Kurt Tank's brainchild

The Focke-Wulf Fw 190, also known as the Würger, was a German single-seat, single-engine fighter aircraft designed in the late 1930s by Kurt Tank at Focke-Wulf and widely used during the Second World War. Along with its well-known counterpart, the Messerschmitt Bf 109, it formed the backbone of the Luftwaffe's Jagdwaffe (Fighter Force).

The Fw 190's twin-row BMW 801 radial engine, which powered the majority of operational versions, allowed it to lift heavier loads than the Bf 109, allowing it to be used as a day fighter, fighter-bomber, ground-attack aircraft, and, to a lesser extent, night fighter.

The Fw 190A first flew over France in August 1941 and quickly outperformed the Spitfire Mk. V, the Royal Air Force's main front-line fighter, in all but turn radius, particularly at low and medium altitudes. Until the introduction of the improved Spitfire Mk. IX, the 190 maintained its superiority over Allied fighters.

The Fw 190 made its air combat debut on the Eastern Front in November/December 1942, and it quickly found success in fighter wings and specialised ground attack units.

Designer of the Focke Wulf 190, Kurt Tank, March 1941.

Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-L18396 / CC-BY-SA 3.0

The performance of the Fw 190A series decreased at high altitudes (typically 6,000 m (20,000 ft) and above), reducing its effectiveness as a high-altitude interceptor. There had been ongoing efforts to address this since the Fw 190's inception, with a turbocharged BMW 801 in the B model, the much longer-nosed C model with efforts to also turbocharge its chosen Daimler-Benz DB 603 inverted V12 powerplant, and the similarly long-nosed D model with the Junkers Jumo 213.

Because of issues with the turbocharger installations on the -B and -C subtypes, only the D model saw service in September 1944. These high-altitude developments eventually led to the Focke-Wulf Ta 152, which could reach speeds of 755 km/h (408 kn; 469 mph) at 13,500 m (44,300 ft). 

Oberingenieur Rudolf Blaser on the wing of a Focke-Wulf Fw 190 A-2 bearing the tactical marking < + I. This aircraft, Wernummer 20206, was flown by Oberfeldwebel Walter Grünlinger, wingman of the Gruppenkommandeur Hauptmann Josef Priller. Grünlinger had apparently just returned from a combat mission when this photograph was taken, and Blaser is seen explaining some technical aspects of the aircraft.

Third Reich Color Pictures: Focke-Wulf Fw 190 in Color

While the "long nose" 190 variants and the Ta 152 derivative in particular provided the Germans with parity with their Allied opponents, they arrived too late to affect the outcome of the war.

The Fw 190 was popular among its pilots. Many of the Luftwaffe's most successful fighter aces, including Otto Kittel, Walter Nowotny, and Erich Rudorffer, claimed many of their kills while flying it. According to German pilots who flew both fighters, the Fw 190 had more firepower than the Bf 109 and superior manoeuvrability at low to medium altitude. It was considered one of the best fighter planes of WWII.

Design & development

After the Messerschmitt 109 was selected by the German Ministry of Aviation as the modern fighter design to be produced as part of German rearmament, a request was put out for a second fighter to be designed with the intention of eventually replacing the 109 (as it was felt it was approaching it’s natural design limits).

Kurt Tank presented the Fw 190 – which crucially used an air-cooled, 14-cylinder BMW 139 radial engine. As this design used a radial engine, it would not compete with the inline-powered engines used by Bf 109 or the larger, twin-engined Messerschmitt Bf 110 for engine supplies.  

The Fw 190's wide-tracked, inward-retracting landing gear was one of its distinguishing features. They were built to withstand a sink rate of 4.5 metres per second (15 feet per second; 890 feet per minute), which is twice the strength factor normally required. The wheel brakes were hydraulic.

A row of Fw 190s ready to deployed at the front.

Third Reich Color Pictures: Focke-Wulf Fw 190 in Color

The wide-track undercarriage improved ground handling, and the Fw 190 had fewer ground accidents than the Bf 109.

The majority of aircraft at the time used cables and pulleys to operate their controls. The cables tended to stretch, resulting in "give" and "play" sensations that made the controls less crisp and responsive, requiring constant maintenance to correct. To address this issue, the team replaced the cables with rigid pushrods and bearings in the new design.

