It's September 1940, the Luftwaffe is launching the blitz over the UK. One squadron of night bombers (either Henkiel He 111 or Junkers Ju 88) is flying over the English Channel when they are somehow transported through time to the modern day, the crews unaware that they have just gone through a hole in space-time. Then the on-board radios on the bombers suddenly comes to life as they are contacted by air-traffic control, but do not give suitable answers.

It quickly becomes apparent that there is a situation, and there is a squadron of heavily armed bomber aircraft heading towards London at terrific speed. Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft are scrambled from RAF Coningsby, breaking the sound barrier as they shoot across the sky to intercept the bombers. As they reach the aircraft, with London in sight, the air-to-air missiles can't get a lock on the 80+ year old aircraft.

What would stop the intercepting aircraft from getting a missile lock on the aircraft, and what would they do next (shoot down with on-board cannon? ram one of the bombers in the hope that it causes a butterfly effect, like in Star Wars:The Last Jedi?)

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    $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild
    Commented Nov 6, 2020 at 22:53
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    $\begingroup$ @MontyWild Thanks for the cleanup it was getting wild $\endgroup$
    – Boolean
    Commented Nov 6, 2020 at 23:11
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    $\begingroup$ I assume you've seen the movie Final Countdown? $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 7, 2020 at 3:06
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    $\begingroup$ You mean "chain reaction", not "butterfly effect"? $\endgroup$
    – Bergi
    Commented Nov 7, 2020 at 10:52
  • $\begingroup$ Do they arrive at precisely the same time of day/night? (seems unlikely unless this was planned by some intelligent being) $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 7, 2020 at 22:33

18 Answers 18


Apart from being easy to shoot down (for reasons already mentioned)?

There are a number of other complicating factors which might lead the squadron leader to abort the mission.

Firstly? They will have lost contact with all the other German aircraft flying the mission that night. Germany would not send one squadron of bombers & one squadron only on a night attack mission over London. British air defenses would concentrate on it and destroy it. This means they left their base that night after a briefing detailing all the units involved in the mission, its course, altitude and targets etc. None of the squadrons or other senior officers on that mission would be contactable. Nor would they see any of the other aircraft from the formation they left France with.

They will also have instantly lost their radio navigation signals (Knickebein or X-Gerät). That alone would tell them there was a serious problem because without it it would be very difficult to stay on target - or find their way home. Having every single plane in the squadron lose it in one instant? That would be grounds to abort all on its own. **Edit; for that matter the entire German war time radio network would be off the air!

Before they even got to coast they would also see the Channel lit up with hundreds of navigation lights (not ever going to happen during the war).

After that - when as they got to the coast England would be lit up like a Christmas tree and there would also be no search lights and no flack. Plus they may (don't know for sure) be able to intercept AM civilian broadcasts - advertising, music, news?

London itself from the air at night? It would have tripled in size and would look totally different to what their prior experience told them to expect. (If there was one thing Luftwaffe pilots knew it was what London looked like from the air). They could also see modern jet planes taking off and landing and structures/buildings that, from their perspective, simply didn't exist 24 hours ago!

Military and civilian radio operators would also be able to detect the Germans' own transmissions and send messages in German easily. Hell, they could get on the phone and put senior German Defense personnel in touch with them.

Lastly one or more of the fighters could easily turn on their lights and take position in front of, above and/or beside the formation outside effective light machine gun range (which is all the bombers had) and let the Germans get a good look at them, even demonstrate some of their flight characteristics. Also pointing out that they had been easily intercepted yet no-one was firing at them.

So a whole lot of complicating factors that would. IMO probably lead the commander to abort the mission and turn back, something that did happen during the war quite often due to technical problems or weather etc. And if they do turn back, then its France's problem.

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    $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Commented Nov 6, 2020 at 6:05
  • $\begingroup$ Not only could the Brits get senior German Defense personnel on the radio to yell at the transplanted formation, they could also have Coningsby ring their counterparts at Wittmundhafen to send a couple of JG 71's Eurofighters up to join the ones from No. 11 Squadron in the intercept... $\endgroup$
    – Shalvenay
    Commented Nov 11, 2020 at 2:25
  • $\begingroup$ You are forgetting Nazi war doctrine is not the same as modern western war doctrines. If they have orders to complete a mission, they complete the mission unless told to abort, if they can not be told to abort, it does not matter what goes wrong, they follow thier last orders or risk execution when they get back. Yes, they will know something is very off, but WWII is full of German blunders where soldiers knew something was way off, but they followed orders anyway. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Commented Oct 31, 2023 at 17:10

They Could, But They Won't:

Sorry to say, I don't think that anything short of time travel handwavium will get your planes invisible to modern air defense systems.

BUT, if you're willing to overlook that, there is a perfectly plausible reason why (pre 9/11) jet fighters wouldn't shoot down those planes. They don't believe they are a real threat.

If you were a modern air traffic control system, and a group of planes showed up OBVIOUSLY as WW2 reenactment planes (super-authentic) your underlying assumption would be that there must be a mistake, or a communication error, or a political statement someone is trying to make, or SOMETHING to explain why antique German bombers materialized out of nowhere and are flying in a (mock, assuredly) bombing raid towards London. There would be scrambled jet fighters, yes. They would fly circles around the German planes, and know their position at all times. They would undoubtedly shoot them down once bombs started dropping. But are you the air defense officer who wants to give the order shooting down a bunch of war reenactment planes?

