Bomber Command Lancaster and Halifax crew roles

Discussion in 'Aviation' started by pattle, Dec 8, 2013.

  1. pattle

    pattle Member

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    Can anyone please clarify the roles of RAF Bomber Command four engine heavy aircrew for me please? I understand that the rear gunner, flight engineer, pilot, navigator and mid upper gunner were pretty much involved full time with their named roles but what about the wireless operator/gunner and bomb aimer?
    From my understanding the wireless operator was able to use his radio in order to help the navigator locate the position of the aircraft and also the home airfield on the way back, but how much use was a wireless operator during the long periods of radio silence during a trip to Germany? Also the wireless operator had the dual duty of front gunner, how much time did the wireless operator spend in the front turret and under what circumstances was the front turret manned? I have heard that the front turret was rarely manned as German night fighters seldom attacked head on and that on occasion the front turret was used against search lights and anti-aircraft defences, I should have thought that the chances of actually hitting these targets were very slim, would this be the case? Was the radio left unmanned while the wireless operator was in the front turret?
    As far as the bomb aimers job role goes, what did the bomb aimer do when either side of the actual attack?
    I understand that addition crew members were carried for specialised jobs, but again I assume they were like for instance the pilot permanently occupied in these jobs.
     
  2. Airframes

    Airframes Benevolens Magister

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    Radio op maintained a 'listening watch' for Morse signals giving any up-dates, diversion or re-call orders, as well as receiving up-date weather reports. He could also assist the Navigator as required, and also, when possible, maintain a 'look out' for night fighters, either visually, or with the aid of any tail-warning equipment fitted.
    Bomb aimer often assisted the Navigator, some times by lying in the nose and calling out land marks, and also maintained fighter vigil. As the almost 'spare bod' - until approaching the target - he could also cart around the Thermos flasks, check rear and upper turrets crews etc etc.
     
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  3. pattle

    pattle Member

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    Thanks Airframes, what about the manning of the front turret though? I have read the front turret was almost redundant and this is why it was deleted in later marks of the Halifax. I know that during for instance the dam busters raid the front turret was said to have been used against the light anti-aircraft guns on the dam itself but this was a one off raid.
     
  4. Airframes

    Airframes Benevolens Magister

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    Seems to have been rarely used, as most night fighter attacks were from astern, abeam or, when Schragemusik was introduced, from below. The Dams raid was a different situation, where, due to extreme low level for the run-in, the front turret was used for flak suppression, or at least to distract the flak gunners and throw off their aim.
    Normally, however, the front turret, if needed, would be manned by the radio operator, who's 'trade' was officially WOP/AG - Wireless Operator/Air Gunner, but again this would be 'as required'. Trying to 'hose down' flak guns or searchlights, for example, from around 20,000 feet, with a pair of .303 Brownings was as useful as a chocolate teapot !
     
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  5. Crimea_River

    Crimea_River Well-Known Member

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    I've read an account in Boiten's "Battles with the Nachtjagd" where Halifaxes were stripped of the mid upper turret to improve altitude performance. The mid upper gunner was then relegated to lying on his stomach looking down through a glazed port to alert the pilot to night fighters attacking from below. Not a comfortable position!
     
  6. yulzari

    yulzari Active Member

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    Probably more useful than in the mid upper gunner role though. I think I would have been lying on some sort of armour plate myself.

    Given the Bomber Command use of bombing weight as a measure of effectiveness, they probably just saw the weight saving as an opportunity to bump up the bomb load a bit.

    It is always the same in the infantry. 'Oh look. Clever people have reduced the weight of rifles. Now we can get the donkeys of war to carry something else as well'. I once got my clerks to list and weigh all the 'useful aide-memoires' we were supposed to have to hand in the field. Came to over 10 kilos and would fill every pouch possible. Presumably we were supposed to go to war towing a shopping trolley. I hope they have electronic aide memoires on some sort of Ipaddie-tablet thing these days.
     
  7. pattle

    pattle Member

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    A very uncomfortable position indeed, a number of Lancaster BII's and some early BI's had a belly turret as did other earlier bombers but were not a success so were mostly deleted. I'm confident there was also an attempt late in the war to arm Halifaxs and Lancasters with a simple gun poking through an open hatch in the floor of the aircraft to deal with attack from below but again I don't believe they were successful. I wonder if there was ever talk of developing a type of Village Inn to protect against attack from beneath?
     
  8. Crimea_River

    Crimea_River Well-Known Member

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    Actually, it was an attempt to solve the Halifax's notoriety for not being able to get to a higher bombing altitude. Adding more bomb load would have defeated the purpose.
     
  9. yulzari

    yulzari Active Member

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    Just my cynicism that the Bomber Command staff would miss the point of the boffins' weight reduction ploy.
     
  10. Juha

    Juha Well-Known Member

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    Merlin-engined Halifax B.II Series I (Special) didn't have the front turret but had aerodynamical fairing in place of it in effort to improve the performance of these underpowered Merlin Halis, some of the Specials had also the dorsal turret left out.
     
