Fw 190A-2, II./JG 26 Following the loss of II./JG 26's Gruppenkommandeur, Hauptmann Walter Adolph, in September 1941, the leader of 7./JG 26 Joachim Münchenberg was promoted to succeed him. His aircraft is depicted here at Coquelles in December 1941 with 62 'kills' displayed on the rudder, of which the final six had been achieved on the Fw 190 that autumn.
Fw 190A-3, III./JG 2 Hauptmann Hans 'Assi' Hahn's III. Gruppe was the first of JG 2's gruppen to re-equip with the Fw 190, becoming operational on the A-2 version in March 1942. Wearing the 'cockerel's head' motif favoured by Hahn (whose surname means cockerel in German), this A-3 had become his regular mount by September 1942.
During the autumn of 1941 the Fw 190A-2 replaced the A-1 on the production lines. Powered by the improved BMW 801C-2 engine, this version was fitted with two Mauser MG 151 20-mm cannon in place of the MG 17 machine-guns in each wing root. Yet, even with the new armament, the Fw 190 was considered inadequately armed to attack enemy bombers. As a result, several A-2s were retrofitted with two additional Oerlikon MG/FF 20-mm cannon in the wings, firing outside the propeller disc.
By the end of the 1941 more than 200 Fw 190s had been delivered to the Luftwaffe. Early in 1942 the A-3 replaced the A-2 in production, powered by the BMW 801D-2 engine giving 1,700 hp (1268 kW) at take-off. The fighter's armament was standardised with the four cannon and two machine-guns, as carried by the retrofitted A-2s. Soon after this variant entered production the FuG 7 HF radio was replaced with the more effective FuG 16 VHP set.
By the late spring of 1942 Jagdgeschwader 2 and Jagdgeschwader 26 had re-equipped with the Fw 190. Between them these units mustered about 260 of these formidable fighters. The engine troubles that had plagued the Fw 190 earlier had largely been cured. With the embargo on overwater flights lifted, German pilots were able to exploit the fighter's capabilities to the full and engage the enemy with greater confidence.
The Fw 190 pilots' more aggressive mood manifested itself on 1 June 1942, when the RAF mounted operation Circus No. 178. Eight bomb-carrying Hurricanes attacked a target near Bruges in Belgium. Seven squadrons of Spitfire Mk Vs from the Hornchurch and Biggin Hill Wings provided close escort, while four squadrons from the Debden Wing provided target support. Positioned by radar, some 40 Fw 190s of I. and III. Gruppen of Jagdgeschwader 26 attacked the raiding force from out of the sun during its withdrawal. The Debden Wing took the force of the attack and lost eight Spitfires in rapid succession, including that flown by its commander. Five Spitfires limped home with battle damage. No Focke-Wulf suffered serious damage during the encounter.
Ascendancy over the Spitfire
The following day proved equally disastrous for a Fighter Command unit, when several squadrons of Spitfires flew a sweep through the St Omer area. Usually the German fighter controllers ignored such incursions, but not this one. I. and II. Gruppen of JG 26 delivered a co-ordinated attack on No. 403 (Canadian) Squadron, led by the redoubtable Squadron Leader Alan Deere. In the desperate seven-minute brawl that followed, seven Spitfires were shot down. Two more returned with serious damage. Again, no Focke-Wulf suffered serious damage.
A few weeks later the Commander-in-Chief Fighter Command, Air Chief Marshal Sir Sholto Douglas, wrote a strongly worded letter to the Under Secretary of State for Air, Lord Sherwood. Douglas complained that his force had lost the technical edge it had once had over the Luftwaffe and went on to say:
"There is ... no doubt in my mind, nor in the minds of my fighter pilots, that the Fw 190 is the best all-round fighter in the world today."
As mentioned elsewhere in this account, near the end of June 1942 a German pilot became disorientated during a combat with Spitfires over western England and mistakenly landed his Fw 190A-3 at Pembrey in south Wales. So the RAF secured an intact example of this important fighter. At the time of the capture, however, that version of the Fw 190 had been superseded in production by the A-4. The latter's BMW 801D-2 engine carried the MW 50 water methanol injection system which boosted power for short periods at low and medium altitudes.
During this period there were experiments using Fw 190s in the fighter-bomber role, to mount tip-and-run attacks on targets along the south coast of England. The two Jagdgeschwader in the west each operated a Staffel with specially modified Fw 190A-3s and A-4s. These aircraft had the MG/FF cannon removed from the outer wing positions, and had a rack to carry an SC 250 250-kg (550-lh) or SC 500 500-kg (1,100-lb) bomb under the fuselage.
An end to the easy times
By the late summer of 1942 the German armed forces were almost at the limits of their territorial gains, following deep thrusts eastwards into the Soviet Union and along the coast of North Africa. This period also marked the apogee of the Fw 190's service career, when the units equipped with the type enjoyed an easy-going qualitative superiority over almost every enemy type that they met in combat.
In war nothing stands still. From the summer of 1942 the Spitfire Mk IX, powered by the new Merlin 61 engine with two-stage supercharging, appeared in action with a performance remarkably close to that of the German fighter. The type was in full production and it was becoming available in useful numbers. In combat a German pilot could not to tell the difference between the Spitfire Mk IX and the earlier Mk V. From now on they had to treat every Spitfire they encountered as a Mk IX.