Damaging / destroying aircrafts

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Aug 9, 2004
Assume that a WWII plane is hit by another plane or by flak. What are the chances that the target is destroyed or just damaged, assuming that the shooter is
- a poorly armed fighter (Ki.43, G.50, ...)
- a fighter with standard armament (Me.109, P-40, ...)
- a fighter with powerfull armament (Tempest, Fw 190, ...)
- a 40 mm Bofors AA gun
- a 3 to 5 " AA gun

and the target is
- a fighter
- a light / medium bomber
- a heavy bomber

Thanks for help
It would depend on several factors, not the least of which is the durability of the target (both the P-47 and Zero were fighters but the P-47 was vastly more durable). But I would say there were very few aircraft that would survive a direct hit from a heavy AA gun (i.e. German 88mm, the US 5"/38, etc.).
I of course understand that a snapshot on a 300 knots-fighter is not the same as a long burst against a slow moving target, but, it is impossible to take care of every detail.
I assume here an average (1 second) burst, understanding that only a few of the fired shells / bullets actually hit.

I would say that a well-aimed, 0 deflection, 1 sec burst from a heavily armed fighter would down pretty much any other fighter and most (if not all) medium/light bombers but probably would not destroy a 4-engined heavy.
Whether it's a rifle-calibre bullet or an AA shell-burst, it's WHERE it hits that determines the damage or destruction....many have made it home from those near-misses....
Good point Gem and LG. I recently saw a picture of an He-111 with over 50 bullet holes in it. They were all .30 caliber bullets and none of them did enough damage for the Heinkel to not make it home! But that same bullet, placed through the cockpit at the right angle could have ended that bomber's (and possibly pilot as well) career. While gunnery skills will get you to hit the target, I still think there is a fair amount of luck and fate that determines where it strikes.

If you hit a B-24 heavy with a direct flak burst between the engines, chances are good that the davis wing would fold up and that would be the end of it. The pictures of that kind of instance are unfortunately fairly common.

The B-17 was a bit more durable, but again, the right shot in the right place would down it.

Too many variables in combat to make a definitive answer.
Surely, damage inflicted by gunfire deponds mainly on luck. A .303 round at the good place (on the pilot's head, ...) is better than a 20 or 30 mm shell that doesn't explode or at a bad place.
But I'm talking about average statistics.
I just wonder about things like
" a Spitfire MkI manages to hit a Me 109E ; what are the average chances that the target is down or just damaged ? 50 / 50 % ? or 75 / 25 % ? or even 25 / 75 ? or something else ?

Thanks for help
To try and guess about this is difficult (and it is just a guess). If we are to consider every instance in which a Spit Mk I hit a 109E (regardless of the number of actual strikes and the location of those strikes) I would imagine the percentage would be fairly low, somewhere around the 25/75 number you suggested. But as I said, that's all just speculation on my part.
Well, if you score a hit there will certainly be damage, whether superficial or worse. The original Mk I spits had 8 .303 machine guns, so it was pretty meek in terms of firepower. The Hispano cannons helped later by giving a bit more than a peashooter.

The angle of the shot and the placement would make a huge difference too, as well as how close you are when you make the shot. I remember years ago playing the Battle of Britain simulator "Their Finest Hour" and was surprised at how much lead I had to pump into a 109 to put it out of commission.

So with a single burst 25/75 sounds probably close. The skill set of both pilots would also be a factor.
I've been giving this a little thought. The only way a single hit from a .303 is going to bring down an aircraft is if it kills the pilot. The easiest angles to hit the pilot are, of course, from directly ahead or directly astern. From directly ahead, however, the pilot is protected by an armored windscreen and that big DB engine. From astern, there is sufficient armor to provided ample protection against even AP .303 ammo. The only chance would thus be a high deflection (and highly improbable shot). A short burst from a Spit Mk. I seems to have little chance of bringing down an even decently protected aircraft.
it also depends on the plane, you're generalising when you say 4 engined heavies, the lanc and B-17 have very different damage tollerances............
Well he gave us several generalizations in his initial entry. I guess basically we just need him to tell us what he means by a hit.
I've seen lots of gun-camera photos and all of them seem to show a kill being achieved by a single burst.Be it 0.303 or 30mm cannon.It would depend on where you hit your target.Put 1 20mm cannon in a pratt&whitney and it will stop.But you could put 20 of them in a B17 fuselage to no avail.


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1 20mm will not necessarily stop a P&W. P-47s came back from ground attack sorties with whole clyniders shot away. There probably wasn't a more rugged engine than the R-2800.

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