The Heinkel He 111 was the second of the Luftwaffe’s trio of twin engined bombers to enter service, after the Dornier Do 17 and ahead of the Junkers Ju 88. Its importance peaked early in the Second World War – it was the most numerous German bomber in 1939 and was still important during the Blitz, but had been largely superseded by the Ju 88 by the middle of 1941.
By the standards of 1938 the He 111 was a heavy bomber, with the same payload as the Armstrong Whitworth Whitley III. However, even by 1939 the He 111 was slipping into the medium bomber category. The Whitley Mk V of 1940 could carry a 7,000lb payload, while the RAF’s four engined heavies regularly carried 12,000lbs of bombs. Meanwhile the Luftwaffe had to soldier on with the He 111 and its contemporaries while work on the planned He 177 slipped repeatedly.
The He 111 was largely based on the earlier Heinkel He 70 Blitz, a small commercial airliner that had entered Lufthansa service in 1934. Lufthansa then asked Heinkel to produce a larger airliner, capable of carrying ten passengers. Heinkel responded with a larger twin-engined version of the He 70 that shared the same elliptical wings and tail plane of the smaller aircraft. A full scale mock-up was built during 1934, and was examined by the RLM (Reich Air Ministry or Reichsluftfahrtministerium), which ordered Heinkel to produce a bomber version of the aircraft.
Heinkel responded by producing two series of prototypes, one of the bomber and one for the commercial version of the aircraft. The first of these aircraft to take to the air was the He 111a, on 24 February 1935. This was the first bomber prototype. It featured a traditional stepped nose, with the bombardier’s position in the tip of the nose behind a small glass dome. The He 111a reached a top speed of 216 mph.
A second bomber prototype, the He 111b, followed. The only significant change made to this prototype was a reduction in the wingspan to 74 feet 1.8 inches. This was the prototype for the pre-production He 111A-0 series. These aircraft features two rows of extra windows around the nose to improve visibility for the bombardier.
When this model was rejected by the Luftwaffe due to its poor performance once military equipment was installed, Heinkel moved on to the He 111e. This had originally been built with the same BMW engines as the earlier aircraft, was but retrofitted with more powerful Daimler-Benz DB 600A 12-cylinder liquid-cooled inline engines, which increased the speed and overall performance of the aircraft enough to satisfy the Luftwaffe. The He 111e was ordered into production as the He 111B.
The series of commercial prototypes began with the He 111c. This first flew on 12 March 1935, only two weeks after the He 111a. This aircraft entered Lufthansa service in 1935. It was followed by the He 111d of late 1935, which was also used by Lufthansa during 1936 and 1937. The He 111d became the prototype for the He 111C passenger airliner.
Development - Combat - He 111A - He 111B - He 111C - He 111D - He 111E - He 111F - He 111G - He 111H - He 111J - He 111P - He 111R - He 111Z