Heinkel He 111


The Heinkel He111 was originally designed as a civilian airliner for Lufthansa but its military potential was of far greater importance. The He111 was an enlarged, twin-engine development (by Siegfried and Walter Gunter) of the remarkable He70 that was fitted with a glazed nose. The first prototype flew on 24 February 1935 with Flugkapitän Gerhard Nitschke at the controls. It was an all-metal cantilever low-wing monoplane powered by two 660hp BMW VI60Z engines, followed by two further prototypes each fitted with shorter-span wings than the previous aircraft. It was the third prototype that became the actual bomber prototype while the second prototype became a civil version with a mail compartment in the nose and two passenger compartments in the fuselage. After tests at Staaken this aircraft joined the Lufthansa fleet but much of the development work was carried out by the fourth prototype, which was the first to be revealed to the public at Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport on 10 January 1936. Lufthansa received ten He111C ten-seat airliners during 1936, the first entering service on the Berlin-Hanover-Amsterdam, Berlin-Nuremburg- Munich and Berlin-Dortmund-Cologne routes. Lufthansa subsequently received a number of He111G-3 aircraft with 880hp BMW 132Dc engines and later a batch of similar aircraft under the designation He111L.

Development of the military counterpart continued apace with the construction of ten He111A-0 preproduction aircraft based on the third prototype but with 7.92mm (0.31in) MG15 machine guns in the dorsal, nose and ventral positions. Two were used in operation trials conducted at Rechlin but inadequate handling, a lack of power and poor performance resulted in cancellation and all ten were sold to China. A solution was the installation of two 1,000hp Daimler-Benz DB 600A engines, firstly fitted to the fifth prototype (B series) that flew in early 1936 and was the forerunner to the first production models, built in autumn 1939 at Marienehe. These were the He111B-1 with 880hp DB 600 engines, followed by the He111B-2 with 950hp DB 600CG engines. The considerable improvement in the performance of these aircraft resulted in the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (RLM) placing such a large order that a new construction facility had to be built at Oranienburg, near Berlin, which was completed in 1937. The B series was quickly followed by the He111D-1 featuring improved DB 600Ga engines but there was an urgent need to divert DB 600 engines towards fighter production and so the variant was only built in small numbers. Production then focused on incorporating the 1,000hp Junkers Jumo 211A-1 engine onto a He111D-0 airframe to serve as a prototype for the He111E-0 preproduction series. The production variant, He111E-1, had a bombload of 3,748lbs (1,700kg), while the He111E-3 had a bombload of 4,409lbs (2,000kg) and the E-4 could carry half this load on under-fuselage racks. The He111E-5 introduced another 183.7 Imp gal (835 litres) in a reserve fuel tank kept within the fuselage. The He111G introduced a straight, tapered wing of simplified construction. This was first used on the He111G-3 civil transport built for Lufthansa, although there was some delay in RLM approving this. There then followed the He111G-1 variant, which was essentially a C series aircraft with the new wing fitted and the He111G-4 which was powered by two 900hp DB 600D engines while the G-5 featured the DB 600Ga engine with four examples supplied to Turkey. The He111F-1 was powered by the Jumo 211A-3 engine, with twenty-four going to Turkey and forty (under the designation of He111F-4) going to the Luftwaffe in 1938.

Developed in parallel, were the H and P series. The P series introduced a major fuselage redesign in 1939 which replaced the stepped cockpit with an extensively glazed cockpit and nose section, while also moving the fixed gun to the starboard side so as to improve the pilot’s view. The preproduction He111P-0 also introduced a revised ventral gondola which placed the gunner in a prone position and powered by two 1,150hp DB 601Aa engines. As it happens, only a relatively small number of He111P series aircraft were built before it was superseded by the H series. The He111P-1 was virtually identical to the preproduction aircraft and first delivered in the autumn of 1939 while the P-2 differed only in having different radio equipment and the P-3 was a dual-control trainer. Heavier armour, the addition of extra MG15 machineguns (which could total six) and the ability to carry half its bombload on external racks saw the series reach the He111P-4 variant. The He111P-6 could carry 4,409lbs (2,000kg) of bombs internally and later P series aircraft with 1,175hp DB 601N engines were used as glider tugs and designated the He111P-2/R2.

Heinkel He 111 side view Heinkel He 111 at the Norwegian Air Museum Heinkel He 111 explodes
Heinkel He 111 Picture Gallery

