Focke Wulf Condor


In contrast with the belief that the Germans are painstakingly methodical, it must be remembered that the Nazis planned carefully for World War II as a Blitzkrieg (lightning war) without considering the possibility that it might last for years. A deliberate absentee from the Luftwaffe's ranks was a large long-range bomber and ocean reconnaissance aircraft. To some degree this stemmed from the death in 1936 of General Wever and his replacement as Luftwaffe chief of staff by Kesselring, but it was basic policy to concentrate on twin-engined tactical bombers (among other things, Goering could boast to Hitler of the hundreds built). So the Luftwaffe showed only cursory interest when the Focke-Wulf Fw 200 VI (first prototype) flew on 27 July 1937.

In fact, the Fw 200 was the best long-range airliner in Europe, if not in the world. It resulted from discussions held by Dipl Ing Kurt Tank, technical director of Focke-Wulf Flugzeugbau of Bremen, and the board of DLH (Deutsche Lufthansa), the state airline, in the spring of 1936. For some time Tank had wished to design a modern long-range airliner to beat the Douglas DC-3 and replace the Junkers Ju 52/3m as the chief DLH equipment on trunk routes. What Tank finally decided to build was a four-engined aircraft with unprecedented range, able to fly the North Atlantic non-stop. This had been far beyond the capability of any previous payload-carrying aircraft, and Tank's objective was primarily for propaganda purposes.

The basic requirement was the carriage of a crew of four and 26 passengers. Over 'European' ranges this could have been done by an aircraft of DC-3 size, but the Fw 200 was made much larger and powered by four engines, initially by imported Pratt & Whitney S1E-G Hornets of 875 hp (652.5. kW), each driving two-bladed VDM-Hamilton propellers. Aerodynamically, the aircraft was outstanding, with no excrescences and a cantilever wing with an aspect ratio of 9.15 for high range efficiency. The wing was built as a horizontal centre-section including the engines, with dihedral and tapered outer panels. Structure was stressed-skin throughout, with flush riveting, except for the fabric-covered wing aft of the rear spar and fabric-covered control surfaces. The latter were simple manual surfaces but with geared tabs and electrically-driven trim tabs. The split flaps were hydraulic. Tank made a special point of retracting all three units of the landing gear forwards, so that they would free-fall and be locked by air drag. The main wheels were distinctively carried ahead of the legs on swing-links with diagonal shock struts. Split flaps were used, with skinning of Elektron (magnesium alloy). Tank himself made the very successful maiden flight. The Fw 200 VI had nine wide Plexiglass windows along each side of the cabin, but was initially unfurnished and unpainted. Later it was registered D-AERE in DLH livery, with the name 'Saarland' (which Hitler had lately reoccupied). Right at the start of the programme Tank had secured his board's agreement to build three prototypes and nine Fw 200A-0 production aircraft, and these followed at rapid intervals. Few changes were needed apart from adding slight sweepback to the outer wings, revising the tail surfaces and switching to the licensed Hornet engine, the BMW 132 (in 132G-l form of 536.9 kW/720 hp). The Fw 200 V2 was delivered to DLH, while the Fw 200 V3 had a long career as D-2600 'Immelmann III', Hitler's personal aircraft. Of the nine Fw 200A series, two were sold to DDL of Denmark and two to Syndicato Condor Ltda of Rio de Janeiro.

In early 1938 the Fw 200 VI was fitted with extra tankage and repainted as D-ACON and given the name 'Brandenburg'. Tank had specially secured the RLM (air ministry) number 200 for propaganda purposes, and the VI now became the Fw 200S (special). On 10 August 1938 it took off from Berlin-Tempelhof in the hands of Flugkapitane Henke and von Moreau. It made a remarkable non-stop flight against headwinds to Floyd Bennett airport in New York, covering the estimated 4,075 miles (6558 km) in 24 hours 55 minutes. The return was flown in 19 hours 47 minutes, the average of 205 mph (330 km/h) being just double the speed of the typical landplanes of Imperial Airways. On 28 November 1938 the same aircraft and pilots left to fly via Basra, Karachi and Hanoi to Tokyo, in a total elapsed time of only 46 hours 18 minutes. On the return, in a way never publicly explained, D-ACON ran out of fuel on the first leg and ditched near Manila.

