A not very annoying ‘Moskito’

by Dr. Marshall Michel
52nd Fighter Wing historian

When the Royal Air Force’s wooden De Havilland Mosquito made its appearance in Germany’s night skies it racked up an impressive record. In its first 600 bombing missions, only one was shot down, compared to a 5 percent loss rate for RAF medium and heavy bombers.

The seeming invulnerability of the Mosquito to interception led the Luftwaffe air inspector general, Generalfeldmarschall Erhard Milch, to personally demand a German night fighter with the performance to intercept the RAF’s new night bomber.

Kurt Tank’s team at Focke-Wulf was well along with the design of a wooden fast attack bomber and, with Milch’s support, the project was changed to a night fighter with the RLM assignment number 8-154 (hence Ta 154).

Tank’s Ta-154, informally dubbed the “Moskito,” was an aesthetically pleasing, high-wing, twin-engine aircraft with unusual tricycle landing gear that caused the nose to sit very high. It was built primarily of plywood bonded with a special phenolic resin adhesive, called Tego-Film, that was  built by the Goldschmitt factory in Wuppertal. The only large-scale use of metal was in the pressurized cockpit.
Power plants were two Junkers Jumo 213 1750 horsepower liquid-cooled engines driving three-blade constant-speed propellers. The Ta-154 carried a crew of two: a pilot and a radar operator.

It was armed with  twin 30 millimeter MK108 cannons and twin 20 millimeter MG151 cannons, mounted on either side of the fuselage, and a single MK108 30 millimeter cannon in an upward firing “jazz music” mount in the upper part of the fuselage.

The Luftwaffe preferred its competitor, the Heinkel 219, because of its better visibility and range, but Milch, who in general was opposed to specialized night fighters, opted for the less expensive and more developmentally advanced Ta-154.
The success of the RAF’s wooden Mosquito silenced any doubts about its construction.

Nevertheless, the plywood monocoque fuselage and the other plywood components underwent extensive testing, including being dragged at high speed through a lake in Bavaria to simulate the dynamic pressure of high speed flight and maneuvers.
The project was given high priority and the development went very quickly, and testing began on July 7, 1943. In the air, the Moskito displayed sparkling performance, being much faster than the He-219, but the Ta-154 showed an alarming weakness in its unique landing gear.

About half of the prototypes were lost to gear failures. Additionally, the large German radar horn antennas cut its top speed by about 50 mph, and there were delays with the Jumo 213 engines.

By June 1944, the Jumo 213 engines were finally arriving in some numbers and a full scale production began, but in the interim, the Goldschmitt factory, the only factory making the Tego-Film glue, was destroyed by the RAF. A substitute glue was found but was not submitted to extensive testing because of the pressure to produce the aircraft.

In the event, the substitute was not as strong. Additionally, it was later found to have too much acid and it was insufficiently neutralized. The result was the glue reacted chemically to the plywood and rotted the wings and other parts of the Ta 154’s structure.

In July 1944, several Ta-154s crashed with wing failure due to plywood de-lamination and Tank stopped production in August 1944. Lacking proper glue, production was officially ended in September 1944 after only 50 production aircraft were built. A few had warheads fitted and were planned to be used as the lower part of a Mistel system.

In retrospect, it was fortunate for the Allies the construction problems and engine delays kept this potentially excellent fighter from front line service.

(For questions or comments, contact Dr. Michel at marshall.michel@spangdahlem.af.mil.)