Messerschmitt Me210/Me410 Hornisse (Hornet) WWII Nazi Twin Engine Fighter/Bomber
The Me 210 was designed as a potential successor to the Bf 110, and RLM approval of the project in 1937 was followed on 5 September 1939 by the first flight of the twin-finned Me 210V1 prototype. This aircraft showed marked instability in flight, and attempts to remedy this resulted in a large-area single fin and rudder being introduced on the second machine. This still did not eliminate all the Me 210's control problems, but the RLM had committed itself to a substantial order for one thousand aircraft of this type before the first prototype had flown. The three production models - the Me 210A-1, A-2 and C-1, were all similarly powered, with 1,395hp DB 601F engines; the A-2 was fitted with external bomb racks, while the C-1 had the two MG 17 guns deleted and carried two aerial reconnaissance cameras. In April 1942, however, the RLM halted production of the Me 210.
It was later resumed for a brief period, but the final total completed in Germany was only three hundred and fifty-two, plus two hundred and sixty-seven built under licence in Hungary with DB 605B engines. In the search for a replacement type, the RLM passed over the pressurized Me 310 project in favor of a simpler derivative, the Me 410, which was also powered by DB 603A engines. Known as the Hornisse, the Me 410 entered production late in 1942. By 1944 a total of one thousand one hundred and sixty had been manufactured. Several A and B sub-types were produced, with armament or equipment variations, for service as 'heavy' fighters, bomber destroyers and photographic reconnaissance aircraft. The Me 410A-3 and B-3 had bulged bomb bay fairings containing three aerial cameras; the B-5 and B-6 carried torpedoes for anti-shipping duties.
Messerschmitt Me210/Me410 Hornet (Hornisse)
In February 1944, a Staffel of the Luftwaffe's II/KG 51, commanded by Major Puttfarken, began flying intruder missions over England. Missions over the enemy country by long-range bomb carrying night fighters had been almost unheard-of for more than a year. The aircraft used for the resumption was the Messerschmitt Me 410, and it was clear by this time that it was an outstanding aircraft: fast, heavily armed and a really formidable fighting machine. Puttfarken himself achieved five kills before he was shot down near Canterbury on 23 April.
All this was a great relief to Professor Dr Ing Willy Messerschmitt, because to everyone's surprise the development programme for this aircraft could hardly have been a greater disaster. This shattered the previously sky-high reputation of Messerschmitt AG, and also was of great concern to the Luftwaffe.
Back in 1938 the Reichsluftfahrtministerium was wisely taking a long-term view and planning well ahead to make sure that all the Luftwaffe's future requirements would be met in good time. There was nothing wrong with Messerschmitt's Bf 110 twin-engined long range fighter, but the Luftwaffe high command regarded this Zerstörer class of aircraft as so overwhelmingly important that Messerschmitt was requested to prepare plans for a Bf 110 successor. The company's proposal was accepted in the summer of 1938, and contracts were placed for prototypes of rival designs, the Me 210 and Arado Ar 240, but the Arado submission was regarded as a mere backup. Messerschmitt's reputation was so high that the Me 210 contract included provisions for mass production of long-lead parts, such as wing spars and landing gears, and an option on the first 1,000 aircraft off the assembly line.
A damning report
Messerschmitt's famed test pilot Dr Ing Hermann Wurster made the maiden flight of the first prototype Me 210 on 5 September 1939, just after the start of World War II. He reported that handling in both the yawing and pitching planes was totally unacceptable, in fact dangerous. Seldom has a first-flight test report been so damning. This was a big setback. because the Augsburg-Haunstetten design team had tried to create a world-beating multi-role aircraft able to fly the 'all can do' Kampfzerstörer missions as originally considered by the air staff in Berlin in 1934. These missions included air fighting, ground attack, dive bombing and reconnaissance. Now, it seemed, the new prototype was unfit even to fly.
Though it naturally made the maximum use of experience with the successful Bf 110, the Me 210 introduced many totally new features. One was that the nose was deep but very short. In fact the tip of the nose was well behind the propeller. spinners. The pilot was right at the front, the forward-firing armament of two of the new Mauser MG 151/20 cannon and two 7.92-mm MG 17 machine-guns being under the floor, instead of in front of the instrument panel as in the Bf 110. Even more remarkable, under the cockpit floor was a substantial bomb bay, with two doors, able to accommodate two SC 500 bombs of 1,102 lb each. Above and below the outer wings were large Venetian blind airbrakes for steep dive bombing attacks. A totally new feature was the very advanced rear defensive armament. In the fuselage just aft of the wing was a large drum mounted transversely, rotated up or down by an electric motor. On this drum's left and right ends were mounted single 13-mm MG 131 guns, pivoted so that they could swing out to the 90 deg abeam position. Each of these heavy machine-guns had 450 rounds. The whole FDL 131 assembly was under the control of the observer, who faced aft and had an optical sight and remote aiming pistol-grips. These barbettes promised good firepower over the entire rear hemisphere with very little drag.
