The Messerschmitt Me 410 Hornisse ("Hornet") was a German heavy fighter and bomber used by the Luftwaffe during World War II. Though essentially an incremental improvement of the Me 210, it had a new wing plan, longer fuselage, and engines of greater power. The changes were significant enough to be designated the Me 410.
Development of the Me 210 had been under way since 1939 but the aircraft proved extremely unstable and was never considered for full-scale production. Modifications to the layout produced the Me 210C and 210D, which proved somewhat superior. As studies progressed on the Me 210D, and with a separate parallel attempt to improve upon the 210 with the Messerschmitt Me 310 in the second half of 1943 — which provided almost no aerodynamic improvement over the 210's risky handling qualities — it was instead decided to introduce a "new" model, the Me 410.
The major change between the Me 210 and 410 was the introduction of the larger 44.5 litre and more powerful Daimler-Benz DB 603A engines, which increased power to 1,730 hp, compared to the 1,475 used on the Me 210C - the interim Me 310 design experiment actually used the DB 603 power plant choice first. The engine performance increased the Me 410's maximum speed to 388 mph, greatly improved rate of climb, service ceiling, and most notably the cruising speed, which jumped to 360 mph. It also improved payload capability to the point where the aircraft could lift more war load than could fit into the bomb bay under the nose. To address this, shackles were added under the wings for four 50 kg bombs. The changes added an extra 680 kg to the Me 210 design, but the extra engine power more than made up for the difference.
The new version included a lengthened fuselage and new, automatic leading edge slats, both of which had been tested on Me 210s and were found to dramatically improve handling. The slats had originally been featured on the earliest Me 210 models, but had been removed on production models due to poor handling. When entering a sharp turn, the slats had a tendency to open, due in part to the turn causing a drop in air pressure at the leading edge of the wings, analogous to the low pressure activation the slats were designed for in a slow landing approach (this problem was first observed on the Bf 109V14 and V15 prototypes for the Bf 109E), which added to the problems keeping the aircraft flying smoothly. However, when the problems with the general lateral instability were addressed, this was no longer a real problem.
The wing panels of the earlier Me 210 had been designed with a planform geometry that placed the aerodynamic centre in a rearwards direction in comparison to the earlier Bf 110, giving the outer sections of the wing planform beyond each engine nacelle a slightly greater, 12.6° leading edge sweepback angle than the inner panels' 6.0° leading edge sweep angle. This resulted in unreasonable handling characteristics in flight for the original Me 210 design. The new Me 410 outer wing panels had their planform geometry revised to bring the aerodynamic centre further forwards in comparison to the Me 210, thus making the leading edge sweepback of the outer panels identical to the inner wing panels with both having identical 5.5° sweepback angles, which improved handling.
Deliveries began in January 1943, two years late and continued until September 1944, by which point a total of 1,160 of all versions had been produced by Messerschmitt Augsburg and Dornier München. When it arrived, it was liked by its crews, even though its improved performance was not enough to protect it from the swarms of high performance Allied fighters they faced at this stage of the war.
The Me 410 night bomber proved to be an elusive target for the RAF night fighters. The first unit to operate over the UK was V./KG 2, which lost its first Me 410 on the night of 13–14 July 1943, when it was shot down by a de Havilland Mosquito of No. 85 Squadron RAF.
The Me 410’s were also moderately successful against unescorted bombers through 1943, with a considerable number of kills against USAAF day bomber formations being achieved. However, the Me 410 was no match in a dogfight with the lighter Allied single-engine fighters such as the North American P-51 Mustang and Supermarine Spitfire.
In early 1944, the Me 410 formations encountered swarms of Allied fighters protecting the bomber streams, usually flying far ahead of the combat box formations as an air supremacy move in clearing the skies of any Luftwaffe opposition, resulting in the Me 410's previous successes against escorted bombers now often being offset by their losses. This was starkly demonstrated on 6 March 1944 during an attack on Berlin by 750 8th AF heavy bombers, when 16 Me 410s were shot down in return for eight B-17s and four P-51s (which were destroyed by Bf 109 and Fw 190 fighters escorting the Me 410s). The following month on 11 April, with 8th AF raids hitting Sorau, Rostock and Oschersleben, II./ZG 26's Me 410s accounted for a rare clear success, initially bringing down 10 B-17s without any losses. During the course of the same raid, their second sortie was intercepted by P-51s that destroyed eight Me 410s and three Bf 110s. Sixteen crewmen were killed and three wounded.
From mid-1944, despite being Hitler's favourite bomber destroyer, the Me 410 units were taken from Defence of the Reich duties and production was phased out in favour of heavily armed single-engine fighters as dedicated bomber destroyers, with the Me 410s remaining in service flying on reconnaissance duties only. Some Me 410s were used with Junkers Ju 188s during the Battle of Normandy, for high-altitude night reconnaissance.
* Images shown are a guide and references only to show how the kit can be assembled allowing for modellers to add extra detail as required