Terrific Night Fighters
|An Owl night fighter.|
|A He.219 training aircraft demonstrating the ejection seat.|
|A captured He.219 A-5/R1 (2G).|
|Owls captured in Denmark.|
|Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum is in the process of restoring an Owl.|
Development accelerated during 1942, and the first flight occurred on 14 November of that year, another in December. Evaluations were conducted through March 1943 against the Dornier Do.217 and the Junkers Ju.188, and the Owl was proven to be in a class of its own. An initial production order of 100 aircraft was tripled because of the plane's success during evaluation. The first service version was the A-2 model.
Meanwhile, the air war was heating up, with the British launching their devastating 1000-bomber raid on Hamburg at the end of May 1943. Pilot Werner Strieb took an evaluation version of the Owl up a week later, on June 11-12, and shot down five bombers in half an hour. Further successes followed in quick order. The Owl, with its fantastic speed, proved particularly adept at eliminating the pesky de Havilland Mosquitos, which the British were using as pathfinders for the growing British bomber streams.
Ultimately, fewer than 300 of the Owls were delivered to the Luftwaffe. They ran into the RLM's halt of bomber production in May 1944 for some reason, so deliveries ceased prematurely. In addition, with the suicide of Hans Jeschonnek in August 1943, the Luftwaffe switched to a strategic orientation that caused it to lose focus on promising projects such as the Owl. However, equipped with FVG 27 radar, the Owls that entered service were extremely useful complements to the Bf.110 night fighter force.
As with other night fighters, Owls were outfitted with the deadly upward-sloping “Schräge Musik” (Jazz Music) cannon. Given their great speed, radar, and stealth, the Owls were incredibly destructive. Opponents would marvel that once they snuck into a British bomber stream, they could shoot down multiple bombers in one sortie with a little luck.
|Heinkel He 219A2 Uhu fighter, WNr 290013, May 1944.|