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Bf 110 vs Lancaster 1942-45
Bf 110 vs Lancaster 1942-45 Duel * 51
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by: Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]

Originally published on:

Bf 110 vs Lancaster 1942-45
Series & No.: Duel * 51
Author: Robert Forczyk
Artists: Jim Laurier, Gareth Hector
Pages: 80
Formats: Softcover; PDF; ePub
ISBN: 9781780963167

Osprey Publishing book Duel * 51 compares the nocturnal nemeses over Occupied Europe between 1942-45: Bf 110 vs Lancaster.

"The bomber will always get through!" That inter-war dicta shaped the air strategy of many countries between the world wars. In England, guided by Sir Authur Harris, the formula for subduing Nazi Germany was measured by bomb tonnage against Germans killed. Big bombers were a must and the four-engined Lancaster was developed from the 1936 specifications that birthed the two-engined Manchester. Bomber Command absorbed a third of English war spending and the Lancaster became the star of the service. Daylight attacks over Germany quickly convinced the RAF that bombers could not survive and night became Bomber Command's field of battle, in hopes of survival.

In Germany the twin-engine Bf 110 heavy fighter was pressed into service to combat the midnight menace. Working with ground controllers the Bf 110 originally sought the bombers with the "Mk.I eye ball" after being vectored from the ground. RAF losses increased, then skyrocketed when the Bf 110 received radar.

The night did not hide the mighty Lancaster and Bomber Command losses rivaled or exceeded the early daylight massacre of USAAF raids. The night became a "wizard's war" as both sides sought electronic means to do their job better while confounding the enemy. In the darkened cockpits the it became a war of individual combats once visual contact was made. At that point survival depended upon who first saw and fired.

Bf 110 vs Lancaster 1942-45 is brought to us through 80 pages in 11 chapters and sections:
    1. Introduction
    2. Chronology
    3. Design and Development
    4. Technical Specifications
    5. The Strategic Situation
    6. The Combatants
    7. Combat
    8. Statistics and Analysis
    9. Aftermath
    10. Further Reading
    11. Index

Within the constraints of the length of the book Dr. Forczyk provides an eye-opening amount of detail concerning design and development of the two aircraft. Particularly interesting as trivia and in context to the historian is the strategic cost in Pounds and Reich Marks of each aircraft, as well as man-hours required to get the birds into the sky. He also presents rare data - the amount of 100-octane fuel required by the Lancaster force. The author presents evidence backing his conclusion that the RAF Air Staff was technically illiterate in their desires for the Avro Type 683, which would morph into the Lancaster. Interestingly, the Bf 110 was a more focused design and better managed.

Technical oddities enrich the text. The Luftwaffe was notorious for designs of incredible genius yet pure absurdity. This book demonstrates the RAF was also not immune to some flights of fantasy. Catapult-launched heavy bombers designed to be multi-role combat aircraft!? Avro Chief Designer Roy Chadwich had his work cut out for him! Ultimately the success or failure of the aircraft rested upon the engines. Success or defeat in combat rested upon the electronics battle and countermeasures. German work to create C2 (Command & Control) to bring the Bf 110 close enough for the radar to work was critical. British equipment to find and bomb targets, plus disrupt the Germans was essential. Nachtjäger Bf 110s were hobbled by the need to stay close to their controllers, and lack of endurance.

Performance is explored and offers some incredible surprises, especially comparing the sweet flying Lancaster against the Bf 110G-4.

Equally important was the technology of firepower. Weapons and ammunition, and mounts for the guns are discussed. A Lancaster, even if it saw the Bf 110 in time, lacked decisive armament to defend itself.
    The first indication of the nightfighter's presence was a stream of tracer from below our aircraft, port quarter. The target was a Lancaster flying some 100ft higher than us, on the same heading as our aircraft and located approximately 50 yards off our port bow. In less than two seconds both wing tanks of the Lancaster were ablaze. The nightfighter was still not seen by our rear gunner. A second attack was made almost simultaneously by the nightfighter on a Lancaster that was also some 100ft above our altitude and on the same heading, but off our starboard bow, at a distance of approximately 50 yards. The fate of the second Lancaster was exactly the same — both wings ablaze. The sky was now like day.
Even when the .50 caliber heavy machine gun was available, it was rarely used. And the big Avro had a critical flaw that was only addressed by a couple hundred Lancaster II versions.

