Focke-Wulf Fw 189 Uhu (Eagle Owl)

Introduction and Development
Combat Record
Production
Variants
Stats (A-1)

Introduction and Development

The Focke-Wulf Fw 189 'Uhu' (Eagle Owl) was the most successful German short-range reconnaissance aircraft of the Second World War, entering service in time to take part in the invasion of the Soviet Union and remaining in use in its main role well into 1944.

The Fw 189 was designed in response to a German Air Ministry specification issued in February 1937. This called for an aircraft with a crew of three and better performance than the Hs 126, then about to enter service as the standard reconnaissance aircraft.

Arado, Blohm und Voss and Focke Wulf each produced a design in response to this specification. The Arado Ar 198 was the most conventional - a shoulder-winged single-engined aircraft with a bulged, glazed belly - but with poor performance. Blohm und Voss produced the Bv 141, an asymmetrical aircraft with the crew in a glazed pod to the right of the engine. This offered a good view and acceptable performance but was rather too radical for the German Air Ministry.

Focke-Wulf's design was not as radical as it at first looks. The Fw 189 was a standard twin-bombed two engined monoplane. Its unusual looks are due to the heavily glazed central pod which contained the crew-man crew, although it was originally designed to be used with a number of different centre sections, allowing its use as a ground attack or training aircraft.

At first the Air Ministry was rather sceptical about the Fw 189. In April 1937 Focke-Wulf received a contract to produce a single prototype, which made its maiden flight in July 1938. This unarmed prototype was followed by two further prototypes in the initial batch: the V2, which was the first armed prototype, with two machine guns in the wing roots and three 7.92mm MG 17s in the crew pod - one in front of the cabin, one in the conical rear gunner's position and one above the cabin; and the V3, which had automatic variable pitch propellers and the production versions of the Argus As 410 engines.

The success of the first three prototypes was rewarded with an order for a second series of four prototypes. V4 was the prototype for the A series, with a modified engine cowling, semi-cowled main wheels, a larger main wheels and only two machine guns. The wing root guns remained, as did the upper and rear pod guns, although the front gun was removed. The V4 was used for tests with smoke-screen equipment and with equipment for using poisoned gas and chemical weapons.

V5 was the prototype for the B series of training aircraft. V6 was the prototype for the planned series of heavily armoured ground attack aircraft and V7 was to be built as a prototype of a twin-float version of the aircraft, although it was completed as one of three B-0 trainers.

In the spring of 1940 Focke-Wulfe received an order for ten pre-production A-0s and twenty A-1s. The A-1 was armed with two fixed forward firing MG 17s and two flexibly mounted MG 15s. The first of these was carried in a circular glass turret on the roof of the cockpit, while the second was mounted in the conical rear cone of the pod, which could rotate through 360 degrees. The A-1 could also carry four 154lb/ 75kg bombs and an RB 20/30 camera as standard, with a wide range of other cameras available.

Large scale production didn't get under way until late in 1940. Until the campaign in the west in 1940 the Luftwaffe believed that the Hs 126 was capable of carrying out the short range reconnaissance role, but it soon became clear that it lacked the performance required to operate effectively. The Fw 189 was given a high production priority, new production lines were established in Prague and around Bordeaux, and the type became the main German tactical reconnaissance aircraft from 1942 until the summer of 1944.

The Fw 189 was one of a long series of aircraft that owed their success to the air superiority won by other more capable aircraft. This was brutally obvious in 1940, when the Fairey Battle and Westland Lysander suffered very heavy losses while the essentially similar Ju 87 Stuka and Fieseler Storch operated with great success. Later in the war the Germans found themselves on the opposite side of the same situation - Allied control of the skies forced the Fw 189 to operate at night, while slow Allied army liaison and observation aircraft were able to operate in the skies above France with relative impunity.

Combat Record

At the start of the war German short range reconnaissance was carried out by squadrons designated as Aufklärungsstaffeln (Heer), abbreviated to Aufkl.(H) or (H). Thirty six existed in August 1939, and were under army control. Each squadron was self-supporting and fully mobile and could move from location to location under its own steam.

The first few Fw 189s reached experimental sections of the Luftwaffe in the spring of 1940. At about the same time some aircraft reached the reconnaissance squadrons for service trials, but large-scale deliveries didn't really begun until the end of 1942.

On 22 July 1941, at the start of the invasion of the Soviet Union, the number of squadrons had risen to 54, most of which were still using the Hs 126. Production of the Fw 189 increased in pace during the year, but even at the end of 1942 the Hs 126 was still significant. In the winter of 1941-42 the squadrons were organised into short-range reconnaissance groups, each of which was meant to contain three squadrons. On the southern sector there were nine groups with sixteen squadrons, of which six were still using the Hs 126. In the middle sector things were worse, with six groups and thirteen squadrons, of which nine still had the Hs 126. Finally both squadrons operating in the north were still using the older aircraft. Of a total of 31 short-range reconnaissance squadrons, 17, or just over half, were still using the older aircraft.

When the Fw 189 did appear in strength in the East it performed well. The air-cooled inline engines were more reliable in extreme cold weather than liquid cooled engines, while the aircraft provided to be very rugged. 1942 was probably the heyday of the Fw 189, and saw it operate in comparatively large numbers against weak opposition. After that things became increasingly difficult. Ever stronger Soviet fighter defences and ever-improving Soviet fighter aircraft made the skies increasingly dangerous for the Fw 189. Reconnaissance missions either needed an increasing number of fighter escorts, or took place at night. By the summer of 1944 the Fw 189 had been forced out of the daytime skies, and the surviving aircraft were forced to operate at night, or as training and liaison aircraft. 

