Known by some as the butcher bird the Shrike has an unusual approach to the dismemberment of its prey. Only the smartest of animals have learned how to use tools and the shrike is one of the tool using birds. After catching its prey; insects, small birds or rodents, they take it to a thorn an impale it. They use the thorns as a butcher uses meat-hooks, to suspend its prey. Then the bird proceeds to dismember the unfortunate victim.
Shrikes have easily adapted to man made devices and are regularly seen using barbed wire fences as their abattoirs.
The German name for the Shrike is Würger and this is the nickname given to the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighter which first flew on this day in 1930, just 3 months before the outbreak of the second world war.
The great fighters of the day were the British Spitfire and the Messerschmidt 109. Both fast, maneuverable with big water cooled V12 in-line engines mounted on light air frames. They were delicate racehorses.
The Focke-Wulf designer Kurt Tank had a vision of designing a fighter aircraft that is a paradigm of nominative determinism. This is to say the aircraft was to embody the name of the designer and be curt and a tank. He wanted a plane that was tough, hard to take down, could operate in forward positions on makeshift runways under difficult conditions.
He opted for a radial air-cooled engine, which can take more damage and continue flying than the in-line water cooled engines. The radials became standard on board aircraft carriers where the risks of ditching in water were higher than they were for aircraft operating over land. BMW supplied the 801 14 cylinder radial that was the standard for the aircraft.
The design of wings, surfaces and ailerons made handling of the 190 much easier than the ME 109, reducing the requirements for in-flight adjustments. Rigid push-rods replaced the cables usually used for controls, greatly reducing give and play in the control functions.
The Würger was also better armed than the ME 109. At low and medium altitudes it was a better performer, but lost power at high altitudes making it no match for supercharged fighters like the Spitfire. Pilots who flew both the ME 109 and the FW 190 preferred the latter. Tank experimented with superchargers and turbochargers to improve high altitude performance but did not achieve widespread acceptance.
While the ME 109 is the more famous, as the key opponent to the British Spitfires and Hurricanes, the 20,000 FW 190’s deployed meant that this breed of shrike formed the backbone of the Luftwaffe, operating in every theatre and in multiple roles.