This works even better if it falls on a historical date that would explain the presence of such craft. If there was an actual Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) fly-in or the like going on, they are wildly chaotic events with lots of historical planes. Without a war or imminent threat of terrorism to convince the air defense commander to shoot, I think they would be busily trying to contact the planes and signal to them - right up until the moment they drop bombs.

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    $\begingroup$ A group of medium-sized aircraft with no flight plan filed, not responding to radio communication, and heading towards London. There will be attempts to make visual contact and warning shots will be fired. If the Luftwaffe crews realise something is very wrong and don't press on, they'll survive. If they continue, and especially if they fire at the Typhoons, the obvious conclusion will be that they're another 9/11 attack, and they'll be shot down before they get over a large urban area. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 4, 2020 at 23:53
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP It's fair that there aren't working models, but I used to live in Oshkosh, WI and have attended many EAA conventions. There are lots of crazy folks who would rebuilt authentic WW2 planes from scratch to original standards. The lack of operating current planes doesn't detract from the answer. What terrorists would build WW2 German bombers? That's also why I specified pre-9/11. Chutzpah makes anything possible. $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Commented Nov 5, 2020 at 1:27
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    $\begingroup$ @John Dallman I specified pre-9/11 for exactly that reason. $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Commented Nov 5, 2020 at 1:29
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    $\begingroup$ The German crews would very rapidly become disoriented. In WWII, airborne navigation was very primitive. Take their radio beacons away, substitute WWII blacked-out Britain for modern lights-everywhere Britain, and the Germans won't know where the hell they are. It would take an incredible amount of familiarity with WWII British scenery and a very active imagination to cope with this in broad daylight... but at night? Not a chance. The bomber crews might well ditch their bombs very quickly in order to increase their range so as to have a better chance of returning home. $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild
    Commented Nov 5, 2020 at 7:57
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    $\begingroup$ @MontyWild In fact, considering they'd be expecting a blacked-out Britain, they'd be convinced there was something wrong. Even if they fought through that surprise, what are they expected to bomb? None of the targets they were expecting to find could be located - they don't exist anymore, nor do the landmarks they'd be using to line up the run. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Nov 5, 2020 at 8:05

Response Time

The Germans are literally coming out of nowhere. JU-88 bombers could reach speeds in excess of 500 kph. While this is not that impressive by modern standards, the English channel is only ~34 km wide, and London is only ~65 km past that. So, if they suddenly appeared over the channel they would reach London in 7.8-11.9 minutes after appearing.

Add to this the fact that there is probably not an established protocol for dealing with a massive force of primitive aircraft appearing out of nowhere. Since England and France are at peace, leadership will need time to decide how to respond to this threat, and then they will need more time to dispatch those orders as needed. Even if this whole process is really efficient and only takes a few minutes, the UK does not have minutes to spare.

In the United Kingdom, only 2 Typhoon interceptors are kept at full QRA status at any given time, meaning that you could be looking at only 2 fighters being able to respond quick enough to do anything about the attack.

Each Typhoon fighter is is armed with 8 air-to-air missiles. Once the missiles are spent they have to move into a range of 2.5km to be able to use their cannons.

This is where quantity over quality really favors the Germans. WWII bombers were very numerous. In the Battle of Britain, Germany deployed over 2500 aircraft; so, if your time anomaly were to sweep up even 10% of that force, you could be looking at a 2 vs 250 air battle. So sure, the modern aircraft COULD safely target and destroy the first 16 targets very effectively with their missiles, but they could not shoot down enough of them to make a big difference. Past this point they'd have to close to cannon range which means getting dangerously close to the German fighters. Despite the technology disadvantage of the Germans, getting into cannon range for the typhoons is risky business. This means either flying through the German fighter formation or kiting it.

If they choose to kite the Germans, they could certainly stay a safe distance and not get shot down, but it would take a long time of weaving in and out to pick them off. Going through the formation gives them more opportunity to take out more JU-88s per pass, but puts them at risk of getting taken out by a few lucky shots. Either way, they just don't have enough time or bullets to take out a sizable portion of the Germans in time. By the time enough non-QRA fighters are ready to join the fray with more firepower, the bombs would already be dropped, and the most important part of the battle would already be lost.

A final frame challenge

It is very likely that modern "fighter aircraft" would fail to get the job done, but the ground defenses are another story. Ground defenses are much easier to keep in an always ready defensive posture. London is protected by many surface to air missile installations. Being less limited by the practical limitations of a flying missile platform, these systems often have even better radar than fighters, and take little-to-no preparation to deploy. There is no defense WWII planes have against such a weapon system unless they were to come in such overwhelming numbers as to simply exhaust the entire ground based arsonal.

Modern aerial combat simply does not take place on the scale of WWII engagements; so, it may be possible on the scope of an entire major German offensive out of the past to still overwhelm London's defenses by just throwing more warm bodies at the problem than England is prepared for.

