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Messerschmitt BF110
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As reliable as possible. I will try to add as many variants as possible later. Feel free to comment here on any of these aircraft or post your own data, pilot accounts etc.
PostSat Jun 04, 2011 11:23 am
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Designing twin-engined fighters in the 1930s and 1940s was something of a challenge. The problem was to achieve the speed and firepower desired with the limited powerplants available at that time. If successful the advantages would be long range, heavy firepower, one engine redundancy and possibly a second pair of eyes and a machine-gun covering the 6 o'clock position as a bonus.

Some twin-engined fighters were judged great successes - the Mosquito and the P-38 Lightning for example - while other types fell just short of greatness. The Messerschmitt Bf 110 was one of these 'almost' machines. It served throughout the war, adequately but never brilliantly. It was always the bridesmaid but never the bride.

On paper the Bf 110 looked good. In reality it looked even better. Its clean shark-like lines lent itself to shark mouths or wasps painted on it as 'nose art' and it even had the unofficial nickname of haifisch (shark) but you also have to remember that a predatory shark is a one-trick pony. Great for a sudden unexpected attack but vulnerable in a stand-up fight with - say - a faster turning dolphin or a killer whale. This shark metaphor was to follow the Bf 110 through its life. The later Bf 110 night fighters, armed with upward angled cannons, even attacked from below, just like a Great White.

On another site, in an earlier discussion about the Bf 110, I quoted the late great Douglas Adams. In 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' Adams referred to a classy-looking starship which raced past and then slammed into an orbiting moon saying: "It looks like a fish, moves like a fish, steers like a cow" and that was the 110's great downfall. It's manouevrabilty was good, for its size, but poor compared with all single-seat types.

There is some black and white film footage of a Bf 110 and a Spitfire, possibly shot by the Germans themselves using a captured Spit, and even this Spitfire out-turns the 110 with ease. The other issue was rolls, as the large wing span of the 110 creates a wider mass to rotate around the centre and large areas of wing to push against the air both above and below. Look at footage of a Lancaster or a B-17 trying to roll slowly and see just how slow they are. While not as bad as a four-engined bomber, the Bf 110 was no stubby-winged Pitts Special which could be whirled around with impunity.

The early forward-firing armament of four machine guns and two 20mm MG FF was good for the period and it had a good combat range. While its short-ranged Bf 109 stable-mate was expected to simply defend the Reich, it was the Bf 110 which would fly offensively into enemy airspace, either seeking out the enemy's fighters or escorting the Luftwaffe's bomber fleet. As a result the Bf 110 'destroyer' squadrons were regarded as elite units and received some of the best of the Luftwaffe fighter pilots.

The Bf 110 generally did well in Poland and Norway where its firepower and flight range were an asset and the opposition was thin or simply overwhelmed. The policy of using 110s on the offensive and the 109s on the defensive did not last more than a day or two of the 1940 Blitzkrieg into France as I am just now reading in 'Twelve Days in May' by Cull, Lander and Weiss. The Luftwaffe took heavy losses on May 10 but the 109s did not begin to appear until May 11 - belated recognition that the Bf 110 was not up to the job. During the first few days RAF Hurricanes (no Spitfires in France!) were able to cut a swathe through unescorted bombers and Ju 52 troop transports and they even shot down Fieseler Storches and Henschel 126s when they could get them. Luftwaffe losses for the first few days (all confirmed post-war from Luftwaffe records) were hair raising.

By the time of the Battle of Britain the Bf 110s were escorting the bombers over England while the Bf 109s were actively escorting the 110s as far as their limited fuel would allow. Midway through the battle Erprobungsgruppe 210 was formed to use a mixture of 110 and 109s in the fighter-bomber role and this unit achieved greater success than many of the bigger Kampfgruppen, especially against pinpoint targets such as airfields and radar stations.

The type had a role in Rudolf Hess's famous flight to Scotland to attempt negotiations with English sympathisers as Hess used a 110 to flee Germany and then baled out of it rather than risk a night landing. The smashed fuselage of his aircraft is still in the Imperial War Museum in London.

Subsequently the Bf 110 was used as a radar-assisted night fighter with a considerable degree of success. The story should be told here of the 'lost' Bf 110 which landed in neutral Switzerland by mistake carrying the (then) latest top-secret radar outfits. The Luftwaffe were desperate to get it back before the radars fell into Allied hands. The Swiss pointed out their firm and impartial neutrality and refused. There then follows three mysteries. The mystery of Germany giving the Swiss 30 brand new Bf 109Gs at a time when the Germans needed every fighter to defend the Reich; the mystery of the missing Bf 110 catching fire on the Swiss runway one night destroying the secret radars; and the mystery of the Allies finding out  all about the same radars within a few days.

Of course a cynic might suggest that the canny Swiss burned the plane themselves in return for the 30 109s - but not before letting the Allies see the radars - but of course I would never subscribe to that theory... Theory? I'd write it up as a fact! The Swiss were not stupid.


The 110 made a brief return to daylight operations when the USAAF 8th Air Force commenced daylight raids over the heart of Germany but the night-fighter trained pilots apparently made the mistake of going in far too close to the bombers (just as they would at night) instead of standing off and using their heavier cannons beyond the bombers' .50 calibre gun range. The arrival of escorting Mustangs and Thunderbolts made the plight of the Bf 110 even worse and they were withdrawn to night operations again.

The 110 was reliable and adaptable and that cannot be said of every Second World War aircraft. Bf 110s were flying on the first day of the war in 1939 and it is likely they were still active until at least the last month of the war - until shortage of fuel put a stop to all serious Luftwaffe operations. It was almost a great aeroplane - but the gulf between 'great' and 'almost' is still a wide one.
'Master and Commander' afloat on the seas of life...

Last edited by 'Warspite' on Mon Sep 10, 2012 11:44 am; edited 1 time in total
PostSun Mar 04, 2012 8:14 pm
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Brilliant information, as usual.

PostSun Mar 04, 2012 8:41 pm
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