Nachtjagd (English: night fight or night hunt) is the German term of the Luftwaffe during WWII for a method to fight enemy bombers or reconnaissance planes flying in at night with their own aircraft. It must not be confused with the procedure of Rammjagd.
- 1 History
- 2 Front Flying Clasp
- 3 Night fighter wings
- 4 Night fighter models
- 5 Rammjagd 1944/45
- 6 See also
- 7 External links
- 8 References
At the start of the First World War, most combatants had little capability of flying at night, and little need to do so. The only targets that could be attacked with any possibility of being hit in limited visibility would be cities, an unthinkable target at the time. The general assumption of a quick war meant no need existed for strategic attacks. The British Royal Flying Corps found the need to fight German airships approaching London at night and later long-range heavy bombers of the Fliegertruppe, starting with the Gotha G.IV. The method was immature and rarely led to success, although six German airships were destroyed between September and December 1916.
During the 1930s, considerable development of infrared detectors occurred among all of the major forces, but in practice, these proved almost unusable. The only such system to see any sort of widespread operational use was the Spanner Anlage system used on the Dornier Do 17 Z night fighters of the Luftwaffe. These were often also fitted with a large IR searchlight to improve the amount of light being returned.Night-fighting techniques changed little until just prior to World War II. The Luftwaffe first used single-engined aircraft in the night-fighter role, starting in 1939 with the Arado Ar 68 E-1 and early Messerschmitt Bf 109 models.
In 1940, the bombing of Germany had begun. In May 1940, German oil storage facilities in Bremen and Hamburg were destroyed by the Royal Air Force and the RAF launched a night bombing raid on Mönchengladbach. In June 1940, the French Air Force bombed Berlin. Now the Germans knew they had to found a night fighter wing, the first would be the Nachtjagdgeschwader 1 (NJG 1) on 26 June 1940 under Wolfgang Falck, who, along with General der Nachtjagd Josef Kammhuber, is regarded as the creator of the night hunt. Unlike in Britain, where the major targets lay only a few minutes' flight time from the coast, Germany was protected by large tracts of neutral territory that gave them long times to deal with intruding bombers. Instead of airborne radar, they relied on ground-based systems; the targets would first be picked up by radar assigned to a "cell", the radar would then direct a searchlight to "paint" the target, allowing the fighters to attack them without on-board aids. The searchlights were later supplanted with short-range radars that tracked both the fighters and bombers, allowing ground operators to direct the fighters to their targets. By July 1940, this system was well developed as the Kammhuber Line, and proved able to deal with the small raids by isolated bombers the RAF was carrying out at the time.
After a period of use on bombing and reconnaissance, the destroyer (Zerstörer) Messerschmitt Bf 110 found its niche during the winter of 1940-41 as a night fighter in defensive operations. At first, the three main crew members had no special equipment for night operations and relied on their eyes alone to find enemy aircraft in the dark. Ground-controlled interception began from mid 1941 and the Bf 110 began to take its toll on RAF bombers and was soon an aircraft to be feared. Airborne radar was used experimentally during 1941, effective up to a maximum distance of 3.5 km/ 2.2 miles and capable of bringing the Bf 110 to within 200 m/655 ft of a target. By July 1942, the Bf 110F-4 was the first version to be designed specifically as a night fighter. In the night from 26 to 27 March 1942, German night fighters shot down their 500th enemy plane.
On 30/31 May 1942, when the first 1,000-bomber raid attacked Cologne, losing only four aircraft to German night fighters, the German leadership realized, it needed a new, more effective radar. The Lichtenstein radar was among the earliest airborne radars available to the Luftwaffe in World War II and the first one used exclusively for air interception. Developed by Telefunken, it was available in at least four major revisions, called FuG 202 Lichtenstein B/C (deployed 1942, but succesfully tested during combat in 1941), FuG 212 Lichtenstein C-1, FuG 220 Lichtenstein SN-2 and the very rarely used FuG 228 Lichtenstein SN-3. (FuG is short for Funk-Gerät, radio set).
