Sunday, March 13, 2016

Bombing of Guernica, Spain 1937

The destruction of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War 

Date: April 26, 1937 

Definition: The bombing of a small town in northern Spain by units of the German Condor Legion during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). 

Significance: An operational test of the German Luftwaffe’s strategy of Blitzkrieg, the bombing of Guernica created an international outcry and was also a portent of the mass bombings of civilians during World War II. 

On April 26, 1937, Guernica, a Basque town in northern Spain with a population of about 7,000 people, was almost totally devastated. Fire and explosions destroyed most of the town’s wooden houses, its two hospitals, and its surrounding farmhouses and village areas. Many civilians were burned to death in their houses, while survivors who ran into the streets were machine-gunned to death. 

Among the few structures that survived unscathed was Casa de Juntes, the repository of a valuable historical archive. The church of Santa Maria was largely untouched, as was the famous Guernica oak tree, where the kings of Spain had traditionally taken an oath to respect the rights of their subjects, who in turn pledged their allegiance.

Political Background 
The destruction of Guernica became one of the most famous events of the Spanish Civil War, in which a Republican government consisting of parties on the Spanish Left was challenged by the conservative Nationalist armies of General Francisco Franco. The civil war continued the century-old struggle between monarchists and republicans in Spain. King Alfonso XIII had left the country in 1931, and in the 1936 elections, a Popular Front of socialists and other leftist parties had taken parliamentary control. There were fears within the Spanish military that the Popular Front was a communist-supported political device that might introduce communism into Spain. In response to the anticlerical traditions of the Spanish Left, much of the hierarchy of the Spanish Catholic Church also opposed the Spanish Republic. 

In July, 1936, General Franco, commander of Spanish troops in Morocco, assembled a Nationalist force to oppose the Republic. This began a civil war in which much of the Spanish army, landowners, businesspeople, and the Church opposed the Republic, while agricultural workers, urban workers, and portions of the middle class supported it. Also siding with the Republican government were many Basques who, although one of the most devoutly Catholic segments of the population, had historically sought independence. 

The war, seen by some as one of fascism versus communism, drew assistance from a number of other countries. The Republicans drew volunteer fighters from a variety of nations, including the United States and the Soviet Union. Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy supported the Nationalists, although Franco discouraged discussion of this fact. 

Germany’s Condor Legion
In military terms, the most significant aid from Nazi Germany was some 50,000 troops of the Condor Legion, a unit of the German Luftwaffe, or air force, assigned to fight in the civil war. Hermann Göring, chief of the Luftwaffe, sent the Condor Legion on the condition that it would remain under German command. 

Although Nationalist leaders denied it, it was at their request that Nazi Germany had sent the Condor Legion. Although the Legion included tanks and antiaircraft batteries, its main value in the Spanish Civil War lay in its air power, consisting of four bomber squadrons of twelve bombers each, plus four fighter squadrons. It was the most powerful air arm ever assembled, exceeding the firepower of the combined air forces of World War I (1914-1918). 

The role of the Condor Legion in the destruction of the Republican-controlled Guernica was not immediately clear. When Nationalist forces occupied the town several days after the disaster, they blamed the Republican forces for the devastation, claiming to find evidence that Republican forces had used explosives and arson to cause the damage. The German minister of war repeatedly cabled the Condor Legion asking who was responsible for the attack, and the Legion’s radio operator in Spain was ordered to reply, “Not the Germans.” 

Even the international press took sides. British newspapers gave wide coverage to the incident, but some European newspapers were slow to report it. Others virtually ignored the incident, and in countries such as France, where there were fears that the war might spread into other parts of Europe, press reports sometimes reflected the editors’ political inclinations. Some accepted the Nationalist claims that Guernica had been vandalized by Republican forces. In the United States, press reports of the destruction appeared quickly, even in those newspapers, such as those of the Hearst chain that had editorially thrown their support to Franco. 

Von Richthofen’s Role
In their book Guernica: The Crucible of World War II (1975), Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan-Witts reported on the results of examination of archival files in Freiburg, Germany, and of interviews with more than forty survivors of the Guernica disaster and some dozen surviving members of the Condor Legion. Although many records were destroyed in World War II, the family of Wolfram von Richthofen, a cousin of Manfred von Richthofen, the famous “Red Baron” of World War I, and one of the commanding officers of the Condor Legion, allowed Thomas and Morgan-Witts to examine von Richthofen’s papers. The authors concluded that German planes had indeed attacked Guernica and that some of the key decisions leading to the attack were made by von Richthofen. 