Another breakthrough was to make the controls as light as possible. The ailerons' maximum resistance was limited to 3.5 kg (8 lb), because the average man's wrist could not exert a greater force.

The wide-track undercarriage of the Fw 190 gave greater stability on the ground - handy if trying to land a damaged aircraft. 

Fw-190 Gear Swing - Flying Heritage Collection - YouTube

The design team also attempted to reduce the pilot's workload by minimising changes in the aircraft's trim at different speeds.

They were so successful that they discovered that in-flight adjustable aileron and rudder trim tabs were unnecessary.

During the initial test flights, small, fixed tabs were fitted to the control surfaces and adjusted for proper balance. Only the elevator trim had to be adjusted while in flight (a feature common to all aircraft).

Another feature of the revolutionary design was the significant use of electrically powered equipment rather than the hydraulic systems employed by the majority of aircraft makers at the time. The primary landing gear on the first two prototypes was hydraulic. With the third prototype, the undercarriage was controlled by push buttons that controlled electric motors in the wings, and it was held in place by electric up and down-locks.

The Fw190 viewed from behind. Even from this angle, a sense of its capabilities can be discerned.

The armament was also electronically loaded and fired. Tank felt that service use would demonstrate that electrically driven systems were more reliable and tough than hydraulics, with electric lines being significantly less vulnerable to enemy fire.

The Fw 190, like the Bf 109, had a very tiny wing planform with a relatively high wing loading. This results in a performance trade-off. Under typical flight conditions, an aircraft with a smaller wing has less drag and hence flies quicker and may have greater range. 
However, it also implies that the aircraft has a higher stalling speed, which makes it less agile and affects performance in thinner air at higher altitudes. The wings were 9.5 m (31 ft 2 in) long and 15 m2 in size (160 sq ft).

A radial approach

The use of radial engines in land-based fighters was uncommon in Europe at the time, as it was thought that their large frontal area would cause too much drag on something as small as a fighter. Tank was not convinced, having seen the successful use of radial engines by the United States Navy, and believed that a properly streamlined installation would eliminate this problem.

The distinctive radial engine on a Fw190 V5k, 1940.

Front view of Fw190 V5k | World War Photos

The cylinder heads, which are located around the circumference of a radial engine, are the hottest points on any air-cooled engine. Airflow had to be maximised at this outer edge in order to provide enough air to cool the engine.

This was normally accomplished by leaving the majority of the engine's front face open to the air, resulting in significant drag. Development of a dramatic improvement in the late 1920s by placing an airfoil-shaped ring around the outside of the cylinder heads (the NACA cowling). 

The shaping accelerated the air as it entered the front of the cowl, increasing total airflow and allowing for a smaller opening in front of the engine.

The radiator was located in a highly susceptible area, and the metal ring became progressively armoured as the conflict continued.

A BMW 801 radial engine of the Focke-Wulf Fw 190, located at the BMW museum in München, Germany.

The BMW 801 was a powerful German 41.8-litre air-cooled 14-cylinder-radial aircraft engine built by BMW and used in a number of German Luftwaffe aircraft of World War II. Production versions of the twin-row engine generated between 1,560 and 2,000 PS. The 801 became best known as the power plant for the famous Focke-Wulf Fw 190.

BMW 801 radial engine of the Focke-Wulf Fw 190, BMW museum… | Flickr

Specifications: FW 190 A8

General characteristics

  • Crew: One
  • Length: 8.95 m (29 ft 4 in)
  • Wingspan: 10.506 m (34 ft 6 in)
  • Height: 3.15 m (10 ft 4 in)
  • Wing area: 18.3 m2 (197 sq ft)
  • Airfoil: root: NACA 23015.3; tip: NACA 23009[23]
  • Empty weight: 3,200 kg (7,055 lb)
  • Gross weight: 4,417 kg (9,738 lb)
  • Max takeoff weight: 4,900 kg (10,803 lb)
  • Fuel capacity: 639 L (141 imp gal; 169 US gal)
  • Powerplant: 1 × BMW 801D-2 14-cylinder air-cooled radial piston engine 1,700 PS (1,677 hp; 1,250 kW) and up to 1,980 PS (1,953 hp; 1,456 kW) at 1.65 ata for up to 10 minutes of emergency power[82][47]
  • Propellers: 3-bladed constant-speed propeller

Fw 190A-8 three view drawing.

