Focke-Wulf FW-200 Condor
The German Focke-Wulf FW 200 Condor, was an all-metal four-engine monoplane developed by Focke-Wulf as a long-range airliner. A Japanese request for a long-range maritime patrol aircraft led to an upgraded design that would see service with the Luftwaffe as a long-range reconnaissance and patrol aircraft, as well as a transport aircraft for troops and VIPs.
It achieved some commercial success and was first flown in July 1937 after just under one year of development with Kurt Tank at the controls. The aircraft was a simple development of an earlier commercial airliner. It was capable of carrying 25 passengers up to 1,860 mi or 3,000 km.
To adapt it for wartime service, hardpoints were added to the wings for bombs, the fuselage was strengthened and extended to create more space, and front, aft and dorsal gun positions were added, in addition to an extended-length version of the Bola ventral gondola typical of World War II German bomber aircraft; for the FW 200’s militarization this incorporated a bomb bay as well as heavily glazed forward and aft flexible defensive machine gun emplacements at either end. The extra weight introduced by its military fitments meant that a number of early FW 200 aircraft broke up on landing, a problem that was never entirely solved. Later models were equipped with Lorenz FUG 200 Hohentwiel low UHF-band ASV radar in the nose.
The FW 200 was the first heavier-than-air craft to fly nonstop between Berlin and New York City, making the journey on 10 August 1938 in 24 hours and 56 minutes. The return trip on 13 August 1938 took 19 hours and 47 minutes. These flights are commemorated with a plaque in Böttcherstraße, a street in Bremen.
The German Foreign Minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, used a specially outfitted Condor “Grenzmark”, on his two flights to Moscow in 1939, during which he negotiated and signed the Treaty of Non-Aggression between Germany and the Soviet Union. Original film footage of his arrival shows aircraft marking D-ACVH.
A Danish-owned FW 200 aircraft named Dania was seized by the British on English soil after Denmark was invaded by German forces in 1940. It was subsequently operated by the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) and was then pressed into service with the Royal Air Force. It was damaged beyond repair in 1941.
The Japanese Navy requested a military version of the FW 200 for search and patrol duties, so Tank designed the FW 200 V10 with military equipment. This FW 200 was held in Germany because war had broken out in Europe by that time. This aircraft became the basis for all later military models used by the Luftwaffe.
The Luftwaffe initially used the aircraft to support the Kriegsmarine, making great loops out across the North Sea and, following the fall of France, the Atlantic Ocean. The aircraft was used for maritime patrols and reconnaissance, searching for Allied convoys and warships that could be reported for targeting by U-boats. The FW 200 could also carry a 900-kilogram (2,000 lb) bomb load or naval mines to use against shipping, and it was claimed that from June 1940 to February 1941, they sank 331,122 tons (365,000 tons) of shipping despite a rather crude bombsight. The attacks were carried out at extremely low altitude in order to “bracket” the target ship with three bombs; this almost guaranteed a hit. Winston Churchill called the FW 200 the “Scourge of the Atlantic” during the Battle of the Atlantic due to its contribution to the heavy Allied shipping losses.
From mid-1941, Condor crews were instructed to stop attacking shipping and avoid all combat in order to preserve numbers. In August, the first FW 200 was shot down by a CAM ship-launched Hawker Hurricane, and the arrival of the U.S.-built Grumman Martlet, operating from the Royal Navy’s new escort carriers, posed a serious threat. On 14 August 1942, a FW 200C-3 was the first German aircraft to be destroyed by USAAF pilots, after it was attacked by a P-40C and a P-38F over Iceland.
The FW 200 was also used as a transport aircraft, notably flying supplies into Stalingrad in 1942. After late-1943, the FW 200 came to be used solely for transport. For reconnaissance, it was replaced by the Junkers Ju 290 and, as France was liberated, maritime reconnaissance became impossible. Production ended in 1944 with a total of 276 aircraft produced.
Several damaged FW 200 landed in Spain during the war. In the beginning, they were repaired and returned to their bases in France. After Operation Torch (the Allied invasion of Africa), the Spanish government interned four aircraft that arrived (although their crews were still allowed to return to Germany). Since the aircraft could not be used, they were sold by Germany to Spain. One of the three flyable aircraft was then operated in the Spanish Air Force and the others used for spares. Because of damage and lack of spares, and for political reasons, they were grounded and scrapped in around 1950.
Some Condors also crashed in Portugal. Their crews were allowed to return to Germany while the British authorities were allowed to inspect the aircraft and accompanying documentation. Some crew members died in these crashes and are buried in the civilian cemetery of Moura in Alentejo Province, Portugal. The aircraft that crashed in Spain and Portugal had been based in Bordeaux-Merignac, France since 1940. Before then, the operational base of the FW 200 squadrons had been in Denmark.
At the suggestion of his personal pilot Hans Baur, Adolf Hitler specified a modified and unarmed prototype Condor, the FW 200 V3, as his personal transport, in replacement for his Junkers JU 52. Originally configured as a 26-passenger Luft Hansa transport, it was reconfigured as a plush two-cabin airliner. Hitler’s seat in the cabin was equipped with a wooden table, seat-back armor plating, and an automatic parachute, it was never armed. In line with Hitler’s aircraft preferences, it carried the markings D-2600. It was destroyed at Berlin Tempelhof Airport in an Allied bombing raid on 18 July 1944.