Luftwaffe Fighter-Bombers and Destroyers
'From 1938 onwards, the Luftwaffe had developed the Me-110 twin engined fighter; called the ‘heavy' or ‘destroyer' fighter (Zerstörer). The role of this fighter was theoretically to be the pursuit of enemy formations operating over the Reich or returning over their own territory. In point of fact many squadrons of these aircraft were employed in the early war campaign. The twin-engine fighter was something new in German pre-war concepts, and in the Staff College lectures its experimental nature was constantly emphasized.”
From The Rise and Fall of the German Air Force 1933-1945 issued by the Air Ministry (A.C.A.S..1948)
The Messerschmitt Bf 110, often (erroneously) called Me 110, was a twin-engine heavy fighter (Zerstörer - German for 'Destroyer') in the service of the Luftwaffe during World War II. Hermann Göring was a proponent of the Bf 110, and nicknamed it his Eisenseiten ('Ironsides'). Development work on an improved type, the Me 210 that was to replace the Bf 110, begun before the war started, but due to teething troubles, resulted in Bf 110 soldiering on until the end of the war in various roles, alongside its replacements, the Me 210 and the Me 410.
The Bf 110 served with success in the early campaigns, the Polish, Norwegian and Battle of France. The Bf 110's lack of agility in the air was its primary weakness. This flaw was exposed during the Battle of Britain, when some Bf 110 equipped units were withdrawn from the battle after very heavy losses and redeployed as night fighters, a role to which the aircraft was well suited. The Bf 110 enjoyed a successful period following the Battle of Britain as an air superiority fighter and strike aircraft in other theatres. During the Balkans Campaign, North African Campaign and the Eastern Front it rendered valuable ground support to the German Army as a potent fighter-bomber (Jagdbomber-Jabo). Later in the war, it was developed into a formidable night fighter, becoming the major night-fighting aircraft of the Luftwaffe. Most of the German night fighter aces flew the Bf 110 at some point during their combat careers, and the top night fighter ace of all times, Major Heinz-Wolfgang Schnaufer, flew it exclusively, and claimed 121 victories in 164 combat missions.
Genesis and competition
Throughout the 1930s, the Air Forces of the major military powers were engaged in a transition from biplane to monoplane designs. Most concentrated on the single-engine fighter aircraft. But the problem of range arose. The Reichsluftfahrtministerium (RLM, pushed by Hermann Göring issued a request for a new multipurpose fighter, called the Kampfzerstörer (battle destroyer) with long range and an internal bombload. Specifically, the request called for a twin-engine, three-seat, all-metal monoplane that was armed with cannon as well as a bomb bay. Only three companies out of the original seven responded to the request. These included Bayerische Flugzeugwerke (Messerschmitt, Focke-Wulf and Henschel.
Messerschmitt had defeated competition by Focke-Wulf and Henschel and Arado and were given the funds to build several prototype aircraft. The Focke-Wulf design, the Focke-Wulf Fw 57, had a wing span of some 25.6 m (84 ft) and was powered by two DB 600 engines. It was armed with two 20 mm MG FF cannons in the nose and a third was positioned in a dorsal turret. The Fw 57 V1 flew in 1936 but its performance was poor and the machine crashed. The Henschel Hs 124 was similar in construction layout to the Fw 57.
Equipped with two Jumo 210C for the V1. The V2 utilized the BMW 132Dc radial engines generating 870 PS compared with the 640 PS Jumo. The armaments consisted of a single rearward-firing 7.92 mm (.312 in) MG 15 machine gun and a single forward-firing 20 mm MG FF cannon.
Messerschmitt omitted the internal bomb load requirement from the RLM directive to increase armament element of the RLM specification. The Bf 110 was far superior to its rivals in providing the speed, range and firepower to meet its role requirements. By the end of 1935, the Bf 110 had evolved into an all-metal, low-wing cantilever monoplane of semi-monocoque design featuring twin rudders and powered by two DB 600A engines. The design was also fitted with Handley-Page wing slots.
The initial deliveries of the Bf 110 encountered several issues with delivery of the DB 600 motors, which forced Bayerische Flugzeugwerke to install Junkers Jumo 210B engines, which left the Bf 110 seriously underpowered and able to reach a top speed of only 431 km/h (268 mph). The armament of the A-0 units was also limited to four nose-mounted 7.92 mm (.312 in) MG 17 machine guns.
Even without delivery of the DB 600 engines, Bayerische Flugzeugwerke began assembly of the Bf 110 in the summer of 1937. As the DB 600 engines continued to have issues, Bayerische Flugzeugwerke was forced to keep on using Jumo motors, the 210G, which supplied 515 kW (700 PS) each (versus the 471 kW/640 PS supplied by the 210B). Three distinct versions of the Bf 110B were built, the B-1, which featured a total of four 7.92 mm (.312 in) MG 17 machine guns and two 20 mm MG FF cannons. The B-2 reconnaissance version, which installed a camera in place of the cannons, and the B-3 which was utilized as a trainer, with the cannons replaced by extra radio equipment. Only 45 Bf 110Bs were built before the Jumo 210G engine production line ended. The major identifier of the A and B 110s was the very large 'mouth' bath radiators located under the engine.
