The German Luftwaffe of World War 2 fielded a trio of capable (though eventually limited) medium-class bombers in the Dornier Do 17, the Junkers Ju 88, and the Heinkel He 111. The latter became the Reich's most important bomber of the war despite being exceeded in production numbers by the competing Junkers Ju 88 line (15,138). The He 111 appeared during the tumultuous interwar years as part of the reemerging German military and enjoyed a long service life with final versions not retired until 1975 with Spain (as the CASA 2.111). Over 7,000 examples were ultimately produced in all with variants, some to suit certain battlefield roles including transport, glider towing, and torpedo delivery. A very specialized transport version - the He 111Z "Zwilling" (detailed elsewhere on this site) - mated two whole He 111 airframes together by way of a common joining inboard wing structure to produce a doubly-capable tow aircraft for the massive Messerschmitt Me 321 glider detailed elsewhere on this site.
After World War 1 (1914-1918) and the restrictions placed upon German industry - particularly its war-making capabilities - several projects were undertaken in secrecy or under the guise of civilian market operation. This proved the case with the He 111 which was developed as a fast medium bomber posing as a fast passenger airliner. The design was headed in the early 1930s by brothers Siegfried and Walter Gunter who, at that time, brought little experience to the table. The record-setting Henkel 70 was used as the starting point as this aircraft was specifically made for fast passenger and mail transportation. its design showcased a very streamlined form with elliptical wing mainplanes and 324 of the type were eventually realized with local production also seen in Hungary.
The Model 70 was revised into a twin-engine layout, the nose-mounted engine removed and the engine pair now fitted to the wing leading edges. The high-performance elliptical wings were retained though lengthened and attention was given to the fuselage with was also extended. A stepped cockpit was used and the engine of choice became the relatively underpowered BMW VI 6.oZ piston engine of 660 horsepower (each) for heftier engine breeds were being reserved for "true" military aircraft. A single vertical fin was seated at the tail along with low-set horizontal planes - all well-rounded for aerodynamic efficiency. The fuselage was very tubular and the wing mainplanes set low along its sides. The undercarriage featured two single-wheeled main landing gear legs under the mass of the aircraft with a diminutive tail wheel under the aft section (the tail wheel only partially retractable into the fuselage). First flight was recorded on February 24th, 1935 - the prototype being He 111 V1 under a civilian registration - and the resulting flight proved the design sound on the whole though maximum speed was limited to 225 miles per hour. V2 followed, also with civilian markings, but incorporated refined wings, various engine installations from BMW, and other general upgrades to reach speeds in the 255 mile per hour range.
By this time, Heinkel was in direct competition with a Junkers design (the Ju 86) and the Dornier Do 17 but all three were supported by the German Air Ministry. Performance of the Ju 86 resulted in limited interest and Junkers then moved onto bettering its classic Ju 88 product. The Do 17 was adopted to replace the Heinkel Model 70 and the He 111 was continually evolved through extensive work.
A- and B-Models
Ten trials He 111 A-0 aircraft followed as did another prototype (V3) for further evaluation. The V3 was selected as the primary serial production model and the ten pre-productions were then later sold off to China. With Daimler-Benz DB 600Aa inline engines installed, the aircraft was formally received into Luftwaffe service as the He 111 B-0 and production models bore the He 111 B-1 designation while being powered with Daimler-Benz DB600C engines. The He 111 B-2 was given DB 600GG engines (later DB 600Ga engines) but was more or less faithful to the B-1 and B-3 served as a trainer.
C-, D-, and E-Models
He 111 C-0 was used to signify six additional pre-production airframes which led to the He 111 D-0 production models with longer range capability and updated equipment. He 111 E-0 marked more pre-production aircraft built from the B-0 models though with Junkers Jumo 211 A-1 engines. Its production form became the He 111 E-1 and the E-3, the latter with Junkers Jumo 211 A-3 engines. The E-4 brought about use of external hardpoints and E-5 added more internal fuel storage for improved ranges.
