Messerschmitt Bf 110 vol. III


Finally I saw them, ahead and off to the right. They almost passed us by, flying at higher altitude. They were some 2000 metres above, a big, tight formation of four-engined bombers. A flight of three bombers at the outermost right side of their combat box1  distanced itself a little from the rest of formation. The bombers were pulling thick contrails. We were slowly closing in. Now I could clearly see the Boeings’ olive upper surfaces; one of them seemed damaged.
Finally our fighters turned up, one or two charged headlong and slashed through the bomber formation. The bombers tightened up their box even more. With Heinzelmann flying behind me, we levelled off at their altitude. There were 16 of them. Our fighters kept making passes at the bombers but failed to carry out a cohesive attack. On or two Me 110s hit from the rear, causing one of the Yankees to drop out of formation. Our ‘vic’ strenuously pressed on above the bombers, overtaking their formation.
– We’re attacking head-on!
– Roger, roger!
We were ready. I glanced at the Boeings. They were now slightly lower, to the right side. The leading bomber sprayed us with a hail of tracer rounds. I could clearly observe their tracks. The weather was very fine, windy but cloudless.
In the meantime we reached the Zuider Zee, to the west of Texel; it was half past eleven hours. Our commander orbited towards the enemy formation. I followed him and immediately found myself nose to nose with the Yankees. My reflexive gunsight was already on. Throttle to the firewall and let’s get them. In a split second a caught one of the bombers in my sights and pressed trigger. The guns responded with thundering noise, spewing gun powder cloud, which boiled around the cockpit. The burst went too high. Small correction. I clutched the trigger again. I had him.
Another loomed in sight. This time I was more precise with giving deflection. Again a deafening rumble of guns spitting fire. My burst tore into the bomber’s fuselage and wingroot. I flashed past him and left the enemy formation behind. What now? I saw another Me 110 ahead of me, which orbited towards the ground. I came in trail.

Messerschmitts Bf 110D-3 of 5./ZG 26 during the Russian campaign in summer 1941; the narrow band on the fuselage of the machine coded 3U+BN in yellow. [Kagero's Archive]


We came through this unscathed. I couldn’t see any bullet holes in our machine. Then I had a look around. One of the bombers was descending, apparently attempting to belly-land on the Texel island. Another bomber slammed into the water nearby. A column of black smoke, raising from the surface of the sea, marked the spot of its crash.
The engaged bombers belonged to 91st Bomb Group, led by Maj. Paul Fishburne. Hptm. Lütje reported one B-17 shot down at 1131 hrs, moments later four Bf 110s finished off another Fortress. Their victims were B-17F, s/n 42-5370 (flown by Lt. Henderson) and B-17F, s/n 41-24512 “Rose O’Day” (flown by Lt. Felton).
The Eastern Front
Well before dawn of Sunday 22 June
1941, the Luftwaffe’s camouflaged
forward airstrips along the border with the Soviet Union erupted in an unusual flurry of activity. The air filled with the rumble of engines warming up. Last-minute orders and instructions were passed around. The first wave of 868 aircraft was being readied for combat, which was about to open a new front of 1500 kilometres. Some 150 bombers – Do 17s of KG 2, Ju 88s of KG 3 and He 111s of KG 53 – were already airborne and heading east, so that they could reach their assigned targets at three o’clock sharp. One is tempted to say: the proverbial German precision.
Theodor Rossiwall, Staffelkapitän 5./ZG 26, who was in the spearhead of the Luftwaffe’s pre-emptive strike, recalled:
“Here in the east the sun rises damned early – so take-off had been ordered for 0250 hrs. The groundcrew had to be at the aircraft at 0030 hrs. At exactly 3 o’clock the battle on the ground started. For the Staffel, clawing for height above the airfield, it was a fantastic sight. In the quiet and the dark of the morning suddenly fire spouted from thousands and thousands of barrels of every calibre, creating a glowing snake below us on the awakening countryside. On the other side of the border one could see the points of impact. A hurricane burst loose on the Bolshevik troops standing at the ready…”.
In the autumn of 1940 the determined resistance of the Royal Air Force fighters over the southern England the English Channel mercilessly demonstrated the weaknesses of the contemporary Luftwaffe. The single-engined Bf 109Es operated at their maximum range. Their pilots, upon reaching London, were forced to keep an eye on the hostile skies around them and the ever dropping pointers of fuel gauges. The Ju 87 Stuka, the “star” of German Blitzkrieg, was hastily withdrawn from the cross-Channel operations. Without the air dominance of the German Jäger, this slow, tactical support bomber was for British Hurricanes and Spitfires as much a challenge as a towed target sleeve. However, no other Luftwaffe units suffered such crushing humiliation during the Battle of Britain as the Zerstörergeschwadern. The twin-engined Messerschmitts 110, lacking the manoeuvrability of a ‘thoroughbred’ fighter, failed miserably in “paving the way” through British air defences for the German raiders. Soon, they were chased into defensive Lufbery circles or themselves sought protection of Bf 109s. Hence, it seemed that the days of the Reichsmarschall Göring’s favourites were all but numbered.