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Messerschmitt Bf 110

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The Messerschmitt Bf 110, often (erroneously) called Me 110[1], 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")[2]. 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 This flaw was exposed during the Battle of Britain, when some Bf 110 equipped units were withdrawn from the battle after very heavy losses and redeployed as night fighters, a role to which the aircraft was well suited.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.[3]

Contents

Design and development

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. [4]

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.[5] The Henschel Hs 124 was similar in construction layout to the Fw 57.[5] 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.[5]

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.[6] 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.[6]

Early variants

By luck (and pressure by Ernst Udet) RLM reconsidered the ideas of the Kampfzerstörer and began focus on Zerstörer. Due to these changes the Bayerische Flugzeugwerke design better fitted RLM's requests. On 12 May 1936, Rudolf Opitz took flight in the first Bf 110 out of Augsburg.[7] But, as many pre-war designs found, the engine technologies promised were not up to acceptable reliability standards. Even with the temperamental DB 600 engines, the RLM found the Bf 110, while not as maneuverable as desired, was quite a bit faster than the RLM original request specified, as well as faster than the then current front line fighter the Bf 109 B-1. Thus the order for four pre-production A-0 units was placed. The first of these were delivered on January 1937. During this testing, both the Focke-Wulf Fw 187 and Henschel Hs 124 competitors were rejected and the Bf 110 was ordered into full production.

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 the Bf 110 in the summer of 1937. As the DB 600 engines continued to have issues, Bayerische Flugzeugwerke was forced to continue 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. 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 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.

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.[8] Fitted with the DB 605B engines, producing 1,085 kW (1,475 PS) in "War Emergency" setting, and 997 kW (1,355 PS) at 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. 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.

Armament

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.

Operational service

Polish Campaign

Hermann Göring reportedly ordered the Zerstörerwaffe to make all the LuftwaffeTemplate:'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.[9] 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.[10]

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 victim against the Allies. LG 1 Bf 110s and engaged and shot down a Morane-Saulnier M.S.406 of the Armée de l'Air over Verdun.[11] Just three weeks later, on 18 December 1939, the Bf 110 participated in the first German victory over British arms in World War II.[12] 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.[13] Actual losses were 11 Wellingtons and six damaged to varying degrees.[14] Some sources claim a 12th Wellington was destroyed.[15] 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.[14] 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.[16] 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.[16]

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.[17] 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.

File:Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-399-0006-19, Norwegen, abgeschossene Me 110.jpg
Helmut Lent's Bf 110C. Lent ran out of fuel and force landed at Oslo-Fornebu airfield on 9 April 1940[18]

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".[19] The Bf 110D was nicknamed the Dackelbauch, or "Dachshund Belly".[20]

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 Template:Ship. 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.[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.[21]

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.[22]

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.[22] For the attack on the Netherlands, 145 Bf 110s were committed under Oberst Kurt-Bertram von Döring's Jagdfliegerführer 2.[23] 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.[24] However, this was tempered by the loss of nine Bf 110s against the RAF on 15 May.[25] By this date, Oberstleutnant Friedrich Vollbracht's ZG 2 claimed 66 Allied aircraft.[26]

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.[27][28] 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.[29]

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.[30] This represented 32 percent of the Zerstörerwaffe's initial strength..[31]

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.[32]

File:Rudolf Hess Engine-Daimler Benz DB601 From Hess's Messerschmitt BF110 1941.jpg
One of the engines from Hess's Bf 110 on display at the National Museum of Flight in East Lothian, Scotland.

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. 78 Squadron RAF. His aircraft crashed into Portland Harbour.[33]

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.[34]

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.[35]

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.[36] The Luftwaffe had embarked on the battle with 237 serviceable Bf 110s. 223 were lost in the course of it.[37]

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.

Balkans Campaign

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.[38] 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 amonst 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.[39]

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.[40] 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.[41] 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 ZerstörergeschwaderTemplate:'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.[38] Significantly, on the night of the 22-23 May, the Bf 110 was pressed into night fighting service over the desert. Oberleutnant Alfred Mehmeyer 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.[42] 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.[43]

Eastern Front

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 tanks 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.[44]

The number of Bf 110s on the Eastern Front declined further during and after 1942. Most units that operated the '110 did so in a reconnaissance capacity. Most machines were withdrawn to Germany for the Defense of the Reich operations.

