Heinkel He 177 Greif (Griffin)

Developed as early as 1939 but not seeing operational trials until 1942, the He 177 was designed by Heinkel Flugzeugwerke to be used by German Luftwaffe during World War 2. Aircrews had nicknamed it the Luftwaffenfeuerzeug (Luftwaffe’s lighter) or the ill-famed ‘Flaming Coffin’ because of the engines’ tendency to catch fire on the early versions of the aircraft. The Heinkel He 177 Greif might have been an excellent heavy bomber for Germany, if it had not been detested because of its engine troubles. As a result, its production was ceased in 1944.

Heinkel He 177 Greif (Griffin)

Externally, the He 177 appeared as a two engine aircraft as it looked fitted with two propeller systems and two engine nacelles. However, the He 177 was in fact fitted with four Daimler-Benz engines, two to each wing, yet engineered in coupled pairs. The resulting design was a technical innovation resulting in an unusual feature of the twin engines in each nacelle driving a single propeller, as the components of a “power system”.This 4-Engine diesgn helpd in reducing air resistance to a great extent. Siegfried Günther, chief designer of Heinkel, chose DB 606 engines, which were themselves a derivative of the DB 601 types. Unfortunately for Germany, they proved unreliable and prone to fires earning the aircraft several telltale nicknames like “the Torch” and “Lighter”.

It used three remotely controlled defensive gun turrets all controlled from the cockpit, which offered substantially less drag than larger manned turrets thereby making it lighter. Its capabilities included the carrying of advanced Henschel Hs 293 and Fritz X “flying” bombs.

Rumors have it that the He177 was secretly being readied in Czechoslovakia to carry the planned German Atomic bomb. If it weren’t for a few brave Norwegian saboteurs, Adolf Hitler would have had a prepared Atomic bomb towards the war’s end.


Crew: 5
Length: 22 m (72 ft 2 in)
Wingspan: 31.44 m (103 ft 1 in)
Height: 6.7 m (21 ft)
Wing area: 101.5 m² (1,092 ft²)
Empty weight: 16,800 kg (37,000 lb)
Loaded weight: 31,000 kg (68,340 lb)
Engine: 2x Daimler-Benz DB 610 (twin DB 605) 24-cylinder liquid-cooled inline engines, 2,950 hp (2,170 kW) each
Maximum speed: 565 km/h (350 mph) at 6,100 m (21,000 ft)
Service ceiling: 9,400 m (30,800 ft)
Guns: 2 x 20 mm MG 151 cannon
3 x MG 131 machine gun
3 x MG 81 machine gun
Bombs: up to 7,200 kg (15,873 lb) of bombs or 3 guided missiles (Henschel Hs 293 or Fritz X)

One thought on “Heinkel He 177 Greif (Griffin)

  1. Mark Allen

    Aside from technical reasons, the German atomic bomb effort failed from political causes as well. The political causes have led to much debate, but the technical reasons make absurd any idea that German effort was close to succeeding.

    Because fission was discovered in Germany, it was thought in 1939 at the time of Einstein’s letter to President Roosevelt, that the Germans had a head start and Americans needed to catch up and develop the first bomb. This belief threw the United States headlong into nuclear research and it also gave the German physicists a false sense of security. Czechoslovakia had important uranium mines, and after occupation the Germans closed their outside sales, reinforcing the belief at the time.

    In actuality, by 1941 the Americans had passed the German effort, but this was not known then, and the belief that Germany was ahead continued to prevail. However, starting with Operation Alsos in 1944, it finally became clear to the Allies that Germany was nowhere near reaching an atomic bomb; throughout most of the war they were simply on the wrong track.

    The primary technical reasons for Germany going off-track are as follows. In a February 1940 report Heisenberg incorrectly stated that graphite would not work as a moderator. Nonetheless, in January 1941 Walther Bothe tried an experiment to make a reactor using graphite as a moderator and it failed. He and other German scientists did not realize that the failure was due to impurities in the industrial grade graphite used, and that pure graphite would work. As a result, Heisenberg became Germany’s authority on nuclear fission and his doctrine became the blueprint for the German nuclear project. In particular, Heisenberg judged that, for a stable reaction, two to three tons of uranium 235 must be assembled with one metric ton of graphite and 600 liters of heavy water. This grossly overestimated the amount of uranium, where only about 50 kilos and not a ton was actually needed. But more importantly wrong was the predication that graphite alone could not be used. Thus, for the remainder of the war, Germany was preoccupied with trying to use heavy water in the moderator. Heavy water was very scarce and this greatly compounded their effort, but their idea of needing heavy water was simply wrong.


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