User:B. Huber - Wikimedia Commons


  • Maximum speed: 652 km/h (405 mph, 352 kn) at 5,920 m (19,420 ft)
  • Range: 900–1,000 km (560–620 mi, 490–540 nmi)
  • Combat range: 400–500 km (250–310 mi, 220–270 nmi)
  • Ferry range: 900–1,000 km (560–620 mi, 490–540 nmi) ~1800–2000 km with droptank.
  • Service ceiling: 10,350 m (33,960 ft)
  • Rate of climb: 15 m/s (3,000 ft/min)
  • Wing loading: 241 kg/m2 (49 lb/sq ft)
  • Power/mass: 0.28–0.33 kW/kg (0.17–0.20 hp/lb) (No–full emergency power)



  • 2 × 13 mm (0.51 in) synchronized MG 131 machine guns
  • 2 × 20 mm (0.79 in) MG 151/20 E cannons, synchronized in the wing roots
  • 2 × 20 mm (0.79 in) MG 151/20 E cannons in mid-wing mounts
  • Bombs: 1 bomb under fuselage or four bombs under wings.

The interior of the Focke Wulf 190 A3 Cockpit. Although considered small compared to other contemporary fighters, it was well-laid out.

Synchronous twin MG.131 installed on an Fw.190.

MG.131 13 mm aircraft machine gun (airwar.ru)


In August 1941, the Fw 190 was introduced on the Western Front. For the first few months of its combat career, the Allies, who were completely unaware of the new fighter, mistook pilot reports of a new "radial-engine fighter" for Curtiss P-36 Mohawks captured from the French. Except for turning radius, the new fighter outperformed the Spitfire Mk. V, which was the RAF's top-of-the-line fighter at the time. The Fw 190 had significantly greater firepower, roll rate, and straight-line speed at low altitudes.

As Allied fighter losses mounted and the Luftwaffe gained local air superiority over the Channel front, tentative plans were made to launch a commando raid on a Luftwaffe airfield to steal a Fw 190 for evaluation.

However, the British obtained an intact Fw 190 A-3 in late June 1942, when a Jagdgeschwader 2 pilot, Oberleutnant Armin Faber, made an unintentional landing on a British airfield.

Oberleutnant Armin Faber's Fw 190 of  11./JG 2, which he landed in error in England, June 1942. As a result, the RAF were presented with a combat ready Fw 190 for evaluation'

Public domain

British rushed development of the Spitfire Mk. IX with the new two-stage supercharged Merlin 61 engine after tests confirmed the performance characteristics. The RAF was also quick to investigate any novel design elements on the aircraft. The cooling system and installation of the Fw 190's radial engine, in particular, had a direct influence on Hawker Siddeley's Tempest II.

Overall, Allied pilots who flew the Fw 190 thought it to be a comfortable aircraft to fly, very responsive, and, while the cockpit was small in comparison to other Allied fighters, well laid out. The Fw 190's Kommandogerät system (which automatically controlled RPM, fuel mixture, ignition timing, supercharger switchover, and boost pressure) was more of a problem than an assistance to most pilots.
In several cases, German pilots allegedly failed to recover from a steep fall at low altitude, plummeting directly into the ground. It was suspected that they had left the strong, variable incidence tailplane trim mechanism in the "nose heavy" position, preventing their aircraft from recovering from the dive in time.

On occasion, the Fw 190 could be an unforgiving plane to pilot, with there been multiple cases of inexperienced Luftwaffe pilots failing to pull out of a low altitude dive in time.


On 12th February 1942, the Kriegsmarine's battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, as well as the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, participated in Operation Cerberus, a "Channel dash" break-out via the English Channel and Dover Strait.

The General der Jagdflieger (General of the Fighter Arm), Adolf Galland, insisted on the operation taking place during daylight hours and accepted responsibility for creating a plan to provide continuous daylight fighter protection against the RAF's massive attacks. JG 26 was credited with seven aerial victories and six probables for the loss of four Fw 190s and their pilots by the end of the day. Adolf Galland was to subsequently term the success of this operation the "greatest hour" of his career.

