Defensive armament for night bombers: was it worth it?

Discussion in 'Weapons Systems Tech.' started by tomo pauk, Feb 27, 2009.

  1. tomo pauk

    tomo pauk Creator of Interesting Threads

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    I know that bombers weren't conceived as night bombers per se, but took the task.
    How prudent would've been to delete the guns crew members for additional performance and/or armor? What's your take; what are the facts numbers?
     
  2. timshatz

    timshatz Active Member

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    They did that with the B29s over Japan on the night bombing missions where they were fire bombing. But Japan had no night defenses to speak of. Pretty well thought out before they tried it.

    On the other hand, the Mosquitos used to go over with nothing but speed and they were fairly safe.

    But, My guess is you are talking about the Halifax and Lancasters. My guess, and this is only a guess, is the deletion of the crew members would not give any extensive performance (or at least not enough to make the night fighters all that much less dangerous) and it would probably increase losses due to the number of aircraft knocked off while they are sedately flying along. You would only need a bomb aimer, navigator, flight engineer and pilot (with one of the others cross trained as a pilot, most likely). The bombers become bomb trucks (which they were anyway) without any real way of defending themselves.

    As for morale, it would plumment. Who the hell wants to fly around in an airplane that is little more than an manned drone giving the LW fighter pilots all the practice they need.
     
  3. syscom3

    syscom3 Pacific Historian

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    According to the B29 web site, many of the B29 crews have sworn that they did NOT remove the guns or crew members, regardless of orders.
     
  4. timshatz

    timshatz Active Member

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    Have heard otherwise but it could be a unit by unit thing, much like it was in Bomber Command. There was one of the groups, I think it was 5 Group but am not sure, that dumped most of the armor out of their bombers so they could carry more bombs. Didn't go over well with the crews.

    Do you have a link to that site and that article? Would like to read it.
     
  5. JoeB

    JoeB Member

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    Cases of bombers successfully engaging night fighters with guns were fairly rare, but cases of doing it with other than the tail guns seem to have been extremely rare. WWII night fighters almost always approached from astern, or astern and below with upward firing armament as the Germans adopted, and Japanese later emulated. Tail and perhaps belly observers were justified, and might as well have guns if not too heavy, though it was apparently rare that a bomber would see a night fighter approaching from below and behind until it opened fire, one reason that method of approach became so popular.

    B-29's in night operations over Japan retained at least tail guns (actually not all had all the turret guns removed either, some retained bottom turret guns to fire at searchlights). Although, in Korea B-29's also eventually adopted all-night tactics in areas of MiG threat but retained all their guns. [PS a solid source on the ambiguity of this point is Werrell "Blankets of Fire", he footnotes USAAF reports showing most of the B-29's in the first night fire raid, on Tokyo, carried no *ammo*, didn't necessarily remove the *guns*, several groups carried ammo for their tail guns; the thing about hoping to plink searchlights with bottom turrets was on the second such raid, over Nagoya]

    And the British generally retained them all though were in the habit of closely analyzing operations so must have realized they rarely accomplished much, especially fwd or top guns. I guess morale, and value of the gunners as observers to avoid night fighters, which gets back to morale, the idea of having some warning and chance to try to evade an attack, even if in reality the bomber spotting the small night fighter first, and evading it, wasn't likely.

    In many cases night bombing units adopted the doctrine of not firing on night fighters until fired on, in case they saw the night fighter but it didn't see them, so again gunners as lookouts as much as anything else.

    Joe
     
  6. Waynos

    Waynos Active Member

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    Joe B, The Lancaster 'Special' that carried the 22,000lb Grand Slam and 14,000lb Tallboy retained only its tail turret, indeed, after the Mosquito proved its case no all-new RAF bomber was ever commisioned again with a defensive gun turret of any sort.
     
  7. syscom3

    syscom3 Pacific Historian

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    Heres the B29 web site. There's plenty of B29 airmen that frequent the site and can answer questions.

    http://b-29.org/
     
  8. ppopsie

    ppopsie Member

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  9. freebird

    freebird Active Member

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    Would it be an option in say 43 or later, to drop side top guns to save weight, and put in a rear search radar spotlight to assist the tail gun?

    Did they have passive radar detectors that could give direction of LW attack?
     
  10. parsifal

    parsifal Well-Known Member

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    The problem with deleting the guns on the gun carrying bombers is that it simply opens up other avenues for the NFs to attack.

    There is really only two options in my opinion....all or nothing. Either you build a bomber bristling with guns and armour, and screww the performance, or you go down the Mosquito path, build lots of small light, fast, expendable bombers that hopefully can

    a) outrun the defensders and/or
    b) overwhelm the defenders with numbers
     
  11. freebird

    freebird Active Member

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    I've just looked it up, the British did have a radar tracking system fitted to the rear turret in 1944, called "Village Inn"

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Village_Inn_(codename)

    Makes sense, as the rear was where the NF approached from.

    Also, why not drop the nose turret, and instead have a belly turret? {LW NF came from behind or below}

    LW fighter rarely approached from the front, and would still be in the field of fire of the dorsal or ventral turrets
     
  12. freebird

    freebird Active Member

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    Did the NF ever make attacks from above?
     
