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Messerschmitt Me 210

The Messerschmitt Me 210 was a heavy fighter designed before the start of World War II to replace the Bf 110[?] in that role. The first examples of the Me 210 were ready in 1939 but they proved to have terrible handling. Remedying the 210's problems took so long that everyone involved in the project tried to distance themselves from it. An improved version was eventually ready four years later, but the 210 had garnered such a bad reputation that it was renamed the Me 410 to avoid disdain.

Messerschmitt designers had started working on an upgrade to the 110 in 1937, before the production version had even flown. Their resulting Me 210 was a straightforward cleanup of the 110 and used many of the same parts. The main differences were a modified nose area that was much shorter and located over the center of gravity, and an all-new wing designed for higher cruise speeds. In late 1938 the 110 was just entering service when the RLM also started looking for its replacement. Messerschmitt sent in their Me 210, and Arado[?] responded with their all-new Arado Ar 240[?].

On paper the 210 looked fantastic. It could reach 385mph on two 1,395hp Dailmer-Benz DB 601[?]F engines, making it about 50mph faster than the 110, and as fast as most single-engine fighters. It had a huge bomb-bay in the nose, which could hold up to 1000kg of bombs, or alternately up to six 20mm cannon. For defense it mounted clever remote-controlled guns in well-faired barbettes on the side of the plane, and the cockpit had a "bulged" canopy to allow the gunner to see (and aim) down and to the rear.

An order for 1,000 was placed even before the prototype had flown. In time this would prove to be unwise. The first prototype 210 flew with 601A engines in September 1939 and was considered unflyable. Stability was bad in turns, and it tended to "snake" even while flying level. This was likely a result of the largish nose and short tail stubby planes tend to have tricky handling. The plane also had terrible stalls, and with the nose up or in a turn the stalls whipped into spins when the leading-edge slats opened. V2 was lost this way the next September when the pilot could not get out of the resulting spin. The chief test pilot commented that the Me 210 had "all the least desirable attributes an aeroplane could possess."

The plane had to be heavily modified for flightworthiness. In the process they removed the 110-style twin rudders and replaced them with a larger single surface, and forced the slats to remain closed. Even then it continued to be unstable in turns, making it largely useless as a fighter. Nevertheless, the RLM was desperate to replace the 6,000 110's currently in service, and ordered full production in the spring of 1941.

Deliveries to front-line units started in April 1942 and the plane proved to be even less popular with pilots. Production was stopped at the end of the month, by which time only 90 had been delivered. Another 320 were simply left unfinished on the factory floor. In its place the 110 went back into production, now hopelessly outclassed even when equipped with the newer DB 605[?] engines.

After a complete detail redesign the plane re-emerged in 1943 as the Me 410 Hornisse (Hornet). The new version included a (somewhat obvious) lengthened fuselage and new leading-edge slats, both of which had been tested on 210s and had dramatically improved handling. It also included the new 1,750hp DB 603A engines, which drove it to 390mph and greatly improved climb and cruise speed (360mph) even though the new design added 1,500 lbs.

The 410 was the plane that the 210 should have been, and finally started deliveries in late 1943 over two years later than the original plan. When it arrived it was greatly liked by its crews, even though its improved performance was no longer enough to protect it from the swarms of high performance Allied fighters they faced. Why it took over two years to fix what should have been a fairly straightforward problem is something of a mystery.

The basic A-series planes were armed with two MG 17's and two MG 151's in the nose, and delivered as the Me 410A-1 light bomber, Me 410A-2 heavy fighter with additional cannons, and the Me 410A-3 reconnaissance version with cameras and extra fuel. Various U and R kits were available, one of the more common ones being a BK50 50mm cannon in the nose for bomber hunting. The Me 410B-series was largely the same, but replaced the MG 17's with MG 131's. Production was eventually cancelled to concentrate on Messerschmitt Me 109[?]G's in August 1944, after 1,160 410's had been built.



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