German Nightfighter

Nightfighters (source: German Aces over Holland)

In Netherlands two Nachtjagdgeschwader (NJG) were active. NJG1 was founded on 22 June 1940 in Mönchengladbach, Germany. This Nachtjagdgeschwader is the most successful Squadron of the second world war with 2311 victories, both day and night.




In the beginning of the war the Luftwaffe was only focused on attacking the enemy. They realised that the Englishmen also were able to attack German cities and industries especially at night.
The assault squadrons Zerstörergeschwader 1 (ZG 1) and IV./Zerstörergeschwader 26 (ZG 26), were therefore from June 1940 retrained from attacking units in defensive units, specialized in detecting and destroying Allied bombers at night.
In september 1940 a part of NJG1 transformed to NJG2 at Gilze-Rijen and merged with parts of Zerstörergeschwader 2 (ZG 2).Zerstörergeschwader ZG 76 was also added to the nachtjagergeschwader 1 and 2.

The planes
Dornier DO 17Z-7/10

The DO 17 was called the flying pencil because of its narrow shape. The planes were developed as light bombers, but by various modifications it was also suitable as a night fighter. Helmut Woltersdorf had often flown in this type of aircraft. In 1941 the DO 17 production stopped and was replaced by the much better flying Junckers Ju 88

Dornier Do 215B-5

The DO 215 was the successor of the Do17. The 215 was widely used for reconnaissance flights and was equipped with multiple camera’s. The 215B-5 nightfighter version, also called the Kauz III (OWL) for his spanner-anlage. The intention was to use this device to detect enemy aircraft during the finding of the enemy by night. De spanner-anlage was not successful due to too much interference. This type of aircraft was later on also equipped with Lichtenstein radar, but was taken out off service in 1944.

Junkers Ju 88C

The Junckers 88A was originally designed as Hunter/bomber with fixed forward facing machine guns. There are several variations of this type developed in the course of the war. In total 16,000 Ju 88s built.
The first nightfighter version was the C version, with a 20 mm MG FF cannon and three 7.92 mm (0.312 inch) MG 17 machine guns. These were placed in a steel nose piece. The first aircraft were used by the Zerstörerstaffel 30 or KG30, which was quickly retrained to II/ NJG 1 in July 1940.
In 1942 the C-6b version was first equipped with Lichtenstein FuG B/C radar and extensively tested by NJG1 above the Netherlands. These aircraft were also converted In 1944 to the FuG 220 Lichtenstein SN-2 radar.

Heinkel He 219

The Heinkel He 219 Uhu (OWL) was a night fighter which was deployed by the Germans at the end of the war. The aircraft was for that period a hyper modern plane, equipped with a well-functioning Lichtenstein radar SN2. Also it was the first military plane with ejection seats and a nose wheel. Because the construction was very complex the Germans couldn’t produce this aircraft fast enough. Otherwise this plane may have prolonged the war. In terms of flight characteristics the Heinkels were as dangerous as the English mosquito ‘s.

Messerschmitt Bf 109

The name Messerschmitt Bf 109 is a composition of the name of the designer (Willy Messcherschmitt) and the name of the factory where the first aircraft were built (Bayerische Flugzeugwerke). During the early to mid 1930s production of this type of aircraft started. At that time it was a modern fighter with a closed cockpit, a retractable undercarriage and was propelled by a water-cooled inverted V12 engine.
During the war the BF109 was equipped with stronger engines to stay competitive with the Allied fighters such as in the P-51D Mustang, Spitfire MK. XIV and the Hawker Tempest MK. V
In total, more than 30000 BF109 were built during the second world war.

