Messerschmitt Bf 110 (Me 110)
Luftwaffe Zerstörer - A Long Range Fighter
By Stephen Sherman, Dec. 2008. Updated July 6, 2011.
Early in 1934, the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (RLM - State Air Ministry) issued a spec for a long-range two-seater, to be called a Zerstörer, "destroyer," whose mission would be to accompany German bombers on long missions and "destroy" enemy fighters. In concept, its speed and heavy armament would compensate for its limited maneuverability; in practice, not so much. Its main feature was range, thus the twin-engines and two crew, permitting it to accompany bombers deep into enemy territory.
On 12 May 1936, Dr. Hermann Wurster took flight in the first Bf 110 out of Augsburg. This prototype reached the impressive speed of 316 MPH, thanks to the new, powerful but tempermental, DB 600 engines. These engines were 12-cylinder inverted-Vee, water-cooled (of course), and capable of generating 1,100 horsepower each. However, the test pilots found the aircraft to be sluggish responding to the controls and not very maneuverable. The first production version, the Bf 110A, rolled out in mid 1937, but due to trouble with the DB 600, it was equipped with the less-powerful Jumo 210Da engines (680 hp) and consequently was quite slow.
Some sources mistakenly credit the first flight to Rudolf Opitz, who has stated on numerous occasions that this honor belonged to the Messerschmitt factory's Chief Test Pilot, Dr. Hermann Wurster. Although Rudolf Opitz did add some flight test inputs to the Bf 110, it was not until after he became involved with flight testing Messerschmitt factory aircraft in the latter part of 1941. (This corrected information comes to me from Opitz's son Michael, who also informs me that, as of May, 2009, Rudolf Opitz is 98 years old, and is still quite sharp and mobile.)
The improved B-series carried two cannons; it was just too late to see action in the Spanish Civil War. Following that, the Bf 110C, with more powerful DB 601 fuel-injected engines, performed better at all altitudes. When the Nazis invaded Poland in September, 1939, the Luftwaffe had 195 110C fighters on hand, and they performed creditably in that campaign. Although it must be noted that Polish fighter opposition and anti-aircraft was not very effective. The Zerstörers were able to operate in a close-suppport role with little difficulty. The Bf 110 Zerstörerwaffe (Destroyer Force) also saw considerable action during operation Operation Weserübung the invasion of Denmark and Norway. Similarly, during the 1940 blitzkreig through the Low Countries and France, (by which time 350 were available), the 110's demolished what opposition they encountered
But the Battle of Britain, in August and September of 1940, proved a very different story. The British RAF Hurricanes and Spitfires "ate them raw," (to borrow an old Homeric idiom). In fact, on occasions, Bf 109 fighters were called on to escort the 110's; obviously an escort fighter that needs to be escorted is quite useless.
To the chagrin of the Zerstörergruppen, the capabilities of their Bf 110s fell far short of expectations. While the forward-firing armament of the twin-engined Messerschmitt was undeniably lethal, its maneuverability was sluggish by comparision with the Hurricanes and Spitfires, and the single MG 15 in the rear afforded little protection against attack from astern. Its acceleration and speed were insufficient to enable it to avoid combat when opposed by superior numbers of interceptors, and as soon as RAF Fighter Command had taken the measure of the Bf 110, and shot them down in large numbers. During August alone 120 Bf 110s were lost, the majority of them after Adlertag, and thus within less than 3 weeks the Zerstörergruppen had lost some 40% of the aircraft. Despite a substantial reduction in sorties and changes in tactics, the Zerstörergruppen losses rose to 203 Bf 110s by the end of the Battle of Britain.
Both the C- and D-models had almost disappeared from the Western front by mid-1941, although they were being used extensively on the Russian front and in North Africa. Production during 1940 had risen to 1,083 machines, but with the impending introduction of the Me 210 only 784 machines were produced in 1941. On 10 May 1941, in a strange episode, Rudolf Hess, the erratic deputy leader of the Nazi party, used a Bf 110 to fly from Augsburg to Scotland, in an attempt to broker a peace deal between Germany and Great Britain.
Jabo - Fighter Bombers
In 1941, Messerchmitt developed a JagdBomber (Jabo) fighter-bomber variant: the Bf 110 C-4/B, which was based on the C-4, fitted with a pair of ETC 250 bomb racks and upgraded DB 601 Ba engines. It proved serviceable as an attack aircraft, but could not take on first-rate Allied fighters.
