Was the self defending bomber really a failure?

Discussion in 'Aviation' started by pinsog, Jan 2, 2010.

  1. pinsog

    pinsog Member

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    Most people consider the concept of the "self defending bomber" a failure, but they always cite the ability of the Germans to shoot down B17's and such. What about Japan? US heavy, and even medium bombers were very successful at driving off Japanese fighters, even when greatly outnumbered. I don't think the Italians would have been very successful at intercepting B17's either, if not for Germanany's help. Opinions?
     
  2. Njaco

    Njaco The Pop-Tart Whisperer
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    I would say the BoB proved that it wasn't a bad concept.
     
  3. GrauGeist

    GrauGeist Well-Known Member

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    The B-17s and B-24s did not give themselves up easily.

    There were many a Luftwaffe pilot that got hammered in thier attempt to down a heavy.
     
  4. Erich

    Erich the old Sage
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    Shin could answer this much better than I about Japan I am assuming, but off hand I do not think that japan was ready for the air war poundiing it from the skies. Germany obviously was not either but seemed to create much in the way of ground and air-defenses although still weak against the US 8th and 15th heavies and thier escorts.

    was Japan just plain overwhelmed or understrengthened during the bombing over itself, I cannot truly say with certainty, though we know quite well B-29's fell during Japanese fighter attacks
     
  5. Watanbe

    Watanbe Member

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    I think it was a case of altitude being the key defense as well.
     
  6. buffnut453

    buffnut453 Well-Known Member

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    The answer, I fear, lies in how we measure success or failure. The concept of the heavily-armed bomber that could fight its way to and from a target, and obliterate said target with decisive application of force, has its origins in pre-WWII thinking on the capabilities of air power, as evinced by the likes of Douhet and Seversky. While bombers were able to get through fighter defences, losses were high as technologies (radar, fighter capabilities, development of integrated air defence networks) advanced. Perhaps more importantly, the results of bombing were not as decisive as had been expected. The ability of both British and German civilians to endure "morale-breaking" bomber offensives effectively exploded pre-war views of bomber supremacy.

    However, one only needs to look at the immediate post-war period to see how irrelevant self-protection armament on bomber aircraft became. Only the B-29 and Lincoln really retained WWII-style protective weapons - other, admittedly more tactical, ground attack aircraft followed the Mosquito model of speed, manoeuverability and altitude to protect the bomber from adversary air defences (compare that with the peashooters carried by Blenheims, Battles, H-111s, Do-17s, Ju-88s etc). Over time, only the USAF and Soviet Long Range Bomber fleet maintained bomber fleets with defensive weaponry but even these were made obsolete when air-to-air missiles became the weapon of choice for defensive fighter forces. The self-defending bomber was a technology of its time but was rapidly seen as being largely irrelevant.

    Just my two penn'orth...

    Kind regards,
    Mark
     
  7. parsifal

    parsifal Well-Known Member

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    In the context of WWII, the heavily armoed and armoured bomber was a valid and partially successful solution to the problem of defending against interceptors. B-17s, B-24s, even Halifaxes and Lancasters, were the defensive part of the equation. What was needed to work in tandem with the heavily defended bomber was an effective escort, as both the germans in the BoB and the Allies subsequently. If we put the German bombers aside for a minute and concentrate on the US bombers, once they were provided with adequate escort, the heavily defended bomber formations (boxes) could usually defend themselves long enough for the Mustangs to intervene , usually shooting down a gaggle of german interceptors as they did.

    People often overlook the achievements of the bomber offensive as well, praising up the more tactical approach of the Germans and Soviet air forces. Yet the bomber offensive soaked up an increasing proportion of German resources, destroyed the german transporet system, crippled her fuel production, guaranteed air superiority over the battlefield outside Germany from mid 1943 on, destroyed or disabled 40% of German production in 1944.....and the list goes on. It wqas a failure if the overblown pre-war claims about achieving complete victory are the measure used to gauge the offensives, but if more realistic measures are applied, they achieved a hell of a lot.

