History and Development
In the mid-1930s the Luftwaffe was building up its strength with a number of new warplanes, and the Messerschmitt Bf 110 was the company's submission for a twin-engine fighter for which Focke-Wulf and Henschel also prepared designs. They were to be initially heavy fighters, but with the capability of being deployed as high-speed bombers. Changes in requirements for the fighter resulted in Messerschmitt being the only candidate and three prototypes were built, the first flying on 12 May 1936.
The two 910-hp (679-kW) Daimler-Benz DB 600A engines were very unreliable; nevertheless, a speed of 314 mph (505km/h) was recorded during tests and the general performance was considered reasonable, although swing during take-off and landing gave problems. Engine unreliability plagued the three prototypes, and the pre-production series of Bf 110A-0 aircraft had 680-hp (507-kW) Junkers Jumo 210Da engines which produced a considerable performance penalty, but Messerschmitt was still awaiting the new DB 601A with fuel injection and other improvements. This engine's gestation period stretched even longer, with consequent delays to the Bf 110 program, and after the fourth pre-production aircraft had been completed in March 1938 the company switched to the Bf HOB, a cleaned-up version with provision for two 20-mm FF cannon in the nose, supplementing the four machine-guns carried by the Bf 110A-0. A total of 45 Bf HOBs was built, all with Jumo engines: most were Bf HOB-1 aircraft, but some Bf HOB-2 machines had their cannon removed and cameras installed, while the few Bf HOB-3 examples were earlier aircraft modified subsequently for use as trainers.
The first victory for the Bf 110 was recorded on 4 February 1943 against a B-24 formation attacking Hamm. Suffering heavy losses against allied escort fighter in its daylight operations the 110 was switched to a night fighter role.
DB 601A at last became available, resulting in the Bf HOC with some minor airframe changes, including squarer-cut wingtips and new radiators. Ten Bf 110C-0 pre-production aircraft were delivered for evaluation in January 1939, followed closely by Bf 110C-1 production fighters. As production built up, Focke-Wulf and Gotha joined the program and by the end of August 1939 159 Bf 110Cs had been delivered at a production rate of 30 per month. By the end of the year deliveries had reached 315.
The Bf 110C4 with armour for the crew and uprated 1,200-hp (895-kW) DB 601N engines was used as a fighter-bomber and could carry two 551-lb (250-kg) bombs beneath the centre section; in this role it became the Bf 110C-4/B and operated against British shipping in the English Channel in the summer of 1940 with success. The Bf 110C-7 was an improved fighter-bomber with up to 2,205 lb. (1000 kg) of bombs, while the Bf 110C-5 was a reconnaissance machine.
A few aircraft were converted as Bf 110D-1/R-1 and Bf 110D-1/R2 aircraft to fly long-range escort missions from Norway with extra jettisonable tanks. However, on their only mission to northern England they were severely mauled by Super-marine Spitfires and lost seven of their number, some through inability to jettison their tanks, which made them easy prey for the fighters.
As the Battle of Britain began in July 1940, the Bf 110 units were committed to a policy of bringing the RAF fighters to combat, leaving the German bombers to arrive over England while the RAF were refueling and re-arming. The scheme was a dismal failure, since the Messerschmitts could not match the maneuverability of the Hurricanes and Spitfires and were unable to defend themselves sufficiently with only one rear-firing machine-gun. In the resulting battles, the Messerschmitt units suffered very heavy losses (120 in August alone) but such was the shortage of German single-engine fighters that the Bf 110s were kept in service, although switching to fighter-bomber and reconnaissance roles.
As the winter of 1940 drew in, so the Bf 110 was to find itself in a more suitable role, as a night-fighter, although at first the Bf 110Cs had no specialized equipment and had to rely on the crew's eyesight to intercept bombers. An early short-range aid was an infra-red sensor fitted in the nose of the Bf 110D-1/U-1. Systems gradually improved with the setting up of ground control radar stations in mid-1941, but the supposedly much improved Me 210 was expected to be available shortly and production of the Bf 110 was considerably cut back. It was an ironic twist of fate that in fact the Me 210 and its developed version the Me410 were failures, and the Bf 110 continued in production after they were abandoned.
