Why no front gun turret on a Halifax bomber?

Discussion in 'The War In The Air' started by Owen, Nov 6, 2008.

  1. Peter Clare

    Peter Clare Very Senior Member

    Great photo's and info James. Thanks for posting.
  2. James S

    James S Very Senior Member

    It has been something of a pleasure to do Peter - I usually date books that I buy and when I checked the dates I can recall what I was interested in and was doing at the time - the mid 80's- early 90's doing a lot of reading on Bomber Command at that time , the Halifax books came as part of that - the Mk II being Jimmy's aircraft.
    A reason to look them out and refresh my own memory was quite welcome.
    I have some stuff from a booket on airgunnery training which I will look out - it explains things like "laying off" , the bullet trail , gravity drop and deflection.
  3. Jamie Holdbridge-Stuart

    Jamie Holdbridge-Stuart Senior Member

    Old Airfield
    I lie her still beside the hill
    Abandoned long to natures will
    My buildings down my people gone,
    My only sounds the wild birds call.

    But my mighty birds will rise no more
    No more I hear the Merlins roar
    And never now my bosum feels
    The pounding of their giant wheels

    From the ageless hill their voices cast
    Thunderous echos of the past
    And still in lonely reverie
    Their great dark wings sweep down to me

    Laughter , sorrow, hope and pain
    I shall never know these things again
    Emotions that I came to know
    Of strange young men so long ago

    Who knows as evening shadows meet
    Are they here still a phantom fleet
    And do my ghosts still stride unseen
    Across my face so wide and green

    And in the future should structures tall
    Bury me beyond recall
    I shall still remember them,
    My metal birds and long dead men

    Now weeds grow high obscure the sky
    Oh remember me when you pass by
    For beneath this tanglked leafy screen
    I was your home, your friend "silksheen"

    Ex-630 Squadron.

    "Silksheen" was RAF East Kirkby's call sign during the war. Last year we attended a reunion of 630 and 57 Squadron Veterans we managed to get them all to sign a Bomber Command book, then had some happy snaps in 'Just Jane'. It was one of the greatest priviliges I've ever had in this hobby.
  4. James S

    James S Very Senior Member

    That particular poem says so very much , it captures ( for me ) what the time must have been like.
  5. adamcotton

    adamcotton Senior Member

    The earlier versions of the Halifax did boast a fully powered Frazer-Nash gun turret with two .303 inch calibre Browning machine guns, just like the Lancaster and Stirling. It was found that, with all three types, the turret was seldom required for use, most fighter attacks against the night bombers being delivered from below or astern. Handley Paige therfore decided to dispense with the unecessary weight and complexity of the turret mechanism in later versions of their bomber, and example of which has been pictured. For some reason, Shorts an Avro didn't do the same thing....
  6. Smudger Jnr

    Smudger Jnr Our Man in Berlin

    Taking the gun turret out would have also released a lot of weight, a real plus factor.
    However, would it have entailed retrimming due to the loss of nose weight?
    I have only read about the deletions and nothing about the consequences other than streamlining and weightsaving.
    Any knowledgeable member able to answer this query?

  7. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    Both Lancaster and Halifax aircraft were subject to modifications arising from squadron service and the best insight is to study the various publications on the two models.

    For instance, one of the ad hoc modifications initiated at squadron level with the guidance of A.V.M Rice, O.C No 1 Group was the Rose rear turret which incorporated .5 inch twin guns.I believe the mod was fitted only to No 150 and 170 squadrons at Hemswell in late 1944.As I said you will find a number of these mods on aircraft as the RAF sought to increase operation performance by "tried and tested" evaluation by crews opereating front line aircraft.

    It was not until the Lincoln Mark 1 and Mark 2 aircraft (initially Lancaster Mark !V and Mark V aircraft) were on the production line that .5 inch calibre ammunition became standard, copying the design of USAAF bomber aircraft but too late to gain advantage as the Lincoln never saw wartime squadron service.From operational feedback it was obvious that the .5 inch calibre ammunition packed a greater punch and this late mod ought to have been initiated much earlier.

    As an aside, the Halifax was reported to have a much better buoyancy than the Lancaster.A number of Halifax crews found themselves surviving when ditching owing to the fact that the Halifax took longer to sink thus giving the crew time to take to a dinghy.