The author also explores the systems and thoroughness of selecting, training and equipping crews. Both sides could be proud of their elite men.

Combat is almost half the book. The author clearly describes the give and take of the Lancaster - Bf 110 duel from their first encounter in June 1942.
    Every pilot had his own method of attack. Mine was from directly behind so that I could put the tail gunner out of action to start with. I made sure I was in exactly the right position, at a range of about 50m, with at least the two outer engines in my gunsight. I gave it two bursts with my four cannons - a mixture of tracer and armour-piercing incendiary - all around the tail. The tail gunner must have been hit, for he never fired back. The tail began to burn and I think the ammunition for the tail turret exploded.
Each side endeavored to maintain the upper hand. Even when Bomber Command tactics and technology was able to confound the Nazis, it was only temporary. the slaughter of Lancasters was shocking. Dr. Forczyk frequently compared the number of Lancs built with the number destroyed, as well as mission loss rates. One telling bit of information is that the Germans found the Lancaster to be easier to destroy with less ammunition that the USAAF B-17 Flying Fortress. He raises the question of why "Bomber" Harris continued suicidal night missions even after the Allies had air superiority in the second half of 1944.

The book includes many quotes from pilots and crewmembers of both sides. Two pilots are profiled:
    I. John Dering Nettleton, Victoria Cross

    II. Martin Drewes, Ritterkreuz with Eichenlaub.

Thought provoking statistics and analysis revels surprising data that upset many long held concepts of the night bombing campaign.

The short chapter Aftermath is odd in that it is more of an editorial commentary instead of showing how lessons learned from the two weapon systems affected future combat aircraft and theories. Regardless, the author ends this Duel title with a conclusion that, while it may not bolster the reputation of the Bf 110, is bound to shake the legend of the Lancaster.

Photographs, artwork, graphics
The text is fortified with dozens of photographs, five of which are full color, four of which are from WWII. One is of a Lancaster assembly line. The images are mostly high quality: in focus, developed professionally. Many illustrate detail of components as delivered in the text.

What photographs lack is lavishly made up by artists Jim Laurier and Gareth Hector. Original full color art includes:
    1. Three-view of Lancaster B I R5868, "PO*Q", No. 83 Sqn, Scampton, 29 June 1942. This Lancaster survived 137 missions and now displayed in the RAF Museum.

    2. Three-view of Bf 110G-4 G9 WD, Gruppenkommandeur, III/NJG 1, March 1944. Fitted with FuG 220 Lichtenstein SN-2 radar and Schräge Musik upward-firing cannon.

    3. Bf 110G-4 Armament color cutaway.

    4. Lancaster Fields-Of-Fire

    5. Lancaster B I FN 20 Rear Turret keyed diagram.

    6. Rose turret with twin .50 caliber guns.

    7. Lancaster B I Cockpit with 55 keyed items.

    8. Bf 110G-4 Cockpit with 55 keyed items.

    9. Luftwaffe Manual Diagram: Schräge Musik arraignment.

    10. Engaging the Enemy. View from a FN 20 turret against and approaching Nachtjäger.

    11. Centerfold: Oberleutnant Wilhelm Seuss of 11./NJG 5 in a Bf 110G-4 destroys Lancaster ABC "SR-J" of Flt Sgt Clyde Harnish [RCAF] of No. 101 Sqn, 30/31 march 1944.

    a. Air Staff Specifications for bombers: Halifax; Hampden; Manchester; Stirling; Warwick; Wellington; Whitley by
    - Aircraft Ordered
    - Bomb Load
    - Cost per Aircraft
    - Date of Issue
    - Range.

