This Remarkably Preserved Messerschmitt Bf 109 was Recovered from an Icy Russian Lake

bf-109-wreck-russia-lake-4 (Image: Gary T. Takeuchi; Bf 109E-7 3523 at Planes of Fame, CA)

Urban Ghosts has featured Britain’s iconic Supermarine Spitfire and Hawker Hurricane, heroes of the Battle of Britain, in various articles to date. In this post, we take a closer look at the Luftwaffe’s Messerschmitt Bf 109, the formidable fighter which proved a worthy and deadly adversary for allied aircrew during World War Two.

But this isn’t just any Bf 109, either. The aircraft we’re examining was the personal mount of German fighter ace Wulf-Dietrich Widowitz. What’s more, when it was pulled from the icy waters of a Russian lake in 2003, it became one of the most remarkable examples of its kind ever to be recovered.

bf-109-wreck-russia-lake (Image: milut1971; recovered from a lake in northern Russia)

The Bf 109’s fearsome reputation is reflected in the sheer numbers that rolled off German production lines – more than 33,900 examples of Messerschmitt’s famous fighter were produced. Add to that those built post-war in Spain and what was then Czechoslovakia, and the total production run is comparable to that of Britain’s Spitfire and Hurricane combined.

bf-109-wreck-russia-lake-2 (Image: Arqueologia Militar; standing on its undercarriage again)

This Bf 109E-7, werk number 3523, was built in 1939 by Arado GmbH at Warnemunde on the Baltic Sea. Originally launched as an E-1 variant, the aircraft was pressed into service during the Battle of France, which culminated in the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force and several French divisions from Dunkirk.

bf-109-battle-of-britain (Image: D. Miller; this restored Bf 109 fought in the Battle of Britain)

After serving in the Battle of Britain, Bf 109 3523 was upgraded to E-7 standard in August 1940 and underwent its 1,500 hour checks the following summer. By the end of winter 1942, the aircraft had been posted to the Eastern Front and assigned to the decorated German pilot Wulf-Dietrich Widowitz.

bf-109-wreck-russia-lake-6 (Image: Gary T. Takeuchi)

On April 4, 1942, around one month after its delivery to the front by Arthur Mendl, the Messerschmitt was flying an escort mission with three other Bf 109s when the formation caught sight of four Hawker Hurricanes operated by the Red Air Force under a lend-lease agreement.

bf-109-wreck-russia-lake-5 (Image: Gary T. Takeuchi)

In the dogfight that ensued, Widowitz’s 109 sustained gunfire to its engine and was forced to make a crash landing. Hurricane pilot S/Lts Pokrovskiy observed Widowitz make a perfect forced landing on a frozen lake in northern Russia. As the pilot evacuated the cockpit, his crippled fighter quickly broke through the ice and slipped beneath the murky waters, where it was destined to remain, all but forgotten, for the next 61 years.

bf-109-wreck-russia-lake-8 (Image: milut1971; an icy resting place)

Finally, in 2003, the ex-Jagdgeschwader 5 Messerschmitt was recovered from the icy waters by Jim Pearce from Sussex, UK, more than six decades after it was shot down by enemy fire.

When the Bf 109 was pulled from the lake, it soon became apparent that the long-forgotten airframe was in remarkable condition – so good, in fact, that its undercarriage was still able to support the Messerschmitt’s weight once extended.

bf-109-wreck-russia-lake-3 (Image: Arqueologia Militar)

In addition to the engine shot, the many bullet holes puncturing the aircraft’s wings and horizontal stabilizers, as well as a large cannon impact tear in the wing root, likely contributed to the fighter’s demise while demonstrating the skill of its pilot. It’s understood, however, that Widowitz died in combat a year or so later.

It’s unusual for battered aircraft wrecks recovered from isolated, inhospitable regions after decades of exposure to the elements to present such a remarkably preserved canvas for restoration, where many original parts can be conserved for display purposes and even flight.

bf-109-wreck-russia-lake-7 (Image: Gary T. Takeuchi; restoration to flight)

The aircraft has since been moved to the Planes of Fame Museum in Chino, California, where it’s understood to be in the midst of a major five-year rebuild in a bid to restore the classic warbird to flying condition.

buchon-restoration (Image: Gary T. Takeuchi)

The ex-Luftwaffe fighter is complimented by a similar restoration project (above) – that of HA-1112-M1L, construction number 120, a license-built derivative of the Messerschmitt Bf 109G-2, which remained in service with the Spanish Air Force until 1965. Once completed, the ‘Buchón’ will once again take to the skies above California.

Related – 12 Abandoned, Wrecked and Recovered Aircraft of World War Two

 
 
 

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