    Post war, the equation did change, but during the war, a heavily defended bomber was one way to approach a difficult problem
     
  8. Erich

    Erich the old Sage
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    let's face it guys

    during ww2 in the ETO the day bombers were at the mercy of the LW fighter both s/e and t/e unless Allied escort fighters were at hand. this is from 1943 through and till wars end. Any US heavy bomber formation could be attacked at will and for a lengthy amount of time if no P-47, P-38 or P-51 fighter group could be of help, it was proven over and over again, so if we take the question literally then yes they were a failure in their own defense in the total scheme even with consdieration of the usefulness of the .50 single and twin and the shooting down of some LW aircraft attacking. The overall % was not high enough in regards to ward off any attack by any LW unit
     
  9. JoeB

    JoeB Member

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    #9 JoeB, Jan 3, 2010
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2010
    You have a generally reasonable point that all fighters weren't uniformly successful against all bombers they could easily catch. Depended on the characteristics of the fighters and bombers, and numbers of each. But I think your generalization about Japanese fighters v US bombers goes too far:

    -in period of frequent Japanese fighter attacks v US mediums, B-25's especially were sometimes mauled by Japanese fighters; over New Guinea in 1942 the basic conclusion was unescorted B-25's were not viable v Japanese fighters. It was somewhat different for B-26 because the plane was faster, if not intercepted well before bomb release, B-26's could dive away and be pretty hard for their main opponent in that theater, the Zero, to catch. But even in that case the 5th AF recognized the need to escort medium bombers to achieve reasonable % loss rates (one basic issue comparing ETO and early PTO is number of a/c, the flight of the 6 B-25's of 3rd BG essentially wiped out by Zeroes over Lae May 25 1942 has a noticeable impact on the overall loss rate stat for 5th AF 1942, 6 B-17's downed in 1944 over Germany has almost no impact on the overall stats for 8th AF 1944). Another example is 11th AF B-25's (w/ B-24's) v the Kuriles flying from the Aleutians in 1943 unescorted: heavy losses to intercepting fighters, raids discontinued.

    -later (1943-45) unescorted US medium bomber missions faced Japanese fighters generally less often. It was heavies mainly, in generally small scale raids by B-24/PB4Y, and later the early-phase B-29 raids over Japan, which flew far enough to have to routinely face Japanese figthers alone. That's not so different from ETO actually (9th AF lost 131 mediums to German fighters, 8th lost 2,452 heavies to German fighters, per USAAF stats).

    -back to numbers, there were many missions in 1942 by B-17's in Pacific where small formations or single a/c avoided losses when intercepted by Zeroes. But the number of Zeroes intercepting was often overestimated, and the number of Zeroes shot down grossly overestimated. Zeroes shot down more B-17's in 1942 than B-17's downed Zeroes in reality, and 1:1 is obviously a much worse exchange rate for single v 4-engine a/c than between fighters. And the B-17 loss *rate* was not necessarily that low. Of course it also depends how much loss each side can afford to take, and morever how effective the bombing is, but unescorted raids by B-17's/24's against Japanese fighter opposition had a mixed record actually. In the more effectice cases, and this was true of mediums too, it was often against ships at sea that the Japanese fighters had a hard time covering continuously; this is once the a/c adopted effective low altitude bombing tactics, which B-24's as well as mediums did as the war went on, even B-17's did in some cases at the end of their Pacific career ca. early 1943. You can't directly compare those missions to bombing stationary strategic targets deep inside Germany,

    -or to B-29's bombing Japan. In that case, unescorted day raids mainly from Nov 1944-Feb 1945, the loss rate to fighters was definitely lower than for B-17's against Reich targets in 1943 unescorted (or partly escorted). But the rate wasn't really low absolutely, and the very high altitude bombing which contributed to reducing losses to fighters (and AA) also contributed to unsatisfactory bombing results. The B-29 first became a highly successful unescorted bomber at night, in the devastating night fire raids in March 1945, then afterwards in both and night, but against rapidly diminishing Japanese fighter threat. A few later B-29 raids were escorted by Iwo Jima based P-51's, but mainly the general presence of carrier fighters, P-51's and shortage of fuel caused the Japanese to hold their fighters on the ground more and more in spring-summer 1945. Some later B-29 raids were daylight unescorted again but faced much less opposition.

    Joe
     
  10. Butters

    Butters Member

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    The 'self-defending bomber' concept was a failure. The laws of physics and the undeniable fact that money is the fuel that drives the engine of war, put paid to that pipe dream.

    In a conflict between adversaries of technological and industrial parity, the fact that an effective high performance interceptor a/c can be built and manned at a far lower cost than can a long-range bomber a/c, inevitably results in cost/benefit imbalance that favors the interceptor. Large, long-range a/c capable of carrying a useful bomb load simply cannot match the performance and agility of small, point defence interceptors. Nor can the bombers be built rugged enough to withstand the damage that interceptors can bring to bear. At least if you still want the performance, range, and bombload.

