The DB 600 Series V12 – The Backbone of the Luftwaffe
The Daimler-Benz DB 600 series engines were without a doubt the workhorse and most commonly used engines throughout World War II for the Luftwaffe.
Initially designed in the mid 30s, Daimler-Benz continued to develop this power plant, which over its life time put out some seriously impressive figures.
We’ll dive into what makes this excellent series of engines tick.
The Reich Ministry of Aviation set out requirements in the early 1930s for a new engine to drive the latest generation of aircraft in the Luftwaffe’s arsenal.
At the time, one of the biggest leaps in engine technology was the use of fuel injection versus a carburettor. This meant that there was great control of fuel flow into the engine, smoother power delivery, more power and better fuel consumption. All of which are extremely important in terms of aircraft performance.
However, the DB 600 series did not utilise fuel injection right away.
DB 600 was the name given to the first variant of the liquid-cooled inverted V12. It had a displacement of 2,068.7 cu in (33.9 L). The A/B models produced 986 hp (735 kW) at 2,400 rpm at sea level. This was with a 5-minute short term emergency boost for enhanced performance.
Considering this engine first ran in 1932, these numbers are extremely impressive.
There were several other variations of the DB 600. C/D was the second development producing slightly less power at 838 hp (625 kW). The trade-off was for the power coming on tap earlier at 2,250 rpm.
The final production version of the DB 600 was the Ga/Ha. This engine was the most powerful at 1,036 hp (772 kW). Wet weight was 1,411 lbs (640 kg) meaning a power to weight of 2.2 hp-per-lb. Incredibly impressive for this era.
This performance was achieved by various design feats. A gear-driven, single-stage supercharger, four valves per cylinder – two intake, two exhaust – and a dry sump.
Almost 2,300 of these engines were built and were used in various types of aircraft.
The design was very successful and used by many different aircraft manufacturers. This made maintenance a lot easier and reduced the price per unit thanks to higher production numbers.
The most famous user of the DB 600 was the Messerschmitt Bf 109. This was the Luftwaffe’s premier fighter aircraft: powerful, fast and manoeuvrable. A lot of the love from the pilots was down to this fantastic power plant.
Later versions even had a cannon placed between the engine banks, protruding through the propeller hub.
The list of users is extensive; Focke-Wulf used it in the Fw 57 and Fw 187. Heinkel was also a prolific user, the He 111, He 112 and He 114 also used the DB 600.
A member of the DB 600 family was used in the push-pull Dornier Do 335.
The first major change to the DB 600 design came in the form of the 601. The most notable change between this and the DB 600 was that this newer variant used direct fuel injection.
This gave the Bf 109 a huge advantage over the early versions of the Rolls Royce Merlin. In a lot of dogfight situations, the carburettor float bowl would run dry, starving the engine of fuel.
As its fuel was injected, the DB 601 did not face this issue at all. 19,000 of these engines were produced in total.
Towards the end of the DB 601s life came the E version, which provided 30% more horsepower than the original DB 601 A. The E was phased out in 1942 as Daimler-Benz continued development.
With the storming success of the DB 601, the DB 603 – its bigger brother – was brought into service in 1942. It had a significantly larger displacement of 2,716.9 cu in (44.52 L), making it the largest displacement inverted V12 engine to be used in action by the Third Reich during the war.
Thanks to its extra size, the first variant produced a mighty 1,720 hp, compared to the DB 601 E’s 1,300 hp. Due to its larger size, this engine was mainly used in larger aircraft.
One of the key versions of the DB 600 series also came in 1942. This was the DB 605 – of which over 42,000 were built!
With a smaller displacement of 2,176 cu in (35.7 L) its performance remained incredibly impressive: 1,677 hp at maximum combat power.
This smaller engine was to be installed on the Luftwaffe’s fighter aircraft, with many of them destined to be the heart of a BF-109G or K model.
Just like all of the engines in this series, a supercharger helped performance at higher altitudes. But due to issues with gathering enough quality materials, these engines started to suffer in terms of reliability.
The use of emergency power or WEP (wartime emergency power) was strictly forbidden. Even by the end of the war, it was considered a ‘sick’ engine as not all of its bugs had been ironed out.
Despite their issues, this line of engines was one of the most successful of the era and ensured that Germany could project its air power during World War II.
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Engines can make or break the vehicles that they are in, but the success of the aircraft that the DB 600 series powered is a testament to the impressive engineering achieved by Daimler Benz.