Protecting the Long-Range Bombers

BlackSheep

Senior Airman
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May 31, 2018
While reading about bomber losses in the days before long range fighter escort, I began pondering how they could have been protected earlier.
For one reason or another fighters weren’t ready early in the strategic bombing campaign. What seemed like the next best thing, up-gunned bomber gunships designated YB-40s, were too heavy and too slow to keep up.


Which leads us to the step not taken, as far as I know…
What if those in charge of the strategic bombing of Germany took a page out of the war in the Pacific’s playbook and utilized strafer versions of A-20 and B-25 bombers. Without bombs, carrying extra fuel and increased forward firing guns, could the medium bombers have flown in front of, lagged a bit behind, and/or in other locations along the bomber stream utilizing the forward firepower to disrupt Luftwaffe attacks?

I’ve read accounts of A-26s turning into their attackers and firing all guns to break up attacks by Bf-109s. Also, the B-17 nicknames Ol’ 666 is said to have done the same thing to break up Japanese attacks using a pilot controlled, custom mounted 50 configured to fire forward from the nose.

Would it have helped save bombers? Could modified mediums do what the YB-40 couldn’t?
 

Peter Gunn

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An interesting thought, I suppose it would depend on how soon the AAF realized the possibility and then converting a reasonable number of A-20, B-25 or whatever over to a gunship configuration. Balance that on the demands of TAC air for what they needed them for and you might have a group sized sample to try out the theory.

Seems a bit of a clutching at straws solution but it doesn't hurt to kick it around a little.
 

Shortround6

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A big problem is the different heights that the B-17/B-24s flew at compared to the medium (or light) bombers flew at.

A second one is range.

A 3rd one is what maneuverability do you need?

The 4 engine bombers with turbochargers flew in the low 20's, give or take. The engines maxed out at 25,000ft (approximately) and B-17s often flew a few thousand feet above B-24s (in average) . The A-20s used the 1600hp R-2600 and they maxed out at around 1400hp at 10,000ft (?) They didn't fly well at the over 20,000ft level although that was depending on weight.
Service ceiling is given as 25,800ft but the weight is not given. Service ceiling is the altutude at which the plane can still climb at 100fpm. Or basically the the engines are at full throttle (or max continuous) and the pilot is flight straight (no bank) and gentile climb.

The B-25s used the 1700hp R-2600 and heights a bit higher. But Both planes have FTH over 10,000ft lower than the 4 engine planes.

The Range issue depends on how far you want to fly the A-20G could hold 725 gallons of fuel with 3 tanks in the upper bomb bay. An awful depends on how far you want to go.
B-25 is slower but holds more fuel. But with the more powerful engines and higher drag you burn more fuel per hour.

Now comes the question of what you want the small bombers to do. They can't actually out turn even Bf 110s. Once they turn into a German attack what they do next? By the time they turn 180 degrees to chase the Germans the Germans have competed the firing pass on the big bombers and we trying to line up everybody (Germans and Americans) again. If the mediums are flying abut the same speed as the big bombers they are flying too slow to even turn well (even by their standard ) and the Germans will be running out of fuel by the time the mediums get up to high speed. If the mediums try to cruise at high speed they burn a crap ton of fuel.

Flight operation chart for an A-20B

Pay attention to the left had column, at 15,000ft the engines could burn 310gph. at 25,000ft the engines could only burn 186 gph at the same RPM, the superchargers could only supply about 60% of the air at 25,000. Also note weight of the aircraft, Late A-20s were rated at 24,000lbs normal Gross, 27,000lbs combat gross and up to 30,000lbs Max (like ferry)
 

Juha3

Airman 1st Class
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Jun 20, 2019
P-70 Nighthawks (the fighter version of A-20) had grave difficulties to catch even G4M Betty, I doubt that even without the radar it could be effective against Axis SE fighters even if according to British Havoc was surprisingly manoeuvrable IIRC.
 

tomo pauk

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Apr 3, 2008
Which leads us to the step not taken, as far as I know…
What if those in charge of the strategic bombing of Germany took a page out of the war in the Pacific’s playbook and utilized strafer versions of A-20 and B-25 bombers. Without bombs, carrying extra fuel and increased forward firing guns, could the medium bombers have flown in front of, lagged a bit behind, and/or in other locations along the bomber stream utilizing the forward firepower to disrupt Luftwaffe attacks?

They can do the trick once. Next time, Luftwaffe will know just too well to attack them from above, from the underside, from the back or from the sides.
Strafer versions of the A-20s and B-25s were flying at low altitude, that had a lot to do with their engines that were very good there (and bad above 15000 ft), then with Japanese not having such good radar coverage, and, perhaps most important, the Japanese having perhaps 5% of the light AA guns the Germans had. A-20s and B-25s are far better targets for the AAA than the Typhoons or P-47s, the former two being much bigger, slower and less maneuverable than the later two.

If the Allies want to take a page from the Pacific's playbook, the recommended page should be the one about how much fighter escort is needed to cover the bombers.
 

