Messerschmitt Me210 / Me310 / Me410 Hornisse

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Specification (Me410A-1/U2)

Type: two-seat heavy fighter;
Powerplant: 2 x 1,850hp Daimler-Benz DB 603A 12-cylinder inverted-vee piston engines;
Performance: 388mph / 625kph at 21,980ft  / 6,700m (maximum speed), 364mph / 585kph (cruising speed), 32,810 ft / 10,000m (service ceiling), 1,050 miles / 1,690 km (maximum range);
Weight: 16,574lbs / 7,518kg (empty equipped), 21,276lbs / 9,650kg (maximum take-off);
Dimensions: 53ft 7.75in / 16.35m (wing span), 40ft 11.5in / 12.48m (length), 14ft 0.5in / 4.28m (height), 389.67sq.ft / 36.2m.sq (wing area);
Armament: 4 x 20mm MG151 cannon and 2 x 7.92mm (0.31in) MG17 machine guns firing forward along with 2 x 13mm (0.51in) MG131 machineguns in remotely-controlled rear-firing barbettes;
Used: Germany, Hungary.

History

In early 1938, continued German confidence in the Bf110 heavy fighter / bomber destroyer concept led the RLM to issue a specification calling for the design of an eventual successor, which covered a twin-engined multi-purpose fighter with remote-controlled armament. As well as asking Messerschmitt, who eventually produced the Me210, there was also the Ago Ao225 and Arado Ar240. The Ao225 was a very advanced design, with a large centrally-mounted engine driving both airscrews via extension shafts, but was dropped due to its advanced nature and the financial troubles the company were in. The Me210 first flew on 2 September 1939, the day after Germany invaded Poland. It was powered by two 1,050hp Daimler-Benz DB 601A engines but proved to be very unsatisfactory, having very poor handling and serious instability. The initial prototypes had twin fins and rudders but these were removed and replaced by a large single vertical surface on the first and third prototypes, while the second prototype retained the twin rudder arrangement for comparative testing. The second prototype crashed on 5 September while the others continued flying on 23 September 1939. Some improvement was apparent, but in spite of these and other improvements being carried out (such as a new cockpit canopy), the two prototypes continued to suffer from poor handling characteristics, including spinning and stalling. It is difficult to understand therefore, why the aircraft was allowed to reach the production stage but it did and by mid-1940 the first batch of airframes was ready for final assembly. The first fifteen Me210 Hornisse (Hornet) aircraft were earmarked as test aircraft and on 5 September 1940 (exactly a year from when the second prototype crashed) the programme suffered the first of several crashes when one of the prototypes broke up during dive testing – luckily the pilot managed to escape. The problems were such that the eight pre-production Me210A-0 and thirteen production Me210A-1 aircraft were added to the testing programme. As a result of this extensive testing and evaluation programme, little actual improvement in the handling characteristics of the aircraft occurred and it was evident that only some major design changes would correct the faults. At this stage, such a move would cause unacceptable delays to the production programme so deliveries began and sixty-four aircraft were supplied during 1941 in two variants. The first was the Me210A-1 destroyer-bomber that was armed with two 20mm MG151/20 cannon and two 7.92mm (0.31in) MG17 machineguns and the second was the Me210A-2 fighter-bomber that could carry a maximum bombload of 4,409lbs (2,000kg). The first active use of the Me210 was by II / ZG1 on the Eastern Front in late 1941 but the unit could rarely muster more than a third of its aircraft for operations. Active operations over the British Isles began in September 1942 from 16 Staffel / KG6 based at Soesterberg in Holland, while a number were delivered to III / ZG1 and 2(F) / 122 at Trapani on Sicily and 10 / ZG26 in Tunisia.

However, on 14 April 1942 after about 200 Me210 aircraft had been delivered (including two Me210B-0 preproduction and Me210B-1 production reconnaissance aircraft), the decision was taken to resume the manufacture of the Bf110 to buy time for the faults affecting the Me210 to be ironed out. This however meant the loss of some 600 aircraft to the German war effort and over 30 million RM to Messerschmitt.

Messerschmitt proposed a new high-altitude development with more powerful engines and a pressurised cockpit, the Me310. The aircraft was to be powered by 1,750hp Daimler-Benz DB 603A engines driving four-blade airscrews and a span of 59ft 0.75in (18 metres) with a maximum speed of 419mph (675kph) at 36,091ft (11,000m). It was eventually abandoned as the stability problems affecting the Me210 were eventually solved by the inclusion of automatic wing leading-edge slots and the redesign of the rear fuselage, stretching it by 3ft 1.5in (0.95m) and making it deeper.

