shock to Spitfire V pilots, the current British workhorse design which constituted the bulk of the Royal Air Force. The Fw 190 was superior to the current Spitfire V model in almost every way and at every altitude. Maximum speed was easily 60 miles per hour better than the British aircraft, and it was here that the Fw 190 earned the moniker "Butcher Bird." The aircraft saw most of its combat in Soviet battlefronts and eventually defense of "Fortress Europe," where it fought against craft such as Yak-3s and La-5s, then P-51s and P-38s.
The flawless design of the Fw 190 arguably extended the life of the flagging Luftwaffe. The decline of "pilot training" had already begun by 1941. Learning to fly an aircraft is a skill in itself; air combat, however, requires specific training from experts who have endured through it. Germany had plenty of experts, but many were being utilized in fighter cockpits and subsequently being killed off by the massive influx of Allied resources. The Fw 190, however, boasted enough of an edge over Allied aircraft in theater that it allowed moderately-experienced pilots to bring a lot of pain to Allied air wings. Those who were expert pilots, moreover, claimed an incredible string of victories against the inferior Allied aircraft, including famed air combat specialists such as Walter Nowotny, Otto Kittel, and Erich Rudorffer, each of whom racked up over 200 kills. All pilots who received the privilege of flying in this superior aircraft professed a love for the incredible performance of it.
In total production, over 13,000 aircraft were produced in a variety of roles. German air ministry officials got more than their bid asked for in the Fw 109, which proved itself as a superior workhorse in every way to the Bf 109. Interestingly, the Fw 190 was also developed as a fighter bomber carrying several bombs and rockets in addition to its 20mm cannon. The singular performance aspect which held the craft back was its range, which was only barely over 500 miles. Although its range was comparable to British Spitfire designs, its performance was far superior, and only the appearance of American P-51 Mustangs marked the first time the Allies could wrest air superiority back from Germany. The destroyed Fw 190 pictured below represents the condition of many Fw 190s and the Luftwaffe in general after the P-51's appearance.