10 Cool World War II Aircraft That No Longer Exist
Aircraft first appeared in warfare during ancient times. Historians generally give the Chinese credit for first using the air for military purposes, and there are records of Han dynasty military strategists using hot air balloons (“Kongming lanterns”) for reconnaissance as early as the second century AD.
In the late 18th century, French generals began using balloons to scout enemy lines on the battlefields of Europe, and during the American Civil War balloons were used by both the Blue and the Gray.
But it wasn’t until World War I that aircraft became a serious option for strategists to use in their quests to crush the other side (the Italians were the first to use airplanes to attack enemies, during Italy’s 1911 war with the Ottoman Empire over Libya). Throughout the course of World War I, planes were utilized for reconnaissance, bombing, and, most popularly, dogfighting. Pilots who shot down more than five enemy aircraft became known as “aces,” and men like Manfred von Richthofen (Germany’s “Red Baron”), the U.K.’s Mick Mannock and James McCudden, France’s René Fonck, and America’s Fast Eddie Rickenbacker gained celebrity status by fighting other pilots on the Western Front.
Meanwhile, on the Italian front, Godwin von Brumowski’s skull-decorated Albatross D.III salvaged the honor of Austria-Hungary while Italian ace Count Francesco Baracca’s custom paint job inspired the logo of Ferrari.
The nature of aerial warfare changed drastically by the time World War II rolled around. The German military had built up the Luftwaffe during the interwar years and it was instrumental in Germany’s wartime plans on all fronts. The British, Soviets, Americans, and Japanese had also developed significant air forces in apprehension of the future of warfare.
Gone forever were the days of dogfights over the front for the amusement of the ground troops and the journalists covering the war effort. So massive were the efforts of industrialized states to build up their air forces that different types of aircraft were built specifically for certain purposes. There were fighters, bombers (and fighter-bombers), recon planes, transportation aircraft, training planes, and rocket jets.
The following list is composed of World War II fighter and fighter-bomber planes that are no longer in service. You’ll just have to stay tuned here at RealClearHistory to see what kinds of other great aircraft were employed by humans during the carnage of World War II. Behold:
1. Messerschmitt Bf 109. This was the mother of all mothers for the Luftwaffe. First employed in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War, the Me 109 (as it was known) was fast, furious, and feared throughout all fronts in Europe. Most of the Me 109’s success came on the Eastern Front against Soviet enemies, who were outclassed and outgunned by the Luftwaffe. A Swedish military historian, Christer Bergström, estimates that nearly 10,000 Soviet aircrafts were lost to aerial fighting during Operation Barbarossa, and credit for this has to go to Germany’s favored early fighter of the war. The Me 109 was phased out to some extent on the Western Front, especially once the Americans entered the war, but the Luftwaffe’s mothership successfully served the Fatherland until the end of the war in 1945.
2. The Hawker Hurricane. This bad boy was the United Kingdom’s favored son. The Hawker Hurricane was the famous fighter that stepped up to defend Britain from the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain (its pilots even engaged in dogfights with the much-vaunted Me 109), where it got the job done and kept the Germans out of Britain. The Hawker Hurricane saw battle in Europe, Africa, Russia, and the Indo-Pacific, and was used as the foundation for many different versions and adaptations of British aerial fighters throughout World War II.
3. Macchi C.205 Veltro. This was Italy’s finest fighter, and it was lauded by pilots and engineers alike for its excellence. Due to Italy’s relatively weak industrial base, the MC.205 never gained the notoriety it properly deserved. In the Mediterranean Theatre, the MC.205 went toe-to-toe with the American Mustang and more than held its own, which prompted officials in Germany - which was quickly finding out just how advanced American aerial weaponry was - to purchase some MC.205s in order to counter American prowess. Italy’s war effort was doomed, probably from the start, but that’s no reason to ignore what is perhaps the most bad-ass fighter plane of war.
4. Nakajima Ki-43 Hayabusa. The Oscar was the Japanese Imperial Army’s answer to the Imperial Navy’s Zero plane. It was so similar in design to the Zero that it was often confused with its Mitsubishi-made cousin. The Oscar was the most nimble fighter of the war, and contributed to more Allied kills than any other Japanese aircraft. Unfortunately, though it was hard to shoot, the Oscar fell apart easily once hit because it was built with no armor. However, it continued to be used (by China) as late as 1952, which shows just how reliable this machine truly was.