    b. Bf 110G-4 and Lancaster B III Comparison Specifications

    c. Map: Lancaster bases; Bf 110 bases; Kammhuber Line radars; Bomber Command routes.

    d. Aircraft Production: Bf 110 & Lancaster by monthly and annual numbers, 1941-45.

    e. "Wizard war": chart detailing the relationships between Nachtjagd ground radars, control centers, tracking stations, controllers, and Bf 110 radars verses chaff and ECM Lancasters.

    f(1). Graph: Lancasters built vs lost, March 1942-May 1945.

    f(2). Graph: Bf 110 built vs lost, March 1942-November 1944.

Dr. Robert Forczyk presents an outstanding reference work of research and analysis. I have wondered about the ratio of aircraft lost to aircraft built and this book provides that. I caution that if you have a subjective connection with the Lancaster that this book may irk you.

For historians and researchers the book is full of facts and explanations, German terms and translations and abbreviations, plus erudite commentary. For modelers and artists the many excellent illustrations are valuable.

There really is not much to dislike about the book except for the chapter Aftermath.

This is a very welcomed title and I am highly enthusiastic about it. Easily recommended!

Please tell vendors and retailers that you saw this item here - on Aeroscale!
Highs: Outstanding reference work and research. Excellent artwork.
Lows: Tthe chapter Aftermath is more a commentary than critical exploration of lessons learned.
Verdict: For historians and researchers the book is full of facts and explanations, German terms and translations and abbreviations, plus erudite commentary. For modelers and artists the many excellent illustrations are valuable.
Percentage Rating
  Scale: N/A
  Mfg. ID: ISBN: 9781780963167
  Suggested Retail: $18.95 / £12.99
  Related Link: 
  PUBLISHED: Jul 12, 2013

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About Frederick Boucher (JPTRR)

I'm a professional pilot with a degree in art. My first model was an AMT semi dump truck. Then Monogram's Lunar Lander right after the lunar landing. Next, Revell's 1/32 Bf-109G...cried havoc and released the dogs of modeling! My interests--if built before 1900, or after 1955, then I proba...

Copyright ©2021 text by Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]. Images also by copyright holder unless otherwise noted. Opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of ModelGeek. All rights reserved.


