Night fighter

A night fighter (also known as all-weather fighter or all-weather interceptor for a period of time after World War II[1]) is a fighter aircraft adapted for use at night or in other times of bad visibility. Night fighters began to be used in World War I and included types that were specifically modified to operate at night.

During World War II, night fighters were either purpose-built night fighter designs, or more commonly, heavy fighters or light bombers adapted for the mission, often employing radar or other systems for providing some sort of detection capability in low visibility. Many WW II night fighters also included instrument landing systems for landing at night, as turning on the runway lights made runways into an easy target for opposing intruders. Some experiments tested the use of day fighters on night missions, but these tended to work only under very favorable circumstances and were not widely successful.

Avionics systems were greatly miniaturized over time, allowing the addition of radar altimeter, terrain-following radar, improved instrument landing system, microwave landing system, Doppler weather radar, LORAN receivers, GEE, TACAN, inertial navigation system, GPS, and GNSS in aircraft. The addition of greatly improved landing and navigation equipment combined with radar led to the use of the term all-weather fighter or all-weather fighter attack, depending on the aircraft capabilities. The use of the term night fighter gradually faded away as a result of these improvements making the vast majority of fighters capable of night operation.

FuG 220 and FuG 202 radar of Me 110 1945
The nose of a Lichtenstein radar-equipped Messerschmitt Bf 110G-4 night fighter


Bordpeilgerät Peil G 6
Luftwaffe instrument landing system indicator, built 1943

Early examples

At the start of World War I, 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.[2]

Things changed on 22 September and 8 October 1914, when the Royal Naval Air Service bombed the production line and hangars of the Zeppelin facilities in Cologne and Düsseldorf.[3] Although defences had been set up, all of them proved woefully inadequate. As early as 1915,[N 1] a number of B.E.2c aircraft (the infamous "Fokker Fodder") were modified into the first night fighters. After lack of success while using darts and small incendiary bombs to attack Zeppelins from above, ultimately a Lewis gun loaded with novel incendiary ammunition, was mounted at an angle of 45° to fire upwards, to attack the enemy from below. This technique proved to be very effective.[5]

After over a year of night Zeppelin raids, on the night of 2–3 September 1916, a BE2c flown by Captain William Leefe Robinson downed the SL 11, the first German airship to be shot down over Britain.[6] This action won the pilot a Victoria Cross and cash prizes totaling £3,500 put up by a number of individuals. This downing was not an isolated victory; five more German airships were similarly destroyed between October and December 1916, and caused the airship campaign to gradually be diminished over the next year with fewer raids mounted.[N 2][8]

Because of airships' limitations, the Luftstreitkräfte began to introduce long-range heavy bombers, starting with the Gotha G.IV aircraft that gradually took over the offensive. While their early daylight raids in May 1917 were able to easily evade the weak defenses of London, the strengthening of the home defence fighter force led to the Germans switching to night raids from 3 September 1917.[7] To counter night attacks, Sopwith Camel day fighters were deployed in the night fighter role. The Camels' Vickers guns were replaced by Lewis guns mounted over the wings, as the flash from the Vickers tended to dazzle the pilot when they were fired, and synchronised guns were considered unsafe for firing incendiary ammunition. Further modification led to the cockpit being moved rearwards. The modified aircraft were nicknamed the "Sopwith Comic".[9] To provide suitable equipment for Home Defence squadrons in the north of the UK, Avro 504K trainers were converted to night fighters by removing the front cockpit and mounting a Lewis gun on the top wing.[10]

Interwar period

With little money to spend on development, especially during the Great Depression, night-fighting techniques changed little until just prior to World War II.

In the meantime, aircraft performance had improved tremendously; compared to World War I versions, modern bombers could fly about twice as fast, at over twice the altitude, with much greater bomb loads. They flew fast enough that the time between detecting them and the bombers reaching their targets left little time to launch interceptors to shoot them down. Antiaircraft guns were similarly affected by the altitudes at which they flew, which required extremely large and heavy guns to attack them, which limited the number available to the point of being rendered impotent. At night, or with limited visibility, these problems were compounded. The widespread conclusion was that "the bomber will always get through", and the Royal Air Force invested almost all of their efforts in developing a night bomber force, with the Central Flying School responsible for one of the most important developments in the period by introducing "blind flying" training.[11]

The Spanish Republican Air Force used some Polikarpov I-15s as night fighters. Pilot José Falcó had equipped his fighter with a radio receiver for land-based guidance for interception. One of the I-15s configured for night operations, fitted with tracer and explosive .30 rounds, scored a daylight double victory against Bf 109s in the closing stages of the war.[12]

Nevertheless, some new technologies appeared to offer potential ways to improve night-fighting capability. 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 17Z night fighters of the Luftwaffe. These were often also fitted with a large IR searchlight to improve the amount of light being returned.[13]

Immediately prior to the opening of the war, radar was introduced operationally for the first time. Initially, these systems were unwieldy, and development of IR systems continued. Realizing that radar was a far more practical solution to the problem, Robert Watson-Watt handed the task of developing a radar suitable for aircraft use to 'Taffy' Bowen in the mid-1930s. In September 1937, he gave a working demonstration of the concept when a test aircraft was able to detect three Home Fleet capital ships in the North Sea in bad weather.[14]