In late 1938, the DB 601 B-1 engines finally became available. With the new engine, the design teams removed the radiators under the engine and replaced them with water/glycol radiators, placing them under the wing to the outside of the engines. With the DB 601 engine, the Bf 110's maximum speed increased to a respectable 541 km/h (336 mph) with a range of approximately 1,094 km (680 mi).
Later production variants
The production of the Bf 110 was put on a low priority in 1941 in expectation of its replacement by the Me 210. During this time, two versions of the Bf 110 were developed, the E and F models. The E was designed as a fighter bomber (Zerstörer Jabo, able to carry four 50 kg (110 lb) ETC-50 racks under the wing, along with the centerline bomb rack. The first E, the Bf 110 E-1 was originally powered by the DB 601B engine, but shifted to the DB 601P as they became available in quantity. A total of 856 Bf 110E models were built between August 1940 and January 1942. The E models also had upgraded armour and some fuselage upgrades to support the added weight. Most pilots of the Bf 110E considered the aircraft slow and unresponsive, one former Bf 110 pilot commenting the E was 'rigged and a total dog.'
The Bf 110F featured the new DB 601F engines which produced 993 kW/1,350 PS (almost double the power the original Jumo engines provided, which allowed for upgraded armour, strengthening, and increased weight with no loss in performance. Three common versions of the F model existed. Pilots typically felt the Bf 110F to be the best of the 110 line, being fully aerobatic and in some respects smoother to fly than the Bf 109, though not as fast. Eventually 512 Bf 110F models were completed between December 1941 and December 1942, when production gave way to the Bf 110G.
Although the Me 210 entered service in mid-1941, it was eventually withdrawn for further development. There were insufficient aircraft to fully replace the Bf 110, so it fought until the end of the war. In the wake of the failure of the Me 210, the Bf 110G was designed. Fitted with the DB 605B engines, producing 1,085 kW (1,475 PS) in 'War Emergency' setting, and 997 kW (1,355 PS) at 5.8 km (19,000 ft) altitude, the Bf 110G also underwent some changes which improved the aerodynamics of the aircraft, as well as improved nose armament. No Bf 110 G-1 existed, as the Bf 110 G-2 became the baseline Bf 110G and was fitted with a large number of Rüstsätze, making the G the most versatile of the Bf 110. The initial batch of six pre-series production G-0 aircraft built in June 1942 followed by 797 G-2, 172 G-3 and 2,293 G-4 models, built between December 1942 and April 1945. Pilots reported the Bf 110G to be a 'mixed bag' in the air, in part due to all changes between the G and F series. However the Bf 110G was considered a superior gun platform with excellent all-around visibility, and considered, until the advent of the Heinkel He 219, the best of the Luftwaffe night fighters.
The Bf 110's main strength was its ability to accept some extreme weaponry. Early versions had four 7.92 mm (.312 in) MG 17 machine guns in the upper nose and two 20 mm MG FF/M cannons fitted in the lower part of the nose. Later versions replaced the MG FF/M with the more powerful 20 mm MG 151/20 cannons and many G-series aircraft, especially those who served in the bomber-destroyer role, had two 30 mm (1.18 in) MK 108 cannons fitted instead of the MG 17. The defensive armament consisted of a single, flexibly-mounted 7.92 mm (.312 in) MG 15 machine gun. Late F-series and prototype G-series were upgraded to a 7.92 mm (.312 in) MG 81 machine gun with a higher rate of fire and the G-series was equipped with the twin-barrelled MG 81Z. Many G-series night fighters were retrofitted or factory-built with the Schräge Musik (Jazz Music) off-bore gun system, firing upward at an oblique angle for shooting down bombers while passing underneath, frequently equipped with two 20 mm MG FF/M, but field installations of the 20 mm MG 151/20 or 30 mm (1.18 in) MK 108 cannons were also utilized. The Schräge Musik weapons were typically mounted to the back of the rear cockpit.
The Bf 110 G-2/R1 was also capable of accepting armament such as the Bordkanone series 37 mm (1.46 in) BK 37 cannon. A single hit from this weapon was enough to destroy any Allied bomber.
The fighter-bomber versions could carry up to 2,000 kg (4,410 lb) of bombs depending on the type.
Hermann Göring reportedly ordered the Zerstörerwaffe to make all the Luftwaffe's Bf 110s available for operations. Future ace, commander of Nachtjagdgeschwader 1 and Jagdfliegerführer Rumänien, Wolfgang Falck scored his first kills over Poland, as did future night fighter ace Helmut Lent. Gordon Gollob, future General der Jagdflieger. Falck's unit, I./ZG 76, claimed 31 kills during the campaign, of which 19 were confirmed. I(Z)./LG 1 also contributed. Escorting German bomber formations on attacks against Warsaw, the unit claimed 30 kills on the first day. Polish fighter units reported a 17% loss rate on this day. This rose to 72% in five days. JGr 2 also claimed 28 aerial and 50 ground victories.