Wilde Sau procedure
From 1943, experiments were carried out with the "Wilde Sau" (generally known in English as "Wild Boar") night hunting method developed by Major Hajo Herrmann. In this concept, regular single-engine fighters (Messerschmitt Bf 109 and Focke-Wulf Fw 190) of JG 300 (Jagdgeschwader 300), but also JG 301 and JG 302, were used. They had no radar and therefore had to fly by sight. For the "Wilde Sau" the airspace above the bombed area was illuminated by anti-aircraft searchlights (Flak-Scheinwerfer) and flares fired by the anti-aircraft guns (Flak). Added to this was the reflection of the fires from the ongoing attack from the ground. The day fighters could use it to spot and attack the bombers against the illuminated background. With the use of the "Wilde-Sau-Nachtjagdverfahren" the hunting successes of the German air defense increased considerably; as a countermeasure, the British formations and American bomber groups soon formed the so-called "Combat Box". Three groups of bombers form a squadron, which means that the day fighters, it was thought, could hardly get through.
The procedure remained unloved in a way and was very dangerous. As early as May 1944, the first squadron was disbanded and the groups were handed over to fighter squadrons on the Eastern Front. Colonel Victor von Lossberg, who had carefully observed the effects of the day hunters, finally developed the "Tame Sow" (Zahme Sau) procedure. It allowed the twin-engine night fighters to operate largely independently of the ground control center.
Flying ace Major (later Colonel) Hans-Joachim "Hajo" Herrmann recognized early on that German night fighters were losing combat effectiveness, and on June 27, 1943, he suggested to the commanding general of the night fighters, Josef Kammhuber, that day fighters use a specially developed method - Wilde Sau - directly above the To let operate in the attack area, which he initially refused. When the British Royal Air Force launched Operation Gomorrah on July 25, 1943, it was decided to test the new procedure. This is what his friend Wolfgang Falck (interview provided by Colin D. Heaton) said about him:
- One of the most unique events to occur, in which I was somewhat involved, was in June 1943, when Hajo Herrmann entered the picture. He was a bomber pilot, an outstanding airman on all accounts, and he had an idea. He wanted to create a night fighter unit that used day fighters, using searchlights to switch the blacked-out cities into brilliantly illuminated locations to hunt British bombers. I know that he was in discussions with Adolf Galland, because Dolfo called me, and I spoke with him about the method. At first I was skeptical, but Hajo had some great ideas. I recalled my own experience flying at night, without any specialized equipment, nothing at all, just as Herrmann wanted to do. However, his plan was different. He would fly the faster Me-109s and Fw-190s, using the brightly lit cities to illuminate the bombers from below, while his pilots flew above them. This way they would be silhouetted against any clouds, their shadows easy to see. Once they were caught by radar, and then tracked by searchlights, the day fighters would be able to get them on visual contact, no onboard radar being needed. This meant less cost to the program, but a higher loss ratio for day fighters, and even pilots. My concern was not about the practicality of such a program; I knew that they would have successes, but I was worried about the attrition rate we may suffer, due to the fact that night flying is dangerous enough without being in battle. But, since his pilots would all be instrument qualified, some even former bomber or reconnaissance pilots, I had no objections. Göring was even very excited, and I think he was wondering if I would have any objections about sharing the night fighter role. I assured him that I would enjoy any and all assistance, once the logistics and tactics were worked out. I did not want to have just another night fighter operation going on, with aircraft in the sky without any command and control. It was crowded enough with the RAF up there. I wanted to have both methods, and all units, working together to be the most effective.
