By Pierre 'Piet' MICHIELS with particular thanks to Phil BALL for the translation
At the beginning of hostilities, as well as the twin-engine medium bombers such as the Dornier 17, Heinkel 111 and Junkers 88, the Luftwaffe needed a more versatile aircraft to support the Blitzkrieg ground offensive. This is the Messerschmitt Bf110 which was developed during the Spanish Civil War and demonstrated its undeniable qualities during the attack on Poland and Scandinavia.
After its successful use during the campaign in France, the losses suffered during the Battle of Britain lead the German authorities not to prioritise the production of the Bf110 after 1941. During this period two versions are developed, models E and F. The E model is designed as a fighter and is originally fitted with Mercedes DB 601B engines and later with the DB 601P as production capacity of the Reich’s factories increases. In total 856 Bf110-E are built between August 1940 and January 1942. Lots of German pilots consider this model to be slow and unwieldy.
The Bf110-F has the new DB 601F engines which with 1350hp have more than double the power of the original model. This extra power, in addition to significantly superior weaponry, allow the aircraft a stronger structure and give improved performance in terms of speed, ceiling height, and manoeuvrability. A total of 512 Bf-110 F is built between late 1941 and December 1942, when the Bf110-G is first produced.
The progress of the war, and the reduction of the Reich’s production capacity, slows down the replacement of this aircraft whose design dates from the mid 1930’s. The Bf110-G is therefore the final improvement, this time with Mercedes DB 605B engines with an output of 1475hp.
Despite its short range, as a result of which it is considered a ‘short leg’ fighter, the night war will make it famous.
In order to create the first operational Night Fighter Unit in early 1940, Kamhubber, a former Ju88 pilot and former Kommodore of KG51, still chooses to rely on the ZestörerGeschwader ZG, equipped with the Messerschmitt Bf110. Based on I/ZG1 unit of Kommandeur FALCK which undertakes all the tests, it takes the name of I/NJG1 at the end of the testing.
The Messerschmitt is not the only aircraft tested, as Dornier with the Do 17 Z and Junkers with the Ju88-C2 also prove satisfactory aircraft but are not quite as good. This enables these factories to provide night fighter aircraft but with the Messerschmitt taking the lion's share until 1943.
At this stage of the war, from a technical standpoint, the big difference between the speed and flight ceiling of the German fighters, including the Bf109 which is also tested, and the obsolete RAF twin-engine bombers, ensures a certain level of success in night interceptions.
The first step of the strategy is the development of the combination of Flak batteries and search lights, with night fighters, in close proximity to industrial centres. At the time, a search light unit is assigned to each squadron of the NachtJagd. This invaluable assistance is nevertheless harmed when the enthusiasm of the ground staff results in more and more searchlights being pointed at the night fighter and its target. The pilots are blinded which invariably benefits the bombers. Detection by searchlights is not certain and FALCK summarizes it in a simple way: imagine a fly flying in this room. Turn out the lights, switch on a flashlight and try to crush it ... Oh, one detail: you only have 4 minutes.
Anyway, the first NachtJagd unit is created in the summer of 1940 and others soon follow. The Divizion headquarters are established in Brussels in July 1940.
At that time, August GEIGER, born in Überlingen Bodensee (D), on 6 May 1920 has already completed his compulsory training in ReichsArbeitDienst (Reich Labour Service), which is a requirement for any young person prior to his enlistment, at the end of 1939. On November 15th 1939, he enters the Flieger Ausbildung Regiment in schonwalde. He then follows the training whithin Ausbildung Regiment number 23.
Like all the pilots that are trained to fly on twin-engine aircraft, he is sent to a FlugZeugFuhrerSchule-C/ C-Schule, in his case the C11. He receive a complet instruction on twin-engine for a total of 70 flying hours.
After the end of this training, at the beginning of 1941, he enters a Zerstörer Fliger Schule, (Fighter Flying School), where he flies on Messerschmitt Bf110-E whithin the 9./NJG1 at Tweente (NL). At this moment, he has already accomplished a 6 more months training.
GEIGER enters then a Blind Flieger Schule, (Night Flying School), where he acquires his all-weather and IFR certification on the Bf110-F in a year.
At the end of his complete training, he is granted with the rank of Pilot Officer and like all the pilots trained for being night fighters, he is one of the most specialised pilots of the Luftwaffe.
For his part, Dietrich KOCH, Erk.M. 208298/3, born in Berlin, selected to be radio-navigator has started a demanding and complex training of 9 months in a Luft Nachtrichten Schule with other trainees designated for service within the Flack or the radar interception device. They will study morse, radio trasmission and reception. They will also follow training in navigation before being sent to training unit to give them a vast experience in effective flying, navigation, map reading and radio-goniometry.
