Type: two-seat night fighter;
Powerplant: 2 x 1,900hp Daimler-Benz DB 603G 12-cyclinder inverted-vee engines;
Performance: 416mph / 670kph (maximum speed), 391mph / 630kph (cruising speed), 40,025 ft / 12,200m (service ceiling), 1,243 miles / 2,000 km (maximum range),
Weight: 24,692lbs / 11,200kg (empty), 33,730lbs / 15,300kg (maximum take-off);
Dimensions: 60ft 8.25in / 18.5m (wing span), 50ft 11.75in / 15.54m (length), 13ft 5.5in / 4.10m (height), 479.01sq.ft / 44.5m.sq (wing area);
Armament: 4 x 30mm MK108 cannon, 2 x 20mm MG151/20 cannon & 2 x 30mm MK103 cannon;
The Heinkel He219 Uhu (Owl) was potentially one of the Luftwaffe's best and most effective night-fighters but suffered from the misjudgements of senior members of the government and the Luftwaffe (most notably Generalfeldmarschall Erhard Milch, Inspector General of the Luftwaffe, who took over from Ernst Udet when the latter committed suicide in November 1941) as did many other programmes, such as the Me262. Despite the aircraft being fast, manoeuvrable and having devastating firepower, proving itself the equal of Allied fighter-bombers such as the de Havilland Mosquito, Milch succeeded in having the programme abandoned in favour of the Junkers Ju388J and the Focke-Wulf Ta154. However, a number of aircraft were produced even after the secession of formal interest and production totalled around 288 aircraft, including prototypes. The Reichsluftfahrtministerium (RLM) had been lukewarm about the project from the very beginning. It stemmed from a private venture by Ernst Heinkel AG, designated the P.1060 fighter-bomber and was proposed as a multi-purpose aircraft. The programme languished however until 1941, when night raids by the RAF were becoming such a problem that the RLM asked for it to be redesigned as a night-fighter. The all-metal shoulder-wing cantilever monoplane with a tailplane having considerable dihedral and ending in twin rudders and fins incorporated a number of novel features. The pilot and navigator who were seated back-to-back enjoyed excellent visibility from a cockpit that was placed at the very front end of the fuselage at the nose, well forward of the guns so that their flashes did not affect their eyesight. The crew were also equipped with ejector seats, the He219 being the world's first operational aircraft to carry such equipment and it was also the first aircraft that had tricycle landing gear (with a steerable nosewheel) to achieve operational status with the Luftwaffe.
The first prototype was flown on 15 November 1942, powered by two 1,750hp Daimler-Benz DB 603A engines, with armament trials following at Peenemünde in December. The aircraft was originally armed with two 20mm MG151 cannons in a ventral tray and a moveable 13mm (0.51in) MG131 machinegun in the rear cockpit. In February 1943, the aircraft was fitted with four 30mm MK108 cannon in place of the MG151s, but this showed a tendency to part company with the fuselage when all four were fired. The second prototype meanwhile, flown in December 1942, carried four MG151 cannon in a ventral tray and two similar weapons, one in each wing root. On 8 January 1943, the He219 V2 was flown in competition with the Ju188 but the test proved somewhat inconclusive so they were followed on 25 March 1943 by more extensive trials. The aircraft, flown by Major Werner Strieb, competed against a Junkers Ju188S flown by Oberst Viktor von Lossberg and a Dornier 217, which retired early. The He219 V2 acquitted itself well in the trials, so much so that the 'off the drawing board' order for 100 was increased to 300. Additional prototypes were constructed to run in the development programme, including a fourth which was equipped with the FuG220 Lichtenstein SN-2 radar, while production got underway at Rostock, Vienna-Schwechat as well as Mielec and Buczin (both of which were in Poland). From April 1943, a small number of He219A-0 preproduction aircraft were flying with 1 / NJG1 at Venlo in Holland and on the night of 11/12 June 1943, Major Streib shot down five Avro Lancasters in a single sortie. The first six operation sorties resulted in claims of some twenty British aircraft being downed, including six Mosquitoes. In December 1943, Milch suggested that the entire He219 programme be discontinued in favour of the Ju88G. Milch's main objection was that the He219 would be disrupting production lines at a critical time and that the performance of the Junkers was sufficient to take on bombers such as the Lancaster and Halifax. The major flaw in this argument was that the British had begun to use Mosquitoes to escort their night bombers and the Junkers was incapable of combating this superb British fighter-bomber. He initially put forward three proposals that firstly, that Heinkel should abandon the He219 altogether in favour of the Junkers Ju88G and Dornier Do335; secondly that He219 production was reduced in favour of the Ju88G; and thirdly production of the He219 should go ahead as planned. Despite the third option being followed for a time, Milch eventually got his way and the programme was cancelled in May 1944, despite the aircraft being universally popular with air and ground crews alike. A number of variants were produced however and deliveries were made to several units, principally 1 / NJG1 and NJGr10. The He219A-1 reconnaissance bomber was abandoned early in the development stages, so the first variant to roll off the production line was the He219A-2/R1 night-fighter, equipped with two MK108 cannons in the ventral tray and two MG151/20 cannon in the wing roots, while a Schräge Musik installation with two MK108 cannon installed behind the cockpit firing obliquely up and forwards was fitted retrospectively.
The first major production version however, was the He219A-5 series, with the A-5/R1 being similar to the A-2/R1 except for the fitting of an eighty-six Imp gal (390-litre) fuel tank at the rear of each nacelle adding some 400 miles (645km) to the range. A variety of other sub-variants were produced however, including the He219A-5/R2 with 1,800hp DB 603Aa engines and the He219A-5/R4 that had a third crew member and a stepped cockpit with a 13mm (0.51in) MG131 machinegun in a trainable mount. The need to find a counter to the RAF's Mosquito's led to the development of the He219A-6 series, which was introduced in early 1944. This was basically a stripped down version of the He219A-2/R1 equipped with 1,750hp DB 603L engines and armed with four 20mm MG151/20 cannons, a similar aircraft but one that was armed with only two MG151/20 cannon was built under the designation He219B-2. The final production version consisted of the A-7 series, which introduced larger supercharger intakes for the DB 603G engines but were otherwise similar to the A-5 series and all carried the then-standard Schräge Musik installation. The A-7/R1 had, in addition, two MK108 cannon in the wing roots, along with two MG151/20 and Mk103 cannon in the ventral tray, while the A-7/R2 had two MK108 cannon instead of the MK103s in the ventral tray and the A-7/R3 had MG151/20 cannon in the wing roots rather than MK108s. The A-7/R4 carried tail warning radar but only four MG151/20 cannon. The six He219A-7/R5 aircraft were powered by 1,900hp Junkers Jumo 213E engines but were otherwise identical to the He219A-7/R3. A single He219A-7/R6 was produced, equipped with 2,500hp Junkers Jumo 222A/B engines, as was a single three-crew He219B-1 which was to use the same powerplant but instead used DB 603Aa engines. Finally, a He319 version was proposed as a night fighter being basically the same as the He219 but with a single fin and rudder. The design was abandoned in November 1942 in favour of the He419. The He419A-0 was basically the He219A-5 fitted with a new, enlarged wing and DB 603G engines. This aircraft was followed by six He419B-1/R1 aircraft, which had exhaust-driven turbochargers and an increased wing area of some 635sq.ft (59m.sq). The standard armament was four MK108 and two MG151/20 cannons while the B-1/R2 was projected as having four MG212 weapons and the B-1/R3 having four MK103 cannons.
Gunston, Bill. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Combat Aircraft of World War II, Salamander Books, 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.
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