Aviation Archive Issue 25 - 2016 UK

(Jacob Rumans) #1



ilified and praised in equal amounts,
the Bf 110 was always going to divide
opinion. As a heavy twin-engined
fighter, its lack of agility made it easy
prey for Allied single-seat fighters, but its
strength was its versatility and ultimately it
evolved into a formidable and feared radar-
equipped night fighter.
Many senior figures within the Luftwaffe
opposed the concept of a high-speed, long-
range, heavily-armed twin-engined fighter, on
the grounds that the resulting aeroplane would
be too large and heavy to perform effectively.
However, the Luftwaffe’s commanding officer,
Hermann Göring, was convinced that Germany
needed a long-range fighter and pushed ahead.
Designed in 1934-35 the Messerschmitt’s Bf 110
Zerstörer (destroyer) was the result.
The Bf 110 was the second production
warplane designed by Prof Willy Messerschmitt
after joining the Bayerische Flugzeugwerke

Messerschmitt Bf 110

AG. The specification called for a twin-engined
all-metal two-seat monoplane that was armed
with flexibly mounted cannon and featured
an internal bomb-bay. The prototype Bf 110V
performed its first flight – with Rudolf Opitz at
the controls – on 12 May 1936. Although the
poor reliability of the aeroplane’s twin Daimler-
Benz 600A engines hampered flight testing,
Messerschmitt pilots were able to report that
the fighter had a marginal stability problem
at low to medium speeds, and essentially
good handling at higher speeds. It was fast
(314mph), but was heavy on the controls and
less manoeuvrable than expected. A tendency
to swing violently during take-off and landing
was also reported, and the aeroplane would
suffer from poor ground handling throughout
its long career.
Plans to evaluate the Bf 110B operationally
in the Spanish Civil War were halted when the
campaign was resolved, but the early machines
allowed crews to evaluate equipment and
armament and develop operational techniques.
By late 1938 the problems with the 1,100hp DB
601A-1 had at last been ironed out, allowing

Messerschmitt to commence production of the
Bf 110C-1 model. Aside from the new motors,
this variant differed from the B-model through
the deletion of the deep radiator bath beneath
each engine and the addition of a shallow
glycol radiator outboard of the powerplant on
the underside of each wing.
The Bf 110C entered service in 1939, with
production underway at Messerschmitt,
Focke-Wulf, Gothaer Waggonfabrik and MIAG.
Keen to prove the worth of the Bf 110, Göring
ordered the Luftwaffe to throw its entire
Zerstörer force (totalling just 90 serviceable
aircraft) into the assault on Poland. Primarily
they flew in ground-attack missions, so it was
not until the Battle of Britain that the Bf 110’s
true vulnerability against single-seat fighters
became apparent. Although the German
fighter’s armament was undeniably lethal, pilots
had trouble getting onto the tails of their more
agile opponents. Furthermore, the solitary
7.9mm machine gun wielded by the radio
operator/gunner in the rear cockpit offered
the crew little protection against an attack
from astern. Lacking speed and acceleration

Below: Although the Bf 110 looked ‘mean and
lean’, in reality it was easy prey for the far more
agile single-seat fighters of the RAF.

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