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


The first enemy aircraft shot down thanks to the Lichtenstein AI radar took place on the night of 9 August 1941, and the pilot was Ludwig Becker. That night the “modern” night fighting was born. Despite the improving in the German night fighters, the chances to shoot down a bomber at night, remained elusive because until 1942 RAF’s Bomber Command had been sending bombers over Germany in small formations. And the RAF losses were running at an unacceptable rate of almost 7% due to the DUNAJA and Himmelbett systems. But the arrival of Air Marshal Sir Arthur Harris in late February 1942 marked significant changes in RAF tactics. From that moment massive bomber formations were concentrated in narrow section of the defensive line in the shortest period of time, collapsing the German defensive system. The higher concentration of bombers, the lower the losses. So, the loss rate changed to 3.9% with the new RAF tactic.
From March 1942 the British were using several electronic devices to help them in their missions: a navigational aid named GEE that only could range out over the Ruhr, the Oboe that guided the bomber and showed the place where drop the bombs. Another device was the H2S, that was used since January 1943. The H2S was a downward-looking radar that could identify cities based in the shape (with longer range than the Oboe, the H2S allowed a blind bombing over the targets). Thanks to the Oboe and H2S, the British bombings improving very much.
During September 1942, British Bomber Command lost 212 aircraft, about the 40% of its bomber inventory: and during 1942 the German night fighters claimed more than 800 British aircraft shot down, and many of them thanks to the use of radar equipped night fighters. The Bf 110 F and G were the main night fighter used by the NJGs. While the enemy aircraft in the skies of the Reich were increasing, the night fighter force continued to expand with new NJGs. Besides, the combat experience of the German night fighter pilots allowed an improved training.
When American bombers joined to British ones in the non stop campaign of bombing the Reich (British in night missions and American in daytime missions), the German night fighters had to do their best.
From March to July 1943, the British kept the named Battle of the Ruhr (this area was in the range of the Oboe devices) and destroyed many German factories concentrated in the area. The British launched 43 attacks over the Ruhr area, destroying their targets but their losses were about 4.7%.

 

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Also the German night fighters flew missions over the Atlantic ocean from ther French bases because a IV./NJG 5 detachment was sent to the Western French coast.
Although the German night fighting was mature in 1943 thanks to General Kammhuber, very soon the German night force received a new strike that almost paralysed it: the “Window” (known as Düppeln in German). They were metallic (aluminium) foil strips one half-wavelength in length that would create a significant radar echo on a scope, confusing and jamming the German radars and therefore the control of searchlights, Flak and night fighters (so the DUNAJA defensive system became almost useless). It was capable of jamming the FuG 202, FuG 212 and the Würzburg ground radars. This new secret weapon was developed by the Allies and was ready in mid-1942 but Window was used the first time on the night of 24/25 July 1943 during the Operation Gomorrah against the city of Hamburg. From that day, the Window was used in many raids against German cities almost blinding the German night force because the ground controllers could not guide the night fighters towards the enemy. Fortunately for the Luftwaffe, very shortly before the Window appeared over Germany, a new night fighter tactic was developed by Major Hajo Herrmann: the “Wilde Sau” (Wild Boar).
In the “Wilde Sau”, single-seat fighters (Fw 190 and Bf 109) could take advantage of the anti-aircraft artillery (AAA or Flak) that was posted close to the searchlight system (and preferably above the altitude of the British bombers). The fighters “only” had to stay above the altitude at which AA grenades would explode while the searchlights tracked the bombers stream and picked up targets. This tactic was better if the searchlights illuminated the lower cloud layer. The bombers were easier to detect against illuminated clouds or thanks to the torches that could be shot by the AAA to increase the illumination (although the bomber stream never was easy to track). At that moment, the fighters could see the enemies and attack them. As a positive point, the radar was not necessary, so the Window didn´t affected these single-seat nigh fighters.  In the negative side, to fly in the dark of the night without ant radar was very dangerous.
This tactic had an important problem because the pilots were before day fighter pilots that were mostly inexperienced in instrumental flying. This was the reason of a lot of accidents when landing or during take off. In this case, the Bf 109 was the favourite because without visibility the accidents were more dangerous in an aircraft with a wide landing gear as the Fw 190.