    The original bomber doctrine of the RAF and USAAF was built around the claim that the bombers could fight thru the enemy defences by themselves, make precision attacks upon expressly military targets, and then return. That necessarily required daylight attacks, and it was an utter failure. The RAF, forced by unsupportable losses, resorted to night-time area bombing attacks that usually cost far more than they were worth. The Americans, despite their more heavily armed a/c, were also forced to halt their long-range missions and restrict themselves to targets that were within the range of their escort fighters. Schweinfurt and Ploesti were the bloody refutation of the claim that 'the bomber will always get thru'...

    Bombers cannot survive in the presence of equally advanced interceptors.

    JL
     
  11. riacrato

    riacrato Member

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    Yes, they never managed to inflict a good damage-to-losses-sustained ratio.

    No, because if accompanied by fighters they formed a deadly combination.
     
  12. stona

    stona Well-Known Member

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    Depends what you call a failiure. If you are prepared to accept 10%-16% casualties or bomb by night then no.The British didn't think so or we wouldn't have put such massive resources into the bombing campaign,at the cost of other services. 55,000 dead was a hell of a price to pay.
    Steve
     
  13. GrauGeist

    GrauGeist Well-Known Member

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    The defenses on a bomber can also deter assault, or at least make the attacker stand off at a respectable distance, which in turn allows a better field of fire from the other gun stations.

    If you want, compare the heavy defenses of the bombers to inadequate defenses of transports like the Ju52. A classic example would be the Palm Sunday Massacre. Had the transports had better defenses, the losses may have been much lower.
     
  14. Erich

    Erich the old Sage
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    the Ju's obviously needed a better deterent like some Bf 109's as Höhenstaffel, being armed with a puny .30 pea shooter and limited traverse out in the air just isn't going to ward off the enemy to any extent. As for heavy bombers .303's and .50's it can be said with some certainty that the inexperienced LW kid pilot did have to take his time and then set up his attack and during mid-late 1943 the US crews could pretty much expect just such tactics and try as they might defend themselves hoping for the better first shots with the longer range mg's.

    E ~
     
  15. buffnut453

    buffnut453 Well-Known Member

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    Maybe so, but a cannon-armed fighter could stand off outside the range of small-calibre defensive weapons on the bombers and still inflict casualties on the bomber formation with impunity.

    The defended bomber concept only truly worked (against a technologically advanced integrated air defence system) when escorted by long-range fighters that had the performance to successfully engage the adversary's defensive fighter screen.

    As for the Ju-52s, even with a few defensive weapons, they would be little different to Blenheims or Battles in 1940.
     
  16. GrauGeist

    GrauGeist Well-Known Member

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    The M2 Browning .50 caliber had an effective range of about a mile (1,800 meters)
     
  17. Vincenzo

    Vincenzo Active Member

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    i not think this is a valid effective range in air operations
     
  18. barney

    barney Member

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    If failure is judged by whether you are losing bombers faster than you can replace them, then the armed bomber, both in the daylight and at night, at some point in the war, at least in the ETO, was a failure. I don't need to explain what saved the daylight effort. What saved the night effort was window and radar bombing.

    The German planes, in particular the plane killing 190's were working pretty hard at the altitude the B-17s came in at. What if the bombers were higher and faster? So, on the B-17s for example, strip out and fair over the two or three turrets plus the bulges and blisters - maybe leave the tail gunner. Now you have a much faster plane with a higher service ceiling.
     
  19. Erich

    Erich the old Sage
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    the range of the .50 cal mg was greater than the effective range of the LW 2cm cannon. this was reason for the Sturm like attacks from the rear to be used from July 44 till wars to attack and try to knock out the tail turret position offering the rear of the bomber defenseless as it closed with the bomber before banking off right or left at collision speed and range.
     
  20. davparlr

    davparlr Well-Known Member

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    It would be interesting to have a good reference of how much the bomber forces aided in the reduction of the german fighter force as compared to fighters. The discredited number of combined B-17/24 kills of 9276 is more than the combined claimed, and probably discredited, P-51/47 air kills. Even so, the number could be substantial.

    Also unknown is the number of bombers that would have been lost if the defensive armament was reduced.

    Another thought, if the box formation could have had a dedicated intercommunication capability so that a coordinated defense could be made against attackers, ie, all planes would be aware of and target the same aircraft, how much more effective the defense would be. It maybe could have been very formidable, with a minimum of what, eight .50 cals aimed at a single aircraft.
     
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