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Flying one of the most difficult forms of air combat, these two highly decorated Luftwaffe pilots were credited with over 100 air victories between them, flying primarily against the RAF bomber forces in the deadly night skies over Europe.

Nearly all the night successes of these two outstanding Luftwaffe night fighter pilots were achieved flying variants of the specially adapted Messerschmitt Me 110. As a day fighter it was slow, vulnerable and unsuccessful, but flying against the RAF’s night bombers it became the most successful of all Luftwaffe night fighters. Martin Drewes completed 235 operations and achieved 52 aerial victories while Paul Zorner destroyed 59 enemy aircraft, his last as Kommandeur of II./NJG 100.


On 2 November 1937, I joined the Army for training in the 6th Panzer Regiment where I concentrated on passing all the necessary exams for promotion to Leutnant. I would then be able to transfer to the Luftwaffe. I did this, of all days, on 1 September 1939, the beginning of WW2. I was immediately sent to the Pilots’ School at Werder-Havel, where I was to spend the following eight months, flying 20 different aircraft types. I received my pilot’s licence on 27 April 1940. On 1 May, I started at the more advanced ‘C’ School, where I flew the Ju 52, He 111 and Do 17, receiving excellent training, including night flying. When I entered the “Destroyer” School at Schleissheim in October, the training had already been altered due to experience gained in the Battle of Britain.

I finally reported to a combat unit on 9 February 1941, when I joined II./ZG 76, based in Jever. This was the famous “Shark’s Mouth” Gruppe flying the Me 110. My superior was Hans-Joachim Jabs, who I was to accompany throughout the war. Before commencing operations, I had to complete 50 hours of intensive aerobatic flying. Our task was nearly always to escort convoys, and we were prevented from engaging single-seat enemy fighters in combat unless forced to do so.

At the end of April 1941, my 4./ZG 76 was transferred to the Balkans where, on 14 May, we received orders to fly operations in Iraq. This was very demanding without proper airfield facilities and we ended up leaving our machines near Baghdad, shot full of holes by ground defensive fire. When we returned to Europe, I had scored just one victory, a Gloster Gladiator, near Baghdad. I spent the period July to October 1941 flying close protection over the North Sea, until I received the order to re-train for night-fighting.

I had no problems coping with night flying, due to the excellence of my initial training and my experience in combat operations. In November, I joined 6 Staffel of ZG 76 which was re-designated 9./NJG 3. The following January, we transferred to Stade for area night- fighter operations protecting Hamburg.

In February, I took part in the protection of the Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Prinz Eugen for their Channel dash and I also flew four operations in Norway to protect the Tirpitz. I then took command of 7./NJG 3 for operations in the Copenhagen area, where we tested the new ‘Wurzburg’ radar apparatus. In June, I moved to Leeuwarden to join IV./NJG 1 then, shortly afterwards I took command of II./NJG 1, the most successful night-fighter squadron.

In February 1944, I was appointed Kommandeur III./NJG 1 and, in April, was promoted to Hauptmann. At that time, we carried out a large number of operations from the Laon Athies military airfield where, we intercepted RAF night bombers attacking Northern France and Belgium in preparation for the Invasion. At the same time, we fought huge numbers of aircraft destined for Berlin.

I also flew “Wild Boar” operations from Leeuwarden and Stormede. On 27 July 1944, I was awarded the Knight’s Cross after 48 victories and, on 1 December, I was promoted to Major. My final victory came on the night of 3/4 March 1945 and, the following month, I was awarded the Oak Leaves to the Knight’s Cross. At the end of the war, I had flown 235 operations, including 17 low-level attacks in Iraq, and had shot down two single-engined fighters and 50 four-engine bombers, including six B-17s and one B-24 by day.

The most significant unit for me was III./NJG 1, which I led for the last 15 months of the war. This was a particularly demanding period, with frequent moves of airfield eastwards, heavy fighting, great successes and painful losses. The attacks on German cities became ever more massive and our duty, the ‘Defence of the Reich’, dispelled all doubts. We were forced to move our airfields regularly. When we arrived at a new base, making room for ourselves as the airfields became more crowded was a constant problem. Some hadn’t even the most basic facilities for night operations. Another problem was the regular damage incurred to the airstrips by daylight carpet bombing, but each time the ground personnel would quickly be out with shovels to make an emergency runway, so that we were ready for operations.

aircraft flown in combat

I flew all my combat missions in the Messerschmitt BF 110, which was constantly being improved to meet successive service requirements. Many of the modifications were carried out by our ground personnel, an example being the installation of the “Schrage” sloping weapons For daylight operations, I flew the D series and the tropical variant, whilst for the night-fighter, I mainly flew the G series, which was initially not fitted with radar, and had a blue-grey finish, instead of black. The F-4 was the first version built specifically for night-fighting and had space for a third crew member. The G series had the more powerful DB 605 engine, which necessitated the fitting of flame suppressors on the exhausts. But these, and the necessary additional fuel tanks we carried, served to reduce speed, so I always polished my machine and removed the armour plating. That gave me an increase of 40 km/h. The best version for night-fighting was the G-4/R7, which had upward firing ‘Schrage Musik, two or four forward firing 20mm cannon and the improved SN2 “Lichtenstein” radar unit.


