Lehmann Aircraft Toys
When German firms such as Märklin and Tipp Co. started producing military toys in the 1930s, they were paralleling Germany’s secret rearmament program. Tippco and Hausser vehicles were modeled on period tanks and fit the popular toy soldiers made by Elastolin and Lineol. Lehmann’s two aircraft of that period were considerably smaller however the quality of detail was unequaled in other aircraft toys. The Lehmann company, founded in 1881, produced a wide variety of toy boats, vehicles, dirigibles and more with ingenious windup clockwork mechanisms and lifelike actions. They found success with two early aviation toys based on actual aircraft of the period; the 1913 tin-and-wire monoplane Ikarus and the Zeppelin. Both toys were capable of being “flown” in a circle on a hanging string powered by a clockwork windup mechanism that turned the propellers.
As Germany started to re-arm after WWI, in violation of the Treaty of Versailles, Lehmann developed two accurate, brightly lithographed toys that were modeled on the country’s new aircraft designs: the 1932 high-speed, all-metal, elliptically winged, single-engine Heinkel He-70 “Blitz” (Lightning) and the 1935 twin engine Heinkel He-111. The He-70 had a wingspan 5 5⁄8 inches and the He-111 7 1⁄4 inches and they appeared in the mid 1930s complete with Germany’s symbol of the Third Reich, the swastika.
The actual Heinkel aircraft entered service as a civilian air transport in Lufthansa. But an inspection of either plane would reveal that both were technologically advanced, military-capable combat aircraft. The He-70 could easily be modified for a role as a fast reconnaissance light bomber. The He-111, while supposedly a mail and transport aircraft, had large bomb-bay doors and could be easily modified by adding modular bomb racks amidships and armament suitable for combat. It was certainly far from being an ideal design for carrying passengers or cargo.
Each Lehmann airplane toy was issued with a colorfully labeled cardboard box which contained an information sheet relating to the actual aircraft, and a metal ring, string and fuselage-attachment device allowing the toy to be flown in circles when swung around by a child while metal propellers spun freely and realistically. Both the He-70 and He-111 reflected the actual planes’ advanced retractable landing gear and were provided with additional parts representing the gear in an in-flight folded position. The pins holding the propellers also held the selected gear position in place, and when removed, facilitated the changing of the landing-gear configurations.
The early Lehmann He-70 was marked with an unusual German civilian registration: D-UDET. This was most certainly in honor of Ernst Udet, who was at that time in command of the Reich Air Ministry’s development wing. More importantly, Ernst Udet was a national hero. At the age of 22 he became one of Germany’s highest-scoring aces of World War I. His 62 aerial combat victories were second only to Manfred von Richthofen, the infamous Red Baron, and his wing commander in the Jagdgeschwader 1, known as the Flying Circus. In France, Udet was known as the “Devil’s Pilot,” based on his exploits during World War I.
Udet committed suicide on Nov. 17, 1941 over disillusionment with the Nazi Party and his boss Riechsmarschall Hermann Göring, a former squadron mate.
When Hitler entered the Spanish revolution on the side of Generalissimo Francisco Franco against the communist rebels, these Heinkel aircraft gave up their civilian disguises and went to full Luftwaffe military markings for service with the Condor Legion. The now outdated He-70 served in Spain as Germany’s first “Schnellbomber,” or high-speed bomber. As the camouflage schemas were added to both aircraft in combat service, Lehmann, true to form, followed closely thereafter by issuing camouflage variants of its two toys, reflecting both aircraft in combat service.
The early civilian variant of the Heinkel’s He-111 and Lehmann’s toy had a classic raised or stepped cockpit. But by 1938 the Heinkel firm had modified the aircraft with a variant having higher performance with even more powerful engines and a redesigned, aerodynamically clean, unstepped and extensively glazed cockpit, Once again the Lehmann firm followed with new tooling, providing a highly accurate rendition of the modified He-111 in two versions of military camouflage. They eliminated the raised cockpit and replaced it with a freshly lithographed streamlined design representing the all-glass nose and a raised gun position on top of the fuselage. Air intakes were added above the engines simulating the new, larger and more powerful engines. Lehmann no longer issued these in civilian Lufthansa markings.
While both aircraft were issued in light and dark camouflage designs, it is not known precisely why these two versions were made. It could be reasonably assumed that they reflected the actual military versions, one for its war in Spain and another, perhaps, as Germany began its rampage over Europe, starting with the invasion of Poland in 1939. Both the He-70 and the He-111 continued to serve with the Luftwaffe until the end of the war in 1945.
At some point Lehmann wanted to distribute its toys in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, but to avoid sensitivities, it modified the He-70 Lufthansa lithography by eliminating the Nazi swastika and Iron Cross on the underside of the wings, replacing them with British Royal Air Force roundels on the both sides of wings and fuselage. Lehmann’s attempt to market toys vaguely similar to the British monoplane fighters of the period, such as the Hurricane and Spitfire, was short-lived and ended abruptly when Great Britain declared war on Germany. For this reason, the RAF variant remains the most difficult one to find today. There have been rumors of a French military variant of this toy, but no examples have been confirmed.