The Phoney War and the 'Battle of German Bight'
Most of the units protecting western Germany from aerial attack were equipped with the Messerschmitt Bf 109. One of the Bf 110 units assigned to air defence in this sector was Lehrgeschwader 1. On 23 November 1939, the Bf 110 claimed its first Allied victim when LG 1 Bf 110s engaged and shot down a Morane-Saulnier M.S.406 of the Armée de l'Air over Verdun. Just three weeks later, on 18 December 1939, the Bf 110 participated in the first German victory over British arms in World War II. RAF Bomber Command sent 22 Vickers Wellington bombers to attack the German naval base at Wilhelmshaven. Despite help from Bf 109 units, it was the Bf 110 which excelled in the bomber destroyer role. By the end of the fighting the Germans claimed 38 RAF bombers. Actual losses were 11 Wellingtons and six damaged to varying degrees. Some sources claim a 12th Wellington was destroyed. The raid convinced RAF Bomber Command to think about aborting the daylight bombing of Germany in favour of night actions.
Invasions of Denmark and Norway
The Bf 110 Zerstörerwaffe (Destroyer Force) saw considerable action during operation Operation Weserübung the invasion of Denmark and Norway. Two Zerstörergeschwaders (1 and 76) were committed with 64 aircraft. The Bf 110 destroyed 25 Danish military aircraft stationed on the Værløse airbase on 9 April through ground strafing. One Danish Fokker D.XXI did manage to get airborne but was immediately shot down. During this campaign, Victor Mölders, brother of the famous Werner Mölders, took the official surrender of the town of Aalborg after landing at the local airfield. Dressed in flying gear, he was given a lift into the town centre by a milkman to find suitable quarters for I.ZG 1's Bf 110 crews.
In Norway, the Bf 110s helped secure the Oslo-Fornebu airport, escorting Junkers Ju 52 transports loaded with paratroops (Fallschirmjäger). The Germans were engaged by several Gloster Gladiators and machine guns manned by troops on the ground; in the ensuing battle both sides lost two aircraft. The Messerschmitt pilots did not know that many earlier waves of transports had turned back and the airport was unsecured. Landing their cargoes, many transports were destroyed. The remaining Bf 110s strafed the airfield and helped the ground troops take the airfield; the air support provided by the Zerstörer was instrumental, and it was to perform well as a fighter-bomber in the coming campaigns. During these battles, a future 110-kill Luftwaffe ace, Helmut Lent, scored his fifth and sixth victories against Norwegian opposition.
Helmut Lent's Bf 110C. Lent ran out of fuel and force landed at Oslo Fornebu airfield on April 9, 1940
With experience fighting in Norway, efforts were made to extend the combat range of the Bf 110; these became the Bf 110D Long Range (Langstrecken) Zerstörer. Several different external fuel tanks, in the shape of 900 L (240 US gal) underwing-mounted and 1,050 L (280 US gal) centerline ventral fuel tanks, resulted in no less than four versions of the Bf 110D, including the enormous tank, which owing to cold weather and limited knowledge of fuel vapours, sometimes exploded, leading to unexplained losses during the North Sea patrols. As a result, the aircrews came to dislike this version. The handling characteristics were also affected; the Bf 110 was not manoeuvrable to begin with and the added weight made it worse'. The Bf 110D was nicknamed the Dackelbauch, or 'Dachshund Belly'.
The Zerstörerwaffe encountered mostly British bombers, and it performed well. On 13 June 1940 a squadron of Skua dive bombers were intercepted trying to reach and bomb the German battleship Scharnhorst. The 110s shot down eight in as many minutes; among the victors was Herbert Schob who survived the war as one of the most successful Bf 110 pilots. Total losses during this campaign amounted to little more than 20.
During July, the RAF made several raids on Norway. On 9 July 1940, seven out of a force of 12 Bristol Blenheims bombing Stavanger were shot down by a mixed force of Bf 110s and Bf 109s from ZG 76 and JG 77 respectively.
Western Campaign, 1940
In the spring of 1940, Walter Horten, Jagdgeschwader 26 technical officer, was invited to participate in a 'mock combat' with a Bf 109E. The Bf 109 bested the Bf 110 time and again. After the combat, Horten said, Gentlemen, be very careful if you should ever come up against the English. Their fighters are all single-engined. And once they get to know the Bf 110s weaknesses, you could be in for a very nasty surprise.
During the phoney war, a number of French aircraft were shot down by Bf 110s. ZG 1 Gruppenkommander Hauptmann Hannes Gentzen became the highest scoring fighter pilot in the Luftwaffe on 2 April, when he shot down a Curtiss Hawk over Argonne. For the attack on the Netherlands, 145 Bf 110s were committed under Oberst Kurt-Bertram von Döring's Jagdfliegerführer 2. During the campaign itself, the Bf 110 demonstrated its capabilities as a strike aircraft. On 10 May, ZG 1 claimed 26 Dutch aircraft destroyed on the ground on Hamstede airfield. Between 11–13 May, most of the 82 aerial claims over Belgium were claimed by the Bf 110 equipped ZG 26. However, this was tempered by the loss of nine Bf 110s against the RAF on 15 May. By this date, Oberstleutnant Friedrich Vollbracht's ZG 2 claimed 66 Allied aircraft.