    I have just looked at some references regarding the Rose rear turret.It appears that orders on Roses,via AVM Rice were placed in June 1943 and first conversions took place on No 101 Squadron at Ludford Magna in June 1944 and the squadron first used the added armament in the same month.The turret was installed on most of No 1 Group's Lancaster aircraft.There is also a reference to the turret being installed by No 5 Group which I have not heard before.What is clear however,is that No 150 and 170 Squadrons used the equipment when they operated out of Hemswell from Novemnber 1944.It would appear that B.C played no part in the engineering and procurement of these rear turrets.
  8. Colin Richardson

    Colin Richardson Junior Member

    Hi to all,
    I have just come upon this thread and would just like to add a comment or two. Yes it is true to say that the early marks of the aircraft were flawed, in particular low service ceiling and being prone to spinning out of control, caused by the small triangulr tail fins. The front Turret was removed to try and save weight (a single Browning 303 was fitted as it was though that frontal attacks were not a serious threat) Also Meriln engines were fitted on the insistance of the Air Ministy, as there was a more plentyful supply of these power units. It was not until the aircraft received its radial engines that things vastly imrpoved, and in particular the Mk3. This aircraft became as good as the Lancaster, and in some cases better, it was certainly a better multi-role aircraft, it could sustain more punishment, and was far roomier inside. History has not been kind to the mark, and Arthur Harris, was slow to see its potential. As my farther in law put it (himself a distinquished Halifax pilot) as far as most people are concerned, the war was won by the Spitfire and the Lancaster, the Halifax and the hurricane just played bit parts. This is not of course to say that the Lancaster was not a great aicraft, as it truely was.
    Kind reagards to all.
    Owen likes this.
  9. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    One major comment was made by J H Searby, a former C/O of No 83 Squadron and who acted as the Master Bomber at Peenemunde on 18 August 1943 and before that was a Flight Commander under Guy Gibson on No 106 Squadron at Syerston.In his "Everlasting Arms",he maintained that Bomber Command losses would have been reduced to a large extent had aircraft gunnery been converted early to .50 inch calibre rather than the .303 inch calibre which apart from local initiatives remained as procured at .303 inch.
  10. John Moore

    John Moore Member

    Very true, but it could also be argued that if more emphasis had been placed on the construction of Mosquito's then their would have been less need for the improvement of defensive armament.

    Mossie's were capable of carrying 4,000lb Cookies & negated the need for the extra five crew members.

    I'm an East Yorkshire boy & as such I'm primarily interested in 4 Group & have a huge amount of respect for the Halifax. But the figures for losses of two engined vs four engined bombers tend to speak for themselves.

    Hindsight is a fine thing but I can't help but feel that elimination of air gunners after WW2 wasn't purely down to the evolution of the jet engine.
  11. James S

    James S Very Senior Member

    Probably so John the increase in speed of approach etc would have made the traditional skills of the air gunner difficult if not impossible to apply.
  12. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    The Mosquito had its drawbacks when you consider its role.It was not designed as a heavy bomber and as such it was restricted by its size on the lift it could cope with.The bombing tonnage dropped against German targets would have fallen short of strategic requirements if loads were restricted to the 4000lbs lift of the Mosquito.The only solution was to employ four engined aircraft which surprisingly took some time for the Air Ministry to adopt as policy for the future of wartime Bomber Command.

    Considering the Lancaster went on to achieve a lift of 22.000lbs,the Mosquito was restricted to a role of fighter bomber,intruder etc and as I have said its design envelope restricted its development.Still that does not retract from the fact that it was an outstanding aircraft fit for any role that was appropriate.But bombing was not its operational backbone.In Bomber Command it was always used in the "mix' for a bombing operation.Its utilisation in the Peenemunde raid as the decoy raid on Berlin was a good example where the aircraft could quickly get into the supposed target area to draw enemy night fighter resources from the real target and then make a quick exit, hopefully without losses.

    Having said that,the RAF were to finally achieve a situation that they could draw on a wide range of aircraft to suit a particular operation and the Mosquito was such an aircraft which in the end contributed so much.Even so the Mosquito project did not have official backing initially but was a private venture.

    Later on in the war it was the favourite aircraft in the role of the Master Bomber in Bomber Command and incidentally these aircraft were not fitted with gunnery but relied on their speed to outwit enemy fighters.

