How effective were gunners in planes?

Discussion in 'Aviation' started by Watanbe, Jun 6, 2008.

  1. Watanbe

    Watanbe Member

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    Was it rare for a plane to actually be shot down by the defensive armaments of planes, inparticular bombers. How many planes were actually shot down by Gunners in planes. Im particularly interested in the large twin and 4 engine bombers.

    Did the guns only put of a field of fire and act as a deterrant for attack, or did actually effective shoot down quite a few planes. Im thinking the former.
     
  2. magnocain

    magnocain Member

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    Pilots could actually be hit by a gunner's bullet, injuring the pilot and making him turn home, removing the threat.
     
  3. The Basket

    The Basket Well-Known Member

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    Deterrant. Stops the fighter coming up the exhaust pipes. And he has to keep his speed up so he has less shooting time.

    Escort fighters certainly were more vital than gunners.
     
  4. Kurfürst

    Kurfürst Banned

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    It wasnt rare. Concentrated firepower from bombers on single attacking fighters could be effective. Look at Schweinfurt, one side of the coin is that the American bomber formations were decimated, but there was considerable German fighter losses as well. All of those were to bomber gunners, no escort fighters there at all.

    I also recall some the story told in a book by a Hungarian Stuka pilot.. Stuka Ds were flying in formation over Russia, 9 of them... they met Aircobras, one Cobra tried a lone attack on them.. received fire from 18 barrels, 480 rounds going for him per sec... he went down. Even more remarkable, theres a story of an old Hungarian recce He 111P over Russia... got attacked by FOUR Soviet fighters.. again sole attacks... it claimed to have shot down 3 of them - some burned, exploded so theres some truth in their story - the fourth gave up.

    Of course fighters generally had their time over bombers, but it wasnt that easy for them, nor was the story written before it happened..
     
  5. parsifal

    parsifal Well-Known Member

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    I think Bomber defensive tactics are the exact opposite to Fighter. For a bomber the important thing is to stay in formation, stay close to the rest of the formation, and provide as much mutual support apossible. For a fighter, its manouever, and speed,and attacking from the unexpected direction etc. I think its obvious that the inherent advantage lies with the fighter, but there are defensive measures that the bombers can take

    At night the procedure is fundamentally different, and almost the opposite again. The fighter stalks the lone bomber, and attempts to pick him off. The bomber does not mutual support like his day cousins. If he detects the NF, the best defences was to manouver, as violently as possible. The idea being to become "unacquired".
     
  6. kool kitty89

    kool kitty89 Well-Known Member

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    Unless you consider the Mossie's (or other fast-bomber) tactics, trade armament for speed and maneuverability to evade interception. (not going to happen on a 4-engine heavy...)
     
  7. eddie_brunette

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    :lol: :lol: :lol:

    The Mapping Mission

    On June 16 1943 a request went out for a special mission, a single ship unescorted mapping mission over hostile territory. Capt. Zeamer and crew eagerly volunteered.

    Taking off at 4 A.M. to make use of darkness to cover at least part of the mission 'Old 666' and crew headed for Bougainville, where they were instructed to make a reconnaissance of the Japanese airfield there to determine logistics and enemy strength.

    The flight would require flying over 600 miles of open sea to even reach the target. By 7:40 AM with only 22 minutes of flight-time remaining to complete his mission, Old 666 was intercepted by no less than 17 Japanese Fighters.

    After making a pass at the heavily armed tail the fighters came in against the normally lightly armed nose only to find that this specific bomber possessed much heavier forward firepower, resulting in two A6M Zeros being shot down. 20mm cannon shells from a third Zero smashed into the cockpit and nose wounding both Zeamer and Sarnoski before being shot down itself. Sarnoski crawled out of the nose to seek first aid attention but when a second wave of fighters attacked nose on he returned to his guns. He shot down an incoming Ki-46 Dinah before collapsing on the guns.[2]

    The second wave knocked out the oxygen system and forced the bomber to dive from 25,000 ft to 10,000 ft, where the crew could breathe normally, in just a matter of seconds.

    By 8:45 AM the American bomber was over open seas and the enemy fighters, low on ammunition and fuel, were forced to turn back to Bougainville, most of the crew had been wounded in varying degrees and the aircraft was shot full of holes. It was during the return flight that Zeamer lost consciousness and Sarnoski, still manning his guns, died.

    Upon landing the co-pilot told the ground crews, "Get the pilot last. He's dead!" He was not, and Zeamer lived to receive the Medal of Honor, but Sarnoski's Medal of Honor was awarded posthumously. In one of the most decorated flights in history, the rest of the entire crew received Distinguished Service Crosses.