The Bf 110 force also encountered the Swiss Air Force during this period. Several German raids violated Swiss airspace. About five Bf 110s were shot down by Swiss Bf 109s. The Bf 110s participation in Fall Rot's Operationa Paula, an offensive to destroy the remaining French Air Forces in central France, was to lead to 101 losses for the Luftwaffe, of which just four were Bf 110s. No further losses of the type occurred for the remainder of the campaign.
The campaign in the west that followed in 1940 demonstrated the Bf 110 was vulnerable in hostile skies. It performed well against the Belgian, Dutch and French Air Forces, suffering relatively light losses, but was quickly outclassed by increasing numbers of Hurricanes and Spitfires. In the Western Campaign, 60 were lost. This represented 32 percent of the Zerstörerwaffe's initial strength..
Battle of Britain
The Battle of Britain revealed the Bf 110's fatal weaknesses as a daylight fighter against single-engine aircraft. A relatively large aircraft, it lacked the agility of the Hurricane and Spitfire and was easily seen. The World War I-era Bristol Fighter had done well with a rear gunner firing a rifle-caliber machine gun, but by World War II, this was insufficient to deter the eight-gun fighters facing the Bf 110. Its size and weight meant that it had high wing loading, which limited its maneuverability. Furthermore, although it had a higher top speed than contemporary RAF Hurricanes, it had poor acceleration. However, it was unique at the time as a long-range bomber escort, and did not have the problems of restricted range that hampered the Bf 109E. Although outclassed, it was still formidable as a high escort for bombers using the tactic of diving upon an enemy, delivering a long-range burst from its powerful forward-facing armament, then breaking contact to run for it.
Hermann Göring's nephew, Hans-Joachim Göring, was a pilot with III./Zerstörergeschwader 76, flying the Messerschmitt Bf 110. Hans-Joachim was killed in action on 11 July 1940, when his Bf 110 was shot down by Hurricanes of No. 87 Squadron RAF. His aircraft crashed into Portland Harbour.
The worst day of the battle for the Bf 110 was the actions of the 15 August 1940, when nearly 30 Bf 110s were shot down, the equivalent of an entire Gruppe. Between the 16–17 August a further 23 Bf 110s were shot down.
After the 18 August there was a marked reduction in the number of Zerstörer operations. Their seeming absence has often been equated with the simultaneous disappearance from the Battle of the Ju 87. But wereas the Ju 87 had to be withdrawn because it simply could not survive in the hostile environment over southern England in the late summer of 1940, the reason for the decrease in Bf 110 activity was much more mundane. Replacements were not keeping pace with losses. There were just not enough Zerstörer available.
Messerschmitt Bf 110 Zerstörer Aces World War Two
The last day of August proved to be a rare success for the Messerschmitt Bf 110. ZG 26 claimed 13 RAF fighter shot down, which 'was not far off the mark', for three losses and five damaged. However, on 4 and 27 September 15 Bf 110s were lost on each day. The Luftwaffe had embarked on the battle with 237 serviceable Bf 110s. 223 were lost in the course of it.
On 10 May 1941, in a strange episode during the aftermath of the Battle of Britain, Rudolf Hess, the deputy leader of the Nazi party, used a Bf 110 to fly from Augsburg, north of Munich, to Scotland, in an attempt to broker a peace deal between Germany and Great Britain.
The Messerschmitt Bf 110C and Es were committed to the invasions of Yugoslavia and Greece in April 1941. I and II./ZG 26 were deployed to the theatre. Once again the Bf 110 encountered foreign flown Messerschmitt Bf 109s, this time 109s of the Yugoslavian Air Force. As over Switzerland in 1940, the battles ended in their opponent's favor. On the first day, 6 April, Bf 110s of I./ZG 26 lost five of their number in exchange for two Yugoslavian Bf 109s. II./ZG dispatched several Hawker Fury, but managed to lose two of their own against the biplanes. Over Greece, on 20 April, II./ZG 26 claimed five Hurricanes of No. 33 and No. 80 Squadron RAF for two losses. This enagagement saw the death of 50 kill ace Marmaduke Pattle of No 33 Squadron. Staffelkapitän Hauptmann Theodor Rossiwall and Oberleutnant Sophus Baagoe were amongst the claimers on this date, taking their scores to 12 and 14. Also killed in this battle was the ace, F/Lt W.J. 'Timber' Woods of No. 80 Squadron with 6½ kills. Oberleutnant Baagoe was killed on 14 May 1941 whilst on a strafing mission during the Battle of Crete. The British defences and a Gloster Gladiator pilot claimed credit. Around 12 Bf 110s were lost over Crete.
