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Posted: 12/20/2009 12:31:52 PM EDT
So the Memphis Bell is on, and as I'm watching it, a question arrises. How accurate were the gunners on these old birds? They show decent success, but I can't imagine trying to his a plane flying 200+mph with a few bullets. I'm way to young to remember any of it, and all my relatives that would have any insight are passed or never thought about it. So I pose this question to the most intelligent (term used loosely ) group I know. What kind of success rates did the gunners have? Were they really enough to protect the group against attacking planes?
Link Posted: 12/20/2009 12:41:06 PM EDT
It depends upon who is asked.Some people can pull out X,XXX numbers of German and Japanese fighters downed but there is also the school of thought that other than boosting morale,they served little actual defensive purpose and the planes would have been better served carrying less weight and that when considerations are made about the number of flight crew who perished,they were actually a net loss.

  An individual gunner did not have a great chance at a small target with a closing speed of near 600mph.However,many fighters were lost due to the sheer number of .50 rounds that a box could sling into the air so that collectively the guns worked fairly well but individually,they really didn't work that well.There is also no way of knowing how many bombers were lost to .50 caliber fratricide.

Link Posted: 12/20/2009 12:44:29 PM EDT
I have seen the 'no defensive armament' argument before, but honestly, I suspect that the German fighters would have had a field day with that, given they would still be almost 100MPH faster and much more manueverable.  OTOH, the British Mosquito combined no defensive armament with a very high speed and ceiling, as well as being much more nimble, and they did just fine.
Link Posted: 12/20/2009 12:47:38 PM EDT
Believing that the bombers defensive armament was enough protection was proven dead wrong during the Schweinfurt-Regensburg mission, where 60 of the 600 B-17's were shot down. A great many more were damaged. Most of the carnage was caused by fighters. It was after this that the decision was made to get fighters escorting bombers to and from the target as soon as possible.
Link Posted: 12/20/2009 1:04:33 PM EDT
[Last Edit: 12/20/2009 1:06:36 PM EDT by GI-45]





Originally Posted By outofbattery:



An individual gunner did not have a great chance at a small target with a closing speed of near 600mph. However, many fighters were lost due to the sheer number of .50 rounds that a box could sling into the air so that collectively the guns worked fairly well but individually, they really didn't work that well.There is also no way of knowing how many bombers were lost to .50 caliber fratricide.








Yep, this. Most enemy fighters downed by gunners would have been the result of luck, or by the combined efforts of multiple gunners shooting at the same target. The number of victories claimed by individual bomber crews are almost certainly inaccurate, since multiple crews would probably claim the same enemy plane as "theirs."
 
Link Posted: 12/20/2009 1:08:07 PM EDT
[Last Edit: 12/20/2009 1:19:37 PM EDT by Rogue-Sasquatch]
I'm going to spend post 4,000 on this because it's worth it...

It scared the SHIT out of the Germans.  Let me find the quote of the Fw-190 pilot who flew against B-17 formations.

"Fips" Phillips, a 200+ Eastern Front Ace wrote the following while in command of JG 1 defending against American Bombers over Northern Germany:

Against 20 Russians trying to shoot you down or even 20 Spitfires, it can be exciting, even fun. But curve in towards 40 Fortresses and all your past sins flash before your eyes.






Yep, this. Most enemy fighters downed by gunners would have been the result of luck, or by the combined efforts of multiple gunners shooting at the same target.


I'm not sure how accurate that is or not.  A great deal of time was spent training gunnery crews to shoot effectively at targets approaching from multiple angles, and proficiency was required before you could fly with a crew as a designated gunner.  Whole fighters were even pulled off the assembly lines to be converted to "Pinball" target aircraft for gunnery training (RP-63 Kingcobra 'Pinball' conversions).  The USAAC was willing to put that amount of resources into effective, trained gunnery.

I'm sure the hit ratio wasn't fantastic, but they weren't just sent up with a belt of APIT and told to shoot at the swastikas.  It was an effective and feared defensive measure.
Link Posted: 12/20/2009 1:22:33 PM EDT
I did a long report on the Memphis Belle when I was in middle school. (Typed papers, built an exact replica, took photos, met with owners)  I even met with the pilot and he gave me a private tour of the plane by myself....

