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RAF Bomber armament


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#1 Erich

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Posted 01 March 2003 - 05:58 PM

Ok RAF experten out there.....

question, wasn't the armament standard .303's or .30 cal ? Why wasn't this changed to the .50 cal if available for the Lanc and Hali's ? Shortage of supplies possibly or ?

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#2 Martin Bull

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Posted 01 March 2003 - 07:00 PM

This causes much controversy even today.

The standard MG calibre for the RAF throughout WWII was .303, with the only other standardised calibre being the 20mm Hispano. Many feel, and felt at the time, that the .303 was far too light for defence against German nightfighters.

The Air Ministry considered changing over to .50 in the immediate post-WWI period, but in 1928 decided that the .50 'had not sufficient advantage' over .303 to warrant adoption.

Financial considerations must also have come into play here - Britain's armament industry was completely geared to .303.

Subsequently, aircraft such as Lancaster, Halifax, Stirling etc were 'designed around' the .303 Browning.

As the war went on, the deficiency of .303 in the airwar became very apparent. Contrary to some views expressed recently, Harris was furious at this, and in ' Bomber Offensive ' describes how it took him 'more than three years of bitter dispute and argument to fail to get a serviceable and useful .5 inch gun turret through the official channels '.

There were, of course, logistical problems and considerable redesign wotk would have been needed to alter the turrets and cope with increased ammunition weight. This was, however, done post-war, later Marks of Lancaster carrying twin .50s in the rear turret and the Lincoln carrying twin 20mm cannon in the mid-upper.

There is however, a contrary argument suggesting that removal of all armament would have given the Lancaster a great speed/height advantage due to weight saved in turrets and ammunition but who knows....?

Personally, I look at my collection of airwar munitions and compared to the German 13.9 and 20mm, not to mention the enormous 3cm, the .303 looks unbelievably puny and one has to admire those airgunners who shot down anything at all with non-explosive rifle-calibre ammo.

The standard reference work on all the RAFs aerial guns is ' The Guns Of The Royal Air Force 1939-1945 ' by G F Wallace ( Wm. Kimber, 1972 ), a rare but essential book.
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#3 Erich

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Posted 01 March 2003 - 07:56 PM

Thank you Martin. interesting as I always thought the .50 had a much longer range than the .303. Wasn't it standard for a rear turret of the Lanc and Hali to be equipped with 4 mg's and the front was 2 or 4 ? Side window installations ?

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#4 Martin Bull

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Posted 01 March 2003 - 10:16 PM

All British 'heavies' had 4 x .303 Brownings in the rear turret, as it was (rightly) thought that this was where most attacks would come from ( until the advent of Schrage Musik , of course ).

The front turrets ( usually unmanned ) had two, as did the mid-upper. Interestingly, the final Mark III variant of the Halifax had a 4-gun mid-upper which, by all accounts, was quite effective. 'Beam' flexible guns never really featured on British bombers ( unlike their US counterparts ); they were tried in the Avro Manchester but very quickly 'dropped', along with the 'belly' turret.

Rose Brothers of Grantham did privately develop a twin .50 rear turret for 1 Group's Lancasters quite late in the war.

It's generally agreed that the main value of the rear and mid-upper gunners in British bombers was as a 'lookout' - the quicker they could warn the pilot of danger, the quicker he could 'corkscrew'.....
"Stand by to pull me out of the seat if I get hit" - Guy Gibson

#5 Erich

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Posted 01 March 2003 - 10:36 PM

Martin :

Good stuff again. I think your last statement says it all.....used as a lookout. Experienced German nf's could get in for a kill but the "new" kids had a real problem with 15 missions or less if they attacked from the rear slightly above or below and especially on a night fighter's moon a quick and alert rear gunner could get that big heavy on a corkscrew and many times loose the German night fighter, with a slight bank out of the screw into the cloud base. I know Peter Spoden has told me that it happened more than once to him but he was able to dive and follow until the heavy leveled out and got out of the screw then he waited and then rushed in fast or dove well below to give a critical few shots to the inner wings with the Schräg waffen.

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#6 TA152

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Posted 02 March 2003 - 05:47 AM

The bomber crews also removed the rear panel of the tail turret so they could see better and not have to worry about it frosting over or fogging up.
The later model Halifax's and glider towing Sterlings also dispensed with the nose turret. And the Wellington never had an upper turret, but some models had side guns. The Whitley did not have much either, I think one in the nose and four in the tail turret.

Also in the B-17's the English used, they removed the nose guns, at least they did in 214 squadron.
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#7 Martin Bull

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Posted 02 March 2003 - 07:50 AM

That's right - and quite a lot of 'local' mods were made depending on circumstance.

