Heinkel He 219 Uhu


There have been countless occasions when superior combat aircraft have been created because the engineering team was able to get on with the job and do it in the best and most efficient way. Obvious examples are the de Havilland Mosquito, General Dynamics F-16 and another was the Heinkel He 219. Designed as a versatile multi-role aircraft, it was finally developed purely for night-fighting and then criticised because it was so specialised.

Ernst Heinkel AG was one of the largest aircraft firms in Hitler's Germany, and it was certainly the most experienced in producing combat aircraft. In mid-1940 the Rostock-Marienehe head office had surplus design capacity, and this was put to use in creating a number of projects, one of which was Projekt 1064. This was a Kampf-Zerstörer, literally a war-destroyer but meaning a multi-role fighter, attack, reconnaissance and even torpedo aircraft. It incorporated many new features, including a tandem-seat pressurised cockpit in a rather serpent-like nose, a shoulder-high wing, giant underslung engine nacelles housing twin-wheel main units of a tricycle landing gear, twin tail fins and remotely-controlled defensive gun barbettes.

A Heinkel He 219A-7/R-4 1st Staffel Nachtjagdgeschwader 1 - Munster Germany 1944

The design was just what the Luftwaffe really needed, but long term planning at the Ob.d.L. (Luftwaffe high command) was conspicuously absent. Instead, Projekt 1064 was looked at unfavourably because it used so many radical innovations. The 'American' idea of nosewheel gear was scorned, and Heinkel even had the temerity to pick the Daimler-Benz DB 603 engine, a big and powerful unit that, like the Heinkel project, had never been requested officially, and thus was itself under a cloud. Projekt 1064 was filed away and forgotten.

Fighting a lone battle to build up the Luftwaffe's vital night fighter force was the harassed General der Nachtjägd, Josef Kammhuber. He consistently failed in his efforts to get a truly advanced night-fighter designed for the job, but eventually he managed to gain an interview with Hitler. He left the room with 'special powers' enabling him to overrule his opponents, and as a result in October 1941 Projekt 1064 became the He 219, with a development contract. Kammhuber had been impressed by the potential of this design on a visit to Rostock, and considered it could be the night-fighter he was seeking. At the same time, Focke-Wulf received a contract for a night-fighter which became the Ta 154, dubbed 'Moskito' because of its wooden construction but it never entered widespread service.

A group of Heinkel He 219 Uhu "Owls" at Fliegerhorst Grove (Karup Airfield) in Denmark in May 1945 shortly after the German surrender. The tail rudders were removed to make the aircraft unflyable.

Few changes were made to the Heinkel design, which retained its twin 13 mm (0.51 in) MG 131 barbettes above and below the rear fuselage and also the 4,409 lbs (2000 kg) bomb load. Forward firing armament was to comprise two 15 mm MG 151/15 cannon in the wingroots and a ventral installation of two 20 mm MG 151/20s or a large 30 mm MK 103 cannon. The basic aircraft was a clean and efficient stressed-skin design, with powerful slotted flaps (often described incorrectly as Fowler-type). The engines had circular radiators giving the appearance of radials, and a retractable ladder was provided for access to the lofty cockpit, where pilot and radar observer sat back-to-back with amn excellent all round view. A 13 mm (0.51 in) MG 131 was provided for rear defence. In the centre fuselage were three tanks housing 2600 litres (572 Imperial gallons).

The He 219 V1 (first prototype) made its maiden flight on 15 November 1942, and demonstrated outstanding handling and performance. The only real problem was poor yaw/roll stability, rectified in the third aircraft by enlarging the tail and extending the rear fuselage. There then began a process of development and tinkering with the armament and equipment that became so complex that today it is impossible to unravel. Even during the war, the RLM (air ministry) asked whether the profusion of types and designations could be simplified. The prototypes flew with a recorded 29 different variations of armament, while the plans for a manufacturing programme were thrown into disarray by repeated air raids on Rostock in March and April 1942, which twice destroyed virtually all the He 219 drawings. These attacks prompted Heinkel to plan for production at Vienna-Schwechat, fuselages being supplied from Mielec in Poland; continued bitter opposition, led by Generalfeldmarschall Erhard Milch, repeatedly delayed any production of what any impartial observer must have concluded was an outstanding aircraft.