North Africa, the Mediterranean and Middle East
The Rashid Ali Rebellion and resulting Anglo-Iraqi War saw the Luftwaffe commit 12 of 4./ZG 76's Bf 110s to the Iraqi Nationalists cause as part of 'Flyer Command Iraq' (Fliegerführer Irak). The German machines reached Iraq in the first week of May 1941. The campaign in the desert would last for ten days. Two RAF Gladiators were claimed by future night fighter ace Martin Drewes. But RAF raids badly damaged two Bf 110s. However, by the 26 May no Bf 110s were left serviceable and German personnel were evacuated. One Bf 110 (Wk-Nr 4035) was captured by the RAF and test flown as RAF serial HK846, 'Belle of Berlin'. Based in Cairo, Egypt, it was to deploy to South Africa as part of a program to train pilots on enemy equipment. It did not make it. The machine crashed in the Sudan. In the North African Campaign, the Bf 110 acted as a support aircraft for the Junkers Ju 87 Stuka units. In 1941, nearly 20% of the Zerstörergeschwader's missions were ground attack orientated. A number of Bf 110 aces were lost in aerial combat during this period, and other losses were considerable. Significantly, on the night of the 22–23 May, the Bf 110 was pressed into night fighting service over the desert. Oberleutnant Alfred Wehmeyer scored three nocturnal kills against Allied bombers in the space of a week. In August 1942, a stalemate between the Allied and Axis forces in North Africa permitted the withdrawal of III./ZG 26 to Crete for convoy protection. During this time a number of United States Army Air Force B-24 Liberators were destroyed. On 29 September 1942, whilst on patrol alone, Oberleutnant Helmut Haugk of ZG 26 engaged a formation of 11 B-24s, dispatching two of the bombers. The Bf 110 had demonstrated its capability in a role it was to excel in over Europe.
Just 51 air worthy Bf 110s took part in the initial rounds of Operation Barbarossa, and all were from three units; ZG 26, Schnellkampfgeschwader 210 (redesignated from Erprobungsgruppe 210) and ZG 76. The Bf 110 rendered valuable support to the German Army by carrying out strike missions in the face of very heavy anti-aircraft artillery defences. A huge number of ground kills were achieved by Bf 110 pilots in the east. Some of the most successful were Leutnant Eduard Meyer, who received the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross on 20 December 1941 for 18 aerial victories and 48 aircraft destroyed on the ground, as well as two tank kills. Oberleutnant Johannes Kiel was credited with 62 aircraft destroyed on the ground, plus nine tanks and 20 artillery pieces. He was later credited with a submarine sunk and three motor torpedo boats sunk.
Bf 110Gs over Budapest, Hungary, 1944
The number of Bf 110s on the Eastern Front declined further during and after 1942. Most units that operated the 110 did so for reconnaissance. Most machines were withdrawn to Germany for the Defense of the Reich operations.
Defence of the Reich
It was also used as a ground attack aircraft, starting with the C-4/B model, and as a day bomber interceptor, where its heavy firepower was particularly useful. Later on, there were dedicated ground attack versions which proved reasonably successful. The Bf 110 served the Luftwaffe extensively in various roles, though not in its intended role as a heavy fighter. Another role the Bf 110 took on was as a potent bomber-destroyer. The extreme power of the Bf 110's weaponry could cripple or destroy any Allied bomber in seconds. Without encountering an Allied escort, it was capable of wreaking immense destruction. When encumbered with a total of four 21 cm (8 in) Werfer-Granate 21 (Wfr.Gr. 21) rocket tubes, with two of these under each outer wing panel, and additional armament, the 110 was vulnerable to Allied escort fighters. In late 1943 and early 1944 Bf 110 formations were frequently decimated by the roving Allied fighters.
It was in this role the Bf 110 and its pilots achieved their greatest successes. Luftwaffe night fighter ace Heinz-Wolfgang Schnaufer was the highest scorer in the Defence of the Reich campaign and ended the war with 121 aerial victories, virtually all of them achieved while flying examples of the Bf 110. Other such as Helmut Lent switched to the night fighter arm and built on their modest daylight scores. Other aircraft such as the Dornier Do 17 and Junkers Ju 88 also played a big role, but none so more than the Bf 110.
The first victory for the Bf 110 in this capacity was recorded on 4 February 1943 against a B-24 formation attacking Hamm. The Germans suffered from defensive fire as the Bf 110s were a bigger target. Along with the seven Fw 190s and five lost by JG 1, all eight IV./NJG 1s Bf 110s were damaged. They claimed three B-17s although only one was lost. The reason for the failure was due to the lack of training in day fighter tactics. Hans-Joachim Jabs said;
This was my only day victory in a night fighter. We flew these missions at no greater than Schwarme strength, and were ourselves never escorted. It was wasteful to use highly trained night fighter crews in this role, and it was given up when the US escorts appeared.
On 4 March, the unit was back in action, this time destroying three B-17s for two Bf 110s. During 1943, USAAF bombers were afforded limited protection by American fighters, which did not yet have the sufficient range to escort the bombers to and from the target. This gave the Zerstörer force a window of opportunity to wreak untold damage on the bomber streams. However, the Bf 110s were often called away to the Eastern and North African fronts 'rapidly' and 'often' to perform strike, reconnaissance and even dive-bombing missions, leading to inevitable losses. When these units returned to the Reich, they were depleted and required reforming retraining and requipping. The wastage and woeful deployment of the type prevented any lasting success. Finally, in autumn 1943, the Zerstörergruppen were recalled from their Eastern or Mediterranean bases, and formed into RLV units. Along with the Me 410, it formed the newly rebuilt ZG 26, equipped with three gruppen (two Bf 110 and one Me 410, based near Hannover. I. and III./ZG 76 were based in Austria, and II./ZG 76 was based in France. On 4 October 1943, the Bf 110 Geschwader intercepted B-17s of the 3rd Bomb Division. The targets around Frankfurt and the Saar region were hit. The Bf 110s flew alone against this formation and destroyed four B-17s, before having the misfortune of running into 56th Fighter Group P-47 Thunderbolts. The Bf 110s lost nine machines, with 11 killed and seven wounded. It is not clear if they managed to shoot down any of their attackers.
