Heinkel He51 - First Fighter of the Reborn Luftwaffe

By Bob Pearson

The first fighter of the reborn Luftwaffe was the Heinkel He51, this was an adequate design that was to bridge the gap between the the biplane fighters that were basically developments of the World War One era, and the revolutionary Bf109, that was to dominate Europe's skies for almost a decade.

Eventually there were six Jagdgeschwaders of He51s, each of which was assigned a different 'traditional' colour that served to mark all aircraft of that Jagdgeschwader. These aircraft were further marked with/without bars to show which gruppe it belonged to, circles and stripes showed the staffel and finally and individual number between 1-12 showed its place in the staffel.

As well as equipping the new Jagdgeschwaders, the He51 also served with the Kondor Legion in Spain. In all guises it bore colourful markings as the following feature will attempt to illustrate.

Heinkel He51
JG 131
Jesau Aerodrome

The colour of JG131 was black. The stab flight of a Jagdgeschwader bore chevrons and stripes to depict the various offices held, that shown here is the OC of JG131.

Heinkel He51
a/c 7 / 2 Staffel
I Gruppe/JG 132 "Richthofen"

The Jagdgeschwader was broken down into two gruppes. The I. gruppe would have no extra markings, while the II. gruppe carried a bar below the cockpit. Each gruppe was then divided into three staffels. These are distinguished as 1 & 4 staffel – no marking, 2 & 5 staffel – stripe on nose and rear fuselage; 3 & 6 staffels – disc on nose and rear fuselage. Hence an aircraft carrying no bar, but a stripe on the fuselage is from the 2 staffel, of the I.gruppe. Later a third gruppe was added to each jagdgeschwader, but this was after the He51 was withdrawn from service.

Heinkel He51
Dortmund Aerodrome

Heinkel He51
a/c 6 / 6 Staffel
II./JG 232
Bernburg Aerodrome

Heinkel He51
a/c 4 / 3 Staffel
I./JG 233
Bad Albing Aerodrome

Heinkel He51
a/c 7 / 5 Staffel
II./JG 234
Koln Aerodrome

Heinkel He51 2•24
JG.88 "Condor Legion"

When the Spanish Civil War erupted, the decision was taken to send both men and material to aid the Nationalist cause. Among the aircraft sent were over 100 He51s. Originally in plain gray finish (actually a grey-green), the nationalist markings of a white rudder, with a black cross and black discs on the wings and fuselage were carried. Later white wingtips and white diagonal crosses were also added to the wings to further aid in identification. Each aircraft type in the Nationalist inventory was given an identifying number– the He51 was assigned '2'.

Heinkel He51 2•9
2 Staffel "Top hat"
JG.88 "Condor Legion"
Southern Spain
October/November 1936

An article in the July 1991 FSM shows this aircraft to have been in Italian style mottling.

Heinkel He51 2•111
4 Staffel "Ace of Spades"
JG.88 "Condor Legion"
Early 1938

Heinkel He51 2•64
Harro Harder
OC, 1 Staffel " Marabou Stork"
JG.88 "Condor Legion"
Northern Spain
Early 1937

Heinkel He51 2•62
JG.88 "Condor Legion"

Another FSM He51 is shown here. I have yet to find corroborating evidence for either scheme, but they are included for variety.

Heinkel He51
Soviet A.S

Now this is an interesting He51 for which a b/w photo does exist. My thanks to Chris Banyai-Riepl for sharing it with me.


  • Early Nationalist Fighter Markings of the Spanish Civil War: Justo Miranda – Fine Scale Modeler July 1991
  • Luftwaffe Camouflage of World War 2: Bryan Philpott – Airfix Magazine guide No.10
  • Condor Legion : Peter Elstob – Ballantine's Illustrated History of the Violent Century; Weapons Book No.35
  • Aeromaster Decals – He 51 collection

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