Back in August 1942, Kammhuber had urged Heinkel to think in terms of a complete operational Gruppe (wing) by 1 April 1943, but at that date the sum total of He 219s was five prototypes. In the fIrst week of 1943 the third prototype He 219 was flown in mock combat against a Junkers Ju 188 (a type favoured as a night-fighter by Milch), leading to a highly biased RLM report which put in all the He 219's faults and omitted the enthusiastic comments of test pilots. It even suggested the Messerschmitt Bf 110 as an alternative to the new fighter. Nevertheless, later in that month Heinkel did receive the first production contract, for 127 aircraft.

On 25 March 1943 came a more detailed fly-off between an He 219 (probably the V4, with FuG 212 Lichtenstein C-1 radar), flown by the Gruppenkommandeur of I/NJG 1, Major Werner Streib, and a Ju 88S and a Dornier Do 217N. The Dornier soon withdrew, but the Junkers was flown by a pilot as famous as Streib, Oberst Wiktor von Lossberg of the technical staff. Brilliant as von Lossberg was, he had to concede defeat to the He 219, which by this time was becoming known as the Uhu (owl). The initial pre-series He 219A-O was delivered from late May 1943 in He 219A-0/Rl and R2 sub-types, respectively with the belly tray housing four MK 108s or four MK 103s. Both guns were of 30-mm calibre, but the MK 108 was a compact low-velocity weapon weighing 130 lbs (59 kg), while the MK 103 was a massive gun weighing 320 lbs (145 kg) and having tremendous power. Wing guns usually remained MG 151/20s. The pilot had a two-pronged control column, partly to ease the choice of either hand and partly to carry more switches and triggers. Guns were fired by the right hand, the top button firing the fuselage guns and the front trigger those in the wings. A further addition in at least one He 219A-0 was a compressed-air ejection seat for both occupants, the first in service in the world. There was an MF radio wire from the cockpit mast to each fin, but these were no real problem in emergency escape, and Heinkel was in fact looking ahead to the time when the He 219 would be jet-propelled. This also explained his original choice of nosewheel-type landing gear.

Initial deliveries went to I/NJG 1 at Venlo, on the Dutch frontier, where Streib determined to show what the type could do. It had C-1 radar, the intermediate set that followed FuG 202, and used the same group of small dipole aerials tuned to the 490 MHz frequency, but with two displays showing a direct view and a plan. The first combat mission was flown by Streib himself with backseater Pischer on the night of 11/12 June 1943 in He 219A-0 G9+FB. The mission was an epic, for the Uhu shot down five RAF heavy bombers. On returning, however, Streib totally misjudged the approach because of a misted windscreen. Seeing the dim runway lights at the last moment he selected full flap at too high a speed; the circuits shorted and the flaps blew back under the air load. The aircraft hit the ground so hard it broke up, but both men walked away without a scratch.

On hearing this, Milch said, "Yes, but perhaps Streib would have shot down just as many had he been flying another type of aircraft." But over the next 10 days these immature machines, in just six more sorties, destroyed another 20 RAF bombers, including six Mosquitoes. No Mosquito had ever before been intercepted at night, and not even Milch could ignore this achievement. The main trouble was that, despite having an assembly line at Schwechat, another about to start deliveries at Marienehe and a third being set up at the vast plant at Oranienburg (on tapering off of He 111 production), Heinkel's huge network of plants simply could not deliver He 219s. This was partly because of the fantastic profusion of sub-variants, many of them launched to meet official criticisms. It was also because of shortages of critical parts, notably engines. Whereas the basic plan was for 100 aircraft to be delivered monthly, actual acceptances hardly ever exceeded 12 per month.