  13. JoeB

    JoeB Member

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    True for daylight, but as mentioned WWII night fighters rarely attacked from other than behind. WWII nightfighters didn't have fire control systems per se included in their radar functionality, they had to acquire the target visually to actually shoot. Assuming the visual conditions were obscure enough to require ground control or AI radar or searchlights it was extremely difficult for the night fighter to track the target visually well enough to execute a head on or pursuit curve gunnery pass: it basically had to approach from behind. In bright moonlight and clear weather it might be possible to conduct passes from multiple angles, but those were the conditions night bombers would try to avoid.

    Below and behind usually worked best because the bomber was likely to be silhouetted against a lighter sky background. Occasionally above and behind might work with bomber silhouetted against fires on the ground. The Germans adopted the upward firing 'shrage musik' gun arrangement for approach from below and behind; the Japanese emulated it but some Japanese night fighters had downward firing guns also.

    The night bomber's best hope against a night fighter was to foil the pass by evasive action in the last moments when the pilot was trying to acquire the bomber visually; quite feasible in poorer visibility conditions.

    In neither day or night was it all that likely for bomber gunners to down fighters. Bombers vastly overclaimed how many fighters they downed, but in daylight there was a deterrent value to defensive fire; also possibly at night, but the big potential downside at night was helping the night fighter make that transition from radar to visual tracking of the bomber. That's why most night bomber units concluded they shouldn't fire at night fighters until fired on directly (B-29 units concluded this in both WWII and Korea). Shooting fwd or top guns at night fighters which had little chance to hit the bomber from those angles, and advertising the bomber's position, could be foolish.

    A tail warning radar might help cue evasive action, but the potential problem with tail warning radars on bombers was similar to shooting first. For example the Germans eventually fitted night fighters with the 'Flensburg' radar detector that could be used to home in on the 'Monica' tail warning radars on RAF bombers, and like any radar detector could detect the Monica signal farther away than the radar could detect the night fighter.
     
  14. freebird

    freebird Active Member

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    Did the British bombers have radar detectors as well?
     
  15. davebender

    davebender Well-Known Member

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    That's my understanding also. Consequently the rear gun turret is the only one that matters.

    Quite a few German night fighters were damaged by fire from the bomber rear turret. Some night fighter pilots countered this by shooting the rear turret first, before aiming at the wing mounted fuel tanks.
     
  16. timshatz

    timshatz Active Member

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    Thanks.
     
  17. Watanbe

    Watanbe Member

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    I think that other than a rear gunner there other gunner positions aren't necessary, they aren't going to act as a deterrant to any German fighters! Only on very clear nights would it be a large enough deterrant! In many cases certainly with no rear warning radar (even Monica provided only a brief warning) the pilots of the bombers and NF wouldnt even know the Germans were behind them until they opened fire!

    In an account I was reading the other day a pilot flying a Beaufighter didn't realise he was being attacked until tracer rounds flew past his window! The art of the kill in NF business is tracking down and obtaining a visual and getting behind ur enemy, the rest technically should be fairly easy!
     
  18. timshatz

    timshatz Active Member

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    It is also very difficult to get a sense of perspective, distance and accurate movement on anything at night. Hence, the attacks from dimensions other than behind involve very fast closing speeds (head on) or odd dimensional changes (overhead or overhead flank). On top of that, as was noted by Bill, you have to be able to see the target long enough to actually get set up. Usually, in darkness, this was very difficult if not impossible.
     
  19. timshatz

    timshatz Active Member

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    Believe it or not, that happens a lot in daytime. There were a few of American fighter groups in the Pacific (probably happened in Europe too) that took the tracers out of their ammo so the enemy was not alerted to the fact they were being shot at. My understanding is the number of kills went up.

    As the old adage say, "75% of the pilots shot down never saw the guy who got them". Killing the tracers from your ammo gives you more chance to do it.
     
  20. parsifal

    parsifal Well-Known Member

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    German night fighters most often attacked from either behind or below. There were three reasons for this. Attacking from either behind or below , (or from above) meant that both the attacker, and the defender, were closing at the most stable relative to each other, and this made "locking on" to the target easier.

    The second reason was because the Night Fighters could use passive detection systems from these angles to home in best on the various navaids being used by the Brits to target german cities as accurately as they did. Gunston puts it in these terms...."Unfortunately, the two new devices (monica - the first rearward facing radar, and H2S, that with its relatively short wavelength enabled fairly accurate pictures of the ground terrain below the aircraft to be painted) were the most suicidal devices that could possibly be contrived. The basic rules of night fighting are simple....suppose two men are each carrying a torch and a pistol are stalking each other in the dark. There will be a strong inclination to turn on the torch and try and see the enmy , but the first man that does gives away his position, and the direction he is headed. The best way to attack the located man is from behind. With Monica and H2S, the RAF had taken to using torches, and it did not take long for the germans to latch on to that fact."

    The last reason explains why the germans did not use the above (or indeed the ahead) approach method to attack. Simply put, the rear or below approach was the least likley to lead to detection, because of the numerous false alarms generated by the Monica radar (it tended to pick up other bombers so most alarms from this detection system were ignored by the crews), secondly most British bombers were blind from below, no belly turret, and no eyes or radar looking in that direction. The most deadly attacks on RAF heavies were from below using upward firing Schrage Musik. However, if the Dorsal turret was removed the Germans would have attacked from above more often (as they did, later in the war, as the downward facing schrage Musik installlations prove)
     
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