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Thread: Bomber gun positions

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    Member olbrat's Avatar
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    Bomber gun positions

    Reading the information on the B-17 gun turrets got me thinking. Were there any specific gun positions on bombers that were more hazardous than others? That is to say it may have been more hazardous due to enemy fighter tactics, exposure to enemy fire (less assisting coverage from other guns), etc. For example, it sounds like the belly turret of the B-17 was a real "sorry about your luck, buddy" position, but was it more dangerous than any other gun position?



    As a side question: how did they select which gunner went to which position?

    Feel free to comment on any bomber allied or axis.

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    Senior Member Flyboy2's Avatar
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    I would definatly think that a belly gunner would be most exposed to enemy fire because he is below the aircraft where the flak will impact first. I know in the ETO the front positions were most dangerous for Allied bombers because the Luftwaffe prefered frontal attacks. Also the tail gunners were especially seperated from the rest of the crew.

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    Senior Member model299's Avatar
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    Actually, from all the sources I have and have seen, the belly gunner had one of the highest rates of survival of all the positions. While this might not seem logical, consider that he was sitting in a turret comprised of aluminum castings that proved capable of absorbing quite a bit of damage, with a fairly thick (1/2") piece of steel for the seat that doubled as armor plating. The ball gunner was, by necessity, a small man.

    I think that the waist gunners were the most exposed. Not much separating them from the flak and enemy shells being fired at the plane, except any body armor they wore, and any flak jackets they may have lined the floor with. (A fairly common practice.) Except for that, just some thin Alclad.

    Also, although each man was assigned a specific position, a wise plane commander trained his gunners to be proficient at all available positions.

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    Senior Member kool kitty89's Avatar
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    In the other thread it was mentioned that the ball turret was made of heavy aluminum castings and plexiglass several inches thick.


    With that kind of thick plexiglass, was it intended to be bullet resistant? (ie "bullet-proof glass")
    Last edited by kool kitty89; 06-04-2008 at 05:21 PM.

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    Senior Member Velius's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by model299 View Post
    I think that the waist gunners were the most exposed. Not much separating them from the flak and enemy shells being fired at the plane, except any body armor they wore, and any flak jackets they may have lined the floor with. (A fairly common practice.) Except for that, just some thin Alclad.
    For that matter the tail gunner could be considered just as vulnerable, especially if the bomber is approched from the rear.

    But even when I think about this, the tail gunner still had more "bite" with two 50 cals than the waist gunners who had just one.

    I agree that the waist gunner was vulnerable, but I think the tail gunner is a little more vulnerable (this is my opinion)

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    Senior Member renrich's Avatar
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    I would think the tail gunner position would be the most dangerous as rear quarter low deflection shots were probably the most common. Of course, those rear quarter attacks could bring the waist gunners and ball turret gunner under fire also.

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    Senior Member Flyboy2's Avatar
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    Couldn't the ball gunner be able to train his fire to assist the tail gunner in a lower rear quarter attack. Would i be right in assuming that a side attack would be the most easily defended agianst?

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    Quote Originally Posted by olbrat View Post
    Reading the information on the B-17 gun turrets got me thinking. Were there any specific gun positions on bombers that were more hazardous than others? That is to say it may have been more hazardous due to enemy fighter tactics, exposure to enemy fire (less assisting coverage from other guns), etc. For example, it sounds like the belly turret of the B-17 was a real "sorry about your luck, buddy" position, but was it more dangerous than any other gun position?

    As a side question: how did they select which gunner went to which position?

    Feel free to comment on any bomber allied or axis.
    During the first half of the War in the ETO, the tail gunners position was probably the most vulnerable position, as Luftwaffe tactics at that time favored a rear approach to the bombers. As the War progressed, however, Luftwaffe tactics switched to a head-on approach since, originally, there was less defensive armament on the front of the plane. This necessitated the installation of the Sperry chin turret on late-model B-17F's and all B-17G's. So I would say that, during the latter half of the War, the front defensive positions were more dangerous. I have even heard interviews of former Luftwaffe pilots who said that they deliberately targeted the cockpits of American heavy bombers in order to incapacitate (i.e.: kill) the pilot(s).

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    Senior Member renrich's Avatar
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    FB2, The ball turret gunner would indeed be able to help if the fighter was coming from below the bomber which is exactly why that ball turret was there. If the fighter was coming from above the top turret and radio gunner(if it was manned) could help(this is B17) The side attack if it was a full deflection shot would be the most difficult to defend which is why the US Navy trained it's pilots in that type of attack. What our Navy called a high side full deflection shot would mean that the fighter begins firing when he is at 90 degrees to the target's line of flight at about 300 yards. Of course he is firing in front of the bomber. He is in a shallow dive and the angles involved give the top turret gunner and a waist gunner(if there was one) almost impossible firing solutions. The fighter when he is too close to continue firing usually goes beneath the target and zoom climbs to begin another run. The three types of that attack were: high side(above and to the side of the bomber's flight path), flat side(to the side and level with the flight path,) and low side, (below and to the side of the flight path, not often used.) Fortunately for the Allies few enemy pilots were adept at that attack and the AC in use were not well suited for that maneuver because of limited visibility over the nose. The US Navy used that method against the big Kawanishi seaplanes the Japanese used for scouting and seldom failed in the attack and were rarely hit with return fire. Another type of attack which gives the defensive gunners difficult firing solutions is the overhead run(both head on and overtaking.) The head on attack favored by the Germans offered an easy firing solution for the fighter and bomber also. The drawback was the short firing time.
    Last edited by renrich; 06-05-2008 at 03:21 PM.

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    Senior Member Flyboy2's Avatar
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    Oh ok. So would that mean that the waist positions were most useful if the fighter was making an attack run parallel with the direction the bomber is moving in?

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    Senior Member renrich's Avatar
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    My guess is that the waist guns were of most use for just throwing out a curtain of bullets that would discomfit the enemy pilots. An enemy fighter that was flying parallel with the bomber would be a relatively easy shot, especially if his speed was not a great deal higher than the bomber's. I doubt if many enemy fighters were around flying at 175 MPH though. Of course there could always be the waist gunner who was a good wing shot and could instinctively solve all the angles.

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    Senior Member Velius's Avatar
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    I've always wondered why waist gunners had only a single 50 cal whereas every other position on the bomber had two i.e. the tail gunner, ball turret, top turret, and (when they were introduced) chin turrets. I'm sure the extra firepower covering the sides would’ve discouraged attacks to that area with the only disadvantage I could think of being reload time.

  13. #13
    Senior Member renrich's Avatar
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    The problem with adding the extra guns was weight and drag. The chin turret added both and having twin fifties in the waist positions would have added more weight without much payoff in protection. The YB40s were an extreme example. They were so heavy and draggy that they could not keep up with the regular B17s after the bombloads were dropped.

  14. #14
    Senior Member Flyboy2's Avatar
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    Also it was extremely hard for the gunners to manuveur even one 50 cal in a 175 mph slip stream. It required alot of strength. I can't imagine it would be an easier with two 50 cals.

  15. #15
    Senior Member Watanbe's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Flyboy2 View Post
    Also it was extremely hard for the gunners to manuveur even one 50 cal in a 175 mph slip stream. It required alot of strength. I can't imagine it would be an easier with two 50 cals.
    I think thats the main reason. Not many guys could efficiently move and fire two 50 cals. I think its probably more effective having a single gun that the gunner can actually use properly.

    I was always of the impression that the rear-gunner was the most dangerous place to be. Thinking about it though, im not sure id like to be sitting in the Nose of a bomber with a FW190 flying at me firing 20mm cannons.

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