Bf 110C-4 Specifications
Crew: Pilot and air gunner
Powerplant: Two 1,150 hp Daimler-Benz DB 601A-1 twelve-cylinder liquid-cooled engines
Span: 53 ft 4¾ in (16.27 m)
Length: 39 ft 8½ in (12.11 m)
Max Speed: 563 km/h (349 mph) at 22,960 ft (6,998 m)
Armament: Four 7.92 mm MG 17 machine guns and two 20 mm MG FF/M cannon in nose, one rear-firing 7.92 mm MG 15 machine gun in cockpit
Photo Description: A Messerschmitt Bf 110C of 6.Staffel/ZG 76 (M8+EP) over the English Channel, August 1940.
The Messerschmitt Bf 110 was a German twin-engine heavy fighter (Zerstörer – German for “Destroyer”) and fighter-bomber (Jagdbomber or Jabo) that served with the Luftwaffe throughout the Second World War. It was designed by Willy Messerschmitt and Robert Lusser at the Bayerische Flugzeugwerke (Bavarian Aircraft Company or BFW) in response to a specification issued by the German Ministry of Aviation (Reichsluftfahrtministerium, or RLM) in 1934 for a long-range multi-role fighter that was capable of penetrating deep into enemy territory to clear a path for German bomber formations. The new concept was called the Kampfzerstörer (“battle destroyer”) and was particularly favoured by Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring. The specification called for a twin-engine all metal three seat monoplane featuring an internal bomb bay and armed with cannon. It was sent to seven companies but only Focke-Wulf, Henschel, and BFW responded with proposals. Unlike his rivals, Messerschmitt ignored many of the design requirements and decided to focus on aircraft performance, omitting the internal bomb bay and increasing the armament. The resulting Messerschmitt Bf 110 was an all-metal, low-wing cantilever monoplane of semi-monocoque design featuring twin vertical stabilizers and powered by two Daimler-Benz DB 600A engines. Fortunately for Messerschmitt, the RLM decided to revise the original specification in the spring of 1935 and abandoned the Kampfzerstörer concept in favour of two specific types: the Schnellbomber (fast bomber) and the Zerstörer (heavy fighter). The Bf 110 was well placed to fill the latter role. The first prototype, the Bf 110V1, made its maiden flight on 12 May 1936 and reached a top speed of 509 km/h (316 mph), which was faster than early versions of the Messerschmitt Bf 109 single-engine fighter. However, the size and weight of the aircraft limited maneuverability. The second prototype, the Bf 110V2, first flew in October 1936 before being sent to the Luftwaffe Erprobungsstelle (testing center) at Rechlin in January 1937 for evaluation. Despite its shortcomings, the Bf 110 outperformed its rivals and was ordered into production.
Four pre-production A-0 series aircraft were delivered at the beginning of 1938 but ongoing issues with the DB 600 engine forced BFW to install lower-rated Junkers Jumo 210Da engines, which left the heavy fighter seriously underpowered and able to reach a top speed of only 431 km/h (268 mph). Armament was also limited to four 7.92 mm (.312 in) MG 17 machine guns in the upper nose. With the availability of the more powerful Daimler-Benz DB 601 engine pending, a limited number of the Bf 110B variant were produced, powered by interim Junkers Jumo 210Ga engines. The B-1 entered service in July 1938 and included two 20 mm MG FF cannons in the lower nose in addition to the four MG 17 machine guns in the upper nose. One rearward-firing 7.92 mm MG 15 machine gun was also mounted in the rear cockpit. Other sub-variants included the B-2 reconnaissance version, which featured a camera in place of the cannons, and the B-3 trainer, which replaced the cannons with extra radio equipment. The DB 601A-1 engine finally became available in late 1938, resulting in the Bf 110C variant. The new engine featured direct fuel injection and gave the aircraft a top speed of 541 km/h (336 mph) with a range of around 1,094 km (680 mi). Ten Bf 110C-0 pre-production aircraft were delivered for evaluation in January 1939, followed by the Bf 110C-1 production model at the end of the month. By September 1939, 159 Bf 110Cs were available to the Luftwaffe. The new fighter proved its abilities during the Polish campaign, and in December 1939 succeeded in destroying nine out of twenty-four Vickers Wellington bombers on a mission over the Heligoland Bight, which forced the RAF to abandon daylight missions in favour of night bombing.
At the start of the Battle of Britain, the Bf 110 Zerstörer was expected to provide close escort for the Luftwaffe bomber fleet but the lack of maneuverability and poor acceleration made the heavy fighter highly vulnerable to the more agile RAF single-engine fighters. The single rearward-firing MG 15 provided little protection against attacks from astern and Staffels often formed large defensive circles so that each Bf 110 guarded the tail of the aircraft ahead of it. On 15 August 1940, nearly thirty Bf 110s were shot down, the equivalent of an entire Gruppe. Between 16–17 August, twenty-three more were lost. Replacements could not keep pace with losses and the number of Zerstörer operations was substantially reduced. Despite being thoroughly outclassed in the long-range bomber escort role, the Bf 110 was used to good effect by Luftwaffe unit Erprobungsgruppe 210 (Test Wing 210) as a Schnellbomber, attacking radar stations and RAF airfields at low altitude and causing extensive damage.
Later in the war, the Bf 110 was developed into a formidable radar-equipped night fighter. Using upward firing Schräge Musik autocannons, the aircraft could attack Allied bombers from below with devastating results.