- Well, I knew how difficult it would be to get the proper relationship established between Herrmann and the flak units. I had my own stories, and he had his. Well, we met and discussed this. I was very impressed by his concept as he detailed it. I knew that he was going to have a lot of trouble convincing the flak gunners to not fire upward into enemy bomber formations, until the orders were given. I also knew that the Gauleiter were going to be hard to convince that lighting their cities under bombardment was a sound idea. I made a few calls, and gave Herrmann some contacts, and he had a meeting with Jeschonnek, Milch, and even Göring on the matter, and he finally received the assistance he needed. He was fortunate that we in the night fighters already had a good, established relationship with all parties concerned. I suggested that he meet with Kammhuber, and that managed to seal the deal, so to speak. Well, Herrmann, who is still a great friend to this day, managed to get his single-seat fighters in the air, and they did have some great success. Unfortunately, later in 1944 his JG..300 was increased into additional units, such as JG..301 and 302, and then they became day fighter units in 1944 with the Home Defense Reichsluftverteidigung. I saw the merits of his method, especially from a psychological standpoint. Once we worked out a method of overlapping belts and zones of responsibility, the RAF began feeling the triple hammer blows of both fighter groups and flak. The way it worked was quite simple. My radar-guided night fighters would engage the enemy outside the target zones, on the outer periphery of the grids. Then Herrmann’s Zahme Sau [Tame Boar], using twin-engine and even single-engine fighters would shadow the formations, usually flying in the stream formation. They provided accurate plots for direction, altitude, speed, and other critical details. These were sent via radio to the ground controller. They plotted the enemy and our units, and kept all informed. This started in July 1943, when I was promoted to Oberst; Jeschonnek committed suicide in August and General Günther Korten replaced him. This was not an easy relationship, as Korten ordered the night fighters to also actively engage the American daylight raids. This was not really feasible for a number of reasons. Pitting Me-110s against Thunderbolts, Mustangs, Lightnings, and Spitfires was already proven to be a flawed concept. Then, in September, the Allies invaded Italy [(Allied invasion of Sicily or Operation Husky and of Anzio, known as Operation Shingle)].
- Once the bombers passed through the radar-guided fighters, they would be engaged by the flak units, and then on prearranged signals, the flak would stop firing, and the Wilde Sau using the lights from below would then attack the survivors. Due to their short range, they usually carried drop tanks and could engage for almost two hours. The twin-engine fighters could land and refuel, and then catch the enemy bombers on the way out. Sometimes the Wilde Sau units scattered throughout the Kammhuber Line had time to rearm and refuel, then engage the enemy again as they left the target area. I can only imagine what those poor RAF boys were enduring in their minds, with three to six waves of fighters hitting them, on top of the flak. Some of our twin-engine fighters would follow them into British airspace, shooting them down when they thought they were safe. Well, by late 1943, and especially in 1944, the tables were turned, because the British began sending their own night fighters into our airspace to engage our night fighters. We lost quite a few great pilots that way. This was when we had to change our methods, especially in using the runway lights, which were a dead giveaway to enemy planes hunting us down. The successes of the Wilde Sau brought Herrmann the Oak Leaves and Swords, as well as a position on the General Staff. It also almost got him killed when he was hit by our own flak once, and he was blown out of his fighter at very high altitude. It also brought an order from Göring for him to stop flying, which was an order all of us dreaded. Interestingly enough, although not without precedent, Herrmann did not obey, and he still flew. Herrmann actually scored nine kills as a Wilde Sau pilot, on top of his great record of sinking seventy thousand or so tons of shipping. He led an interesting group of volunteers, as they were all volunteers. He was, as I said, a great aviator, and a very brave man.
- For me, and Germany, 1944 was a watershed year, and so many things happened, and none of it good. We were losing the air war on both fronts where the day fighters were outnumbered, and we night fighters were also being outmanned. On July 20, I had just finished a full day’s paperwork at my Wannsee office when the phone rang. I thought it was Galland, calling me back about a report he had sent to me. It was not Galland. This was when I learned that von Stauffenberg had tried to kill Hitler. I was in shock to be honest, as I had met and spoken with von Stauffenberg the previous week, regarding the Operation Valkyrie plans for the military defense of Berlin, should there be any repeat of the 1918–1919 revolution. All the senior leaders from all branches of the military were briefed on this plan. The assassination attempt not only concerned me from a professional standpoint, von Stauffenberg was my wife’s cousin. I first met him in 1936. I liked him very much. He epitomized the German officer; he was good looking, very devoted to his family, and a devout Catholic. He was well educated and well spoken. I wondered about my wife, my family, and even myself. I had no idea just how deep the Gestapo would go, but if I knew them at all, no one would be safe. I knew my father-in-law was anti-National Socialist throughout, and as an Oberst from the Great War, and the officer in charge who ordered the army to shoot Hitler and the rest during the 1923 Putsch I knew his days were numbered—hence the connection that disturbed me. Well, Berlin was sealed off, I was given my orders to handle things, and I answered to Generaloberst Hans Stumpff, who was at that time my immediate boss, and he placed him in charge of all of Berlin. I was in my room, with my pistol, prepared to do what I had to, but I was not going to join the great many who had already been arrested, and subsequently shot. As history shows, those shot were the lucky ones. By 1944, I was having my own problems with Hitler and Göring, and I needed an escape. I spoke to Galland about this problem. Galland understood my plight, as he was having his own problems with them, and he was well aware of my connection to von Stauffenberg, and I was concerned that my old acquaintance General Kreipe was not my ally. This fear was later dispelled. Well, Galland did me a great service, and in September 1944, I became Fighter Pilot Leader-Balkans, which included Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, and Yugoslavia, and I returned on a few occasions to observe my Reich [sphere of influence].
