German Torpedo Bombers

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German Torpedo Bombers

Proposed Focke Wulf Fw-190A-5/U-14 with torpedo LFT5b (800kg) Luftwaffe 1943.

A German Junkers Ju-88A-17 bomber

Heinkel He 111H-6

Heinkel He 111

Early variants of the He 111, Germany’s most prolific medium-bomber design, had a conventional stepped cockpit with a pair of windscreens for pilot and co-pilot. They first saw action during the Spanish Civil War. The low-level performance of the He 111J attracted the attention of the Kriegsmarine, who saw its potential as a multipurpose bomber capable of carrying, mines, torpedoes or bombs. When it entered service with Küstenfliegergruppe 806, however, its performance proved disappointing. Not until the He 111P did Heinkel adopt the extensively glazed nose section that has come to define this famous aircraft. The most widely produced model was the He 111H-1 through to H-10, and though the Battle of Britain revealed the type’s weakness in defensive armament, the aircraft was reliable and tough, and could withstand considerable punishment before being shot down.

General characteristics (He 111H-6)

Crew: Five (pilot, navigator/bombardier/nose gunner, ventral gunner, dorsal gunner/wireless operator, side gunner)

Length: 16.4m

Wingspan: 22.60m

Height: 4.00m

Powerplant: Two Jumo 211F-1 or 211F-2 liquid-cooled inverted V-12m engines


Maximum speed: 440km/h

Range: 2,300km (1,242nm) with maximum fuel

Service ceiling: 6,500m


Maximum, seven 7.92mm MG 15 or MG 81 machine guns (two in the nose, one in the dorsal position, two in the sides, and two in the ventral position

One 13mm MG 131 machine gun (mounted in dorsal and/or ventral rear positions)

Bomb load: 2,000kg within main internal bomb bay. Up to 3,600kg carried externally (which blocked use of the internal bomb bay). Torpedoes: Two LT F5b torpedoes on external PVC racks.

Produced in parallel with the F-series, the He 111J-0 and He 111J-1 were intended as torpedo-bombers and powered by 950-hp (708-kW) DB 600CG engines, but the He 111J-1 production aircraft, of which about 8 were built, were equipped as bombers.

He 111J/J-0/J-1

A torpedo bomber version of the He 111F series, the He 111J-0 and He 111J-1 both had 950 hp (708 kW) DB 600CG engines.

He 111 J-0: Pre-production torpedo bomber similar to F-4, but with DB600CG engines.

He 111 J-1: Production torpedo bomber, 90 built, but re-configured as a bomber.

He 111 H-4: Fitted with Jumo 211D engines, late in production changed to Jumo 211F engines, and two external bomb racks. Two PVC 1006L racks for carrying torpedoes could be added.”.

He 111 H-5: Similar to H-4, all bombs carried externally, internal bomb bay replaced by fuel tank. The variant was to be a longer range torpedo bomber.

He 111 H-6: Torpedo bomber, could carry two LT F5b torpedoes externally, powered by Jumo 211F-1 engines, had six MG 15s and one MG FF cannon in forward gondola.

Heinkel He 59

A large twin-engine biplane, the He 59 was constructed under the cover of being a maritime rescue aircraft, but in fact was a versatile reconnaissance bomber capable of operating from both land and water. The aircraft had long endurance, an ample bomb load, strong armament and dependable seaworthiness. The second of the two initial prototypes, the He 59b, which flew in September 1931, was the only prototype fitted with a wheel undercarriage. The first, the He 59a floatplane, made its maiden flight in January 1932. Subsequent versions were all fitted with floats, beginning with the He 59B-1, of which sixteen were built, one being taken to Lipetsk in Russia for testing in January 1932. The subsequently improved He 59B-2 was the first version to go into major production. The first sixteen were built by Walter Bachmann’s aircraft production firm based in Ribnitz, which specialised in seaplanes. A glazed nose originally provided for the bombardier was replaced by an all-metal nose with a smaller glazed bomb-aimer’s position.

