ProModeler (Revell) 1/48 Bf-110G-4
One of the well-known “facts” regarding aviation development during the Second World War is that the Messerschmitt Bf-110 series was “a compromise in conflicting requirements, resulting in a mediocrity,” with a combat performance that relegated it to being considered a “humiliating failure.” As with many well-known “facts” of this type, there is a kernel of truth in the charge; but when it is examined in detail it is shown to be a judgment based on wartime priorities of propaganda, and further proof that if a lie is repeated often enough by a sufficient number of ‘experts,” without it being pointed out as a lie, it becomes “the truth.” The truth about the Bf-110 series is that there are few aircraft in the history of aircraft development that have been more maligned more unjustly.
The “kernel of truth” in the charge against the Bf-110 lies in the pre-war propaganda the airplane was subject to, and its incorrect deployment during two months of the Battle of Britain. Termed a Zerstoerer, or “Destroyer”, by the Luftwaffe, the prewar image of the Bf-110 was that of a long-range bomber escort penetrating deep into enemy territory and brushing aside all opposition. Employed in this capacity during the Battle of Britain, the Bf-110 was shown to be unable to compete in terms of maneuverability against the Spitfire and the Hurricane, with the single-engine Bf-109s being called in to defend the escorts as well as the bombers. In truth, no Second World War twin-engine fighter could hold its own in a dogfight with a well-flown single-engine fighter; the most successful, the P-38, was only successful when it stuck to dive-and-zoom tactics against its opponents and stayed well away from the close-in high-g maneuvering of a dogfight.
In fact, the primary design role of the Bf-110 had been that of bomber destroyer, and in this role it was outstandingly successful, from its first interception of 18 RAF Wellingtons off the Heligoland Bight on December 18, 1940, when four of the eight bombers shot down were credited to the Bf-110s of I/ZG76, to March 31, 1944, when 200 Bf-110s went up against 795 Lancasters and Halifaxes attacking Nuremburg and shot down 94 of them, the worst single mission RAF loss of the war. Two Bf-110 pilots had scores over 100 – Heinz-Wolfgang Schnaufer (121) and Helmut Lent (102) – with a hundred others having scores over 30.
The first Bf-110 variant specifically developed for night-fighting was the Bf-110F-4, which had the 1,300 h.p. DB 601F in place of the 1,100 h.p. DB 601As of the Bf-110C; production began in 1941 and lasted through to the end of 1942. Following the failure of the Me-210 as the intended replacement for the Bf-110, the Bf-110 was “cleaned up” in aerodynamic detail, and fitted with the DB 605B, which provided 1,475 h.p. The Bf-110G-4 night fighter variant went into production in June 1942. Flame-damping exhausts, the addition of radar antenna arrays, and the provision of heavier armament reduced the speed of the Bf-110G by 35 m.p.h. in comparison with the 345 m.p.h. top speed of the lighter Bf-110C day fighter. When it came to attacking the newer Lancaster and Halifax bombers, the Bf-110G had little margin over its adversaries. At the end of 1942, 300 of the 389 German night fighters were Bf-110s; RAF Bomber Command lost 1,291 aircraft in night attacks, two-thirds of them credited to the night fighters.
The original German system of night interception, known as “Himmelbett,” involved one fighter in an aerial box being guided by one radar station against a single bomber. This worked successfully, provided the bombers passed through the defenses in ones and twos over a period of hours. After analyzing this system, Bomber Command changed tactics to counter Himmelbett, sending the bombers through the interception belt in a tight mass that overwhelmed the system by saturating it with possible targets. This was first used in the famous Thousand Raid against Cologne on May 30, 1942, in which the time of the attack was changed from the then-standard 7 hours to 150 minutes, with an average seven bombers passing over a given point in the route each minute, swamping the defense. Of 1,046 atackers, only 41 were lost, a 3.8% missing rate.
The death-knell of “Himmelbett” came with the introduction of “window” by RAF Bomber Command during the bombing raids on Hamburg in early July, 1943. With the ground radars effectively blinded, the night fighters were left on their own. The Germans had by this time developed airborne radar sets, but the Lichtenstein BC radar was jammed by window as effectively as the ground-based Wurzburg system.