Zahme Sau procedure (1944)
The effect of this procedure was enormous, since the jamming of the German radar by the clouds of tinfoil strips (window) offered only relative protection. The fighter units attacked as a unit (pack tactics of the U-Boote), unlike in the guided night hunt, in which the hunters were individually introduced to the bombers. The combat box, which was successfully used by the Allies against the "Wilde Sau" was largely ineffective, since the black and gray camouflaged fighters were usually only recognizable when their tracer bullets became visible.
As a raid approached, the fighters were scrambled and collected to orbit one of several radio beacons throughout Germany, ready to be directed en masse into the bomber stream by running commentaries from the Jagddivision. Once in the stream, fighters made radar contact with bombers, and attacked them for as long as they had fuel and ammunition.
Another innovation was the Schräge Musik: Two to four machine guns or automatic cannons were built in, firing diagonally upwards. Night fighters equipped with them approached the bombers from below and fired upwards, mostly into the target's wings. This avoided the firing range of the rear gunner (who was usually the most heavily armed gunner on board the bombers with up to four heavy machine guns) and the side gunners. The Schräge Musik dispensed with tracer bullets, so that the night fighters remained largely invisible even during the attack. The late introduction of this procedure, the lack of well-trained pilots and the lack of new machines prevented this procedure from being able to turn the outlook, at least in terms of the night air war, in favor of Germany.
Front Flying Clasp
At first, as of 30 January 1941, night fighters could receive the front flying clasp (Frontflugspange) of day fighters. On 24 August 1942, a seperate front flying clasp was introduced for night fighters, divided (depending on the length and distance of their combat missions) for
- nah (near or short range) and
- fern (distant or long range) night fighters.
Night fighter wings
- Nachtjagdgeschwader 1 (NJG 1)
- Nachtjagdgeschwader 2 (NJG 2)
- Nachtjagdgeschwader 3 (NJG 3)
- Nachtjagdgeschwader 4 (NJG 4)
- Nachtjagdgeschwader 5 (NJG 5)
- Nachtjagdgeschwader 6 (NJG 6)
- Nachtjagdgeschwader 7 (NJG 7)
- Nachtjagdgeschwader 11 (NJG 11)
- Nachtjagdgeschwader 100 (NJG 100)
- Nachtjagdgeschwader 101 (NJG 101)
- Nachtjagdgeschwader 102 (NJG 102)
- Nachtjagdgeschwader 200 (NJG 200)
Night fighter models
Famous night fighter models, outside of Bf 109 and Bf 110, were: Dornier Do 217 J/N, Focke-Wulf Ta 154, Heinkel He 219 („Uhu“), Junkers Ju 88 C/G, Messerschmitt Me 262 A-1a/U2, B-1a/U1, Focke-Wulf Fw 189 A-1 and Focke-Wulf Fw 190 A-5/R11.
Storm hunters were primarily additionally armored and armed Fw 190 A-8/R8 "Sturmbock" of the Sturmgruppe, a kind of storm battalion (Sturmbataillon) from the sky. The heavy armor and armament (additional armor on the cockpit sides and cockpit glazing, and two additional internal machine guns, 30 mm MK 108, in the outer wing instead of the usual 20 mm MG 151/20 with 55 rounds per gun) made them cumbersome and capable of acting practically only under fighter protection. The storm hunters' commitment formula was:
- "We undertake to fight in the defense of the Reich in accordance with the principles and rules of battle of the Sturmgruppe. We know that as pilots of the Sturmgruppe we are called upon in a special way to protect life and limb of our people at home and to defend it to the utmost. We pledge to attack the enemy at close range on every mission that leads to enemy contact with four-engined bombers and, if the launch by board weapons is unsuccessful, to destroy the enemy by ramming.”
