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German Designations
By Emmanuel Gustin

Designation system for WWI aircraft

During WWI, German aircraft received a designation consisting of (1) the name of the manufacturer, (2) a function letter, and (3) a Roman number. The three parts of the designation were needed to get an unique designation. For example, there was a Fokker E III, but also a Pfalz E III and a Siemens-Schuckert E III.

The meaning of the function letters is listed below. During the war, there were some changes. The most important one is that the letter 'D' was at first only used for biplane fighters, while 'E' was used for monoplane fighters ans 'Dr' for triplane fighters. At the end of the war, the 'D' designation was used for single-seat fighters, even if they were monoplanes. Hence the Fokker E V was renamed Fokker D VIII.

       A   unarmed reconaissance aircraft
       B   two-seater, with the observer seating in front of the pilot.
       C   two-seater, with the observer in the aft cockpit.
       CL  fast two-seater, multi-role aircraft
       D   'Doppeldecker', biplane. Later: fighter, in general
       E   'Eindecker', monoplane.
       Dr  'Dreidecker', triplane.
       G   'Grosskampfflugzeug', bomber
       J   ground-attack aircraft
       K   'Kampfflugzeug', later redisgnated with a G.
       R   'Riesenflugzeug', long-range bomber.

Designation system for WWII aircraft

The German WWII designation system used the first two letters of the manufacturer's name (Ju for Junkers, Fw for Focke-Wulf, ...) and an unique number. Numbers were indeed supposed to be unique, and usually a block of numbers was allocated to a manufacturer. However, sometimes numbers were exchanged by manufacturers, and sometimes they were used twice if they had been used for an unsuccessful type. There were also cases in which aircraft designs were moved from one manufacturer to another; they usually, but not always, retained their number.

There was a tendency to use variations of the first digit to related or similar aircraft. For example, Messerschmitt produced a the Bf 110, the Me 210 which was intended to replaced it, the Me 310 design which was an improved Me 210, and the Me 410, which was also an improved Me 210.

Versions were distinguished by capital letters and subdived with numbers, e.g. Ju 88G-6. The number 0 was usually used for pre-series aircraft. Sometimes lowercase letters were added to indicate minor variations, eg. Me 262A-1a. Prototypes had the letter V (for Versuchsflugzeug) and a sequential number, eg. Bf 109 V23.

Aircraft could also be modified with a 'Umbrust' or 'Bausatze' set or be tropicalized; eg. a Bf 109G-2/U1 was a Bf 109G-2 fitted with a reversible pitch prop, an Bf 109G-2/R1 had a 500kg bomb carrier fitted, and an Bf 109E-4/Trop had a dust filter installed.

Translations of German names

Here are some translations of German aircraft names:

    Bachstelze        Wagtail
    Blitz             Lightning
    Drache            Dragon, Kite
    Falke             Falcon
    Floh              Flea
    Gelber Hund       Yellow Dog
    Greif             Griffon
    Hagelkorn         Hailstone
    Hornisse          Hornet
    Kadett            Cadet
    Kauz              Owl
    Kleinstjager      Very small fighter
    Komet             Comet
    Mistel            Mistletoe
    Natter            Viper
    Pfeil             Arrow
    Stieglitz         Goldfinch
    Storch            Stork
    Stosser           Bird of Prey
    Taifun            Typhoon
    Taube             Dove
    Wal               Whale
    Weihe             Kite (bird)
    Wiking            Viking
    Zwilling          Twin

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