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    $\begingroup$ This is the most realistic answer that doesn’t require the OP to change their premise; The Germans can just be a little farther along their flight path when the time jump occurs, and the response aircraft could be just a little too far away to reach them before bombs away. $\endgroup$
    – Wes Sayeed
    Commented Nov 7, 2020 at 1:20
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    $\begingroup$ Are there any surface-to-air missile defenses near London or on the flight path? $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 7, 2020 at 3:53
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    $\begingroup$ At night with lights out, the Typhoons would have an incredible gunnery advantage: they see their targets on radar, and perhaps with NVG's or FLIR; the gunners on the bombers are starting into black sky; all they'd see are muzzle flashes. The limitation would be how long before the Typhoons exhausted their cannon ammo. $\endgroup$
    – Ralph J
    Commented Nov 7, 2020 at 5:55
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    $\begingroup$ Ground defence also will have hard time to react. They can tell it not missiles, they had no prior warnings from other systems, they can tell those are airplans, but squads can't confirm purpose of those presumably civilian crafts. Cleaning misunderstanding of personel involved and chain of command will be quite a mess. Even if there is a capacity to shoot down 250 aircrafts but doing so just because it is a dense group which does not have proper radio equipment - if they do and it turns out it was bunch of civilians those who took descision will be ripped in shreds the very next day. $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Commented Aug 25, 2021 at 18:01
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    $\begingroup$ @ReverentLapwing Military drills are common enough, that they will probably not believe the scenario for a second, but finishing off thier cigarette is not likely either since they know their performance on such drills comes under scrutiny. The readiness state of each unit is dictated in advance; so, if thier readiness state says they have to be ready in 5 minutes, then it's extra PT if it takes them 5 minutes and 1 second. So, I think the most believable depiction is to show systems coming online based on established doctrine timelines. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Commented Oct 31, 2023 at 17:02

TL;DR: I think the Luftwaffe crew will likely abort and attempt to get new orders, but if they don't it's going to go very badly for them.

First off, the German crews: Movies like Doctor Strangelove or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb aside, most soldiers and fighter pilots are not in fact gung-ho slaughter-happy warmongers, and will in fact be hesitant to fire on a target that isn't what they're expecting without explicit orders.

On top of that, this is the height of the Blitz, meaning that at that point most of the Luftwaffe pilots that are still alive are the ones that learned to be cautious.

Even without instrumentation or radio contact, day or night, it's going to be incredibly obvious that something is very wrong. There should be a blackout (if at night) or at the very least radio silence, the Channel should be almost empty aside from destroyers looking for U-boats, as they reach visual range of the British coast there should be signs of battle damage...

... But the Channel is teeming with civilian ships, there are multiple harbors open along the coast, and even if they don't speak english the radio frequencies are full of voices that sound, at most, mildly curious about something.

The closer they get to their supposed target, the less sense anything makes. Who knows, maybe they are the mental equivalent of General Ripper or Major T. J. "King" Kong and they'll decide zum Teufel mit alles and bomb anyway, but I doubt it.

If they do, however, continue on to...

The British response

For the sake of brevity I'm going to assume that they appear within nominal British airspace, or close enough to it that the French wouldn't be able to intercept before they get there and diplomatic concerns mean they won't try until it's too late to do anything about it.

The entire British coast, and especially the Channel, is blanketed with ATC radar. It takes approximately 0.5 seconds for every ATC officer and pilot on duty to spot them, one second to blink in surprise, call it ten more seconds to verify that yes, that's an actual contact, no, they weren't there ten seconds before, no, ATC radar hasn't just spectacularly malfunctioned, so yes, there are 125 unidentified aircraft flying in formation on a course that takes them straight through every single traffic lane and right over London.

Civilian Air Traffic Control is highly organized and every single pilot and operator knows how it works. Pilots in at-risk approach vectors are alerted, and the designated operator for the new contact starts calling them to please identify and state your flight plan, repeating the call with increasing insistence and urgency and reminding them of the various penalties and problems.

(If any of the Luftwaffe pilots speaks English at all, this highly amplifies the was-zum-Teufel feeling they're already experiencing)

Military ATC is equally on the ball, although the ATC officer is going to have to explain that no, he wasn't sleeping on the job, those contacts just appeared well within radar range, at a speed at which they couldn't possibly have failed to be noticed earlier.

By modern standards, their speed is ridiculously slow and that formation has almost no practical use -- but enough officers are military history buffs that someone will recognize it as a standard Luftwaffe attack formation, which means that at a minimum someone with the resources to refurbish 125 WW2-era aircraft to operational status has decided to use those resources to play Silly Buggers.

The two on-the-deck craft scramble immediately, all other craft which can get into the air within the expected timespan goes through emergency prep-and-scramble, every anti-air system with a firing arc that'll reach gets put on alert, and civilian traffic is ordered to divert to other airports while they sort out what's going on. At this point a large number of important people have just had their day disturbed, everyone is more than a little irked.

The Typhoons' first flyby happens at close to their maximum speed and blows past the Geschwader at a speed the Luftwaffe can't even begin to comprehend, there and gone before any of the fighter pilots can even react.

On their return pass, coming from behind, they casually reduce speed to sidle up to one of the fighters so that they can see cockpit-to-cockpit and gesture at them to Land, Right Now, Because You Assholes Are In So Much Trouble Already It's Not Funny.

The Luftwaffe pilot, already nervous as hell, panics and tries to evade, and the entire rest of the Gruppe follows suit, for all the good it'll do them -- they're entirely too slow and ungainly to get a firing pass on a Typhoon that doesn't feel like letting them.

The bomber crews, on the other hand, have turret gunners who could get a "lucky" surprise hit in when they open fire.

At this point, the shit hits the fan.

WW2 anti-fighter turret guns aren't terribly accurate, and panicked shots are even less so, so while I'm willing to grant them a lucky hit on the first Typhoon, their wingman is likely going to recover from the surprise at the very least quickly enough to report they've just been fired upon.

"Active hostiles already within British airspace" is a worst-case scenario and the RAF reacts accordingly. Those things look like WW2 bombers, they fly in formation like WW2 bombers, and they just fired on British aircraft like WW2 bombers. We've tried communicating, it hasn't worked, time to shoot second and interrogate the survivors later.

