Grand Messerschmitt project: Reference material

The project is progressing well, but rather than talk about the models, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts about reference material. Those who know me will say that I tend to be mildly obsessed with research to support my scale model projects. Well, it is all relative, of course, but my one steadfast rule is that I will not build a model unless I have photographs of the individual aircraft in question. Sometimes it is hard to find “enough” pictures (for whatever is your definition of the word), and sometimes you have to supplement with pictures of other aircraft in the same unit, etc.

Let me wax philosophical here for a moment… aircraft and aviation history have always fascinated me, and if you were to ask me “why do you build scale models?” my answer would be that it is to understand and preserve history. Other people will have other answers, and that’s fine. But I believe that as a means of preserving history, the model-building process has at least these objectives: to be as accurate as reasonably makes sense and to convey impressions to one’s audience (and I use this term in the same sense as the late 19th and early 20th century artists).

As for photographs, ideally, I would like to see them from all sides, revealing all details. This almost never happens, although this aspiration has led me to start preparing books that would give modelers just that. Right now, I have a book on AS.365N Dauphin helicopters nearing completion. But, I digress…

The Messerschmitt Bf 109 is a very well documented aircraft, so there really is no shortage of books (and magazine articles). Against this realization is hard to understand (or let’s say “hard to accept”) that there are kits that are less than perfect – again, given some definition of “perfect”.

In this blog post I’d like to talk a bit about the references I use. My library is by no means complete, but somehow I have managed to amass a large amount of literature on Bf 109s. I prefer traditional published sources (and my own photography), and have to confess I am not a fan of – nor do I tend to practice – collecting material off the Web (this may come as a surprise to those who know what I do in my professional life).

Let me start the discussion with a “shout-out” for the Aero Series vol.1: “Messerschmitt Me 109” by Uwe Feist and Edward Maloney (Aero Publishers, 1965). While seemingly out-dated by todays publishing standards (and admittedly less than precise on camouflage colors), this is actually a good reference, with lots of really good detail. You can still pick one up on eBay for $5. Do not underestimate the value of old books!

For the modeler who wants to build Finnish Bf 109Gs, there are some books definitely worth mentioning here. The following three are my “go-to” sources:

  • Finnish Fighter Colours 1939-1945, vol.2” by Kari Stenman and Karolina Hołda (MMP Books, 2015) is a spectacular book with lots of photographs and thoroughly researched color profiles, highly recommended (I have a Finnish translation of this book).
  • “Messerschmitt Bf 109G”, Suomen ilmavoimien historia 6, by Kalevi Keskinen et al (Tietoteos, 1976), part of a massive 28-volume (!) series documenting the (primarily wartime) history of the Finnish Air Force. The book documents the entire history of the Bf 109G in Finnish service, until the type’s retirement in 1954. Details of every aircraft in use in Finland have been included; lots of photographs and profile drawings.
  • “Les Messerschmitt Bf 109 Finlandais”, Hors-série AVIONS Nº 8, by Kari Stenman and Kalevi Keskinen (Editions Lela Presse) has lots of photographs and color profiles. Unfortunately out of print and hard to come by nowadays.

Older IPMS Finland members may still have handy issue #9 (March 1974) of “Mallari”, the organization’s journal. It has throughly researched scale plans by the late Klaus Niska; I believe he carefully measured the surviving Finnish aircraft to prepare those plans. Another good Finnish reference is the book “Lentäjän näkökulma II” by Jukka Raunio (1993), it offers scale plans and lots of detail about Bf 109Gs.

Other good (general) sources are the Squadron “in action” books volumes #44 & #57, but even better (for a scale modeler) is the book “Walk Around Messerschmitt Bf 109G” (Walk Around #43) by Hans-Heiri Stapfer (Squadron Signal Publications, 2006). This book has a lot nicely organized detail photographs to satisfy even the more pedantic modelers. Despite the recent demise of the publisher, the book (and its Bf 109E companion, Walk Around #34) can still be found, from Amazon for example. Also, for understanding all the differences between various Bf 109 variants, the book “Messerschmitt Bf 109 F, G, & K Series – An Illustrated Study” by Jochen Prien et al (Schiffer, 1993) is invaluable.

For more details, books such as “Cockpits deutscher Flugzeuge – Historische Instrumentierungen von 1911-1970” by Peter Cohausz (Aviatic Verlag, 2000), “German Aircraft Interiors 1935-1945, Vol.1” by Kenneth Merrick (Monogram Aviation Publications, 1996), and “German Aircraft Landing Gear” by Günther Sengfelder (Schiffer, 1995) are useful. Again, for the more pedantic modelers…

For color information, there are of course a number of general treatises of Luftwaffe camouflage patterns and paints, such as “Official Monogram Painting Guide to German Aircraft 1935-1945 by Kenneth Merrick & Thomas Hitchcock (Monogram Aviation Publications, 1980) as well as the four-volume set “Luftwaffe Camouflage & Markings 1935-1945” from Kookaburra Technical Publications, published in the 1970s (three main volumes and “The Modeller’s Luftwaffe Painting Guide”). For modelers of Finnish Bf 109s, “Suomen ilmavoimien maalaukset ja merkinnät” (“Finnish Air Force camouflage and markings”) by Kalevi Keskinen et al (Apali, 1996) is my go-to reference.

Like I said, this is not a complete list. Once this current project is complete, I will produce a more comprehensive, “annotated” bibliography.

Messerschmitt Bf 109G-6, “MT-507”, W.Nr. 167271 at the Finnish Air Force Museum, photographed on 1995-04-21.

Previous: Towards complete airframes | Next: Cockpit detailing, part 2

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