Although he was not an admirer of Göring, von Richthofen had accepted Göring’s offer of a planning position in the new German Air Ministry during the 1930’s. Responding to a personal appeal from Franco, German chancellor Adolf Hitler had pledged to aid the Nationalist cause. Shortly after the Condor Legion arrived in Spain in late 1936, von Richthofen was appointed chief of staff. He was especially interested in the idea of sudden, overwhelming air attacks delivered with speed and precision, attacks that would later be known as Blitzkrieg. The Spanish Civil War became an opportunity for the Germans to test such theories of aerial warfare. 

In March, 1937, General Emilio Mola, commander of the Nationalist armies in northern Spain, began a campaign against the Basque strongholds in that part of the country. Some 50,000 Nationalist troops participated in the campaign against Republican forces greatly weakened by an inability to buy arms and ammunition abroad. As Republican forces retreated, northern towns such as Guernica became filled with refugees and retreating soldiers. The normal population of Guernica swelled by several thousand. 

Von Richthofen, responding to reports of Republican troops retreating from Vizcaya toward Bilbao, identified as a possible target a bridge that the troops would have to cross, the Rentería Bridge in Guernica. Meeting with Spanish field commanders and representatives of the Italian air force in Spain, von Richthofen emphasized that the retreating Republican forces had been slowed, if not halted, in the narrow canyons approaching Guernica, creating a bottleneck that provided bombing opportunities. Von Richthofen’s immediate superior, General Hugo Sperrle, who had criticized the effectiveness of Nationalist forces, viewed bombing as away to compensate for the deficiencies of his Nationalist allies. 

The degree of Nationalist complicity in, or advance knowledge of, the bombing of Guernica remains unknown. Before planning the attack in detail, von Richthofen met with Juan Vignon, General Mola’s chief of staff. Although there appears to be no detailed record of the conversation, von Richthofen is quoted as saying “Anything that moves on that bridge or those roads can be assumed to be unfriendly.” When the town of Durango had been bombed by Legion planes on March 12, 1937, it had been on Sperrle’s orders. At that time, von Richthofen had posted a memorandum noting that while targets were always military, bombing might be done “without regard for the civilian population.” Sperrle, however, expressed unhappiness at the degree of civilian causalities at Durango, including fourteen nuns killed in their convent.

Events Leading to the Guernica Bombing
Mid-July, 1936: The Spanish Civil War begins.
Late July, 1936: The first units of the German Condor Legion arrive in Spain.
March 31, 1937: Nationalist General Emilio Mola begins a military campaign against Republican armies in northern Spain.
April 25, 1937: Condor Legion chief of staff Wolfram von Richthofen formulates plan for attack on Guernica.
April 26, 1937, 3:45 P.M.: Condor Legion planes leave airports in Vitoria and Burgos for the attack on Guernica, with the Rentería Bridge as the purported target.

Details of the Bombing
For the three-hour attack on Guernica, a force of 43 bombers and fighters was assembled on airfields at Vitoria, some 50 miles away, and at Burgos, more than 120 miles away. Together, these planes would carry 100,000 pounds of incendiary, shrapnel, and high-explosive bombs. Among the planes selected for the mission was the Junkers Ju-52 bomber, considered less accurate because of its outdated bomb sights and because its spherical bombadier’s chamber had to be lowered from the floor of the airplane for bombing runs, contributing to instability.

Although six Heinkel He-51 fighters participated in a diversionary attack on the town of Munditibar, the primary target of the day was Guernica. An experimental squadron of new Heinkel He-111 bombers, more maneuverable than the Ju-52 bombers and able to deliver incendiaries at 200 miles per hour, was regarded as too valuable to be used as the main force in the bombing. The Heinkels acted instead as pathfinders. The commander of the experimental squadron, Rudolf von Moreau, flew over Guernica in a new Heinkel bomber first, dropping his load of bombs on the Rentería Bridge after determining that there were no antiaircraft defenses. After this run, he joined the remainder of the experimental squadron for a bombing run over the town. They were protected by six Messerschmitt Bf- 109 fighters.

A squadron of Messerschmitt fighters also provided protection for the Ju-52 bombers, the central wave of the attack, forming a protective umbrella above them. The Junkers bombers attacked in waves with a one-mile gap between them. They bombed in chains of three aircraft and flew in “V” formations at an altitude of about 6,000 feet, a height that would likely cause a large number of misses. To maintain the element of surprise, the bombers approached the bridge from the side, rather than straight on. 