The He 111 F-0 served as a pre-production mark while being based on the E-5 models of earlier. The wings were refined for a more simplified construction approach and the aircraft outfitted with Junkers Jumo 211 A-1 series engines. Its production mark became the He 111 F-1 and about two dozen were sold to Turkey in an attempt to woo the Asian power into supporting the Axis cause. The He 111 F-2 then followed in twenty production aircraft and were largely the F-1 model though with an improved communications system. The F-3 became an unrealized reconnaissance-minded derivative that utilized camera equipment instead of the regular bomb load. The F-4 were F-models converted as staff communications platforms.
G- and J-Models
G-models followed as transport-minded aircraft with the G-0 serving as pre-production aircraft based on the F-0 form. The G-3 was outfitted with BMW 132Dc radial piston engines and the G-4 with Daimler-Benz DB 600G inline piston engines. G-5 numbered five airframes for Turkey powered by DB 600Ga engines. The He 111 J-0 was the pre-production torpedo bomber form based on the F-4 model and powered by 2 x DB 600CG engines. Its production guise came in the He 111 J-1 and 90 were seen in all.
The Revised He 111 P-Model
The drastically revised He 111 form - with its all-glazed cockpit flightdeck arrived in the He 111 P-series lead by the P-0 pre-production aircraft in 1939. A new straighter wing element was implemented as were Daimler-Benz DB 601Aa series engines. Along the belly of the aircraft was added a gondola for observation purposes as well as another (improved) defensive machine gun position. The production form became He 111 P-1. P-2 included better radio kits and defensive machine guns were increased form three to five. The trainer variant was the P-3 (crew) and the P-5 (pilot) while P-4 added additional armoring and machine guns, external bomb racks, and additional fuel stores. Some of the following P-6 models used DB 601N engines until their supply became restricted for German fighter use. P-6/R2 was used as a glider tug as was the P-9.
He 111 H-0 were pre-production aircraft with Junkers Jumo 211A-1 engines which led to the standard H-1 production models with improved radio kits. The H-2 was given improved defensive machine gun armament and H-3 followed with Junkers Jumo 211 A-3 engines and five machine guns with provision for cannon support as well. H-4 took on Junkers Jumo 211D series engines and featured bomb racks under the wings as well as support for torpedo dropping. H-5 carried all of its ordnance load externally with its bomb bay now reserved for fuel - thus allowing for drastically increased operational ranges. H-6 was a dedicated torpedo bomber form with combination machine gun/cannon armament. H-7 served in the night bomber role and lost some of its defensive armament while having additional armoring. H-8 were H-3 and H-5 models with barrage balloon-cutting equipment installed. The H-8/R2 were H-8 models relegated to towing duties. H-9 was built from the H-6 model with balloon-cutting equipment installed. Other H-model forms introduced slight variations on the base design - some with more guns (H-20) and others used solely as infantry transport (H-20/R1). H-20/R3 served in the night bomber role and H-20/R4 was given extensive external bomb rack equipment. H-22 served as an air-launch platform for V-1 "Buzz Bomb" terror weapons as the war moved on. He 111R was a high altitude bomber program.
The typical He 111 form (H-6) utilized a crew of five made up of the pilot, nose gunner who doubled as the bombardier and navigator, a dorsal gunner that operated the radio as well, a waist gunner, and a ventral machine gunner. Power was served through 2 x Junkers Jumo 2111F-1 liquid-cooled inline engines of 1,300 horsepower each providing a maximum speed of 273 miles per hour, a range out to 1,430 miles, a service ceiling of 21,330 feet, and a rate-of-climb of 17,000 feet. Defensive armament was 7 x 7.92mm machine guns spread about as two machine guns in the nose section, one in the dorsal position, two machine guns at beam positions, and two machine guns in the ventral position. A 20mm MG FF cannon was fitted either in the nose as well or in a forward ventral gun mounting. Additionally, a 13mm MG 131 machine gun could be fitted in the ventral rear position or at the dorsal position. The typical bomb load maxed at 4,400lbs though up to 7,900lbs could be carried externally - at the cost of speed (increased drag) and the loss of the internal bomb bay (bomb racks restricted use of the bomb bay doors).