The Me 210 introduced several other new features. The tandem cockpits were covered by a multi-panel glazed Plexiglas canopy which wrapped round at the sides to give the back-seater some vision downwards, so that he could fire at any fighter trying to find a 'blind spot' at six o'clock below and to the rear. The big main landing wheels were mounted inboard of single straight legs which during the retraction sequence turned to stow the wheels flat in the shallow rear of the nacelles, as in the Ju 88. The pilot and observer had hinged canopies, but instead of the roof opening up on transverse hinges each complete canopy section hinged to the right. A structural detail was that in the Bf 109 and 110 the engines were hung on bearers forged in solid Elektron (magnesium alloy), but the bearers in the Me 210 were hollow box-sections welded from steel sheet. The engines were Daimler-Benz DB 601A-1s virtually identical to those fitted to the 1939 Bf 109 and 110, but the new fighter was expected to be faster than either.
Immediately after the first flight the prototype was rebuilt with a huge single-fin tail and new tapered tailplane. This resulted in only a small improvement, and throughout 1940 the increasing number of prototypes (suddenly reduced by the crash of the second on 5 September 1940) was exhaustively flown by company pilots and the Rechlin test center. With production building up it was imperative to find complete solutions, but these proved elusive. By 1941 Me 210A-0s and A-1s were coming off the assembly lines at Augsburg and Regensburg and from the MIAG plant at Braunschweig, but eventually, after prolonged arguments, it was decided that the whole programme had to be terminated. Manufacture stopped at the three factories between January and March 1942. One of the results was the enforced resignation of Willy Messerschmitt.
Testing continued at full pressure, and on 14 March 1942 an Me 210A-0 flew with a longer and deeper rear fuselage, slatted outer wings and various other changes. It proved a great improvement. Work accordingly was rushed ahead on a new aircraft embodying these changes, as well as revised outer wings with straight taper instead of 50 sweepback, and much more powerful DB 603 engines. To avoid the stigma attached to the number 210 this new aircraft was designated the Me 410.
Return to the Me 210
While this work went ahead, many modifications were made to the dozens of Me 210s that were available. Existing A-1 and A-2 aircraft were fitted with the new rear fuselage and slats and issued to 16./KG 6 and later to III/ZG 1, the latter unit also receiving many A-1s and A-2s which Messerschmitt received permission to complete in late 1942. These saw action in Sicily, Tunisia and Sardinia. Following tests with an A-0 fitted. with DB 605B engines, the Me 210C was put into production at Duna (Danube) aircraft works for both the Luftwaffe and Hungarian air force, using DB 605B engines made by Manfred Weiss. Meanwhile there were schemes to replace the MG 131 barbettes, which were troublesome, one featuring twin 20-mm MG 151 cannon fixed to fire to the rear and aimed by the pilot via a tall aft-facing periscopic sight. A few Me 210B reconnaissance aircraft were built, and Blohm und Voss fitted seven A-1s as tandem dual trainers (the back-seater, of course, facing forward).
In Hungarian service the Me 210C-1 and Ca-1 did well and were very popular. The Duna works delivered 267 aircraft before switching to the Bf 109G in March 1944, and the Hungarians used the speedy twin intensively on the Eastern Front.
Obviously the faults had been cured, and when the first Me 410 began flight testing in autumn 1942 it was the basis for an extremely useful aircraft. The new fuselage and new wing completely cured the previously terrible handling and tendency to flick into a spin, and the 1,850-hp DB 603A engines resulted in outstanding performance. With the MG 131 barbettes now working well the Me 410A- 1 Schnellbomber and Me 410A-2 Zerstörer began to come off the assembly lines in December 1942, and while production built up the Messerschmitt company and Luftwaffe armament and equipment centers developed a remarkable variety of schemes for different armament and mission equipment.
The basic models in production from January 1943 until September 1944 comprised the Me 410A series with DB 603A engines and the Me 410B with 1,900-hp DB 603Gs and other minor changes. The standard armament was the same as for the Me 210A series: two MG 151/20 and two MG 17 firing forward and the MG 131 barbettes at the rear. Aircraft with suffix /U1 had the MG 17s removed and a single vertical reconnaissance camera installed in the rear fuselage. Those designated /U2 were equipped for the Zerstörer role with two MG 151/20 cannon in the bomb bay, firing ahead. The /U21R2 versions had the bomb bay fitted with two 30-mm MK 103 or MK 108 guns, the lower Plexiglas pane in the nose being replaced by a metal plate. The /U2/R5 conversion like the others intended mainly for shooting down heavy bombers by day installed four MG 151s in the bomb bay, giving six 20-mm cannon firing ahead. Equally heavy armament was provided by the /U2/R4, which added the two MG 151s in the bomb bay, in a Waffenbehalter, followed by two further MG 151s underneath in a Waffentropfen. The /U4 conversion fitted a single BK 5 50-mm gun. The first conversions had no other forward-firing armament. Newly built A-2/U4s followed with the BK 5 plus the twin MG 151s and twin MG 17s, and a further 100 field conversion kits were supplied comprising the BK 5 plus two 30-mm MK 103 and the associated ZFR 4a gunsight, the resulting designation again being B-2/u4. The rare Me 410B-6 had the twin MK 103s in the bomb bay and two MG 131s in place of the MG 17s. Another rarity was the B-5 torpedo bomber, which carried any of a variety of torpedoes slung under the left side of the fuselage. Forward-firing armament was reduced to just the two MG 151s, and most of these aircraft were fitted with FuG 200 Hohentwiel search radar. As well as the special Friedensengel gliding torpedo, B-5s tested the SB 800RS Kurt 1,765-lb rolling bomb for use against surface ships, and the SB 1000/410 blast weapon specially designed for external carriage by the B-5, with an elliptical low-drag cross-section and small drag chute to stabilize its fall. I/ZG 1 used the B-6 variant, which had twin MG 151120s, twin MG 131s and two MK 103s plus Hohentwiel radar. They operated in the anti-ship role before being thrust into the anti-bomber battle, the radar then usually being removed.