In answer to “window,” Oberst von Lossberg of NJG 1 developed the tactic known as Zahme Sau, or “tame boar,” in which the night fighters endeavored to get into the bomber stream and engage the bombers visually in the vicinity of the targets, depending on moonlight and firelight to allow them to see the enemy. This worked in the comparatively bright nights of summer, but the coming winter would limit such a tactic. In September, 1943, SN-2 radar was introduced, operating on a frequency that was not jammed by “window.” At the same time, Major Rudolf Shoenert was able to demonstrate the effectiveness of lighter-color night fighter camouflage, which broke up the fighter’s shape in moonlight rather than emphasizing its silhouette as the earlier all-black camouflage did. Shoenert was also the first to effectively use “Schrage Musik” – two 20mm MG-FF cannon mounted in the rear of the Bf-110s cockpit, firing upward at an angle of 70-80 degrees. Since none of the British bombers had a lower turret, Schrage Musik made it possible for a night fighter to formate unseen below a bomber, firing up into it. A short burst aimed into the inner wing structure would generally destroy the main spar, ripping the wing from the bomber and sending it out of control. Schnaufer, who was a gifted pilot, became so good a practitioner of this tactic that three of his kills came with his Bf-110G in close formation with bombers that were actually performing the corkscrew maneuver!
Coupling SN-2 and Schrage-Musik with the Zahme Sau tactic came just in time to counter the main offensive of Bomber Command, when Air Marshal Sir Arthur Harris initiated “The Battle of Berlin” on November 18, 1943. Harris originally sold the idea by saying that while it would cost the RAF 500 bombers “it will cost Hitler the war.” In fact, the great night battles between November 18, 1943 and March 31, 1944, nearly cost Harris his command, and resulted in the loss of 1,047 aircraft, 800 of them to night fighters.
German crews were ordered to pursue the bombers to the limit of endurance; once contact had been made they were to break off the action only when their fuel was almost gone, at which time they were to land at the nearest airfield. Losses due to fighters running out of fuel were risked and accepted. At scramble, the crews were ready for takeoff within two minutes. As they taxied for takeoff, they received the latest position, height, course and strength of the bomber stream, and were assigned a “stacking beacon”. Once at the beacon – chosen to put the fighters as near the expected route of the stream as possible – as many as fifty fighters might be circling in the darkness, yet remarkably few were lost in collisions. When ordered to leave the beacon, the fighters were given the latest information, and were expected to then enter the stream, where they would pick out individual targets via SN-2 or home in on the bombers’ H2S emissions with their Flensburg receivers. When they first contacted the bomber stream, they were to radio back the position and course of the bombers before initiating their attack.
With these tactics, the Bf-110s were able to inflict serious losses, such as the 55 bombers shot down of 648 attacking Magdeburg on January 21, 1944, or the 43 of 683 attacking Berlin on January 29. On February 19, Bomber Command lost 78 of 823 attacking Leipzig.
The high-water mark of the German night fighter war came on March 31, 1944, when 795 bombers headed for Nuremburg were opposed by 200 night fighers – 145 of them Bf-110Gs – in the biggest air battle in history. The winds aloft were stronger than forecast, and the moon was bright; the result was the destruction of 94 attacking bombers, the greatest loss on a single mission ever suffered by Bomber Command.
Within a matter of weeks, the Battle of Germany came to an end, when Bomber Command was placed under the control of General Eisenhower and SHAEF, to provide support in the build-up to Operation Overlord. Bomber Command’s losses went down dramatically as they changed targets to those in France and the Low Countries. The invasion of Europe quickly resulted in the destruction of the German night-fighter defenses as the radar stations in northern France, Belgium and Holland were overrun. When the bombers finally struck a strategically-significant target and stayed at it (with their commanders fighting these orders tooth and nail), the resulting destruction of the German oil industry nearly grounded the entire Luftwaffe. By the fall of 1944, Mosquitos of 100 Group were escorting the bombers in their night raids over Germany, and the German night fighters became subject to “Moskitopanik” with the hunters now relentlessly hunted whenever they took off.
The Bf-110, which had first seen operational service on the first day of the Second World War, flew its last mission five days before the end, on May 3, 1945. Reviled by its enemy’s propaganda, the airplane and its crews had given their utmost in service in the defense of the homeland.
The Pro-Modeler Bf-110G night fighter kit first came out in 1994, and I built this model back in 2003. The first model of a Bf-110 night fighter in 1/48, it was the second 1/48 kit of the Bf-110, Fujimi having released a kit of the Bf-110C/D in the late 1970s which is still available and can be made into a good model of the early Bf-110. In 1997, Revell-Monogram released the Bf-110G in the G-2 day fighter/fighter-bomber version. The kit assembles easily and makes up into a largely-accurate model of this airplane. Eduard released a series of Bf-110s about 5 years ago, which have a (deserved) reputation for being fiddly when it comes to getting various important parts of the airframe to fit correctly.
That said, the engine cowlings, spinners and propellers of the ProModeler kit are not as accurate as they could be, though it’s really only noticeable if you are “paying attention.” Cutting Edge brought out a conversion set in 2002 or so that replaced the engine cowlings, spinners and propellers with resin parts that are more accurate in shape and outline. The conversion set effectively doubled the price of the kit, but resulted in a more accurate model. It is not that difficult to make the conversion. Additionally, Cutting Edge produced a sheet of decals with the markings of various Bf-110G Nachtjagdwaffe “Experten,” including Schnaufer, Willi Herget, Martin Drewes, Wilhelm Johnen, and Hans Jabs.
