Why no front gun turret on a Halifax bomber?

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

  1. Smudger Jnr

    Smudger Jnr Our Man in Berlin

    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.

    Mike


    As stated the Germans did have 4 engined bombers, but the Condor was a Civil airliner produced to be adapted to become a bomber.
    It had a habit of cracking up and breaking it's back on heavy landings.
    I am sure that there is a thread on the subject.

    If I recall correctly the problem for the Luftwaffe was that General Weaver was a believer in the Heavy Bomber, but others including Göring were not as they believed medium bombers for the short Blitz campaigns were sufficient.

    When General Weaver died in a plane crash the impitus for 4 enfgined bombers was lost.

    Just the Grief He 177 was produced and flown operationally.

    The problem with this plane was that it had two motors coupled together on each wing which caused no end of problems with fires.

    After a long wait the plane was eventually produced with 4 seperate motors and was a true 4 engined heavy bomber, but too late and not enough manufactured.

    Later in the war there were 4 engined bombers being tested including the Messerschmitt which looked a little like the Super fortress with twin tail planes.

    An intersting subject as the Germans had many planes in the planning stages at Wars end, but were multi jet engined bombers.

    Regards
    Tom
     
  2. Tony H

    Tony H Junior Member

    Just to add a different topic into the "overall" discussion . . .

    Having studied numerous articles on Halifax's it is clear that some models were produced without a Mid Upper position although the MUG was then employed as an observer (with no weapon) in a ventral position

    Also it was reported that either as coincidence - or as a direct response to the Schrage Musik threat - a number of aircraft in 6 (RCAF) Group (Lancasters at least - not sure on the Halifax?) were fitted with a Mid Under turret - possibly as a trial.

    This practise did not appear to be taken up by the RAF BC Groups . . .

    Several authors have suggested the guns from (or the complete removal of) the front turret on the RAF Heavies could have been more useful / made a significant difference if used in the Mid Under position . . .

    The general idea of a Mid Under turret / turret beneath the aircraft was not new to the RAF Hierachy as at least one pre WWII RAF aircraft type to have this facility was the HP Heyford

    And of course the Luftwaffe had the ventral gondola in the HE111 . . .

    Finally and acknowledging the extreme lack of comfort for its occupant is there any data to suggest the Ball Turret on the B17/B24 WAS a success?

    I'll be interested to hear discussion on this subject . . .

    Rgds

    Tony H
     
  3. KevinBattle

    KevinBattle Senior Member

    The Luftwaffe was conceived as an Army Co operation force, hence the accent on Stukas and ground attack, plus the "medium" bombers (He111, Do17 and Ju88 variants) were sufficient in the early stages of the War (Warsaw, Rotterdam, London and Coventry etc). With bases in Norway and France they didn't need long range bombers when Britain and her Commonwealth stood alone. Once America was in the War, extremely long range bombing was considered, but by that time jet and rocket weapons were starting to be used.

    The early Lancasters were modified from Manchester fuselages, and the Manchester was built with a ventral turret ring. However, for unknown reasons that later cost untold aircrew lives it was not proceeded with and was used as the aperture for the H2S radome.

    There wasn't an awful amount of clearance elsewhere on Halifax and Lancasters, although the Stirling certainly had ample clearance. Perhaps a 0.5 in armed version of the Stirling as a bomber protector (with non tracer ammo) might have been a more effective use.

    It's not as simple as comparing US and RAF bombers. The USAAF attacked in daylight, so the front and ball turrets could see approaching aircraft sooner than at night, and thus contribute effectively to defending the aircraft. At night, how you could even see a Bf109 approaching head on before it's past you, let alone open fire, possibly hitting nearby friendlies and revealing your position to other fighters is beyond me.
     
  4. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    Harry,

    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?

    There is no doubt that as a crew worked up flying operations experience that given good luck, their chances of survival improved by utmost vigilence in flight and only using their gunnery as defensive weapons as they were intended.Each crew would have their own defensive techiques built up from training and fine tuned by their experience.(For instance, some crews soon drew the conclusion that there was a link to the radar detection of fighters by Monica and the appearance of night fighters when this gear was in service.These crews ensured that Monica was not used and did not wait for official direction for switching it out.Others would use their own intelligence and experience to avoid known fighter beacons and use their own outboard and homeward routes if they had reservations on the official route.Saw cases reported from the Nurnberg raid where some crews did just that and on debriefing stated that they had bombed sucessfully but not seen an enemy fighter and did not have to fire a round in anger.

