Like dogs on chains
The Battle of Britain is one of a long list of
legendary milestones that defined World War
Two, though it’s the only one that played out
exclusively in the air. Between August 8 and
October 31, 1940, the Luftwaffe paid for the
Battle of Britain with the loss of 221 Bf 110s,
either destroyed outright or heavily damaged.
Approximately four hundred of their airmen
were either killed in action, captured, or
seriously injured. German airmen including
Bf 110 and bomber crews claimed 2,169
The RAF experienced Bf 110 crews created
a defensive circle (Abwehrkreis), but this was
not always a strictly defensive manoeuvre.
Bf 110 airmen often used it as a decoy to
attract the attention of the enemy and allow
their bomber colleagues to escape.
However, if a Bf 110 crew had the freedom to
choose the tactical situation, the advantages
of their aircraft could be used with great
success against Spitfires and Hurricanes,
such as concentrated firepower, long range,
better initial acceleration in a dive, better rate
of climb and a higher operational altitude.
But when Bf 110 crews were forced to provide
direct escort to the bombers, they could get
into trouble because of the lower speed of
bombers. If they wished to retain their speed
advantage, the German fighters were forced
to manoeuvre around the bomber formation.
In a way, they were like dogs on a chain.
This was the situation that RAF fighters
observed when defending against the air raid
of September 3, 1940, re-created in artwork
by Piotr Forkasiewicz. The Luftwaffe sent 73
bombers escorted by nearly 500 fighters to
the targets near London. The bombers were
divided into several groups. A formation of
thirty Do 17s from II./KG 2 hit the North Weald
airfield, escorted by Bf 110s from I./ZG 2 and
III./ZG 26 and Bf 109s from JG 26.
On departure, the Germans got into a dogfight
with Hurricanes from No. 17 Sqn RAF and
Czechoslovak No. 310 Sq as well as Spitfires
from No. 19, 54 and 222 Sqn RAF. A total of
five Bf 110s from I./ZG 2 went down. Off the
English coast, I./ZG 26 joined the defence.
One Bf 110 was lost by I./ZG 26 another one by
II./ZG 26 (plus one damaged) and two had to
be written off by III./ZG 26.
Al Deere of No. 54 Sqn RAF was trying to
get into a firing position behind one Bf 110
of ZG 26 when his target was unexpectedly
attacked by Colin Gray in a vertical dive.
To Deere's surprise and considerable
displeasure, the enemy aircraft burst into
flames under the fire of his colleague. He had
to admit, however, that Gray had performed
an incredible feat of marksmanship. But to
boost the artillery men's morale the victory
was eventually credited to the AA unit, to the
chagrin of all the airmen.
The Germans lost only one Dornier 17. The
Bf 110s crews scored some 20 victories and,
according to British records, can be credited
with about nine RAF fighters shot down and
seven damaged. Five RAF pilots were killed
and six suffered injuries. Although the Bf 110
were chained to the bombers like dogs, they
Text: Jan Bobek
Illustration: Piotr Forkasiewicz
could bite to death. The machine “3U+GT”,
which is depicted in Piotr’s artwork, belonged
to 9./ZG 26 that emerged successfully from
the battle. Two Spitfires were claimed by
Ofhr. Lugger, one Spitfire and one Hurricane
were claimed by Lt. Sidow while Lt. Grisslich
and Ofw. Hott each shot down a Spitfire. The
crew of the badly damaged “3U+GT” made an
emergency landing at Wissant without injury,
but their machine had to be written off.
How successful was the Bf 110 in the role of
fighter in the Battle of Britain? There are well
documented victories and losses of Spitfire,
Hurricane and Bf 109 units, giving their kill/
loss ratios as 1.7, 1.2 and 1.5 respectively. The
Bf 110 units are a bit enigmatic due to missing
detailed records about their victories. Only
216 aerial victories are documented in detail
between August 8 and October 31, 1940.
However, this figure is based on records of
only three Zerstörergruppen, while details of
four others are completely missing!
However, from the data of the higher
Luftwaffe command, it is known that during
the abovementioned period, Bf 110 and
bomber crews claimed almost 600 victories.
If we accept the estimate that 75 % of this
figure was achieved by Bf 110 airmen, then we
get an unexpected champion of the Battle of
Britain. The kill/loss ratio for the Bf 110 would
be 2! Despite this achievement, the battle
ended with the first German failure since the
beginning of the war.