Meanwhile, trainees received a formation in a UnterOffizierSchule, ranking FlightSergeant at the end.
During training, August GEIGER and his bordfunker Dieterich KOCH, have their first victory,
+ 09/10.07.41 23.32 Halifax III./NJG 1 Ltn. 10 km Sud Nijmegen
No other victory is attributed to them during 1941.
At the same time, Kahmhubber develops an early warning system based on multiple radars controlling a three dimensional area with a limited number of night fighters. The first victory is recorded against a Whitley shot down on the night of July 8/9 over the island of Heligoland.
We are already in January 1942 and the NachtJagd has about 250 aircraft, mainly Bf110-F and -C, and Ju88.
In July 1941, Telefunken conducts the first test of the airborne radar FuG200. Enormous development difficulties cannot hide the undeniable qualities of this new technology. The FuG202 sweeps away all criticism including the reduced speed of 40kph due to the air friction caused by the huge antennas mounted on the nose of the aircraft.
The second development of the strategy comes a month later, with the installation of a Lichtenstein BC radar device aboard the last Bf110-F, then on the new -G in June, which required the fitting of larger tail fins to counter the extra weight and extra power of the new -G model.
In january 1942, the NachtJagd counts around 250 aircrafts, mainly Bf110-F and Ju88-C.
In the middle of 1942, GEIGER joined 8/NJG1 with the rank of Pilot Officer, thus beginning the long and sad list of his "kills":
+ 19/20.06.42 02.22 Stirling 8./NJG 1 Ltn. 4 km SE Neuenhaus
+ 25/26.06.42 01.20 Wellington 8./NJG 1 Ltn. 20 km NE Rhin
+ 25/26.06.42 01.30 Whitley V 8./NJG 1 Ltn. 10 km NO Lingen
+ 25/26.06.42 01.58 Stirling 8./NJG 1 Ltn. 6 km NO Nordhorn
+ 27/28.06.42 01.29 Whitley V 8./NJG 1 Ltn. N/NE Lingen
The Bf110-G also receives aerodynamic improvements and nose armament. Strangely there is no Bf110-G1 and Bf110-G2 becomes the base platform on which German engineers fit multiple versions, allowing us to consider the Messerschmitt Bf110 as the most versatile german aircraft of War World II.
Features Bf110-G4 ( in mid 1943)
Type: night fighter 2/3 crews (at least one pilot and a navigator-radar BordFunker).
Designer: Willy Messerschmitt.
Factory: Bayerische Flugzeugwerke (Bf) then Messerschmitt AG.
Engine: two engines of 1,475hp Daimler-Benz DB 605B Type V12 inverted.
Performance: maximum speed of 590kph at 7,000m (23,000 feet), cruising speed of 500kph at 6000m, steady rate of climb to 5500m in 8 minutes.
Range: 2100km with two additional drop tanks located under each wing.
Fuel: (C-4 / B) the fuel is stored in four tanks in the wings along the fuselage. In addition to the optional additional tanks, the two forward tanks can hold 373litres and those behind 264 litres each.
Weight: 5090kg empty and 9890kg maximum load
Dimensions: wingspan 16.25m, length 13.05m, height 4.18m
Avionics: FuG 10P radio-telecommunication system, automatic landing system FuB1 2F, radar FuG 200-202 Lichtenstein C-1.
Meanwhile, GEIGER gets the 2nd class Iron Cross in mid-1942, KOCH gets it also by the same time.
+ 02/03.07.42 02.49 Wellington 8./NJG 1 Ltn. 2 km NO Lochem
+ 28/29.07.42 02.35 Wellington 8./NJG 1 Ltn. 5 km N/NO Neuenhaus
+ 29/30.07.42 00.58 Whitley V 8./NJG 1 Ltn. 8 km O/NO Rijssen
+ 05/06.08.42 01.35 Halifax 8./NJG 1 Ltn. 15 km Sud Zwolle: 4000 m
+ 09/10.08.42 04.34 Wellington 8./NJG 1 Ltn. 8 km. E.S.E. Deventer: 1.200 m
+ 10/11.09.42 00.02 Wellington 8./NJG 1 Ltn. 737 8G3: 4.000 m
The main strength of the Bf110 is its ability to carry heavy armaments. In the summer of 1943, most of the night fighter models are equipped with four 7.92mm MG17 machine guns located on top of the fuselage in front of the cockpit and two 20mm MG151/20 cannons on the bottom of the nose of the aircraft. Instead of the "light" 7.92mm guns, at the request of some units or more talented pilots, some Bf110-G4 are equipped with two 30mm MK108 cannons instead.
