Design, Development, & HistoryEdit
The Bf 110 served with success in the early campaigns, the Polish, Norwegian and Battle of France. The Bf 110's lack of agility in the air was its primary weakness. This flaw was exposed during the Battle of Britain, when some Bf 110-equipped units were withdrawn from the battle after very heavy losses and redeployed as night fighters, a role to which the aircraft was well suited. The Bf 110 enjoyed a successful period following the Battle of Britain as an air superiority fighter and strike aircraft in other theatres. During the Balkans Campaign, North African Campaign and on the Eastern Front, it rendered valuable ground support to the German Army as a potent fighter-bomber (Jagdbomber or Jabo). Later in the war, it was developed into a formidable night fighter, becoming the major night-fighting aircraft of the Luftwaffe. Most of the German night fighter aces flew the Bf 110 at some point during their combat careers, and the top night fighter ace of all time, Major Heinz-Wolfgang Schnaufer, flew it exclusively and claimed 121 victories in 164 combat missions.
Throughout the 1930s, the air forces of the major military powers were engaged in a transition from biplane to monoplane designs. Most concentrated on the single-engine fighter aircraft, but the problem of range arose. The Reichsluftfahrtministerium (RLM), pushed by Hermann Göring, issued a request for a new multipurpose fighter called the Kampfzerstörer (battle destroyer) with long range and an internal bomb bay. The request called for a twin-engine, three-seat, all-metal monoplane that was armed with cannon as well as a bomb bay. Of the original seven companies, only Bayerische Flugzeugwerke (Messerschmitt), Focke-Wulf and Henschel responded to the request.
Messerschmitt defeated Focke-Wulf, Henschel and Arado, and was given the funds to build several prototype aircraft. The Focke-Wulf design, the Focke-Wulf Fw 57, had a wing span of 25.6 m (84 ft) and was powered by two DB 600 engines. It was armed with two 20 mm MG FF cannons in the nose and a third was positioned in a dorsal turret. The Fw 57 V1 flew in 1936 but its performance was poor and the machine crashed. The Henschel Hs 124 was similar in construction layout to the Fw 57, equipped with two Jumo 210C for the V1. The V2 used the BMW 132Dc radial engines generating 870 PS compared with the 640 PS Jumo. The armament consisted of a single rearward-firing 7.92 mm (.312 in) MG 15 machine gun and a single forward-firing 20 mm MG FF cannon.
The MG FF was adapted to fire a new type of high-capacity, high-explosive mine shell, called Minengeschoss that featured a projectile with thinner walls that allowed increased explosive charge. This projectile was lighter and generated less recoil than earlier projectiles requiring a modification of the recoil mechanism. With this modification it could fire the new mine shell, but accidentally using the heavier MG FF ammo could damage the gun. The now-called MG FF/M was introduced with the Bf 109 E-4 and Bf 110 C-4 in Summer 1940.
Messerschmitt omitted the internal bomb load requirement from the RLM directive to increase the armament element of the RLM specification. The Bf 110 was far superior to its rivals in providing the speed, range and firepower to meet its role requirements. By the end of 1935, the Bf 110 had evolved into an all-metal, low-wing cantilever monoplane of semi-monocoque design featuring twin rudders and powered by two DB 600A engines. The design was also fitted with Handley-Page wing slots (actually, leading-edge slats). The C-4 variant had superior crew protection to other variants.