    I cant remeber how many they shot down, but it was more that 5 I think

    edd
     
  8. syscom3

    syscom3 Pacific Historian

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    The defensive firepower of the bombers certainly was a deterrent and could be quite deadly at times.

    Thats why the LW settled on front attacks, so as to minimize the number of guns that could be brought to bear on them at one time.
     
  9. JoeB

    JoeB Member

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    I don't know the other side of that particular incident, but as a rule if a bomber of any country was attacked by multiple fighters and claimed 5, the real number was probably less, could often be zero.

    Bomber claims were as a rule highly overstated. A rule of thumb in ETO was that even after analyzing claims for duplications, reasonable credit awards to crews (in view of reasonable evidence from crews' perspective, morale etc) would be 4 times as many a/c as the Germans actually lost, in comparison to the estimate that fighter credits would be only around 1.3 times enemy losses. When comparing known cases both those estimates seem optimistic (most fighter claims in WWII were less accurate than that) but the point is that even the side awarding credits had some idea the bomber credits were more overstated than fighter credits.

    One real example approximately equates to the rule of thumb: B-29 credited victories and actual Japanese losses in the particular attacks covered in "B-29 Hunters of the JAAF" by Henry Sakaida, in the daylight phase from late '44-Feb 45 over Japan. There were 214 official 'destroyed' credits to the B-29's in the actions described and 52 Japanese fighters actually lost. But, at least 14 bombers were rammed in those attacks, sometimes by more than one fighter; this surely biases the claim accuracy upwards from what it would be against wholly conventional attackers.

    And, another real example in more difficult conditions shows B-29 credits in a harsher light: Over Korea B-29's were officially credited with 27 MiG-15's, but probably only 3 MiG-15's were actually downed by them. This is based on apparently complete Soviet accounts corresponding to every MiG credit to B-29's except one, in which a Chinese MiG was lost as compared to 2 credits. In contrast US fighter credits v MiG-15's in Korea were approximately in line with the WWII estimate, overstated by only around 1/3.

    Those two examples happen to be B-29's but it was not a special B-29 problem; the early PTO B-17 claim accuracy was more like the ~10% in Korea than the ~25% v. partly ramming attacks over Japan. When those units first received B-17E's with tail guns, they recorded several combats where the Japanese, taken by surprise, suffered heavy losses attacking from astern as against B-17D's: those losses don't pan out in Japanese accounts for the most part. But, that doesn't mean they didn't have to exercise more caution v a B-17E from astern...

    In general the effectiveness of bomber defensive fire was mainly deterrence, throwing off aim or forcing too long range attacks by less determined pilots. Bombers sometimes downed fighters, but the impression we'd get on average from taking first hand accounts of bomber gunners and even official credits at face value would be highly distorted, more so than case of fighter-fighter claims or official credits (though we shouldn't rely on those either as a rule).

    Joe
     
  10. Erich

    Erich the old Sage
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    Sys and others the LW fighter force turned towards the back of the bombers in June/July of 44 as standard for nearly all JG's due to the fact that only the tail gunner would be present, and once eliminated the bomber remained ineffective to defend itself and could be torn apart by heavy cannon
     
  11. syscom3

    syscom3 Pacific Historian

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    Erich, I thought the head on attacks brought the most devastation, as like what happened with the 447th BG.
     
  12. HoHun

    HoHun Active Member

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    Hi Watanbe,

    >Was it rare for a plane to actually be shot down by the defensive armaments of planes, inparticular bombers.

    It was a frequent occurrence. However, the chances were still weighted heavily in favour of the interceptors.

    Here two diagrams illustrating the difficulties of firing from a bomber's defensive positions ...

    Regards,

    Henning (HoHun)
     

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  13. syscom3

    syscom3 Pacific Historian

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    Hohun, now magnify that by 30 or so, as most bombers were in a group with multiple guns aimed at the same target.
     
  14. HoHun

    HoHun Active Member

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    Hi Syscom,

    >Hohun, now magnify that by 30 or so, as most bombers were in a group with multiple guns aimed at the same target.

    Massed firepower certainly increased the chances of fighting off interceptors, as can be verified from the German practice to count a "final kill" of a bomber than had dropped out of formation with 2 points towards promotions and awards, but to count the hit that made it drop out of formation with 3 points.

    However, I'd say a straight multiplication might be too simple - on one hand, bombers not directly attacked would not get a zero-deflection shot, and on the other hand, they'd get a larger target silhouette when shooting with deflection.