The H series became the major production variant with the He111H-0 and H-1 batches being very similar to the He111P-2 except for having 1,010hp Jumo 211A engines. The He111H-2 variant became available in the autumn of 1939 and featured Jumo 211A-3 engines along with two additional MG15, one in the nose and one in the ventral gondola, while the He111H-3 added armour protection and had armament consisting of a 20mm MGFF cannon and a 7.92mm (0.31in) MG15 in the ventral gondola, two MG15s in the nose, one MG15 dorsally mounted and two in beam positions. The H-4 introduced Jumo 211D-1 engines and came with two external bomb racks, capable of carrying 3,968lbs (1,800kg), and the H-5 differed only in having an increased fuel capacity. The H-3 and H-5, when equipped with a nose-mounted device to fend off balloon cables, were re-designated the He111H-8/R2 and subsequently converted to glider tugs becoming the He111H-8. The He111H-6 featured Junkers Jumo 211F-1 engines with variable-pitch propellers and a fixed MG15 in the tail. The He111H-10 was built in small numbers especially for the night-time bombing offensive against Britain and came with Kuse-Nase balloon-cable cutters in the leading edges of the wings and additional armour protection. The He111H-11 was equipped with an MG131 machinegun in a fully-enclosed dorsal mounting and other armament changes included a nose-mounted 20mm MGFF cannon and a twin-barrelled MG81Z in the ventral position. The beam MG15s were later replaced by MG81Z machineguns and so these aircraft were re-designated He111H-11/R1 and changed their designation to He111H-11/R2 when they were adapted to tow Gotha Go242 gliders. The He111H-12 and H-15 variants were built in small numbers without the ventral gondola to serve as missile carries for the Henschel / Blohm und Voss weapons. The first of the pathfinder versions was designated He111H-14 and when later converted to serve as a glider tug had the designation He111H-14/R2. Built in large numbers following its introduction in the autumn of 1942, the He111H-16 was similar to the He111H-11 but could carry 7,165lbs (3,250kg) of bombs, although this necessitated the use of R-Geräte rocket-assist takeoff equipment. Its sub-variants included the He11H-16/R1 that had a revolving dorsal turret with an MG131 machinegun, the R2 that was equipped for the rigid-bar towing of gliders, the R3 that carried addition radio equipment for use as a pathfinder. The He111H-18 was also designed as a pathfinder, with exhaust flame dampers to make it suitable for night-time operations. The He111H-20 was produced with a number of sub-variants as well, including the He111H-20/R1 that could carry sixteen paratroopers, the R2 which was a night bomber / glider tug, the R3 which was a night bomber with heavier armour and an improved radio, the R4 which was identical but for GM-1 power-boosting equipment. Some of the He111H-20/R3 aircraft were re-equipped with 1,750hp Jumo 213E engines (with two-stage superchargers) and were re-designated He111H-21, while the He111H-22 variants were equipped to carry a Fieseler Fi103 (V1) missile beneath each wing and the He111H-23 was a transport for paratroopers equipped with 1,776hp Jumo 213A-1 engines.

Produced in parallel with the F series, the J series were intended as torpedo bombers and equipped with 950hp DB 600CG engines, but the eighty-eight He111J-1 aircraft were built as bombers. A single prototype was built as a high-altitude bomber with the designation He111R and equipped with two 1,810hp DB 603U engines; however no production aircraft were constructed. The final and certainly the most unusual variant was the He111Z (for Zwilling or twin), designed to tow the Me321 Gigant transport glider. It comprised two He111H-6 airframes joined by a new centre section in the wing that mounted a fifth Jumo 211F-2 engine. Two Z-0 prototypes and ten Z-1 aircraft were built during the winter of 1941 – 2.

The first deliveries made to an operational squadron were made in late 1936 (1/KG 154 at Fassberg) and in February 1937, thirty He111B-1s were sent to the Condor Legion in Spain, following operational trials in which four of the preproduction He111B-0 aircraft were flown by a flight of VB88. The He111 bore the brunt of the fighting during the early stages of World War II, including Poland, Norway, the Low Countries, France and Britain. The introduction of the Ju88 and the He111’s vulnerability to British fighters resulted in its transfer to night operations and eventually to a wide range of specialised roles, such as a missile carrier, torpedo bomber, pathfinder and glider tug. Transport operations included supplying the beleaguered German 6th Army at Stalingrad between November 1942 and January 1943 and by the end of the war, the transport role was the main one being undertaken. Overall, over 7,000 He111 aircraft were built in Germany up until the autumn of 1944. In addition to those built in the Heinkel facilities at Oranienburg and Marienehe, He111s were built by Norddeutsche Dornierwerke in Wismar, by Allgemeine Transportgesellschaft in Leipzig, as well as Arado in Babelsberg and Brandenburg / Havel. Around 236 He111s were built by CASA in Spain during and after the war, as the CASA 2.111, about 130 having Jumo 211F-2 engines and the rest having Rolls-Royce Merlin 500-29 engines.

Specification (H-16)

Type: medium bomber; Powerplant: 2 x 1,350hp Junkers Jumo 211F-2 12-cylinder inverted-vee piston engines; Performance: 227mph / 365kph at sea level (maximum speed), 21,980ft / 6,700m (service ceiling), 1,212 miles / 1,950km (maximum range); Weight: 19,136lbs / 8,680kg (empty), 30,865lbs / 14,000kg (maximum take-off); Dimensions: 74ft 1.75in / 22.6m (wing span), 53ft 9.5in / 16.4m (length), 13ft 1.75in / 4m (height), 931.11sq.ft / 86.5m.sq (wing area); Armament: 1 x 20mm MGFF cannon, 1 x 13mm (0.51in) MG131 machinegun and 3 x 7.92mm (0.31in) MG81Z machineguns plus an internal bombload of 2,205lbs (1,000kg); Used: Germany, China, Hungary, Romania, Spain, Turkey.


Gunston, Bill. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Combat Aircraft of World War II, Salamander, London, 1978.
Kay, A L & Smith, J R. German Aircraft of the Second World War, Putnam Aeronautical Books, London, 2002.
Mondey, David. The Hamlyn Concise Guide to Axis Aircraft of World War II, Bounty Books, London, 2006.

Photos courtesy of:

Heinkel He 111, Ron Mackay (Crowood Aviation). A comprehensive look at one of the most famous German aircraft of the Second World War, taking us through its pre-war development, its time as the Luftwaffe's most important bomber early in the war, to its long decline and the eventual collapse of the German bomber force.[see more]
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How to cite this article: Antill, P. (9 August 2007), Heinkel He 111 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_he111_peter.html

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