General characteristics

Crew: Four

Length: 17.40m

Wingspan: 23.70m

Height: 7.10m

Empty weight: 6,215kg

Powerplant: Two BMW VI 6.0 ZU watercooled V-12 engines


Maximum speed: 221km/h at sea level

Cruising speed: 185km/h

Range: 942km (509nm); maximum 1,750km (945nm)

Service ceiling: 3,500m


Three 7.92mm MG 15 machine guns in nose, dorsal and ventral positions

Bomb load: Two 500kg or four 250kg or twenty 50kg bombs, or one 800kg torpedo

Heinkel He 115

Despite the first prototype failing to impress in 1937, Ernst Udet informing Ernst Heinkel that the aircraft would never fly with the Luftwaffe, improvements resulted in a genuine multipurpose torpedo bomber, minelayer and reconnaissance aircraft. During continued test flights in 1938 the He 115 actually set eight world speed records in its class. However, before long the type became increasingly vulnerable to enemy fighters, and was discontinued. Production of the He 115D and E officially halted on 18 January 1940, though small numbers were still built until 1944 with periodic reopening of the production line.

General characteristics

Crew: Three

Length: 17.30m

Wingspan: 22.28m

Height: 6.60m

Empty weight: 6,690kg

Powerplant: Two 865hp BMW 132K 9-cylinder radial engines


Maximum speed: 327km/h

Combat radius: 2,100km (1,134nm)

Service ceiling: 5,200m


One moveable 7.92mm MG 17 and single moveable 7.92mm MG 15 machine guns in nose and dorsal positions.

Bomb load: Five 250kg bombs, or two such bombs and one 800kg torpedo within enclosed bomb bay. Up to 920kg of mines

Junkers Ju 88

Despite developmental problems, this twin-engine multipurpose Schnellbomber became one of the Luftwaffe’s finest and most versatile aircraft. Originally it was believed that the Ju 88’s speed would make it immune to enemy fighter interception, and although this was shown to be wrong, it was still a highly-regarded machine. The Ju 88 was produced in several versions, including bomber/dive-bomber, torpedo bomber and heavy/night fighter. The basic airframe remained the same throughout the production of over 16,000 Ju 88s of the various types used in every major German combat theatre.

General characteristics (Ju 88A-4)

Crew: 4 (pilot, bombardier/front gunner, radio operator/rear gunner, navigator/ventral gunner)

Length: 14.36m

Wingspan: 20.08m

Height: 5.07m

Powerplant: Two Junkers Jumo 211J liquid-cooled inverted V-12 engines


Maximum speed: 510km/h at 5,300m without external bomb racks Range: 2,430km (1,312nm) with maximum internal fuel

Service ceiling: 9,000m at average weight, without bombs


One 7.92mm MG 81J machine gun on moveable mounting in front windscreen, firing forwards, with 1,000 rounds. One 7.92mm MG 81J machine gun on moveable mounting in lower fuselage nose glazing, firing forwards, with 1,000 rounds. Two 7.92mm MG 81J machine guns on moveable mount in the rear of the cockpit canopy, firing aft, with 1,000 rounds each. One 7.92mm MG 81Z twin machine gun on moveable mount in the rear ventral Bola position, firing aft, with 1,000 rounds.

Bomb load: Up to 1,400kg of ordnance internally in two bomb bays rated at 900kg and 500kg, or up to 3,000kg externally.

Ju 88A-4/Torp. variant capable of carrying two LT F5 torpedoes on external PVC racks.

The Ju 88A-17 was the Ju 88A-4 adapted to carry two 1,686lb (765-kg) torpedoes.

Appearing in the wake of the superlative Ju 88, the Ju 188 proved itself an even better aircraft. It excelled as a bomber, torpedo plane, and reconnaissance platform but came too late and in too few numbers to have an impact.

The Ju 188E was the first production variant and was employed as a radar-equipped torpedo-bomber. It functioned well and was possibly the best of its type during the war.

The Ju 188 E-2 was built as a torpedo-bomber, but was identical to the Ju 188 A-3.

A modified version mounting a small FuG 200 Hohentwiel sea-search radar set under the nose and shackles for a torpedo for naval strike missions was delivered as the Ju 188 E-2, and with the Jumo as the Ju 188 A-3. The only other difference was the removal of the outer pair of wing bomb shackles.


The Germans used the F5b aerial torpedo, derived from a Norwegian design, and the F5w, of Italian design. They had some Japanese aerial torpedoes, but my source (Campbell) says they were not used due to frequent maintenance requirements.

The Germans simply bought nearly all their aerial torpedoes from one “trusted” manufacturer named “Silurificio di Fiume” (now Rijeka, Croatia) which was THE torpedo factory of the Austro-Hungarian empire but during WW2 was under Italian control. Since demand overcame offer, sometimes Luftwaffe and Regia Aeronautica had bitter confrontations for the produced lots that had to be settled by diplomatic efforts and reciprocal concessions.