This mode of attack convinced many on the ground that the civilian casualties were not accidental. In fact, on the Republican side, much attention was given to a photograph of the first run of Junkers bombers approaching Guernica, taken by Father Eusebio Arronategui of Guernica. The photograph, which shows Junkers bombers approaching three abreast, was regarded as evidence that civilians, and not the narrow Rentería Bridge, were the main target. After passes by the bombers, the Messerschmitt fighters returned and attacked Guernica. One eyewitness said he saw the Messerschmitts flying north to south through the town and “firing all the time.” A squadron of He-51’s carried out low-level attacks using machine guns and dropping smaller bombs. 

When a member of the Condor Legion complained about the use of incendiary bombs, he was told that von Richthofen wanted the mission to proceed, and quickly. The choice of the relatively inaccurate Junkers bombers, the bombing heights utilized, and the high amount of explosive power sent on the mission, 400 pounds for every square yard of the target bridge, later raised questions about the lack of concern shown for damage to civilian centers. Interviewed thirty-seven years later, some members of the Condor Legion insisted that they did not know that Republican troops were present in Guernica and that their bombs were sent off target by unexpectedly high winds. Many survivors disagreed, insisting the lack of wind allowed them to contain some of the fires. 

It is known today that a valid military target, the Unceta Munitions Factory, was operating within Guernica, but the management of the plant was so pro-Franco that Republican soldiers had been posted throughout the plant to keep an eye on production. There appears to have been no discussions about the plant among the German pilots. 

Upon their return to Germany in May, 1939, the troops of the Condor Legion were greeted personally by Göring, who announced that the “volunteers” would receive medals. In June, the entire force, some 15,000 strong, paraded through Berlin, led by von Richthofen and Sperrle. Hitler, in a welcoming speech, hailed the “heroes of Spain” for “teaching a lesson to our enemies.” Von Richthofen, who participated in German air attacks against Poland in 1939, became, at 47, the youngest field marshal in the German air force. 

Captured by Allied troops in southern Germany in 1945, Sperrle was among the Nazis included in the war crimes trials at Nürnberg in 1948. When a former Basque minister of justice, Jess Leizaola, asked that the bombing of Guernica be added to the list of charges, the tribunal refused, insisting that all charges be confined to activities during World War II. Sperrle eventually was acquitted of all charges against him. At the trials, Göring commented that the Spanish Civil War had been an opportunity for him to “try out” his new air force. 

The bombing of Guernica became the single-most famous event of the Spanish Civil War. Although other Spanish towns were bombed during the war, Guernica created a special controversy. The apparently systematic destruction of a town that was seen mainly as a communications center served as a precursor of World War II bombing policies and treatment of civilians. Because the town itself was of questionable military importance, the event came to be viewed as an attempt to terrorize civilians, particularly the Basques. Although the incident underlined the extent to which Franco’s German and Italian allies were involved in the war, the Spanish general reportedly would not allow the subject to be discussed in his presence, at least not in public. 

When, in 1937, the Spanish artist Pablo Picasso was asked by the Spanish government to contribute a work for the country’s pavilion at the Paris Exhibition, he entered Guernica, a melange of distorted and grotesque faces, bodies, and animals that was viewed as a condemnation of both the bombing and war in general. Picasso’s work guaranteed that the name “Guernica” would not fade into memory.

Southworth, Herbert Rutledge. Guernica! Guernica! A Study of Journalism, Diplomacy, Propaganda, and History. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977. A detailed and thoroughly documented volume focusing on the continuing debate over the truth about Guernica. Includes much information on the newspaper coverage of the event. 

Thomas, Gordon, and Max Morgan-Witts. Guernica: The Crucible of World War II. New York: Stein and Day, 1975. A highly readable narrative that mixes the personal memories of many Guernica survivors with accounts of military leaders over strategy. Its conclusions, that the Condor Legion attacked Guernica partly as a test of bombing tactics, are based heavily on eyewitness accounts and interviews. 

Thomas, Hugh. The Spanish Civil War. New York: Harper &Row, 1977. The standard work concerning the events before and during the Spanish Civil War and a balanced and dispassionate account. The author believes that Guernica was attacked mainly because of its value as a communications center for Republican armies. He also discusses the efforts of the German government to cover up their involvement after an international outcry over the bombing.