The promising implications of the test were not lost on planners, who reorganized radar efforts and gave them increased priority. This led to efforts to develop an operational unit for airborne interception (AI). The size of these early AI radars required a large aircraft to lift them, and their complex controls required a multiperson crew to operate them. This naturally led to the use of light bombers as the preferred platform for airborne radars, and in May 1939, the first experimental flight took place, on a Fairey Battle.[15]

World War II

De Havilland Mosquitoat night takeoff
A de Havilland Mosquito night fighter, with centimetric radar in nose radome

The war opened on 1 September 1939, and by this time, the RAF were well advanced with plans to build a radar – then called 'RDF' in Britain – equipped night-fighter fleet. The Airborne Interception Mk. II radar (AI Mk. II) was well on its way to becoming operational, and the Bristol Blenheim was increasingly available for fitting. The first prototype system went into service in November 1939, long before the opening of major British operations. Several improved versions followed, and by the time the Blitz opened in August 1940, the AI Mk.IV was available, offering greatly improved performance with a range between 20,000 and 400 feet, and installation had begun in July 1940. This greatly reduced the load on the Chain Home ground-controlled interception component of the night-fighter system, who only had to get the fighter within four miles before the fighter's radar would be able to let them take over during the attack. Due to the relatively low performance of the Blenheim (a converted bomber) the British experimented with using RDF-equipped Douglas Havoc bombers converted to carry a searchlight, illuminating the enemy aircraft for accompanying Hurricane single-engine fighters to shoot down. Known as the Turbinlite, the idea was not a success, and in time, both the Blenheim and the Turbinlite were replaced, first by night fighter versions of the Beaufighter and then by the even higher-performing de Havilland Mosquito, which would later accompany the bomber stream on raids over Germany. In this role, support was provided by No. 100 Group RAF with Mosquitos fitted with an assortment of devices, such as Perfectos and Serrate, for homing-in on German night fighters.[16] The British also experimented with mounting pilot-operated AI Mark 6 radar sets in single-seat fighters, and the Hurricane II C(NF), a dozen of which were produced in 1942, became the first radar-equipped, single-seat night fighter in the world. It served with 245 and 247 Squadrons briefly and unsuccessfully before being sent to India to 176 Squadron, with which it served until the end of 1943.[17][18] A similarly radar-equipped Hawker Typhoon was also produced, but no production followed.

German airborne interception radar efforts at this point were about two years behind the British. 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.[19]

At the urging of R.V. Jones, the RAF changed their raid tactics to gather all of their bombers into a single "stream". This meant that the ground-based portion of the system was overwhelmed; with only one or two searchlights or radars available per "cell", the system was able to handle perhaps six interceptions per hour. By flying all of the bombers over a cell in a short period, the vast majority of the bombers flew right over them without ever having been plotted, let alone attacked. German success against the RAF plummeted, reaching a nadir on 30/31 May 1942, when the first 1,000-bomber raid attacked Cologne, losing only four aircraft to German night fighters.[20]

Junkers Ju 88 RAF Hendon
The Ju 88R-1 night fighter captured by the RAF in April 1943
ME-110G-2 at RAF Hendon
A restored Bf 110G night fighter with the VHF-band SN-2 radar antennae

In 1942, the Germans first started deploying the initial B/C low UHF-band version of the Lichtenstein radar, and in extremely limited numbers, using a 32-dipole element Matratze (mattress) antenna array. This late date, and slow introduction, combined with the capture of a Ju 88R-1 night fighter equipped with it in April 1943 when flown to RAF Dyce, Scotland, by a defecting Luftwaffe crew, allowed British radio engineers to develop jamming equipment to counter it. A race developed with the Germans attempting to introduce new sets and the British attempting to jam them. The early Lichtenstein B/C was replaced by the similar UHF-band Lichtenstein C-1, but when the German night fighter defected and landed in Scotland in April 1943, that radar was quickly jammed. The low VHF-band SN-2 unit that replaced the C-1 remained relatively secure until July 1944, but only at the cost of using huge, eight-dipole element Hirschgeweih (stag's antlers) antennae that slowed their fighters as much as 25 mph, making them easy prey for British night fighters that had turned to the offensive role. The capture in July 1944 of a Ju 88G-1 night fighter of NJG 2 equipped with an SN-2 Lichtenstein set, flown by mistake into RAF Woodbridge, revealed the secrets of the later, longer-wavelength replacement for the earlier B/C and C-1 sets.[21]

The Luftwaffe also used single-engined aircraft in the night-fighter role, starting in 1939 with the Arado Ar 68 and early Messerschmitt Bf 109 models, which they later referred to as Wilde Sau (wild boar). In this case, the fighters, typically Focke-Wulf Fw 190s, were equipped only with a direction finder and landing lights to allow them to return to base at night. For the fighter to find their targets, other aircraft, which were guided from the ground, would drop strings of flares in front of the bombers. In other cases, the burning cities below provided enough light to see their targets.[22] Messerschmitt Bf 109G variants had G6N and similar models fitted with FuG 350 Naxos "Z" radar receivers for homing in on the 3-gigahertz band H2S emissions of RAF bombers — the April 1944 combat debut of the American-designed H2X bomb-aiming radar, operating at a higher 10 GHz frequency for both RAF Pathfinder Mosquitos and USAAF B-24 Liberators that premiered their use over Europe, deployed a bombing radar that could not be detected by the German Naxos equipment. The Bf 109G series aircraft fitted with the Naxos radar detectors also were fitted with the low- to mid-VHF band FuG 217/218 Neptun active search radars, as were Focke-Wulf Fw 190 A-6/R11 aircraft: these served as radar-equipped night-fighters with NJGr 10 and NJG 11. A sole Fw 190 A-6 Wk.Nr.550214 fitted with FuG 217 is a rare survivor.[23]

