The Messerschmitt Bf 110 was a twin engined heavy fighter used by Axis forces during World War 2.
During the 1930s one of several fundamental ﬁghter debates concerned the long-range escort. Generally assumed to be twin-engined, and have a crew of two, such aircraft were to accompany bombers into enemy territory and protect them from interception. Apart from Britain, most nations equipped themselves with such machines. But in the stern test of battle their inability to dogﬁght put them at a grave disadvantage. The only reason the RAF regretted omitting such machines — a gap temporarily filled by an inadequate attempt to convert Blenheim bombers — was that they were ideal candidates for radar-equipped night ﬁghters, something not dreamed of when the big fighters were planned.
In the Luftwaffe the category was called a Zerstorer (destroyer). The BFW company flew the prototype Bf 110 on 12 May 1936, and though extremely underpowered with two 730hp Jumo 2lOGa engines the ﬁrst production version of July 1938 carried heavy armament and was apparently the basis for a truly outstanding warplane. By 1939 the definitive 110C was at last in production with the long-awaited DB60l engine, and the general expectation was that it would simply carve a swathe through any enemy airspace. Goering said to his new Zerstorergruppen, ‘You will be like Hannibal's cavalry protecting his elephants; the bombers are my elephants.’ They were the elite of the Luftwaffe.
In Poland it was recognized that new tactics would be needed to overcome the Bf llOC's limited manoeuvrability, but the aircraft had proved extremely useful in many roles. In Norway in April 1940 they accomplished much, and a force of 350 cut through opposition in the West in May. But in the high summer it was a different story; ZG units were decimated over Britain, and on occasion the escorts had to be protected by the Bf 109! This did not seem important, as the Me 210 was about to replace the 110; but when the new aircraft proved a failure the 110 had to be kept in production in a succession of improved versions. It received new radio, extra tankage, bomb racks, different guns, cameras, night-fighter radar, a third seat for a radar operator (in a few sub-types four men were crammed in) and a host of other add-ons often supplied as a ﬁeld conversion kit.
From September l94O it avoided Britain, but ranged over the Balkans, Crete, North Africa, the Eastern Front, and as a major night fighter, over Germany itself. Even in the later versions, which were burdened with more than a ton of extra equipment and handicapped by large exhaust flame-dampers, performance was sufficient for an experte to destroy several RAF heavy bombers in one night. The top-scorer, Heinz-Wolfgang Schnaufer, notched up a tally of 121. At all times the 110 was docile and extremely pleasant to ﬂy, unlike the Me 210 and 410. Production of this basically obsolescent aircraft was actually increased each year until 1944, long after it was planned to have been replaced.
The ﬁrst really big increase in weight had come in early 1941 with the long-range tanks, drop tanks and bombs of the D-series. With the E and F there were small increases in power, insufficient to match the great proliferation of weapons and equipment which in some F-versions included the first examples of Schrage Musik (jazz) upward-ﬁring cannon and Lichtenstein radar with an aerodynamically degrading array of dipole aerials projecting ahead of the nose.
By mid-1942 the urgent need for a much better 110 (to replace its missing replacement) had resulted in the G-series, with bigger engine, re-engineered structure and systems, larger fins and rudders and many engine-installation improvements. Like the lO9 and Fw 190, versions were equipped with a succession of special weapons for use against American bombers by day and quite different equipment for use by night. Night ﬁghters operated in constant fear of the RAF Mosquito intruders, while the day interceptors carried so many rocket tubes and heavy guns they were almost helpless against the American escorts.
Bf 110C night fighters were also operated in Lombardy by 235 Squadriglia, 60 Gruppo Intercettori of the Regia Aeronautica during 1943.
- Country Of Origin: Germany.
- Crew; At ﬁrst 2, later 3 or 4.
- Total Produced: Reported as 5,873, 6,050 (believed the most accurate) and 6,150.
- Dimensions: Wingspan, all major variants: l6-25m (53ft 3 3/4in); length C: 12-lm (39ft 8 1/2 in); D-3,E-Z: l2.7m, (41ft 8in); rnost other versions, excluding radar: as C; with radar, 13-05m (42ft Qﬁin); wing area 38.5 m2‘ (413.4 ft ft2).
- Weights: Empty, C-1: 442Skg (9,755lb);G-2: 5,100kg (11,,243lb); G-4b: about 5800kg (12,787lb); maximum loaded, C—1: 6750kg (l4,88Olb); G-2,G-4b: up to 10045kg (22,145lb).
- Engines: Two Daimler-Benz inverted-vee-l2.; C,D: l,100hp DB601A-1; E: l,200hp DB6OlN; F: l,35Ohp DB60lF; G: l,475hp DB605B-1,
- Maximum Speed: All normal versions, clean: about 55Okrn/h (342mph).
- Service Ceiling: (Most) about 10,000m (32,800ft), except clean E,F: 10,900m (35,760ft) and late G-series night fighters 8000m (26,250ft).
- Range: C: typically 776km (480 miles); D,E,F: on internal fuel, typically l200l<rn (T45 miles); G: internal fuel, 900km (560 miles); in all cases extended by drop tanks.
- Military Load: C: two 20mm MG FF, four 7.92mm MK317, one 7.92mm M615 in rear cockpit; E: various including fuselage racks for two 1,000 kg (2,205lb) bombs; F: some night ﬁghters added two 30mm MK108 in ventral tray; G: extremely variable, but rear defence now twin 7.92mm MG8l and forward-firing guns usually two 20mm MK3151, often augmented by two MKlO8 and with option of Schrage Musik inclined installation of two MK108 as ﬁrst ﬁtted to F-4/Ul. Many models carried two 2l0mm rocket tubes and G-2/R4 was ﬁtted with a 37mm BK 3,7 Flak 18 gun primarily for use against heavy day bombers.