Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Hurricanes at Two O'clock!

Messerschmitt Bf-110 over the Channel
(Source)
Major¹ Karl Hönigberg checked the positioning of his Staffel of Zerstörergeschwader² 76 as the formation reached the midpoint of the Channel. They should be over the target within minutes. His formation was stepped up from five-hundred to a thousand meters above the Stukas they were escorting.

Hönigberg was not happy with today's assignment, he felt that the big fighters would be better used sweeping inland to attack the RAF fighter bases directly.

"Make them come up to meet us, Sepp! Fighter on fighter, don't tie us to those lumbering dive bombers!" he had remonstrated with the Geschwader's operations officer the night before.

"They will come up to intercept the 87s, do you doubt that?" Oberstleutnant Josef "Sepp" Steiner had countered.

"But they would come up to stop us alone wouldn't they? Why tie us to those slow, clumsy crates?" As he spoke Sepp's counterpart from the Stukageshwader came into the briefing room.

"Slow? Clumsy? You forget yourself Major, the bird is also ugly as Hell!" Major Wolfgang Niebuhr laughed as he spoke, but there was an undercurrent of anger as well.

"Easy Wolf, I'm not insulting that fine aircraft produced by the engineers of the mighty Junkers Flugzeug- und Motorenwerke Aktiengesellschaft,³ but they certainly aren't the most nimble of craft are they?"

"Gentlemen, can we knock off the banter and get on with the briefing?" Steiner interjected.


Flying Officer Reginald Morley listened intently as ground control vectored them towards an incoming group of aircraft. His group of fifteen Hurricanes had been climbing since takeoff in order to get above the incoming Germans. He had to assume they were Germans, who else would be approaching the English coast from the Continent?

As Morley continued his scan, he heard the voice of Squadron Leader Bertie Wilson come up on the frequency, "Look alive chaps, Jerries at two o'clock low. Looks like Stukas with 110s as high cover. Green and Blue flights go for the Stukas, Red Flight with me, let's splash the 110s."


"Herr Major! Tommy fighters, coming around from three o'clock high to our six!"

Hönigberg turned to look, sure enough, he could see the British aircraft, perhaps a flight of six. He assumed there had to be more and they would go for the Stukas. "Shark Flight, engage the British fighters, Lion and Tiger flights, keep covering the 87s!"

Hönigberg advanced his throttles and began to turn into the British fighters. He knew that he shouldn't get into a Kurvenkampf⁴ with the far more nimble Hurricanes, but if he could get his forward-firing armament⁵ on the smaller aircraft, he would have a distinct advantage. Though some argued for always forming a defensive circle in the face of single-seat fighters, so that each aircraft could cover the others in the formation, Hönigberg was of the more aggressive school. Go straight at them.

The problem was, the Bf-110 had terrible acceleration. Though nearly as fast as a Hurricane at altitude, the 110 was slow to get up to speed. Hönigberg figured he had enough time to get around, the Hurricanes had the altitude advantage but hadn't moved to intercept the 110s just yet. Though they could have easily outpaced the Hurricanes by putting the heavy 110s into a dive, their mission was to protect the Stukas, so diving to get away wasn't an option.


Morley saw the big fighters coming around, judging by the angle his formation had on the Huns, the Hurricanes would be through the enemy formation before the Germans would be in position to engage the Hurricanes. The Hurricanes would have to worry about the rear gunners, but Morley wasn't that worried about them.

"Tallyho!" came over the R/T. Morley shook his head as he picked out one of the Huns, some public school boy no doubt.


Hönigberg realized, too late, that the British fighters would be on them before they could bring their own noses to bear on the enemy. "Hang on Rudi, take your shot as they pass through!"

Gefreiter Rudi Wagner answered with a simple "Verstanden!⁷"

Hönigberg was struggling to bring his nose around, the big aircraft just wasn't coming around fast enough. He had to be careful and not stall the bird. He was still confident that he could ...


Morley held the firing button for a full two seconds. He could see strikes all over the nose and cockpit of the twin-engined fighter as his own aircraft flashed past the target. He winced and ducked his head as he saw tracers pass over his canopy. Obviously the rear gunner was alert.

After diving through the formation he looked back, his wingmen were still with him. "Red Flight, Red Lead, let's get some altitude and pitch back in," Morley transmitted as his aircraft leaped higher, exchanging speed for altitude.