In 1941 exhaustive trials were undertaken with all existing types of German bombers at the Grossenbrode bombing school in order to determine which was most suitable for adaptation for the torpedo-bombing role, and these and subsequent tests at Grosseto, on the west coast of Italy, revealed the most suitable aircraft to be the Heinkel He 111H. At that time the He 111H-6, powered by Jumo 211F-1 engines, was replacing the He 111H-3 as the “standard” production version from late 1941. Accordingly, the He 111H-6 included among its various possible external offensive loads a pair of 1,686-lb. LT F5b torpedoes slung side-by-side beneath the fuselage mounted on PVC racks. Numerous experiments were also carried out with various air-launched guided weapons – one of these being the L 10 ‘Friedensengel’ (Angel of Peace) device – which were auxiliary lifting and stabilising surfaces designed to give standard (F5 air-launched) torpedoes gliding properties, but the He 111H-6 role was confined to the test programme conducted with this device only. As far as I am aware it never saw action…

The Heinkel He 115C-4 floatplane was a torpedo-bomber carrying one torpedo, in which defensive armament was reduced to one rear-firing MG 15 machine gun, thirty examples of this type (C-4) being built.

Junkers Ju 88A-4/Torp & Ju 88A-17 – A number of the Ju 88A-4 type were adapted in 1942 for the torpedo-bombing role under the designation Ju 88A-4/Torp, and a small series of aircraft manufactured from the outset for this role were designated Ju 88A-17 and operated by Kampfgruppe 28 on shipping strikes. One PVC rack beneath each wing root supplanted the four ETC bomb-racks inboard of the engine nacelles, and two 1,686-lb. LT F5b torpedoes were carried, and a long-bulged housing fitted on the starboard side of the nose containing the equipment for adjusting the steering mechanism of the torpedoes in the air. The crew compliment was reduced to three members (four being the norm), and the offset ventral gondola was deleted from some aircraft of this type (later Ju 88A-17s).

Probably one of the most well-known actions where German torpedo-bombers were used were the attacks on convoy PQ-17 Not until the middle of June would sufficient Royal Navy escort forces be assembled to allow the transit of PQ17, and this time they faced the renewed threat of the Tirpitz, as the Kriegsmarine had committed to employ heavy surface units against the next inbound convoy. By that stage the Luftwaffe within northern latitudes had also been strongly reinforced, and now mustered one hundred and three Ju 88 bombers, forty-two He 111 torpedo bombers, fifteen He 115 torpedo bombers and thirty Ju 87 dive-bombers, as well as eight Fw 200, twenty-two Ju 88 and forty-four BV 138 reconnaissance aircraft.

The lull had also been exploited by the Luftwaffe in refining already established tactics. Although, in the main, torpedo drops had failed against PQ16, the opportunity had demonstrated once more that skilfully interwoven torpedo and dive-bombing strikes could confuse enemy gunners and disperse their available firepower. Furthermore, the poor showing by torpedo bombers brought further formation-flying training as they employed Harlinghausen’s proven technique known as the ‘Golden Comb’. Using this method, torpedo bombers would approach out of the twilight sky in great numbers, spread line abreast, against ships silhouetted against a lighter horizon. All bombers would launch simultaneously, vastly improving their chances of hits.

The complete blueprints of Japanese aerial torpedoes (Type 91) were delivered by I-30 (aka the “Cherry Blossom boat”, under Lt.Cdr. Shinobu Endô) in August 1942. The Kriegsmarine tested Type 91s at Gdynia/Gotenhafen naval station as LT 850. Curiously enough, some 30 of them were found by the Polish and used until 1954 under the designation 450 LK.

The next Japanese sub I-8 (aka the “U-Flieder”, under Cdr. Shinji Uchino) also delivered two Type 95 Mod. 1 oxygen submarine torpedoes and a Type 95 torpedo tube. During the tests conducted by U.S. Naval Technical Mission to Japan, the latter type developed up to 53 knots.

Forschungsmitarbeiter Mitch Williamson is a technical writer with an interest in military and naval affairs. He has published articles in Cross & Cockade International and Wartime magazines. He was research associate for the Bio-history Cross in the Sky, a book about Charles ‘Moth’ Eaton’s career, in collaboration with the flier’s son, Dr Charles S. Eaton. He also assisted in picture research for John Burton’s Fortnight of Infamy. Mitch is now publishing on the WWW various specialist websites combined with custom website design work. He enjoys working and supporting his local C3 Church. “Curate and Compile“
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