PZL P-23
PZL P37A/B
Bloch MB-210
Potez Po-633B2
Heinkel He-111
Junkers Ju-88
Junkers Ju-87D
Henschel Hs-129B
Savoia-Marchetti SM 79B ( JRS-79B )
Bristol Blenheim I

The Henschel Hs-129B ground attack aircraft

 

The Henschel Hs-129 was one of those aircraft that could have had a major impact on the course of the war, had they been built in anything like significant numbers. A true "flying tank", heavily armored and with plenty of firepower, this aircraft had the potential to become "the" tank killer of the second world war.
It was during the Spanish civil war that the Luftwaffe realised the devastating effects that a well-armed and armored aircraft could have upon the enemy's ground forces. Indeed, Heinkel's He-112 and Henschel's Hs-123 had been succesfully used in this role, although they hadn't been designed with this purpose in mind. Therefore, in the late 1930's, the Luftwaffe sent a message to four German aircraft manufacturers, requesting for a new plane to be built specifically for ground-attack role.
Luftwaffe's specifications were just as demanding as they could possibly be : the aircraft had to have very heavy armor around the cockpit and engines, including an armored windscreen at least 75 mm thick, placed as close to the nose as possible ( to give the pilot good ground visibility during low-level strafing runs ), it had to be armed with 20 mm cannons, and, last but not least, it had to be powered by a "unimportant" engine of low power, since the good ones were to be used on other projects. With such drastic requirements, it was a wonder that two companies still submitted their projects : Focke Wulf came up with a modified version of their FW-189 reconnaissance aircraft whilst Henschel presented their new Hs-129.

 

 

         
  A Romanian Henschel Hs-129B belonging to the 8th Assault Group prepares for take-off. Kherson airfield, Ukraine, November 1943  
Both planes were put to the test, and results were generally the same : they were seriously overweight, but, most important, really underpowered, because the only engine considered "unimportant" enough was the Argus 410, which could deliver a meager 465 HP.
 
Nevertheless, Henschel's design, the Henschel Hs-129A-0 was chosen for production, mainly for the reason that it was both smaller and cheaper to build. The Henschel Hs-129A was built around a large, one-piece, "bathtub" made of steel sheeting. The hall nose area of the plane consisted of this "bathtub", which surrounded the pilot completely, up to head level. Steel was also used for the canopy's construction, leaving only very small ( literally minuscule ) windows. Two blocks of armored glass were used to form the famous 75 mm thick windscreen. In order to meet the demand of giving the aircraft very heavy armor, the engineers came up with the idea of a triangular fuselage, so that any bullets hitting the plane would be deflected . Unfortunately, although this was a good solution for protecting the plane and pilot, it had the unfortunate effect of reducing cockpit space up to the point where the pilot had literally no place to move above shoulder level. Indeed, the cockpit was so cramped that some instruments and the gunsight had to be mounted outside of it. Armament was made up of two MG 151/20 mm cannons and two 7.92 mm MG 17 machine guns.
A small number of Hs-129A1's were manufactured before the fall of France, all of them with the extra feature of being capable of carrying four 50 kg bombs under the midline. However, after the conquest of France, large numbers of captured Gnome-Rhone 14M, 14 cylinder radial engines, became available, so it was decided to replace the Argus 410 engines with the superior French ones. Performance slightly improved, thanks to the 700 HP that the Gnome-Rhone 14M was capable of producing. Mainly two versions were built from here on : the B1 and the B2. The only real difference between factory versions were changes to the fuel system ; in the field, however it seems that the B1 got a 30 mm MK 101 cannon, whilst the B2 was fitted with a 30 mm MK 103 cannon ( it had a rate of fire almost two times higher than that of the MK 101 ). On both versions the new weapon was mounted in a midline pod and fired armor-piercing projectiles.

In the foreground, on the right side you can see a Romanian Henschel Hs-129B

Romania received the first Henschel Hs-129B2's in mid 1943. It is unclear weather they had or hadn't been armed with the 30 mm cannon, like the planes used by the Luftwaffe, but it is sure that a bomb rack for a 250 kg bomb was mounted under the fuselage's centerline . The 8th Asalt ( assault ) Group, which was converting from a fighter unit to a ground-attack one, was equipped with the new aircraft. On the 12th of August, 1943, the Hs-129's flew their first combat mission, when 12 Hs-129 bombed the village of Kotovka. The plane quickly demostrated that in the hands of a capable pilot it was a fearsome weapons, highly effective against soft or armored targets. Pilots flew them virtually around the clock, sometimes flying up to 16 sorties per day. Such a number of sorties was possible only thanks to the excellent work of maintenance crews, who kept working in any conditions, from dusk till dawn. The 8th Assault Group was always stationed very close to the frontline, sometimes less than ten minutes of flying time away, always ready to respond to calls for air support from hard-pressed troops. But success didn't come without a price as the group took serious losses ( no less than 10 Hs-129B's were lost between the 23rd of October and the 2nd of November 1943) , mainly due to Soviet light AA artillery. It was planned to form a second assault group ( the 11th ), but there were never enough Hs-129's available, so pilots training with the 11th group were used instead to replace losses of the 8th. The group's finest hour came in early November 1943, when they saved the 24th Romanian Infantry Division from almost certain anihilation. Flying their Hs-129B's from dusk till to dawn, the Romanian pilots smashed up every Soviet assault on the lines of their hard-pressed comrades.

A formation of Hs-129B's returns from a mission. Czehia, 1945

After the 23rd of August 1944, the 8th Assault Group was sent to the west front, but by October 1944, combat losses and maintenance problems had reduced the 8th Assault Group to a single squadron, the 41st one. The ARR decided to merge remaining Hs-129B's and Ju-87D's into a single unit, forming the 8th Assault-Dive Bombing Group. The group remained on the front until the end of the war, playing a significant part in Romania's war effort.

Technical data of the Henschel Hs-129B2

Wingspan
14.2 meters
Length
9.5 meters
Height
3.25 meters
Weight (empty)
3810 kg
Weight (loaded)
5250 kg
Maximum speed at 4000 meters
407 km/h
Maximum operational ceiling
9000 m
Range
700 km
Engine
Two Gnome-Rhone 14M rated at 700 HP
Armament
Two MG 151/20 mm cannons plus two 7.92 mm MG 17 machine guns
Payload
One 250 kg bomb plus four 50 kg bombs
Crew
1
Numbers received
40?

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