Henschel Hs 129 Close-Support / Anti-Tank Aircraft
The Henschel Hs 129 fulfilled the all-important role of close-support strike aircraft for the German Luftwaffe during World War 2.
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The Henschel Hs 129 fighter-bomber was built to a 1937 German specification for a twin-engine close-support aircraft with considerable armor protection for pilot and crew and the ability to field twin 20mm cannons at least. The resulting competition left a Focke-Wulf design (the Fw 189C) and the Henschel Hs 129 design as finalists with the nod going to the Henschel firm.
The Hs 129 was by far a perfect aircraft for close-support duty. It was relatively underpowered - even with the twin Gnome-Rhone radial engines - and the cockpit small enough to cram just one person. Visibility was reported to be far from superior though something about the overall design likened the Reichsluftahrtministerium to it. Armament consisted of two nose-mounted MG FF 20mm cannons and two MG 17 7.92mm machine guns. The Hs 129V-1 prototypes gave birth to ten Hs 129B-0 developmental models which, in turn, produced the initial Hs 129B-1 production series. The Hs 129 was immediately fielded to the Eastern Front to take on the divisions of Russian armor in force.
By 1942, the Hs 129B-2 came about as a need to "up-gun" the existing Hs 129B-1 production models. The B-2 became a series that varied in armament provisions that would include the R1, which was fielded with 2 x 20mm cannons and 2 x 13mm machine guns, and the R3 which removed the machine guns in favor of a larger caliber 37mm gun along with the standard twin 20mm cannons. The B-3 model series would produce 25 or so with the larger 75mm gun system and would become the final production Hs 129 systems in service.
The Hs 129 was fielded in the East against the might of the Soviet Union by design, though later they were consequently fielded throughout North Africa and Europe (post D-Day) by necessity. By all accounts, performance results of the system proved sublime, with the Hs 129 accounting for the destruction of hundreds of Soviet tanks, particularly at the Battle of Kursk in 1943. The Hs 129 proved to be a viable asset in the close-support role, capable of engaging even the most stubborn of Allied armor with an array of cannons, machine guns and bombs.