The Me 410 Hornisse (Hornet), the last in Messerschmitt’s line of twin-engine ‘destroyers’, served the Luftwaffe in a myriad of roles.
This aircraft’s development stemmed from the unsuccessful Me 210. As a significant upgrade over its forerunner, the Me 410 began its service in March 1943, with a total of 1,100 units produced until its production halted in September 1944.
The Me 410s were versatile, undertaking roles as fighters, light bombers, reconnaissance, and anti-shipping units.
They saw action across diverse fronts, including Western Europe, Scandinavia, Russia, and Italy. Notably, Me 410 squadrons were instrumental in the ‘Baby Blitz’, the Luftwaffe’s series of air raids against the UK in 1943 and 1944.
Failure of the Me 210
Armed for heavy combat, the Me 410s engaged in defending against the US Eighth Air Force’s day raids by Flying Fortresses and Liberators, registering significant successes.
However, the rise of American escort fighters led to increasing losses for the Me 410 units, culminating in their transition to single-engine fighters in the fall of 1944.
A unique aspect of the Me 410 was its electrically powered, remotely controlled defensive gun turrets, known as ‘barbettes’, located on either side of the fuselage. Operated via a reflector sight, these turrets provided the gunner with enhanced targeting capabilities.
The development of the Me 210 commenced in 1939, but the aircraft exhibited instability and was deemed unsuitable for mass production.
Modifications led to the Me 210C and 210D models, which displayed better performance.
During further advancements on the Me 210D, alongside concurrent efforts to enhance the design with the Messerschmitt Me 310 in the latter half of 1943—which failed to significantly improve the 210’s challenging handling—the decision was made to launch a new variant, the Me 410.
The key alteration in the Me 410 was the adoption of larger and more robust Daimler-Benz DB 603A engines, each boasting a displacement of 44.5 liters (2,720 cubic inches) and delivering 1,750 metric horsepower (1,730 hp; 1,290 kW).
This was a notable step up from the 1,475 metric horsepower (1,455 hp; 1,085 kW) generated by the DB 605s in the Me 210C.
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The increased power markedly enhanced the Me 410’s capabilities, raising its maximum speed to 625 kilometers per hour (388 mph), and substantially improving its rate of climb, service ceiling, and cruising speed, which escalated to 579 km/h (360 mph).
The Me 210 Didn’t Get Any Better
The enhanced power of the engines not only increased the Me 410’s performance but also its payload capacity, surpassing what the nose bomb bay could hold.
This led to the addition of underwing shackles for four 50-kilogram (110 lb) bombs. Despite these modifications adding 680 kg (1,500 lb) to the Me 210’s original design, the augmented engine power effectively compensated for the added weight.
The Me 410 retained the Me 210’s rear gunner configuration, employing two Ferngerichtete Drehringseitenlafette FDSL 131/1B turrets on each side, each armed with a 13 mm (.51 in) MG 131 machine gun, and operated with a pivoting handgun-style grip and gunsight for aiming and firing.
Significant improvements in the new model included a lengthened fuselage and reintroduced automatic leading-edge slats, both features previously tested on the Me 210.
These enhancements were pivotal in refining the aircraft’s handling.
Originally, the earliest Me 210 models featured these slats, but they were removed in later versions due to handling difficulties, particularly during steep turns when they would inadvertently deploy at high angles of attack, similar to their function during landing.
This issue, initially noted in the Bf 109V14 and V15 prototypes for the Bf 109E, contributed to the aircraft’s instability, but became manageable once overall lateral stability was improved.
The wing design of the Me 210, with its distinct planform geometry, positioned the aerodynamic center rearwards, resulting in the outer sections of the wing beyond each engine nacelle having a greater, 12.6° leading edge sweepback angle compared to the inner panels’ 6.0°.
Me 410 Redesign
This design led to unfavorable flight characteristics. However, in the Me 410, the outer wing panels were redesigned to align the aerodynamic center more forwardly, equating the leading edge sweepback angle of the outer panels with the inner ones at a uniform 5.5°, thus enhancing handling.
The Me 410 began delivery in January 1943, two years behind schedule, and production continued until September 1944. A total of 1,160 units across all variants were produced by Messerschmitt Augsburg and Dornier München.
Upon its introduction, the Me 410 was well-received by its crews, despite its improvements not being sufficient to adequately defend against the numerous high-performance Allied fighters encountered at that point in the war.
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The Me 410 night bomber, adept at evading RAF night fighters, first saw action over the UK with V./KG 2. Its initial loss occurred on the night of 13-14 July 1943, downed by a de Havilland Mosquito from No. 85 Squadron RAF.
Employed as a bomber destroyer during USAAF daylight raids, the Me 410 was enhanced with various Umrüst-Bausätze conversion kits, each indicated by a /U suffix, denoting different upgrades.
For instance, the Me 410 A-1/U1 was equipped for reconnaissance with a camera in the under-nose bay (paralleling the intended role of the A-3), whereas the B-2/U1 featured two 30 mm MK 103 cannons in the same position.
The /U2 variant carried an additional pair of 20 mm MG 151/20 cannons. Remarkably, the A-1/U4 subtype was armed with a hefty 50 mm BK 5 cannon, replacing the /U1’s cameras or MK 103s, or the /U2’s extra cannons.
Many Me 410s also carried four underwing launchers for 21 cm Werfer-Granate 21 rockets to disrupt bomber formations. By late 1943, Zerstörergeschwader 26 and 76 were equipped with these modified Me 410s.
Throughout 1943, they proved moderately successful against unescorted USAAF bombers, racking up numerous kills.
However, in engagements with agile Allied single-engine fighters like the P-51 Mustang and Supermarine Spitfire, the Me 410 was at a disadvantage.
