The final expression of the heavy fighter concept, the Me410 both proved the strength of the concept and demonstrated its ultimate weakness.
After the jump a look a plane that was both deadly and vulnerable.
The development of this type was somewhat painful. As early as 1939 design work had started on an improved heavy fighter to replace the Bf110. This early effort, on a type called the Me210, replaced the Bf110’s DB 601 engines with the more powerful DB 605. But the new air frame was a disaster, in particular it was critically unstable in the pitch axis. It entered test service in 1941 but was found so deficient the Bf110 was put back into production with the more powerful engines intended for the Me210.
But Messerschmitt found this solution unacceptable. The Bf110 was an aging design that needed improvement on multiple levels. So work continued on the Me210. Eventually a lengthened fuselage and redesigned wing, along with an even more powerful DB 603 engine led to what was initially called the Me210D. This was a powerful and capable aircraft that designers and test pilots all felt delivered well on the heavy fighter concept.
But the “Me210” designation had been so disgraced through the early attempt at deployment it was decided to renumber the type Me410. This finally entered service in 1943, although it would never replace the Bf110 in its night fighter role.
So what was the role of a “heavy fighter” in 1943? The early war years had exposed the pure folly of using a heavy fighter in any role that involved melee with single engine fighters. But there were two roles that the Me410 was very well suited for. The first was as a heavy fighter-bomber. In this function its foreign equivalents might be the deHaviland Mosquito or A-20 Havoc. It could use its high speed to seek out ground targets behind the front lines. It would deliver a light bomb load (about 2000 lbs) and heavy machine gun fire (normal firepower of two machine guns and two cannon). The Me410 was very good at this role, and was only phased out later in the war because of Germany’s inability to provide any air superiority at all.
The second major function for a heavy fighter was as a bomber destroyer. This is actually close to the original concept for the type and became highly relevant through 1943 as the US was bombing Germany in broad daylight without fighter support. The standard German day fighters struggled against American bombers in part because the aircraft were very rugged, and their formations were the very definition of a hard target. So many of us have read about the slaughter German fighters inflicted on American heavy bombers prior to long range escort that I think we often loose sight of what a profoundly tough challenge those formations were for the German defenders. The planes themselves were tough, they bristled defensive firepower, and a formation had heavy machine guns pointing in every direction.
So the heavy fighter became a key weapon for the Germans in breaking apart those formations. These Zerstorer tasked planes had additional cannons, and rocket tubes under the wings. They could launch rockets from several hundred yards out that could cause a bomber formation to loosen up, then charge in with their heavy fire power to score multiple kills. The single seat fighters might come in next, now that there were serious holes in the defensive formation. And carnage ensued…
This situation changed rapidly once Mustangs were available to escort bomber formations anywhere they might go. An Me410 loaded for bear was not well disposed for protecting itself from a fighter.
In early 1944 production of the Me410 was stopped, it was no longer survivable in either of its main roles. But for about a year it was a highly effective weapon. This is the Pro Modeler kit with Aeromaster decals.
It is again an axis weapon which is another too little too late.
Yes that was a recurring theme!
Reblogged this on My Forgotten Hobby and commented:
Always excellent articles from Dave
An excellent account of a plane that I must confess, I knew very little about before today. Thanks for sharing it with us.
Writing these posts is sort of my way of playing with my toys, so it is always my pleasure!
I read in a book about the B17 that it knocked down more enemy aircraft per flight hour than any other type. That included fighters. Sounds illogical, but many illogical things happen in war.
Yeah the Me410 was VERY effective against unescorted bombers. Much better than the single engines (they didn’t have enough fire power to really tear apart a heavy bomber very fast) or the Me262 (it was too fast! Not enough time for a good firing run).
I’m sorry I wasn’t clear but I meant that B17 knocked down more planes than any other per flight hour. That works into your statement that it was very dangerous to attack a formation of well armed bombers.
That surprises me a little. The B-17 was definitely dangerous to attack, but I would expect Mustangs and Thunderbolts to have a better percentage.
Although maybe because the bombers were ALWAYS the target they spent a higher portion of their operational life in harm’s way which may have led to a high proportion of kills.
One thing to remember about bombers vs fighters though, the relative COST of the bomber is much higher. One B-17 has four times the engines and ten times the crew of a single Fw190, not to mention a lot more sophisticated electronics and flight systems. So the relative value of the bomber is much higher than a fighter.
But I would also guess there was a qualification on that statement, like maybe the ratio of CLAIMED kills was much higher for the bomber. Defensive gunners had a pretty poor record for claim accuracy. With six gunners on each plane, and 30 or more bombers in a formation, it wouldn’t be surprising if 20 guys claimed a kill for ever enemy actually destroyed. There doesn’t even have to be any bragging or lying involved, just a lot of guys who honestly claimed a piece of every plane destroyed.
It’s stuff like that makes the life of the unit intelligence officer difficult!
As a footnote Dave…
I always reblog your excellent posts before I read them.
Wow, I hope I don’t disappoint!
I like also to read the comments people leave.
I definitely have some insightful readers!
Absolutely terrific build Dave. I have seen a static one on the collection at the R.A.F. Museum Hendon in England a few times, and it looks so right, yet in the early years as the 210, it developed into a useful bomber escort, too little, too late once again (oh, the German’s!), however, it is a great looking aircraft and you have certainly done it Justice here. Thank you for continuing to share your wonderful posts, Rich.
Thanks Rich! I always think of it as a tough looking airplane, sort of a bulldog.
It is funny how just about every one of the major powers was certain of the concept of the heavy fighter, and how limited a role and timespan they ended up being a viable concept.
It was an idea that sure died hard! Arguably the Germans made better use of it than most, but no doubt the long range escort fighter ended it.
Well I’d propose that the Germans made better use of it because they needed it more. The allies had long range 4 engine bombers bombing in mass formations without fighter escort. Germany never developed a 4 engine bomber. Something I think is very telling.
The Germans did have plans for heavy bombers on and off, but for a variety of reasons it never really happened (the He177 would count as a four engine heavy, but it was never deployed en masse).
It is funny to me how the heavy fighters did become useful, but never quite in the role envisioned for them. The Germans wanted them to be long range escort fighters, but that was one role they could never fill.
No doubt it was convenient for the Germans that those heavies were so useful as bomber destroyers. At least for a while.
I could imagine the British doing something similar. In fact, I’d say the Bristol Beaufighter was a plane of very similar capabilities to the Bf110. As it occurred, it was developed as an emergency night fighter after the Luftwaffe switched to night raids on England. But if the Luftwaffe had ever tried daylight raids further inland than London I could see the heavily armed Beaufighter performing that bomber destroyer role quite capably.
I suppose it can mostly be attributed to the fact that WWII was the first war where the air was a major theater.
Yeah absolutely. A lot of concepts were still unproven or immature.
I think its interesting too though that development times were still short enough for whole concepts and roles to lead to new types that actually saw service.
Its a little different than the F-35 today!