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Hs 129
Henschel Hs 129 B-1
Role Ground attack
Manufacturer Henschel
First flight 25 May 1939
Introduced April 1942
Retired 1945
Primary users Luftwaffe
Hungarian Air Force
Romanian Air Force
Produced June 1940 - September 1944
Number built 865

The Henschel Hs 129 was a World War II ground-attack aircraft fielded by the German Luftwaffe. Its nickname, the Panzerknacker (tank cracker), is a deliberate pun—in German, it also means "safe cracker". The Hs 129 never really had a chance to prove itself in any way; the plane was produced only in small numbers and deployed during a time when the Luftwaffe was unable to protect them from attack.

Contents

Design and development

By the middle of the 1930s, the idea of using aircraft against ground targets had been "well understood" to be of little use other than hurting enemy morale. Experiences during World War I had demonstrated that attacking the combatants was generally much more dangerous to the aircraft than the troops on the ground, a problem that was only becoming more acute with the introduction of newer weapons. For much of the 1920s and 1930s, the use of aircraft was seen primarily in the strategic and interdiction roles, where their targets were less likely to be able to fight back with any level of coordination. For high-value point targets, the dive bomber was the preferred solution.

The German Condor Legion experience during the Spanish Civil War turned this idea on its head. Although armed with generally unsuitable aircraft such as the Hs 123 and cannon-armed versions of the Heinkel He 112, their powerful armament and fearless pilots proved that the aircraft was a very effective weapon even without bombs. This led to some support within the Luftwaffe for the creation of an aircraft dedicated to this role, and eventually a contract was tendered for a new "attack aircraft".

Since the main source of damage would be from rifle and machine gun fire from the ground, the plane had to be heavily armored around the cockpit and engines. They also required the same protection in the windscreen, which required 75 mm (2.95 in) thick armored glass. Since the aircraft was expected to be attacking its targets directly in low-level strafing runs, the cockpit had to be located as close as possible to the nose in order to see the ground. One last requirement, a non-technical one, ended up dooming the designs; the RLM demanded that the aircraft be powered by "unimportant" engines of low power that were not being used in other designs, so the plane's production would not interfere with that of other types deemed more essential to the war effort.

Four companies were asked to respond, and only two of the resulting three entries were considered worthy of consideration; Focke-Wulf's conversion of their earlier Fw 189 reconnaissance plane, and Henschel's all new Hs 129.

Prototypes

The Hs 129 was designed around a single large "bathtub" of steel sheeting that made up the entire nose area of the plane, completely enclosing the pilot up to head level. Even the canopy was steel, with only tiny windows on the side to see out of and two angled blocks of glass for the windscreen. In order to improve the armor's ability to stop bullets, the fuselage sides were angled in forming a triangular shape, resulting in almost no room to move at shoulder level. There was so little room in the cockpit that the instrument panel ended up under the nose below the windscreen where it was almost invisible; some of the engine instruments were moved outside onto the engine nacelles, as on some models of Messerschmitt's Bf 110 heavy fighter, and the gunsight was mounted outside on the nose.

In the end, the plane came in 12% overweight and the engines 8% underpowered, and it understandably flew poorly. The controls proved to be almost inoperable as speed increased, and in testing, one plane flew into the ground from a short dive because the stick forces were too high for the pilot to pull out. The Fw design proved to be no better. Both planes were underpowered with their Argus As 410 engines, and very difficult to fly.

The RLM nevertheless felt they should continue with the basic concept. In the end, the only real deciding factor between the two was that the Henschel was smaller and cheaper. The Focke-Wulf was put on low priority as a backup, and testing continued with the Hs 129 A-0. A series of improvements resulted in the Hs 129 A-1 series, armed with two 20 mm MG 151/20 cannons and two 7.92 mm (.312 in) MG 17 machine guns, along with the ability to carry four 50 kg (110 lb) bombs under the fuselage midline.

Hs 129 B-1

Even before the A-1s were delivered, the plane was redesigned with the Gnome-Rhône 14M radial engine, which were captured in some number when France fell. This engine supplied 522 kW (700 hp) for takeoff compared to the Argus at 347 kW (465 hp). The Gnome-Rhone radials were also made in versions with opposite rotation for the propeller, and were installed on the Hs 129 with the port engine rotating clockwise and the starboard rotating counterclockwise—as seen from nose-on—thus eliminating engine torque problems. The A-1 planes were converted into Hs 129 B-0s for testing (although some claim that some As were sold to Romania) and the pilots were reportedly much happier. Their main complaint was the view from the canopy, so a single larger windscreen and a new canopy with much better vision were added, resulting in the production model Hs 129 B-1.

B-1s started rolling off the lines in December 1941, but they were delivered at a trickle. In preparation for the new plane, I./Sch.G 1 had been formed up in January with Bf 109 E/Bs (fighter-bomber version of Bf 109 E) and Hs 123s, and they were delivered B-0s and every B-1 that was completed. Still, it wasn't until April that 12 B-1s were delivered and its 4th staffel (squadron) was ready for action. They moved to the Eastern Front in the middle of May, and in June, they received a new weapon, the 30 mm (1.2 in) MK 101 cannon with armor-piercing ammunition in a midline pod.

Hs 129 B-2

By May 1942, after only 50 of the planes had been delivered, they started to deliver the new Hs 129 B-2 model side-by-side with the B-1. The only difference between the two were changes to the fuel system – a host of other minor changes could be found almost at random on either model. As time went on, these changes accumulated in the B-2 production line until they could finally be told them apart at a glance, the main differences being the removal of the mast for the radio antenna, the addition of a direction-finding radio antenna loop, and shorter exhaust stacks on the engines.