While in Japan, the Fw 200 created intense interest. By this time the Bremen factory was in production with what was envisaged as the standard version, the Fw 200B, with BMW 132Dc or 132H engines of 633.8 or 618.9 kW (850 or 830 hp), and with appreciably increased weights. No orders appeared forthcoming, however, because the Condor was too big and costly for the predominantly short-haul DLH network. Export sales were thus eagerly sought, five being ordered by Dai Nippon KK of Japan. This was soon followed by an order for two by Aero O/Y of Finland. In the event World War II prevented delivery of these aircraft, and the Fw 200Bs served in ones and twos with DLH and with the Luftwaffe KGrzbV 105. Attrition was high, only one aircraft, Fw 200B-2 'Pommern', surviving the war. The penultimate DLH Condor, Fw 200B-2 'Hessen', crashed on high ground while overloaded with the last Nazi leaders attempting to escape from Berlin on 21 April 1945.

A captured Focke-Wulf Fw 200C Condor at Brunswick-Waggum Airfield in Germany shortly after the end of the war

There was a secret additional contract from Japan which called for a long-range reconnaissance version for the Imperial navy. Tank was eager to build this, because he was convinced such a machine could be useful to the Luftwaffe. He therefore picked the Fw 200 V10, the B-series prototype, for conversion. This was fitted with 60 per cent more fuel in fuselage cabin tanks, provision for over 4,409 lbs (2000 kg) of cameras, flares, markers, dinghies and other mission equipment, and also with three 7.92 mm (0.31 in) MG 15 machine-guns, one in a small dorsal turret above the trailing edge and the others firing to front and rear from a ventral gondola offset to the right. There was no bomb bay.

In spring 1939 it suddenly looked as if Hitler's gambles might not win for ever, and that a war was a near-term prospect. Luftwaffe Chief of Staff Jeschonnek ordered Oberstleutnant Edgar Petersen, a very experienced pilot, to form a squadron which could sink ships out in the Atlantic, on which the obvious enemies, France and especially the UK, would depend on during a war. The problem was that there was no suitable aircraft. The intended machine, the Heinkel He 177, was years from combat duty. The only answer seemed to be the 'Japanese' Fw 200 V10. Oberstleutnant Edgar Petersen formed the Fernaufklärungstaffel (later 1./KG 40) and it made its operational debut on 8 April 1940 with its first sortie against British shipping.

As in the case of the Ju 52/3m, Dornier Do 17 and several other types, the RLM was faced with creating a combat aircraft from available commercial transport, which is ironic, because British observers thought at the time the Luftwaffe was busily developing bombers in the false guise of civil aircraft. The Fw 200 was fundamentally unsuited to its new role because it had been designed to operate at lighter weights and at civil load factors. The airframe would henceforth have to operate from rough front-line airstrips with heavy loads of fuel and weapons, and in combat would certainly have to pull g's in tight turns or dive pull-outs, and all at low level in dense air. The Bremen stress-men did what they could to beef up the structure, but this consisted of a few local reinforcements which added just 29 kg (63.9 lbs) to the airframe weight. Ideally they should have started again, but the proposed Fw 200C-series was almost immediately accepted when it was offered in August 1939. A pre-production batch of 10 Fw 200C-0 aircraft was ordered just after the start of the war, and by agreement as many as possible were modified from B-series transports already on the line. The first four had to be delivered as Fw 200C-0 transports. Their only modifications were to introduce twin-wheel main gears, long-chord cowlings with gills and various internal equipment items. All four were delivered just in time for the invasion of Norway in April 1940.