The effective Schräge Musik [N 3] offensive armament fitment was the German name given to installations of upward-firing autocannon mounted in large, twin-engined night fighters by the Luftwaffe and both the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service and Imperial Japanese Army Air Service during World War II, with the first victories for the Luftwaffe and IJNAS each occurring in May 1943. This innovation allowed the night fighters to approach and attack bombers from below, where they were outside the bomber crew's field of view. Few bombers of that era carried defensive guns in the ventral position. An attack by a Schräge Musik-equipped fighter was typically a complete surprise to the bomber crew, who would only realize that a fighter was close by when they came under fire. Particularly in the initial stage of operational use until early 1944, the sudden fire from below was often attributed to ground fire rather than a fighter.[24]

419th Night Fighter Squadron P-61A-1-NO Black Widow - 42-5508
A wartime P-61A in flight

Rather than nighttime raids, the US Army Air Forces were dedicated to daytime bombing over Germany and Axis allies, that statistically were much more effective.[25] The British night-bombing raids showed a success rate of only one out of 100 targets successfully hit.[26] At the urging of the British, who were looking to purchase US-made aircraft, US day fighters were initially adapted to a night role, including the Douglas P-70 and later Lockheed P-38M "Night Lightning". The only purpose-built night fighter design deployed during the war, the American Northrop P-61 Black Widow was introduced first in Europe and then saw action in the Pacific, but it was given such a low priority that the British had ample supplies of their own designs by the time it was ready for production. The first USAAF unit using the P-61 did not move to Britain until February 1944; operational use did not start until the summer, and was limited throughout the war. Colonel Winston Kratz, director of night-fighter training in the USAAF, considered the P-61 as adequate in its role, "It was a good night fighter. It did not have enough speed".[27]

The U.S. Navy was forced into the night-fighting role when Japanese aircraft successfully harassed their units on night raids. The Japanese Navy had long screened new recruits for exceptional night vision, using the best on their ships and aircraft instead of developing new equipment for this role. To counter these raids, the Navy fitted microwave-band, compact radar sets to the wings of its single-engined Grumman F6F Hellcat and Vought F4U Corsair fighters by the close of the war, operating them successfully in the Pacific.[N 4] In several cases these aircraft were used on raids of their own.[29]


Even while the war raged, the jet engine so seriously upset aircraft design that the need for dedicated jet-powered night fighters became clear. Both the British and Germans spent some effort on the topic, but as the Germans were on the defensive, their work was given a much higher priority. Their Messerschmitt Me 262 was adapted to the role and Oberleutnant Kurt Welter claimed 25 Mosquitos at night.

Other forces did not have the pressing need to move to the jet engine; Britain and the US were facing enemies with aircraft of even lower performance than their existing night fighters. However, the need for new designs was evident, and some low-level work started in the closing stages of the war, including the US contract for the Northrop F-89 Scorpion. When the Soviet plans to build an atomic bomb became known in the west in 1948, this project was still long from being ready to produce even a prototype, and in March 1949, they started development of the North American F-86D Sabre and Lockheed F-94 Starfire as stop-gap measures. All of them entered service around the same time in the early 1950s. In the Korean War, after Starfires proved ineffective, Marine Corps Douglas F3D Skyknights shot down six aircraft, including five Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15s without loss, as the MiG-15s lacked radar to shoot down individual fighters, though they were effective against bomber formations at night.

The RAF began studies into new fighter designs in the immediate postwar era, but gave these projects relatively low priority. By the time of the Soviet bomb test, the night-fighter design was still strictly a paper project, and the existing Mosquito fleet was generally unable to successfully intercept the Tupolev Tu-4 bomber it was expected to face. This led to rushed programs to introduce new, interim night-fighter designs, leading to night-fighter versions of their Gloster Meteor in 1951, along with a similar conversion of the de Havilland Vampire. These were followed by the de Havilland Venom in 1953 and then Navy's de Havilland Sea Venom. The advanced night-fighter design was eventually introduced in 1956 as the Gloster Javelin, by this time essentially outdated. In Canada, Avro Canada introduced the CF-100 Canuck, which entered service in 1952.

Night fighters existed as a separate class into the 1960s. As aircraft grew in capability, radar-equipped interceptors could take on the role of night fighters and the class went into decline. Examples of these latter-day interceptor/night-fighters include the Avro Arrow, Convair F-106 Delta Dart, and English Electric Lightning.

At the time the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II was offered to the Navy, the Vought F-8 Crusader had already been accepted as a "day" dogfighter, while the subsonic McDonnell F3H Demon was the Navy's all-weather fighter. The Phantom was developed as the Navy's first supersonic, all-weather, radar-equipped fighter armed with radar-guided missiles. However, compared to early air-superiority designs such as the F-100 or F-8, the massive Phantom, nevertheless, had enough raw twin-J79 power to prove adaptable as the preferred platform for tangling with agile MiG-17 and MiG-21 fighters over the skies of Vietnam, as well as replacing the US Air Force Convair F-102 Delta Dagger and Convair F-106 Delta Dart for continental interception duties and the Republic F-105 Thunderchief as a medium fighter-bomber. The need for close-in dogfighting spelled the end for the specialized Grumman F-111B, which was armed only with long-range AIM-54 Phoenix missiles for fleet defense against bombers. The Navy instead developed the Grumman F-14 Tomcat, which on top of the heavy Phoenix, retained the Phantom's versatility and improved agility for dogfighting. The McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle was also an interceptor with enhanced agility, but did not carry the Phoenix in preference to the role of an air-superiority fighter.