GEIGER accumulated victories and ended 1942 with 12 confirmed victories. He is awarded the Iron Cross 1st Class.
2 more victories are not registered possibly because the claims are investigated in a much more rigorous way in the Luftwaffe than in the allied air forces. In addition, evidence of a ‘kill’ is much more severely checked on the Western Front than it is on the Eastern Front. As a result a photograph must be taken at the moment of ‘Abschuss’ (shooting down) which must then be confirmed by a report of events signed by the crew and must contain the details or the precise location of the downed aircraft which must be confirmed by at least one member of the crew or another crew. The report contents are then checked with the one drawn up by the Luftnachrichten responsible for the ground tracking radar. A final report is completed at the crash site. Only when all the reports are in agreement is the claim accepted.
Lt. GEIGER was then wounded in action in december 1942, with one non-approved claim, and put on temporary leave. At the same time Fw. KOCH is awarded the Iron Cross 1st Class.
The Bf 110G, in the meantime, is considered a superior armed platform with excellent all round visibility. It remains, with the Ju88, the best of all German night-fighters until the arrival of the Heinkel He 219.
With the beginning of the 1000 Bomber raids, the challenge that faces the NachtJagd is that they are being overwhelmed by the number of contacts that are being detected in a small number of the Kahmhubber line sectors. The system can only handle six interceptions per hour per sector.
The real problem for the Germans is not the ability of most British pilots to take incredible evasive procedures or the dexterity of some crews to escape the attack but is rather the growing number of bombers arriving together from the same point in successive waves. The aircraft are, of course, detected but it is impossible to increase the pace of victories at this stage because of the tactics and weapons available. The implementation of the SchrageMuziek weapon device (upward firing) and the arrival of the Heinkel 219 will not reverse the trend.
In early 1943, the NachtJagd has just over 400 fighters, of which about 300 are Bf110-G, divided roughly a third each in the Netherlands, Belgium/France, and Germany. At that time, night fighters are totally dependent on early detection radar systems. The system is so advanced, that it is forbidden for any German aircraft to enter an area without authorization from the control station, on pain of being shot down. The IFF identification protocol (Identify Friend or Foe) is not yet available.
Back after a long medical leave due to severe injuries received in december 1942, Ltn. GEIGER increases the sad list of his victories:
+ 01/02.03.43 23.52 Halifax II 2./NJG 1 Ltn. Voorst PQ 637482 800m
+ 01/02.03.43 00.37 Lancaster 2./NJG 1 Ltn. 1 Km Ouest Markelo 4400m
+ 04.03.43 23.33 B-17 8./NJG 1 Ltn. 4322 4200 m
Fighting an enemy aircraft during the night gives an impersonal aspect to war, much more than on daylight operations. It is a war of machines. One can almost speak of ‘virtual war’ as in today’s computer games. The human aspect is never taken into account by the crews other than in their imagination or during a visit to a crash site.
Early in 1943 August GEIGER is transferred to 7/NJG1 at Twente (NL). The sad list of his "kills" still increses:
+ 29/29.03.43 22.52 Wellington 7./NJG 1 Ltn. 5 km. SW Ahaus 5.500m
+ 29/29.03.43 23.15 Wellington 7./NJG 1 Ltn. 2 km. E.Barchem 5400m
+ 29/30.03.43 03.47 Halifax 7./NJG 1 Ltn. 6375 Delden 5500m
+ 29/30.03.43 04.22 Lancaster 7./NJG 1 Ltn. 3 km. NW Lievelde 5300m
+ 29/30.03.43 04.46 Lancaster 7./NJG 1 Ltn. N.E.Lichtenvoorde 5500m
+ 03/04.04.43 23.00 Lancaster 7./NJG 1 Ltn. 5 km. N. Gement 6000m
+ 26/27.04.43 03.11 Wellington 7./NJG 1 Oblt. Bornebroek 4000m
+ 30/01.05.43 03.21 Halifax 7./NJG 1 Oblt. 522 5F3 5000m
+ 04/05.05.43 02.09 Halifax 7./NJG 1 Oblt. 5349 G9 5300m
+ 12/13.05.43 02.06 Halifax 7.NJG 1 Oblt. 63/8/8 5600m
+ 12/13.05.43 02.17 Wellington 7./NJG 1 Oblt. 63/6/9
+ 12/13.05.43 02.20 Halifax 7./NJG 1 Oblt. 63/2/5C6 4200m
Within the Nachtjagd units, pre-flight procedure are immuable. During the evening briefing, between 17:00 and 21:00 hours depending on the season, the Gruppe receives a weather report of the area in which it is required to operate the following night. It also informs the crews on mobilized airbases, beacon locations, and alternate airbases.
