Messerschmitt Me 410 using rockets to "break up" bomber formations

The formidably armed Messerschmitt ME 410 was said to be Hitler’s favourite. And, it was perhaps because of der Führer’s fondness for it, that Adolf Galland and others believed the Me 410 was being used even when it was tactically inappropriate to do so, thus leading to unnecessarily heavy losses (especially in the late stages of the war when replacement pilots simply did not exist). Indeed, according to the Wiki article on it, such imprudent use of the Me 410 was one of the reasons for the so-called Revolt of the Kommodores (or Fighter Pilots’ Revolt) when a group of high ranking Luftwaffe pilots challenged Göring. But I digress.

In both this article on the Me 410 (in the last two sentences of the second paragraph of the linked section) and in this video (between 1’25" and 2’00"), mention is made of the plane’s success in breaking up bomber formations by the use of its rockets. If I have understood the links correctly, the Me 410 would fire a rocket(s) towards the bomber formation causing the formation to break up. With the formation (the ‘box’) no longer intact, much of the mutual field-of-fire protection among the bombers was lost thereby rendering individual planes vulnerable to attack by the nearby fighters.

My question, then (finally), is why would this tactic be so successful? Why would firing a rocket at the bomber formation lead to its break up whereas an attack by fighters would not? And, in either case, couldn’t the maneuver be countered simply by having the bombers stay in formation except for those few planes towards which the rocket is heading? In other words, wouldn’t formation discipline be a successful countermeasure?


If a plane is in the middle of the formation and it breaks out then the planes around it are forced to break with it. They then have to reform while under attack. It’s a collective Oh F!@% moment. Aformation will have planes left, right, ahead, behind, above, and below. If they aren’t on a stabilized group flight then it’s absolute chaos to have one plane change position.

When flying in formation each pilot is focused on maintaining position relative to another plane and not ALL of the planes. If any of the planes move out of position it’s a house of cards coming down.

Ah, of course, that makes sense. Thanks.

And an attack by a fighter(s) wouldn’t have the same effect because it (they) can only go after planes on the periphery which, by definition, aren’t boxed in?

I recall hearing how rockets used on Civil War battlefields were effective in causing chaos because the soldiers would actually see the rocket and try to dodge it, whereas a cannonball was invisible death that couldn’t be seen or avoided.

Perhaps this phenomenon was in play in the skies over Germany.

I actually wondered about this myself. It would be awfully hard to resist trying to move . . . somewhere . . . if a rocket is heading in your general direction.

Just to add to the above: The standard tactic of the Luftwaffe was to deply a large number (a squadron say, or two) of 12-24 A/C attacking the bomber formation (often from the front) with rockets - meaning you’d have something like 424 (BR21 rockets or even 2424 (in case of ME-262’s armed with the R4M rocket battery rocket battery arriving in quick succesion. Being pre-set for a given range these rockets would explode among the bombers even if the didn’t hit anything. This would in general cause chaos in the bomber formations, and then other fighters, not encumbered with rocket pods, would attack.