This kit as built utilizes the resin conversion set and the decals for Willi Herget’s Bf-110G, which carried the “sharkmouth” from his prior service with ZG76, the “Haifisch Gruppe.”
I began work on this model with the engine conversion. The conversion set is designed to work with the modeler cutting out the engine cowlings from the upper wing along panel lines. The instructions are clear, and one only needs to follow them. Once the upper wing cutout was cleaned up, the replacement parts literally “clicked” into place with no problem.
I then proceeded to assemble the upper and lower wing halves for right and left wings after opening up the holes in the lower wing surface for the drop tank racks. When this was done, I then attached the forward parts of the cowlings with CA glue, and also attached the oil coolers. I filled gaps as necessary with some CA glue, followed by a coat of Mr. Surfacer 500 and a light sanding session, followed by rescribing the panel lines. I finished off this part of the construction by assembling the drop tanks and their racks, and setting them aside with the wings while I turned to the fuselage.
I first painted the cockpit with Tamiya XF-24 Dark Grey, then did the necessary detail painting of the parts. I finished that off with a wash of Tamiya “Smoke” to pop out detail, followed by some dry-brushing with Model Master Aluminum (non-buffing) metalizer, and topping all off with a coat of Dullcote. I also painted the wheel wells and all the landing gear parts and interior of the gear doors with Tamiya “RLM Grey”.
Following the kit instructions I assembled the cockpit and inserted it in the right fuselage half, then closed up the fuselage. Careful assembly of the fuselage halves meant that after I scraped down the centerline seam, I only had to apply some Mr. Surfacer 500 to make that disappear. I then assembled the horizontal stabilizer and the twin rudders, and attached that sub-assembly to the fuselage.
I realized that I was going to have to scratchbuild the antenna assembly under the fuselage, which I did using some .010 Evergreen rod.
With the wings attached, the model was ready for the paint shop.
After pre-shading the model, I painted it overall with Gunze-Sangyo “RLM76”, then blotched the upper surfaces with Gunze-Sangyo “Sea Grey Medium,” which is a good approximation of RLM75 (and a better shade than what Gunze markets as ‘RLM75,” which I think is too dark and too grey). I utilized Tamiya “Smoke” for the exhaust stains.
The only place I ran into any trouble with this project was attaching the flame damper exhausts. For some reason, the resin cowling wasn’t designed quite right, and I had the devil’s own time getting the left inner flame damper to fit in any way that looked right. Fortunately, the model isn’t built for a contest, and from 12 inches away the final result looks right, though at close range one can easily see that there was a bit of “hacking and fiddling” to get that attached.
I assembled and attached the landing gear and gear doors, then attached the drop tanks. I then attached the resin prop blades, which are more accurate in shape than the kit props, which have too much “paddle effect.”
I used the Cutting Edge “Bf-110 Special No. 1” sheet to do Willi Herget’s Bf-110G-4 of NJG 4 in the Spring of 1944, at the height of the night fighter war over Germany. Herget had previously served with ZG 76 “Haifisch Gruppe,” and painted his later 110s with the sharkmouth, which adds a nice bit of color to the model. These decals were a bit thick, and I ended up hitting them with Micro-Sol and then following that up with some Gunze-Sangyo “Mr. Mark Softer” to get them to finally sit down.
Following the setting of the decals, I gave the model a final coat of Future, then two coats of Dullcote.
I had Futured the open cockpit canopy, and attached the canopy at this point in the open position, after unmasking the clear areas which I had covered with Scotch brand transparent tape.
Finally, I attached the “stags horns” of the SN-2 radar. These joints are very fragile, and I strongly recommend that you refrain from touching the nose once you have them glued into position and set up.
While the more recent Eduard 1/48 Bf-110 series has greater outline accuracy and some more detail, the Pro-Modeler (Now Revell) Bf-110G-4 still makes up into a very nice looking model of this important German fighter and deserves to be in any collection of Luftwaffe aircraft models. It has the important feature of all the parts actually fitting together as designed, something that cannot be said for the overly-fiddly Eduard 1/48 Bf-110s.
I personally wasn’t aware of the cowling shape deficiencies until Cutting Edge pointed it out, but now that I look at the corrected model and photos of actual Bf-110Gs I can see that the original shapes are really wrong. Are they “wrong enough” for you to spend what would now be the price of the kit on a set assuming you could find it? That depends on the kind of modeler you are and the kind of model you want to end up with.
8 additional images. Click to enlarge.