How much a difference did two extra .50's make?

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Senior Airman
Mar 21, 2005
The P-47 had eight .50 cal machine guns. Most other American fighters had six .50's. What sort of edge did two additional .50's give in the very short period of time that an enemy fighter was in their sights?
Well, 8 .50's is a third more firepower which isn't insignificant. Some pilots (less experienced ones) would use the extra guns to extend the deadly range of fire by pairing the convergence of each pair of two guns across four predetermined ranges.

Those who were experits and converged all their guns at 250 or 300 yards could really do some damage though. I have read accounts of Thunderbolt pilots who said that quite often their adversaries would disintegrate or just explode (their words not mine) when the lead was poured on.
More bullets = more chance of hitting something and causing more damage when it does. The main tasks of the P-47 were shooting down fighters and strafing light targets so lots of mgs are good for that.

Also remember the P-47 is a big heavy plane most suited to diving down taking a shot, not something to dogfight with, when you're doing a hit and run attack you want as much ammo on target in as short a space of time as possible, plus there was plenty of room in the P-47.
I think Ive read that some pilots preferred four .50's for dogfighting and all eight for strafing.

I could be wrong.
The M-2 .50 fired about 13 rounds a second so we can do the math. Let me emphasize that while sheer fire volume is sought after it is truly unimportant to "shooters." These are the aces I've met over the years that stand out due to the fact that they scored consistently without overwhelming firepower as a means of enemy destruction.

Many, many P-51 B C pilots that were shooters scored doubles and triples regularly. 4 guns. Hal Fischer with 10 kills in Koreas in F-86s responded to this question of firepower once. He has a quiet voice that casually almost whispers. The epitome of laid back. I asked about F-86s weapons punch verses other options and he replied, "six guns were more than enough. Four would have been sufficient." This man was a shooter!!

Most every ace discussed close up kills where gun harmony and sights were useless. Every one was able to eyeball the angles and stick one wing's worth of guns up the enemy's rear and blast them.

None of this is spray and pray from flight sims kiddies. The real aces could shoot.

P-47 did disintegrate enemy A/C. Johnson, Zemke, Christensen, Gabreski spoke of it time and again. Made no difference if the FW 190D had a superb turn rate when a 3 second burst sent 312 rounds of API down range from 8 .50s. And the whole idea negating tight maneuvers was anticipating and leading your target so he'd fly into your ordnance that you'd just fired over here... when he is over here...
Its also noted time and again that good pilots used very little ammo. I've read several accounts that note one or two kills with 60 or less rounds expended.

Strafing is another story the more lead you send into the target the better. The other thing is that if the P-47 was carrying a load it only carried 267 rounds per gun, not an extravegent amount, about 30 seconds worth.

Yeah marksmanship paid off. The P-47 had capacity for 425 RPG and carried that load out depending on pilot preference, mission type and weight vs range considerations. No WW2 bird could carry more rounds. 267 RPG was plenty if you could shoot anyhow!
I think the average number of bullets (.50) for a kill was 60 rounds or something. Even then I think you'll find that the aces were responsible for downing the vast majority of enemy aircraft and these aces tended to be excellent at many things including gunnery.

Hans Joachim Marseille for example was probably one of the best German marksmen with an astonishingly good record of kills and an average of a mere 15 rounds to take down each aircraft.

Much of the debate and refusal to substantiate Marseille's combat record originates from one day of furious air combat on 1 September, 1942 in which he claimed to have destroyed 17 aircraft in three sorties. Not only did Marseille claim 17 aircraft, but he did it in a fashion that was unheard of at the time. His victims were shot out of the sky in such a rapid fashion that many Allied critics still refuse to believe Marseille's claims as fact. But it is precisely the speed and fury involved with these kills that has been the center of the Marseille debate for the past half century. For years, many British historians and militarists refused to admit that they had lost any aircraft that day in North Africa. Careful review of records however do show that the British did lose more than 17 aircraft that day, and in the area that Marseille operated. The British simply refused to believe, as many do today, that any German pilot was capable of such rapid destruction of RAF hardware.

Facts are that Marseille is still acknowledged as among the best marksmen in the Luftwaffe. The Germans were very meticulous in filing combat reports with all relevant data to include time of battle, area of operation, opposition encountered, as well as an in-depth armorers report. At the end of a mission, the armorers would count the number of bullets and cannon shells expended during the fight. Marseille would often average an astonishing 15 bullets required per victory, and this with a combat resulting in his downing of several allied aircraft. No other German pilot was close to Marseille in this area.

