Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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Tank, Kurt (1898–1983)

German aircraft designer and test pilot, responsible for designing some of the Luftwaffe's premier planes. Born in Bromberg-Schwedenhohe, Germany, on 24 February 1898, Kurt Tank wanted to join the air corps when World War I began, but his father insisted he follow family tradition and enlist in the cavalry. He ended the war as a captain, with numerous decorations for bravery.

After the war, Tank, a gifted student, graduated from the Technische Hochschule in Berlin in 1923. A mentor from the university landed him his first job in the design department of Rohrbach Metallflugzeugbau, where he worked on flying boats. He gained his fame while employed by the Focke-Wulf aircraft manufacturing firm. His many successful designs included the FW-200 Kondor. Begun as a transport for the German airline Lufthansa, it was employed as a long-range maritime bomber and reconnaissance aircraft. Tank also designed the FW-189 tactical reconnaissance airplane, but his crowning achievement was undoubtedly the FW-190 fighter. In 1938, he was asked to design a replacement for the Me-109, the Luftwaffe's frontline fighter. Tank's design was an air-cooled, radial-engined, wide-track aircraft armed with four 20 mm cannon and two machine guns. The FW-190 proved a nasty surprise to the British when they first encountered it in 1941, and it outclassed the Spitfire Mk V. Its heavy armament earned it the nickname " Wurger" (Butcher-Bird). The FW-190 became a mainstay of the Luftwaffe and served on all fronts for the remainder of the war. Tank's last two designs, the FW-190D9 and Ta-152 (Ta for Tank), were improved versions of the basic FW-190 design in an attempt to counter the better Allied fighters appearing in the skies over Germany. At he end of the war, Tank and his engineers surrendered to the Americans and were released after a short internment.

Tank's postwar career included designing jet aircraft for Argentina and India. He returned to Germany in the 1970s as an aviation consultant. Tank died in Munich on 5 June 1983.

M. R. Pierce


Further Reading
Mitcham, Samuel W. Eagles of the Third Reich: The Men Who Made the Luftwaffe. Novato, CA: Presidio, 1997.; Toliver, Raymond F., and Trevor J. Constable. Fighter Aces of the Luftwaffe. Fallbrook, CA: Aero, 1977.; Wagner, Wolfgang. The History of German Aviation: Kurt Tank—Focke Wulf's Designer and Test Pilot. Trans. Don Cox. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Military/Aviation History, 1998.
 

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