Hönigberg winced in pain, he had a bad cut over his right eye which was bleeding profusely. Though his instrument panel was shattered, he still had control of the aircraft and the engines seemed to be running just fine.

"Rudi, report!" he transmitted over the intercom, almost expecting that to be inoperable.

"I'm okay, Herr Major, are you hurt?" The rear gunner had felt the impact of the British guns as they had smashed into the big fighter. He had fired at the Tommies as they had flown past, but had hit nothing.

"I'm having trouble seeing out of my right eye, Junge. I'm heading back to base, we're out of this fight. Keep your eyes peeled for those Hurricanes."


Morley touched down, very satisfied with himself. He had damaged one German and was sure he had shot down another. Green and Blue flights had downed at least five of the Stukas and the remainder had jettisoned their bombs and fled to the east.

As he taxied to the dispersal area, he could see O'Donnell waiting for him, no doubt more concerned for his aircraft than his pilot. Still and all, Morley knew he was lucky, he had one of the best men in the RAF watching over the aircraft and, by extension, Morley himself.

As O'Donnell climbed onto the wing to assist him with the harness, Morley grinned and yelled out over the noise of the engine shutting down, "Hit two, killed one. At least I'm pretty sure of it."

"And 'ere you've used up all my ammunition I'll wager. Sir." O'Donnell offered sternly.

Morley winked and said, "Pretty sure the bullets belong to His Majesty, Willis, but yes, used 'em all."

As Morley climbed from the cockpit, O'Donnell handed his pilot a flask. "Not a problem, Sir. I'll have her ready to go within the hour. Any gripes?"

Morley coughed as he took a drink from the flask, "Damn, we need to find you a better source of alcohol, that's hideous. The kite is just fine, she's running like a top. Anything to eat in the hut?"

"Sandwiches Sir, cucumber I think."


Hönigberg let the medical people help him from the cockpit. He was woozy from loss of blood, his flying kit was stained with it, the cockpit was as well. He passed out as they loaded him onto a stretcher.

"Will he be all right?" Rudi Wagner asked the Sanitäter.

"He'll need stitches but he should be fine. Rough out there?" Unteroffizier Hans Scheibel nodded to the orderlies to load the Major into the ambulance. The pilot would be given intravenous fluids as well, he had lost a lot of blood. Head wounds tended to bleed badly, making even small wounds look nasty. The pilot most likely had a severed facial vein or artery from flying debris and that would be tended to immediately.

"Rough? Leutnant Seger's bird blew up in mid-air. He and Dietrich never had a chance." Wagner answered.

"No chutes?"

"They blew up," Wagner snapped his fingers, "happened in the blink of an eye, there was no way they could have gotten out. A bad day for them. We didn't even make it to the target, so I don't know how successful the raid was. We'll have to wait until the rest of the boys return."


The final toll for the day was three Ju-87s shot down (the RAF claimed five) and two of the escorting Bf-110s were shot down. All for the loss of a single Hawker Hurricane. Downed by "friendly" anti-aircraft fire.

The air war over the English Channel was heating up.




¹ I have italicized this rank, which is the German equivalent to the American rank of "major" because the pronunciation is different, "mah-yor" as opposed to "may-jor." I wish to be consistent here and not make you think I'm using the English equivalent of the German word.
² Destroyer Wing (German), the nomenclature used for wings consisting of the heavy, twin-engined Bf-110.
³ Literally "Junkers aircraft and engine works joint-stock company" (German)
⁴ Dogfight, literally "curve fight" (German)
⁵ Early versions of the Bf-110 had four 7.92 mm MG 17 machine guns in the upper nose and two 20 mm MG FF/M cannons fitted in the lower part of the nose. (Source)
⁶ Radio/Telephone also Receiver/Transmitter.
⁷ Understood! (German)

28 comments:

  1. I learned something today! R/T is reciever/transmitter, I had always assumed, since it was voice radio, it was Radio/Telephone. Well, you know that they say assuming does.

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    1. Actually in this era it was more likely Radio/Telephone. I jumped and used modern terminology. Probably an error, corrected the footnote.

      The Transmitter-Receiver T R 9 consisted of a two-valve radiotelephony transmitter and a six-valve receiver contained in one case. It was designed primarily for use in single-seater fighter aircraft and was intended to provide two-way communication to a range of 35 miles air/ground and 5 miles air-to-air. Frequency coverage was 4300-6000 kc/s and the entire power supply was derived from an HT dry battery and a secondary cell. In single-seat fighters the set was installed behind the pilot's cockpit The pilot was provided with headphones, microphone and a remote control unit which operated the send-receive switch, receiver tuning and volume control. (Source)

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    2. Was the longer air/ground range because the ground would have had a better receiver?

