AA33715 Heinkel He.III H-6, 1H+BB, 1./KG26, Bardufoss Airfield, Norway
1/72 SCALE LIMITED EDITION
Heinkel He.III H-6, 1H+BB, 1./KG26, Bardufoss Airfield, Norway, 5th July 1942 – Attack on Arctic convoy PQ 17
Arguably the most effective version of the famous Heinkel He III series of bombers and certainly the one that was built in most numbers, the He III ‘H’ attempted to address some of the shortcomings of the earlier models and upgrade the performance of this widely used Luftwaffe aircraft. Although the Heinkel He III could no longer claim to be an adequate attack bomber on the Western Front following defeat in the Battle of Britain, it did go on to serve with distinction in a variety of different roles and in every theatre of Luftwaffe operation. Successive upgrades enabled the aircraft to deliver a more effective weapons payload, whilst also providing the crew with much better defensive armament. The internal weapons bay was no longer used to carry bombs, but was converted to house an additional fuel tank, which allowed for much longer patrols and was particularly useful for maritime operations. This development also allowed these later Heinkels to carry larger and more effective weapons from their external hard points.
Perhaps the most interesting missions carried out by ‘H’ model Heinkel He IIIs were those of the torpedo carrying maritime attack bombers, which flew at wave-top height, before delivering their payload of two air launched LT F5b torpedoes. Operating from the airfield at Bardufoss in northern Norway, the anti-shipping Heinkels of KG26 were involved in the infamous attack against Arctic convoy PQ17, which proved to be one of the most disastrous episodes in the history of the Royal Navy. Leaving Iceland, bound for Arkhangelsk in Russia, the convoy consisted of 35 merchant vessels and a large protecting force of naval ships. Quickly detected by the Germans, the first attack came from 25 Heinkel torpedo bombers of KG26 – warned of their approach, the escort vessels put up a murderous wall of defensive fire, which claimed four of the Luftwaffe bombers destroyed. Determined in their attack, the torpedoes did their damage and a number of ships were sunk and the defensive shield of the convoy disrupted. Worried by the ferocity attack and intelligence reports suggesting that the mighty German battleship Tirpitz was steaming towards the battle, naval commanders ordered the escorts to withdraw and the convoy to scatter. Over the course of the next few days, Convoy PQ17 came under repeated attack from U-boats and Ju88 bombers, which claimed 23 of the defenseless ships. July 2017 will mark the 75th Anniversary of this naval disaster.