The reduced size and costs of avionics have allowed even smaller modern fighters to have night-interception capability. In the US Air Force's lightweight fighter program, the F-16 was originally envisaged as inexpensive day fighter, but quickly converted to an all-weather role. The similar McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet in its CF-18 variant for the RCAF, was ordered with a 0.6 Mcd night-identification light to enhance its night-interception capabilities.

World War I

World War II





Soviet Union

United Kingdom

United States


  • Mureaux 114/CN2
  • Morane-Saulnier M.S. 408/CN
  • Potez 631 C3/N

Post war


United Kingdom

United States

See also



  1. ^ "October 13th 1915... [Second Lieutenant John Slessor] lifted his BE2c into the blackness to search for the intruder."[4]
  2. ^ By 1918, only four Zeppelin raids against London were mounted.[7]
  3. ^ Schräge Musik was derived from the German colloquialism for "Jazz Music" (the German word "schräg" literally means "slanted" or "oblique"; it also has a secondary meaning of "weird", "strange", "off-key", or "abnormal" as in the English "queer")
  4. ^ The Hellcat proved to be the best single-engined night fighter deployed in World War II.[28]


  1. ^ Winchester 2006, p. 184.
  2. ^ Cooper, Ralph, Jean-Claude Cailliez and Gian Picco. "Alfred Comte 1895–1965.", 19 November 2005. Retrieved: 15 April 2011.
  3. ^ Madison, Rodney. "Air Warfare, Strategic Bombing". The Encyclopedia of World War I: A Political, Social and Military History, Volume 1, Spencer C. Tucker, ed. (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2005), pp. 45–46.
  4. ^ Evans 1996, pp. 3–4.
  5. ^ Gunston 1976, p. 27.
  6. ^ Knell 2003, pp. 109–111.
  7. ^ a b Gray and Thetford 1962, p. 130.
  8. ^ Unikoski, Ari. "The War in the Air: Bombers: Germany, Zeppelins.", 22 August 2009. Retrieved: 13 April 2011.
  9. ^ Bruce 1968, p. 151.
  10. ^ Bruce 1965, pp. 35–36.
  11. ^ Robinson 1988, p. 24.
  12. ^ Lázaro, Carlos. "Los chatos noctumos" (in Spanish) Adar. Retrieved: 4 August 2013.
  13. ^ Henini and Razeghi 2002, p. 128.
  14. ^ Robinson 1988, p. 34.
  15. ^ Robinson 1988, p. 28.
  16. ^ Rawnsley and Wright 1998, p. 151.
  17. ^ Marchant 1996
  18. ^ Thomas 1996
  19. ^ Robinson 1988, p. 68.
  20. ^ Jones 1978, pp. Preface, p. 500.
  21. ^ Price 2006, p. 67.
  22. ^ Scutts and Weal 1998, pp. 46–47.
  23. ^ Ledwoch and Skupiewski 1994
  24. ^ Wilson 2008, p. 3.
  25. ^ Currie 1999, p. 11.
  26. ^ Heaton and Lewis 2008
  27. ^ Pape 1992, p. 208.
  28. ^ Gunston 1976, p. 184.
  29. ^ Gunston 1976, pp. 112, 183–184.


