Messerschmitt Bf 110F-2, LN+FR, 10(Z) Staffel, Zerstorergeschwader 5, Winter 1942/43, Eastern Front air operations
The concept of the Luftwaffe's Heavy Fighter, or Destroyer, was very much championed by Commander-in-Chief Hermann Goering in the years leading up to the start of WWII as he felt that the extra range and firepower these aircraft offered would allow them to both protect strike aircraft and to act autonomously when released from protection duties.
During the early months of Blitzkrieg, the Luftwaffe overwhelmed any aircraft attempting to oppose them. However, the Battle of Britain would prove to be a baptism of fire for their Destroyer squadrons. Despite this disappointment, the Heavy Fighter concept finally started to prove its worth once the Germans launched Operation Barbarossa, sending their forces against the hugely powerful yet still modernising Soviet Air Force. With the Bf 110 offering the reassurance of multi-engine operation and possessing the strength to carry additional fuel and ammunition, wide ranging sorties to protect German bombers, support ground troops or both could be undertaken, earning the aircraft a belated reputation as an effective fighter-bomber.
Operating from Kirkenes airfield on the Norwegian border, the Bf 110s of 13.(Z)/JG5 flew fighter bomber sorties against shipping and ground targets around the Murmansk area. Their aircraft carried their unit's distinctive emblem of a Dachshund with a Soviet Polikarpov fighter in its mouth, clearly a reference to the early months of Eastern Front operations and their 'Happy Time'. By the time the Germans had embarked on Operation Barbarossa and their ferocious strike against the Soviet Union, the now much maligned Messerschmitt Bf 110 Zerstorer had to suffer the ignominy of being relegated to the designation of a low priority production type. This was partly due to its poor showing against the Royal Air Force during the Battle of Britain, but also because its replacement was now at an advanced stage of development.
The new Messerschmitt Me 210 was intended to be everything Goering had hoped for in his original heavy fighter program- a Bf 110 with all its shortcomings addressed. Unfortunately, this class of aircraft was one the Germans really seemed to struggle with and the Me 210 would be beset with constant delays caused by never ending technical and development issues, so much so that the original Messerschmitt Bf 110 would actually undergo three further major variant upgrades itself and remain in service throughout the rest of the war. Indeed, the aircraft would actually serve alongside both of the aircraft which were intended to replace it, the disappointing Me 210 and the much more capable Me 410. Even though just under 6,200 Messerschmitt Bf 110 Destroyers were eventually built, it is generally accepted that the aircraft which served as radar equipped nightfighters were the most effective variants of the type.