    Additionally, there is the issue of operational use of the firepower. There is a well-known comment by a US officer claiming that at any time, only one in ten gunners actually fired at the target that he could have fired at theoretically.

    Regards,

    Henning (HoHun)
     
  15. Tony Williams

    Tony Williams Member

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    This issue is dealt with in some detail in Flying Guns – World War 2: Development of Aircraft Guns, Ammunition and Installations 1933-45. Here is an extract:

    On combat operations, the American bombers in the ETO expended 26.3 million rounds of .50" ammunition in 1943, and 36.2 million in 1944; the wartime total was 72.3 million rounds. (In October 1943, the ammunition consumption reached a peak of 632,773 rounds per operational day.) That corresponds to nearly 12,000 rounds for every enemy aircraft claimed shot down by the bombers. Because, as we have seen above, these claims were often far higher than the actual German losses, a more realistic average would probably exceed 40,000 rounds for every destroyed German fighter.

    In comparison, the American fighters expended 26.6 million .50" rounds and 262,189 20 mm rounds, and claimed the destruction of 5222 enemy aircraft in the air and 4250 on the ground. That corresponds to 2810 rounds per enemy aircraft claimed as destroyed. Because the fighter claims were usually much closer to reality, a very rough but reasonable estimate would be that a fighter was ten times more efficient as a gunnery platform than a bomber.

    Some commanders were quite sceptical about the effectiveness of this form of defensive armament. In April 1943 Colonel Claude E. Putnam, commander of the 306th BG, gave as his opinion that four gunners needed to fire simultaneously at an enemy fighter to have a 50% probability to bring it down. Worse, he estimated that to only one in ten of the gunners who theoretically had a firing opportunity actually opened fire. His colleague of the 308th BG, T.R. Milton, shared his doubts, and feared that the defensive guns were often more a hazard than a protection, because the danger of “friendly fire” in a dense formation was high.
     
  16. FLYBOYJ

    FLYBOYJ "THE GREAT GAZOO"
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    Interesting stuff Tony....

    BTW today I work for the 306th Flight Training Group - our lineage goes back to the 306th BG...
     
  17. Watanbe

    Watanbe Member

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    Very interesting! Do you think it would have been a better idea to reduce the armaments and crew numbers of the bombers in an attempt to make them lighter and faster. Was the fighter escort effective enough from 1944 onwards to make such an idea viable?
     
  18. Tony Williams

    Tony Williams Member

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    The question of defensive armament for bombers was a complex one, and the answer would vary a lot depending on the circumstances. In particular, are you talking about just stripping guns from a gun-armed plane, or designing a plane to be gunless in the first place? The latter approach does of course provide much better performance.

    In a 1943 study, the RAF concluded that the most efficient form of bomb delivery was a small, very fast, unarmed night bomber (as the Mosquito was proving). However, if they had to go for day bombing they would need a heavy defensive armament which would drive up the size of the plane considerably. But at that time, they didn't believe in escort fighters.

    Logically, once there were sufficient escort fighters to provide cover it would have made sense to minimise the time of risk by making fast gunless bombers. The problem with that is the psychological one. I do not doubt that the bomber crews took great comfort from the fact that they had guns and were able to fight back - an important boost to morale.

    To complicate matters further, if fast gunless day bombers were used there was arguably less need to group them in defensive clusters, or even to escort them. It could have made more sense to send them in small groups on a variety of courses and altitudes to confuse the defences, while using the long-range escorts to travel to the enemy airfields and harry their defending fighters.
     
  19. Juha

    Juha Well-Known Member

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    HoHun, thanks a lot for those bullet patterns
    now, ball turret seems to be very effective.

    On general. I agree with Joe B that one cannot draw very much from claims, what really mattered is the real results.

    Sometimes the gunners were very effective. For ex on 29 Sept 40 the combat between 9./KG 55 and 79 Sqn over Irish Sea. 9. Staffel lost one He 111 and 2 other were so damaged that they were forced to turn back (out of 9 He-111s) but He-111 gunners shot down 3 Hurricanes out of 11.

    Juha
     
  20. Glider

    Glider Well-Known Member

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    When discussing the effectiveness of Bomber defences, I think its worth remebering that the aim of a bombers defences was not to shoot down the attacking fighter. It was to stop the bomber being shot down.

    If a bomber hit an enemy fighter and made it leave the fight, then that was almost as important as shooting it down.

    A lot of emphasis is given to how many were shot down, its natural. However, a mission where the bombers got home with few if any casualties after an attack was a great success, even if no fighters were shot down
     
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