Aircraft Recognition – Heinkel 177 (1942)The Heinkel He 177 Greif (“griffin”) was a large long-range heavy bomber flown by the Luftwaffe during World War II. In general terms, the He 177 was the only operational strategic-range heavy bomber available to the Luftwaffe during the war years, that had a payload/range capability similar to the four-engined strategic heavy bombers of the USAAF and RAF, although it had much higher figures for its cruising and maximum speeds.
Designed to a 1936 requirement known as Bomber A, the aircraft was originally intended to be a purely strategic bomber intended to support a long-term bombing campaign against Soviet industry in the Urals. In spite of its large, 30-meter (100 ft) wingspan size, the design was limited to using two engines. During the design phase, Luftwaffe doctrine came to stress the use of moderate-angle dive bombing, or “glide bombing”, in order to improve accuracy. Applying the changes needed for this type of attack to such a large aircraft was entirely unrealistic.
In order to deliver the power required from only two engines on an aircraft this large, engines of at least 2,000 horsepower (1,500 kW) were needed. Such designs were not well established at the time, and the DB 606 “power system” engine, combined with the cooling and maintenance problems caused by the tight nacelles, caused the engines to be infamous for catching fire in flight. Luftwaffe aircrew nicknamed it bomber the Reichsfeuerzeug (“Reich’s lighter”) or the “Flaming Coffin”.
The type eventually matured into a usable design, but too late in the war to play an important role. It was built and used in some numbers, especially on the Eastern Front where its range was particularly useful. It is notable for its use in mass raids on Velikiye Luki in 1944, one of the late-war heavy bombing efforts by the Luftwaffe. It saw considerably less use on the Western Front, although it played a role during the late-war Operation Steinbock, or “baby blitz”, against the UK.