The experiences of Zerstörergeschwader 'Horst Wessel', a Bf 110 squadron, indicates what happened to twin-engine fighters in the new combat environment. The unit worked up over January and February to operational ready status. At 12:13 pm, on February 20, 13 Bf 110s scrambled after approaching formations. Six minutes later three more took off to join the first group. When they arrived at the designated contact point there was nothing left to meet. American fighters had jumped the 13 Bf 110s from the sun and shot down 11. Meanwhile two enemy fighters strafed the airfield and damaged nine more aircraft.
On 22 February, six Bf 110s were lost for two kills against B-17s, while on 6 March, five Bf 110s were lost and one damaged out of nine machines committed. By April 1944, the Oberkommando der Luftwaffe had hoped to convert the Bf 110 Geschwader to the Me 410. However, after the Me 410 suffered equally high casualty rates, the conversion was delayed. The Bf 110 was considered to be obsolete and phased out of production accordingly. However, while crews found it faster in 'raw speed', they found it even less agile than the Bf 110 and very difficult to bail out of. The only other replacement type was the Dornier Do 335, which at this stage in the war was extremely unlikely. On 2 April, the Bf 110 achieved one of its final successful engagements. A force of 62 attacked a mixed bomber stream of B-17 and B-24s with R4M rockets, destroying five B-17s and three B-24s, as a well as a single P-38 Lightning. Losses were eight Bf 110s. On 9 April, ZG 76 committed 77 to an USAAF raid on Berlin. USAAF P-51 Mustangs had now appeared, and were able to escort the Allied bombers to and from the target. The Bf 110 force lost 23 of the 77 machines. It never flew another mission in this capacity. The losses had 'marked the beginning of the end of the Bf 110 Zerstörer as a firstline weapon in the RLV'. The Zerstörer was only to fly as a day fighter against unescorted formations. This would be rare throughout the remainder of the war.
Night fighter operations
The Bf 110 would be the backbone of the Nachtjagdgeschwader throughout the war. The first units undertook defence operations over Germany as early as the autumn of 1940. Opposition was light until 1942, when British heavy bombers started to appear.
One of the most notable actions of the Bf 110 occurred on the night of the 17/18 August 1943. Bf 110 units had been mass equipped with the Schräge Musik system, an emplacement of two upward-firing cannon, mounted almost midway down the cockpit canopy behind the pilot, which could attack the blind spot of RAF Bomber Commands Avro Lancaster bombers, which lacked a ventral turret. Using this, NJG 5's Leutnant Peter Erhardt destroyed four bombers in thirty minutes. Despite excellent visibility, none of the RAF bombers had reported anything unusual that would indicate a new weapon or tactics in the German night fighter force. This ignorance was compounded by the tracerless ammunition used by the Bf 110s, as well as firing on the British bombers blind spots. Many RAF crews witnessed a sudden explosion of a friendly aircraft, but assumed, in some cases, it was very accurate flak. Few of the German fighters were seen, let alone fired on.
In September 1943, Arthur Harris, convinced a strategic bombing campaign against Germany's cities would force a German collapse, pressed for further mass attacks. While RAF Bomber Command destroyed Hannover's city centre and 86% of crews dropped their bombs within 5 km (3 mi) of the aiming point, losses were severe. The Ruhr Area was the prime target for British bombers in 1943, and German defences inflicted a considerable loss rate. The Bf 110 had a hand in the destruction of some 2,751 RAF bombers in 1943, along with German flak and other night fighters. Later, the RAF developed a radar countermeasure; Window, to confuse German defences and introduced de Havilland Mosquitos to fly feints and divert the Bf 110s and other night fighter forces from their true target, which worked, initially. At this time, the Bf 110 remained the backbone of the fight-force, although it was now being reinforced by the Junkers Ju 88.
In October 1943, General Josef Kammhuber reported the climbing attrition rate as 'unacceptable', and urged Hermann Göring to stop committing the German night fighters to daylight operations. Many Nachtjagdgeschwader had taken part in costly daylight battles of attrition. From June-August, it had increased from around 2% to 9.8%. However the fortunes for the mostly Bf 110 equipped force turned during late August/September 1943. The night fighter arm claimed the destruction of 123 out of some 1,179 bombers over Hamburg on one night; a 7.2% loss rate. During the Battle of Berlin 1,128 bombers were lost in five months. RAF Bomber Command had 'nearly burned out'. These losses were primarily a result of fighter defences, at the heart of which was the Bf 110. The German defences had won a victory which prevented deep penetration raids for a time. But Luftwaffe losses were high; 15% of crews were killed in the three months of 1944.
Bf 110 A
Prototypes with two Junkers Jumo 210 engines.
Bf 110 C
A captured Bf 110C-4 in the service of the Royal Air Force
Bf 110 D
Heavy fighter/fighter-bomber, extreme range versions based on C-series, often stationed in Norway.
Bf 110 E
Bf 110 E-1, Zerstörer-Ergänzungsgruppe, Deblin-Irena (Poland 1942).
