Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Essential History of the Nachtjagd - Reorganization and electronic warfare

At the end of 1942 the Nachtjagd consisted of 7 Gruppen, for a total of around 360 machines, although no more  260 were serviceable at the same time. Despite this increase in pure numbers, Josef Kammhuber and its men of the XII Fliegerkorps were deeply worried for the future. The Messeschmitt Bf 110, the main nightfighter of the Luftwaffe, had received low production priority by the OKL, and was subsequently produced in very low numbers, with an incredibile negative peak of 0 machines produced in January 1942. Only in March of the same year the Bf 110 was given a higher priority and production could recommence.

The aircraft intended to replace the Bf 110 was the Me 210, which proved to be a complete failure and had to be rebuilt in the new Me 410. Of the other aicraft in service with the Nachtjagd, the Ju 88C had given the best results, especially when used as a long-range intruder over England. Again, the number of Ju 88C in service was rather small, as factory priority was given to bomber versions of the Junkers. The third, and final, twin-engined night fighter pressed into action was the Dornier Do 217J, which had however poor manoeuvrability and low speed.
Bf 110 F-2 of 7./NJG 4

During the summer of 1942 the Nacht Gruppen received their first Bf 110F-4 and Ju 88C-6 fighters. These two models where the first specifically intended for the nightfighting role, and therefore represented the backone of the Nachtjagd for the two following years.
The tactical situation for the Germans was nevertheless not optimistic, as the British had realized how to cope with the Himmelbett system: in fact, after passing the radar belt, the bombers had almost nothing to fear, especially over Northern and Eastern Germany. Many vital industrial cities such as Rostock, Hannover, Magdeburg and Frankfurt were defended by no more than Flak units.
The situation was at the same time bad for the Bomber Command: post-mission analysis and research had shown that just 10% of the bombers used to drop their bombload "within" the target - "within" meaning anyway 8 km around it. In addition to that, just 25% of the pilots who claimed to have bombed their assigned target had actually reached and indentified it correctly.
This poor results demanded for change, and change came in the form the new Air Marshall Arhur Harris. Harris was an advocate of strategic bombing, and immediately put this theory in to practice, identifying German cities and town as the new main targets. His aim was related to air power theories of the 30s, focusing on to destroying cities and undermining civilian morale. As it had failed in 1940 during the Battle of Britain, it would have failed again for both the British and the American's strategic campaigns.

The night of 29 March 1942 saw the first RAF raid against a metropolitan target. 191 bombers attacked the medieval city of Lubeck, loosing 12 of their numbers (5%). The attack created a firestorm, which caused severe damage to the historic centre of the town and destroyed three churches. A second attack on the medieval town of Rostock, prompted Hitler to unleash the Baedecker Raids against England , which targeted Britain's cities of historical and cultural interest. It easy to see how both German and British historic cities were no militarly valuable target, so this raids were senseless in terms of losses sustained and destruction caused.

In early May 1942 the Nacthjagd was once again reorganized: the old 1. Nachtjagddivision was divided into 1., 2. and 3. Jagddivision, each one with its assigned area of operation. This important change meant that the Nachtjagdgeschwader opeated each one in a specific Himmelbett box, thus increasing combat experience and  serviceability of the crews and machines.
On 31 May, the Bomber Command carried out its first 1,000-aircraft raid, attacking Cologne. The 1,042 bombers adopted a new tactic. Instead of flying separate routes towards the target, thus touching all the Himmelbett boxes, they flew in a concentrated stream wide less than 30 km, reaching no more than 8 night interception areas. Just 44 bombers were shot down, dramatically demonstrating how the Himmelbett system was incapable of coping with mass attacks.

Despite all these difficulties, between April and June 1942 the Nacthjagd scores 230 victories, reaching its 1000th kill in September. Experten started to rise among the Nacht Gruppen, especially those who already had blind flying experience such as former bomber or reconoissance pilots.
Between May 1941 and December 1942, Helmut  Lent scored 48 night victories
The summer of 1942 also saw the birth of "electronic warfare". Six months earlier, in March, the Bomber Command had created the Pathfinder Force, whose aim was to reach the target marking it with flares, allowing the Main Force to bomb it succesfully. In order to do so, Pathfinder bombers were equipped with the Gee, a hiperbolic radio navigation system. During the 10 August-raid on Osnabruck, Pathfinders crews found out the their Gees couldn't guide them on their target. They had been jammed by the Heinrich, which was so successful that in a few weeks the RAF was force to abandon the Gee, and to developp its successor, the Oboe. This new improved navigation system was used for the first time on 20 December and was immune to jamming. In addition, the bombers started to be fitted with the Tinsel, which was able to interfer and jam R/T transmission between fighter pilots and ground controllers.



  2. Thanks Luiz, I hope to post more about it soon. Cheers!

  3. This is a great sight rich in detail about night fighters. Thank you for educating me further on tactics of German forces during WWII.