You'll have to ask an actual military historian about just how much air defense - both on-land and on-sea - the British army had on standby pre-9/11, but even a modest amount by 2001 standards would be sufficient to turn at least the bombers - big, hot, noisy and very distinct targets - into shrapnel.

Their fighter cover isn't going to be of any use; every single thing that's in a position to shoot at them is capable of doing so from so far beyond a WW2 fighter's visual range that the first indicator of return fire would be when one of the bombers suddenly explodes.

EDIT A comment on another answer points out that at supersonic speeds the Typhoon doesn't need to ram; just the pressure wash from a close flyby will knock most WW2 planes out of the air with no hope of recovery. Of course, a WW2 bomber with a full and live payload of bombs crashing on land is a problem all of its own, but in all likelihood still better than letting it fly on and drop its payload over London...

Second edit Another important detail to note that may sound like trivia but winds up being lethally relevant: WW2-era anti-air fire, especially at night, involved lobbing big explosive shrapnel shells into the air and basically hope they'd explode close enough to a bomber to do any good.

The bombers didn't really have any kind of way to evade and needed to stay on their attack runs anyway so they were trained to just fly in a perfectly straight line and bet their lives on the fact that any single shot had extremely low odds of connecting; the anti-air defense bet the civilians' lives on throwing up enough flak that even 'extremely low odds' statistically became a good chance.

Modern anti-air defenses have radar and predictive tracking that have a good chance of picking off anti-ship missiles coming in for a kill. Their targets are big fat obvious blobs of heat and metal moving almost ridiculously slowly in a straight line. It's going to be almost impossible for them to miss.

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    $\begingroup$ I think you just wrote the story OP was trying to write. I really enjoyed reading this. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 6, 2020 at 22:12
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    $\begingroup$ Excellent. Well articulated. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 24, 2020 at 0:21
  • $\begingroup$ "were trained to just fly in a perfectly straight line and bet their lives". Sorry, but this is so false it is hilarious. Here, take a look at this vintage WW2 anti-Flak training movie for bomber pilots. youtube.com/watch?v=PIYVwqHM488 $\endgroup$
    – PcMan
    Commented Aug 25, 2021 at 16:31
  • $\begingroup$ @PcMan You are in a way both correct. When crossing from the chanel on the way to your target, there are those evasive tactics, but in the 30 seconds leading up to releasing thier bombs (the attack run), the bombers had to fly in a perfectly straight line for thier instruments to work or else thier bombs would go way off target. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Commented Oct 31, 2023 at 17:17

The Eurofighters can shoot down the bombers

A WWII bomber is not that different to a propeller-driven transport aircraft of today in terms of signature. Modern fighters can shoot down C130 Hercules, Pilatus Porter and similar modern or slightly outdated transports, so WWII Luftwaffe aircraft would be sitting ducks.

If modern fighter aircraft and their munitions were so optimised for a small set of aircraft types that they could not shoot down anything outside those parameters, they would be easily spoofed by an enemy using slightly modified aircraft.

The story would have been more plausible back when infra-red heat seeking missiles were first introduced, as the sensors in those missiles were so primitive that they could only lock onto the rear aspect of a jet aircraft and would truly have been ineffective against a propeller-driven aircraft. However, as technology has become more advanced the sensors and associated software have become more sensitive and they are much better at shooting down low-signature targets that are trying to minimise their emissions.


They can.

Steel and aluminium construction shows up quite well on modern radar and thousand horsepower V-12 or radial engines produce plenty of heat for heat seeking missiles to lock onto.

Plus, fighter jets capable of Mach 2 can easily match speed with the 200+ mph cruising speed of a WW2 bomber. This is demonstrated every Battle of Britain Day and similar events, as the last flying Avro Lancaster is accompanied by the RAF's latest and shiniest flying in fairly close formation with it.

Plot twist : It's the First World War bombers they have trouble with.

Wood and fabric has very little radar cross section, leaving only a small radial engine and perhaps a couple of machine guns to get a lock on. And with a puny 100 horsepower, there's not much heat in the exhaust for the heat seeking missiles.

But that's not the real deal...

And this has, in essence, actually happened in real life.

While the Russian Polikarpov PO-2 was not a real WW1 aircraft, having first flown in 1927, it was very much in the same tradition, designed to replace the 1914 Avro-504 as a basic trainer, and with a 99hp (74kW) engine. And yet,

The Po-2 is also the only biplane credited with a documented jet-kill, as one Lockheed F-94 Starfire was lost while slowing down to 161 km/h (100 mph) – below its stall speed – during an intercept in order to engage the low flying Po-2.

The real secret is speed ... too little of it!

This DOES also apply to ONE active service WW2 aircraft ... the Fairey Swordfish, a biplane torpedo bomber hopelessly obsolete even in 1940, and capable of 140mph, but happier much slower. Especially since their opponents couldn't dial their fire predictor systems down slow enough to engage them...

Nothing today is calibrated to fly as slowly as a WW1-era or WW1 style biplane.

Except of course, helicopters.

Yes the RAF does have helicopters, but they are mainly transport, or training, and unarmed, with the exception of 2 squadrons of Pumas. These are lightly armed (2 machine guns each, like the Sopwith Camel) but are based at RAF Benson in Oxfordshire, well off station.

So the attack can only proceed as planned until conventional defences have failed, and the RAF can get though enough bureaucracy and convince SOMEBODY in the Army to scramble any of their helicopters...

but most likely

The invaders would notice something very wrong. As in The Doppelganger Machine which you might enjoy - it has slipped through a bit of a wormhole itself ... but the Armstrong Whitworth Argosy crew noticed pretty quickly that Croydon Aerodrome wasn't there any more, but luckily someone had built another one near Hounslow!