Messerschmitt Bf 110G-4 Nachtjäger

Messerschmitt Bf 110G-4 Nachtjäger by Vincenzo Auletta 

The following is a letter written in July 1981 to an author of popular aviation publications,  by a former member of the German 'Nachtjagd', Oblt. (Dr. Ing.) Rudolf E. Thun, who ended the war as Staffelkapitän of 9./NJG 6, with 7 confirmed victories. 

Thanks for your letter of June 22. I am glad to contribute some of my experiences flying the  Bf 110G. Naturally, limitations of time and memory will constrain my remarks to not much  more than a few flashbacks, and perhaps not always absolutely accurate ones at that.

First a short summary of my World War II service in the German nightfighter corps. I had started  the war as an infantry man, but obtained a transfer to the Luftwaffe after the French campaign.  I went through officer's school and various training assignments including Fighter School in  Ingolstadt and Night Fighter School in Schleissheim near Munich, until I joined II/NJG 5 in early 1943.  II/NJG 5 was then commanded by Major Rudolf Schoenert who achieved a total of 64 confirmed kills  and is now a Canadian citizen.

After flying a number of day and night sorties primarily in the defense of Berlin with Bf 110 aircraft,  I did a stint as a test pilot from the late summer of '43 to early '44. Shortly after my return to combat,  I got the assignment as technical officer of III/NJG 5, and we transferred to Hungary and Southern  Germany. On 5/10/44 we became III/NJG 6, and shortly thereafter I was promoted to squadron  commander of the 9th Squadron, III/NJG 6 which was equipped with Ju 88. From then on to almost the  end of the war, I flew Ju 88 aircraft in combat and got credit for 7 confirmed air victories. I usually flew  aircraft with the marking C9 + AM.

I believe that Rudi Schoenert was the first who installed fixed, 75 degree elevated cannons with a separate  gun sight in his Do 217, and our weapons sergeant Mahle made also the first "Schräge Musik" installation in  a Bf-110, the plane of Cpt. Wilhelm Johnen. Mahle later pioneered under my direction the first "Schräge Musik"  in a Ju 88 when I formed 9./NJG 6. This pair of vertical guns permitted a major breakthrough in night fighter  tactics since it facilitated a very accurate attack from below where the dark background generally prevented detection by the crew of the attacked bomber.

But now to the Bf 110 itself. With regard to the various sub types of the 110G you are probably well informed. Let me just add a few observations with regard to the variations in equipment :

The 30mm MK 108 was disliked by most experienced crews. First, the muzzle flash was much too blinding  for effective use at night, and secondly, the gun spring would not contain the pieces in case of a shell  exploding in the barrel. Even though the German 20mm and 30mm ammunition was extremely reliable,  the MG FF or MG 151 provided added safety in this respect. Accordingly, the preferred equipment of the  G-4 was MG 151's forward and MG FF's for the "Schräge Musik". Experienced crews, by the way, never  used tracer ammunition.

A few G-4 were delivered with GM-1 boosters, and I was once stuck to fly such an aircraft.  (I think this was the G-4/U7). This was a quite useless modification. The added speed was not needed at  night, we never had nitrous oxide in the first place, and the reduction to two crew members was a  serious handicap, having a pair of eyes less.

During the '43-'44 time span, while flying day sorties against American bombers, we had our 110's armed  with four 21cm (8") diameter rockets. These rockets had only an effective range of 800m, flew in a wide spiral, and reduced the performance and handling of the aircraft very considerably. In fact, one of  our planes equipped with these rockets and its bulky carrying rack, crashed during the start just by  flying into the propwash of the plane ahead.

The ETC 500 bomb carriers were delivered with the planes and kept in the inventory until mid '44.  By the time we needed them flying night ground attacks against the Russians we had of course scrapped them and were limited to using gun fire in these ground attacks.

As you probably know, the radar installations and other electronic equipment varied considerably, even  within a series. Early G-4's had the Fu G 202 or 212 (Lichtenstein) together with the SN-2, and the antenna polarization varied. Later on, the SN-2 had an adequate minimum range and the Fu G 212 could  be eliminated. Only a fraction of the G series was equipped with Fu G 218 Neptun and/or Fu G 350 Naxos Z. I even had some planes delivered with the Fu G 101 (radio altimeter) indicator, but without  the transceiver, probably because they didn't have any on the production line and did not want to delay delivery.

