Facing a shortage of fuel and critical materials, in 1944 the Luftwaffe started looking at armed gliders as a cheap alternative to conventional aircraft to take on Allied bombers. Blohm & Voss produced the innovative BV40. Discover its design and practical use and ultimate fate.
Mark Felton Productions
German heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper at Blohm & Voss shipyards in 1939
Blohm+Voss (B+V), also written historically as Blohm & Voss, Blohm und Voß etc., is a German shipbuilding and engineering company. Founded in Hamburg in 1877 to specialise in steel-hulled ships, its most famous product is the World War II battleship Bismarck.
In the 1930s its owners established the Hamburger Flugzeugbau aircraft manufacturer which, shortly before the outbreak of World War II, adopted the name of its parent company.
Following a difficult period after the war, B+V revived its fortunes by becoming a public company under a change of ownership. In 2016 it became a subsidiary of Lürssen and continues to supply both the military and civil markets. The company also carries out related activities, managing a dockyard in Hamburg and undertaking maintenance and repair of large cruise ships. Since the acquisition, it has been concentrated in three areas: warships (new construction), cruise ships and merchants (repairs) and “yacht refitting”.
The company has been in operation, building ships and other large machinery, almost continuously for 142 years.
The NS era, 1933–1945
When Hermann Blohm died, his two sons Rudolf and Walther took over. Ernst Voss left soon afterwards. By this time the company was in financial crisis, so the Blohm brothers diversified into aircraft, setting up the Hamburger Flugzeugbau (see below) in the summer of 1933.
With the rise of Hitler and the NS Party to power in 1933, Germany began to rearm and both companies became increasingly involved in the programme. The shipyard built both civilian craft and warships for the government, including the battleship Bismarck, before manufacturing U-boats in quantity.
In 1944 a subcamp of Neuengamme concentration camp was set up at the company’s shipyard in Hamburg-Steinwerder. It supplied labour to the company from July 1944 to April 1945. A memorial stands on the site of the camp and the company continues to pay an undisclosed amount to the Fund for Compensation of Forced Laborers.
Steinwerder was badly damaged during the bombing of Hamburg in World War II and at the end of it, shipbuilding was forbidden.
In 1933 Blohm & Voss was suffering a financial crisis from lack of work. Its owners, brothers Rudolf and Walther Blohm, decided to diversify into aircraft manufacture, believing that there would soon be a market for all-metal, long-range flying boats, especially with the German state airline Deutsche Luft Hansa. They also felt that their experience with all-metal marine construction would prove an advantage. They formed the Hamburger Flugzeugbau that summer.
Most of the aircraft built by HFB/B&V would in fact be other companies’ designs and major subassemblies, contracted under license, including tens of thousands of aircraft each for Dornier, Heinkel, Junkers and Messerschmitt. Alongside its volume manufacturing the company also maintained its own design office and workshops which continued to develop and build new types throughout the company’s life. The first planes it produced were designated with the official RLM company code “Ha”.
The aircraft produced by Hamburger Flugzeugbau were still commonly associated with Blohm & Voss and this was causing confusion, so in September 1937 Hamburger Flugzeugbau was renamed Abteilung Flugzeugbau der Schiffswerft Blohm & Voss and the RLM changed its company code to “BV”.
Its most significant designs were flying boats, mainly used by the Luftwaffe for maritime patrol and reconnaissance. Most numerous was the BV 138 Seedrache (initiated as the Ha 138), a twin-boom trimotor, while the BV 222 Wiking was much larger. Largest of all was the BV 238 prototype, the largest aircraft built by any of the Axis forces. Other notable types include the asymmetric BV 141, which was built in moderate numbers but did not enter production.
At the end of the war, aircraft production was shut down. Hamburger Flugzeugbau GmBH (HFB) re-emerged in 1956, still under the ownership of Walther Blohm but no longer connected to B+V. It underwent various further changes of ownership and company name, eventually becoming part of Airbus.
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German WWII Ship Classes
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