The remaining six Fw 200C-0s were given the locally reinforced structure and simple armament comprising three 7.92 mm (0.31 in) MG 15 machine guns, one in a small (almost hemispherical) turret behind the flight deck, one in a rear dorsal cokcpit with a fold-over hood and the third fired from a rear ventral hatch. An offensive load of four 551 lbs (250 kg) bombs could be carried, two hung under the enlarged outer nacelles and the others on racks immediately outboard under the roots of the outer wings. Production continued immediately with the Fw 200C-l, which was planned as the definitive version although it still had a weak structure, very vulnerable fuel system (especially from below), no armour except behind the captain's seat and many inconvenient features. The main addition to the Fw 200C-1 was a ventral gondola, offset as in the Japanese Fw 200 V10 but longer in order to provide room for a weapons bay (which was normally used to carry a cement bomb with 551 lbs (250 kg) ballistics dropped as a check on bombsight settings). At the front of the gondola was a 20 mm MG FF cannon aimed with a ring-and-bead sight mainly to deter any AA gunners aboard the enemy ships. At the rear was an 7.92 mm (0.31 in) MG 15 replacing the previous ventral gun. The only other change was to replace the forward turret by a raised cockpit canopy with a hand-aimed MG 15 firing ahead. The normal crew numbered five including the pilot, co-pilot and three gunners, one of the last being the engineer and another the overworked radio-operator/navigator. There was plenty of room inside the airframe, and all crew stations had provision for heating and electric light, but from the start the crews of Petersen's new maritime unit, Kampfgeschwader (KG) 40, were unhappy with the Condor's structural integrity and lack of armament. There is no evidence any Condors were delivered to any prior combat unit, as sometimes stated, but only to the transport Gruppe already mentioned. KG 40 was henceforth to be virtually the sole Fw 200C operating unit. There were never to be enough Condors to go round. Focke-Wulf was well aware of the demand, and organised dispersed manufacture at five plants with final assembly at Bremen and Cottbus, and also by Blohm und Voss at Finkenwerder. It is thus a reflection on the frustrations of the programme, which did not enjoy top priority, that by the termination in February 1944 only 252 Fw 200C Condors had been built. Moreover, because of high attrition, KG 40 never had full wing strength and seldom had more than 12 aircraft available. Indeed, more than half the aircraft delivered in the first year suffered major structural failure, at least eight breaking their backs on the airfield.

The first missions by 1./KG 40 were flown from Danish bases from 8 April 1940 against British ships. In late June, the Geschwader was transferred to Bordeaux-Merignac, which was to be the main base until it had to be evacuated in autumn 1944. Initially, from July 1940, the Condors simply added their small offensive weight to the Luftwaffe's assault on the UK, usually flying a wide sweep west of Cornwall and normally west of Ireland, dropping four bombs and heading for Norway, making the return trip a day or two later. At least two were shot down, although a pilot of No.87 Sqn, who unusually caught a Condor on the direct run to Plymouth, ran out of ammunition so continued to intercept on camera-gun film only. From August the Condors got on with their real task and within two months had been credited with 90,000 tonnes of British shipping sunk. On 26 October they made headlines for the first time when Oberleutnant Bernhard Jope and crew found the 38,418 tonne (42,348 ton) Empress of Britain southwest of Donegal. Their bombs crippled the liner, which was then torpedoed by a U-boat. By 9 February 1941 1./KG 40's claim had reached 363,000 tonnes. By this time it had been joined by two further Staffeln, totalling a nominal 36 aircraft.