Messerschmitt Bf 110

The BF 110 was also designed as an assault weapon. In the early days of the second world war these aircraft were successful at the air bases in Norway, Poland and France.
Bf 110’s lack of agility in the air was its primary weakness. This flaw was exposed during the Battle of Britain, when some Bf 110-equipped units were withdrawn from the battle after very heavy losses and redeployed as night fighters, a role to which the aircraft was well suited.
Most major night-fighter ACEs flew this aircraft. The most successful ACE, major Heinz-Wolfgang Schnaufer flew only in 110 ‘s and claimed 121 victories in 164 missions. In the beginning the BF110 was a 2 seater, however by the introduction of the radar equipment some versions were converted to 3 crew members: pilot, radio operator/navigator and gunner.

The hunt for the bombers.
In the beginning of the second world war the planes were sent into the air hoping to detect and destroy an enemy unit. This tactic was later on changed by the introduction of the Himmelbett in the so-called DUNAJA ” Dunkele Nachtjagd “.
This was an attack technique by means of radar posts conducting the night fighter towards the enemy plane. At the right spot the pilot had to detect the bomber visualy.
The successor of this technique was the so-called HENAJA “Helle Nachtjagd” The pilots were helped to locate the enemy by the use of searchlights on the ground. The searchlights were also controlled by the radar and ensured that the pilots of the bombers were temporarily blinded by the huge amount of light The pilot of the night fighter could intercept the target easier because it was illuminated.
A big disadvantage of these two kinds of defence systems was that only 1 plane at the time could be controlled by a radar station in the hunt for Allied bombers. The allies at that time knew how the defence of the German Reich worked, and sent the bombers in larger groups. The chance of the survival of large group of bombers sending through only one defence zone was bigger. This was the beginning of the 1000 bomber raids.

German countermeasures.
Wilde Sau (wild boar)

Because the Germans, in turn, saw that the bombers flew by in large groups through 1 defence zone only, they had to change the method of search and destroy. The method of “Wilde Sau” was developed. When a bomber stream was detected by the early warning system of the coast radar stations the fighters were sent by the radar stations towards the stream of bombers, rallied above the bombers, while simultaneously the bombers were lit by searchlights from below. This system worked at it’s best when there was low-hanging clouds. The bombers could be detected against the backdrop for illuminated clouds. Also torches with the FLAK guns could in be shot around the area to additional illumination.
By the burning city or installation the bombers were already lit, so the hunters could find the bombers easier.
The biggest disadvantage of this system was that the hunters had to fly blind until they reached the bomber. A part of the fighters could not find the stream of bombers because the bombers were always flying in a zig-zag course.
The technique of Wilde Sau was later replaced by the method “Zahme Sau”.

Zahme Sau (tame boar)
By linking the radar stations and the invention of an improved radar aboard the aircraft (Lichtenstein Radar), the attack was to with the codified Zahme Sau.
The operation was as follows:
At the time the radar stations on the coast were detecting a group of bombers all radar stations of the route of the bombers were warned. Per radar station 3 hunters were sent into the air and remained around a beacon (Funkfeuer). At the time the first bombers were in the area of the radar post the fighters were sent 1 by 1 towards the bomber stream and tried to detect and destroy the bombers with their own radar

Navigation aids
In the beginning of the war the night fighter pilots were completely depending on their own sightings if they “coincidentally” came against an enemy. Also in the HENAJA and DUNAJA the crews were complete depending on their own eye-observations.
The first real attempts to detect an aircraft was the so-called spanner-anlage. A sort of infrared Viewer in the cockpit. The system has never really worked well because it received too many signals and the pilot had to find out blimp on her schreen was the bomber. Own eyes therefore remained necessary.

The first real working radar was the so-called Lichtenstein. The FuG 202 Lichtenstein B/C had a 32 Di- pole antenna (matratze). The system had a limited reach and the signal was later on disturbed by with tinfoil from the allies.








The second generation was the FuG 220 Lichtenstein SN-2. These had a huge construction on the nose of the fighter (Hirschgeweih). This speed was slowed down by 50 km/hour. Fortunately, the bombers flew in that time also not very fast, but a quick interception was restricted. Later versions of the SN-2 had a more compact antenna.
Despite all these developments, these counter measurements didn’t stop the bombing of Germany and they had the face the fact that they lost the war. Fortunately.