He felt like the machine gunners were a great help, many of the men on the Memphis Belle had multiple single earned kills, that is not including how many assists they may have had.  Their biggest problem for them was heavy flak and when they had no P51 escorts.  He said the Germans had great flak canons and as the war drug on, the harder it was because after they would destroy a target, the germans would move all the defenses to the next.  So as the number of targets were getting less and less, the defense was kept getting stronger and stronger because they were relocating the weapons and getting denser.
Link Posted: 12/20/2009 1:37:26 PM EDT



Originally Posted By Rogue-Sasquatch:


I'm going to spend post 4,000 on this because it's worth it...



It scared the SHIT out of the Germans.  Let me find the quote of the Fw-190 pilot who flew against B-17 formations.



"Fips" Phillips, a 200+ Eastern Front Ace wrote the following while in command of JG 1 defending against American Bombers over Northern Germany:




Against 20 Russians trying to shoot you down or even 20 Spitfires, it can be exciting, even fun. But curve in towards 40 Fortresses and all your past sins flash before your eyes.




http://fangamers.net/imagehosting/3134b2ea1a7321bf.jpg
Yep, this. Most enemy fighters downed by gunners would have been the result of luck, or by the combined efforts of multiple gunners shooting at the same target.




I'm not sure how accurate that is or not.  A great deal of time was spent training gunnery crews to shoot effectively at targets approaching from multiple angles, and proficiency was required before you could fly with a crew as a designated gunner.  Whole fighters were even pulled off the assembly lines to be converted to "Pinball" target aircraft for gunnery training (RP-63 Kingcobra 'Pinball' conversions).  The USAAC was willing to put that amount of resources into effective, trained gunnery.



I'm sure the hit ratio wasn't fantastic, but they weren't just sent up with a belt of APIT and told to shoot at the swastikas.  It was an effective and feared defensive measure.


Cool painting.
Regardless of how accurate/inaccurate the gunners were, flying a single-seat fighter into a "box" filled with hundreds of .50-cals aimed at me is not something I'd want to do!
 
Link Posted: 12/20/2009 1:39:29 PM EDT
Have you seen the movie "Aerial Gunner"? It's pretty old from 1943, but it's got a good demonstration of how they were trained. You can download the movie through Rapidshare here.

http://yuforum.net/strani-filmovi/aerial-gunner-71096/
Link Posted: 12/20/2009 1:40:29 PM EDT
My Grandfather was a belly gunner on a B-24. He did not talk much about the war. After he died, I found old

telegrams to my Grandmother, telling her he had been shot down and the sort. I also found a diary he wrote

in. One passage, "You sweat the training, you sweat the missions, you sweat the FIGHTERS, you sweat the

landings. In fact brother, you just plain sweat".



Pretty straight forward if you ask me.
Link Posted: 12/20/2009 1:40:32 PM EDT
They needed the guns when there were no escorts with the enough range to follow them all the way to the target and take them home.

Once the P51 made its appearance they should have stripped down the bombers except the tail guns.

Would have saved a ton of weight and many crew lives.

Link Posted: 12/20/2009 1:58:31 PM EDT
Defensive weapons aren’t really intended to kill the enemy. They are intended to make it very expensive for the enemy if they use certain tactics. The best way to shoot down a large bomber is to approach slowly from the rear and carefully line up your shots at close range. But, if the bomber has a few .50 caliber machineguns facing towards the rear then that tactic is pretty dangerous. If the bomber is in a formation with a few dozen other machinegun laden bombers then the tactic becomes both suicidal and ineffective.

Of course there are ways to deal with formations of armed bombers but they usually amount to minimizing the time you spend in range of the guns. And, if you have to get in front of the bombers, approach head on, and snap off a quick burst before diving away, then you aren’t going to be all that effective at killing bombers.

In short, the guns were accurate and deadly enough that the Germans had to drastically change their tactics. These tactics minimized the effectiveness of the defensive guns but also limited the effectiveness of the fighters.
Link Posted: 12/20/2009 2:11:04 PM EDT
Originally Posted By Phocks:
I have seen the 'no defensive armament' argument before, but honestly, I suspect that the German fighters would have had a field day with that, given they would still be almost 100MPH faster and much more manueverable.  OTOH, the British Mosquito combined no defensive armament with a very high speed and ceiling, as well as being much more nimble, and they did just fine.


