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Heavy Bomber defensive weapons

Discussion in 'Air War in Western Europe 1939 - 1945' started by GunSlinger86, May 14, 2021.

  1. GunSlinger86

    GunSlinger86 Well-Known Member

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    Does anyone know how effective the .50 caliber guns on the B-17 and B-24 were against enemy fighters? Were they able to shoot down a lot of fighters during their missions?
     
  2. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    They still definitely needed escort fighters. At times the losses were up to 10% which was the limit for being able to continue the bombing. B-17 Was in books By German pilots a horrible enemy with guns shooting everywhere but still the daytime bomber formations, I think, got a heavier beating than the night bombers.
    I don't have exact figures but like you can sen the German fighters did a lot of damage. Losing some 55,000 bomber crew men sounds horrible.
     
  3. Carronade

    Carronade Ace

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    Hopefully someone like @mcoffee or @RichTO90 will come along with actual information, but from what I've read, the bombers rarely shot down as many fighters as they lost of themselves. And of course trading heavy bombers for single-seat fighters wasn't much of an exchange.

    Extravagant claims were made, mainly I think in good faith. When a fighter went into a dive, which might or might not mean it was damaged, any gunner who shot at it might legitimately believe he was the one who hit it. Post-mission debriefings narrowed the claims down some, but the "confirmed" were generally still in excess of the enemy's actual losses.

    One intangible benefit might be whatever deterrent effect massed .50-caliber fire had on attacking fighters. At the very least, it made them make their runs as fast as possible, giving minimal time to set up and shoot.

    Personally I think they could have made do with a few fewer guns, reducing weight and drag and allowing them to carry more bombs. B-24 groups often removed the ball turret, sometimes replacing it with a single or twin .50 firing through the hole. Lower waist guns as on the B-26 seem a good option for lower hemisphere defense, especially considering that planes in formation can cover each other. How much of an improvement was the chin turret on the B-17G over the single .50 in the nose* on the -F?

    * some -Fs had twin .50s in the nose, though this does not appear to have been widespread, perhaps a field modification.
     
    Last edited: May 17, 2021
  4. bronk7

    bronk7 Well-Known Member

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    ..some of it depends on the skill of the gunner and the skill of the pilot they are shooting at.....
     
  5. Thumpalumpacus

    Thumpalumpacus Active Member

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    Much overclaiming by gunners, a result of each fighter being shot at by everyone and his grandmother, but as Carronade notes above, the deterrent effect was useful.

    Indeed, the -17G and -24G/H both arose precisely because the Germans figured out that the noses on both planes were the weakest points, and took up frontal attacks. This speaks to the deterrent power of the guns.

    No fighter pilot, German or Japanese, liked attacking either bomber, especially when they had a tight formation.
     
  6. mcoffee

    mcoffee Son-of-a-Gun(ner)

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    Every gunner was by no means firing at every fighter. Gunners were taught to fire only at fighters turning directly at their aircraft. The problem of tracking a fighter's pursuit curve from a moving platform was difficult enough that firing at a fighter approaching a different part of the formation had close to zero chances of success and was a waste of ammunition. The position firing method taught to the gunners worked only on fighters coming at their aircraft.

    Per the Army Air Forces Statistical Digest, World War II, Heavy Bombers accounted for 6,098 enemy fighters in the ETO while Fighters accounted for 7,422 enemy fighters destroyed in the air. Did gunners overclaim? Sure. Did fighter pilots overclaim? Yes.

    Gunners were required to submit claim forms diagramming the engagement with the enemy aircraft and the claim had to be witnessed by other crew members. Having the entire mission records of a B-24 Group and seeing the included claim forms, there are surprisingly few claims that could possibly be duplicates. It was the job of the Intelligence Officers to weed out the duplicates and based on the documents I've seen, they did a reasonably well. Again, sure overclaims were made, but not to the extent that seems to be the popular opinion.

    An example claim form below. This particular aircraft was the Group lead for 4 July, and no other aircraft in the Group made a claim for a fighter executing an attack from in front of the formation. The claimant was a navigator riding the nose turret (as was SOP for lead aircraft) to assist in identify landmarks enroute.

    Trogdon Claim Form.jpg
     
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  7. harolds

    harolds Member

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    If you read the German accounts, they suggest that the hail of fire from the bombers was quite effective in keeping many fighter pilots from closing to a range where they stood a good chance of destroying or severely damaging a bomber. German pilots would start firing and break off before they were in effective range. This caused quite a furor in the jagdtwaffe, Goring accused the pilots of "bomberschreck" and other forms of cowardice.

    The American defensive fire, properly aimed, took out or damage many German fighters but often the pilots survived because the big engine in front of them soaked up the 50 cal. bullets. German guns and ammo were found to be somewhat inadequate. In 1942-43 the average German FW 190 carried two Mauser 20mm cannon, 2 20mmFF cannon and two rifle caliber MGs in the upper cowling. Both the armament and ammo was improved. Tactics were also improved: the head on/12 o'clock high attack in heavy numbers, improved their results. Later on, gruppen with heavily armored and armed FW 190s were able to close and destroy bombers much more handily. They probably could have ended daylight bombing of Germany, but unfortunately for them, American aviation industry came up with the long range P47 and P51.

