Text: Jan Bobek
Illustration: Adam Tooby
Cat. No. 82163
During World War II, both Germany and Great Britain came to use night bombing as a significant part of their war effort to damage or destroy the enemy's production and logistic targets, as well as to break the morale of the enemy population. In doing so, the two air forces addressed similar technical problems. One of these was finding a target in night conditions and marking it for other bombers.
A pioneer in this respect was the German bomber unit KGr. 100 (later I./KG 100), which from the autumn of 1940, during raids on Great Britain, searched for targets using electronic equipment and marked them with flares. This tactic so intrigued the British that, despite opposition from Arthur Harris, Commander of Bomber Command, it was adopted by the RAF. The crews tasked with marking targets in Germany were placed under the command of the Path Finder Force (PFF), which began operations in August 1942 with five squadrons. Their armament included Wellingtons, Mosquitos, Lancasters, Halifaxes and Stirlings.
In January 1943, these specialized units were concentrated in No. 8 (Pathfinder Force) Group, which gradually grew to 16 squadrons. These units were always the first to receive the new bomb aiming systems (Gee, Oboe and H2S). If the Germans managed to shoot down a Pathfinder crew, it greatly hindered the accuracy of the bombing raid. The Pathfinder planes and especially the fast Mosquito were among the most prized trophies among German night fighters. These fast twin-engined aircraft also performed night bombing duties and were successfully deployed as long-range night fighters. Their target were German night fighters and thus the hunter becomes the hunted. Interception of Mosquitos (German: Moskitojagd) were often fruitless and frustrated German pilots, whose machines were not up to the performance of these British twin-engined fighters, saw only condensation lines or no enemy at all.
On the German side, the number of night bombing attacks on Great Britain gradually declined and efforts to defend their own territory with anti-aircraft artillery and night fighters using radar stations increased. From the summer of 1943, the Luftwaffe also deployed to night combat single-engine day fighters without radar equipment, whose pilots searched for targets following radio instructions from ground controllers. This tactic was given the designation Wilde Sau (Wild Boar), but by early 1944 these units were increasingly being assigned to daytime combat against American bombers. A new unit tasked with continuing Wilde Sau tactics and experimenting with the use of radar on single-engine fighters was 1./NJGr. 10 under the command of Hptm. Friedrich-Karl “Nasen” Müller. He was the most successful fighter of the Wilde Sau units, achieving 30 victories in 52 combat sorties. For details on Müller and his aircraft, which is pictured in combat with Mosquito on Adam Tooby's boxart, see Neil Page's article in INFO magazine 11/2019.
Müller's aircraft was equipped with the DB 605 AS engine, which increased power gave a better chance of intercepting and destroying the fast Mosquito at high altitudes than the conventional Bf 109 G-6 and G-14. Müller´s machine also had the armoured headrest removed for weight reduction and a better view from the cockpit. During July 1944, Müller's pilots managed to shoot down three Mosquitos, but their commander had to wait until the night of 23-24 August to also shoot down the Wooden Wonder. His target was the crew of the Mosquito B Mk.XX (KB242) from No. 608 Sqn RAF, with Canadian F/Lt Stuart Douglas Webb at the controls. Their machine was hit by flak during a raid on Cologne. Müller attacked the damaged Mosquito near Eindhoven and after the fourth attack the British machine went into a spin at 25,000ft, which Webb recovered at 9,000ft.
The aircraft had a destroyed elevator trim, damaged hydraulic lines and a non functioning airspeed indicator. Webb, however, managed to get the aircraft to Woodbridge Base. Before approach, his hydraulics failed completely and during the hard landing with the landing gear retracted, the tail section of the aircraft broke off after being severely damaged by Müller's fire. A few months later Stuart D. Webb was sadly killed in a plane crash on 10 November. He became one of more than 3,700 PFF airmen who lost their lives. During World War II, Pathfinder Force crews flew 5,490 sorties against 3,440 targets. They fulfilled the motto of their No. 8 (PFF) Group, “We guide to strike”.