The attack.
Find the bomber was 1 thing, disabling was a challenge in itself. The Bombers were well armed for attacks from above and especially from behind. An attack from the side was as good as impossible due to the forward-facing cannons and machine guns of the night fighter. The bomber had only a hefty blind spot on the underside of the aircraft.

The night fighters therefore usually attacking the bomber from below.

The method was:

  1. The night fighter creeps cautious under the bomber and flies at the same speed as the bomber. 
  2. The night fighter quickly pulls out his plane. The night fighter starts to aim at the fuel tanks and the wings at first.
  3. By raising the fighter it moves slower than the bomber and the fighter will hit the fuselage of the bomber.
  4. At present, the fighter will be in the crosshairs of the tail gunner. If the fighter has a steeper angle than the crosshairs of the tail he can disable the gunner. Often less experienced night fighter pilots had some trouble getting the angle right and were shot down by the tail gunner.



The Americans had solved the problem of attacks from below by placing a rotatable turret under the belly of the B17 flying fortress. The so-called Sperry Ball Turret.


Another method of attacking bombers by the Germans was placing tilted machine guns placed in the middle of the cockpit. The Germans called this “Schräge Musik” literally translated angled music. This allowed the night fighter to crawl unseen under the belly of the bomber and attack it while they flew straight out. The crew of the bomber was often completely surprised by the attack.
Crew members who survived an attack with this night fighter thought they were attacked by FLAK-fire.

Interior view of Messerschmitt Bf 110G-4 Schräge Musik installation:

                            1. MG FF/M 
                            2. Main drums 
                            3. Reserve drums 
                            4. Pressurized container with pressure-reducing gear and stop valve 
                            5. Spent cases container 
                            6. FPD and FF (Radio installation) 
                            7. Weapon mount 
                            8. Weapon recoil dampener

Source: Wespennest Leeuwarden, Ab Jansen


Messerschmitt Bf 110  (source: Wikipedia, pictures will follow shortly)

The Messerschmitt Bf 110, often (erroneously) called Me 110, was a twin-engine heavy fighter (Zerstörer—German for “Destroyer”) in the service of the Luftwaffe during World War II. Hermann Göring was a proponent of the Bf 110, and nicknamed it his Eisenseiten (“Ironsides”). Development work on an improved type to replace the Bf 110, theMesserschmitt Me 210 began before the war started, but its teething troubles resulted in the Bf 110 soldiering on until the end of the war in various roles, alongside its replacements, the Me 210 and the Me 410.

The Bf 110 served with success in the early campaigns, the Polish, Norwegian and Battle of France. The Bf 110’s lack of agility in the air was its primary weakness. This flaw was exposed during the Battle of Britain, when some Bf 110-equipped units were withdrawn from the battle after very heavy losses and redeployed as night fighters, a role to which the aircraft was well suited. The Bf 110 enjoyed a successful period following the Battle of Britain as an air superiority fighter and strike aircraft in other theatres. During the Balkans Campaign, North African Campaign and on the Eastern Front, it rendered valuable ground support to the German Army as a potent fighter-bomber (Jagdbomber or Jabo). Later in the war, it was developed into a formidable night fighter, becoming the major night-fighting aircraft of the Luftwaffe. Most of the German night fighter aces flew the Bf 110 at some point during their combat careers, and the top night fighter ace of all time, MajorHeinz-Wolfgang Schnaufer, flew it exclusively and claimed 121 victories in 164 combat missions.