I began my military training in the Luftwaffe on 7 November 1938. After recruit training, I attended the Air Warfare School at Berlin- Gatow and, on 31 October 1939 I received my Luftwaffe Pilot’s Licence. When I later obtained my instrument rating, I spent one year as a flying instructor before, on 25 March 1941, becoming an operational transport pilot.

I remained in this role until October 1941, having flown in North Africa, the Mediterranean and southern Russia. I then commenced night-fighter training. After a further 8 months, I joined II./NJG 2, based in Holland, for night operations, immediately having to re-train to fly the Ju 88.

My first enemy contact came on 28 July 1942, a Wellington bomber returning from a raid on Berlin. As I closed in to about 200m, he suddenly began to turn and, losing my nerve, I started shooting – much too early! With the bomber crew alerted, the aircraft then made a Split S manoeuvre and disappeared below into the haze. I never saw it again.

After two more operations, my squadron was re-equipped with the Dornier 217 and on 3 October, I was transferred to IV./NJG 3, based at Grove in Jutland. After a further six operations, I was transferred again, on 6 December, to take command of 2./NJG 3 at Wittmundhafen, operating the Do 217. I didn’t think much of this aircraft, so I went to great lengths to get a Messerschmitt 110, eventually succeeding. Flying this machine on only my 14th night mission, I finally shot down my first aircraft on 17 January 1943, a Halifax bomber returning from Berlin.

By the beginning of March 1943, I had achieved 5 victories, all with the Me 110. When I refused to fly any more operations in the Dornier 217, I was transferred to an Me 110 unit, 3JNJG 3, as Squadron Commander. I led this squadron until 10 September, during which time, flying from numerous different airfields in Holland and Belgium, I shot down another six aircraft. I then took over 8./NJG 3 in Luneburg, where I remained until 4 April 1944. During this period, I achieved 29 victories, a promotion to Hauptmann on 1 March and the award of the German Cross in Gold on 20 March.

On 5 April 1944, with a total of 41 victories, I took command of III./NJG 5, in Mainz-Finthen, later moving to Laon-Athies. On 9 June, I was awarded the Knight’s Cross after 48 victories, then in mid-August, the Gruppe was transferred to Lubeck-Blankensee and was re-equipped with the Ju 88. On 17 September 1944, after 58 victories, I received the Oak Leaves to the Knight’s Cross and, on 13 October 1944, I was transferred to the Vienna area to become Kommandeur II./NJG 100. On 1 December, I was promoted to Major and, in early January 1945, I achieved my 59th victory, an American Liberator which was attacking Graz. But the general situation was deteriorating and, for much of the time, there was little organisational control in our south-eastern sector.

In March 1945, one squadron was dissolved and over half of our ground crew and most of our aircrew were sent to fight alongside the Army. There were just 11 aircraft remaining when, on 10 May 1945, we went into American captivity. A week later, we were handed over to the Red Army and I did not see Germany again until January 1950.

My best experiences as a night-fighter pilot were spent as the Squadron Commander of 8./NJG 3. During the period September 1943 to April 1944, we were based on Luneburg Airfield, an old peacetime airfield that was built accordingly. As we were the only squadron there, with no superiors on station, all of the airfield personnel were at our disposal and we were, therefore, very well looked after. Our relations with the local people were also very good. Despite the beginning of the great air offensive against the German cities, our spirits were high and we still believed in victory. We also had the latest mark of the Bf 110, an aircraft with which we had plenty of success, especially as Luneburg was en route for the RAF bombers heading for the German hinterland.

aircraft flown in combat

i commenced my night-fighting career flying the Ju 88, an aircraft which was sufficiently agile for this purpose, had a good rate of climb and an endurance of over three and a half hours. Its air-cooled radial engines were also relatively insensitive to enemy fire. For a while I flew the Dornier 217, a heavy aircraft designed purely as a bomber, with a consequent poor rate of climb and limited manoeuvrability. Its endurance of over 5 hours made it useful for missions over the sea, but it was not a popular aircraft. I personally thought it was useless as a night-fighter.

In February 1943, I changed to the Messerschmitt Bf 110 which, despite its unsuitability for daytime operations, was the best night-fighter available until the late summer of 1944. It had a good rate of climb, a three and a half hour endurance, was sufficiently manoeuvrable, a good instrument flyer and was well armed. In November 1943, I changed my F-4 for a G-4 model, which had a full night-fighting radio fit and the upward firing ‘Jazz Music’ cannon. I got 42 victories in this aircraft, until it was destroyed on the ground by a daylight raid.

My last operational aircraft was the Ju 88G-6, which had similar flying characteristics to the Bf 110, but was faster and had a 5 hour endurance.

MARTIN DREWES and PAUL ZORNER ENSEMBLE (Luftwaffe Night Fighters:)


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