Defence of the Reich

Eventually withdrawn from daylight fighting, the Bf 110 enjoyed later success as a night fighter, where its range and firepower stood it in good stead for the remainder of the war. The airframe allowed for a dedicated radar operator, and the open nose had space for radar antennae, unlike the single-engine fighters. As the war wore on, the increased weight of armament and radar detection equipment (along with a third crew member) took an increasing toll of the aircraft's performance.

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.[45] 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.[46]

Daylight operations

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.[47]

On 4 March, the unit was back in action, this time destroying three B-17s for two Bf 110s.[48] 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.[49] Finally, in the Autumn of 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.[50] 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.[51]

The Bf 110 also supported the German defence during Big Week in February 1944,

The experiences of Zerstorergeschwader "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.[52]

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.[52] 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.[53] 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.[54] 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".[55] The Zerstörer was only to fly as a day fighter against unescorted formations. This would be rare throughout the remainder of the war.[55]

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 16/17 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.[56] 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.[57]

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.[58] 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 Heinkel He 219 and the Junkers Ju 88.[59] 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 quipped 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.[60] During the Battle of Berlin 1,128 bombers were lost in five months. RAF Bomber Command had "nearly burned out".[61] 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.[61]

Variants

Bf 110 A

Prototypes with two Junkers Jumo 210 engines.

Bf 110 A-0
The designation of the first four pre-production aircraft.
Bf 110 B

Small scale production with two Jumo 210 engines.

Bf 110 B-0
First pre-production aircraft, similar to B-1.
Bf 110 B-1
Zerstörer, four 7.92 mm (.312 in) MG 17 machine guns and two 20 mm MG FF cannons, nose-mounted.
Bf 110 B-2
Reconnaissance, both MG FF cannons removed, and various camera models added.
Bf 110 B-3
Trainer. MG FF cannons removed, and extra radio gear added. Some war weary B-1 were later refitted as B-3s.
Bf 110 C
File:Me 110C-4 RAF NAN15Jun43.jpg
A captured Bf 110C-4 in the service of the Royal Air Force

First major production series, DB 601 engines.

Bf 110 C-0
Ten pre-production aircraft.
Bf 110 C-1
Zerstörer, DB 601 B-1 engines.
Bf 110 C-2
Zerstörer, fitted with FuG 10 radio, upgraded from FuG III.
Bf 110 C-3
Zerstörer, upgraded 20 mm MG FFs to MG FF/M.
Bf 110 C-4
Zerstörer, upgraded crew armor.
Bf 110 C-4/B
Fighter-bomber based on C-4, fitted with a pair of 250 kg (550 lb) ETC 250 bomb racks and upgraded DB 601 Ba engines.
Bf 110 C-5
Reconnaissance version based on C-4, both MG FF removed, and Rb 50/30 camera installed, uprated DB 601P engines.
Bf 110 C-6
Experimental Zerstörer, additional single 30 mm (1.18 in) MK 101 cannon in underfuselage mount, DB 601P engines.
Bf 110 C-7
Fighter-bomber based on C-4/B, two ETC-500 centerline bomb racks capable of carrying two 500 kg (1,100 lb) bombs, uprated DB 601P engines.
Bf 110 D

Heavy fighter/fighter-bomber, extreme range versions based on C-series, often stationed in Norway.

Bf 110 D-0
Prototype utilizing C-3 airframes modified with 1,200 L (320 US gal) belly-mounted tank called Dackelbauch.
Bf 110 D-1
Long-range Zerstörer, modified C series airframes with Dackelbauch belly tank.
Bf 110 D-1/R2
Long-range Zerstörer, removed Dackelbauch tanks and replaced with wing mounted 900 L (240 US gal) drop tanks.
Bf 110 D-2
Long-range Zerstörer, two wing-mounted 300 L (80 US gal) drop tanks and centerline mounted 500 kg (1,100 lb) ETC 500 bomb rack.
Bf 110 D-3
Long-range Zerstörer, lengthened tail for rescue dingy. Either two wing-mounted 300 L (80 US gal) or 900 L (240 US gal) drop tanks could be fitted. 500 kg (1,100 lb) ETC 500 was optional.
Bf 110 E
File:Bf 110 end.jpg
Bf 110 E-1, Zerstörer-Ergänzungsgruppe, Deblin-Irena (Poland 1942).