    Manned gunnery became obsolete long before the withdrawal of the piston engined front line Bomber Command aircraft.When the last two old pathfinder squadrons were disbanded by the end of 1955,the Central Gunnery School at Leconfield for the training of gunners was already closed.In the early 1950s it was obvious that the Lincoln Mark 2s(Initial designation, Lancaster Mk 5 ) could not defend themselves against the likes of the F 86 and Mig 15 etc in the role of a heavy bomber.Acceptance of this led to the leasing of B29s for use until the V Bomber was made ready.Even so the B29s were at the same disadvantage in the jet interceptor age and returned to the US well before the first V Bomber squadrons were formed.
  13. Colin Richardson

    Colin Richardson Junior Member

    I think if we look at it from a Greman perspective, and had they produced 4 engine heavy bombers, then things may have been different for Britain. The Mossie was one of the greats, but it could never have sustained the area bombing that was called for at the time ( right or wrong, but that's another debate). Getting back to the Halifax, my father in law flew with 158 Sq out of Lisset, and can speak first hand on the ruggedness of the aiframe. They were on opps to Hanover and were on finals, when they were hit from underneath by a Lancaster, this tore off the port outer engine sealed up the bomb bay and tore a hugh hole in the port side. He was able to get the aircraft back to England, and as they touched down at RAF Woodbridge another engine fell off, all the crew suvived the resuting crash landing, this was all with a full bomb load. It is true to say that most aircrews were fiercely defensive of the mark they were flying, even Stirling crews! Your right the jet engine changed aerial warfare forever.
    James S likes this.
  14. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    Without doubt the Halifax was a superb aircraft and like the Lancaster the airframe could take a large degree of hammer from enemy fighters and from the effect of collisions.The fact that the RAF had at least a choice of 4 engined heavies was down to the fact that perceived success may have turn to failure should one particular type be only chosen.Once the particular type has returned performance and relaibilty then you can cut back on the production of the"also rans".But it would have been folly to rely on a unproven single design.

    However in a "tried and tested" situation,the Halifax was found to be more buoyant when ditched than the Lancaster as many crews found when they were detached to Coastal Command from Bomber Command.

    Woodbridge as Manston and Carnaby provided a first class haven as emergency airfields for crippled aircraft of a commands.Logical thinking from the Air Ministry planners in providing the emergency airfields.
  15. John(txic)

    John(txic) Junior Member

    In addition, I understand the chop rate of Halifax aircrew was lower, as it was more easily evacuated in an emergency than the similar Avro product.
  16. Smudger Jnr

    Smudger Jnr Our Man in Berlin


    Hello and welcome to the forum.

    I believe you may be correct about evacuation as from what I have read it was not easy for certain crew members to get out of a Lancaster.

    I wouldn't even like to guess at how bad it was trying to evacuate from a crippled bomber spiraling at speed.

  17. Mike L

    Mike L Very Senior Member

    Slightly off topic, but I have read the comments about 2 and 4 engined bombers with interest and totally agree. Does anyone have evidence that Germany ever tried to develop 'heavies' or reasons why they didn't?
    I feel another thread coming on;) but as an aviation airhead perhaps I will leave it to someone else.

  18. Colin Richardson

    Colin Richardson Junior Member

    The Germans did have the 4 engine transport the Condor, but this was never developed any further. If we look at the German form of warfare "Blitzkieg" we all know how it works, so slow 4 engine aircraft would have been no use to them. As the war went on i do believe they did look at it, but were unable or unwilling to divert precious recources. The Germans only ever eveloped one aircraft during the was, i believe the Heinkel HE177.
  19. John Moore

    John Moore Member

    There were a number of submissions with 4+ engines for the 'Amerika Bomber' project. These tended to be a mish-mash of adapted civil airliners, maritime patrol craft & cargo planes, as well as some that were specially designed. A few made it off the drawing board such as the Me 264 & the Ju 390, but the project was dropped & they never made it into production.
  20. canuck

    canuck Token Colonial Patron

    One major comment was made by J H Searby, a former C/O of No 83 Squadron and who acted as the Master Bomber at Peenemunde on 18 August 1943 and before that was a Flight Commander under Guy Gibson on No 106 Squadron at Syerston.In his "Everlasting Arms",he maintained that Bomber Command losses would have been reduced to a large extent had aircraft gunnery been converted early to .50 inch calibre rather than the .303 inch calibre which apart from local initiatives remained as procured at .303 inch.


    I have read several Bomber Command crew accounts where the agreed upon strategy was to have the primary role of the gunners be that of a lookout only and to rely on evasive action (i.e. corkscrew) by the pilot as the principal means of defence. Some crews went so far as to adopting a 'no shoot' policy unless directly attacked. This rationale being explained that betraying one's position with tracer fire was more of a hazard given the disparity in armament between bomber and night fighter (.303 vs 20mm cannon). All of this certainly supports the assertion that crews had little faith in the firepower of .303 inch weapons.
    So many survivors report having had no warning before being attacked, especially in the case of Schrage Musik, that I wonder if .50 cal. would have really made a significant difference?

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