Subsequent He 219 sub-types are listed separately. Few of these attained production status, although features that did become standard included longer nacelles housing extra fuel, removal of the rear gun (except on the three-seat He 219A-5/R4), installation of the powerful FuG 220 Lichtenstein SN-2 radar with huge Hirschgeweih (stag's antlers) dipole aerial array, FuG 220 tail-warning radar, the ejection seat and, not least, the schräge Musik (literally 'slanting music', or jazz) armament. This scheme dated from 1941, having been proposed by armament engineers at Tarnewitz and tested by an NJG Experte, Oberleutnant Rudolf Schoenert. The idea was that oblique upward firing guns could be brought to bear accurately in a no-deflection shot by formating below and slightly behind the enemy bomber, using, a special upward looking sight. The scheme was made possible by the amazing fact that British heavy bombers not only had not one gun firing downwards but also not one window from which a formatting night-fighter could be seen. The usual schräge Musik installation in the He 219 comprised two MK 108s each with 100 rounds, fixed aft of the fuselage tanks at an angle of 65°.

By mid-1944, the RLM officials who had time to think about the matter realised that the campaign against the Uhu had been misguided. Milch himself had gone, production being henceforth a series of massive dictates by civilian Albert Speer. One of these, the Notprogramm (emergency programme) of 1 November 1944, virtually halted all aircraft manufacture except that of jets and single-engined fighters. Thus, the He 219 never did become the massive programme that should have been possible. The He 219 never equipped any unit except I/NJG 1 (ones and twos reached II/NJG 1, NJGr 10, Erg./JG 2 and NJSt 'Finnland' and 'Norwegen', but the numbers were trivial). By June 1944, I/NJG 1 had 20 Uhus, almost all of the current production He 219A-2 and He 219A-5 types. By this time RAF Mosquitoes were making themselves felt not only as pathfinders and bombers but also as intruders, and the number of He 219s that failed to return from night sorties climbed significantly. Previous attrition had been very low, although I/NJG 1 lost three Kommandeure in succession in 1944, two of them having been killed in mid-air collisions.

In January 1945, I/NJG 1's establishment was up to 64 aircraft, and total deliveries of all versions reached 268, plus about 20 development aircraft modified to acceptable operational standard by field units and a further six (not on any official documents) which were assembled and put into action by I/NJG 1 from replacement components and spares. So, how does one assess this controversial aircraft? There is no doubt it was a 1940 design of exceptional merit which could in a more ordered society have been developed for many roles with telling effect, as was the UK's Mosquito. The mass of sub-types merely diluted the main production effort, and the consistent failure of Daimler-Benz and Junkers to deliver the hoped for engines killed the advanced versions that would have kept the He 219 in front. As for the aircraft itself opinions are divided.

According to Gebhard Aders (author of Geschichte der deutschen Nachtjägd), the He 219 "never achieved the values given in its manual. With almost full tanks and full armament, the He 219 could not get above 26,247 ft (8000 m). With Lichtenstein and flame dampers, the maximum speed fell to about 311 mph (500 km/h) at this height." On the other hand, he states "The 219 was the only German night-fighter that could still climb on one engine, and even go round again for another landing attempt," a belief echoed by many former Uhu pilots. Yet that greatest of test pilots, Captain E. M. 'Winkle' Brown, who flew several captured He 219s, wrote in Air International that the type was "somewhat overrated... It suffered from what is perhaps the nastiest characteristic that any twin-engined aircraft can have, that being it was underpowered. This defect makes take-off a critical manoeuvre in the event of an engine failing, and a landing with one engine out can be equally critical. There certainly could be no overshooting with the He 219 in that condition."

This marginal performance is the more remarkable when it is remembered that the DB 603 was the largest of the inverted V-12 engines used by the Luftwaffe, with a cubic capacity 65 per cent greater than that of the Merlin. The problem lay squarely in the growth of systems and equipment with which the Uhu was packed, so that a typical He 219A-7 version weighed more empty than any Ju 88 night-fighter, and more than a fully-loaded Mosquito.


He 219 V1/V2

The first prototype equipped with 1,750 hp (1305 kW) DB 603A engines; originally unarmed, but later two 20 mm MG 151/20 and pivoted 13 mm (0.51 in) MG 131; provision for two rear barbettes. He 219 V2 was the second prototype.