Mostly fighter bombers, strengthened airframe, up to 1,200 kg (2,650 lb) bombload.

Bf 110 E-0
Pre-production version, Daimler-Benz DB 601B engines, pair of ETC50 bomb racks fitted outboard of engines, armament as C-4.
Bf 110 E-1
Production version of E-0, DB 601P engines.
Bf 110 E-2
DB 601P engines, rear fuselage extension same as for D-3.
Bf 110 E-3
Long-range reconnaissance version.
Bf 110 F

Same as the E, again strengthened airframe, better armor, two 993 kW (1,350 PS) DB 601F engines.

Bf 110 F-1
Fighter-bomber.
Bf 110 F-2
Long-range Zerstörer, often used against Allied heavy bombers.
Bf 110 F-3
Long-range reconnaissance version.
Bf 110 F-4
The first real night fighter (specially designed for this usage, 3-crew).
Bf 110 G
File:Me110G4 2.jpg
Bf 110 G-4

Improved F-series, two 1,085 kW (1,475 PS) DB 605B engines, tail rudders increased in size.

Bf 110 G-1
Not built.
Bf 110 G-2
Fighter-bomber, fast bomber, destroyer, often used against Allied heavy bombers. (often equipped with rockets).
Bf 110 G-3
Long-range reconnaissance version.
Bf 110 G-4
Three-crew night fighter, FuG 202/220 Lichtenstein radar, optional Schräge Musik, usually mounted midway down the cockpit with the cannon muzzles barely protruding above the canopy glazing.
Bf 110 H

The final version, similar to the G, prototype/design stage only, cancelled.

Operators

Template:Country data Germany
Template:Country data Hungary
Template:Country data Italy
Template:Country data Romania
Template:USSR

Survivors

Three intact Bf 110 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, is displayed at RAF Hendon in London, UK. 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 at the lower station of the Cairngorm Mountain Railway

Specifications (Messerschmitt Bf 110 C-4)

Template:Aircraft specification

See also

Related development

Comparable aircraft

Related lists

References

Notes

  1. Because it was built before Bayerische Flugzeugwerke became Messerschmitt AG in July 1938, the Bf 110 was never officially given the designation Me 110.
  2. Bungay 2000, p. 257.
  3. Aces of the Luftwaffe - Major Heinz-Wolfgang Schnaufer
  4. Mackay 2000, pp. 6-7.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Mackay 2000, p. 7.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Mackay 2000, p. 9.
  7. Munson 1983, p. 153.
  8. Munson 1983, p. 154.
  9. Weal 1999, p. 13.
  10. Hooton Vol 1 2007, p. 86.
  11. Weal 1999, p. 19.
  12. Caldwell and Muller 2007, p. 42.
  13. Weal 1999, p. 22.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Weal 1999, p. 23.
  15. Caldwell and Muller 2007, p. 40.
  16. 16.0 16.1 Weal 1999, p. 24.
  17. Weal 1999, p. 25.
  18. Weal 1999, p. 26.
  19. Weal 1999, p. 28.
  20. 20.0 20.1 Weal 1999, p. 29.
  21. Weal 1999, p. 30.
  22. 22.0 22.1 Weal 1999, p. 32.
  23. Hooton Vol 2 2007, p. 48.
  24. Hooton Vol 2 2007, p. 58.
  25. Weal 1999, pp. 33–34.
  26. Hooton Vol 2 2007 p. 62.
  27. Weal 1999, p. 41.
  28. Hooton Vol 2 2007 p. 82.
  29. Hooton Vol 2 2007, p. 85.
  30. Weal 1999, p. 41.
  31. Hooton Vol 2 2007, p. 90.
  32. Deighton 1996
  33. Weal 1999, pp. 44–45.
  34. Weal 1999, pp. 47-49.
  35. Weal 1999, p. 50.
  36. Weal 1999, pp. 50–51.
  37. Weal 1999, p. 51.
  38. 38.0 38.1 Weal 1999, p. 63.
  39. Weal 1999, pp. 64–65.
  40. Weal 1999, p. 66.
  41. Weal 1999, p. 67.
  42. Weal 1999, p. 71.
  43. Weal 1999, p. 72.
  44. Weal 1999, p. 78.
  45. Aces of the Luftwaffe; Heinz-Wolfgang Schnauffer
  46. Treadwell 2003, p. 76.
  47. Caldwell and Muller 2007, pp. 74–75.
  48. Caldwell and Muller 2007, p. 77.
  49. Caldwell and Muller 2007, p. 82.
  50. Caldwell and Muller 2007, p. 105.
  51. Caldwell and Muller 2007, p. 124.
  52. 52.0 52.1 Murray 1983, p. 242.
  53. Caldwell and Muller 2007, p. 149.
  54. Caldwell and Muller 2007, p. 180.
  55. 55.0 55.1 Caldwell and Muller 2007, p. 175.
  56. Middlebrook 2000, p. 172.
  57. Middlebrook 2000, pp. 173–174.
  58. Murray 1983, pp. 210–211.
  59. Murray 1983, p. 214.
  60. Murray 1983, p. 215.
  61. 61.0 61.1 Murray 1983, p. 220.
  62. Geust and Petrov 1998