  11. nuuumannn

    nuuumannn Well-Known Member

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    Problem with the early Halifaxes (Mks I, II and V) was too heavy, underpowered, too draggy. Handley Page was asked to 'clean up' the fuselage and reduce drag, also to decrease weight, which led to the streamlined nose and other changes throughout the proliferation of Marks and 'Series' of Merlin Halifaxes. Some of these aircraft appeared in small numbers only as HP endeavoured to produce a worthy enough aircraft, which was finally achieved with the Hercules engined Mk.III.

    The first front turretless Hali was the B.II Series 1 (Special), which was used by SOE; this was fitted with the 'Tempsford' nose fairing. The familiar glazed nose of the later Mk.III was first fitted to the Merlin engined Mk.II Series 1A. Early Halifax Is originally were completed without mid upper turrets and it was the Mk.I Series III that was first fitted with the Boulton Paul C.Mk.II turret as fitted to Hudsons. the later M.II Series 1As were fitted with the more streamlined four-gun turret developed for the Defiant. Part of the problem with the Halifax was that BP turrets were heavier than their equivalent Fraser Nash turrets, but were more sophisticated and being electro-hydraulic could work independently of the aircraft's hydraulic system in case it was damaged. Operation was simpler, too, with a single joystick, rather than two handles to turn the turret and fire the guns. HP originally wanted the FN turrets, but production was being reserved for the Manchester and Wellington, so got BP turrets instead.

    It's also interesting to note that the Manchester was the first British bomber fitted with a Flight Engineer's station; next to the pilot, which meant it had single pilot operation only. This was also the same in the Lanc. I would also make the assumption that the radio operator of the Lanc/Manchester probably wouldn't crawl forward into the bomb aimer's station in the extreme nose to operate the guns, purely out of access; with the nav, flight engineer and bomb aimer in the way, his path would have been very awkward. Surely the bomb aimer would operate the front turret of the Lanc?
     
  12. Greyman

    Greyman Active Member

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    This is what I've read a few times, can't say 100% for sure though.
     
  13. Airframes

    Airframes Benevolens Magister

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    The bomb aimer certainly did man the front turret on occassion, but in theory, it was the W/Op's job.
    He was supposed to squeeze past the Nav, and crawl under the Flight Engineer's folding seat, before trying to perform contortions to then descend into the nose, no doubt causing a stream of blasphemy from the bomb aimer, upon who's back the Engineer was now standing, as he tried, in the now extremely confined space, to ascend into the turret from below, and somehow get his legs and feet out of the way, whilst at the same time getting the 'strop' of the 'seat' under his Rs and snapped into place on the attachment rings!
    By this time, the enemy aircraft had b*gg*red off, the Bomb Aimer was p*ssed off, and the W/Op had cuts, bruises and abrasions to all exposed areas of his body!
     
  14. pbehn

    pbehn Well-Known Member

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    For the dambuster raid the front gunners had slings to put their feet in so the bomb aimer wasnt distracted obviously both jobs were done at the same time, it wa on a TV programme with a veteran discussing the raid.
     
  15. Airframes

    Airframes Benevolens Magister

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    Yep, it was also mentioned in the movie, but again, a 'one off' for a specialist operation.
     
  16. pattle

    pattle Member

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    Quote from Nuuuman. I would also make the assumption that the radio operator of the Lanc/Manchester probably wouldn't crawl forward into the bomb aimer's station in the extreme nose to operate the guns, purely out of access; with the nav, flight engineer and bomb aimer in the way, his path would have been very awkward. Surely the bomb aimer would operate the front turret of the Lanc?[/QUOTE]

    I thought the same thing, basically I don't see how the wireless operator could have operated the forward turret, I have also heard of bomb aimers operating the front turret. Perhaps the title of wireless operator/gunner was a relic from earlier aircraft and in the Lancaster the wireless operator/gunner was more or less purely only a wireless op?
     
  17. stona

    stona Well-Known Member

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    The front gun turret was manned by an air gunner whose mid upper turret had been removed as part of the modifications to allow the 'Upkeep' mine to be carried.

    Cheers

    Steve
     
  18. Airframes

    Airframes Benevolens Magister

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    I thought the same thing, basically I don't see how the wireless operator could have operated the forward turret, I have also heard of bomb aimers operating the front turret. Perhaps the title of wireless operator/gunner was a relic from earlier aircraft and in the Lancaster the wireless operator/gunner was more or less purely only a wireless op?[/QUOTE]

    The bomb aimer might very well operate the front turret, when required, depending on 'common practice' on a particular Squadron or crew. However, operating a turret and firing the guns is just one part of the job - and yes, many crews would try to cross-train in certain roles - but the qualification, and right to wear the 'AG' brevet, involved a lot more than that, from being responsible for - and cleaning after use - the guns, from 'Sign Out' at the Armoury to their safe return to the Armoury, as well as the ammunition, and fully conversant in the operation of the turret and the aerial gunnery skills required to do so.
    The Bomb Aimer's brevet did not include 'Air Gunner' (AG) either in title or design, whereas the W/Op's did, and hus pay scale also reflected this (for what it was worth!).
    That said, judging from accounts from accounts I've listened to from former BC Air Crew, and published material, it seems that the front turret on the Lanc and early Halifax did not see much use, although, if needed, it was there, armed and ready.
     
  19. Milosh

    Milosh Well-Known Member

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    #19 Milosh, Dec 11, 2013
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2013
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  20. pattle

    pattle Member

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