By 1943, the air war had moved to Germany, and the western Allies were bombing Germany day and night. In this circumstance, the later G and H versions, with the introduction of radar and operating as night-fighters, came into their own. Nightfighting Bf 110's could once again take to the skies with confidence and wreak havoc on incoming RAF bombers in the blackness of night. Luftwaffe night fighter ace Heinz-Wolfgang Schnauffer ended the war with 121 aerial victories, virtually all of them achieved while flying examples of the Bf 110.
Prototype only, first flown in May, 1936.
Limited production version with two Jumo 210 engines.
In late 1938 the DB-601A-1 engine was certified for fighter use and the first Bf-110C-1s rolled off the production line in January 1939. Minor changes in the changes in the C series included: the C-3 had improved MG-FF cannon, and the C-4 added about 500 lbs. of crew armor. The C-4/B model was fitted with an ETC-250 bomb rack under the fuselage, which allowed the carriage of two 250 kg. bombs. To offset the additional drag, the more powerful DB-601N engine was used in place of the DB-601A.
The Bf 110D was a long range version of the 110C. It was developed in part to deal with the long distances involved in the campaign in Norway, and also to give it a longer effective range as an anti-shipping aircraft. It operated against the last British and French positions in the far north of Norway, and was also used in long range raids against northern Britain, although only made one daylight raid.
The Bf 110F featured the new DB 601F engines which produced 1,350 hp (almost double the original Jumo engines provided), which allowed for upgraded armor, strengthening, and increased weight with no loss in performance. Three common versions of the F model existed. Pilots typically felt the Bf 110F to be the best of the 110 line, being fully aerobatic and in some respects smoother to fly than the Bf 109, though not as fast.
During 1941 the Me 210, a hoped-for successor to the 110 entered service, but it was unsuccessful. Following this failure of the Me 210, the Bf 110G was designed. Fitted with the DB 605B engines, producing a maximum of 1,475 hp for brief periods, and 1,355 hp at normal operational altitude (18,700 ft.), the Bf 110G had improved aerodynamics and nose armament.
The earliest Bf 110G-0 fighter-bomber was delivered for service evaluation late in 1942, and from early in 1943 G-series machines were built in large numbers. The Bf 110G-1, was similar to earlier Jabo (fighter-bomber) variants, and the G-2 differed principally in the armament installed: two or four 20-mm. MG 151 cannon and four 7.9-mm. MG 17 in the nose plus two 7.9-mm. MG 81 in the rear cockpit.
The Bf 110H was the final proposed design of the 110. It was to be powered by the DB 605E engine. The forward firing armament was to be upgraded to 2 MK 108 cannon each with 135 rounds and 1 MK 103 cannon with 140 rounds. It would be equipped with 2 ETC 500 bomb racks under the fuselage and either bomb racks or rockets beneath the wings. Work on the Bf 110H began in 1943, when on 24 February 1944 the USAAF bombed the Gotha works, destroying the test facilities, and the prototype Bf 110H. This set the project back by at least six months. In September 1944 development work on the Bf 110 was suspended, and it never reached production status, although some sources suggest that it did.
The Bf 110 is a fairly popular model; whatever it's actual performance was in the war, it looks cool, especially the night-fighting versions, bristling with early radar antennae and colorful Luftwaffe insignia. Revell offers a 1/32 Messerschmitt BF 110-C4/B Model Kit. (Links change over time; you can also go to Revell.com.)
The Aviation Shoppe offers this awesome blueprint of the Bf 110, as shown up above.
Bf 110's for sale
The market for WW2 airplanes is quite small, especially as the supply is very limited. Many original aircraft are in the hands of museums or airshow operators, and turnover is rare. When 'warbirds,' as they are called, do come on the market, Controller.com and Global Plane Search usually have them listed. Obviously, they are very expensive. For example, P-51 Mustangs are offered for $800,000 to $2,000,000.
Me 110 or Bf 110 - A Note on Terminology
In 1938, designer Willi Messerschmitt's reputation had grown to the point where the Air Ministry suggested changing his company's name from Bayerische Flugzeugwerke to Messerchmitt A.G.. Subsequent aircraft would be identified with the "Me" prefix; those already in production, the 109 and 110, would retain the "Bf" designator. Nonetheless, many people began referring to the "Me 109" and "Me 110" including the USAAF.
In German usage at the time, "Bf 110" was correct. With a lower case "f" and a space between "Bf" and "110," but no dash. But confusion persists to this day. Try a web search on "Messerschmitt Me 110." You'll get almost as many hits as with the proper abbreviation.