Marseille said that in such conditions, there's a lower chance and too little time for the usual chase attack method, and preferred to use high angle deflection firing from short range while making a sharp turn. In doing so, he never used his gun sight and instead fired a very short burst at the passing target in the split second when its leading edge, its propeller, disappeared from his eyes behind his aircraft's nose.

However there were many lesser pilots who tended to just blast away and not hit a thing, especially early in the war when gunnery was not emphasized much and that which they did practice was from long range with distant convergence. The more experienced pilots who survived soon learned to set convergence much closer and get in real close, I think it was Sailor Malan who advocated getting in as close as possible (until you see the whites of their eyes) and firing quick bursts of no more than 1 or 2 seconds duration.

Most aircraft only had around 10 seconds firing time at best, so 30 seconds firing time for a P-47 was actually quite a lot 9for allies at least), and the pilot could specify even more I think. In comparison a Spitfire with 8 .303s could manage about 16 seconds with a tad longer for a Hurricane.

The 109Es could carry a lot though, for the two machine guns at least, there was enough for a whole minute of firing, in contrast to the wing cannons which ran out after less than 7 seconds.
Source and some interesting reading on BoB armament from here

There are two kinds of pilot, aces and targets ;)
Lieut Comdr JS Thach, CO VF-3, from transcript of a BuAir interview, 28 August 1942:

"Air battles are won by hitting enemy planes with bullets. "

"The pilot who will miss with four .50 caliber guns won't be able to hit with eight. Increased firepower is not a substitute for marksmanship."

"We would rather have six guns, but there is no use carrying around six or eight guns if you can't bring those guns to bear on the enemy."


Back in the "Olden days" normal men learned how to shoot pistols, rifles and shotguns. They hunted, some to put supper on the table, and knew how to lead moving and flying targets and other subtle things that ended up with meat on the table. Only 5% of pilots became aces at that and they accounted for 95% of the air to air kills.

Time and again I've been amazed with descriptions of fabulous shooting that the men who did it just shrugged as though it was normal stuff. The truth is it was normal for good shooters. They've explained how pilots would get their "shooter's eye" once they began immersing into the the whole scenario of combat gunnery more and more.

Real shooters could even hold lead over an adversary in turn as the nose of his plane completely blocked the enemy fire and score! As it was described it seemed tantamount to "the force." These guys had an eerie sense of ably putting ordnance downrange in anticipation of where the enemy was GOING to be.

.50 caliberBrowning M-2 machine guns fired at 750 RPM so one can calculate fire time with number of RPG. The .30, 303 and 7.92mm ran at 11-1,200 RPM so lots of little bullets are going to be expended fast. The MG 151 20mm fired at 740 RPM.

Hans Marseille was a shooter pure and simple. He didn't just score multiples occassionally he did it regularly. Once he downed down six Tomahawks of the British Desert Air Force (DAF). What's more amazing is that the 20-millimeter nose cannon had jammed after only ten rounds were fired. The Star of Africa finished them with the pair of 7.9mm MG 17s above the cowl!
Twitch, many city dwellers "in them olden days" never hunted nor fired weapons.

What made an ace had more to do with "attitude", being in the right place at the right time and having your intended target make a fatal mistake.

Richard Bong, admitted he was a bad shot and he got his kills by closing in so close, he couldnt miss.
AT 200 yards, with all eight guns sighted to go through a three or four foot circle, the concentration of fire would be awesome. At 750rpm, that's 6,000 rounds per second. A one second burst would put 100 rounds through the circle and just shred, rip and tear.

100 rounds = (see asterisks below)

Yeah, I know about Bong and gunnery. There were guys that learned to fly before the war and had a jump on others there too, and some were city guys. Aggressiveness was the underlying key for sure.

I would easily venture to use the word "most" aces had firearms knowledge before aerial gunnery. Even city people had outings to the "country" back then. I grew up in St. Louis but my Mom would tell me of how the men folk went way out in the county to hunt and fish in the 1920s-30s. Today people in L.A. don't go on hunting trips. Only a few do from big cities.

But today combat flight simmers have an advantage over non-gamers as far as ability to adapt to an electronic cockpit awareness. That's bizarre in itself.
Bong was just a little modest to. He was a hunter of both animals and birds. I've also heard that he frequently only used a few bullets. Its also true that if he could he did fly 50 yards directly behind before he fired as Twitch pointed out.


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