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The Messerschmitt Bf 109 is a German World War II fighter aircraft that was the backbone of the Luftwaffe's fighter force. The Bf 109 first saw operational service in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War and was still in service at the dawn of the jet age at the end of World War II in 1945. It was one of the most advanced fighters of the era, including such features as all-metal monocoque construction, a closed canopy, and retractable landing gear. It was powered by a liquid-cooled, inverted-V12 aero engine. From the end of 1941, the Bf 109 was steadily being supplemented by the Focke-Wulf Fw 190.
It was commonly called the Me 109, most often by Allied aircrew and even among the German aces themselves, even though this was not the official German designation. The designation "Messerschmitt Bf 109" was issued by the Ministry of Aviation (German: Reichsluftfahrtministerium/RLM) and represents the firm that originally built them, the "Bavarian Aircraft Works", or Bayerische Flugzeugwerke (BFW) in German. The confusion arises because design work began in 1934 at the BFW firm and, as was customary, the model was designated by the prefix Bf. On 11 July 1938 the company was renamed Messerschmitt AG due to Willy Messerschmitt becoming its new owner, and the prefix Me was applied to all new models after that date, whilst existing types retained their Bf prefix.
It was designed by Willy Messerschmitt and Robert Lusser, who worked at Bayerische Flugzeugwerke during the early to mid-1930s.
Whilst the 109 was conceived as an interceptor, later models were developed to fulfill multiple tasks, serving as bomber escort, fighter-bomber, day-, night-, all-weather fighter, ground-attack aircraft, and as reconnaissance aircraft. It was supplied to and operated by several states during World War II, and served with several countries for many years after the war. The Bf 109 is the most produced fighter aircraft in history, with a total of 33,984 airframes produced from 1936 up to April 1945.
The Bf 109 was flown by the three top-scoring German fighter aces of World War II, who claimed 928 victories among them while flying with Jagdgeschwader 52, mainly on the Eastern Front. The highest scoring fighter ace of all time, Erich Hartmann, flew the Bf 109 and was credited with 352 aerial victories. The aircraft was also flown by Hans-Joachim Marseille, the highest-scoring German ace in the North African Campaign, who achieved 158 aerial victories. It was also flown by several other aces from Germany's allies, notably Finn Ilmari Juutilainen, the highest scoring non-German ace on the type, and pilots from Italy, Romania, Croatia, Bulgaria and Hungary. Through constant development, the Bf 109 remained competitive with the latest Allied fighter aircraft until the end of the war.