With the phasing out of production of the Bf HOC series in spring 1941, the next series was the Bf HOD, including the Bf HOD-2 long-range fighter-bomber based on the Bf 110D-1/R2, and the Bf HOD-3 convoy escort with special overwater provision and extra fuel. This variant evolved into the Bf HOE-0 pre-production and Bf HOE-1 production aircraft with a bomb load of 2,645 lb. (1200 kgl. and 4,409 lb. (2000 kg) respectively, the Bf 110E-2 fighter-bomber and the Bf HOE-3 long-range reconnaissance version with two rearward-firing MG 17 fixed machine-guns.
With the next major sub-type, the Bf 110F, a more powerful engine than the DB 601A or DB 601N of earlier models became available, in the form of the DB 601F which gave 1,350 hp (1007 kW). Extra armour was installed and a variety of bombs could be carried beneath the wings and fuselage, but the Bf 110F had only been in production for a short time when the type was phased out in favor of the Me 210 in October 1941, only to be phased back in again in the following February, initially as a stop-gap until the Me 210 could be redesigned. New rocket shells which could be used against ground and air targets were tested on a Bf 110F-2; two rocket-launching tubes were mounted beneath each outer wing panel and the weapons were intended to ,be fired into bomber formations. Also tested was the RZ65 rocket shell, fired from a battery of twelve 73-mm tubes mounted beneath the fuselage, but this proved unsatisfactory and was abandoned.
Final Bf 110F variant was the Bf 110F4a, which carried a cumbersome array of Lichtenstein intercept radar aerials in the nose and so lost much in performance. Failure of the Me 210 meant that further development of the elderly Bf 110 had to continue, and the next production model was the Bf HOG-1, a heavy day fighter with 1,475-hp (1100-kW) DB 605B-1 engines. The Bf HOG series went through amass of sub-variants, far too many to describe in detail. The Bf 110G-2/R-1 had a 37-mm cannon in place of the under fuselage bomb racks, and had its two forward firing 20-mm MG 151 cannon removed; one round from the 37-mm cannon could knock out a bomber. The Bf 110G-2/R3 had two 30-mm MK108 cannon in place of the four 7.92-mm (0.31-in) nose machine-guns, and the BfllOG-3 was a long-range reconnaissance fighter with cameras replacing its cannon. The final variant was the Bf 110H which was produced in parallel with the Bf HOG from which it differed only in detail, including a strengthened rear fuselage and landing gear.
Total production of the Bf 110 series amounted to about 6,050 aircraft, the last, a Bf HOG, being completed in March 1945. Whatever its faults as a day fighter, it had undoubtedly been a major contributor to Germany's night-fighter defenses and outlasted some of its intended replacements such as the He 219.
Specifications Messerchmitt Bf 110C
Type: Two-seat fighter/fighter-bomber
Powerplant: Two 1,100 hp (809 kW) Daimler-Benz DB 601B-1, 2 liquid-cooled inverted 12-cylinder piston engines
Wing Span: 53 ft. 4 in. (16.3 m)
Length: 40 ft. 6 in. (12.3 m)
Height: 10 ft 94 in (3.3 m)
Wing Area: 414 sq ft (38.8 m2)
Empty Weight: 9,900 lbs (4,500 kg)
Maximum T/O Weight: 14,800 lbs (6,700 kg)
Maximum Level Speed: 348 mph (560 km/h)
Service Ceiling: 35,000 ft (10,500 m)
Range: 1,500 mi ( 2,410 km)
Armament: 2x 20mm MG FF/M canon, 4x 7.92mm MG 17 machine guns, 1x7.92 mm MG15