Genesis and competition

Throughout the 1930s, the air forces of the major military powers were engaged in a transition from biplane to monoplane designs. Most concentrated on the single-engine fighter aircraft, but the problem of range arose. The Reichsluftfahrtministerium (RLM), pushed by Hermann Göring, issued a request for a new multipurpose fighter called the Kampfzerstörer (battle destroyer) with long range and an internal bomb bay. The request called for a twin-engine, three-seat, all-metal monoplane that was armed with cannon as well as a bomb bay. Of the original seven companies, only Bayerische Flugzeugwerke (Messerschmitt), Focke-Wulf and Henschel responded to the request.[5]

Messerschmitt defeated Focke-Wulf, Henschel and Arado, and was given the funds to build several prototype aircraft. The Focke-Wulf design, the Focke-Wulf Fw 57, had a wing span of 25.6 m (84 ft) and was powered by two DB 600 engines. It was armed with two 20 mmMG FF cannons in the nose and a third was positioned in a dorsal turret. The Fw 57 V1 flew in 1936 but its performance was poor and the machine crashed.[6] The Henschel Hs 124 was similar in construction layout to the Fw 57,[6] equipped with two Jumo 210C for the V1. The V2 used the BMW 132Dc radial engines generating 870 PS compared with the 640 PS Jumo. The armament consisted of a single rearward-firing 7.92 mm (.312 in) MG 15 machine gun and a single forward-firing 20 mm MG FF cannon.

Messerschmitt omitted the internal bomb load requirement from the RLM directive to increase the armament element of the RLM specification. The Bf 110 was far superior to its rivals in providing the speed, range and firepower to meet its role requirements.[7] By the end of 1935, the Bf 110 had evolved into an all-metal, low-wing cantilever monoplane of semi-monocoque design featuring twin rudders and powered by two DB 600A engines. The design was also fitted with Handley-Page wing slots.[7]

Early variants

By luck (and pressure by Ernst Udet), RLM reconsidered the ideas of the Kampfzerstörer and began focusing on the Zerstörer. Due to these changes, the Bayerische Flugzeugwerke design better fitted RLM’s requests. On 12 May 1936, Rudolf Opitz flew the first Bf 110 out of Augsburg.[8] But, as many pre-war designs found, the engine technologies promised were not up to acceptable reliability standards. Even with the temperamental DB 600 engines, the RLM found the Bf 110, while not as maneuverable as desired, was quite a bit faster than its original request specified, as well as faster than the then-current front line fighter, the Bf 109 B-1. Thus the order for four pre-production A-0 units was placed. The first of these were delivered on January 1937. During this testing, both the Focke-Wulf Fw 187and Henschel Hs 124 competitors were rejected and the Bf 110 was ordered into full production.

The initial deliveries of the Bf 110 encountered several issues with delivery of the DB 600 motors, which forced Bayerische Flugzeugwerke to install Junkers Jumo 210B engines, leaving the Bf 110 seriously underpowered and able to reach a top speed of only 431 km/h (268 mph). The armament of the A-0 units was also limited to four nose-mounted 7.92 mm (.312 in) MG 17 machine guns.

Even without delivery of the DB 600 engines, Bayerische Flugzeugwerke began assembly of the Bf 110 in the summer of 1937. As the DB 600 engines continued to have issues, Bayerische Flugzeugwerke was forced to keep on using Jumo motors, the 210G, which supplied 515 kW (700 PS) each (versus the 471 kW/640 PS supplied by the 210B). Three distinct versions of the Bf 110B were built, the B-1, which featured four 7.92 mm (.312 in) MG 17 machine guns and two 20 mm MG FF cannons. The B-2 reconnaissance version, which had a camera in place of the cannons, and the B-3 which was used as a trainer, with the cannons replaced by extra radio equipment. Only 45 Bf 110Bs were built before the Jumo 210G engine production line ended. The major identifier of the A and B 110s was the very large “mouth” bath radiators located under the engine.

In late 1938, the DB 601 B-1 engines became available. With the new engine, the design teams removed the radiators under the engine and replaced them with water/glycol radiators, placing them under the wing to the outside of the engines. With the DB 601 engine, the Bf 110’s maximum speed increased to a respectable 541 km/h (336 mph) with a range of approximately 1,094 km (680 mi).