As with other classic pre-war German designs, the He 111 served throughout the whole war and over any front the Germans fought at. Its medium bomber role was gradually evolved out of battlefield necessity which showcased the versatility of the excellent design. Germany did not commit heavily to heavy bomber forms for it believed its medium bomber groups and fighter-bomber types were more valuable than lumbering heavies - which the Allies extensively relied on.
He 111s were debuted during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) which gave the Luftwaffe the active test ground to further its tactics and prove its new technologies. He 111B-1 aircraft served under the "Condor Legion" banner in the war. It was then used during the Polish "blitzkrieg" campaign which subdued Warsaw and began the rise of the Reich Empire by force. Additional sorties then followed during the lull in direct action, nicknamed the "Phoney War" period lasting from October 1939 to April 1940. Additional service then saw the He 111 back in action during the conquests of Denmark and Norway prior to the French campaign of May 1940.
He 111s were useful medium bombers capable of undertaking various sortie types during its service tenure but it was during the Battle of Britain during the summer of 1940 that its weaknesses were finally brought to light against a determined British fighter and Anti-Aircraft gun defense. He 111s proved too slow to outrun danger and their defensive gun network lacked all-around capabilities which forced the Germans to commit more to escort fighter groups which, in turn, lacked the fuel necessary to engage enemy interceptors for long periods of time. He 111s were, however, still effective bombers and hit British military infrastructure such as radio centers, airfields, and even the English capital (London). As a direct assault platform, however, its days were numbered and the Battle of Britain ended in a stunning German defeat.
Such limitations are what forced the evolution of the line and the story of the He 111 was not written in full by this time in the war. It continued in service as a bomber during the Balkans invasion and was in play as a torpedo bomber platform during the War in the Atlantic against Allied shipping. The aircraft line was then deployed in number across North Africa and the Middle East where it still held value and contributed to the Malta offensive under lightened enemy air defenses.
When Germany committed to the invasion of the Soviet Union in June of 1941 (Operation Barbarossa), all new problems greeted German logistics and the He 111 was pressed over an unforgiving Eastern Front for years. Low-flying ground attacks became the norm as did transport service due primarily to the He 111s inherent operational range. The He 111 was present at the classic Battle of Stalingrad and the Battle of Kursk though losses to Soviet ground-based fire and interceptors proved damaging to German He 111 numbers.
The End of the Line
From early 1943 onwards, the He 111 had seen its best fighting days behind it and Allied air superiority continued to grow while Axis-controlled territories shrank. The He 111 was quickly proving obsolescent and its performance was not getting any better against new generations of Allied aircraft and airmen. The terror campaign was a painful, yet ultimately doomed, initiative by the Germans that pressed He 111s in the rocket delivery role. By now, British response times were excellent thanks to new aircraft and an efficient radar/communications network. Despite their obsolete label, the end of German-operated He 111s came only with the end of the war in May of 1945.
Some He 111s continued into the post-war years with other powers and few survive today (2014) as preserved museum showpieces. The RAF Museum of Hendon has one in their collection as does RAF Duxford. Spanish forms were license-built by CASA as the Model 2.111 and these managed a service tenure into 1975. The Japanese Army evaluated the He 111 as the Army Type 98 but elected against adopting it into inventory.
Bulgaria; China; Czechslovakia; Nazi Germany; Hungary; Romania; Slovakia; Soviet Union; Spain; Taiwan; Turkey; United Kingdom (post-war evaluation); United States (post-war)
(OPERATORS list includes past, present, and future operators when applicable)
✓Ground Attack (Bombing, Strafing)
Ability to conduct aerial bombing of ground targets by way of (but not limited to) guns, bombs, missiles, rockets, and the like.
Equipped to search, track, and engage enemy surface elements through visual acquisition, radar support, and onboard weaponry.
✓Special-Mission: MEDical EVACuation (MEDEVAC)
Extraction of wounded combat or civilian elements by way of specialized onboard equipment and available internal volume or external carrying capability.
General transport functionality to move supplies/cargo or personnel (including wounded and VIP) over range.
Used in roles serving the commercial aviation market, ferrying both passengers and goods over range.
Used in the Very-Important-Person (VIP) passenger transport role, typically with above-average amenities and luxuries as standard.
