Messerschmitt Bf 110 vol. II

 4. Messerschmitts of Bf 110C-1 of I./ZG 52, commanded by Hptm. Karl-Heinz Leßmann passing over Austrian Alps in early 1940.[Kageros's Archive]

One of the ‘destroyer’ Staffeln was to take off and join a group of bombers it was tasked to escort. The three bomber formations were briefed to knock out the Lodz radio station. The commander of the Zerstörern instructed the young pilots and rear gunners on the rules of engagement, as we were expected to be involved shortly. Then the Staffel took off and rendezvoused over one of the Silesian towns with the bombers, which were flying at the previously agreed altitude. Visibility was limited due to drifting banks of fog and single clouds at various heights, so the bombers were flying in loose formation. We split up accordingly, so that we could guard our charges from any enemy fighter threat. Two Zerstörern positioned themselves above and to the rear of the last bomber formation. Flying at 4000 metres, they kept an eye on the last of the three bomber Staffeln 1000 metres below them.
The weather conditions deteriorated to the point where the two leading bomber Staffeln, along with seven escorting fighters, disappeared in the haze. Forests, meadows and ploughed fields passed beneath us, only rarely interrupted by some buildings, single farms, or the occasional mansion. A persistent veil of fog blurred the view and the landscape became a little monotonous. North of Lask our aircraft came under fire from flak, which did not scrimp on ammunition, but was ineffective. In the meantime, the fog had vanished completely and the sky had cleared up. The Laubfrosch had accurately predicted partial overcast with substantial breaks and some cumulus clouds. The bomber formation, secured at the rear by the ‘destroyers’, passed the city of Lodz to the south and then turned north on a heading of 330°, which carried them straight to their target area. To the south of the city an airfield came into view, almost rectangular in shape. One could see its hangars glistening in the sun, although any aircraft on the ground were hard to spot from this altitude.
Suddenly we were bounced by five Polish fighters, which had sneaked up on us using cloud cover.
I saw one of our machines, engaged in a turning fight with a Pole, disappearing into a cloud. I had lost sight of both bombers below me, which at that moment were probably busy aiming their “eggs” at the Polish radio station.
After four tight turns I almost lined up one of the Polish fighters in my gunsight but he ducked into clouds; so did another. A third fighter banked to the left and ended up in a position that allowed me to perform a head-on attack. He flew right through the line of fire, fell away to port and plummeted vertically to the ground. I went after him but in that instant a fourth fighter set upon me from the left and above. I saw tracers go whizzing by on either side of my aircraft as he centred me in his gunsight. I immediately veered into a cloud.
When I finally popped out on the other side of the cloud, at a height of 300 metres, neither friend nor foe could be seen, only some smouldering debris on the ground. I turned towards four dots in the sky, which I spotted in the distance. They turned out to be puffs of anti-aircraft shell bursts. The sky appeared to be completely empty, all the bombers and ‘destroyers’ had disappeared somewhere. For a few seconds a Polish high-wing aircraft came into sight, but when I turned in that direction, it quickly ducked back into the clouds. Since I had been airborne for an hour and a half already, I set course towards the German border. As I was skimming the ground heading for home, I saw long columns of refugees on the roads to Lodz, but no troop movements. I climbed through layers of cloud and fog up to 2000 metres. Shortly afterwards I left behind the overcast and saw my home base down below.
Since I didn’t know to what extent my machine had suffered battle damage, I touched down with the utmost care. Everything seemed to work as it was supposed to. I taxied towards my parking place, realizing that I was the first from my Staffel to return. The remaining machines came back after a quarter of an hour – every one of them – and all in fine condition. However, close examination revealed that my own aircraft was far from “fine”. Two bullet holes were found in its fuselage, two more in the port flap, and another in the exhaust manifold. A phosphorous, incendiary projectile had punched through the external skin of the wing and lodged itself right next to the fuel tank.
All three victory claims filed by German pilots on that occasion were recorded as ‘probables’.
Around 15:30 hrs, the Luftwaffe lost its first Messerchmitt Bf 110C in combat, when the pilots of 3./ZG 1 were bounced during an attack on a train near Kornatow by a pair of PZL P-11c fighters of 142. Fighter Squadron. The CO of 142. Squadron, Cpt. Miroslaw Lesniewski shot down the machine flown by the commander of 3./ZG 1, Hptm. Wendelin von Müllenheim-Rehberg. The German pilot was killed; his gunner, Ofw. Hans Weng bailed out and was taken prisoner.
The Bf 110s of I./ZG 76 mixed it up with Polish fighters several times between 16:15 and 17:10 hrs. The Germans claimed the destruction of four enemy aircraft (Hptm. Günther Reinecke, Lt. Hans Jäger, Oblt. Christoph Nagel and Lt. Helmut Lent all claiming one apiece) for the loss of two of 2./ZG 76’s machines.
On the third day of the war, during the early morning hours, Messerschmitt Bf 110s of I.(Z)/LG 1, were again very active, clashing with fighters of the Pursuit Brigade over Warsaw. The Germans claimed five victories (Oblt. Werner Methfessel, Oblt. Walter Fenske, Uffz. Gerhard Jecke, Uffz. Rudolf Kober and Uffz. Josef Groten one each) for the loss of two aircraft. Uffz. Friedrich Lindemann (pilot) and Uffz. Kurt Radek (gunner) were forced to make an emergency landing when their aircraft came under fire from por. (Lt.) Arsen Cebrzynski. Lt. Wojciech Januszewski from 111. Squadron shot down another Bf 110, which crashed in the vicinity of Zielonka. Its crew, Uffz. Sigismund Mazurowski and Uffz. Günther Lother, perished.