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    $\begingroup$ "Nothing today is calibrated to fly as slowly as a WW1-era or WW1 style biplane. Except of course, helicopters." - Harrier Jump Jets too, if there are any around. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 6, 2020 at 9:56
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    $\begingroup$ @user3153372 sadly, by the time you dig the Harriers out of museums, fuel them, and find where the Harrier-trained pilots went, that's a lot more than the 4 minutes WW2 squadrons had to scramble. Some F35s maybe, but those are on carriers which could be anywhere. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 6, 2020 at 11:28

There is a powerful electromagnetic pulse effect emanating from the recent temporal event.

This has knocked out more sensitive electronics, outside of the emp shielding of the Typhoon. Hardened radios survived, hence the recent call, but the more sensitive equipment on the typhoon, missile included, was wiped out. This also explains why they don't just call the German government to call them off- their equipment was fried for much more than shielded hand held radio range transmissions. While a chain of radio transmissions would be set up, it would take time.

Presumably this also knocks out the on board cannon or they would just shoot them down.

Ramming wouldn't be their first choice. It would be suicide.

Jet planes fly much too fast to safely ram another plane, and the pilots wouldn't have a lot of experience safely slowing down to ram the planes. They would be willing to do it to prevent another 9/11 style event, and a full speed collision would likely take out several, but it would be a last resort.

They have several options to attack them.

They could do high speed fly by's. Wake turbulence can destabilize planes and repeated fly by's could knock them off course.

They could drop the missiles. While the missiles may or may not explode if they rammed into a plane, at high speed they are still heavy metal objects. This would be very dependent on a very skilled pilot.

They could fly near the germans and release their chaff, flares, and other countermeasures against missiles in the hopes of knocking them off course.

They could also slow down, and try to radio to ground people to open fire with whatever guns and missiles they had, relaying their location by radio.

If that doesn't work, yes they could ram them. They could slow down to ram them, but doing so would risk being shot down as they would have to get close at a slow speed. They would likely ram them at full speed to guarantee a kill. It would kill the pilot, but it would take out several planes.

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    $\begingroup$ Ramming wouldn't even work even if you did hit your target since modern fighter jets are too expensive and too few in number to be disposable. You just wouldn't have enough jets. WW2 airplanes on the other hand were cheaper, very numerous, and were essentially disposable compared to modern fighters. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Commented Nov 5, 2020 at 6:09
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    $\begingroup$ EMP sufficient to knock out a modern fighters sensors and weapons would likely knock out the entire aircraft... modern fighters are fly-by-wire, and are uncontrollable without computer assistance. Knock out the electronics - which will be hardened against EMP - and you've effectively killed the whole aircraft. $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild
    Commented Nov 5, 2020 at 7:47
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    $\begingroup$ To add to @MontyWild's comment, even if the modern planes did survive, modern fighters are built to withstand EMP. And if the EMP could knock that out, it would knock out the alternators, radios, etc. in the bombers. However, +1 for the frame challenge concerning the ramming problem. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Nov 5, 2020 at 7:59
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    $\begingroup$ -1 for absurdity: "They could also slow down, and have their co pilot take an on board gun, open the hatch, and fire from that." 1.) Typhoons don't have a "co-pilot", only the trainer version has two seats. 2.) The canopy is not designed to be opened in flight. 3.) A handgun is not going to do much to a bomber. $\endgroup$
    – T.J.L.
    Commented Nov 5, 2020 at 14:32
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    $\begingroup$ @JBH: Aircraft piston engines typically use magnetos to drive the spark plugs. Magneto-based ignition systems require more maintenance than systems that run off a DC supply, which is why they're no longer used in cars, but aircraft engines are higher-maintenance in general than car engines, and so the extra maintenance requirements of magnetos aren't an issue. Since a magneto is nothing more than a couple of coils wrapped around a pole, a contact, and a moving magnet, and since airplane engines often have two complete ignition systems, I don't think EMP would affect a WWII plane's engine... $\endgroup$
    – supercat
    Commented Nov 6, 2020 at 17:55

Count the Bombers. Count the AAMs. Count the shells.

The RAF has two fighters each on QRA duty, with eight missiles and presumably 150 rounds for their guns. Say they waste their shells on warning shots and the absolute best case would be shooting down 32 enemy aircraft. More likely they will expend more than one missile per target.

A German bomber Gruppe would be around 48 aircraft. (I'm not deep enough into military history to tell how strong Blitz-era bomber groups were.)

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    $\begingroup$ Can you make clear what is the difference between this and Nosajimiki's answer? $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Commented Nov 5, 2020 at 7:25
  • $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch-ReinstateMonica, nominal numbers for the German Gruppe (and counting both QRA stations). Yes, that could have been a comment. $\endgroup$
    – o.m.
    Commented Nov 5, 2020 at 16:53
  • $\begingroup$ The question references only a single squadron (Staffel) being transported. At best that's 12 aircraft, often less because some would be off-line for repairs etc. $\endgroup$
    – Mon
    Commented Nov 5, 2020 at 22:56
  • $\begingroup$ @Mon, the Luftwaffe would have used elements of several Gruppen from one Geschwader against one city. $\endgroup$
    – o.m.
    Commented Nov 6, 2020 at 6:17
  • $\begingroup$ Once they realize this is an actual threat they're not going to waste missiles on the fighters as long as there are still bombers around, and a WW2-style fighter screen is going to be about as useful against modern anti-air defenses as a paper umbrella. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 6, 2020 at 10:05

The German bomber crews were "unaware" that they travelled through some sort of anomaly to make the time jump. That implies the anomaly was not visible or otherwise easy to detect, else the pilots would have attempted to avoid it (or at a minimum would have been aware that they just flew through something strange).