  • Bruce, J.M. War Planes of the First World War: Volume One: Fighters. London: Macdonald, 1965.
  • Bruce, J.M. War Planes of the First World War: Volume Two: Fighters. London: Macdonald, 1968. ISBN 0-356-01473-8.
  • Currie, Jack. Battle Under the Moon. London: Crecy Publishers, 1999. ISBN 978-0-85979-109-0.
  • Evans, J. The Dragon Slayers. Chesham, UK: Steemrok Publishing Services, 1996. No ISBN.
  • Gray, Peter and Owen Thetford. German Aircraft of the First World War. London: Putnam, 1961.
  • Guerlac, Henry E. Radar in World War II. Los Angeles: Tomash, 1987. ISBN 978-0-7503-0659-1.
  • Gunston, Bill. Night Fighters: A Development and Combat History. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1976. ISBN 978-0-7509-3410-7.
  • Haulman, Daniel L. and William C. Stancik, eds. Air Force Victory Credits: World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama: USAF Historical Research Center, 1988.
  • Heaton, Colin and Anne-Marie Lewis. Night Fighters: Luftwaffe and RAF Air Combat over Europe, 1939–1945. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 2008. ISBN 978-1-59114-360-4.
  • Henini, Mohamed and M. Razeghi. Handbook of Infrared Detection Technologies. Rio de Janeiro: Elsevier Science, 2002. ISBN 978-1-85617-388-9.
  • Johnsen, Frederick A. Darkly Dangerous: The Northrop P-61 Black Widow Night Fighter. Tacoma, Washington: Bomber Books, 1981. OCLC 11043715.
  • Jones, Reginald Victor. The Wizard War: British Scientific Intelligence, 1939–1945. New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1978. ISBN 978-0-698-10896-7.
  • Knell, Hermann. To Destroy a City: Strategic Bombing and its Human Consequences in World War II. New York: Da Capo Press, 2003. ISBN 0-306-81169-3.
  • Ledwoch, Janusz and Adam Skupiewski. Messerschmitt Me.109 Cz.2. Gdansk, Poland: AJ Press Monografie Lotnicze, 1994. ISBN 83-86208-02-3.
  • Marchant, David J. Rise from the East: The story of 247 (China British) Squadron Royal Air Force. Tonbridge, Kent, UK: Air Britain (Historians) Ltd., 1996. ISBN 0-85130-244-0.
  • Maurer, Maurer. Combat Squadrons of the Air Force, World War II (Perennial Works in Sociology). Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama: USAF Historical Division, 1982. ISBN 978-0-405-12194-4.
  • McEwen, Charles McEwen Jr. 422nd Night Fighter Squadron. Birmingham, Alabama: 422nd Night Fighter Squadron Association, 1982. ISBN 0-89201-092-4.
  • McFarland, Stephen L. Conquering the Night: Army Air Forces Night Fighters at War. Washington, DC: Air Force History and Museums Program, 1997. ISBN 0-16-049672-1.
  • Pape, Garry R. and Ronald C. Harrison. Queen of the Midnight Skies: The Story of America’s Air Force Night Fighters. West Chester, Pennsylvania: Schiffer, 1992. ISBN 978-0-88740-415-3.
  • Pilot’s Manual for Northrop P-61 Black Widow. Appleton, Wisconsin: Aviation Publications, 1977.
  • Price, Alfred. Instruments of Darkness: The History of Electronic Warfare, 1939–1945. London: Greenhill Books, 2006, First edition 1978. ISBN 978-1-85367-616-1.
  • Rawnsley, C.F. and Robert Wright. Night Fighter. London: Ballantine Books, 1998, First edition 1957. ISBN 978-0-907579-67-0.
  • Robinson, Anthony. Nightfighter: A Concise History of Nightfighting since 1914. Shepperton, Surrey, UK: Ian Allan, 1988. ISBN 0-7607-7957-0.
  • Sargent, Frederic O. Night Fighters: An Unofficial History of the 415th Night Fighter Squadron. Madison, Wisconsin: Sargent, 1946.
  • Scutts, Jerry and John Weal. German Night Fighter Aces of World War 2 (Osprey Aircraft of the Aces #20). Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing, 1998. ISBN 978-1-85532-696-5.
  • Smith, J.R. Night Fighter: A First-hand Account of a P-61 Radar Observer in World War II China. Rome, Georgia: Family of James R. Smith, 2004.
  • Thomas, Andrew. India's Night Guardians. Aviation News, 30 October – 12 November 1996, pp. 550–554.
  • White, E.G., OBE. Nightfighter Navigator: Recollections of Service in the RAF, Compiled from Flying Log Books and Personal Records. London: V.P. White, 2004. ISBN 978-1-871330-08-3.
  • Wilson, Kevin. Men Of Air: The Doomed Youth Of Bomber Command (Bomber War Trilogy 2). London: Phoenix, 2008. ISBN 978-0-7538-2398-9.
  • Winchester, Jim. Fighter: The World's Finest Combat Aircraft – 1913 to the Present Day. New York: Barnes & Noble Publishing, Inc. and Parragon Publishing, 2006. ISBN 0-7607-7957-0.

Further reading

External links

414th Combat Training Squadron

The 414th Combat Training Squadron is a United States Air Force unit assigned to the 57th Wing at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. The 414th is a non-flying organization charged with hosting Red Flag exercises, Air Combat Command's largest Large Force Exercise (LFE).

The unit was originally formed as the 414th Night Fighter Squadron in 1943. After training, it was deployed to Twelfth Air Force during the North African Campaign to provide air defense interceptor protection against Luftwaffe night air raids. It later operated in Sardinia, Corsica, Italy, plus a detachment served in Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge. It returned to the United States and was inactivated in 1947.

It was reactivated as the 414th Fighter Weapons Squadron at Nellis in 1969, serving in that role until inactivated in 1983. It was activated again at Nellis in 1991 as the 414th composite Training Squadron. In 2005, it became a non-flying squadron managing Red Flag exercises.

415th Special Operations Squadron

The 415th Special Operations Squadron is a United States Air Force unit. It is assigned to the 58th Operations Group at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico.

The 415th Night Fighter Squadron was formed in February 1943, and it carried out missions in the Mediterranean Theatre of Operations, and then in Northwestern Europe during World War II. It was inactivated in 1947, with its personnel and aircraft being transferred to another squadron.

Reactivated in 2011, the squadron replaced the 58th Special Operations Wing, Detachment 1. Its mission is to train special operations personnel operating both the HC-130J Combat King II and the MC-130J Commando II.

417th Weapons Squadron

The 417th Weapons Squadron is an inactive United States Air Force unit. Its last assignment was with the USAF Weapons School at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, where it was inactivated on 14 September 2006.

The squadron was originally activated as the 417th Night Fighter Squadron in 1943. During World War II, the squadron saw action in the European theater, flying both the British Bristol Beaufighter and Northrop P-61 Black Widow night fighters.

In 1966 the unit transitioned to the McDonnell F-4 Phantom II as the 417th Tactical Fighter Squadron and was engaged in combat during the Vietnam War, being part of two combat deployments. In 1989 as the 417th Tactical Fighter Training Squadron at the Tonopah Test Range in Nevada, it was responsible for the replacement training of new Lockheed F-117A Nighthawk stealth fighter pilots.