Production

The Fw 189 was produced at several factories across Europe. Production began at Focke-Wulf's own factory at Bremen. Thirty eight aircraft were delivered by the end of 1940, sixty-one in 1941, fifty seven in 1942 and eleven in 1943. By this point production was being concentrated around Bordeaux, while the Bremen factory was focusing on the Fw 190.

The second production line was in the Aero-Avia factory at Prague. This factory produced 151 aircraft in 1940-41, 183 in 1942 and three in 1943, for a total of 337.

The final production line was set up around Bordeaux. At first the French factories assembled aircraft from German-built sub-assemblies, but completing 87 aircraft in 1942. In 1943 the French factories were responsible for most remaining aircraft, before production of the Fw 189 was cancelled early in 1944.

Eventually 864 Fw 189s were completed, 337 at Prague, between 250 and 300 in France (sources differ, and sub-totals often don't add up), and the rest at Bremen. Production reached its peak in 1942.

Variants

Fw 189A-0

The Fw 189A-0 was the pre-production version of the aircraft, and was similar to the last prototypes.

Fw 189A-1

The Fw 189A-1 was the first major production version. It was armed with a pair of forward firing MG 17s and two flexible MG 15s, had a refined cowling and a twin leg main undercarriage.

Fw 189A-2

In mid-1941 production switched to the Fw 189A-2 which had twin MG 81Z machine guns in place of the single MG 15s in the two flexible mountings.

Fw 189A-3

The A-3 was a dual-control pilot trainer built in small numbers alongside the A-2.

Fw 189A-4

The Fw 189A-4 was designed for lower level reconnaissance and close support duties. The fixed forward firing machine guns were replaced with MG FF 20mm cannons in the wing roots and light armour was added below the engines, fuselage and fuel tanks.

Fw 189B-0

The Fw 189B-0 was the designation given to three pre-production five-seat trainers based on the Fw 189 but with a modified fuselage. The glazed crew compartment was replaced with a more standard five-seat version, filled with instruments and wireless equipment. It was designed for night fighting and wireless training, and the three aircraft were completed well before the A-0 aircraft. Most were used for training, although some of the B-0 and B-1 aircraft were also used for courier duties or as VIP transports.

Fw 189B-1

The Fw 189B-1 was the production version of the B-1. All ten were completed by early 1940.

Fw 189C

The Fw 189C was a ground attack version of the aircraft, with a tiny but heavily armoured central nacelle in place of the normal glazed version. The new nacelle carried two crewmen in a back-to-back position, with the pilot at the front and a gunner at the rear. The type didn't enter production, and only two prototypes were built. The first was produced by modified the original V1 prototype, which was returned to the factory late in 1938 and emerged as the V1b.

Although smaller, the new fuselage was much heavier, increasing take-off weight. In addition the small armoured glass windows gave both the pilot and the gunner unsatisfactory views. The aircraft was modified to increase the size of the pilot's windows and a new rear section was designed. This prototype was tested against the Henschel Hs 129, before being written off after a crash during landing.

Despite the problems a second prototype was built, the V6. This was armed with two forward firing 20mm MG FF cannon and four 7.9mm MG 17s machine guns and a flexibly mounted MG 81Z twin 7.9mm machine gun in the rear. The V6 was powered by two 465hp Argus As 401A-1 engines. It was tested against the Henschel Hs 129A-0, which at this point was a fairly dreadful aircraft. Although Luftwaffe pilots preferred the Focke-Wulf design, it was more expensive than the Hs 129 (which eventually matured into an excellent aircraft), and didn't enter production.

Fw 189D

The Fw 189D was a design for a twin-float training version of the aircraft. The seventh prototype (V7) was to be built with floats, but this was cancelled and it was instead completed as one of the three pre-production B-0s.

Fw 189E

The Fw 189E would have been powered by two 700hp Gnome-Rhone 14M radial engines. One prototype was produced, V14, using a standard A-1 from the SNCASO production line at Bordeaux, but this aircraft crashed near Nancy while being ferried to Germany for evaluation.

Fw 189F-1

The Fw 189F-1 saw the introduction of the slightly more powerful 580hp Argus 411MA-1 engine. Seventeen were produced at Bordeaux.

Fw 189F-2

The Fw 189F-2 used the same engine as the F-1, but also featured extra armour, more fuel capacity and an electrically operated undercarriage. None were built, and production of the Fw 189 ended with the last F-1.

Fw 189G

The Fw 189G would have been powered by two 950hp Argus As 402 engines. It was estimated that its top speed would have been 270mph, a significant improvement on the 208mph of the A-1, but the As 402 engine never entered production and so the Fw 189G was abandoned.

Stats (A-1)
Engine: Two Argus As 410A-1 air cooled inline engines
Power: 465hp each
Crew: 3
Wing span: 60ft 4.5in
Length: 39ft 5.5in
Height: 10ft 2in
Empty Weight: 6,239lb
Maximum Weight: 9,193lb
Max Speed: 217mph
Cruising Speed:
Service Ceiling: 23,950ft
Range: 416 miles
Armament: Four 7.92mm machine guns

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (17 September 2010), Focke-Wulf Fw 189 Uhu (Eagle Owl) , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_focke-wulf_Fw_189_Uhu.html

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