A short word on the camouflage paint. Contrary to present beliefs, not too much thought was spent  on this question. There was a general recognition that a light, mottled gray or blue-gray was hard to  see at night, but beyond that, some lowly mechanic with a spray gun usually had a pretty free hand in  spraying a pattern to his heart's desire.

Well, how did the Bf 110 fly? I started with an E which was badly rigged and a total dog. The F without  radar was probably the best flying 110, fully acrobatic and in some respects smoother than the Bf 109 where the slats made some racket when wringing the plane out fully. The 110F, of course, didn't have  the performance of the 109. Once I got a good 110F with a lot of patience to over 11,000m, just for fun.

The 110G-4 was sort of a mixed bag. The aerials, exhaust flame dampers, drop tanks, other paraphernalia  and, of course, the excessive weight when compared to the original design, resulted in a very limited performance and handling envelope. Single engine flight was barely possible with full rudder, and in this case the rudder force was extremely heavy and led to rapid fatigue.

On the other hand, visibility was excellent, and the control forces pleasant and well balanced when  flying reasonably within the performance envelope. This made the Bf 110G-4 an excellent gun platform,  and since speed was of no great importance against bombers, the Bf 110G-4 was a quite good night fighter.  I personally, though, preferred the Ju 88. For day sorties, of course, the Bf 110G-4 was completely inadequate, and we paid with heavy losses which forced the termination of day sorties in early '44.

During the period where night fighters were controlled from the ground within the range of ground  radar, no serious electronic counter measures were encountered. The limitations were essentially  that of the Lichtenstein radar and of team work and skill. During the period of the "Zahme Sau" where  the night fighter forces were directed into the bomber stream and followed it through the target area,  the success of electronic counter measures by the British was spotty. By that time, the fighter aircraft were equipped with the SN-2 which gave a decent detection range and permitted a skilled operator to  distinguish between enemy aircraft and the metal foil curtains they dropped. More effective toward the  end of the war were the very powerful airborne jammers the British used, since the long wavelength of  the SN-2 made it quite sensitive to jamming. In summary, the electronic counter measures used by  the British were never a major deterrent to experienced night fighter crews, but they were probably  quite effective against the younger, less experienced crews on which the night fighter groups had to  rely more and more.

Finally, a few vignettes on personal experiences, just to give a flavor of that long ago war in the night  sky of Germany. Being a night fighter was mostly waiting during the evening and night hours, waiting for the bombers which, as often as not, did not come. Few slept, since scrambling into low clouds at night was a strong incentive to stay alert. So, in quiet nights, you played cards or chess or read a book, and finally went to your quarters at 2 AM or so. Night fighter units were technically as complex as they  come and required a lot of detailed supervision. The elder staff officers were often useless. That  meant little sleep for technical officers and unit commanders who were also all combat pilots.

A day sortie against American bombers in early summer '43. We - II/NJG5
- scramble about 30 Bf 110's  from Parchim and Greifswald and fly toward an assigned rendezvous point north of Berlin to pick up our fighter escorts, a group of Bf 109's. We finally see them at the horizon, but when they come  closer, they turn out to be a large formation of American P-51 Mustangs. We hastily form a Lufberry  circle, but there was nothing which could have saved us from an attack of these far superior fighters.  Fortunately, during these first air raids on the German heartland, the Americans were very careful.  After circling us for awhile, the Mustangs took off after their bombers without attacking. Saved for  another day.

During the American daylight air raids, the German tactical command - the fighter divisions and Luftflotte  Reich - was seriously hampered in directing the air battle by a general confusion about the air situation. As a remedy, Bf 110s of a 'destroyer' wing were used for tactical reconnaissance.  Unfortunately, every plane was lost to American fighters. When I came back in early '44 to II/NJG5,  from a stint as test pilot I volunteered to fly a few of these reconnaissance sorties. I changed tactics  and flew very low, thereby avoiding detection. On one of these flights, I caught an American pathfinder,  a B-24 Liberator, flying by itself. Since I had to climb up, I had to attack from behind, and with not  all that much speed advantage. My 20mm cannons had only an effective range of about 800m  against a 1500m range of the very accurate American .50 caliber (12.7 mm) machine guns. It took  an eternity to fly through their fire, but I finally got into shooting position and brought this Liberator  down in flames, the crew barely having time to parachute. After landing, I counted over 50 machine  gun hits in my plane. And none of the other 9 or 10 Bf 110s of our Group which had sortied that  day returned. Of course, most crews came back after awhile, parachute under arm. That was the  end of the participation of night fighter forces in daylight air battles over Germany.