418th Tactical Fighter Training Squadron

The 418th Tactical Fighter Training Squadron is an inactive United States Air Force unit. Its last assignment was with the 58th Tactical Fighter Training Wing, being inactivated at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona on 1 October 1976.

The unit was originally formed as the 418th Night Fighter Squadron in 1943. After training, it was deployed to Fifth Air Force and ordered to New Guinea to provide air defense interceptor protection against Japanese night air raids on USAAF airfields. It later served in the Philippines Campaign where in addition to night interceptor missions it also flew day and night interdiction missions against enemy troop movements, bridges and other targets of opportunity. It later served in Occupied Japan and Okinawa where it was inactivated in 1947.

During the Cold War, the squadron was briefly activated in the Philippines in 1958, then became an F-104 Starfighter training unit for the West German Air Force at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona in the early 1970s.

422d Test and Evaluation Squadron

The 422d Test and Evaluation Squadron (422 TES) is a United States Air Force unit. It is assigned to the 53d Test and Evaluation Group, stationed at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. The squadron performs operational testing of all fighter aircraft and munitions entering and in operational use by Air Combat Command.

The unit was originally formed as the 422d Night Fighter Squadron in 1943. After training in the United States, it was deployed to Ninth Air Force in England in the spring of 1944, prior to the D-Day landings in France. During the run-up to D-Day, the squadron trained with Royal Air Force night fighter units against Luftwaffe raiders who intruded the night skies over England. It was the first American squadron in England equipped with the Northrop P-61 Black Widow night fighter. After the landings in France, the mission of the squadron became the air defense of Allied liberated territory. During the Battle of the Bulge, it also flew day and night interdiction missions against enemy troop movements, bridges and other targets of opportunity. It was inactivated shortly after the war in Europe ended.

In 1969, the squadron was reactivated at Nellis Air Force Base by Tactical Air Command to provide combat evaluation and operational testing of new USAF aircraft entering the inventory after developmental testing was completed at Edwards Air Force Base.

425th Fighter Squadron

The 425th Fighter Squadron is part of the 56th Operations Group at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona. It operates the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft conducting advanced fighter training for Republic of Singapore Air Force F-16 pilots.

The unit was originally formed as the 425th Night Fighter Squadron in 1943. After training in the United States, it was deployed to Ninth Air Force in England in the spring of 1944, prior to the D-Day landings in France. During the run-up to D-Day, the squadron trained with Royal Air Force night fighter units against Luftwaffe raiders who intruded the night skies over England. After the landings in France, the mission of the squadron became the air defense of Allied liberated territory. During the Battle of the Bulge, it also flew day and night interdiction missions against enemy troop movements, bridges and other targets of opportunity. It was inactivated in 1947.

The squadron was re-activated in 1969 as a Northrop F-5 Freedom Fighter training squadron for Republic of Vietnam Air Force pilots for transition training. After the end of United States involvement in the Vietnam War, it continued performed training of pilots from friendly nations who purchased the Northrop F-5E Tiger II as part of the United States Foreign Military Sales program. It was inactivated in 1989 when sales of the F-5 were ended.

426th Tactical Fighter Training Squadron

The 426th Tactical Fighter Training Squadron is an inactive United States Air Force fighter squadron. Its last assignment was with the 405th Tactical Training Wing, being inactivated at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, on 19 November 1990.

During World War II, the 426th Night Fighter Squadron was a night fighter squadron assigned to Tenth Air Force in India, and Fourteenth Air Force in China. It was reactivated in 1970 as a tactical fighter Replacement Training Unit (RTU) At Luke AFB.

427th Special Operations Squadron

The 427th Special Operations Squadron (427th SOS) is a specialized, covert unit of the United States Air Force. After reporter Andreas Parsch filed a Freedom of Information Act request, the Air Force told him the unit "support[s] training requirements … for infiltration and exfiltration." That is, it prepares troops for secretly slipping into and out of dangerous territory. The squadron is not listed by the Air Force Historical Research Agency. It is reported by the press to be stationed at Pope Field, North Carolina.The squadron was originally formed during World War II as the 427th Night Fighter Squadron. Its planned mission to defend United States Army Air Forces bases in the Soviet Union was cancelled when the Soviets did not allow the unit to be based in Ukraine SSR during the Operation Frantic shuttle bombing missions that took place in 1944. It later served in Italy, India, Southern China and Burma as a P-61 Black Widow night fighter interceptor squadron.

The squadron was re-activated during the Vietnam War to train Republic of Vietnam Air Force pilots in using the Cessna A-37 Dragonfly in counter-insurgency operations. Its most recent activation may involve counter-insurgency and counter-terrorist operations as part of Air Force Special Operations Command.

547th Intelligence Squadron

The 547th Intelligence Squadron is an active United States Air Force (USAF) unit. It is assigned to the 365th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Group, stationed at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. The squadron serves as the USAFs center for adversary tactics analysis; develops intelligence threat training programs; defines potential threats to the US, provides intelligence support to Air Combat Command's test and evaluation programs and live-fly exercises.

The unit was originally formed as the 547th Night Fighter Squadron in 1944. After training, it was deployed to Fifth Air Force and ordered to New Guinea to provide air defense interceptor protection against Japanese night air raids on Army Air Forces airfields. It later served in the Philippines Campaign where in addition to night interceptor missions it also flew day and night interdiction missions against enemy troop movements, bridges and other targets of opportunity. It later served in Okinawa and Occupied Japan and where it was inactivated in 1946.

