Heinkel He 59

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He 59
Heinkel he 59.jpg
Finnish He 59
Role Trainer, transport, air ambulance, torpedo bomber
Manufacturer Heinkel
First flight 1931
Introduction 1935
Retired 1944
Primary users Luftwaffe
Finnish Air Force
Number built 142

The Heinkel He 59 was a twin-engined German biplane designed in 1930, resulting from a requirement for a torpedo bomber and reconnaissance aircraft able to operate on wheeled landing gear or twin-floats.


In 1930, Ernst Heinkel began developing an aircraft for the Reichsmarine. To conceal the true military intentions, the aircraft was officially a civil aircraft. The He 59B landplane prototype was the first to fly, an event that took place in September 1931,[1] but it was the He 59A floatplane prototype that paved the way for the He 59B initial production model, of which 142 were delivered in three variants. The Heinkel He 59 was a pleasant aircraft to fly; deficiencies noted were the weak engine, the limited range, the small load capability and insufficient armament.


The aircraft was of a mixed-material construction. The wings were made of a two-beam wooden frame, where the front was covered with plywood and the rest of the wing was covered with fabric. The box-shaped fuselage had a fabric-covered steel frame. The tail section was covered with lightweight metal sheets.

The keels of the floats were used as fuel tanks - each one holding 900 L (238 US gal) of fuel. Together with the internal fuel tank, the aircraft could hold a total of 2,700 L (713 US gal) of fuel. Two fuel tanks could also be placed in the bomb bay, bringing the total fuel capacity up to 3,200 L (845 US gal). The propeller was fixed-pitch with four blades.


During the first months of World War II, the He 59 was used as a torpedo- and minelaying aircraft. Between 1940 and 1941 the aircraft was used as a reconnaissance aircraft, and in 1941-42 as a transport, air-sea rescue, and training aircraft. The trainer models survived slightly longer in service than operational models, but all had been retired or destroyed by 1944. Some aircraft were operated by the Condor Legion in Spain during the Spanish Civil War in 1936 as coastal reconnaissance and torpedo floatplanes.

The British claimed, as the air-sea rescue aircraft, despite carrying Red Cross markings, were being used for reconnaissance, they were legitimate targets. Even before then some had been forced down by British aircraft.[2] One justification the British used resulted from the fact that in July 1940 they had shot down a white HE 59 near Deal, Kent that was clearly marked with red crosses simply because it was in the same air space as German fighters. Some have explained this violation by stating that the British were fearful that saboteurs might be landed using these aircraft, another claim was that a convoy passing through the heavily trafficked English channel had spotted a red cross marked HE 59 and was then attacked by bombers later in its voyage. When the crew of the HE 59 downed off Deal was captured the British noted that the pilot supposedly noted the position and direction of a British convoy in his log book. Using that pretext the British Air Ministry issued Bulletin 1254 indicating that all enemy air-sea rescue aircraft were to be destroyed wherever they were encountered. [3] Later, Winston Churchill later cast doubt on his own government's claims and motives when he wrote: "We did not recognize this means of rescuing enemy pilots who had been shot down in action, in order that they might come and bomb our civil population again." [4] Germany protested the British attacks as rescue aircraft were part of the Geneva Convention agreement stipulating that belligerents must respect all "mobile sanitary formations" such as field ambulances and hospital ships. Churchill claimed that rescue aircraft were not anticipated by the treaty, and were therefore not covered. [5] Because British attacks on He 59s continued the German Seenotdienst ordered the rescue aircraft armed and camouflaged. The use of civil registration and red cross markings was abandoned. A Seenotdienst gunner later shot down an attacking No. 43 Squadron RAF Hurricane fighter on July 20 Rescue flights were ordered to be protected by fighter aircraft whenever possible. [6]

The Ilmavoimat (Finnish Air Force) rented four aircraft from Germany in August 1943. These were used to ferry long-range reconnaissance patrols behind enemy lines. They were returned to Germany four months later.




  • He 59a : first prototype.
  • He 59b : second prototype.
  • He 59A : test and evaluation aircraft. 14 built.[1]
  • He 59B-1 : 16 pre-production aircraft.
  • He 59B-2 : improved version.
  • He 59B-3 : reconnaissance aircraft.
  • He 59C-1 : unarmed trainer
  • He 59C-2 : air-sea rescue model
  • He 59D-1 : combined trainer and air-sea rescue model
  • He 59E-1 : torpedo bomber trainer
  • He 59E-2 : reconnaissance trainer
  • He 59N : navigation trainer produced as He 59D-1 conversions

Specifications (He 59B-2)[edit]

Data from Warplanes of the Third Reich[7]

General characteristics

  • Crew: 4
  • Length: 17.4 m (57 ft 1 in)
  • Wingspan: 23.7 m (77 ft 9 in)
  • Height: 7.1 m (23 ft 4 in)
  • Wing area: 153.2 m2 (1,649 sq ft)
  • Empty weight: 5,010 kg (11,045 lb)
  • Gross weight: 9,119 kg (20,104 lb)
  • Powerplant: 2 × BMW VI 6.0 zu V-12 liquid-cooled piston engines, 492 kW (660 hp) each
(6 - compression ratio 6:1, z - Zenith carburetor, u - propeller reduction gear)
  • Propellers: 4-bladed fixed-pitch propellers


  • Maximum speed: 221 km/h (137 mph, 119 kn)185
  • Range: 942 km (585 mi, 509 nmi)
  • Ferry range: 1,530 km (950 mi, 830 nmi) with auxiliary tanks
  • Service ceiling: 3,500 m (11,500 ft)
  • Time to altitude:
1,000 m (3,281 ft) in 4 miutes 42 seconds
2,000 m (6,562 ft) in 11miutes 12 seconds


  • Guns:
  • Bombs: :*2× 500 kg (1,100 lb)
  • 4 × 250 kg (551 lb)
  • 20× 50 kg (110 lb) bombs
  • 1 × 800 kg (1,764 lb) torpedo

See also[edit]

Related lists


Brandenburg Historica, The Luftwaffe Seenotdienst (Air Sea Rescue Service) of World War II


  1. ^ a b Green 1962, p.68
  2. ^ Nesbitt, The Battle of Britain
  3. ^ Brandenburg Historica, "The Luftwaffe Seenotdienst (Air Sea Rescue Service) of World War II "
  4. ^ Brandenburg Historica, "The Luftwaffe Seenotdienst (Air Sea Rescue Service) of World War II "
  5. ^ Brandenburg Historica, "The Luftwaffe Seenotdienst (Air Sea Rescue Service) of World War II "
  6. ^ Brandenburg Historica, "The Luftwaffe Seenotdienst (Air Sea Rescue Service) of World War II "
  7. ^ Green 1972, p. 277.


  • Green, William.War Planes of the Second World War: Volume Six: Floatplanes. London: Macdonald, 1962.
  • Green, William. Warplanes of the Third Reich. New York: Doubleday, 1972. ISBN 0-385-05782-2.
  • Kalevi Keskinen, Kari Stenman, Klaus Niska: Meritoimintakoneet - Suomen ilmavoimien historia 15, Apali Oy, Tampere 1995, ISBN 952-5026-03-5