The de Havilland Mosquito as a Night Fighter

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Once the first Mosquito had taken to the air on 25 November 1940 it soon became clear that the new aircraft would make an excellent night fighter. That month the original order for 50 aircraft was modified to include the first of over a thousand Mosquito fighters.

The fighter prototype first flew on 15 May 1941. It carried an impressive amount of firepower, with four .303in machine guns in the nose and four 20mm cannon under the fuselage. Early night fighter variants would carry all of these guns, although later models would have to dispense with the machine guns so that they could carry more advanced radar.

The Mosquito had a varied career as a night fighter. It entered service after the worst of the German air offensive against Britain had passed, so as well as defensive night fighter duties the Mosquito was soon used on Intruder missions, attacking German airfields at night. These would continue after many Fighter Command squadrons were transferred to the 2nd Tactical Air Force in the build-up to D-Day. Mosquito night fighters would also serve with No. 100 Group as long range bomber escorts.

DEFENSIVE

The Mosquito entered service as a night fighter with No. 157 Squadron. The squadron received its first Mosquito, a T Mk III, on 17 January 1942, followed by a drip feed of NF Mk IIs. By the middle of April the squadron had 20 night fighters, and was ready to go operational. In the same month a second night fighter squadron, No. 151, received its first Mosquito.

No. 157 Squadron flew its first Mosquito sortie on the night of 27/28 April 1942. This was during the Baedeker raids, a series of German raids against British tourist attractions (named after the Baedeker guide books). No. 151 Squadron joined in the next day. However, it would take two months for the Mosquito to score its first victory at night. On 24/25 June the commander of No. 151 Squadron, Wing Commander Irving Stanley Smith, shot down two Dornier Do 217s.

Over the next few months the number of Mosquito squadrons built up, and they began to score a constant stream of victories. One German response was the use of the Focke-Wulf Fw 190A-4/U-8 fighter bomber to launch rapid nuisance raids over the south coast. Fighter Command moved Nos. 85 and 157 Squadrons with their Mosquito NF Mk XIIs to the coast in response. The Mosquito proved capable of intercepting these raiders, scoring four victories in one night (16/17 May).

The NF Mk XII had only reached No. 85 Squadron on 28 February 1943. It was equipped with centimetric radar, which made intercepting the German raiders much easier.

New Mosquito night fighters arrived at regular intervals over the next few years. The NF Mk XIII scored its first victory in November 1943, the NF Mk 30 in August 1944. Although the German attack on Britain never reached the levels of the 1940 Blitz, attacks continued on a small scale throughout the war, ending with a peak of activity in early 1944, known as the “Baby Blitz”.

In combination with the Bristol Beaufighter, the Mosquito helped see off this last German bomber offensive. As the threat from German bombers receded, four Mosquito night fighter squadrons were moved to the 2nd Tactical Air Force, and two more to No. 100 Group, the bomber support unit.

The remaining night fighter squadrons had one last threat to see off. In June 1944 Hitler unleashed the first of his vengeance weapons, the V1 pilotless aircraft. Despite the V1’s high speed, the Mosquito equipped fighter squadrons accounted for 471 of them. The Allied advance through France ended the threat from ground launched V1s, although the threat did not finally end until January 1945. The final attacks were made by air-launched V1s, carried into range of southern England by Heinkel He 111s. The biggest problem faced by the Mosquito squadrons by these aircraft was their slow speed!

For the rest of the war the only weapon capable of hitting Britain was the V2 rocket. There was nothing the Mosquito could do against this threat, and the remaining night fighter squadrons switched to offensive operations.

OFFENSIVE

The RAF began running Intruder operations in May 1942. These involved night fighters attacking German night fighter bases in France and the Low Countries, in the hope the disruption caused might reduced the heavy losses being suffered by Bomber Command. Initially these squadrons were equipped with the Bristol Blenheim and Douglas Havocs and Bostons.

From the spring of 1942 some of these units began to receive the Mosquito NF Mk II, although without its radar set. These aircraft had the range to perform intruder missions over France, Belgium and Holland. In 1943 they would be joined by the FB Mk VI, which had much longer range, allowing the intruders to range across Germany.

The same squadrons also performed a variety of other missions. Ranger missions were day and night patrols over occupied Europe aimed at the transport network, especially freight train. Mahmoud missions saw the Mosquitoes pretending to be heavy bombers in the hope that German night fighters would attempt to intercept them.

Towards the end of 1943 most of the Mosquito offensive night fighter squadrons were transferred to either No. 100 Group, dedicated to bomber support missions, or the 2nd Tactical Air Force, preparing for the invasion of Europe. There they would continue to perform many of the same duties as they had with Fighter Command.

2nd TAF

The 2nd Tactical Air Force was the RAF’s contribution to the Allied air force being set up to support the invasion of Europe. The 2nd TAF would gain nine Mosquito squadrons from Fighter Command, starting with No. 264 Squadron, which transferred in December 1943, and ending with Nos. 418 and 605 Squadrons, which made the move in November 1944.

The most common missions performed prior to the invasion were Day Ranger missions. Night Intruder missions were also flown. During the invasion period itself, the Mosquito was used to provide fighter cover over the beaches. This would remain their main duty for the rest of the war, following the advancing allied armies into Europe.

No 100 Group

No. 100 Group was formed on 23 November 1943 to provide support for the main bomber force. It had two main roles. Electronic counter measures were carried out by the Group’s heavy bombers, which had to space to carry the equipment required. Meanwhile the Mosquito squadrons were used to escort the bomber stream, and to make intruder attacks on German night fighter bases. This second role would eventually induce a “Moskitopanik” amongst German night fighter squadrons, with just about every unexplained lose blamed on the Mosquito.

The appearance of radar equipped Mosquitoes in the skies over Germany ended a period of relatively easy success for the largely Bf 110 and Ju 88 equipped German night fighter units. The Bf 110 was especially badly outclassed. The modifications needed to give it the endurance and firepower to deal with allied bombers made it increasingly sluggish. Although the Germans did develop more effective night fighters late in the war, they never appeared in enough numbers to seriously challenge the intruder Mosquitoes. The last victories won by No. 100 Group Mosquitoes came on 24/25 April 1945. With the German night fighters gone, the Mosquitoes spent most of the remaining few weeks of the war conducting bombing raids, including several using napalm.

Mosquito Squadrons of No. 100 Group


Squadron

Month joined No. 100 Group

No. 141

November 1943

No. 169

December 1943

No. 239

December 1943

No. 515

December 1943

No. 157

May 1944

No. 23

May 1944

No. 85

May 1944

No. 307

January 1945

No. 192 Squadron operated the Mosquito as well as the Halifax and Wellington.

 Mosquito Fighter/ Fighter-Bomber Units of World War 2, Martin Bowman. The second of three books looking the RAF career of the Mosquito covers its use as a night fighter, first on the defensive in the skies over Britain, and then as an intruder over Occupied Europe and Germany, and finishing with a look at the "Mosquito Panic" [see more] cover cover cover
Mosquito Aces of World War 2, Andrew Thomas. This volume concentrates on the fighter variants of the Mosquito, looking at their role as a defensive fighter, both over Britain and overseas and their use during the D-Day invasion to protect the fleet. Thomas also looks at the career of the Mosquito as a night intruder over Germany, where it became the scourge of the German night fighters, often being blamed for losses miles from the nearest Mosquito. cover cover cover

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (15 April 2007), The de Havilland Mosquito as a Night Fighter, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_mosquito_night_fighter.html

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