After the loss of Rome, the Luftwaffe largely abandoned the air war in Italy, leaving only a few Ju 87s for night harassment and loyal Italian fighter aircraft for defense of industrial sites in northern Italy. The remainder of the campaign in Italy consisted of Allied ground support and interdiction missions against negligible opposition and strikes against remaining industrial targets in northern Italy. Allied air forces in Italy also provided important support to Marshal Tito’s partisans in the Balkans. Transport aircraft (C-47s and Italian Z.1007s and SM.82s flying for the Allies) provided essential supplies to Tito, and direct attacks against German forces stopped an antipartisan operation in May 1944. Allied airpower based in Italy eventually severely degraded Axis rail capability in the Balkans.
Created by Willy Messerschmitt and his chief engineer, Walter Rethel, the Bf 109 was the world’s most advanced fighter at the time of its first flight in September 1935. A development of the very successful four-place touring Bf 108, the Bf 109 featured retractable landing gear, an enclosed cockpit, all-metal stressed-skin construction, heavy armament for the time, slotted trailing-edge flaps, and automatic Handley Page leading-edge slots.
Despite the pressures for ever-increasing production, the Bf 109 went through a long series of modifications, the last production version being the Bf 109K. In the process, horsepower was increased from the prototype’s 695-hp Rolls- Royce Merlin to the 2,030-hp Daimler-Benz DB 605 engine in the Bf 109K.
The aircraft served in every theater in which the Germans fought and was used by many nations allied to Germany. In the early months of the war, it reigned supreme over the battlefield until it met its match in the Supermarine Spitfire. As the war progressed and new Allied fighters such as the Soviet Yak-3 and U.S. North American P-51 were introduced, it became increasingly difficult for the Bf 109 to compete on equal terms. Nevertheless, in the hands of a capable pilot it remained a dangerous weapon until the end of the war. Versions of the Bf 109 were produced in Czechoslovakia and Spain, and it fought again in the 1948 Israeli War of Independence.
Although it was the favorite mount of many top German aces, Allied pilots who flew test versions had mixed feelings. The cockpit was cramped, with visibility limited by the heavy frames of the canopy. By Allied standards, the control harmony was poor, a problem that was amplified by the inexplicable lack of a rudder-trimming device. At cruising speeds, the Bf 109 was generally considered delightful to fly, but its controls became very heavy as speed increased. The most notorious aspect of the Bf 109 was its appalling takeoff characteristics. An estimated 3,000 aircraft were lost during takeoffs in which the pilot lost control. Landing characteristics were also challenging, but the a skilled pilot could land in a relatively short distance, using heavy braking once the tailwheel was firmly planted on the ground.