5. FFVS J 22. What do you do if you’re sandwiched between two bloodthirsty tyrants (Hitler and Stalin) and you don’t want any part in the war they’re fighting against each other? The answer the Swedes came up with was to develop a lean, mean, fighting machine that, while probably not capable of repelling a sustained, relentless, and conscious invasion, would nevertheless inflict enough damage to make any potential enemies think twice before doing so. The FFVS J 22 just oozes Swedish. It was fast, lauded, and somewhat mysterious. It’s possible that it’s reputation alone kept the Swedes out of World War II.
6. Yakovlev Yak-3. This was the Soviet Union’s best fighter and, although I loathe giving credit to communist regimes, it can only be described as the People’s Fighter for its popularity with both veteran pilots and novices alike. The Yak-3 was designed (in 1941) to overcome some of the earlier engineering problems that the Yak models faced (the Luftwaffe made mincemeat out of the Soviet air force for much of World War II). However, due to the German invasion, production of the Yak-3 had to be put on hold for a few years, and finally began rolling out in 1944, just before the war came to an end. During its short stint, however, the Yak-3 earned many admirers and began to be feared by the German pilots flying suddenly-outdated Me 109s.
7. Focke-Wulf Fw 190 Würger. The German Shrike, as it was called in English, rolled out in 1941 and immediately began to make an impact in the skies. It was employed mainly on the Western Front to counter continued advances made by U.S. and U.K. aircraft, but it also had a deadly, if small, impact on the Eastern Front as a ground attack unit that focused on slaughtering Soviet army units. The Shrike was designed to replace the We 109 but it never quite achieved this outcome, and instead the two fighter units often operated in a deadly tandem, even though the Shrike was thought by most pilots who flew both to be the superior model.
8. Republic P-47 Thunderbolt. The U.S.-madeThunderbolt, which was the inspiration for today’s A-10 Warthog, was used extensively by a number of countries, but best illustrates Brazil’s war effort in the Mediterranean Theatre. Brazil was the only country in South America to send fighting troops to Europe, and the Brazilian Expeditionary Forces had a small air-based contingent that saw plenty of action on the Italian Front. Today, Brazil has its own domestic aerospace industry (it often cooperates extensively with Latin European countries like Italy and France), but during World War II, Brazil used the Thunderbolt to help the Allied cause in eliminating fascism as a threat to the globe.
9. de Havilland DH.98 Mosquito. The Mossie was technically built to be a fast, unarmed recon plane for the RAF, but it was so useful, and so well-loved by pilots, ground crews, and engineers alike, that the Mossie was actually outfitted to be a fighter, a bomber, and a fighter-bomber as well as a recon plane. Oh, and did I mention that it was made almost entirely of wood? Crazy, huh? In Europe, Mossies bombed and fought their way through the defense of Britain, the invasion of Germany, and everything in between. The Australian Air Force implemented the Mossie in its Southeast Asia campaign, though it had considerably less success against comparatively nimble Japanese fighters. The Mossie was introduced to action in 1941 and kept on fighting until it was replaced by a jet fighter in the early 1950s.
10. CAC Boomerang. Speaking of Australia’s Air Force, a gallant effort was made on behalf of Australia’s aerospace industry to build a domestic fighter that could counter Japan’s air supremacy. Enter, the CAC Boomerang. It was slow, had numerous engineering problems, and was quickly eliminated from the skies whenever it encountered Japanese air fleets. The Aussies were forced to use older British and American models for their air force, at least until the U.S. entered the war, and the older models performed significantly better than the poor ol’ Boomerang. Hey, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, right?
I know, I know, there’s only one American model on the Top 10 list. And where is Mitsubishi’s A6M Zero? Relax guys. We already know about those planes. They were amazing, and the United States was able to win the war - on two major fronts - largely because of its aerospace ingenuity.
You’ll also notice there’s no French-built planes on this list. I am a man of cultural sophistication and honor, so I’ll refrain from telling any of those old jokes about French military prowess. On a more serious note, this list of planes shows just how incredibly radical the change in military tactics was during the interwar years. Aircraft went from being used as reconnaissance, light bombing, and entertaining dogfights to an integral, ruthless aspect of a military’s grand strategy. Those who refused to change, were crushed. Those who changed slowly, bled heavily.