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Erich Hartmann’s Bf 109 K “Black Tulip.”

Front crest has a detail of aBf 109k model.

The main artwork on the back of the shirt has Erich Hartmann’s beautiful Bf 109k with his signature “Black Tulip” markings on the nose.

Silk screened on a ring spun, white, 100% Cotton, Hanes Beefy-T.

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Erich Hartmann’s Bf 109 K “Black Tulip.”

The Messerschmitt Bf 109 was designed by Willy Messerschmitt in the early 1930s. It was one of the first true modern fighters of the era, including such features as an all-metal monocoque construction, a closed canopy, and retractable landing gear. It was produced in greater quantities than any other fighter aircraft in history, with a wartime production (September 1939 to May 1945) of 30,573 units. It also destroyed more enemy aircraft than any other plane not just in World War II, but in history, and was the backbone of the German Air Force.

Although first designed in 1933 and seeing combat from 1936 in Spain until the end of the war in Europe in 1945, it was, with upgrades and modifications, able to stay competitive against enemy fighters designed almost ten years after it.

The Bf 109 was flown by most of the top scoring Luftwaffe aces, a puzzling fact given that the Focke Wulf 190 was in most all areas a superior fighting machine.

The “K” series was the last evolution of the Bf 109, an attempt to consolidate the bewildering array of series, models and modifications that made day-to-day maintenance of the 109 such a complicated and costly nightmare. Development on the “K” began in 1943, and operational service began in October 1944, and approximately 1,700 being delivered before the end of hostilities. Armed with a powerful 30 mm MK 108 engine-mounted cannon with 65 rounds and two 13 mm MG 131s (equal to our .50 cal M2) in the nose with 300 rounds each, the Bf 109 K-4 was the fastest 109 of world War II, reaching about 445 mph at 10,000 ft. However, the deteriorating ability of the thousands of novice Luftwaffe pilots by this stage of the war meant the 109's strengths were of little value against the much more numerous and well-trained Allied fighter pilots.

The huge tallies accrued by German World War II aces are partly explained by the Luftwaffe's technical and tactical superiority over the Allies during the first half of the war, especially against the Soviets. In addition, Luftwaffe pilots generally flew many more sorties (sometimes up to 1000 operations) than their Allied counterparts. Additionally, national policies differed; Axis pilots tended to return to the cockpit over and over again until killed, captured or incapacitated, while very successful Allied pilots were either promoted to positions that involved less combat flying, or rotated back to training bases to teach younger pilots valuable combat knowledge.

For the German fighter pilot in World War II, there was only victory or death.

“Black Tulip” depicts history’s Ace of Aces, Germany’s Erich Hartmann, in the last months of the war on the Eastern Front, flying his favorite aircraft, a Bf 109, painted with his famous “black tulip” nose and wife Ursula’s name in a bleeding heart on it’s side. He’s in his favorite mode of attack: a fast ambush out of the sun, in a “K” model with his wingman close behind in an earlier Bf 109 G.

Of Hartmann’s 352 aerial victories, 344 were against the Soviet Air Force, 260 of which were fighters. Toward the end of the war as the Eastern and Western fronts edged closer together, Hartmann came into contact with American P-51D’s shooting 8 of them down in 3 engagements, 4 in one mission.

In all he flew an astonishing 1,404 combat missions, engaging in combat 825 times. He was forced to crash land his aircraft 14 times, due to damage from pieces of enemy aircraft he had just destroyed or from mechanical failure. He was never shot down or forced to land because of enemy fire.

His favorite fighting technique was stalk-and-ambush, attacking from above and behind, holding fire until extremely close (60 ft or less!), then unleashing a murderous short burst at point-blank range.

He once famously described dog-fighting as "a waste of time."

At the end of the war in Europe, Hartmann and his unit, JG 52, surrendered to United States Army forces but were turned over to the Red Army. Convicted of false "War Crimes" and sentenced to 25 years of hard labor, Hartmann spent 10 years in Soviet gulags, and was one of the last German prisoners to be released, returning to West Germany in 1955.

In 1956, Hartmann joined the newly established West German Air Force and became a Wing Commander of a NATO squadron. Erich Hartmann died in 1993. 1997, the Russian government exonerated Hartmann, admitting that his conviction for war crimes was unlawful. Hartmann often said that he was more proud of the fact that he had never lost a wingman in combat than he was about his rate of kills.

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