Why can't your modern aircraft shoot down the bombers? While they were en route to intercept the bombers, they unknowingly flew into the other side of the same anomaly. The interceptors suddenly find themselves in 1940, flying head-first into the rest of the incoming German planes. The modern fighters will likely notice the difference a lot faster than the German bomber pilots would, but they'd be equally confused. They're more equipped to fight their way out of the immediate situation, but their long-term survival would similarly be in question (in a time of war, who's going to trust an unrecognized aircraft that you can't communicate with and allow it to land?).

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    $\begingroup$ Whilst the modern fighters would have the technical advantage, the German bomber wave has the advantage of expecting the fighters to be hostile. So they would be filling the entire region of sky the fighters are approaching from with defensive fire at first sight of the fighters, whereas the fighters would need to spend a few seconds to realise they are under fire and engaging a hostile target. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 6, 2020 at 2:03
  • $\begingroup$ @user1937198 Would they even be able to "see" the modern jet fighters, given modern radar stealth technologies and the primitive state of WW2 radar technology? $\endgroup$
    – nick012000
    Commented Nov 6, 2020 at 4:23
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    $\begingroup$ @nick012000 radar wouldn't come into it until after the modern fighters have determined that the bombers are hostile. They'd be closing to visual range. (The Germans wouldn't have radar at all, so radar stealth has no impact on them) $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 6, 2020 at 10:37
  • $\begingroup$ @nick012000 - Also, given the original prompt involves a nighttime bombing raid, it would be hard to "see" the modern jets in the traditional sense as well. They'd be pushing Mach 1, so there's no way you'll miss hearing them blow past you. $\endgroup$
    – bta
    Commented Nov 7, 2020 at 3:44
  • $\begingroup$ @bta At which point they're well, well beyond the reach of any defensive fire a Luftwaffe Gruppe might be able to bring to bear and Goering's Boys are about to have a terrible, terrible evening. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 19, 2021 at 18:47

Mon has answered with how the Germans would react, but no matter if the Germans press on or turn back they'll run into territory that isn't owned by Germany. Regardless of what the Germans decide to do, someone is going to react. How would they react?

First the radar will pick them up. Many of these fighters will look more like civilian planes than military combat planes to these radars. Modern AA equipment determines the difference between military or civilian targets and warns the user if they target a civilian craft since shooting down civilians (who might include your own) is such a hassle to deal with and a waste of ammunition you want to use for actual threats. The bombers could be identified as anything, but since they appear with dozens of "civilian" craft no ground AA unit would fire at it until a lengthy conversation is had on what they are, if they should shoot and what they should shoot. So a more close look by interceptors in the air is warranted. Due to the airspeed some modern Helicopters might actually also be able to keep up and intercept these aircraft despite a lack of training for these scenario's.

Russia is still occasionally sending old long-range bombers across the sea's towards Europe for reasons I don't know and can only speculate on. These are intercepted and brought back to their airspace, with the option to shoot them down if they fail to respond. Such interceptions also happen several times a year with civilian aircraft for various reasons. The Russian aircraft when intercepted are guided through various airspaces back to Russian territory, the escort changing as with the territory they pass through. This makes it likely that when London thinks they might be bombed they will request nearby countries to help intercept them, the ludicrous speed of modern jets allowing them to get there in short time (not sure if they would be fast enough though).

And now for the last bit: History. Aircraft that disappear are easy to change into legends. A large portion or even an entire German air attack disappearing without a trace? Not only does this have massive consequences for the overall war (especially with how compromised German communication and spy networks were and the propaganda material it gives the allies), it also remains embedded in the history and minds of people. When a sudden German airforce shows up they'll likely be able to talk to them in some capacity and hope they can clear enough airfields for the Germans to land on, assuming they can talk the Germans out of bombing London anyway.

However if we assume that the Germans will press on their attack and refuse to talk to the air controllers and you still need a way for these aircraft not to be shot down quickly by a coalition of modern interceptor aircraft, your best bet is the space-time hole that brought them there in the first place. Technobabble it with things like ripples of space-time that throw off modern computers that make locking on tough.

This instantly causes a huge problem for the modern military. Without locking missiles they don't have the capacity to engage the aircraft with their modern interceptors. They are just too fast to get a decent shot at the aircraft and are more likely to ram the Germans as they try to aim for them than they are to hit them with their canons. The best bet I see is to arm things like the Trainer turboprops and use those for combat, as well as arm several of the helicopters and use those in the engagement. They'll not have the time to do this before the Germans bomb London though.

  1. They would have no transponders so would only be detected on Primary Radar, this on its own would send alarm bells ringing.

  2. If they were equipped with FuG 1 or 2 radios, these operated on what is now the Medium Waveband and they used AM (amplitude modulation). The cacophony they would hear from that height (which might include some German stations) would at best be confusing, the power of modern broadcast transmitters might jam their radios even for use between themselves.

  3. They would not have modern Airband so two-way communications with them would be impossible.

  4. They would have lost Radio Navigation

  5. Sharing airspace with so many modern jets, they would have to toe the line or be shot down

  6. If they were persuaded to land, where would they land? and what would we do with the crew?

  7. To any European from the 1940s, London would appear like New York or Chicago.

Those aircraft would be a serious threat and the outcome would be very hard to determine.

