Heinkel He 177 “Greif”
that could have been WWII’s most formidable bomber
models and diorama by Bjørn Jacobsen
During World War II, the lack of a long-range bomber force was one of the major deficiencies suffered by the Luftwaffe.
Popular myth has it that German air planners had, foolishly, ignored this weapon during the years immediately prior to the war. But this was not so. They had been as alive to the possibilities of the heavy bomber as anybody else and within three months of the outbreak of war the first prototype of the four-engine bomber intended to equip the German heavy bomber arm, the Heinkel He 177 “Greif”, was flying.
In order to meet the requirements set by
RLM (The German Air Ministry), Heinkel
had to employ several hitherto untried
features into its design.
Not that there was anything basically
wrong with the design which embodied
as much ingenuity as any German WWII
Had effective measures been taken to
solve the design problems at an early
stage, the Luftwaffe’s Kampseschwager
might have had a most formidable bomber with the potential to wipe out the Soviet military production hidden behind the Ural Mountains.
In many ways, the development of the
He 177 stands as an awful example of
the power struggles between the
Aircraft Industry, the RLM (German Air
Ministry) and the Nazi leaders –
all of them giving orders in all directions,
trying to take credit when possible and
avoid criticism when things did not work
An example of the ridiculous requirement
was that the big and heavy bomber
should be able to dive-bomb (at 60
degrees), which of course was not
possible without the airframe felling apart.
The He 177 was a very complex and
innovative construction; employing
several untried features into its design.
For example: two DB 601-12-cylinder
motors - mounted side-by-side in a
single nacelle - driving a single propeller
through a connecting gear train and
clutch. This gave far less drag and
higher speed than any conventional
But the 2950hp twin Daimler-Benz engines caused trouble, they overheated.
This and a myriad other problems meant that it was not until early 1941 that the first production aircraft began flight testing
A shortage of defensive armament, engine failure and delivery delays took another year to sort out, only for other problems to emerge. Problems with broken con-rods in the engine caused serious engine fires. The manufacturing faults in the propeller pitch started also to cause engine fires.
The He 177 finally entered service in the summer of 1943 and little more than 1,000 aircraft were eventually produced
The aircraft arrived too late to make any impact of the war, despite some useful service in the anti-shipping role. It played a minor role in the last German bombing campaign over Britain, Operation Steinbock, in January-April 1944 and saw some desperate use on the eastern front, but as most German bombers, the He 177 was grounded from the summer of 1944 as the Allied heavy bombing campaign began to cripple fuel production.
Not surprising, the He 177 quickly
earned the nicknames Reichfackel
(the Reich Torch) or Luftwaffefeuerzeug
Due to the location of the engines to the
rear of the pilot, fires were often not
discovered until it was too late.... It was said that engine fire cost more damages to the He 177 than the Allied ever managed.
Henschel Hs 293 Anti-Ship Missile
He 177 could carry a formidable
bombload,but even most importantly, it
could also carry three of the most
successful remotely controlled missile of
the WWII, the rocket driven Hs 293.
The warhead was a modified SC 500
bomb containing 300kg (550lb) of
Trialene 105 high explosive.
The range was 14-16km (8,7-10mi) and
the maximum speed 700kmt (434mph)
After release, the liquid-fuel rocket motor
under the fuselage accelerated the
weapon to its maximum speed in 12
seconds. Then the rocket motor cut and
the glider-bomb coasted on in a shallow
dive towards its target.
In the tail of the Hs 293 was a bright flare,
ignited to enable the bombardier in the
He 177 to follow its flight path.
He operated a small "joy-stick" controller,
and guided the missile by means of the joy-stick and radio control.
At November 26 1943, the He 177 had one of its first major successes with the Hs 293 missile. The British troopship Rohna, carrying about 2,000 American troops was sunk off the Algerian coast by a Hs 293 released from a He 177. Of the estimated 1,180 dead, some 1,050 were U.S. soldiers. It was the worst loss of U.S. troops at sea during the WWII. However, the incident was immediately classified and remained hidden from the public and is still officially unacknowledged.
The He 177 vs. Allied bombers
German hopes for a long-range bomber force to compare with those of the
western Allies ended with the flameout of the He 177. Although it was the fuel
famine which finally amputated the Luftwaffe heavy-bomber arm, the design
of the He 177 was probably too complicated and advanced to achieve the
same status as the Flying Fortress and the Lancaster.
The reason for the success of the Allied bombers was that they were built
to be flown and maintained by conscripts - they were easy to fly, they forgave
fools, and they were simple enough to be kept in action by men with
comparatively little training.
On the other hand, the He 177 with its many advanced features would not
tolerate fools and was far more complicated than any of its Allied counterparts.
Therein lay the seeds of its downfall.
The He 177 can in many ways be compared with the Boeing B-29
Superfortress which also took about two years to have its problems ironed out, after which it found success.
However the He 177 was never to achieve its full potential.
The He 177 looked like a 2-engine bomber, but it was far from small. The Greif was just some two feet smaller than the Flying .Fortress, was much faster and could deliver far more bombs and fly longer distances. Here are some details:
B-17 Flying Fortress
Heinkel He 177 Greif
74ft 4in (22,66m)
72ft 2in (22m)
69ft 4in (21m)
Max Bomb Load
He 177 Greif
The only model kit I found of the He 177 with the Hs 293 was Revells 1/72 kit.
The kit was a pleasant surprise and very easy to put together. No putty and sanding were necessary and the model was made without any after-market additions.
The only addition I made to the model was placing a crew in the cockpit area. I felt this was necessary, because I would like to photograph the plane in flight. In hindsight, I could have left the crew out, because it was very hard to see them. The scale was after all 1:72
I had to plan the building sequences, because I would like to take picture of the He 177 in different situations:
I therefore had to build the model with the wheels retracted and with the wheels extended. I had to put the flaps out and the flaps in and last but not least, I had to ruin the model by setting fire to one of the engines.
One of the great pleasures with any German WWII plane is the camouflage. The He 177 is no exceptions. It was painted in a long variant of colour schemes, but common to most of them was the dark green/grey green splinter camouflage on the upper surfaces and the light blue fuselage sides and underside.
It seems that ground crew had a lot of fun painting light grey patterns, mottling and spirals of all shapes and form on the fuselage sides. So also with this model.
Building the engine fire
It is not possible to tell the story of the He 177 without a real engine fire.
The overheating of the twin-engine configuration was never solved properly and this fault did follow the Greif to the bitter end.
The first I did was to make two holes in the starboard nacelle to make room for two LED lamps (10W 12V).
The electrical wires went out on the underside of the nacelle and would be hidden by the smoke trailing the plane.
I then cut some chicken wire and formed it as a base for the smoke from the engine.
To add colour to the fire, I put some yellow and red cellophane under the wire.
Then I used some white cotton, which I airbrushed with black/grey colour and put on the chicken wire.
To stiffen the cotton, I used normal hairspray
The propeller blades which was removed, was glued back on in a feathered position.
And that’s it:
A fire in the starboard engine, giving meaning to the pilots and crews He 177 nickname
“the Reich Lighter”!
And here is the result of my He 177 project:
First, the model:
And then, it’s time to give the Greif a life.
The model deserves more than to collect dust on a shelf, so here is the Greif in action:
And then, the all too common: Engine fire!
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The Greif ready for picture taking