The squadron was reactivated during the Vietnam War as a training unit of the 1st Special Operations Wing, providing training in unconventional warfare, counter-insurgency, psychological warfare, and civic actions. It began its current mission in 1991 assuming the activities of the 4513th Adversary Threat Training Group.

915th Air Refueling Squadron

The 915th Air Refueling Squadron is an inactive United States Air Force unit. It was last assigned to the 72d Bombardment Wing at Ramey Air Force Base, Puerto Rico where it was inactivated on 30 June 1971 when the Air Force transferred Ramey to Military Airlift Command.

The squadron was first activated as the 15th Bombardment Squadron in 1940. When the United States entered World War II it engaged in antisubmarine patrols off the Atlantic coast. It was designated the 1st Pursuit Squadron (Night Fighter) and shipped to the European theater to be trained with Royal Air Force Turbinlite fighters, but development of those aircraft terminated and the squadron returned to its original designation. It participated in the first Army Air Forces attack on Occupied Europe before moving to North Africa, where it was disbanded on 1 October 1943.

In 1958 the 915th Air Refueling Squadron was activated and assigned to the 72d Bombardment Wing when the wing converted from Convair B-36 Peacemaker to Boeing B-52 Stratofortress bombers. Until it was inactivated in 1971, its crews stood alert and deployed aircraft to support various contingency operations.

The two squadrons were consolidated into a single unit in 1985 but remained in inactive status.

Bristol Beaufighter

The Bristol Type 156 Beaufighter (often called the Beau) is a multi-role aircraft developed during the Second World War by the Bristol Aeroplane Company in the UK. It was originally conceived as a heavy fighter variant of the Bristol Beaufort torpedo bomber. The Beaufighter proved to be an effective night fighter, which came into service with the Royal Air Force (RAF) during the Battle of Britain, its large size allowing it to carry heavy armament and early airborne interception radar without major performance penalties.

The Beaufighter was used in many roles; receiving the nicknames Rockbeau for its use as a rocket-armed ground attack aircraft and Torbeau as a torpedo bomber against Axis shipping, in which it replaced the Beaufort. In later operations, it served mainly as a maritime strike/ground attack aircraft, RAF Coastal Command having operated the largest number of Beaufighters amongst all other commands at one point. The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) also made extensive use of the type as an anti-shipping aircraft, such as during the Battle of the Bismarck Sea.

The Beaufighter saw extensive service during the war with the RAF (59 squadrons), Fleet Air Arm (15 squadrons), RAAF (seven squadrons), Royal Canadian Air Force (four squadrons), United States Army Air Forces (four squadrons), Royal New Zealand Air Force (two squadrons), South African Air Force (two squadrons) and Polskie Siły Powietrzne (Free Polish Air Force; one squadron). Variants of the Beaufighter were manufactured in Australia by the Department of Aircraft Production (DAP); such aircraft are sometimes referred to by the name DAP Beaufighter.

Douglas A-20 Havoc

The Douglas A-20 Havoc (company designation DB-7) is an American medium bomber, attack aircraft, night intruder, night fighter, and reconnaissance aircraft of World War II.

It served with several Allied air forces, principally the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF), the Soviet Air Forces (VVS), Soviet Naval Aviation (AVMF), and the Royal Air Force (RAF) of the United Kingdom. A total of 7,478 aircraft were built, of which more than a third served with Soviet units.

It was also used by the air forces of Australia, South Africa, France, and the Netherlands during the war, and by Brazil afterwards.In most British Commonwealth air forces, the bomber variants were named Boston, while the night fighter and intruder variants were named Havoc. The exception was the Royal Australian Air Force, which used the name Boston for all variants. The USAAF used the P-70 designation to refer to the night fighter variants.

List of German World War II night fighter aces

A flying ace or fighter ace is a military aviator credited with shooting down five or more enemy aircraft during aerial combat. German day and night fighter pilots claimed roughly 70,000 aerial victories during World War II, 25,000 over British or American and 45,000 over Soviet flown aircraft. 103 German fighter pilots shot down more than 100 enemy aircraft for a total of roughly 15,400 aerial victories. Roughly a further 360 pilots claimed between 40 and 100 aerial victories for round about 21,000 victories. Another 500 fighter pilots claimed between 20 and 40 victories for a total of 15,000 victories. According to Obermeier, it is relatively certain, that 2,500 German fighter pilots attained ace status, having achieved at least 5 aerial victories. 453 German day and Zerstörer (destroyer) pilots received the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross. 85 night fighter pilots, including 14 crew members, were awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross. The list is sorted by the number of aerial victories claimed at night.

Due to the worsening war situation for Germany and Luftwaffe policies, night fighter aces remained in frontline roles until they were killed or wounded in combat or no longer capable of flying due to exhaustion. It's generally accepted fact that WW2 fighter pilots have quite common over claim rate. By using data of RAF Bomber Command aircraft losses and comparing it to claims Luftwaffe night fighter pilots it's obvious that night fighter pilots seemed to have had much less over claims than day fighter pilots.