In the field, the differences seemed to be more pronounced. The R-kits were renumbered and some were dropped, and in general, the B-2 planes received the upgraded cannon pack using a 30 mm MK 103 cannon instead of the earlier MK 101. These guns both fired the same ammunition, but the 103 did so at almost twice the rate.

Hs 129 B-3

Close up of the Bordkanone BK 7,5 cannon

Even by late 1942, complaints started about the effectiveness of the MK 103 against newer versions of the Soviet T-34 tanks. One obvious solution would be to use the larger 37 mm Bordkanone BK 3,7 gun, adapted from an anti-tank gun that had recently been abandoned by the army. These guns had already been converted into underwing pod-mounted weapons for the Ju 87 and found to be a fearsome weapon. When mounted on the Hs 129, the empty area behind the cockpit could be used for ammunition storage, which would address the only problem with the Ju 87's mounting, a limited ammunition supply.

But for some reason the Luftwaffe decided to skip over this gun for the Hs 129, and as had been done with the heavy-gunned Ju 88P-1, the Rheinmetall firm decided to adapt their already semi-automatic loading PaK 40 anti-tank gun into a lighter-weight, fully-automatic aircraft-mountable version, with a completely different, more aerodynamic muzzle brake, to produce the Bordkanone BK 7.5 model. A huge hydraulic system was used to dampen the recoil of the gun, and an auto-loader system with 12 rounds, easier to design and fit because of the PaK 40's already semi-automated loading, was fitted in the large empty space behind the cockpit, with the gun and its magazine occupying a gun pod under the fuselage, with a hole in the rear end of the pod to allow spent cartridges to be ejected. The resulting system was able to knock out any tank in the world, but the weight slowed the already poor performance of the plane to barely flyable in this new Hs 129 B-3 version.[1]

B-3s finally started arriving in June 1944, and only 25 were delivered by the time the lines were shut down in September. A small number were also converted from older B-2 models. In the field, they proved deadly weapons, but with only 25 of them, they had no effect on the war effort.

The Bordkanone BK 7,5 cannon installation in the Hs 129B-3, at some 1,200 kg (2,645 lb) was the heaviest forward-firing "big-gun" installation ever produced for a series production military aircraft, until the 1970s-era General Electric GAU-8 Avenger seven barrel 30mm caliber anti-tank Gatling cannon was introduced, as the A-10's main armament, at a total weight with ammunition of up to 1,830 kg (4,030 lb).

Hs 129 C

In order to address the poor performance of the aircraft, plans had been underway for some time to fit the plane with newer versions of the Italian Isotta-Fraschini Delta engine that delivered 630 kW (850 hp). However, the engine ran into a number of delays, and was still not ready for production when the plant was overrun by the Allies in 1945.

Operators

 Germany
 Hungary
 Romania

Specifications (Hs 129 B-1)

Data from

General characteristics

  • Crew: one, pilot
  • Length: 9.75 m (32 ft)
  • Wingspan: 14.2m (46 ft 7 in)
  • Height: 3.25 m (10 ft 8 in)
  • Wing area: 28.9 m² (312 ft²)
  • Empty weight: 4,060 kg (8,932 lb)
  • Loaded weight: 5,110 kg (11,242 lb)
  • Powerplant:Gnome-Rhône 14M 14-cylinder radial engines, 522 kW (700 hp) each

Performance

Armament

See also

Comparable aircraft

Related lists

References

Notes

Bibliography

  • Bernád, Dénes. Henschel Hs 129 in Action (Aircraft Number 176). Carrollton, TX: Squadron/Signal Publications, Inc., 2001. ISBN 0-89747-428-7.
  • Bernád, Dénes. Henschel Hs 129 (Military Aircraft in Detail). Hinckley, UK: Midland publishing Ltd., 2006. ISBN 1-85780-238-1.
  • Chorążykiewicz, Przemysław. Henschel Hs 129. Sandomierz, Poland/Redbourn, UK: Mushroom Model Publications, 2008. ISBN 83-89450-46-3.
  • Green, William. Warplanes of the Third Reich. London: Macdonald and Jane's Publishers Ltd., 1970 (fourth impression 1979). ISBN 0-356-02382-6.
  • Kempski, Benedykt. Samolot szturmowy Henschel Hs 129 (Typy Broni i Uzbrojenia No.214) (in Polish). Warszawa, Poland: 2004. ISBN 83-11-10010-1.
  • Pegg, Martin; Creek, Eddie; Tullis, Thomas A. and Bentley: Hs 129: Panzerjäger! (Classic series, No. 2) West Sussex, UK: Classic Publications, 1997. ISBN 0-9526867-1-6.
  • Smith, J.Richard. The Henschel Hs 129 (Aircraft in Profile No.69). Leatherhead, Surrey, UK: Profile Publications Ltd., 1966.
  • Smith, J.Richard and Kay, Anthony. German Aircraft of the Second World War. London: Putnam & Company Ltd., 1972 (third impression 1978). ISBN 0-370-00024-2.
  • Stachura, Petr; Bernád, Dénes and Haladej, Dan. Henschel Hs 129 (in Czech). Prague, Czech Republic: MBI, 1993 (second edition 1996 bilingual Czech/English). ISBN 80-901263-4-0.
  • Wood, Tony and Gunston, Bill. Hitler's Luftwaffe: A pictorial history and technical encyclopedia of Hitler's air power in World War II. London: Salamander Books Ltd., 1977. ISBN 0-86101-005-1.

External links








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