750 Bomber Raid
In early 1944, this disparity became evident as Me 410 formations faced large groups of Allied fighters escorting bomber streams.
An example was the 6 March 1944 Berlin raid by 750 8th AF bombers, where 16 Me 410s were lost against eight B-17s and four P-51s, the latter downed by escorting Bf 109s and Fw 190s.
On 11 April, during raids on Sorau, Rostock, and Oschersleben, II./ZG 26 initially downed 10 B-17s without loss but later suffered eight Me 410s and three Bf 110s destroyed by P-51s.
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From mid-1944, despite Hitler’s preference for the Me 410 as a bomber destroyer, the Luftwaffe phased out their production, shifting focus to heavily armed single-engine fighters for this role. The remaining Me 410s were relegated to reconnaissance duties. Some were paired with Junkers Ju 188s for high-altitude night reconnaissance during the Battle of Normandy.
Me 410 a Very Adaptable Platform
The Me 410 A-series aircraft, designated as the light bomber Me 410 A-1, were equipped with two 7.92 mm MG 17 machine guns and a pair of 20 mm MG 151/20 cannons in the nose.
The Me 410 A-2, intended as a heavy fighter, was never realized due to delays in readying the dual 30 mm MK 103 cannon mount, which was later offered for the Me 410B-2 subtype as the Umrüst-Bausatz /U1 factory kit by 1944.
The Me 410A also featured a bomb bay adaptable for different roles via Umrüst-Bausätze kits. The U1 kit provided photographic reconnaissance equipment, the U2 kit added two 20 mm MG 151/20 cannons with substantial ammunition for a heavy fighter role, and the U4 kit included a powerful 50 mm BK-5 cannon with 22 rounds for anti-bomber operations.
This BK-5 cannon, derived from the Panzer III’s 50 mm KwK 39 L/60, enabled the Me 410s to engage targets beyond the defensive range of bomber machine-guns. However, issues with jamming and the added weight of 540 kilograms from the cannon limited its effectiveness compared to other anti-bomber versions.
The reconnaissance variant, Me 410 A-3, had a deeper fuselage for extra cameras and fuel, entering service in early 1944 in limited numbers.
It was deployed in three long-range reconnaissance squadrons, within larger Fernaufklärungsgruppen, operating on both the Western and Eastern Fronts.
The Me 410B-series, similar to the A-series, replaced the MG 17s with heavier 13 mm MG 131 machine guns. Despite plans for a more powerful DB 603G engine, these models used the DB 603A or AA engines, as the 603G project was scrapped in early 1944.
Several experimental Me 410 models were developed. The B-5 was designed for maritime operations with a torpedo and FuG 200 Hohentwiel radar, sacrificing armament and bomb bay space for additional fuel capacity. The B-6 was a short-range coastal defense variant, and the B-7/B-8 were reconnaissance prototypes.
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The high-altitude Me 410C featured larger wings and universal engine mounts for various high-performance engines, but was never produced due to the cancellation of Me 410 production. The Me 410D, a simpler high-altitude upgrade to the B-series, used DB 603JZ engines and had a revised fuselage and wing panels partially made of wood.
However, problems with wood construction and strategic shifts in German aviation priorities led to its cancellation, favoring the production of Bf 109Gs. By August 1944, with the initiation of the Jägernotprogramm, Me 410 production ended after 1,160 units.
Rheinmetall BK-5 Autocannon
The Rheinmetall Bordkanone 5, or BK-5, was a 50 mm autocannon developed in World War II Germany, primarily aimed at countering Allied heavy bombers like the B-17.
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The cannon’s high muzzle velocity and potent kinetic energy enabled it to engage targets beyond the defensive armaments of these bombers. The destructive capability of its shells meant that a hit was often catastrophic for the target.
In 1943, Rheinmetall was commissioned to modify the 50 mm 5 cm KwK 39 tank gun, originally from the Panzer III, for aerial application.
This led to its installation as part of the Umrüst-Bausätze (“factory modification”) 4 in the Me 410 A-1/U4 and in experimental trials on two Me 262 A-1a/U4 jet fighter prototypes.
However, these jets didn’t deploy it operationally due to the development of the MK 214A cannon, a similar caliber weapon.
The BK 5 was also tested in an undernose Bola mount on a few Heinkel He 177A-3 heavy bombers, particularly in a task force assigned to suppress enemy Flak on the Eastern Front near Stalingrad in the winter of 1942-43, in an adaptation known as the A-3/Rüstsatz 5 or Stalingradtyp.
The BK 5’s ammunition system included a semi-circular magazine holding 21 rounds.
Around 300 BK 5 cannons were produced, but their deployment was limited. The most notable use was in the Me 410 A-1/U4, operated by the II. Gruppe of Zerstörergeschwader 26 (ZG 26). The Junkers Ju 88 also featured this armament.
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Designed for long-distance engagement, the BK 5 was equipped with a telescopic sight in addition to the standard Revi C12C gunsight of the Me 410, aiding in long-range targeting from outside a bomber’s defensive reach.
However, this setup proved less effective in dogfights, where enemy fighters could easily escape the narrow field of view of the telescopic sight, forcing pilots to revert to standard sights.
The cannon’s design rendered it nearly ineffective against swift, maneuvering targets, rendering the telescopic sight redundant in such scenarios.
When installed in the Me 262, the BK 5’s protruding muzzle was prone to jamming. Additionally, firing the cannon at night could impair the pilot’s night vision due to the muzzle flash.
From late February to mid-April 1944, II./ZG 26, equipped with the BK 5 in their Me 410 Hornisses, reportedly engaged USAAF bombers, claiming a total of 129 B-17 and four B-24s destroyed over several encounters, with the loss of nine Me 410s from their own ranks.