The first wave of fighters are scrambled when the stream of bombers is detected, with an equivalent number of aircraft on standby +5 to compensate for any mechanical problems encountered by an aircraft in the first wave. The Messerschmitt Bf110-G4, being a ‘short leg’ hunter, is limited to two hours patrol time excluding additional drop tanks. A second wave is automatically sent 100 minutes after the first.
Around the waiting beacons, the aircraft orbit clockwise at a minimum altitude of 3000m with 100m between the fighters.
On night operations, the Messerschmitt Bf110-G4 of the NachtJagd is in a combat situation once it is guided by ground radar to the stream of bombers.
The second phase then begins during which the second crew member, the BordFunker radar specialist, is responsible for directing the aircraft to a target previously selected by the ground radar controller. The Lichtenstein FuG202 airborne radar system combines a relatively small scanning cone (around 20°) with a high sensitivity to variations caused by the target aircraft changing course.
In 1943, it operates on a wavelength of 0.50m. It is thus perfectly suited to allow the night fighter to stick to the tail of a heavy bomber conducting evasive manoeuvres.
Operating from 4km, the optimal detection distance of the airborne radar is fixed between 2500 and 100m. Multiple combat reports state that pilots often cannot see anything at less than 500m and that it is only slightly better in full moon light. The big difference in speed between the fighter and its target is a problem. The tactic is to make the approach from below by progressively slowing down to match the bomber’s speed and lowering flaps just when the victim filled the visor. Its identification is then possible at close range. One of the NachtJagd experten observes that the engine exhaust flames of a Bristol engine are detectable on the starboard side, flying below about 400 meters away. Whilst a Merlin engine is visible at 1000m if you are flying directly behind the bomber, at the same altitude.
Appointed Wing Commander, GEIGER is awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross in May 1943.
+ 23/24.05.43 02.07 Lancaster 7./NJG 1 Oblt. 6346 B1 5600m
+ 23/24.05.43 02.30 Lancaster 7./NJG 1 Oblt. 6339 H2 6.000m
+ 12/13.06.43 02.37 Lancaster 7./NJG 1 Oblt. Raalte GN-6.4 4300m
+ 14/15.06.43 01.44 Lancaster 7./NJG 1 Oblt. N.Arnhem HM 96 2000m
+ 22/23.06.43 01.33 Wellington 7./NJG 1 Oblt. 9 km. N. Wesel 5600m
+ 22/23.06.43 01.35 Wellington 7./NJG 1 Oblt. IN 98 5800m
+ 25/26.06.43 01.26 Stirling 7./NJG 1 Oblt. HN 43 5600m
+ 25/26.06.43 02.00 Lancaster 7./NJG 1 Oblt. 10 km SO Steewilk
+ 25/26.06.43 02.09 Lancaster 7./NJG 1 Oblt. 05 Ost S/GL31 5600m
The basis of the attack with a FuG202 radar is a direct creeping incursion from behind and below the bomber chosen by the ground radar controllers.
The system is so precise that depending on the preference of the pilot, the BordFunker may approach on either the starboard or port side of the target. Then, the speed of approach is the decisive factor, both for identification and to make the tactical choice.
At 4000m from the target, the ground station requests the BordFunker to switch on the Lichtenstein airborne device. However, whilst some of the best bordfunkers are already in the wake of the bomber most wait at a distance of 1500 m. for the ground station request.
With his radar-operator Dieterich KOCH, Oblt. August GEIGER is temporarily assigned to the 4/NJG1 at Florennes (B), in order to fulfil ‘schwerpunktbildung’ (focussed renforcement) and to perfect his knowledge of a new attack procedure. In fact, for a month, Bomber Command is aiming exclusively on the Ruhr Valley and this is the place where a Luftwaffe night fighter Ace can increase his killing score.
It's no long before they increase the sad list of their "kills" over the south of Belgium:
+ 09/10.07.43 02.05 Halifax 7./NJG 1 Oblt Eprave. SE Dinant
The night interception is generally based on three steps. When the designated target is identified by the airborne device, the BordFunker contacts the ground station control with the message 'Emil, Emil'. He then takes charge of guiding the fighter.
Once within firing range, the BordFunker announces 'Ich beruhre' to his pilot and leaves it to the pilot to lead the final attack. This is at a distance of between 120 and 60m for the more adventurous.
So begins the third phase of the flight where everything depends on the skill of the pilot, his visual acuity and the precision of the BordFunker’s instructions to enable the pilot to follow any sudden changes of direction of the bomber.