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    3. Probably a more powerful transmitter as well, weight is always an issue in an aircraft.

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  2. The Blue Max is on the tube as I type this, good sound effects for this post Sarge, piston engines snarling over the countryside.

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    1. I love that movie, good old Bruno Stachel.

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  3. Kurvenkampf⁴
    Was this the common term the German pilots used for what us English speakers call dogfight (aviation wise)? I’m want to learn something new as well.

    Franknbean

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    1. Yes, that's what the Germans called it. It's their word for "dogfight."

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  4. Things are warming up. Least there were more Hurricanes and they had altitude. Yes, I'm being a bit "partisan" or "Anglophile". You do a great job,Sarge, of humanizing our combatants but I am definitely taking sides. You write so well that I can hope for individuals yet still "root for my team".
    Recently visited the WWII aviation museum in Colo Springs; on one of their exhibits (featuring Steve Pisanos) there is a roster of the three Eagle squadrons; there are a lot of abbreviations after the names, KIA being prominent.
    Boat Guy

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    1. While I try to keep the timeline relatively generic (makes for easier, read lazier, research) I want to follow the flow of the battle. The Germans really thought that the concept of the heavy escort fighter was viable. It wasn't. However, the Bf-110 was later a very successful night fighter.

      How did I not know of Colonel Pisanos? I will be reading up on him, a classic American story right there. Someday, when I get back to Colorado, I need to visit that museum, it looks really good!

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    2. Lots of those interwar theories got disproved in combat.
      Truly "a classic American story"! There is a separate little hootch with his RAF uniform on a very lifelike mannequin and lots of photos. A video interview with him was playing. According to the Docent I spoke with, the COL was quite a friend of the museum. I bought the book "The Flying Greek" at the gift shop. An amazing museum! All of the aircraft that have skin on the wings are valuable - and flown.
      Boat Guy

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    3. Well...the aircraft ARE "valuable" to say the least; the word I typed in was "flyable".
      Gorram arrogant device!
      BG

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    4. BG #1 - That's my kind of museum! The Military Aviation Museum in Pungo, Virginia is like that. Nothing like seeing an oil pan under an engine, realizing that the beast is flyable!

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    5. BG #2 - I'm sure they are valuable as well! (Heh, he said Gorram, shiny.)

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  5. "Morley saw the big fighters coming around, judging by the angle his formation had on the Huns, the Hurricanes would be through the enemy formation before they would be in position to engage the Hurricanes."
    Not complaining (not in the slightest, enjoyin' it far too much), just mildly confused; needed to return to think about 'they' (then again I was only on my second cuppa)

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    1. I need to structure my sentences better, I find myself using "they" and confusing myself as to which "thy" I'm talking about.

      I'll clean that up.

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  6. I don't think I've ever been in a large force exercise that some bozo doesn't blurt out something obvious and utterly useless. Tally Ho...Comm jamming indeed.

    Bandits, left 10, low = useful transmission.

    I know that was what the "public school boy" verbiage was intended to convey.

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    1. ...There is a Bob Stevens "There I Was" cartoon from later in WW2 where a US pilot urgently calls out "Break right...I mean Red Flight break right"...by then every US fighter in radio range has jettisoned their drop tanks...

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  7. Thank you for your continued historical fictions. I really enjoy them. Peace to you and yours.

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  8. 110 was product of 1930s "heavy fighter" concept.
    It envisioned heavy , 2 engined aircraft with strong cannon battery in the nose, and rear gunner to help overcome lack of agility.
    The design was intended as a way to get fighters fast enough to intercept multi engined monoiplane bombers , when conventional fighters were still largely biplanes.
    As it turned out, the concept was failure.
    Rear gunner was not nearly enough to defend rear, and the things dogfighted like a bus.
    About the only heavy fighters that came out successful were P-38 (because of compact design ditching rear gunner and allowing greater power-to-weight) and the Mosquito (becuase lightweight plywood design allowed the same).
    Meanwhile classic fighters found their monoplane design and dominated the skies of WW2.
    As for the 110 it would eventually have found it's niche as very useful night fighter, but that was in 1942 when Germans developed airborne radar and needed to defend own skies...

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Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)
Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

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