The Heinkel He 111 was a German aircraft designed by Siegfried and Walter Günter in the early 1930s in violation of the Treaty of Versailles. Often described as a "Wolf in sheep's clothing", it masqueraded as a transport aircraft, but its purpose was to provide the Luftwaffe with a fast medium bomber.
Perhaps the best-recognized German bomber due to the distinctive, extensively-glazed, bullet-shaped "greenhouse" nose of later versions, the Heinkel was the most numerous and the primary Luftwaffe bomber during the early stages of World War II. It fared well until the Battle of Britain, when its weak defensive armament, relatively low speed, and poor maneuverability were exposed. Nevertheless, it proved capable of sustaining heavy damage and remaining airborne.
As the war progressed, the He 111 was used in a variety of roles on every front in the European Theater. It was used as a strategic bomber during the Battle of Britain, a torpedo bomber during the Battle of the Atlantic, and a medium bomber and a transport aircraft on the Western, Eastern, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and North African Fronts.
Although constantly upgraded, the Heinkel He 111 became obsolete during the latter part of the war. Delays and the eventual cancellation of a replacement bomber forced the Luftwaffe to continue using the He 111 until the end of the war. Manufacture ceased in 1944, at which point, piston-engine bomber production was largely halted in favor of fighter aircraft. With the German bomber force defunct, the He 111 was used for transport and logistics.
Source: Wikipedia, "Heinkel He 111", available under the CC-BY-SA License.
As Described In
Their Finest Hour:
The He 111 was first used in the Spanish Civil War with a great deal of success, as it flew faster than the defending fighters. It was called "The Spade" by its crews because of its broad, rounded wings. The He 111H-3 did extensive damage to British targets during the Battle of Britain, when protected by fighter escort, and gained a reputation as a tough aircraft capable of remaining airborne even when shot to pieces. But when fighter protection was unavailable, the lumbering "Spade" was shot down in great numbers by the much faster British fighters.