The FW-200 Condor, A Complete History
The Focke-Wulf FW-200 first achieved fame as one of the world’s first modern, four-engine airliners, although its early career with Lufthansa and Danish Air Lines was relatively brief. Two were exported to Brazil, where they lasted longer than any others, finally being scrapped in 1950. Its airline career was cut short by the outbreak of war, when most FW-200’s were impressed into the Luftwaffe, and most subsequent production aircraft were intended for long range maritime reconnaissance and bombing missions rather than their original transport role.
The story of the Focke-Wulf FW-200 is intermeshed with the conflict between the Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe, essentially a political power struggle between the Navy General Staff and Hermann Goring, who was determined that his Luftwaffe control everything that flew, regardless of mission. Therefore, in the late thirties, repeated conferences between Navy and Luftwaffe leaders concerning the development of the Navy’s air power usually ended in stalemate, with the Navy losing ground and the Luftwaffe achieving eventual complete control over all air operations. Navy requests for specialized aircraft went unfulfilled, and the Navy’s air units were eventually absorbed into the Luftwaffe, with former naval officers showing their rebellious spirit by wearing navy-style white topped hats instead of standard Luftwaffe issue.
In 1937, the Japanese became interested in the FW-200, not as an airliner but as a long range bomber, and this idea was developed by the Germans, which evolved into the FW-200C, the first model with armament and ordnance carrying capacity. Some early FW-200C’s were equipped with cameras, and the type could also be used as a transport, as some were during the course of the war. The plane’s
airliner heritage brought some problems, not the least of which was structural weakness in the main wing spars and rear fuselage, and a number of aircraft broke up in flight due to overstressing during violent maneuvers or battle damage.
The major role of the FW-200 became long range reconnaissance and attack against enemy convoys in the North Atlantic. At first, KG40, the only unit to operate the FW-200 in this role, achieved spectacular success, especially when they cooperated with U-Boat “wolf packs”. As the Allies developed countermeasures, including stronger escorts with heavier anti-aircraft defenses, and later the catapult launched Hurricane and Fulmar fighters, losses began to mount. The appearance of the escort carrier, with American built Grumman Martlet fighters, caused extensive losses among KG40’s crews, and these losses could not be made good with the limited production of the FW-200. An attempt to replace the FW-200 with the ill-fated Heinkel HE-177 was not really successful, and by 1944, FW-200 operations in the anti-shipping role were abandoned, with remaining aircraft reverting to their original transport role. Although some transport units used FW-200’s throughout the war, there were never enough, and only a few survived to the end. However, some of the high Nazi officials used FW-200’s from time to time, including Hitler, Speer, and Himmler. A few were tested by various Allies after the war, but none survived. A recently discovered FW-200 which ditched in a Norwegian Fjord during the war is currently being restored in Germany, but this will be a long drawn out process, as the airplane had been submerged in saltwater for many years, and they don’t have a lot to work with.
This is a 300 page hardcover book that has been needed by historians, enthusiasts, and modelers for many years. It is the first comprehensive study this reviewer is aware of describing the career of this historically significant airplane, and the author investigated a large number of sources in his research in order to make the story comprehensible. Beginning with the technical development of the aircraft in the thirties, the author outlines the airline career and the subsequent adaption of the type for military purposes. Every variant is discussed; then, a month by month history of the type’s operational career is presented, along with more detail descriptions of specific events and campaigns.
This is a very detailed and extremely well-written history. The appendices give a wealth of information, including specifications, losses, and even medals awarded to FW-200 aircrew. Quite a few drawings from official manuals and photos show interior details, and there are four pages of color photos and eight pages of excellent color profiles views showing most of the markings carried by these aircraft. This is in addition to over 200 black and white photos. In short, there is something for everyone here: modeler, historian, and enthusiast. Since there are at least two kits available of the FW-200 in 1/72 scale, and 1/48 scale, this book is an essential reference if you plan to build them. Don’t miss out on this one. It is certainly worth the price. Highly recommended.
Thanks to Marie Ray of Specialty Press and John Noack, IPMS-USA, for the review copy.