Bf 110 F
Same as the E, again strengthened airframe, better armor, two 993 kW (1,350 PS) DB 601F engines.
Bf 110 G
Bf 110 G-4
A Bf 110 G-4 night fighter at the RAF Museum in London.
Bf 110 H
Germany - Luftwaffe
Three intact Bf 110s are known to exist, although one of them is rebuilt from rescued parts from several different airframes. One, a Bf 110 G-4 night fighter that had been surrendered to the allies in May 1945 at Grove airfield in Denmark, is displayed at RAF Museum London at Hendon in North London, United Kingdom. Another Bf 110 is on display in the Deutsches Technikmuseum Berlin. A third is displayed in a private museum northwest of Helsingoer, Denmark.
The largely intact fuselage of a Bf 110 (type unknown) is on display in the lower station of the Cairngorm Mountain Railway, Scotland.
Specifications (Messerschmitt Bf 110 C-4)
Crew: 2 (3 for night fighter variants)
Maximum speed: 560 km/h (348 mph)
Messerschmitt BF 110/Me 210/Me 410: An Illustrated History
Crew: 2 (3 for night fighter variants)
Maximum speed: 595 km/h (370 mph)
Messerschmitt Bf 110 - Germany
As a long-range escort, fighter the Bf 110C received a disastrous mauling at the hands of the RAF during the 'Battle of Britain.' Rather than protecting the bombers under escort, the Bf 110C formations usually found that they were hard pressed to defend themselves.
The Messerschmitt Bf 110 was an aircraft of very mixed fortunes. It has often been criticized for its failure during the Battle of Britain, while its successes in other fields have been largely ignored. Yet, this aircraft that did not match up to Luftwaffe expectations managed to serve Germany throughout the Second World War in long-range escort fighter, fighter-bomber, reconnaissance, ground attack and night fighter roles.
The long-range multi-seat escort fighter is possibly the most difficult of combat aircraft to design. Certainly no entirely successful machine in this category emerged from the Second World War, and when Professor Willy Messerschmitt began design studies for such a warplane towards the end of 1934 at the Bayerische Flugzeugwerke at Augsburg his problems would have seemed insurmountable had he possessed a full knowledge of interceptor fighter development trends abroad. Such a machine as was required by Marshal Goering to equip the elite 'Zerstorer' formations that he envisaged had to be capable of penetrating deep into enemy territory, possessing sufficient range to accompany bomber formations. The fuel tankage necessary presented a serious weight penalty and called for the use of two engines if the 'Zerstorer' was to achieve a performance approaching that of the lighter interceptor fighter by which it would be opposed. Yet it had to be manaoeuvrable if it was to successfully fend off the enemy's single-seaters.
Messerschmitt possessed no previous experience with twin-engined military aircraft when he commenced work on the Bf 110. Indeed, his first warplane, the single-seat Bf-109 , had been conceived only the previous summer. At the time, the most powerful aero engine of national design available was the Junkers Jumo 210A of 610 hp. It was obvious from the outset that a pair of such engines would be inadequate to provide the power needed for the relatively large and heavy fighter envisaged. However, the Daimler-Benz Aktiengesellschaft was actively engaged in developing a new twelve-cylinder liquid-cooled inverted-vee engine, the DB600 , which held promise of 1,000 hp; and on the premise that such engines would be available for his prototypes, Messerschmitt began the design of the Bf 110.
Designed to a 1934 requirement for a long range escort fighter, the first prototype Bf 110 made its initial flight on May 12,1936. A key factor in the design was the use of two Daimler-Benz DB 600 engines; subsequent difficulty in obtaining enough of these to power development aircraft meant that the Bf 110 could not be tested during the Spanish Civil War. Nevertheless, one aircraft was tested at the Rechlin evaluation center in 1937 and proved to be very fast, although not as manoeuvrable as hoped. Despite obvious shortcomings, the Bf 110 entered service in 1939 as the Bf 110C, powered by two 1100 hp DB 601A engines. Production was set up on a massive scale, and by the end of the year some 500 Bf 110s were flying operationally.
The Bf 110 was no match for the Thunderbolts escorting American B-17 and B-24 bombers over Berlin. By the time Germany invaded Poland on September 1,1939, ten Luftwaffe Gruppen had been equipped with the heavy fighter. Owing to the limited aerial opposition the Bf 110C was largely employed in the ground-support role, and after the fall of Poland little was heard of this much-vaunted machine until, on December 14,1939, it was encountered by a formation of twelve Wellingtons over the Heligoland Bight. But it was not until it was to come up against RAF fighters in 1940 that the Bf 110C was to receive its first real trial in combat and to be found wanting.
As a long-range escort fighter the Bf 110C received a disastrous mauling at the hands of the more nimble Hurricane and Spitfire during the 'Battle of Britain'. Rather than protecting the bombers under escort, the Bf 110C formations usually found that they were hard put to defend themselves, and the farcical situation developed in which single-seat Bf-109E fighters were having to afford protection to the escort fighters. The complete failure of the Bf 110C in the role for which it had been conceived led to its eventual withdrawal from the Channel coast but did not result in any reduction in its production priority.