This was my first day of annual leave, and my bride to be had already left by train. But as a 'Berliner',  I scrambled for this British night raid on Berlin. And here I was, flying at 4800m altitude over Berlin, dodging German flak when the little puffs of smoke come too close to the tail, and waiting for the  British bombers which are still 10 minutes away. Suddenly, I am engulfed by the brilliant brightness of 5 German searchlights. They don't react to our coded signal flares, and suddenly, 20mm shells impact  my cockpit and the left wing - a German night fighter is attacking! (With auxiliary tanks under the wings, the Bf 110 could be mistaken at night by an inexperienced crew for a four-engined bomber). The  plane is on fire and we parachute into the darkness. On the ground, the Flak commander is very apologetic, and my Division commander lends me his liaison plane to get a change of clothing and to start my  vacation. Never work overtime in combat!!

Mid-'44 in Hungary. The 105th British Bomber Group flew night raids from Foggia, Italy, into southern  Germany and provisioned partisan groups in South-east Europe and Western Russia. These British crews were well seasoned and very sharp, but they suffered from obsolete equipment, flying older  Halifaxes, etc., and even some Wellingtons. A week ago, over the eastern Alps, I had one of these  bombers in my radar, but that fellow got away by diving deep into one of the pitch black valleys,  at the risk of slamming into the mountains. Yet over the last few months, we from the III/NJG 6  have extracted a heavy toll from the 105th Bomber Group, just about wiping them out once over.  So, they are now attacking our airfield, and we barely got into the air before the bombs fell.  My radar doesn't seem to work or is jammed, and I am straining my eyes in vain for a bomber.  Suddenly, about 2000m ahead, a tail gunner uses his flashlight for a moment. The rest is easy.  Diving under the bomber, until it's dark, large silhouette is directly above me. Then a salvo from  "Schräge Musik" into the left engines to give the crew a chance to get out - the "Schräge Musik"  shoots with pinpoint accuracy. That was my easiest kill.

An attack on Vienna. In the South-east, there was little ground radar guidance, so we try to pick up  our targets over the bright sky of the raided city, with the fires and the British markers providing  an eerie illumination. We got one on our radar, but boy, is that plane fast - it must be a pathfinder  Mosquito or Beaufighter. I am releasing the drop tanks and revving the engines way beyond max  power to 3100 rpm, and I am holding the speed of the target but cannot get closer. After 10 or 15 minutes I give up, relieved that the engines did not blow up. When I have landed, I discover  that the drop tanks are still under the wing. That made for a very unhappy maintenance crew.

Flying at night against the Russians was difficult, since the ground radar net was too sparse  to provide much tactical information. The Russians flew infrequent and scattered air raids at  night and gave the distinct impression, that they hardly knew where they were going or what  they were doing. Moreover, they flew a lot of American Mitchell bombers which could be mistaken,  at least at night, for a Do 217, a type which was flown in the east by NJG 101.

I remember the night one of my buddies, a very successful night fighter, reported happily a Mitchell  kill, only to learn to his dismay that he had gotten one of NJG 101's finest. Fortunately, the crew  had safely parachuted back to earth. A week later, when I encountered a Mitchell, I looked at the  thing at least for 5 minutes and from all sides before I shot it down. But my most difficult kill of a  Russian airplane at night was an old, Russian-built DC 3 with rivets as big as on a ship's boiler,  a crazy patchwork of odd- shaped skin panels, and slow, slow, slow. To stay with it, I had to get the  landing gear and flaps down, and I had to shoot it down during weaving passes from behind.  Still it felt good that at least once a German night fighter was too fast!

I think we had many more losses through weather, mechanical failures and British night fighters  than through the return fire of bombers. I will never forget the crash in Greifswald due to engine  failure shortly after lift-off, the roll-over on instruments at a pretty low altitude due to a sudden  failure of the auto pilot, the back flip during roll out on a muddy airfield in fog, or the sneak attack of  a British night fighter while flying on auto pilot - fortunately, his use of tracer ammunition gave him  away in time - or the many bomber and fighter bomber attacks we had to endure on the ground.  Still, in this war of individualists, the experienced pilots and crews had a fair chance to survive.  The toll taken of the younger, inexperienced crews, on the other hand, was very heavy, and I,  for instance, lost all the officers of my squadron during the last few months of the war.

Well, that should suffice to give you some impression of the Bf 110 as a weapons platform and of  the battle in the night skies over Germany during World War II.