    Short answer: The 50 cal. was adequate but by mid-1943 and 1944, adding some 20mm cannons would have been helpful. (My opinion)
     
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  8. Thumpalumpacus

    Thumpalumpacus Active Member

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    On the other hand, how many LW fighters were claimed at 1st Schweinfurt, vs actual LW loss tallies? According to AirForceMagazine.com:

    The Cost of Schweinfurt - Air Force Magazine.

    That's one hell of a claim:actual ratio -- 88% overclaims. Amongst other reasons, I'd imagine that multiple gunners shooting at the same target played a role. Other factors are almost certainly present, but the predicate behind box formations was precisely that bombers not being attacked could provide defensive fire as well.
     
    Last edited: May 16, 2021
  9. RichTO90

    RichTO90 Well-Known Member

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    The actual reported loss was 31 totally destroyed, 4 missing, and 2 damaged 60% or more (which required a factory rebuild. So 37 aircraft lost, for c. 61 bombers lost. And the German claims were for 121 definite and 51 probable to fighters and 6 to flak. And it took 882 German fighter sorties to gain that result.
     
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  10. CAC

    CAC Ace of Spades

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    This ties in with my idea of having a gatling in the tail of the bombers...20mm ideally but .303 gatling would still spook most fighters and if it didn't, it would then take that fighter out...
     
  11. Takao

    Takao Ace

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    German fighter coming in!

    Brrrrrrt. Got 'em! But I'm out of ammo and he has 20 friends.


    The US & Japanese tried turning bombers into gunship escorts. It did not work out well for either.
     
  12. Takao

    Takao Ace

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    Gatling gun...Shmatling gun.
    [​IMG]
     
  13. bronk7

    bronk7 Well-Known Member

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    ..how many gunners completed how many missions = how much experience did they get at shooting at live targets? how much training did they get? what kind of training was it?
     
  14. CAC

    CAC Ace of Spades

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  15. CAC

    CAC Ace of Spades

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    Once again finding reasons to be contrary...the idea is sound, that’s already been established...a trained user could put stream close and walk it in...the behind shot is the best shot at a sustained hit...you have the line, you only need to work the length...the aircraft moving away allows for more time on the target...I hope everyone knows that. So if you can defend that angle, either by shooting down the fighter or more likely scare the fighters off that approach then you have instantly made their attack considerably more difficult. Before you ‘shoot’ the idea down, B-52s and I think Russian bombers have used this in the tail...
     
  16. harolds

    harolds Member

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    The straight attack from 6:00 was indeed a non-habit forming maneuver. That's why the LW fighters came in from other angles. They didn't have to necessarily shoot down the bomber, all they had to do was damage it badly enough so that it dropped out of formation. Then it was easy pickings. This points out that bomber gunners weren't just shooting at the fighters attacking their plane, but shooting at any fighter that came anywhere close to being in range. This cone of fire was a very scary thing to be on the receiving end of! One veteran LW fighter pilot said he would rather take one a dozen Spitfires than attack the bomber stream.

    My uncle Glenn was a flight engineer/top turret gunner in the 15th AF. He said that fighter attacks were rare but when they did happen, it was only by one or two fighters slipping through the escorts. He said none of them survived. The coned fire of dozens of bomber gunners resulted in the enemy plane blowing up in a fireball!
     
  17. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    The armoured Fw190's attacking head to head shooting at the B-17 pilots. Not a happy situation.
     
  18. CAC

    CAC Ace of Spades

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    And then comes the chin turrets...game over.
     
  19. Takao

    Takao Ace

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    It has? Where?

    The old style Gatlings in .58 caliber had a slower rate of fire than twin M-2 Brownings. The modern Gatlings burn through too much ammo to be effective without radar guided fire control.

    So, how much ammo is this 20mm Gatling going to carry? One 20mm weighed twice as much as a .50 round. So, right there you have half the ammo carried by the tail gunner. With the M-61 putting out up to 100 rounds per second, a B-17, weight wise, would have a total of about 4 seconds of ammunition for the entire mission.

    And burn up how much ammunition doing so?

    And it is the easiest one to shoot down the attacking aircraft...Which is why the normal day fighters stopped stacking from the rear and attacked from the front. At least until the Sturmbocks were introduced, but even they took severe losses.

    A B-52 is not a B-17.

    Further, the Gatling was first fitted to the H models, earlier models carried a quad .50 rear turret. The M-61 Gatling was also fitted to the B-58 Hustler. IIRC, Soviet bombers carried twin tail cannons, not Gatlings.

    Finally, each of the two MIG kills by quad .50s, used up 700-800 rounds of ammunition. 800 rounds was the entire mission load out for the B-17s rear twin .50s.
     
  20. Thumpalumpacus

    Thumpalumpacus Active Member

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    My point was that massive overclaiming by American gunners (288 claimed vs 31 actual to use your figure) was present there, and that multiple gunners shooting at the same targets likely played a role.
     

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