    Bomber gunnery was defensive gunnery and you are correct,the aim was to use it when it was neccesary and not as an addition to the offensive role of delivering bomb loads.

    The armament carried had to be within the overall specification of minimising the "all up weight" in order to maximise the bomb load and gunnery,in the light of experience, which was not considered neccesary was deleted or not incorporated on aircraft which was employed in special roles.A further point was the effect on aircraft speed and performance determined by the drag resulting from airflow over irregular sections.

    Therefore the Halifax appeared to be an aircraft with many variations on gunnery configurations with the work carried out at the factory during original production or on the squadron from the intervention of squadron C.Os backed up by station engineering staff.There was never a case for deleting the Rear Gun turret as the modus operandi of fighters was proved to be an approach astern, below the aircraft.A frontal attack by a fighter was rare, given the advantage of a attack from underneath and astern.Further the technique of the locating RAF bombers and the vectoring of night fighters on the bomber was invariably carried out with the preferred method of attack being from the rear.The pilot then was left to his own preferred method of attacking the bomber.

    Regarding the use of .5 inch calibre weaponary.I think the motivation of the designers was orientated towards all up weight, bearing in mind that the gunnery was defensive.However as the war went on,those on and near to flying operations saw an opportunity to improve the defensive gunnery in order to improve the survival of bomber crews as aircraft development continued to improve and increases in weight could accomodate heavier armour.

    The weight of fire that an aircraft armament can deliver in a given time often decides who has the best advantage of survival.Looking at an offensive gunnery specification, the 1939 Spitfire with eight .303 inch machine guns.It could deliver a weight of fire of 10 lbs in a 3 second burst.By contrast,the 1939 Messersschitt Bf 109E with two 7.9 mm machine guns and two 20 mm cannons could deliver a weight of fire in a 3 second burst of 18 lbs.The German fighter clearly had the advantage of delivery of weight of fire.


    By 1942,the Typhoon with four 20 mm cannons could deliver a weight of fire of 35 lbs.But by 1944, a Focke Wulf Fw 190 A-4 with two 7.9 mm machine guns and four 20 mm cannons could deliver 37 lbs in a 3 second burst.However to combat the .5 inch calibre defensive guinnery of USAAF,it was also equipped with two Wgr 21 210 mm air to air rockets which could deliver a weight of fire of a 180 lbs warhead.The use of rockets was an attempt to increase the weight of fire without using the heavier high calibre guns and cannons.It also had the added advantage of being able to destroy a heavily defended USSAF bomber aircraft while outside of the range of the aircraft's .5 inch gunnery.

    Saw a report of B29 in the Pacific Air Force which projected a perceived danger to Japanese fighters.This particular crew decided to fit a heavy broom stale to poke out from the rear gun postion to give the impression that it was a heavy calibre cannon.It was reported that Japanese pilots often came to have a look at the rear from the point of mounting an attack but always withdrew on seeing the mighty "cannon".
     
  5. kfz

    kfz Very Senior Member

    The weight of fire that an aircraft armament can deliver in a given time often decides who has the best advantage of survival.Looking at an offensive gunnery specification, the 1939 Spitfire with eight .303 inch machine guns.It could deliver a weight of fire of 10 lbs in a 3 second burst.By contrast,the 1939 Messersschitt Bf 109E with two 7.9 mm machine guns and two 20 mm cannons could deliver a weight of fire in a 3 second burst of 18 lbs.The German fighter clearly had the advantage of delivery of weight of fire.


    By 1942,the Typhoon with four 20 mm cannons could deliver a weight of fire of 35 lbs.But by 1944, a Focke Wulf Fw 190 A-4 with two 7.9 mm machine guns and four 20 mm cannons could deliver 37 lbs in a 3 second burst.However to combat the .5 inch calibre defensive guinnery of USAAF,it was also equipped with two Wgr 21 210 mm air to air rockets which could deliver a weight of fire of a 180 lbs warhead.The use of rockets was an attempt to increase the weight of fire without using the heavier high calibre guns and cannons.It also had the added advantage of being able to destroy a heavily defended USSAF bomber aircraft while outside of the range of the aircraft's .5 inch gunnery.