In the winter of 1940-41, Cottbus delivered a few interim Fw 200C-2 Condors, whose main improvement was scalloped outer nacelle racks and low-drag wing racks, the former also being plumbed for small (300-litre/66-Imp gal) external tanks. The big advance came with the Fw 200C-3, first flown in February 1941. This was a major redesign with a real attempt to cure the structural problems despite even higher weights, however the attempt did not quite succeed. Engines were BMW-Bramo Fafnir 323R-2s, with water-injection rating of 1,200 hp (894.8 kW). The bombload was increased by clearing the nacelles to 1,102 lbs (500 kg) each and adding 12 SC-50 bombs (50 kg/110 lb) in the gondola. The forward dorsal blister was replaced by an Fw 19 turret (one MG 15) and two more MG 15s were aimed through sliding panels in each side of the rear fuselage, the crew rising to six. The Fw 200C-3/U1 at last gave real defensive firepower with an MG 151/15 in an HDL 151 forward turret, and the MG FF was replaced by an MG 151/20, but the big turret reduced top speed at sea level from some 190 mph (305 km/h) to little over 171 mph (275 km/h).

In 1941 only 58 Condors were built, these including the Fw 200C-3/U2 with the complex but extremely accurate Lofte 7D bombsight, which caused a prominent bulge under the front of the gondola and necessitated replacement of the cannon by a 13 mm (0.51 in) MG 131. Most Fw 200C-3/U2s also reverted to the small Fw 19 turret. Next came the Fw 200C-3/U3 whose dorsal armament comprised two MG 131s, one in an EDL 131 forward turret and the other in the manually aimed rear position. The Fw 200C-3/U4 had increased internal fuel, bringing maximum weight to 50,045 lbs (22700 kg), which the reinforced airframe could just manage. The beam guns were changed for MG 131s, giving much greater firepower, but the forward turret went back to the Fw 19.

If any Condor sub-type can be considered 'standard' it was the Fw 200C-4, from February 1942, which added search radar, initially the pre-production Rostock and then the standard FuG 200 Hohentwiel, the latter giving blind-bombing capability (the Rostock having greater range and a wider search angle but a longer minimum range). Oddly, the Fw 200C-4 went back to the HDL 151 turret and MG 15s elsewhere except for the front of the gondola, which had the MG 131 or MG 151/20 depending on whether or not the Lofte 7D was fitted. Two 'special' variants in 1942 inctuded the Fw 200C-4/U1 and Fw 200C-4/U2 transports, with VIP interiors and just four MG 15s. The former, flown in 1945 at Farnborough, was Himmler's personal transport, the Gestapo chief having a vast leather chair with heavy armour and a personal escape hatch.

In early 1943 some Fw 200C-3s were modified to launch and guide the Hs 293A anti-ship missile, which was hung under the outer nacelles. The associated Kehl/Strassburg radio guidance installation was in the nose and front of the gondola. These missile carriers were designated Fw 200C-6, and the last few Condors to be built, in the winter of 1943-44, were Fw 200C-8s specially designed to carry the Hs 293 and with deeper outboard nacelles and a longer forward section to the gondola.

Had such aircraft been available in 1940, the 'Scourge of the Atlantic' would have been much more deadly even than it was. Fortunately, while the weak early Condors were almost unopposed, the improved models had a very hard time, from ship AA guns, from Grumman Martlets (Wildcats) based on escort carriers and, not least, from the CAM (catapult-armed merchantman) Hawker Hurricanes, which scored their first kill on 3 August 1941. Even a Short Sutherland could catch a Condor and shoot it down, and from 1942 Condors tried never to come within the radius of Coastal Command Bristol Beaufighters and de Havilland Mosquitoes. In addition, their effectiveness was hampered not only by poor serviceability, but also by repeated urgent calls to undertake transport duties in various theatres, including Stalingrad. KG 40 was disbanded in autumn 1944, its Biscay bases having been captured, and the few surviving Condors finished the war as rarely used transports.

Anti-Shipping Operations

By late 1943, the main role of the Condor was to interdict Allied convoyes from Gibraltar, whose departure was usually reported by German agents in Spain. The aircraft would usually take off in fours, flying out to an initial point at sea level and in close formation. They would then split up, fan out and fly parallel tracks some 25 miles (40 km) apart, periodically climbing to 1,000 ft (300 m) and making a broad circuit while they searched for shipping using the FuG 200 Hohentwiel radar. When contact was made the aircraft would contact the others and all would climb to make their attacks, which were made from a minimum altitude of 9,000 ft (2700m). 