He 219 V3/V4/V5/V6

The He 219 V3 was the first aircraft with a longer fuselage and larger tail to correct poor yaw/roll stability. The He 219 V4/V5 incorporated FuG 212 Lichtenstein C-1 radar. The He 219 V6 was armed with six 15 mm MG 151/15 machine guns and the barbettes were eliminated.

He 219A-0

Pre-production series, most with DB 603A engines, 14 armament schemes and at least one with ejection seats.

He 219A-1

Planned production aircraft with 1,800 hp (1342 kW) DB 603E engines. Only one aircraft was produced.

He 219A-2

First production version, a two-seater with 1,750 hp (1303 kW) DB 603A engines. Basic armament of two MK 108 and four MG 151/20, but following Rustsätze kits offered variations: R1 six MG 151/20; R2 four MK 103 and two MG 151/20; R3 four MK 108 and two MG 151/20; R4 four MG 151/20 and two MK 108 oblique.

He 219A-3

Proposed fighter-bomber with three crew and 1,900 hp (1415 kW) DB 603G engines but not built.

He 219A-4

Long-span reconnaissance bomber with Junkers Jumo 222 engines. Never built.

He 219A-5

Major production version equipped initially with DB 603A engines, but most with 1,800 hp (1342 kW) DB 603E engines. Usual armament consisted of six MG 151/20 and two MK 108 oblique but many R-kits and other variations. He 219A-5/R4 adding third cockpit with raised canopy and pivoted MG 131.

He 219A-6

Lightweight 'anti-Mosquito' version, 26,345 lbs (11950 kg) loaded, with Daimler-Benz DB 603L two-stage engines with MW-50 water/methanol and GM-1 Nitrous Oxide boost. Speed of 404 mph (650 km/h) at up to 39,370 ft (12000 m).

He 219A-7

Similar to the He 219A-5 but with improved supercharger intakes for its DB 603G engines; in addition to the standard schrage Musik installation, the He 219A-7/R1 had two wing root-mounted MK 108s, and two MG 151s and two 30 mm MK 103s in the ventral tray; the He 219A-7/R2 had MK 108s in place of the ventral MK 103s, and the He 219A-7/R3 had the wing root MK 108s replaced by MG 151s and the ventral tray of the He 219A-7/R2; the He 219A-7/R4 had tail warning radar and just four MG 151s; six He 219A-71R5 night fighters were effectively He 219A-7/R3s with 1417 kW (1,900 hp) Junkers Jumo 213E engines and a water-methanol injection system; the single He 219A-7/R6 had two 1864 kW (2,500 hp) Jumo 222A/B engines.

He 219B

Series of developed long-span machines with extended fuselage. Most aircraft had the Daimler-Benz DB 603A engine, although original plans called for the Junkers Jumo 222 engine.

He 219C/C-1/C-2

Long-span wing of He 219B combined with totally new longer fuselage with four-seat pressure cabin at front and gunner in HDL 131 V tail turret (four MG 131). He 219C-1 night-fighter with two MK 108 cannon under cockpit, two oblique behind cockpit and two 20 mm MG 151/20 in the wings. He 219C-2 fighter-bomber with two forward 30 mm MK 103 and three SC 500 1,102 lbs (500 kg) bombs under fuselage.

He 319

An unbuilt multi-role derivative.

He 419

Various derived projects culminating in He 419B-1/R1, six of which were flown; He 319 tail, very long-span wing of 59 square metres (635 sq ft), two 20 mm MG 151/20 in the wings and four 30 mm MK 108 in ventral housing. Speed of 422 mph (679 km/h to 44,619 ft (13600 m) .

Hü 211

A high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft designed by Dr Ing Hutter with the He 219 fuselage and tail married to an 80 ft 6 in (24.54 m) wooden wing with tremendous range, speed and height. Single aircraft was destroyed before being completed.  