Defense of the Reich
By mid-1944 almost all surviving Me 410s were engaged in the defense of the Reich against day bombers. With their speed and firepower they brought down many bombers, but overall the scoring rate was probably about even because the big twins were easy meat for escorting P-51s and P-47s. More fortunate were the Me 410A-3 and B-3 reconnaissance versions, which from December 1943 were built in numbers and, except over England, were fast enough to do much good work with modest attrition. Unlike the inadequate A-1/U1 they had a properly designed installation of two Rb 20/30, 50/30 or 75/30 cameras in the deepened underside of the nose in what in other versions was the bomb or heavy gun bay.
The Me 410 had by 1944 fully established a good reputation in the Luftwaffe, and because of the wide publicity given to II/ZG 26 as the Hornissengeschwader, it became unofficially known as the Hornisse (Hornet). Many were used for special test and trials program. At least one tested the experimental rapid-fire 21O-mm rocket launcher. Many Luftwaffe fighters had used the 210-mm rocket using clumsy Wfr.Gr.21 mortar tubes under the wings. The auto launcher was a big drum mounted inside the Me 410 weapon bay, tilted up at the usual angle and with the 'six o'clock' tube exposed underneath the aircraft. On lining up on a bomber the pilot could blast off all six rockets from the drum in less than two seconds. Initial trials seriously damaged the Me 410, but after much effort the system was made to work and it was subjected to combat trials in several Me 410Bs, though the results appear to have been lost.
By early 1944 the Messerschmitt design team was busy with a stretched version, the Me 410C. This was intended to have much higher performance at high altitudes, even though it was intended to carry heavier loads of weapons and, in some versions, night interception radar. Two new wings were designed, with span increased to 18.25 m (60 ft) or 20.45 m (67 ft). More powerful engines fitted with turbo-superchargers were to be used, either the DB603JZ, Jumo 213EIJZ or BMW 801 TJ. All were to drive propellers with four very broad blades, and the Daimler-Benz engine was to have annular nose radiators replacing the usual ones under the rear part of the wings. At least two Me 410s tested the annular-cowled engines and the 410C's proposed revised forward fuselage and new main landing gears with twin wheels retracting straight to the rear without a 900 twist. Such were the problems afflicting the industry that before any 410C could be completed the programme was abandoned. In its place came the Me 410D, with the new twin-wheel gears, annular-cowled 603JZ engines and revised forward fuselage (which was expected to give better pilot view and lower drag). A further feature was outer wing panels which, though similar aerodynamically to those previously in production, were made of wood to conserve strategic materials.
Even this achieved nothing. Other wood programs were 111 severe difficulty with adhesives and structural failures, and in summer 1944 the 410D was itself replaced by an interim Me 410H with no major change from the 410B-2 except the addition of extra untapered wing panels between the engines and the outer wings. These would have extended span to 23 m (75 ft), but the first conversion was never completed.
Cockpit of the Messerschmitt Me210/Me410.
Specifications of the Messerschmitt Me410 A-1
Crew: 2 (pilot
|A: The Me 210 was used for a time as a fast light bomber, and took part in the 'Little Blitz' against the British Isles in the early months of 1944.||B: The rear gunner controlled rear-facing machine guns in twin barbettes, which gave much trouble in early service. Forward-firing armament was two cannon and four machine guns.||C: The prototype had a twin tail arrangement like the Bf 110, but in an effort to cure stability problems subsequent aircraft had a single tail and enlarged tail plane. This failed to make much difference.||D: Some late Me 210s were built with automatic slots in the leading edge of the wings and an extended rear fuselage. These changes were incorporated in the much better Me 410 Hornisse (Hornet).|
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Written on the back of the painting: This enemy plane crashed at 0728 hrs today [15 April 1944]. This note is being made before an official site rep is available. Equal claims are being made by 2 LAA, RCA, and an unknown South African Spitfire pilot. After inspecting the wreckage and hearing evidence, I must say, I credit the plane to the S.A. boy. The fumes from the fire smelled strongly of carbide and a whitish ash covered the wreckage. The fuselage rests, and points at an angle of 40 deg, down into the MORO valley. The most significant thing about this plane was that in the center of the white cross, to the left of the letters RK there is written in pencil, smoked over, "Allons enfants de la patrie, le jour de gloire est arrive" (Arise children of the fatherland, the day of glory has arrived).