Later production variants

FuG 220 and FuG 202 (center) “Lichtenstein” SN-2 night fighter radar equipment on the nose of a Bf 110 G-4 being serviced by German Air Force (Luftwaffe) ground crew on Grove airfield, Denmark after the war in August 1945, before the aircraft was sent to the UK for research.

The production of the Bf 110 was put on a low priority in 1941 in expectation of its replacement by the Me 210. During this time, two versions of the Bf 110 were developed, the E and F models. The E was designed as a fighter bomber (Zerstörer Jabo), able to carry four 50 kg (110 lb) ETC-50 racks under the wing, along with the centerline bomb rack. The first E, the Bf 110 E-1 was originally powered by the DB 601B engine, but shifted to the DB 601P as they became available in quantity. A total of 856 Bf 110E models were built between August 1940 and January 1942.[9]The E models also had upgraded armour and some fuselage upgrades to support the added weight. Most pilots of the Bf 110E considered the aircraft slow and unresponsive, one former Bf 110 pilot commenting the E was “rigged and a total dog.”

The Bf 110F featured the new DB 601F engines which produced 993 kW/1,350 PS (almost double the power the original Jumo engines provided), which allowed for upgraded armour, 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. Eventually 512 Bf 110F models were completed between December 1941 and December 1942, when production gave way to the Bf 110G.[9]

Although the Me 210 entered service in mid-1941, it was withdrawn for further development. There were insufficient aircraft to fully replace the Bf 110, so it remained in service until the end of the war. In the wake of the failure of the Me 210, the Bf 110G was designed.[10] Fitted with the DB 605B engines, producing 1,085 kW (1,475 PS) in “War Emergency” setting, and 997 kW (1,355 PS) at 5.8 km (19,000 ft) altitude, the Bf 110G also underwent some changes which improved the aerodynamics of the aircraft, as well as upgrading the nose armament. No Bf 110 G-1 existed, as the Bf 110 G-2 became the baseline Bf 110G and was fitted with a large number of Rüstsätze, making the G the most versatile of the Bf 110. The initial batch of six pre-series production G-0 aircraft built in June 1942 followed by 797 G-2, 172 G-3 and 2,293 G-4 models, built between December 1942 and April 1945.[9] Pilots reported the Bf 110G to be a “mixed bag” in the air, in part due to all changes between the G and F series. However the Bf 110G was considered a superior gun platform with excellent all-around visibility, and considered, until the advent of theHeinkel He 219, the best of the Luftwaffe night fighters.

The Bf 110’s main strength was its ability to accept unusually powerful air-to-air weaponry. Early versions had four 7.92 mm (.312 in) MG 17 machine guns in the upper nose and two 20 mm MG FF/M cannons fitted in the lower part of the nose. Later versions replaced the MG FF/M with the more powerful 20 mm MG 151/20 cannons and many G-series aircraft, especially those who served in the bomber-destroyer role, had two 30 mm (1.18 in) MK 108 cannons fitted instead of the MG 17. The defensive armament consisted of a single, flexibly mounted 7.92 mm (.312 in) MG 15 machine gun. Late F-series and prototype G-series were upgraded to a 7.92 mm (.312 in) MG 81 machine gun with a higher rate of fire and the G-series was equipped with the twin-barreled MG 81Z. Many G-series night fighters were retrofitted or factory-built with the Schräge Musik off-bore gun system, firing upward at an oblique angle for shooting down bombers while passing underneath, frequently equipped with two 20 mm MG FF/M, but field installations of the 20 mm MG 151/20 or 30 mm (1.18 in) MK 108 cannons were also utilized. The Schräge Musik weapons were typically mounted to the back of the rear cockpit.

The Bf 110 G-2/R1 was also capable of accepting armament such as the Bordkanone series 37 mm (1.46 in) BK 37 cannon. A single hit from this weapon was enough to destroy any Allied bomber.

The fighter-bomber versions could carry up to 2,000 kg (4,410 lb) of bombs, depending on the type.