Specifications (Heinkel He 219A-7/R2 Uhu "Owl")

Type: Two Seat Heavy Night Fighter

Design: Ernst Heinkel Design Team

Manufacturer: Ernst Heinkel AG

Powerplant: (A-7) Two 1,900 hp (1417 kW) Daimler-Benz DB 603G 12-cylinder piston engines but due to shortages of these engines, the 1,800 hp (1342 kW) DB 603E 12-cylinder piston engine was also used. The He 219 prototypes, and the pre-production He 219A-0 and production He 219A-2, were powered by the 1,750 hp (1303 kW) liquid-cooled, inverted V-12 DB 603A. It had been intended to replace this in production aircraft with the 1,900 hp (1417 kW) DB 603G (with increased compression ratio and a higher speed supercharger), but unavailability led to proposals to fit the DB 603E (which had a large supercharger and GM-1 nitrous oxide injection) as a stop-gap. This was no more available than the DB 603G and the production He 219A-2 had to revert to the DB 603A. The DB 603G was finally incorporated in the He 219A-7, which proved the most widely produced variant, while the stripped-down anti-Mosquito He 219A-6 used the 2,100 hp (1565 kW) DB 6703L which was essentially a DB 603E with both MW-50 and GM-1 and a two-stage supercharger.

Performance: (DB 603E engine) Maximum speed 286 mph (460 km/h) at sea level, 363 mph (585 km/h) at 19,685 ft (6000 m); service ceiling 32,150 ft (9800 m); initial climb rate 1,804 ft (550 m) per minute.

Range: (A-5) 1,243 miles (2000 km); (A-7) at maximum cruise 1,150 miles (1850 km) .

Weight: Empty clean 18,398 lbs (8345 kg; Empty equipped 24,692 lbs (11200 kg) with a maximum take-off weight of 33,289 lbs (15100 kg).

Dimensions: Span 60 ft 8 1/4 in (18.50 m); length 50 ft 11 3/4 in (15.54 m), 53 ft 7 1/4 in (16.34 m) including antennas; height 13 ft 5 1/2 in (4.10 m); wing area 479.01 sq ft (44.50 sq m)

Armament: Typical armament usually consisted of four 30 mm MK 108 cannon and two 20 mm MG 151/20 and two 30 mm MK 103 cannon. Some aircraft had and additional two 30 mm MK 108 cannon in a schrage Musik (Jazz Music) with 100 rounds per gun. The He 219A-2 abandoned the rearward facing MG 131. which was not fitted again, except to the He 219A-5/R4 which had a stretched forward fuselage and a new three-man cockpit. All He 219s had a pair of 20 mm MG 151/20 cannon in the wingroots, and provision for two 30 mm MK 108s in an upward-firing schräge Musik installation. Contents of the ventral tray varied, with two MG 151s, two Mk 103s or two Mk 108s in the A-2, two Mk 108s in the A-5 and a choice in the He 219A-7 of two Mk 103s and two MG 151s (A-7/R1), two Mk 103s and two Mk 108s (A-7/R2), two Mk 108s and two MG 151s (A-7/R3) or two MG 151s (A-7/R4).

Variants: He 219 V1/V2, He 219 V3-V6 (longer fuselage and different tail), He 219A-0, He 219A-1, He 219A-2 (first production version), He 219A-3, He 219A-4, He 219A-5 (major production version), He 219A-6 (anit-mosquito version, He 219A-7 (final production version), He 219B, He 219C/C-1/C-2, He 319, He 419, Hü 211 (high altitude recon).

Avionics: The first production aircraft (the first 12 He 219A-2/R1s) were fitted simply with FuG 212 Lichtenstein C-1 with four small antenna arrays on the nose. On subsequent A-2s, aircraft had a single antenna for the C-1, with four large Hirschgeweih antennas for the new FuG 220 Lichtenstein SN-2. Some A-5s omitted C-1 radar. and often had the SN-2 antennas canted to reduce interference. The A-7 added the newer FuG 218 Neptun radar to Litchenstein SN-2.

History: First flight (219V-1) 15 November 1942; service delivery (prototypes) May 1943; (production 219A-1) November 1943.

Operators: Germany (Luftwaffe).