Against Polish PZL fighters and other European countries the aircraft fared well, but when used during the Battle of Britain to escort German bombers, Royal Air Force fighters dealt heavily with the aircraft, forcing the Luftwaffe to switch to short-range Bf-109s for escort duties. Although the Bf 110s had failed in this primary task, production continued at a high rate; by 1945 no fewer than 6,150 had been built, ranging from Bf 110As to Gs. As later models became available, the early Bf 110Cs and Ds were transferred to the Middle East and Eastern Front.
Both the C- and D-models had almost disappeared from the European theatre by the summer of 1941, although they were being used extensively on the Russian front and in the Middle East. Production during 1940 had risen to 1,083 machines, but with the impending introduction of the Me 210 only 784 machines were produced in the following year.
By the end of 1942, in which year 580 Bf 110s were produced, production of this aircraft had again been stepped up as, on April 17, production of the Me 210 was canceled after numerous accidents, thus leaving a serious gap in the Luftwaffe's fighter and fighter bomber production program. To fill the gap an improved version of the Bf 110 was introduced, the G-series with the DB605 engine which provided 1,475 hp for take-0ff and 1,355 hp @ 18,700 feet. The pre-production Bf 110G-0 fighter-bomber was delivered for service evaluation late in 1942, and from early in 1943 G-series machines were encountered in increasing numbers. Apart from its engines the first production model, the Bf 110G-1, was similar to earlier fighter-bomber variants, and the G-2 differed principally in the armament installed: two or four 20-mm. MG 151 cannon and four 7.9-mm. MG 17 in the nose plus two 7.9-mm. MG 81 in the rear cockpit.
The Bf 110G, was intended for use originally as a fighter-bomber but, it was employed mostly as a night fighter. The Bf 110Es were capable of carrying a respectable bomb load of 4,410 lb (2,000 kg) as fighter-bombers, while straight fighter and reconnaissance versions were also built. These, and later versions, were operated with a fair degree of success in many war zones. The Bf 110F was basically similar to the E, but two new variants were produced - the 110F-2 carrying rocket projectiles and the F-4 with two 30 mm cannon and an extra crew member for night fighting. The last version, the Bf 110G, was intended for use originally as a fighter-bomber but, in view of the success of the F-4 and the increasingly heavy attacks on Germany by Allied bombers, was employed mostly as a night fighter.
From time to time Bf 110G night fighters were used on day operations. They were first employed as close escort to the Scharnhorst and the Gneisenau off the Dutch coast and Heligoland Bight, and in the summer of 1943 they fought American day-bomber formations whenever the latter flew unescorted. The Bf 110G groups sustained heavy losses during these actions owing to their pilots, trained in night-fighting tactics, going in close before attacking and being met by the heavy defensive fire of the bombers. They were no match for the Thunderbolts escorting American B-17 and B-24 bombers over Berlin.
It was in a Bf 110 that Rudolf Hess, Deputy Fuhrer of Germany, flew solo to Scotland on the night of May 10,1941, in the hope of negotiating peace terms with Britain, without Hitler's knowledge.
From time to time Bf 110G night fighters were used on day operations. They fought American day-bomber formations whenever the Americans flew unescorted.
Some of my main References Books:
Title: Zerstorer Volume One: Luftwaffe Fighter Bombers and Destroyers 1941-1945 (Luftwaffe Colours)
The Luftwaffe Zerstorer units, equipped with the twin-engined Me 110, were first used to great effect in the escort and air superiority roles against the Polish Air Force in 1939. Later these units took part in the occupation of Norway and Denmark, and during the Blitzkrieg against the west in 1940, when their numbers were expanded with the addition of new units. Considered by Goring to be among the elite of the Luftwaffe, the Zerstörer were deployed in the Battle of Britain, in the Balkans, North Africa and in the East, where Zerstörergruppen accounted for significant numbers of Russian aircraft destroyed on the ground and in the air. This is the first of two volumes covering the history of the Zerstörer squadrons between 1939 and 1945. Each volume adopts the traditional Classic approach of a detailed narrative matched with a comprehensive selection of photos, many previously unpublished, and specially prepared color artworks.
Title: Zerstorer Volume Two: Luftwaffe Fighter Bombers and Destroyers 1941-1945 (Luftwaffe Colours)
This is the second of two volumes covering the history of the Zerstorer squadrons between 1939 and 1945. Following the attack on the west, the Me 110 also saw major deployment in the North African and Mediterranean theatres. In the East, in the early phases of Barbarossa, the Zerstorergruppen accounted for significant numbers of Russian aircraft destroyed on the ground and in the air. As the war progressed and Germany moved over to the defensive, Zerstorer units flew the Me 210 and Me 410, which saw service as a bomber destroyer with units such as ZG1, ZG26 and ZG76 in the defense of the Reich, equipped with heavy cannon and 21cm air-to-air mortars. Also included with the scope of these titles will be a study of the Luftwaffe's long-range Ju 88 maritime Zerstorer, which were used over the Atlantic and Bay of Biscay against Allied convoys and to provide escort for the U-boats as well as lesser-known types such as the Ar 240 and Ta 154.
The Messerschmitt Bf 110 in Color Profile 1939-1945
Editor for Asisbiz: Matthew Laird Acred
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