Guide To German Night Fighters In World War II The Night Defenders Of The Reich

If we take a look to the different kind of aircraft or the different radar devices that were used for the night fighting or the different tactics used, everybody can wonder why so many aircraft, radars and tactics?

The reason is that the night fighting evolved during 1939-1945. Now we are to remark the most important events that took place in the fight that the German had against the British for the control of the Europe sky during the night.


1939-1941
When the first bombing raids by RAF on civilian targets at the beginning of the war, the German night fighting tactics was to seek and destroy the enemy aircraft with no electronic means, but this changed very soon.
Two tactics emerged as the solution to the enemy raids, these ones were named: Dunkel Nachtjagd (dark night fighting) and Helle Nachtjagd (illuminated night fighting).
Dunkel Nachtjagd or DUNAJA (dark night fighting): The fighters were aided by a radio beacon that led them to the targets thanks to Freya stations. When the fighters arrive to the bomber stream, it was needed a visual identification in order to target and shoot the enemy aircraft. In 1940 Freya early warning radars were lined from the Danish to the Swiss frontiers. The first kills were achieved in September 1940.

Night-fighters  zd1

Helle Nachtjagd or HENAJA (clear or illuminated night fighting): Immediately after the DUNAJA, the Luftwaffe efforts in night fighting were aimed to find a better tactic. Now the pilots were helped by the use of searchlights on the ground (that were controlled by radars too) that illuminated the enemies and at the same time tried to blind the enemy pilots. The searchlight was extended at the beginning from Reims to Flensburg and was divided in 18 zones (each 45 km wide and 35 km deep). It is important remember that the HENAJA stripes of light were Flak-free. The first illuminated zone, or was established near Münster and the first aerial victories using the system were achieved in July 1940 (Oberleutnant Streib). Although the idea was good, the British realized that if they flew around the illuminated zones, they avoided the danger. This one was one of the reasons that made the German effort in the evolution of new techniques involving radar grew.
German Flak only provided a point defense in several areas of the Reich near important targets.  The Flak worked together with a radar, an optical range finder and searchlights. Each Flak battery had 4 to 8 guns with calibers of 88 mm, 105 mm or 128 mm. Usually the Flak shells had timers in order to make them explode close to the bombers. The range of the 88 mm and 105 mm shells was 8890 metres; the range of the 128 mm shells was 10927 metres. In 1945 the German Flak had to fire about 10000 shells to shoot down an enemy aircraft. The night fighter had coded signal flares in order to be recognized by the ground defenses.
At the beginning of May 1940 Hauptmann Falck (chief of I./ZG 1) proposed the use of Bf 110s as night fighters after the trials he had done during April 1940.
The increasing British night attacks to the Reich since 1940, showed that at the moment the Luftwaffe has no means enough to stop and destroy the British aircraft marauding the German industries at night. So, on 20th July, Reichmarshall Göring ordered General Kammhuber to set up a night fighter force.
As soon as on 22 June 1940 a new unit of the Luftwaffe was born: the Nachtjagdgeschwader 1 and Falck became its Kommodore. This new unit comprised:
I./NJG 1 with Bf 110.
II./NJG 1 with Ju 88 C-2.
III./NJG 1 with Bf 109.
Most of the night fighter crew were old Zerstörer units crew and flew the Bf 110, that was the main night fighter aircraft in the German arsenal. On 23 July, 1940 the NachtJagddivision HQ was deployed in Brussels and the NJG 1 HQ deployed in Arnhem.
In late 1940, the Germans were developing their own radar system that finally took shape in the FuG 202 Lichtenstein BC, which would be operationally tested in mid-1941. When its utility was demonstrated, it became the standard Luftwaffe airborne radar for the next few years.
Meanwhile the air defense of the Reich was improving, another tactic was developed by the Luftwaffe against the British bombers: the “Fernnachtjagd”. This tactic was based in long range missions conducted by German night fighters over enemy controlled territory to attack the enemy bombers during their return home route after bombing and when near of their airfields. The idea was easy, night fighters missions over enemy territory to harass the British bomber fleet or indeed attack ground targets in enemy airfields with long range night intruders as the Ju 88 C (C-1 and C-2) and Do 17 Z-7 and Z-10 at the beginning belonging to II./NJG 1 (this unit on September 11, 1940 was renamed I./NJG 2) based at Gilze-Rijen in Netherlands. In the spring of 1941 several Do 215 B-5 carried out “Fernnachtjagd” missions. The British bombers were vulnerable when taking off and when assembly, and that opportunity and the German night fighters took advantage of it.