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.