He 111H-3 Specifications

Crew: Pilot and four gunners/navigators/bomb-aimers

Powerplant: Two 1,200hp Junkers Jumo 211D-2 twelve cylinder engines

Span: 74 ft 1¾ in (22.60 m)

Length: 53 ft 9½ in (16.39 m)

Max Speed: 415 km/h (258 mph) at 16,000 ft

Armament: Six 7.92 mm (.312 in) machine guns in nose, dorsal, ventral gondola, beam, and tail positions. One 20 mm (.787 in) MG FF cannon in nose.

Bomb Load: Normal load of 4,410 lb (2,000 kg)

Photo Description: A Heinkel He 111H bomber (V4+GU) of 10.Staffel/KG 1 in flight, Summer 1940. Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-385-0587-07 / Wanderer, W. / CC-BY-SA 3.0

The Heinkel He 111 was a German medium bomber and the mainstay of the Luftwaffe bomber fleet throughout much of the Second World War. It was designed by twin brothers Siegfried and Walter Günter at Heinkel Flugzeugwerke, and based largely on the Heinkel He 70 Blitz, a high-speed passenger and mail plane that entered service with Deutsche Lufthansa in 1934. The He 70 featured elliptical inverted gull wings and was powered by a single BMW VI engine, which gave it a maximum speed of 377 km/h (222 mph). It went on to set eight world speed records and drew the interest of the Luftfahrtkommissariat (aviation commissariat), which sought an aircraft that could fulfill the role of both commercial transport and bomber for the then clandestine Luftwaffe. The Günter brothers subsequently began working on a larger version of the He 70 that featured the same elliptical wings and twin BMW VI engines. The new design, dubbed the Doppel-Blitz (“Double Blitz”), was an all-metal cantilever low-wing monoplane featuring a traditional stepped cockpit with separate windscreens for the pilot and copilot. The first prototype, the He 111V1, conducted its maiden flight on February 24, 1935, and reached a top speed of 349 km/h (217 mph). This was quickly followed by the commercial transport prototype, the He 111V2, which had a shorter wingspan and was capable of carrying ten passengers with a mail compartment in the nose. The V2 entered service with Lufthansa in 1936, along with five newly built aircraft known as the He 111C. The He 111V3 was the first true bomber prototype and could carry a bomb load of 1,000 kg (2,200 lb) with a four-man crew. Armament comprised three 7.92mm (0.31in) MG 15 machine guns in the dorsal, nose and ventral positions. Ten He 111A-0 preproduction aircraft based on V3 were built but they proved underpowered and were eventually sold off to China. In early 1936, the He 111V5 prototype was fitted with more powerful Daimler-Benz DB 600 engines, increasing the speed and overall performance of the bomber. As a result, the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (German Ministry of Aviation) placed an order for over 300 aircraft. The He 111B entered Luftwaffe service in late 1936 and first saw action with the German Condor Legion in March 1937, during the Spanish Civil War. The He 111B had a top speed of 370 km/h (230 mph) and was able to outrun most enemy fighter aircraft, convincing the Luftwaffe that fast, lightly armed aircraft could survive on speed alone.

Further development led to a number of new variants including the He 111F, which eliminated the elliptical wing in favour of a more easily produced straight edged wing, and the He 111J, a torpedo bomber version built for the Kriegsmarine (German Navy) but later dropped. The next major variant, the He 111P, appeared in late 1938 and featured a newly designed extensively glazed, bullet-shaped “greenhouse” nose to improve pilot visibility. It was powered by twin DB 601 engines and could carry an internal bomb load of up to 2,000 kg (4,410 lb). Around 400 P series aircraft were built and saw extensive action during the early campaigns of the Second World War including the Battle of Britain. Production was phased out in early 1940 due to the heavy demand for the DB 601 engine in fighter aircraft. The most widely produced variant, the He 111H, entered Luftwaffe service in May 1939. Developed in parallel with the He 111P, the He 111H was powered by twin Junkers Jumo 211 engines and remained in production until October 1944. Early versions of both the He 111P and the He 111H were fitted with the standard defensive armament comprising three MG 15 machine guns. This was increased following combat experience in Poland with additional machine guns mounted in the nose, beam, and tail positions. Extra armour was also added to protect the five-man crew.

During the Battle of Britain, fifteen Gruppen of Luftflotte 2 and Luftflotte 3 were equipped with the He 111. Like other German bomber types, it proved highly vulnerable to modern RAF fighters. The ineffective defensive armament and slow speed meant that the He 111 required constant protection from Luftwaffe fighters. The glazed nose, where most of the crew were concentrated, made it particularly vulnerable to head-on attacks. However, the He 111 proved capable of sustaining heavy damage and remaining airborne due to its self-sealing fuel tanks and armour plating. When the Luftwaffe switched to targeting British cities in September 1940, the He 111 proved capable of operating in a strategic role even with its limited bomb load. On 25 September, fifty-eight He 111s of KG 55 successfully attacked the Bristol Aeroplane Company’s works at Filton near Bristol, stopping production and causing around 350 casualties. The next day, the same unit completely destroyed the Woolston Supermarine factory, but this did not stop production of the Spitfire, which had been safely dispersed around the country. During the closing stages of the Battle, small numbers of the aircraft were equipped with the Knickebein (“crooked leg”) and X-Gerät radio navigation systems, which enabled the bomber to locate and bomb targets at night without visual contact.