Messerschmitt Bf 110

The Messerschmitt Bf 110, often known unofficially as the Me 110, is a twin-engine Zerstörer (Destroyer, heavy fighter) and fighter-bomber (Jagdbomber or Jabo) developed in Nazi Germany in the 1930s and used by the Luftwaffe during World War II. Hermann Göring was a proponent of the Bf 110. It was armed with two MG FF 20 mm cannon, four 7.92 mm (.312 in) MG 17 machine guns, and one 7.92 mm (.312 in) MG 15 machine gun (later variants’ rear gunner station would be armed with the twin-barreled MG 81Z) for defence. Development work on an improved type to replace the Bf 110, the Messerschmitt Me 210 began before the war started but its teething troubles resulted in the Bf 110 soldiering on until the end of the war in various roles, with its replacements, the Me 210 and the significantly improved Me 410 Hornisse.

The Bf 110 served with considerable success in the early campaigns in Poland, Norway and France. The primary weakness of the Bf 110 was its lack of manoeuvrability, although this could be mitigated with the correct tactics. This weakness was exploited when flying as close escort to German bombers during the Battle of Britain. When British bombers began targeting German territory with nightly raids, some Bf 110-equipped units were converted to night fighters, a role to which the aircraft was well suited. After the Battle of Britain the Bf 110 enjoyed a successful period as an air superiority fighter and strike aircraft in other theatres and defended Germany from strategic air attack by day against the USAAF's 8th Air Force, until an American change in fighter tactics rendered them increasingly vulnerable to developing American air supremacy over the Reich as 1944 began.

During the Balkans and North African campaigns and on the Eastern Front, it rendered valuable ground support to the German Army as a potent fighter-bomber.

Later in the war, it was developed into a formidable radar-equipped night fighter, becoming the main night-fighting aircraft of the Luftwaffe. Most of the German night fighter aces flew the Bf 110 at some point during their combat careers and the top night fighter ace, Major Heinz-Wolfgang Schnaufer, flew it exclusively and claimed 121 victories in 164 sorties.

Nakajima J1N

The Nakajima J1N1 Gekko (月光 "Moonlight") is a twin-engine aircraft used by the Japanese Imperial Navy during World War II and was used for reconnaissance, night fighter, and kamikaze missions. The first flight took place in May 1941. It was given the Allied reporting name "Irving", since the earlier reconnaissance version the J1N1-C, was mistaken for a fighter.

No. 307 Polish Night Fighter Squadron

No. 307 (City of Lwów) Polish Night Fighter Squadron (Polish: 307 Dywizjon Myśliwski Nocny "Lwowskich Puchaczy") was a Polish night fighter squadron formed in Great Britain on 24 August 1940 following an agreement between the Polish Government in Exile and the United Kingdom. It was the only Polish night fighter squadron fighting alongside the Royal Air Force during World War II. 307 Squadron is named after the Polish city of Lwów, and nicknamed "Eagle Owls".

Northrop P-61 Black Widow

The Northrop P-61 Black Widow, named for the North American spider, was the first operational U.S. warplane designed as a night fighter, and the first aircraft designed to use radar. The P-61 had a crew of three: pilot, gunner, and radar operator. It was armed with four 20 mm (.79 in) Hispano M2 forward-firing cannon mounted in the lower fuselage, and four .50 in (12.7 mm) M2 Browning machine guns mounted in a remote-controlled dorsal gun turret.

It was an all-metal, twin-engine, twin-boom design developed during World War II. The first test flight was made on May 26, 1942, with the first production aircraft rolling off the assembly line in October 1943. The last aircraft was retired from government service in 1954.

Although not produced in the large numbers of its contemporaries, the Black Widow was effectively operated as a night-fighter by United States Army Air Forces squadrons in the European Theater, Pacific Theater, China Burma India Theater, and Mediterranean Theater during World War II. It replaced earlier British-designed night-fighter aircraft that had been updated to incorporate radar when it became available. After the war, the P-61—redesignated the F-61—served in the United States Air Force as a long-range, all-weather, day/night interceptor for Air Defense Command until 1948, and Fifth Air Force until 1950.

On the night of 14 August 1945, a P-61B of the 548th Night Fight Squadron named Lady in the Dark was unofficially credited with the last Allied air victory before VJ Day. The P-61 was also modified to create the F-15 Reporter photo-reconnaissance aircraft for the United States Army Air Forces and subsequently used by the United States Air Force.

United States Army Air Forces in the South West Pacific Theatre

During World War II, the United States Army Air Forces engaged in combat against the air, ground and naval forces of the Empire of Japan in the South West Pacific Theatre.

As defined by the United States Department of War, the South West Pacific theatre included the Philippines, the Dutch East Indies (excluding Sumatra), Borneo, Australia, the Australian Territory of New Guinea (including the Bismarck Archipelago), the western part of the Solomon Islands and some neighbouring territories. The theatre took its name from the major Allied command, which was known simply as the "South West Pacific Area".

The major USAAF combat organizations in the region was Fifth Air Force, based in Australia after the Battle of the Philippines (1941–42). From Australia, the Allied forces, led by General Douglas MacArthur, first moved north into New Guinea in 1942, then into the Netherlands East Indies in 1943, and returning to the Philippines in 1944 and 1945. Moving with the Allied ground forces, the USAAF Fifth Air Force established a series of airfields, some at existing facilities, but most were carved out of the jungle to provide tactical air support of the ground forces.

In addition to the Fifth Air Force units, elements of Seventh and Thirteenth Air Force advanced into the theatre as Japanese land and naval forces were driven out of the Central and South Pacific Areas.

Yokosuka P1Y

The Yokosuka P1Y Ginga (銀河, "Galaxy") was a twin-engine, land-based bomber developed for the Japanese Imperial Navy in World War II. It was the successor to the Mitsubishi G4M and given the Allied reporting name "Frances".


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