Specifications (Focke-Wulf Fw 200C-3/U-4 Condor)

Type: Six Seat Long Range Maritime Reconnaissance Bomber & Transport

Design: Dipl Ing Kurt Tank

Manufacturer: Focke-Wulf Flugzeugbau GmbH at Bremen & Cottbus

Powerplant: (Fw 200C-3/U-4) Four BMW-Bramo 323R-2 Fafnir 9-cylinder air-cooled radial engines rated at 1,000 hp (746 kW) for take-off and 1,200 hp (895 kW) with water-methanol injection. (Fw 200C) Four 830 hp (620 kW) BMW 132H air-cooled 9-cylinder radial engines.

Performance: Maximum speed 224 mph (360 km/h); cruising speed 208 mph (335 km/h); service ceiling 19,685 ft (6000 m).

Fuel: (Standard) fuel capacity of 1,773 Imperial Gallons (8,060 Liters) with an (Overload) fuel capacity of 2,190 Imperial Gallons (9,955 Litres).

Range: 2,212 miles (3560 km) with Standard fuel and endurance of about 14 hours. With Overload fuel, range increased to 2,760 miles (4,440 km).

Weight: Empty Clean 28,549 lbs (12950 kg). Empty equipped 37,490 lbs (17005 kg) with a maximum take-off weight of 50,057 lbs (24520 kg).

Dimensions: Span 107 ft 9 1/4 in (32.85 m); length 76 ft 11 1/4 in (23.45 m); height 20 ft 8 in (3.30 m); wing area 1,290.10 sq ft (119.85 sq m).

Armament: One 13 mm (0.51 in) MG 131 machine-gun with 1,000 rounds in a hydraulically operated FW 19 turret. The Ventral Gondola had a forward firing 13 mm (0.51 in) MG 131 machine-gun (500 rounds per gun) or a 20 mm MG 151 cannon (500 rounds per gun) and single rear facing 13 mm (0.51 in) MG 131 machine-gun (500 rounds per gun). The Beam position had two 13 mm (0.51 in) MG 131 machine-gun (300 rounds per gun). The Aft Dorsal position had a single 13 mm (0.51 in) MG 131 machine-gun (500 rounds per gun), plus up to 4,630 lbs (2100 kg) of bombs usually consisting of two 551 lbs (250 kg) bombs, two 1,102 lbs (500 kg) and 12 SC-50 110 lbs (50 kg) bombs. An additional 198 Imperial Gallon (900 litre) armoured fuel tank could be carried instead of the 12 SC-50 110 lbs (50 kg) bombs. Two 66 Imperial Gallon (300 litre) auxiliary fuel tanks could be carried on each of the outer nacelles instead of bombs. Some aircraft used the 7.92 mm (0.31 in) MG 15 machine-gun in the rear ventral position and the FW 19 turret.

Variants: Fw 200A, Fw 200S (Special), Fw 200B/B-1/B-2, Fw 200C/C-0/C-1/C-2/C-3, Fw 200C-3/U1, Fw 200C-3/U2, Fw 200C-3/U3, Fw 200C-3/U4, Fw 200C-4, Fw 200C-4/U1, Fw 200C-4/U2, Fw 200C-6, Fw 200C-8, Fw 200C-8/U10.

Avionics: (Fw 200C-4) initially the pre-production FuG Rostock and then the standard FuG 200 Hohentwiel search radar, the latter giving blind-bombing capability. Some of these aircraft were fitted with the Lofte 7D Bomb sight. (Fw 200C-6) FuG 203b Kehl missle control system.

History: First flight (Fw 200 VI) 27 July 1937, last service flight (Barcelona to Berlin) 14 April 1945; first sorties (1./KG 40) 8 April 1940; first flight (Fw 200C-3) February 1941.

Operators: Germany (Luftwaffe).