    Harry,
    Yes I think your right of course, but weight of fire is only one factor and a bit of a simplification when assessing defensive armament effectiveness. A few areas where you have to be wary.

    1. rate of fire. Rifle caliber weapons tend to have higher rate of fire for a given time period so the *chances* of scoring a hit are higher. With regard to deflection and the limited time in effective range this can be am important factor. The cannon might put more lead in the air but in a tighter pattern. The chances of getting a hit are lower.

    2. Cannon punch above there weight, literally. They carry a decent explosive charge and or have much higher penetration. For example both guns could hit a target with exactly the same weight of shot (the Machine gun would require more hits/time) but if the target is armored then the cannon would be a hell of a lot more effective for the same weight of shot.

    3. You mentioned the guns sometimes have very different ballistic qualities, Mainly in range, the cannon round having a greater effective range.

    I tend to doubt the whole theory of the manually aimed gun turret (especially a forward facing one) as an effective unit anyway, is was a hangover from WW1, cant help thinking that whatever gun was installed it little more than useless. Sure enough post war, even rapid firring cannon and radar aiming couldn't save it.

    Its an interesting subject as the war went on and more convenient and reliable cannons became available why they where not used more. Im sure there where lots of reasons.

    BTW Im not sure the me109/Spit comparison is valid. By the time the twin armed cannon (externally?) 109's where about the Spits had also up gunned. I think the first 109's contemporary with the 8 gun 30 cal spit had only one 20mm gun internally mounted.

    Best Regards

    Kev
     
  6. Stig O'Tracy

    Stig O'Tracy Senior Member

    Removing the nose turret makes sense for the night bombers for the reasons explained, so much so that the ones in charge actually incorporated the change, in the Halifax. It appears, from what has been written here that the British knew that the majority of attacks against their night bombers were being delivered from astern or below. I don't know at what point the Allies became aware of the Luftwaffe shrage music weapons.

    It's surprising that it would appear to me anyway that they never considered installing a weapon position in the belly to defend against these attacks. I would imagine that the mid upper position would have been more useful as a mid-lower instead.

    I also recall that some Canadian built Lancasters had some sort on belly weapon position installed although I don't recall the mark of this version.

    http://forum.axishistory.com/download/file.php?id=67608&sid=72b29982b2bc9d7ea1cdf3d794df4e58
     
  7. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    Regarding the Schrage Musik gunnery,apparently it took some time for the Air Ministry to acknowledge its being from crews who witnessed its effect.(Very much similar to the USAAF debriefing that crews had been attacked by a new very fast jet fighter which turned out to be the rocket powered M163 Komet.) When S.M was first used against the RAF,it was not known as a new dimension of fighter gunnery since the Luftwaffe night fighters did not utilise incendiary rounds and witnesses of the loss of aircraft could not record the method being used to down aircraft other by seeing aircraft falling out of the sky in flames.

    Getting back to Monica,the link between the device being in service and the appearance of the Luftwaffe on the tail of ones bomber was initially not accepted.As I said experienced crews switched it out well before the Air Ministry forbade its use.Experienced crews considered that their gunners possessed their own "Mark1 Eyeballs" which were superior to black boxes.

    Bomber Command ensured that there would be no detection of the dams raid aircraft by instructing that IFF should be only used in British airspace on the homeward leg to prevent tracking of IFF transmissions by the Luftwaffe

    Regarding Schrage Musik,there was a modification done on the Halifax Mark 111 by the installation of the Preston Green ventral mounting for a single .5 inch Browning Mark 11 gun.However this modification was shortlived as the postion was required to locate the future H2S radar scanner. Obviously the provision of H2S bombing radar had priority over defensive gunnery.Prior to that, No 51 Squadron at Snaith experimented with a downward firing gunnery but I cannot see any feedback on its success.May have been overrun by H2S radar installation.

    The Halifax had the edge over the Lancaster when it came to the survival statistics of escape by parachute.There was a 29% chance of survival from a Halifax but 11% from a Lancaster.
     
  8. Gage

    Gage The Battle of Barking Creek MOD

    Harry,

    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?


    I did read about gunners asking to have the tracer rounds removed.
     

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