Focke-Wulf Fw.190 A-2 W.Nr 20235, 1942.

Focke-Wulf Fw.190A in Color - Aviation & Technology - Grafiq.ru

Operation Jubilee

The first notable mass encounter of the Fw 190s occurred on August 19, 1942, during Operation Jubilee, the Allied raid on Dieppe.

During the day's action, Jagdgeschwaders JG 2 and JG 26 had recently transitioned from the Bf 109, deploying 115 fighter aircraft, including a small number of high-altitude Bf 109 G-1 versions (although there is doubt as to whether G-1 variants existed as operational types).

The RAF contributed approximately 300 fighter aircraft, predominantly Spitfire VBs, with only six squadrons of Spitfire Mk. IXBs and some new Hawker Typhoons. Several squadrons of Hawker Hurricanes and RAF Allison-powered Mustangs also flew fighter-bomber and reconnaissance missions.

During the combat, the two Jagdgeschwader lost 25 Fw 190s due to various causes, including crashes, but they also claimed 61 of the 106 Allied aircraft lost that day (JG 26 and JG 2 claiming 40 and 21 respectively).

Fighting over occupied territory, the RAF lost 81 pilots and personnel killed or taken prisoner, compared to 20 Luftwaffe fighter losses (14 from JG 26 and six from JG 2).

A Supermarine Spitfire Mk Vb W3332 on the ground, 1941.  The Vb model came off second best against the Fw 190's during Operation Jubilee.

Supermarine Spitfire Mk Vb W3332 1941 | World War Photos

From the end of June 1942, the Fw 190 A-3/U3 Jabo (Jagdbomber, fighter-bomber) equipped 10.(Jabo)/JG 2 and 10.(Jabo)/JG 26, which attacked shipping and port cities along the south-eastern shores of England with remarkable success.

The Fw 190s came in below effective radar coverage and were often gone before RAF aircraft could intercept them, making these high-speed, low-altitude strikes nearly hard to defend against.

Revenge on Canterbury

In revenge for RAF bombing raids over Germany, the most successful of these fighter-bomber operations was carried out on 31 October 1942 on Canterbury. In the Luftwaffe's greatest daylight raid since the Battle of Britain, roughly 70 Fw 190s dropped 30 bombs on the city, killing 32 people and injured 116, as well as causing extensive damage to residential properties and shops. Over England, only one Fw 190 was lost.
The most successful RAF interceptors were Hawker Typhoons and Griffon-engined Spitfire Mk XIIs, both of which were quick enough to catch the Fw 190, especially at low altitudes.


The two Jabo units were merged into Schnellkampfgeschwader 10 (SKG 10) in April 1943, which moved to night operations over southern England, a mission in which the Fw 190 proved unsatisfactory, incurring severe casualties from de Havilland Mosquito night fighters.
On the night of April 16/17, during this unit's maiden mission, four Fw 190s attempting to attack London were shot down over Kent. Three of them attempted landings at RAF West Malling: Feldwebel Otto Bechtold's Fw 190 of 7./SKG 10 landed and was captured; another Fw 190 of 5./SKG 10 piloted by Leutnant Fritz Sezter landed several minutes later.

Setzer's aircraft was destroyed by an armoured car when he realised he had landed on an enemy airport and attempted to take off. Wing Commander Peter Townsend accepted Setzer's surrender. A third Fw 190 missed the runway and was destroyed as well, the pilot escaping with a concussion. The pilot of the fourth Fw 190 was killed when it crashed at Staplehurst in Kent. It had been a busy night.

A Focke-Wulf Fw.190 A-5/U4 10.(Jabo) of JG26 at Saint-Omer Wizemes. Note the bomb slung underneath the aircraft.

Night fighting

Fw 190s were also utilised as night fighters against the expanding RAF Bomber Command offensive beginning in mid-1943. The Nachtjagdkommando Fw 190 (Night Fighter Command Fw 190), operated by IV. Gruppe (4 Group), Jagdgeschwader 3, was one of the initial participants in the single-engine, ground-controlled, night-fighting tests in mid-1943 (Fighter Wing 3, or JG 3).