Greg Boeser

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Fact is, nothing was ready early in the USAAF's European bombing campaign. Combat units trickled in, and fresh units were often stripped of aircraft and crews to replenish those already in action. Where do you find the surplus aircraft and crews for this role?
 

BlackSheep

Senior Airman
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May 31, 2018
A big problem is the different heights that the B-17/B-24s flew at compared to the medium (or light) bombers flew at.

A second one is range.

A 3rd one is what maneuverability do you need?

The 4 engine bombers with turbochargers flew in the low 20's, give or take. The engines maxed out at 25,000ft (approximately) and B-17s often flew a few thousand feet above B-24s (in average) . The A-20s used the 1600hp R-2600 and they maxed out at around 1400hp at 10,000ft (?) They didn't fly well at the over 20,000ft level although that was depending on weight.
Service ceiling is given as 25,800ft but the weight is not given. Service ceiling is the altutude at which the plane can still climb at 100fpm. Or basically the the engines are at full throttle (or max continuous) and the pilot is flight straight (no bank) and gentile climb.

The B-25s used the 1700hp R-2600 and heights a bit higher. But Both planes have FTH over 10,000ft lower than the 4 engine planes.

The Range issue depends on how far you want to fly the A-20G could hold 725 gallons of fuel with 3 tanks in the upper bomb bay. An awful depends on how far you want to go.
B-25 is slower but holds more fuel. But with the more powerful engines and higher drag you burn more fuel per hour.

Now comes the question of what you want the small bombers to do. They can't actually out turn even Bf 110s. Once they turn into a German attack what they do next? By the time they turn 180 degrees to chase the Germans the Germans have competed the firing pass on the big bombers and we trying to line up everybody (Germans and Americans) again. If the mediums are flying abut the same speed as the big bombers they are flying too slow to even turn well (even by their standard ) and the Germans will be running out of fuel by the time the mediums get up to high speed. If the mediums try to cruise at high speed they burn a crap ton of fuel.

Flight operation chart for an A-20B

Pay attention to the left had column, at 15,000ft the engines could burn 310gph. at 25,000ft the engines could only burn 186 gph at the same RPM, the superchargers could only supply about 60% of the air at 25,000. Also note weight of the aircraft, Late A-20s were rated at 24,000lbs normal Gross, 27,000lbs combat gross and up to 30,000lbs Max (like ferry)
Excellent thoughts on all, but, remember dogfighting and/or chasing enemy fighters wasn’t the intent. The few examples I cited were instances of altering the course to put enough tracers in someone’s direction as to give them something to think about besides the bomber in their sights. Again, I’m no expert, but was speculating on the usefulness of strafers positioned strategically around the bomber formation, in the hopes of disrupting the fighter passes of would be bomber destroyers.
Given the high price paid in men and machine for each bomber lost, it doesn’t seem like it a would require anything near 50% successful interception of fighters to realize a benefit, assuming success is counted in percentage of bombers making it home that otherwise weren’t.

Sounds fine and dandy but rendered moot when your points of altitude and range are figured in. Which leads me to another thought, what if instead of concentrating so much energy to on the heavies, the Allies put that into an enormous force of mediums, retaining a smaller force of heavies for strategic work? Perhaps, a thread for another day.
 

BlackSheep

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P-70 Nighthawks (the fighter version of A-20) had grave difficulties to catch even G4M Betty, I doubt that even without the radar it could be effective against Axis SE fighters even if according to British Havoc was surprisingly manoeuvrable IIRC.
Remember, they aren’t dogfighting/chasing fighters, but, flying blocking positions to add to the cones of fire from the bomber box.
 

GrauGeist

Generalfeldmarschall zur Luftschiff Abteilung
Aside from the altitude difference, a medium bomber wasn't much faster than a heavy bomber.
If they turned to unleash a volley at interceptors, they'll be left behind by the formation, especially if they've already dropped their bombs. Now the medium is left alone to deal with the angry pack of dogs all alone - this won't end well.

This was the problem with the YB-40 gunship: it could keep up with the laden B-17s, but after they dropped their bombs, their speed increased to the point where the YB-40 couldn't keep up.
 

Shortround6

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Sounds fine and dandy but rendered moot when your points of altitude and range are figured in. Which leads me to another thought, what if instead of concentrating so much energy to on the heavies, the Allies put that into an enormous force of mediums, retaining a smaller force of heavies for strategic work? Perhaps, a thread for another day.

Here we run into the difference/s between the heavy bombers and the medium bombers.

Granted the heavies didn't operated as high as the pre-war planning wanted. But the B-17 and B-24 were operating at the upper end of the effective range of 88mm guns.
Depending on sources the effective ceiling for the 8.8cm AA gun was 26,000ft (or equivalent meters) but that needs definition., actually the effective height was a period of time that the gun could fire at a target moving at a prescribed speed. As in the gun (battery) can for for 20 seconds at a target flying at 300mph though the upper part of the hemi-sphere that is limited by the max distance the fuse will function at. Yes it is complicated.
The lower the bombers fly (and the slower) the longer the AA guns have to shoot at them and the closer they are the shorter the fuse settings are and since a shorter time of flight reduces the error in the fuse timing and increases the accuracy of the firing solutions of the gun director (for a number of reasons) dropping the altitude even a few thousand feet can make a significate difference in losses to AA guns.