  • $\begingroup$ They'd get persuaded to land at whatever RAF base(s) had Space-A handy to receive them, or in a pinch, at a not-so-busy civilian airport (more Southend than Heathrow) $\endgroup$
    – Shalvenay
    Commented Nov 19, 2021 at 0:40

Interpreting the question as posed to be a request for a plausible reason, not a full tactical analysis.

A modern fighter could conceivably have problems shooting down a WW-2 bomber because (a) its air-to-air missiles have infrared (IR) homing but the German planes don't have high-temperature jet exhaust and (b) there is too much of a disparity in their airspeed making targeting them with cannon- which are typically limited to a few dozen rounds- extremely difficult.

As justification, note the trouble to which designers of stealth aircraft go to baffle the exhaust, and note the extremely poor kill rate that the rocket-powered Me163 had against propeller-driven bombers.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Targeting of slower aircraft has gotten far better over the past 70 years or so. The Me-163 had what were effectively iron sights; the Eurofighter Typhoon has a targeting computer. And it would be quite capable of handling the low speed: a Ju-88 cruises slightly faster than an An-12, an airplane the Eurofighter is designed to engage. $\endgroup$
    – Mark
    Commented Nov 7, 2020 at 4:00
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the detail. However as I said I was attempting to provide plausible reasons, as requested by OP. It would be far easier to point out that time travel doesn't happen, so the bombers couldn't be shot down :-) $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 7, 2020 at 9:26

The time travel isn't just a "one and done" phenomena. Something keeps kicking the bombers and fighters back and forth between the two times. The German pilots are just as confused as anyone, maybe more, when their view keeps changing every few minutes.

Just as the modern fighters catch up to the Germans, the whole Flight disappears. The fighters start searching for them and the bombers and their escorts show up another 0.75 km from where they were. The Germans think they are flying a linear path through time and space, but to the fighters, they appear to hop through the path.

The Germans may also appear in random spots in their flight path in modern times. The first time they are seen, it might be right over the coast, then the next time they are just off the coast headed inland, then a few km outside of London, then closer to the coast again. This causes confusion with radio contact, since the Germans will wonder why the Air Traffic Controller knows them by name and designation the first time they speak, then seems to forget ever talking to them later on.

One of the German fighters reacts and fires some shots at a modern fighter that "just suddenly appears" in front of them, and gets shot down in return. The modern fighters end up shooting down some of the other aircraft, but are hesitant to do so, because of the odd nature of the situation. Also, the WWII aircraft have a tendency to disappear as the modern fighters start firing. The fighters get missile lock and fire, only for there to be nothing to intercept.

And the old planes themselves are hard to just plain shoot, because they are so slow. By the time a modern fighter gets one in their sights, it's fallen behind because the fighter didn't have enough time to slow down from intercept speed to actually fire. Not to mention that the German pilots are well versed in dogfights, so they know how to move their planes in ways a high speed fighter just can't follow. Remember, some of these older planes are known for their ability to do aerobatics. A modern fighter can do some amazing flying, but usually near Mach speeds, and a modern "dogfight" has little in common with a WWII dogfight.

Most Germans eventually peel off and head back to base, once they are back in their own time, since they are completely confused by what's going on, so different appearances in modern times show different numbers of aircraft than earlier reports, further confusing the situation.

Also, back in their own time, the Germans happen across a group of Allied fighters and anti-aircraft fire, ending up with damage that changes their appearance between modern sightings, as well as the formation changing considerably.

As the Germans get closer to London, they realize they can't drop the bombs, but also can't turn back, since they feel the need to continue working with the modern people to figure out what's going on for themselves.

There may even be a "lead" plane that can't get out of the time loop, no matter what they do, but that might be too much of a TV trope. It may also make the plot too complicated.

At the end of the story, it's up to you whether the Germans get back to base in their own time or get shot down in Modern or Original Era London. And it's up to you whether you continue the story through the pilots and crew trying to explain it to their superiors when they arrive. You can also end with the English side trying to locate the "ghost Flight" in the history books.

Good luck. Sounds like a good story. I've already seen the movie in my head. I didn't recognize any of the actors, but the CGI was spot on. :-)

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ "Remember, some of these older planes are known for their ability to do aerobatics." Not really. The fighters, sure. But anyone trying to do aerobatics in a Lancaster or Flying Fortress, the last thing going through their mind will be the windscreen, as the fuselage hits the ground minus wings. $\endgroup$
    – Graham
    Commented Nov 6, 2020 at 0:43
  • $\begingroup$ @Graham I beg to differ: it'll be a piece of the instrument board. $\endgroup$
    – Trish
    Commented Nov 6, 2020 at 10:10
  • $\begingroup$ @Graham, I was talking about the fighters, but I've also seen a WWII era bomber do a barrel roll IRL at the Quad Cities Air Show maybe 5 years back. The pilot had to refire the engines when the fuel pump hit fuel again on the downside. He did it just a couple hundred ft above the tarmac. I can't find video of it, so I realize this isn't hard proof. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 6, 2020 at 17:28
  • $\begingroup$ @computercarguy A barrel roll is only "aerobatics" if you're being generous. $\endgroup$
    – T.J.L.
    Commented Nov 6, 2020 at 19:10
  • $\begingroup$ @T.J.L., wow, really? I was using that as an example of how the above comments were completely underestimating the ability of WWII aircraft and the pilots. In war, pilots learn real quickly how to get out of the way of ammunition, regardless what they fly. A bomber might not do it as well as other craft, but they don't just fly 100% straight, either. Also, an airplane the size of a building going inverted is impressive. Period. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 6, 2020 at 19:44

2 days earlier a representative of the agency which keeps watch for strangely disappeared military units (this isn't the first time) briefed the QRA pilots.