The major Nachtgeschwader (Night Fighter Wings) were eager to adopt a new fighter type since their twin-engine planes were too slow to compete with the growing number of the formidable de Havilland Mosquito night fighters and bombers.

To augment the Messerschmitt Bf 110 and Junkers Ju 88, Nachtjagdgeschwader 1 (NJG 1) and NJG 3 kept a pair of Fw 190s on standby. The Fw 190's significant performance advantage over the other two types was more than negated by the challenges of flying at night. These endeavours resulted in very few aerial victories for the 190's.

De Havilland Mosquito NF38 night fighter VT653 which proved to be a formidable opponent for the Fw 190.

Fine Art Print of de Havilland Mosquito NF38 night fighter VT653 (Photos Framed, Prints, Puzzles,...) #9886339 (mediastorehouse.co.uk)

Stab/Versuchskommando Herrmann, a unit specifically established up in April 1943 by Major Hajo Herrmann, was one of the first to employ Fw 190s in this function. Herrmann's unit intercepted bombers above or near the intended city using conventional A-4s and A-5s borrowed from day fighter units, aided by searchlights and other visual aids.

The first use of "Window" by the RAF during the Battle of Hamburg in July 1943 rendered the normal nightfighter Himmelbett techniques obsolete, prompting the development of Herrmann's Wilde Sau (Wild Boar) methodology while other nightfighting strategies were developed.

Instead of being limited to ground control interception techniques, the Fw 190s were allowed free rein to fly over bombed areas to see if they could find bombers using the ground fires below. Until May 1944, these techniques were a fundamental feature of nightfighter operations.

Major Hajo Herrmann, founder of Stab/Versuchskommando Herrmann, in January 1944.

Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1985-015-20 / Hoffmann / CC-BY-SA 3.0

St/V Herrmann was renamed Jagdgeschwader 300 (or Fighter Wing 300), JG 301, and JG 302. Initially, all three units continued to borrow aircraft from day fighter units. The day fighter units began to protest the number of their aircraft being written off due to the perils of night operations; the numbers skyrocketed with the arrival of winter, with pilots being forced to bail out due to being unable to find a safe airfield to land at.

Crash landings were also common.

All three Wilde Sau groups eventually obtained their own aircraft, which were frequently outfitted with exhaust dampers and blind-flying radio equipment. Nachtjagdgruppe 10 (NJGr 10) operated Fw 190 A-4/R11s through A-8/R11s, which were upgraded to carry FuG (Funkgerät) 217 or FuG 218 radar mid-VHF band equipment.

North Africa and the Mediterranean


The Fw 190 also saw extensive use during the 1944 Normandy Campaign. On June 6, 1944, German fighters flew 760 sorties, compared to 14,000 by the Allies. By 10 June, the Oberkommando der Luftwaffe (High Command of the Air Force) had ordered the Fw 190 Gruppen to attach bomb racks for these types of operations due to a lack of specialised ground attack aircraft units. Only 24 hours later, the Fw 190 units were ordered to resume their air superiority missions. Losses were high due to contradictory orders and being pursued by Allied air units.

Fw 190A8 JG2 ((+ Kurt Buhlingen Hessen Germany 1944.

In three weeks, 200 Fw 190s and 100 pilots were destroyed by enemy fire. By the end of June 1944, there had been 230 pilots killed and 88 injured. Among the casualties was the 173-victory Fw 190 ace Emil Lang.

A total of 551 German fighters were shot down, with a further 65 destroyed on the ground. Another 290 were harmed. In exchange, German pilots claimed to have destroyed 526 Allied aircraft.

5/JG 4 was based at Schafstädt (Sachsen-Anhalt) in late November and early December 1944, being then transferred to Babenhausen, where the rest of II.Gruppe was stationed.


The Fw 190, together with the Bf 109, was the nucleus of the German fighter force that took part in Operation Bodenplatte. On 1 January 1945, 35 Fw 190 A-8s, 27 A-8/R2s, 5 F-8s, and 50 D-9s were destroyed or lost over Allied lines.


Further reading