|Wings of War | Published 29 April 2009|
Our series of previews of the Wings of War World War II miniatures continues with this look at the Messerschmitt Bf 109 and an event that illustrated its usage in war - the bombing of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War.
If you missed the previous article in our series on the Supermarine Spitfire, you can read it by following this link.
The Messerschmitt Bf 109 miniature (FFG product code WW17d-f) is a great addition to any Wings of War: The Dawn of World War II game. Not only is it a beautifully-painted and historically-accurate sculpt of one of the planes that formed the backbone of the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) that brings a new three-dimensional dynamic to your Wings of War game, each miniature comes with its own maneuver deck allowing more players to participate in the game. Wings of War miniatures take an already great game and add new levels of enjoyment for all fans of realistic, yet easy-to-learn wargames.
The Messerschmitt Bf 109 was designed by Willy Messerschmitt in the early 1930s and was one of the first modern fighters of the era, featuring a closed canopy and retractable landing gear. The Bf 109 was a small, light-weight, highly-maneuverable fighter plane that performed multiple combat functions including bomber escort, interceptor, and ground attack aircraft.
Note: The original designation for this plane was Bf 109 (after the Bayerische Flugzeugwerke company) until July 1938 when Willy Messerschmitt acquired the company. After this point, the plane would alternately be known as the Bf 109 and the Me 109 - the second name would more commonly be used in the English-speaking world.
The Bf 109 would be the most-produced German fighter plane of World War II and as such, it would become the signature single-seat multi-function aircraft of the Luftwaffe. In service to the Luftwaffe, the Bf 109 would be credited with more kills than any other aircraft. In the early stages of World War II, the Luftwaffe was arguably the most modern air force in the world, with the most experienced pilots and new mechanized military tactics that would set the pace for the war.
At the outset of World War II the German Wehrmacht ("defense force" - the unified name for all of Germany's armed forces) had developed a military strategy that would incorporate technology which had developed during World War I: the airplane and tank. This strategy would come to be called blitzkrieg or "lightning war". Essentially, a blitzkrieg attack would focus the combined heavy armaments of aircraft and tanks on a single weak point in the enemy line, overpowering enemy defenses, and breaking through to disrupt the enemy by attacking behind enemy lines with mobile ground forces. This strategy of assaulting with overwhelming force on a single schwerpunkt ("focal point") was used to devastating effect in the invasion of Poland in 1939 - the event which helped to trigger World War II and where journalists would give the name blitzkrieg to this form of attack - and the invasion of France in 1940. Before the blitzkrieg would be used to overwhelm Poland and France, it would be tested during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939).
The Spanish Civil War arose out a variety of factors, chiefly the election of a Republican government made up of a shaky alliance of various centrist and leftist elements. The Second Spanish Republic instituted a number of controversial reforms which led to a revolt by conservative and monarchist ("Nationalist") forces, led at the outset by a military insurrection on the part of General Francisco Franco and other Nationalist generals. Sides were immediately taken amongst the international community, with Mexico, the Soviet Union, and the volunteer International Brigades supporting the Republicans and Mussolini's Italy and Hitler's Germany supporting the Nationalists. The support for the Republican side was mainly in the form of material support from the Soviet Union, and it was slow in coming. Conversely, Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany almost immediately joined in their support of the Spanish Civil War with troops, aircraft, tanks and other weapons. Among other political reasons for supporting Nationalist Spain (establishing a Fascist power in Western Europe, threatening France, etc.), Nazi Germany had military reasons as well.
To quote Hermann Göring, commander of the Luftwaffe, at the Nuremberg trials (tribunals whose purpose was to prosecute war criminals after World War II):
|"When the Civil War broke out in Spain, Franco sent a call for help to Germany and asked for support, particularly in the air. ... I urged him [Adolf Hitler] to give support under all circumstances, firstly, in order to prevent the further-spread of communism in that theater and, secondly, to test my young Luftwaffe at this opportunity in this or that technical respect."|
In the Spanish Civil War, the Luftwaffe would receive the first major test of its tactics of aerial combat and in the support of ground forces. The Condor Legion, a unit of the Luftwaffe created especially to support the Spanish Nationalist forces, would participate in bombing missions, troop movement, and fly against experienced Soviet pilots supporting the Republicans, thus gaining vital experience in the blitzkrieg which would later be put to use in Poland.
The event which would characterize the Condor Legion's involvement in Spain and create a deep impact on the Luftwaffe and the other nations of Europe would be the bombing of Guernica (now Gernika-Lumo) on April 26th, 1937.
At the time, Guernica was the center of Basque culture and government, and an important Republican stronghold, interposed between Nationalist forces and the northern Republican city of Bilbao. The Basques (Euskaldunak) are an ethnic group of Northern Spain and France which had supported the Republican government in exchange for autonomy. Despite the fact that Guernica had not by this point actively participated in the war, it was considered a military target in that it housed some Republican battalions, and its defeat by Nationalist forces would cut off Bilbao from other Republican forces, thus speeding Nationalist victory in Spain's north.
The assault on Guernica by the Condor Legion began in the afternoon and consisted of several waves of bombers with their escorts (mostly Junkers Ju 52 and He 111s in the first waves, with the Bf 109s supporting later raids and strafing the roads) dropping explosives onto the town below. The principal targets were the roads and a bridge to the east of Guernica, the destruction of which would block an enemy retreat. Although the pilots were given orders not to directly target civilians, the bombing led to many civilian casualties. (The exact numbers are disputed, but the estimate is between 200 - 1700.) The bombing shattered Guernica's defenses and the Nationalist forces quickly overran the town.
The bombing of Guernica received lots of international attention from the press and inspired the famous painting by Pablo Picasso.
Guernica by Pablo Picasso
Guernica became symbolic of the idea of "terror bombing" and sudden death from above by bomber planes. It was seen (somewhat erroneously) as the new strategy of the Luftwaffe to target civilian populations and bomb them, although the actual objectives of the particular attack were military targets. Nevertheless, the tactics used at Guernica were used in other engagements and the results of heavy bombing, in addition to destroying military objectives, were massive civilian casualties.
In Spain, the Luftwaffe gained experience in using their aircraft technology to achieve air superiority and to support ground forces. These lessons learned would serve the Luftwaffe well as World War II would begin in the East and in the great aerial battles, such as the Battle of Britain. At the outset of World War II, because of the experience gained during the Spanish Civil War, the Luftwaffe would be the most prepared for the new strategies of war that would emerge in this period.
We hope you have enjoyed this look at Messerschmitt Bf 109 and at the history of modern warfare. Join us next time as we continue our look at the planes of Wings of War: The Dawn of World War II with the Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat.
Wings of War is an innovative card game that realistically simulates aerial combat in both World War I and World War II. Wings of War miniatures are three-dimensional accessories for Wings of War that couple the same revolutionary game play with beautifully-sculpted and historically-accurate models.
I agree that the bombing of Guernica was a horrible event. However, I was under the impression that in spite of the fact that they strafed, no Bf109s dropped bombs until EprobungGruppe 210 added bomb mounts to their Bf109Es and used them to bomb British targets during the Battle of Britain.
THE BOMBING OF GUERNICA WAS A CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY, no matter how you disguise it, IT WAS GENOCIDE.
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