Messerschmitt Bf 110 was an aircraft of mixed success. While a failure
during the Battle of Britain as a fighter (for which it was initially
designed as), it did enjoy success in other roles. 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.
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 (455 kw). 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 12-cylinder liquid-cooled inverted-vee
engine, the DB 600 , which held promise of 1,000 hp (746 kw) 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 centre 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 (820 kw) 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 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 R.A.F. fighters
in 1940 that the Bf 110C was to receive its first real trial in combat
and to be found wanting.
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
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 DB 605 engine which provided 1,475 hp
(1100 kw) for take-off and 1,355 hp (1011 kw) at 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 7.92 mm. MG 17 in the nose
plus two 7.92 mm. MG 81 in the rear cockpit.
Bf 110Es were capable of carrying a respectable bomb load of 4,410 lbs
(2000 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 American fighters escorting
American B-17 and B-24 bombers over Berlin.
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.
A Messerschmitt Bf 110G-4/R3 8th Staffel 3rd Nachtjagdgeschwader
(Messerschmitt Bf 110G-4/R3)
Type: Two or Three Seat Night
Design: Willy Messerschmitt
Flugzeugwerke (after 1938 Messerschmitt AG)
Powerplant: Two 1,475 hp (1100
kw) Damlier-Benz DB 605B inverted V-12 piston engines.
Performance: Maximum speed 342
mph (550 km/h) at 22,900 ft (6980 m); cruising speed 317 mph (510 km/h)
at 19,685 ft (6000 m); service ceiling 26,245 ft (6780 m); initial
climb: to 18,045 ft (5500 m) in 8 minutes.
Range: 1,305 miles (2100 km)
with two 66 Imperial Gallon drop tanks mounted under the wing outboard
of the engines.
Fuel: (C-4/B) Fuel was provided
in four tanks, located in the inner wings either side of the main spar.
The forward tanks each held 373 litres (82 Imperial gallons), while the
rear tanks each held 264 litres (58 Imperial gallons). Later versions
could carry two drop tanks to increase range.
Weight: Empty 11,222 lbs (5090
kg) with a maximum take-off weight of 21,805 lbs (9890 kg).
Dimensions: Span 53 ft 3 3/4 in
(16.25 m); length 42 ft 9 3/4 in (13.05 m); height 13 ft 8 1/2 in (4.18
m); wing area 413.35 sq ft (38.40 sq m).
Armament: Two 30 mm MK 108
cannon (135 rounds per gun) and two 20 mm MG 151 cannon (300 rounds
(port) and 350 rounds (starboard)) in the nose, and two 20 mm MG 151
cannon in a trainable Schrage Musik mount in the rear cockpit.
An option was the installation of a Waffenwanne 151Z ventral
tray, housing two forward firing 20mm MG 151 cannon. Some aircraft had
two 7.92 mm (0.31 in) MG 81 machine guns instead of the two 20 mm MG
151 in the rear cockpit. A small number of aircraft had provisions for
210 mm Wfr Gr 21 rockets under the wings. On models designated for
fighter bomber service, ETC 50 racks were installed under the wings
capable of carrying 2,645 lbs (1200 kg) of bombs.
Variants: Bf 110A-0 (three
production aircraft), Bf 110B, Bf 110B-1/B-2/B-3 (initial production),
Bf 110-C, Bf 110C-1 to Bf 110C-4, Bf 110C-4/B, Bf 110C-5
(reconnaissance), Bf 110C-6, Bf 110C-7 (fighter bomber), Bf 110D, Bf
110D-1/R-1 & Bf 110D-1/R-2 (long range escort fighters), Bf 110D-1/U-1
(night fighter), Bf 110D-2 (long range fighter bomber), Bf 110D-3
(convoy escort), Bf 110E (pre-production), Bf 110E-1 (production
aircraft), Bf 110E-2 (fighter bomber), Bf 110E-3 (long range
reconnaissance), Bf 110F (engine and armor upgrades), Bf 110F-0 to Bf
110F-1, Bf 110F-2 (converted to fire rockets but proved
unsatisfactory), Bf 110F-3 to Bf 110F-4, Bf 110G, Bf 110G-0 to Bf
110G-4, Bf 110H, Bf 110G-0 to Bf 110G-4.
Avionics: FuG 10P R/T Set, FuB1
2F Airfield blind approach reciever, FuG 227/1 Flensburg Homing System
(used to home in on British Monica tail warning radar emissions - only
fitted to some aircraft), FuG 212 Lichtenstien C-1 Radar, FuG 220b
Lichtenstien SN-2 Radar.
History: First flight (Bf 110V-1
prototype) 12 May 1936; (pre-production Bf 110C-0) February 1939;
operational service with Bf 110C-1, April 1939; final run down of
production (Bf 110H-2/H-4) February 1945.
Operators: Germany (Luftwaffe),
Hungary, Italy, Romania.