Looks very interesting. Amazing how the Lancaster wasn't as heavily armed as it could of been. The Flying Fortress getting it's name from the array of .50 caliber machine guns positioned around the aircraft. Russell
JUL 14, 2013 - 02:14 PM
Sort of. It really was a numbers game. A lone B17 was very very likely to be shot down. A small group was very very likely to be attacked and lose members. The Lanc was heading out into Europe off the back of some very serious pasting by the Luftwaffe of small groups of RAF bombers and in smaller groups than the B17. The B17 and B24 groups were made large very quickly after early small groups were challenged.
JUL 14, 2013 - 09:22 PM
Yes Fred, you were right; this title did irk me for one...its all very well comparing the Lancaster versus the Bf 110 'dispassionately' and on the basis solely of the figures and stats; what Forzcyk does here is completely lose sight of the 'context', the background against which these two machines were deployed. For one thing this approach means that the Lancaster and its crews get little credit here for the destruction wrought on German industrial centres and related infrastructure. The fact that German armament production increased during 1944 is explained, Mr Forczyk, by the FANTASTIC resources devoted by the Germans to bunker building, civil defence, production dispersal, underground factories, massive deployment of foreign and slave labour (more than 650,000 Frenchmen alone went 'voluntarily' to work in German factories between 1942-44) and many other factors - not least the relative ineffectiveness of the USAAF's daylight bombing offensive - and not to any failure of Bomber Command's night offensive. The author produces statistics on the cost to the UK of producing a strategic bombing force which make interesting reading - his aim though is to show that the British invested almost as much in the Lancaster "program" as the US did in the atomic bomb project and seemingly got far less in return for their investment. He ignores the evidence that roughly 50% of Germany's entire war effort was devoted to DEFENDING against the RAF's strategic bombing campaign while British expenditure on strategic bombing was 12% of the UK's total war outlay - a decent enough return I'd have thought. And US Lend-Lease "meant that the British didn't have to produce landing craft or machine guns.. ". Maybe not, but simply put, Mr Forczyk, RAF Bomber Command were the much vaunted Second Front in Europe; even early on in the war large numbers of Germans - not just women and children - were manning anti-aircraft guns in German cities and constructing huge bunkers for civil defence. A considerable number of these could perhaps have been fighting soldiers at the front against the British in North Africa or against Stalin's Russia in front of Moscow. By the time the RAF launched it's first 1,000 bomber raid (May 1942, not 'late 1942') the city of Cologne had devoted nearly one hundred million RM to civil defence including bunker building. This was just one German city. See Zaloga in 'Defence of the Third Reich' (an Osprey "Fortress" title) for some figures. Hitler of course had ordered the 'Sofortprogram' of huge civil defence projects from the first raids on Berlin that took place in mid-1940. Difficult to describe the bombing of Germany as " ineffectual " in the context of the overall picture of German home defence and the FANTASTIC resources it tied up. Of course the author quotes the RAF's own 1942 Butt report which highlighted the difficulties of hitting individual factory targets from 4 miles up. Hence the campaign against the Ruhr district. For the British, 'Terror bombing' was the only offensive weapon available to Bomber Command in mid-1940 when British backs were to the wall. As usual American writers/historians tend to forget this. Nor do they tend to point out that the USAAF were just as eager to bomb the big German cities and especially Berlin as the RAF were and the USAAF tried any number of times to do just this from March 1944 when they felt sufficiently strong enough. The USAAF hid (hides) behind the pretense that collateral casualties were avoidable but the vaunted Norden sight was just as ineffectual above cloud cover. Having already demonstrated that Kammhuber's Himmelbett and the limited 'box' system for the night defence of Germany could be easily overwhelmed, Bomber Command comprehensively defeated & blinded the Nachtjagd over Hamburg in July 1943 - Forcyzk almost says this; his emphasis though is on the "40,000 civilians " that died - just how many of these were involved in Hamburg's U-Boat construction yards then Mr Forcyzk? In the context of this defeat of the German night fighter force it is perhaps not surprising that 'Bomber' Harris thought his heavy bomber squadrons could go on and finish the job. Even the Nazi hierarchy (men like Speer) thought they could too - not that Forcyzk says this. Rather bizarrely Forczyck ends his text by declaring that the resources devoted to the Lancaster could have been far better spent on another great British aircraft, the de Havilland Mosquito. The bomber offensive might not make much sense to author Forcyzk 70 years after the event but with German bombers over the UK almost nightly during the early part of the war was it really practical not to retaliate in kind and could Churchill seriously have remained PM until 1945 had he done nothing to take the war to Hitler's Germany ?
JUL 19, 2013 - 02:15 PM
Hi Neil, Great rebuttal with good contrasting facts. I am dubious of some of the author's conclusions, especially his idea that Mossies would have been a better investment for attacking Berlin than Lancs. Certainly amusing to think of putting a Tall Boy under a de Havilland! I don't think the author was discounting strategic bombing or RAF's only early option of night area bombing. He even prefaced the book that a Duel title of a heavy bomber verses a fighter is not a conventional competition between wing loadings and cockpit visibility. Rather, tactics, cost and purpose. In that regard I think he made a very strong point that a relatively few Nachtjagers almost defeated Bomber Command's premier offensive weapon system at night. Does FW 190 Sturmböcke vs B-17 include statistics of how many B-17s were lost in combat verse total built? I recall approx. 50% were lost to all causes but I won't swear to it. A fascinating book that the author sources is The Other Battle by Peter Hinchliffe. I read it years ago and was shocked at how bloody the night bomber offensive was. Thanks for the post!
JUL 21, 2013 - 01:41 PM

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