During World War I, Dutch aircraft designer Anthony Fokker provided the German air force with the synchronized machine gun and several outstanding fighters, including the Fokker E.1 (Fokker Scourge), the Fokker Triplane flown by the Red Baron, Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen, and the Fokker D. VII.
After the war, Fokker returned to Holland where he formed a new aircraft company and continued to design and build a variety of excellent aircraft, including the Fokker Trimotor. One of these Trimotors, the “Question Mark,” won a permanent place in U.S. Air Force history when it was used by a group of U.S. Army Air Corps pilots to set an in-flight endurance record of more than 150 hours in 1929 using in-flight refueling.
By the late 1920s, the Fokker company was the world’s largest aircraft manufacturer, even though Fokker himself moved to the United States in 1923.
In Holland, the company began to produce modern fighters in the mid-1930s, mainly for export since the Dutch air force – the “Luchtvaartafdeeling” – had only a limited budget and requirements. The first fighter was the Fokker D XXI, a modern fighter (except for its fixed landing gear) that went into service in 1936.
The D XXI was intended mainly for export sales and for overseas service in the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army Air Force. It proved to be an excellent fighter during the early part of the war, especially when used against the Finnish Air Force in their Winter War against the Soviet Union.
But the most advanced fighter the company produced – and a truly world class combat aircraft – was the G.1 (“Groot,” large) heavy fighter.
The G.1 was a very modern, twin engine, twin boom, multirole monoplane with retractable landing gear and a crew of three carried in a central pod. Even before its first flight, an example was moved to Paris in November 1936 for the Paris Air Show, where it received rave review from the international press for its advanced design.
One British newspaper noted, “… the entire aviation world saw that its ideas have to be changed. Anthony Fokker’s latest warplane was responsible. For the second time, the Dutchman has changed military ideas …”
Its armament of one tone of bombs and eight .30 machine guns or two 23 millimeter cannon and two .30 machine guns led a French newspaper to dub it “le faucheur,” or the Reaper.
On March 16, 1937, the prototype flew for the first time with two 750 horsepower Hispano-Suiza engines, but the Dutch air force asked they be re-engined with the slightly less powerful, but more reliable, Bristol Mercury.
There was an attempt to buy the British Rolls Royce Merlin, which would have made the G.1 one of the best and the fastest fighters in the world, but the entire Merlin production was going to Spitfires and Hurricanes.
While tests showed the G.1 was an excellent fighter, as usual, the Dutch air force only ordered a small number of G.1s – 36 – to equip two squadrons.
Once again, to make production financially viable, Fokker relied on a large number of export orders: Finland ordered 262, Sweden ordered 182 and Spain ordered 253, but powered by the American Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp Junior engine.
In September 1939, when World War II began, a total of 26 G.1s were operational in the 3rd Fighter Squadron at Waalhaven and the 4th Fighter Squadron at Bergen. Since Holland was aggressively neutral at this point, the G.1s were actively involved in border patrols, and on March 20, 1940, a G.1 scored the type’s first kill – a Royal Air Force Whitley bomber returning from a bombing mission over Germany.
Unfortunately for the G.1 squadrons, when the Germans attacked Holland on May 10 the bases where the G.1s were based were a high priority target.
At Bergen, German bombers swept in from the sea and caught the base by surprise, destroying 11 of the 12 G.1s there. Waalhaven was luckier and got eight out of 11 G.1s into the air, where they shot down 13 German aircraft, including a number of Ju-52s carrying paratroopers.
Just one G.1 was lost in combat, but once they landed they were attacked again on the ground and only four survived the first day.
It was a sad end for one of the finest fighters in the world when it was developed. While the single heavy twin engine fighter idea proved flawed early in the war, such aircraft – notably the German Bf 110 – proved extremely useful as multirole combat aircraft throughout the war.
The G.1, with its large central compartment, had the room for early airborne radar sets and would have almost certainly been an outstanding night fighter.
For questions or comments, contact Dr. Michel at firstname.lastname@example.org.