Getting back on track a bit, the medium bombers, as discussed before, fly a lot lower the heavies. In fact the British and the US stopped doing any deep raids with medium bombers after some initial raids with heavy losses.

Now we run into bomb capacity. The B-25 could generally carry three 1000lb bombs or up to six 500lb bombs. The 5200lb loads or close to it requires a torpedo hanging out side the plane. The B-26 could carry four 1000lb bombs inside. However we are starting to trade bombs for fuel. The B-17 could carry five or six 1000lbs (or ten to twelve 500lb bombs) ) depending on range and the B-24 could carry a few more depending on exact bombs and range. So you need a lot more mediums than you do heavies to carry the same amount of bombs, and at times the mediums can not reach the target. from Wiki so subject to revision.
" 1,150 mi (1,850 km, 1,000 nmi) with 3,000 pounds (1,400 kg) bombload and 1,153 US gal (4,365 l) of fuel"
The bombers never flew straight out and back, they used dog legs and diversions, you also have allow fuel for forming the formations up and you need reserves for head winds and bad weather, so unless you carry really small bomb loads there is a lot of Germany that is out of range.

And then we run into the Crew situation, The US heavy bombers used crews of nine-12 men, usually 10-11?
B-25s carried 5 or more men depends on glass nose and if they carried 1 waist gunner or 2
B-26s 7 men (or 6-8) so you need more men (and more highly trained men) to carry the same bombload as the heavies.

The whole question of tactical vs strategic does need looking at, but a tactical campaign instead of strategic might have pushed back D-Day months if not a year. Forget landing during the winter.
 

33k in the air

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There is an alternative which has not been put forward:

Hit every target you can that is within escort range. Hit everything you can that is important that is covered by friendly fighters. Then work to gradually extend escort range to make more targets susceptible to attack.

If you can get fighter escort out to as far as the Ruhr, hit the Ruhr day and night until that industrial area is dust.
 

VBF-13

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I can see them as throwing up what would amount to "flack" basically but looking at the gun-camera footage I have to say I'm doubtful they're disrupting much like that, and being bigger and in a stationary attitude, basically, they're big targets, themselves. I'm just not seeing it. Those formations needed the fighter escort, in my opinion. These bombers just get clipped on the wings or tail, and they're basically aerodynamically-disabled, right then and there. Look at the gun-camera footage on YouTube, there's what they'd be up against. Like shootong ducks on a pond, and they're just more ducks.
 

BlackSheep

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May 31, 2018
There is an alternative which has not been put forward:

Hit every target you can that is within escort range. Hit everything you can that is important that is covered by friendly fighters. Then work to gradually extend escort range to make more targets susceptible to attack.

If you can get fighter escort out to as far as the Ruhr, hit the Ruhr day and night until that industrial area is dust.
I was considering that, too, in conjunction with utilizing a higher ratio of medium to heavy bombers (good or bad strategy that’s what I was spitballing along with the idea of a higher proportion of low to low-medium attacks with the intention of minimizing exposure to flak by decreasing the time the bombers were in sight)

It is a given that Germany had a better flak system than Japan, but, was it completely free of sweet spots, not subject to as much coverage, similar to the one B-29s took advantage of when they dropped down for the bombing runs on Tokyo and eventually the rest of Japan?
 

GrauGeist

Generalfeldmarschall zur Luftschiff Abteilung
The B-29s over Japan ranged between lower altitudes and 15,000 feet, on occasion up to 20,000.

They avoided predictable patterns because while Japan's AA defenses were not as heavy as Germany's, they could (and did) inflict losses.
Japan also had some dangerous night fighters, too.
 

PAT303

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Dec 31, 2018
There is an alternative which has not been put forward:

Hit every target you can that is within escort range. Hit everything you can that is important that is covered by friendly fighters. Then work to gradually extend escort range to make more targets susceptible to attack.

If you can get fighter escort out to as far as the Ruhr, hit the Ruhr day and night until that industrial area is dust.
This was my exact point in the Spitfire thread, by the end of 1942 the Spit MkIX had the legs to go to the Ruhr, they could have made any production their pointless by bombing it back to the dark ages. Forget Berlin until the P51 arrives, bomb the Ruhr to dust.
 

Shortround6

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Forget Berlin until the P51 arrives, bomb the Ruhr to dust.
All well and good if the Ruhr actually contains the factories you are interested in.
Bombing the steel works will eventually work but if you are ignoring the aircraft factories that are beyond your self imposed limit it may be a long slog to reduce the German air force defense.
Too much concertation also makes German AA gun location a lot easier. Just send the majority to the Ruhr and the approaches and use the Ruhr as a giant flak trap.
 

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