I am just re-reading THE WILD BLUE  by Stephen Ambrose which deals mostly with B-24's
He claims the Americans used mostly daylight runs for better accuracy on military targets and war industry while the Brits thought that too costly and attacked at night mostly on cities.
I am not sure where or how the Mosquito played in all this but sounds like apples against oranges
This is a good read by the way and it does point out that the losses of the America heavy stuff was very horrendous

Link Posted: 12/20/2009 2:12:44 PM EDT
Originally Posted By Thuban:
Defensive weapons aren’t really intended to kill the enemy. They are intended to make it very expensive for the enemy if they use certain tactics. The best way to shoot down a large bomber is to approach slowly from the rear and carefully line up your shots at close range. But, if the bomber has a few .50 caliber machineguns facing towards the rear then that tactic is pretty dangerous. If the bomber is in a formation with a few dozen other machinegun laden bombers then the tactic becomes both suicidal and ineffective.

Of course there are ways to deal with formations of armed bombers but they usually amount to minimizing the time you spend in range of the guns. And, if you have to get in front of the bombers, approach head on, and snap off a quick burst before diving away, then you aren’t going to be all that effective at killing bombers.

In short, the guns were accurate and deadly enough that the Germans had to drastically change their tactics. These tactics minimized the effectiveness of the defensive guns but also limited the effectiveness of the fighters.


Exactly. If the bombers were unarmed the Luftwaffe would have simply slowed down, saddled up on the bombers six's, and had a turkey shoot. The losses on the worst missions would have been even higher. The massed guns and mutual coverage was respected enough by the German pilots that they would pick on groups that displayed poor formation flying or tail-end charlie groups that didn't have as much support. Groups that had a tight, disciplined formation would report being unmolested after the mission while looser groups around them got mauled.

Link Posted: 12/20/2009 2:20:50 PM EDT
Daylight bombing.

Not at night like the British.

As stated above.  The guns improved morale - at least they had a means to fight back so they weren't completely feeling like sitting ducks.  The tactics required to beat the guns resulted in the Germans having more difficulty in shooting down bombers.  While a fighter certainly cost less than a bomber a fighter was a defensive weapon not an offensive weapon and the fighters by themselves could not do the necessary amount of damage to the German war production efforts.

Watch the move, Twelve O'Clock High, great movie made in 1949 when they still had lots of B17's and folks experienced in how they were used.  In one scene the squadron commander looks at his pilots/copilots in a before mission briefing and makes the statement that the fighters seemed to go after the other squadrons and leave them alone - because their formations were so tight it made them more difficult targets to get close to and the German pilots knew the Americans had their shit together and didn't want any part of that squadron.

By the way, it is a great movie just to watch.  I know a guy at work who said his father in law told him that movie was required for the managers in his firm to watch and discuss because of the way teamwork was stressed and the way they overcame their personal and organizational problems.
Link Posted: 12/20/2009 2:33:26 PM EDT
There was a old WWII B 17 and B 24 waist gunner in my home town.  When I would see him out I'd always stop and talk to him.  He often told me "If you ever run into any other gunners from WWII except for maybe a tail gunner, and they tell you they shot a plane down tell them they are full of it!"  He related to me that a lot of guys would claim they shot down a plane, but it was really shot down by a fighter.  Two other things he also told me that the movie "Memphis Bell" was pretty close to how it was except for not all the action happening in one flight and the thought the greatest invention ever made in his life time was the drop tank.  He related that whoever invented the drop tank was a great person, and he was very happy and relieved when they had round trip fighter escort.

I haven't seen him in the past two years.  I can only imagine he's passed on like many of "the greatest generation."
Link Posted: 12/20/2009 2:51:59 PM EDT
My dad was a waist gunner on a Navy PBY (close to B24, more HP, more fuel capacity, but less bombs-LONG missions, 11 hrs +) ) in the Pacific in WWII, VP 117th.Plus, TWINNED .50s

I watched Memphis Belle with him a few years ago, thinking it was BS, but he said much of it was spot on.

I know they tore hell out of ships, set tonnage records that still stand.
Flew low enough he said saw the folks they were lighting up a couple times!

I'm going to call him later this evening, and I'll ask.



