The Messerschmitt Bf 110, often called Me 110, was a twin-engine heavy fighter (Zerstörer - German for "Destroyer") in the service of the Luftwaffe during World War II. Hermann Göring was a proponent of the Bf 110, and nicknamed it his Eisenseiten ("Ironsides"). Development work on an improved type to replace the Bf 110, the Messerschmitt Me 210 began before the war started, but its teething troubles resulted in the Bf 110 soldiering on until the end of the war in various roles, alongside its "replacements", the Me 210 and the Me 410.
The Bf 110 served with success in the early campaigns, the Polish, Norwegian and Battle of France. The Bf 110's lack of agility in the air was its primary weakness. This flaw was exposed during the Battle of Britain, when some Bf 110-equipped units were withdrawn from the battle after very heavy losses and redeployed as night fighters, a role to which the aircraft was well suited.
The Bf 110 enjoyed a successful period following the Battle of Britain as an air superiority fighter and strike aircraft in other theaters. During the Balkans Campaign, North African Campaign and on the Eastern Front, it rendered valuable ground support to the German Army as a potent fighter-bomber (Jagdbomber or Jabo).
Later in the war, it was developed into a formidable night fighter, becoming the major night-fighting aircraft of the Luftwaffe. Most of the German night fighter aces flew the Bf 110 at some point during their combat careers, and the top night fighter ace of all time, Major Heinz-Wolfgang Schnaufer, flew it exclusively and claimed 121 victories in 164 combat missions.
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As Described In
Their Finest Hour: When combating enemy fighters, Bf 110 pilots enjoyed the most success by diving down on enemy aircraft, blasting them with their superior firepower, and then flying away from the action. But in a dogfight the much larger Bf 110 was no match for the more maneuverable Spitfire and Hurricanes, and a great number of 110s were lost in the summer's fighting. Many Bf 110s were forced to fly in defensive circles, to protect each other's more vulnerable rear. As fighter escort for Luftwaffe bombers, Bf 110s fared so poorly that they themselves had to be escorted by Bf 109s, and were eventually removed from that role. The versatility of the Bf 110 did prove to be a vital asset for the Luftwaffe in later action in North Africa and on the Russian Front, where the fighter opposition was less intense.