Their radio team has its dipole up and a short wave operator - and a rather quicker encryption system than the original on hand - ready to issue suitable orders.

How did we know they were likely to appear two days after we briefed you? {taps nose annoyingly} phases of the moon old chap, phases of the moon. Or energy fluxes in the continuum or whatever - you thought the Prospero satellite was just for show didn't you.


For actual targeting problems, EMP in the time travel event is probably the best bet. And as other replies mentioned, the ammunition limitations meaning they're not likely to get all the bombers.

But, if they have the presence of mind to believe it is the Luftwaffe out of time soon enough to react, the British Government would be on the phone to the German Government immediately, and both would be scrambling to get on the right radio frequency and format to the bomber formation to tell them that they had time travelled and the countries were now at peace and allied. They could lie and tell them the Nazis won if necessary to get them to stand down, and only break the news once they land.

A couple supersonic flybys close to their formation would help make the point with sonic booms and a scary demonstration of performance differential without shots being fired. In addition to everything else they would see being clearly different, they might well be dissuaded. A bunch of news helicopters approaching the formation might be another clear sign that they were no longer in 1940, and a possible source of difficulty for the intercepting fighters unless and until the bombers start shooting at them and they flee.


What would stop the intercepting aircraft from getting a missile lock on the aircraft

They never got the chance to get a missile lock because they didn't have time.

The bombers came through the time warp not over the English Channel, but over a large patch of undeveloped farm land only a few miles south of London. There was no time to get any fighters in the air to intercept them. Even today there is a lot of fields and farmland just south of London.

With respect to radio communications we have two possible answers.

  1. The time warp stays open for several minutes, so radio communications to Germany travel through the time warp and remain intact during that time.
  2. When the German pilots lost communications with their command structure, they didn't jump to the conclusion that they went through a time warp (that would be implausible). Rather they assumed that the English were somehow jamming the radios as a countermeasure.

If you want to handle the problem of there being too many lights in London to make sense, then just say that the time warp caused an electromagnetic disturbance that caused a power outage in the surrounding area. The EMP disturbance happened on the future end as the rift was opening, so it didn't affect anything in the past, and was gone before the planes went through.


As all of the other answers have said, you don't really have a good scenario where the Nazis can't be shot down essentially instantly.

Give the Brits a bit of knowledge about what's happening, though. Turns out they know that time travel changes the composition of those bombers and their contents, and having the bombers themselves explode with a full load is essentially setting off a modern hydrogen bomb - wave goodbye to London. BUT - the bombs they're carrying can be dropped individually and will do every bit as much damage as they would have done in 1941, but when dropped as regular bombs don't have the critical mass to do anything extra.


The scenario of German bombers able to get to London is nearly as unlikely to a German Cessna getting to Moscow during the Cold War - which actually happened in 1987.

The key is not that the RAF is unable to shot down WWII era bombers, the key is that nobody in the UK is going to see that group of planes slowly moving across the Channel as a threat. The event of some planes arriving in the UK without having notified a flight plan, not having a transponder and not answering to air traffic control is an issue that, if noticed, needs to be addressed by aviation authorities, but it's unlikely to be dealt by shooting down the involved planes. If the normal procedure was releasing the AA missiles at first sight, we would learn in the news about several planes shoot down every year for failing to identify themselves.

Clarification after comment:

How is Britain actually protected against German bombers nowadays? The same answer applies to the remaining countries of Western Europe.

It is protected on two ways:

  • Allying with Germany. Even if an squadron of German Eurofighters unexpectedly crosses the Channel, the UK would treat it as an aviation concern, but the least concert is that it could be the Luftwaffe attacking London.
  • German police controlling the fabrication of explosives, making it virtually impossible that anybody else than a state could get a load of aircraft bombs in Europe.

Therefore, even in the sight of an squadron of old planes, the RAF wouldn't assume that they are going to bomb anything.

Of course, since 2001 terrorism is a concern whenever a rogue plane is found, and those planes might be suspected of intending to crash into London.

Therefore, I stand that an squadron of WWII bombers wouldn't be shoot down at first sight, because all we know that Germany and the UK aren't going to bomb each other with WWII planes. In fact, that's the same reason for vampires in London not to be shot with silver bullets: London police knows that vampires don't exist. Being something assumed to be impossible is a great way to overcome defences.

Of course, once the planes start dropping bombs things would change and they would be dealt with the available tools to the 21st century RAF.

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    $\begingroup$ We're talking about multiple aircraft in formation appearing out of nowhere. That is going to be seen as a threat. $\endgroup$
    – T.J.L.
    Commented Nov 6, 2020 at 19:12
  • $\begingroup$ It may depend in how many is "multiple", but I'm sure a few old planes (an squadron) coming from an NATO country is not expected to be a bomber full of bombs. $\endgroup$
    – Pere
    Commented Nov 6, 2020 at 21:06
  • $\begingroup$ The OP specified one squadron. According to a quick wikipedia check, a Geschwader would be roughly 125 planes, a mixture of bombers and fighter escort, flying in close formation. That's going to draw attention really damn fast. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 7, 2020 at 1:23
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Shadur - Being 125 planes may help discard the terrorism concern. $\endgroup$
    – Pere
    Commented Nov 7, 2020 at 21:23
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Reasonable answer which is downvoted for nothing. $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Commented Aug 25, 2021 at 18:16

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