Link Posted: 12/20/2009 3:03:58 PM EDT
Back when air combat meant something not fire and forget missiles.
Link Posted: 12/20/2009 3:04:32 PM EDT
I knew a man who was a ball turret gunner.  He told me that trying to shoot a plane down was almost impossible.  They came in quick and by the time you got them in the sights your lucky to get a burst off.  He did however shoot at least one down he knows of.  He told me the plane was coming straight into the bottom quarter of the bomber, he saw it and it immediately filled his sight up.  He let go with the .50s and he told me "the thing kept coming with parts flying off of it" and he closed his eyes and kept firing.  He did hit it and knocked it down.  He completed his missions over Europe and came home.  He also told me of the mission where he forgot to plug his suit in, he was lucky to get back without freezing to death.  He also told me he was reassigned to another plane half way thru his missions.  The plane and crew he was originally assigned to was lost on it's next mission.  He told me that always bothered him.
Link Posted: 12/20/2009 3:47:34 PM EDT
Originally Posted By cosmo05:
I knew a man who was a ball turret gunner.  He told me that trying to shoot a plane down was almost impossible.  They came in quick and by the time you got them in the sights your lucky to get a burst off.  He did however shoot at least one down he knows of.  He told me the plane was coming straight into the bottom quarter of the bomber, he saw it and it immediately filled his sight up.  He let go with the .50s and he told me "the thing kept coming with parts flying off of it" and he closed his eyes and kept firing.  He did hit it and knocked it down.  He completed his missions over Europe and came home.  He also told me of the mission where he forgot to plug his suit in, he was lucky to get back without freezing to death.  He also told me he was reassigned to another plane half way thru his missions.  The plane and crew he was originally assigned to was lost on it's next mission.  He told me that always bothered him.




That's curious. We took my Dad to see the Collings Foundation birds last year, and all the European Theater B24 vets were talking about the suits and how terrible the cold was.

My dad mentioned that in the Pacific, they flew very low, and didn't even have the suits on the PBYs!

I sat and quietly listened to those men for hours: quite an education and heard things about my dad's service he had never shared with me.
(he tells the grandkids EVERYTHING)

Anyway, I just asked about the shooting planes down, and he said the Japs very rarely engaged, so he never had much opportunity to try.
(he enlisted in '43, on his 17th Bday-wound up on a replacement crew in VP117th)

Link Posted: 12/20/2009 4:17:51 PM EDT
At some point the Germans figured out that they could approach the B-17 head on from below and none of the guns could get on them.  Once this became known to Boeing a chin turret was designed and bombers were rolling out of the factories with chin turrets within a couple of DAYS!  

Link Posted: 12/20/2009 8:28:45 PM EDT
Originally Posted By nhsport:
Originally Posted By Phocks:
I have seen the 'no defensive armament' argument before, but honestly, I suspect that the German fighters would have had a field day with that, given they would still be almost 100MPH faster and much more manueverable.  OTOH, the British Mosquito combined no defensive armament with a very high speed and ceiling, as well as being much more nimble, and they did just fine.


I am just re-reading THE WILD BLUE  by Stephen Ambrose which deals mostly with B-24's
He claims the Americans used mostly daylight runs for better accuracy on military targets and war industry while the Brits thought that too costly and attacked at night mostly on cities.
I am not sure where or how the Mosquito played in all this but sounds like apples against oranges
This is a good read by the way and it does point out that the losses of the America heavy stuff was very horrendous



It is to some extent apples and oranges - the Mossies flew in small groups or solo, and usually (though by no means always) at night.  However, even at night, they were often more accurate than the US during the day.  There are a lot of reasons for this, but in the end, the US may have called it 'precision bombing' and they may have been a few percentage points better than the Brits 'Dehousing', but by late 1944, which was when most of the tonnage was actually dropped, US and British accuracy was functionally identical - though for doctrinal reasons, the target selection was different.  Most British tonnage wasn't dropped by the Mosquitos in any case, but by Lancasters.   The Brits did have a few ideas we could have probably adapted, but NIH still had some traction, even in the middle of a shooting war  
If you ever hang out on a WW2 board, the Mossie vs. 4-E argument crops up a lot.  The consensus usually is that they were very effective, but if the Germans had ever had a break from massive 4-E raids, they would have quickly come up with a counter.
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