 Messerschmitt Bf 110G-2 of II./ZG 1, seized by Americans at Montecorvino airfield in September 1943. The aircraft was coded ‘S9+AP’; spinner tips and lower cowling are yellow.

The Polish pilot recalled this mission: Scramble! I had climbed to 600 metres when one of Me 110s swooped down over the airfield and opened fire. I had no alternative but to half-roll and attack. I looked down the gunsight, with Rembertow firing-range in the distance. I loosed off one burst from a distance of 150 metres. The German pulled his ship up and swerved to the left. That’s more like it. I turned into him and from 50 metres my guns ripped out another burst, ahead and into the pilot’s cockpit. The Me 110 veered violently to the right, its pilot hit the throttle and put his machine into a shallow dive. The Messerschmitt wobbled a little – surely the scared pilot shaking his machine – and raced towards East Prussia. Before I could follow his turn, I heard a familiar sound coming from behind and off to my left, and a white sheet of enemy tracers flashed in front of my propeller. Reflexes came before decision – my crate snapped into a spin and hurtled towards the ground. During the first coil of the spin I saw my “companion” above me. I slipped out of the second spiral just 100 metres above the ground – which would have got me ten days in prison during peacetime – and pulled up.
In the meantime, a third Me blasted away at me. I froze a little but kept on turning. The Number Two also turned and I had a go at him, firing from quite a distance. The rear gunner sent me a hail of return fire, forcing me to seek cover out of his range. While circling, I saw their Number Four, high above, manoeuvring for a bounce. I kept an eye on him. Then I saw the Me 110’s “snout” dive towards me. I skidded slighty to the left and his burst came slashing by off to my right. The Number Two’s gunner seized his opportunity and raked me with bullets. The Numbers Three and Four broke off the attack, leaving only me and the Number Two at the scene.

Messerschmitt Bf 110C-1 ‘L1+LK’ of 14.(Z)/LG 1, flown by Staffelkapitän Oblt. Werner Methfessel, Mannheim-Sandhofen airbase, early May 1940. The aircraft in standard finish of RLM 65 Himmelblau on the undersides and RLM 70 (Schwarzgrün) / RLM 71 (Dunkelgrün) on the upper surfaces. Spinner tips are red, the ‘L’ letter on the fuselage is red, white-outlined. On the nose the unit’s emblem: ‘Wolf’s head’. There are eight victory bars on the vertical stabilizer.[Painted by Arkadiusz Wróbel]

Our duel began. I latched onto his tail and tried to close in. No way. The Me 110’s pilot kept pulling up to give his gunner a field of fire. Every time he raised the nose of his machine, the gunner snapped out a burst at me. I kept ducking under his tail as much as I could. When the Me 110 orbited to the left, I turned inside him. The gunner sprayed me with bullets and I slowly gained on the Messerschmitt, surrounded by his tracers flashing by.
 From the distance of 10-15 metres, flying in a curve and shielding myself from the gunner with one wing (as if it could do me any good), I fired at the pilot’s cockpit. I could clearly see the gunner’s face, his machine gun and my rounds, flashing like sparks on impact against the Messerschmitt’s fuselage. The pilot lost his nerve, broke the turn and sped off. As I pulled up, I saw his right engine erupt in flames. Suddenly the fire went out and the propeller of his right engine froze motionless. A serious advantage of diesel fuel.


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