Fighters

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Fighters

Post by DIESEL on Fri Jun 12, 2009 11:37 am

The Luftwaffe's Messerschmitt Bf 109E and Bf 110C squared off against the RAF's workhorse Hurricane Mk I and the less numerous Spitfire Mk I. The Bf 109E was superior to the Hurricane; it had a better climb rate and was up to 30 to 40 mph faster. The performance of the Spitfire over Dunkirk came as a surprise to the Jagdwaffe, although it retained a strong belief that the 109 was the superior fighter. However, the Bf 109E had a much larger turning circle than either the Hurricane or the Spitfire. Both British fighters were equipped with eight Browning 303 machine guns, while the Bf 109E had two machine guns and two wing cannons. The Bf 109E and the Spitfire were better than each other in certain key areas. For example, at some altitudes, the 109 could out-climb the British fighter, but:

In truth the differences between the Spitfire and the Me 109 in performance and handling were only marginal, and in a combat they were almost always surmounted by tactical considerations: which side had seen the other first, had the advantage of sun, altitude, numbers, pilot ability, tactical situation, tactical co-ordination, amount of fuel remaining, etc

The Bf 109 was also used as a fighter-bomber - the E-4/B and E-7 models had the ability to carry a 250 kg bomb underneath the fuselage. The Bf 109, unlike the Stuka, could, after releasing its ordnance, fight on equal terms with RAF fighters.

At the start of the battle, the twin-engine Messerschmitt Bf 110 long range Zerstörer ("Destroyer") was also expected to engage in air-to-air combat while escorting the Luftwaffe bomber fleet. Although the 110 was faster than the Hurricane and almost as fast as the Spitfire, its lack of manoeuvrability and acceleration meant that it was a failure as a long-range escort fighter. On 13 and 15 August, 13 and 30 aircraft were lost, the equivalent of an entire Gruppe, and the type's worst losses during the campaign.This trend continued with a further eight and 15 lost on 16 and 17 August.Göring ordered the Bf 110 units to operate "where the range of the single-engined machines were not sufficient".

The most successful role of the 110 during the battle was as a Schnellbomber (fast bomber). The 110 usually used a shallow dive to bomb the target and was able to escape at high speed.One unit, Erprobungsgruppe 210, proved that the Bf 110 could be used to good effect in attacking small or "pinpoint" targets.

The Boulton-Paul Defiant had some initial successes over Dunkirk against Luftwaffe fighters which attacked from the rear because of its resemblance to the Hurricane. However, during the battle, this single-engine two-seater proved to be hopelessly outclassed by the Jagdwaffe. For various reasons, the Defiant lacked any form of forward firing armament and the heavy turret meant that it was unable to out-run or out- manoeuvre either the Bf 109 or the Bf 110. By the end of August, after taking disastrous losses, the aircraft was withdrawn from daylight service.

There has been some criticism of the decision to keep these aircraft (along with the Fairey Battle in Bomber Command) operational instead of retiring and scrapping them, allowing their Merlin engines to be turned over to fighters and their pilots (about three thousand in all) to be retrained on Hurricanes, thereby freeing large numbers of high-time, combat-experienced Hurricane pilots for Spitfires.
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