The proposed improvements were submitted with the recommendation that the aircraft be equipped with the 1,750hp Daimler-Benz DB 603A engine to provide better performance. RLM accepted the solution as it would utilise a number of unfinished airframes and so Messerschmitt was given the go-ahead with the designation of Me410 being given to the substantially redesigned aircraft. As a side note, an export version of the Me210 existed, the C series, which was built in Hungary by the Danube Aircraft Factory. Messerschmitt had already supplied jigs and tools and the new factory built when the Germans halted their own production programme; however the Hungarians decided to proceed as one of the Me210A-0s had been fitted with the 1,465hp DB 605B engines, being built under license by Manfred Weiss. The Me210C had the wing slots and the new rear fuselage and production deliveries were spit with one third going to the Royal Hungarian Air Force and two-thirds to the Luftwaffe. Production was slow to get going but by early 1944 the first Hungarian units had been formed. Production in Hungary ended in March 1944 by which time 267 Me210C aircraft had been built in two variants. The first was the Me210C-1 reconnaissance / bomber-destroyer and the second was the Me210Ca-1 bomber-destroyer / dive-bomber. In contrast to Luftwaffe pilots, Hungarian pilots seemed to like the aircraft and used it extensively in the close support role.

The prototype Me410 was a converted Me210A-0 and a number of other Me210A-0s were brought up to the Me410 standard but with Db 601F engines. The improvement in the performance of the aircraft and its handling made the Me410 far more acceptable to the Luftwaffe, which received the first five Me410A-1 light bombers in January 1943. It was armed with two 20mm MG151/20 cannon, two MG17 machineguns and two MG131, mounted one on each side of the fuselage in an electrically-powered barbette and could carry 4,409lbs (2,000kg) of bombs internally. Demand for these much more effective aircraft built up quickly, so much so that Messerschmitt's Augsburg production line was supplemented in early 1944 by a second production line after Dornier entered the programme. As Me410 production expanded, a number of specialised sub-variants became available, including the Me410A-1/U1 (photoreconnaissance), Me410A-1/U2 (heavy fighter) and the Me410A-1/U4 (bomber destroyer) which was armed with a 50mm BK5 gun mounted underneath the fuselage. This weapon was a modified version of the L/60 weapon mounted on the SdKfz 234 series of armoured cars, the gun weighed some 900kg and severely restricted manoeuvrability, carrying some twenty-one rounds and having a recoil pressure of about seven tons. One such aircraft was captured by the Soviets in East Prussia and tested. The Me410A-1 was followed by the Me410A-2 heavy fighter which was equipped with two 30mm cannon and again built with a number of sub-variants including the Me410A-2/U1 (photoreconnaissance), Me410A-2/U2 (radar-carrying night fighter) and the Me410A-2/U4 (bomber destroyer), while the Me410A-3 was a reconnaissance aircraft equipped with three cameras. The first three Luftwaffe units to receive the aircraft were 5 / KG2 at Lechfeld, 2(F) / 122 at Trapani and III / ZG1 at Gerbini. The latter two had already been equipped with Me210 aircraft but 5 / KG2 converted from the Do217.  These were later combined with the remnants of II / KG40 to form the Me410 equipped V / KG2.

In April 1944, the first of the improved B series were delivered to frontline units and introduced the 1,900hp DB 603G engine along with the B-1 and B-2 variants that were similar to the A series variants. The B-3 variant was a reconnaissance aircraft (similar to the A-3) and the Me410B-5 was a torpedo and anti-shipping bomber that was at the testing stage when the war ended. The Me410B-6 was again, a specialised anti-shipping variant that was built in small numbers and equipped with the FuG200 Hohentwiel search radar, two 20mm MG151/20 cannons, two 30mm MK103 cannons and two 13mm (0.51in) MG131 machineguns. As the Allies stepped up the daylight bombing campaign, the Me410s were increasingly engaged in home defence and accounted for a large number of allied bombers although they suffered at the hands of the escorting fighters. Production was finally phased out in September 1944 after 1,160 Me410s had been built and although it had not achieved the successes hoped, it was certainly an improvement on the terrible Me210.

Bibliography

Gunston, Bill. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Combat Aircraft of World War II, Salamander, London, 1978.
Kay, A L & Smith, J R. German Aircraft of the Second World War, Putnam Aeronautical Books, London, 2002.
Mondey, David. The Hamlyn Concise Guide to Axis Aircraft of World War II, Bounty Books, London, 2006.

Photos and additional information courtesy of:

http://homepage.eircom.net/~steven/luftwaffe.htm
http://www.ww2.dk/air/zerstorer/zg1.htm
http://www.airwar.ru/enc/fww2/me410.html
http://www.kitcutters.com/Nex/NexME410.htm
http://www.airwar.ru/enc/bww2/me310.html

Books on the First World War | Subject Index: First World War

How to cite this article: Antill, P. (29 August 2007), Messerschmitt Me210 / Me310 / Me410 Hornisse , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_me210_peter.html

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