The tactics of the storm or assault groups were first used on 7 July 1944, when the IV./Jagdgeschwader 3 „Udet“ with around 30 planes, which were shielded by two groups of Bf 109, attacked an enemy bomber formation consisting of 1129 B-17 and B-24 of the USAAF. The unit, led by Major Walther Dahl, managed to shoot down 28 B-24 bombers from the 2nd Bomb Division/14th Combat Wing. The 492nd Bomb Group was hit hardest, losing a total of twelve B-24s. During this first deployment of the storm groups, nine Fw 190 "Sturmbock" machines were shot down by the anti-aircraft fire of the US planes, five Luftwaffe pilots were killed and three others were forced to make emergency landings.
Rammjäger were the air ramming flyers of the German Reich Air Defense during the Second World War, who, as part of the Sonderkommando „Elbe“ from the turn of the year 1944/45, deliberately rammed enemy terrorist planes with their planes in order to prevent the bomb load from being dropped on German cities. The missions were not kamikaze missions, but the pilot saved himself shortly before the successful ramming by jumping with the parachute. In order to make the machines of the Rammverband or the "Sturmgruppe" of the Luftwaffe light and manoeuvrable, the entire interior was removed except for a machine gun. The guns, the armor around the driver's seat, the transmitter and others have been removed. Only a 13 mm machine gun (Maschinengewehr 131) with 50 to 60 rounds of ammunition remained. This was also done to extend the summit elevation to 10,000 m.
On 7 April 1945, 184 German pilots with converted Messerschmitt Bf 109s attacked a total of 1,300 American bombers (accompanied by 700 to 800 fighter planes as fighter protection) in order to bring them down in order to protect the homeland and the civilian population from the completely senseless terrorist bombardment at the risk of their own lives. The German ram hunters started from the Altmark air bases in Stendal, Salzwedel, Gardelegen, the Sachau airfield near Gardelegen, from Magdeburg and from Saxon airfields. A total of 23 enemy bombers were brought down by ramming by the daring ramming formation, another 28 bombers were shot down by Me 262s of Jagdgeschwader 7 "Nowotny".
During the dogfights over the Steinhuder Meer, 133 German fighter planes were destroyed, 40 of them by attempted or successful ramming. In violation of international law, most of the mostly young heroes were shot defenseless by the US invaders after they had jumped with their parachutes. The Sonderkommando was disbanded on 17 April 1945 and the fighter pilots were transferred to Berlin to fight as infantrymen against the Red Army.
- Luftwaffe Night Fighter Tactics – Wilde Sau
- The Best German Nightfighter | Junkers Ju 88 G
- Luftwaffe Night Fighters in Action January 1944 (HD Restored)
- German Night Flyers Bf 110
- Original Luftwaffe Radio Chatter 1944 / Nightfighter (rare audio history)
- On the night of 8/9 August 1941, Ludwig Becker and his radio operator (Bordfunker) Josef Staub, became the first Luftwaffe night fighter crew to intercept an enemy bomber using airborne radar. Flying Dornier Do 215 B-5 of 4. Staffel/NJG 1 "G9+OM" equipped with the FuG 202 Lichtenstein B/C radar, they tracked and claimed a Vickers Wellington bomber shot down. The aircraft shot down was Wellington T2625 GR-B which crashed near Bunde.
- Ju 88 C-6 flown by Heinrich Alexander Ludwig Peter Prinz zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, Geschwaderkommodore of the NJG 2
- The Focke-Wulf Ta 154 Moskito was a fast twin-engined German night fighter aircraft designed by Kurt Tank and produced by Focke-Wulf during late World War II. Only a few were produced.
- Original: „Wir verpflichten uns, getreu den Grundsätzen und Kampfregeln der Sturmgruppe in der Reichsverteidigung zu kämpfen. Wir wissen, daß wir als Flugzeugführer der Sturmgruppe in besonderer Weise dazu berufen sind, Leib und Leben unserer Bevölkerung in der Heimat zu schützen und bis aufs äußerste zu verteidigen. Wir geloben, bei jedem Einsatz, der zur Feindberührung mit viermotorigen Bombern führt, den Gegner aus nächster Entfernung anzugreifen und, falls der Abschuß durch Bordwaffenwirkung nicht gelingt, den Gegner durch Rammen zu vernichten.“