Saturday, February 19, 2011
Interesting aircraft; Henschel Hs 129
Having mentioned the Beaufighter in a previous post, I'm inspired to also point to a comparable German aircraft, the Hs129. This is because I have a soft spot for specialist twin engine, ground attack aircraft and the Hs129 is a beauty in this regard. You only have to look at the size of that gun to realise what a monster this plane could be against Soviet armour. Thankfully, the Nazi's couldn't manufacture enough Hs 129's to threaten the Soviet advance, just as the Nazi's couldn't manufacture enough of anything else. As was so often the case with the Third Reich, ambition outweighed practical common sense.
That doesn't change the fact that the Hs 129 is an interesting ground attack aircraft however. Originally it was designed with much the same parameters as the A10 would be several decades later. Born of experience in the Spanish Civil War, the idea was for a heavily armoured aircraft sporting a big gun to specifically attack ground forces so Henshel designed their aircaft around a steel bath tub which protected the pilot and his instruments from enemy fire. They put the big gun in the belly and they had two engines in case one got knocked out. The cockpit canopy was also armoured with the front pane of glass being 75mm thick and the fusilage had a triangular cross section designed to provide maximum protection against rifle and machine gun fire from below. Hs 129 pilots were well protected but the downside of all this armour and protection was a very small and cramped cockpit with limited visibility.
The first variants, the Hs 129 B1 and B2 were originally armed with two 20mm cannon and two 7.92mm machine guns, all firing from gun ports in the forward fusilage but these were later upgraded to include a single 30mm cannon in a stream lined belly pod. Over the course of the war the Hs 129's were constantly being fiddled with, not least because production was slow due to shortages.
Soviet tanks kept getting better though and when the dreaded T34's started turning up in ever greater numbers, the B3 variant was introduced with a heavier 37mm cannon based on the Flak 18 AA gun. This gun was more effective, but obviously not quite enough and since experiments had already been made with bigger guns in JU-88s, it didn't take long for the Hs 129 B3 to be armed with a massive, self loading variant of the 75mm Pak 40, known as the 'Bordkanone BK 7,5 model'. Essentially this was the same gun which was the primary armament of a Panzer III and you can see in the image of the Hs 129 at the top of this post just how big the Bordkanone BK 7,5 model was. No production military aircraft would carry a heavier gun until the A10, but the Germans did experiment with bigger weapons, including a Hs 129 variant which had six mortar tubes in the rear fusilage, that were meant to fire straight down into the target.
This variant was deadly, there is no doubt of that, but the technical problems of this gun, its weight, the limited supply of ammunition and the fact that the Germans never managed to field more than twenty five Hs 129 B3's, meant that the plane was never a threat to the Red Army, no matter how dangerous it might have been to the indiviual tank.
Personally, I like the look of the Hs 129. Like so many twin engined, ground attack aircraft, the Hs 129 has a singular purpose of design that translates itself to its appearance. With its triangular cross section and shark nose, the plane looks every bit the predator, and even the nasty, Teutonic square planes of the cockpit ony serve to further enhance the overall lethal character of the aircraft.