Bibliography

  • Campbell, Jerry L. Messerschmitt BF 110 Zerstörer in action. Carrollton, Texas: Squadron/Signal Publications, Inc., 1977. ISBN 0-89747-029-X.
  • Caldwell, Donald and Richard Muller. The Luftwaffe over Germany: Defense of the Reich. London: Greenhill Books, 2007. ISBN 978-1-85367-712-0.
  • Ciampaglia, Giuseppe "Destroyers in Second World War". Roma. IBN editore,1996. ISBN 88-86815-47-6.
  • Deighton, Len. Fighter: The True Story of the Battle of Britain. London: Pimlico, 1996. ISBN 0-71267-423-3.
  • de Zeng, H.L., D.G. Stanket and E.J. Creek. Bomber Units of the Luftwaffe 1933-1945: A Reference Source, Volume 2. London: Ian Allen Publishing, 2007. ISBN 978-1-903223-87-1.
  • Donald, David (ed.). Warplanes of the Luftwaffe. London: Aerospace, 1994. ISBN 1-874023-56-3.
  • Geust, Carl-Fredrik and Gennadiy Petrov. Red Stars Vol 2. - German Aircraft in the Soviet Union. Tampere, Finland: Apali Oy, 1998. ISBN 952-5026-06-X.
  • Hirsch, R.S. and Uwe Feist. Messerschmitt Bf 110 (Aero Series 16). Fallbrook, California: Aero Publishers, Inc., 1967.
  • Hooton, E.R.Luftwaffe at War; Blitzkrieg in the West: Volume 2. London: Chervron/Ian Allen, 2007. ISBN 978-1-85780-272-6.
  • Hooton, E.R. Luftwaffe at War; Gathering Storm 1933-39: Volume 1. London: Chervron/Ian Allen, 2007. ISBN 978-1-903223-71-7
  • Ledwoch, Janusz. Messerschmitt Bf 110 (Aircraft Monograph 3). Gdańsk, Poland: AJ-Press, 1994. ISBN 83-86208-12-0.
  • Murray, Willamson. Strategy for Defeat: The Luftwaffe 1935-1945. Maxwell AFB, Al: Air Power Research Institute, 1983. ISBN 1-585566-010-8.
  • Price, Alfred. Messerschmitt Bf 110 Night Fighters (Aircraft in Profile No.207). Windsor, Berkshire, UK: Profile Publications Ltd.,
  • Mackay, Ron. Messerschmitt Bf 110. The Crowood Press, Wiltshire. 2000. ISBN 1-86126-313-9
  • Middlebrook, Martin. The Peenemunde Raid: The Night of 17-18 August 1943. Barnsely, UK: Pen & Sword Aviation, 2004. ISBN 1-84415-336-3.
  • Munson, Kenneth. Fighters and Bombers". Classic WWII Aviation. Volume 5, 2003. ISBN 1-84145-107-X.
  • Van Ishoven, Armand. Messerschmitt Bf 110 at War. Shepperton, Surrey: Ian Allan Ltd., 1985. ISBN 0-7110-1504-X.
  • Weal, John. Messerschmitt Bf 110 Zerstörer Aces World War Two. London: Osprey, 1999. ISBN 1-85532-753-8.

External links

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It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Messerschmitt Bf 110".
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