Developed ability to be used as a dedicated trainer for student pilots (typically under the supervision of an instructor).
53.8 ft (16.40 m)
74.1 ft (22.60 m)
11.2 ft (3.40 m)
19,136 lb (8,680 kg)
30,865 lb (14,000 kg)
+11,729 lb (+5,320 kg)
(Showcased structural values pertain to the Heinkel He 111H-16 production variant)
1 x 20mm MG FF cannon in nose
1 x 13mm MG 131 machine gun in dorsal position
2 x 7.92mm MG 15 machine guns in rear of ventral gondola position.
2 x 7.92mm MG 81 machine guns in two beam positions.
Maximum bombload of up to 4,400lb held internally OR up to 7,900lb fitted externally.
(Not all ordnance types may be represented in the showcase above)
Hardpoint Mountings: 6
He 111A - Preproduction Model Designation of which 10 such models were produced.
He 111B - Initial Production Model Designation fitted with Daimler-Benz DB 600 inline engines generating 1,000hp each.
He 111B-1 - Stepped windscreen; elliptical leading edge wings; serving with the Condor Legion.
He 111C - 10-passenger production models similar to the He 111B; six such aircraft produced.
He 111E - Fitted with Junkers Jumo 211A at 1,000hp each due to shortened supplies of the DB 600 powerplant; 190 produced and developed into other subvariants.
He 111F - Amalgam of He 111G wing systems with Jumo 211A-3 engines; first production version with straight-wing leading edge; fully-glazed asymmetric nose; sans external windscreen step.
He 111G - Straight wing elements (instead of tapered approach); fitted with either BMW 132 radials or DB 600 inlines.
He 111H - Based on the He 111P; most produced model at 6,150 examples; built into many subvariants.
He-111H-6 - First version to carry torpedoes
He-111H-8 - Fitted with balloon cable fender
He-111H-11/R2 - Go 242 Glider Tug Variant
He-111H-14 - "Pathfinder" version fitted with specialized radio equipment.
He-111H-16 - Sub-variant of the He 111H; increased defensive gun armament.
He-111H-18 - "Pathfinder" version fitted with specialized radio equipment.
He 111H-20 - 16-person paratroop transport model.
He 111H-22 - Fitted with a single Fi 103 flying bomb.
He 111H-23 - Sub-variant of the He 111H; fitted with more powerful engines and improved defensive armament; improved equipment throughout; fitted with either Jumo 211 or Jumo 213 engines.
He 111J - Torpedo Bomber Variant; 90 such models produced.
He 111P - Glazed forward fuselage design; forty such aircraft produced in subvariants; introduced in 1939 despite its "P" designation in the series.
He 111P-1 - He 111P Sub-variant
He 111P-2 - He 111P Sub-variant
He 111P-3 - He 111P Sub-variant
He 111P-4 - He 111P Sub-variant
He 111P-5 - He 111P Sub-variant
He 111P-6 - He 111P Sub-variant
He 111Z "Zwilling" - Me 321 Heavy Glider Tug Variant; Designed as two He 111H-6 bomber types joined at the wing; fitted with an additional Jumo 211F engine for a total of five powerplants.
Values are derrived from a variety of categories related to the design, overall function, and historical influence of this aircraft in aviation history.
The overall rating takes into account over 60 individual factors related to this aircraft entry.
Rating is out of a possible 100 points.
Relative Maximum Speed
This entry's maximum listed speed (271mph).
Graph average of 225 miles-per-hour.
Heinkel He 111H-16 operational range when compared to distances between major cities (in KM).
Max Altitude Visualization
The three qualities reflected above are altitude, speed, and range.
Aviation Era Span
Showcasing era cross-over of this aircraft design.
Unit Production (7,300)
Compared against Ilyushin IL-2 (military) and Cessna 172 (civilian).
Ribbon graphics not necessarily indicative of actual historical campaign ribbons. Ribbons are clickable to their respective aerial campaigns / operations / aviation periods.
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Image from the German Federal Archives.
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Image from the German Federal Archives; note stepped cockpit configuration of this He 111 model.
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