The time between the sending of first vector interception by the ground radar station to the BordFunker and the ‘abschuss’, is between 6 and 10 minutes.
To make a comparison at mid 1943, August GEIGER scores 35 victories, a number 30% superior of his contempory K.H. SCHNAUFER, who will end the war with a total of 121 kills.
August GEIGER, of 7/NJG1 and his navigator-radar Dietrich KOCH are past masters in night interception with over a years’ experience when their path crosses that of Lancaster DS690, thus sealing the fate of seven young British airmen. Based on instructions provided by the radar station Ordnung 2 - Stellung 'Bulle', their Messerschmitt Bf110-G4 heads to the stream of heavy four-engine bombers, flying at 300kph at about 5000 meters, returning from a raid on Aachen. Badly crippled, the Lancaster flies solely well to the south of the stream...
Recently appointed Hauptman in July, GEIGER receives the Germanic Gold Cross and adds this new victory:
+ 13/14.07.43 02.10 Lancaster 7./NJG 1 Hptm. Forsters-Veneurs
Back in 7/NJG1 based at Tweente (NL), the Staffel Kapitan GEIGER continues to accumulate victories.
+ 24/25.07.43 02.17 Lancaster 7./NJG 1 Hptm. 10 km Est Cloppenburg
+ 29/30.07.43 01.25 Lancaster 7./NJG 1 Hptm. 1 km. S.E. Ahrenswohlde
In mid August, Fw. Dietrich KOCH also gets the Germanic Gold Cross.
+ 17/18.08.43 02.08 Halifax 7./NJG 1 Hptm. Greifswald 2400m
+ 17/18.08.43 02.13 Lancaster 7./NJG 1 Hptm. Rhinbarz 2000m
+ 27/28.08.43 02.20 Stirling 7./NJG 1 Hptm. (illisible)
+ 31/01.09.43 23.28 Stirling 7./NJG 1 Hptm. 9 km SW Enschede 4700m
+ 03/04.09.43 23.50 4-mot.Flzg. 7./NJG 1 Hptm. Velber 1km SW Hannover
+ 05/06.09.43 00.24 Lancaster 7./NJG 1 Hptm. Oppen/Saarland 5000m
+ 05/06.09.43 00.45 Halifax 7./NJG 1 Hptm. 10 km. N. Speyer 4900m
+ 22/23.09.43 22.35 Stirling 7./NJG 1 Hptm. Gesdorf 4000m
+ 27/28.09.43 22.10 Lancaster 7./NJG 1 Hptm. Zuiderzee 5500m
+ 27/28.09.43 23.30 Halifax 7./NJG 1 Hptm. 10 km NW Bad Münster
+ 27/28.09.43 00.01 Halifax 7./NJG 1 Hptm. S. Papenburg 5500m
Hptm. GEIGER takes off with Fw. KOCH on the night of 29/30 September 1943 for his last mission. Their Messerschmitt Bf110-G4, marked G9 + ER, is shot down over the Zuider Zee (NL) by the night fighter ace B. Braham of 141 Squadron. On this occasion, Wing Commander "Bob" Braham gets this 20th victory whilst on his last mission on a Beaufighter before converting to a Mosquito. Sent for a diversion intrusion operation over the Ijsselmeer, the British fighter pilot does not receive an order to return to base following the cancellation of the main bomber raid on Bochum. He continues his patrol mission during which he shoots down the twin-engine aircraft of A.GEIGER, putting an end to the sad list of victims made by one of the Luftwaffe expert.
GEIGER still manages to get out of the falling Messerschmitt Bf110, but due to heavy fog, rescue boats cannot find him. He is found dead at dawn entangled in the lines of his parachute.
He is later buried in Ijsselsteyn Cemetery ( NL), M line, row 4, grave n° 83.
D. KOCH is killed in the crash. Stuck in the submerged wreck, his body is found much later, released by the sea.
Posthumously, August GEIGER is awarded the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves in March 1944. At his death he scores a total of 54 victories, a number that K.H. SCHNAUFER, the top Ace of the NachtJagd will only reach 6 months later..
The wreck of their plane is found in 1971 during development works on part of the Ijsselmeer, and it was positively identified in 1986. Killing marks are still clearly visible on the tailplane...
Picture's credit to : wikipedia.org, hendonmuseum.co.uk, cieldegloire.com, sites.google.com, Mr.Coen Cornelissen, historia.nom.br, wikipedia.org, gyges.dk, gyges.dk, author's collection, cieldegloire.com, nimh.nl, nimh.nl, ww2gravestone.com/hopmans-pieter