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"Air Forces (German)" from Intelligence Bulletin

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]   A U.S. report on the Luftwaffe Henschel 129 bomber and Dornier 217E bomber, from the Intelligence Bulletin, March 1943.

[Editor's Note: The following article is wartime information on enemy tactics and equipment published for Allied soldiers. In most cases, more accurate data is available in postwar publications.]



The Henschel (Hs) 129 is a single-seat attack bomber used for close support of ground forces and for attacks on armored ground targets.

It is a twin-engine, low-wing, single-rudder monoplane of all-metal, stressed-skin construction, with retractable landing gear (see fig. 1). When the wheels are up, they protrude slightly from the engine nacelles. The center section of the wings, inboard of the nacelles, is gull-shaped and the tail section is of cantilever design with a tall fin and rudder. The nose of the fuselage drops steeply away from the cabin, thus affording the pilot a better downward field of vision.

[Figure 1. Henschel (Hs) 129 Bombers.]
Figure 1.—Henschel (Hs) 129 Bombers.

This aircraft is powered by two 450-horsepower air-cooled, in-line, inverted V12 engines and has two-blade, variable-pitch propellers. One version of the Hs 129, however, may be fitted with Gnome-Rhone 14-cylinder radial engines. The plane has a cruising speed of 170 miles per hour at 10,000 feet, and a normal cruising range of approximately 400 miles.

The "129" has an estimated wing span of 50 feet, a length of 38 feet, and a gross weight of about 9,000 pounds. The maximum bomb load is believed to be about 2,200 pounds and to consist both of antipersonnel and combined splinter and high-explosive bombs.

The armament consists of one 30-mm cannon, for use against tanks and armored vehicles, and four machine gunstwo light and two heavyall rigidly mounted in the nose of the fuselage.

The aircraft is heavily armored on the underside. The cabin is also armored, although the distribution and thickness of the plating has not been determined.

The nose of the fuselage is painted to resemble a pike fish's head, which seems to be a standard marking on the Hs 129. A similar design has been previously noted on Messerschmitt 110's, and may have been adopted in the hope of increasing the demoralizing effect of low-flying attacks on troops. It is believed that machine guns are mounted in the eyes of the "pike's head."

In tactical operations, the take-off is made in echelon by sections. En route to the target, planes fly in echelon formation, with the sections stepped up—a closed formation is flown when there is danger of attack by enemy fighters. Antiaircraft defenses are avoided, as far as possible, by changing course, by making use of weather conditions, and by approaching from the sun.

The attack is made by sections, one section diving as another leaves and as a third approaches the target. The aircraft keep close formation and dive straight onto the target at about a 45° angle. However, the angle of dive varies according to the thickness and slant of the armor plating protecting the objective. For maximum effectiveness, the shell should strike the armor as near to the perpendicular as possible. The plane should not be dived at an angle of more than 70° nor at a speed in excess of 345 miles per hour.

Antipersonnel bombs are released during the pull-out from a height of 65 to 165 feet and thereafter the target is subjected to cannon and machine-gun fire.

After leaving the objective, the planes fly close to the ground in line-ahead or in echelon, and strafe any available ground target. The formation is ultimately reorganized over a weak antiaircraft defensive area and the return flight is made at an altitude varying between 1,700 and 3,300 feet.

Ground-attack aircraft are usually accompanied by fighter escort, but the size and method of escort depend on the strength and employment of the enemy air force in the area.


The Dornier (Do) 217E bomber is a twin-engined shoulder-wing monoplane, which has several improvements over the earlier Do 17Z and Do 215 models. The plane is powered by two 14-cylinder radial engines, each of which has 1,600 horsepower. There are four men in the crew: the pilot, a bombardier, and two gunners, one of whom acts as a radio operator.

The estimated speed of the Do 217E is 310 to 325 miles per hour at an altitude of approximately 17,000 feet. The normal range of the plane is about 1,100 miles—almost twice this distance by use of extra fuel tanks. This range is far greater than that of the Do 215. The maximum bomb load of the improved plane is about 6,600 pounds, several times greater than the Do 215. Little change has been made in the armor.

The addition of tail dive-brakes is one of the most interesting improvements found on the Do 217 E. Since the brakes resemble an umbrella or parachute in descent, the aircraft has been nicknamed the "umbrella" or "parachute" plane. The brakes are said to have greatly increased the stability of the plane while dive-bombing. However, recent developments indicate that tail brakes alone are not sufficient to control the speed of this type of plane in steep dives. In the latest models of the Do 217 E, additional brakes are mounted on the underside of the wings, inboard of the engines.

The umbrella-like brakes consist of four flaps, which, when in a closed position, lie flat against the four sides of an extension of the tail. They open much like an umbrella, unfolding in gradual stages in ratio to the steepness of the dive. When opened to the fullest extent in the maximum dive, the flapswhich have slots and holes along the edge to act as ventshold the speed of the plane to about 350 miles per hour. In an emergency, the four pins that secure the entire tail assembly to the fuselage may be withdrawn. The brakes are thus jettisoned (detached and dropped), and the plane is controlled in the normal manner.

Other improvements in the plane include installation of torpedo and mine-laying apparatus, and a new type of automatic pilot.

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