For instance, 617 'Upkeep' Lancs had no mid-upper ; 617 & 9 squadrons had the mid-upper removed completely for 'Tallboy' long-range missions and 617 had both front and mid-upper removed on 'Grand Slam' Lancasters. Partly also the hope was that at that late stage of the war opposition would be light....

Just remembered, to confuse the issue early 'Upkeep' Lancs were delivered with 'belly' turrets which were promptly removed...

And the late Halifaxes ( the one with the 4-gun mid-upper ) had no front turret but did have a single G/O Vickers.....
"Stand by to pull me out of the seat if I get hit" - Guy Gibson

#8 Erich

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Posted 03 March 2003 - 04:31 AM

So now am I understanding you guys correctly.....the RAF removed the front turrets as there was no fear of frontal attacks and to keep the bomber lighter for more performance ?

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#9 TA152

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Posted 03 March 2003 - 05:53 AM

For the Sterling and Halifax the turret-less nose was much more streamlined and since most of the ops were at night there is very little chance of a head on attack by a German fighter as it would be too little time and the light too poor to make a head on pass worth the risk of collision. At night about 99% of the attacks came from 6 0'clock.

Also it is true that the late Halifax had a single vickers in the nose, but I don't know what it was for,other than moral support or spray the search lights with bullets.
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#10 Martin Bull

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Posted 03 March 2003 - 07:29 AM

Doing this in a bit of a hurry as am off to work...

The front turrets were generally manned by the bomb-aimer when needed, which from all the accounts I've read wasn't very often.

One of the few exceptions was the Dams Raid where a 'full-time' front-gunner was carried with feet in stirrups to avoid restricting the bomb-aimer's view.

This raid of course necessitated very low-level flying and the front guns were needed for flak/searchlight suppression.

( Like Ta152, I've always assumed the single Vickers G/O was there as a 'morale-booster' on later Halifaxes.... )

[ 03. March 2003, 12:21 PM: Message edited by: Martin Bull ]
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#11 Martin Bull

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Posted 03 March 2003 - 09:24 PM

And here's quite a nice view of the 'Hallibag' MkIII, clearly showing the 4-gun mid-upper and single 'peashooter' in the nose....

http://www.raf.mod.u...xbmkiii1024.jpg
"Stand by to pull me out of the seat if I get hit" - Guy Gibson

#12 Erich

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Posted 03 March 2003 - 09:56 PM

so no side window guns single or twin ? boy I would of thought that this would of been of major importance as two more sets of eyes and more firepower

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#13 TA152

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Posted 03 March 2003 - 10:24 PM

WOW that is a pretty picture of the Halifax. I wish it was in color and I would use it as wallpaper on my computer.
Why do you think the English and Germans used only a single pilot on their bombers, while the Americans and Japanese used pilot and co-pilots? I was thinking that perhaps there was a shortage of bomber pilots from all the losses the RAF had, but that is just a guess. I know that the navigator and flight engineer helped the RAF pilot out but most bombers had no co-pilots station that I have seen pictures of.
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#14 Martin Bull

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Posted 05 March 2003 - 07:44 AM

If you liked that, Ta, you might like this one, too :

http://www.todo-avio...halif_cloud.jpg

As for the twin-pilot question, I don't have time to 'read up' on this at the moment so can only answer for RAF's case.

The early-war bomber designs did cater for twin-pilots where space allowed.

But in the Avro Manchester, for instance, the engines were so troublesome that the 'second-pilot' spent more time worrying about them than flying.

The arrival of the four-engined bombers gave rise to a realisation that overseeing the mechanical operation of the aircraft needed specialised knowledge and was 'overloading' the pilot function.

At the same time, many more pilots were needed. Pilot training was expensive, time-consuming and very rigorous ; many failed to 'make the grade'.

Moving to a single-pilot policy solved both problems at once ; engineers were usually pilots who had 'washed-out' during training and were therefore quite capable of 'taking over' the aircraft if the need arose.

But as for the US, german and Japanese reasons - over to the rest of the Forum ?
"Stand by to pull me out of the seat if I get hit" - Guy Gibson

#15 Erich

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Posted 05 March 2003 - 03:52 PM

Actually the 4 engine Luftwaffe prototypes were suppose to have a two pilot configuration with the radio/radar operator sitting right behind the co-pilots quarter.....example given is the Ju 390.

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#16 TA152

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Posted 05 March 2003 - 07:10 PM

Thanks Martin, look at the size of the mid upper turret! That had to knock off at least 20 knots and raise the gas consumption a few gallons per hour. It looks like the same type they put on the Lockheed Hudson except for the four guns.

Do you know any air gunners ? I was wondering how loud it was for them in the turret while fireing the four machine guns with your head right in the middle of it all. Also did they ever shoot off parts of their own aircraft in the heat of battle ? I know the bombers sometimes dropped bombs on each other by mistake. I read that is what happened to Glen Miller while he was going to France to play for the troops. A Lancaster returning from an aborted mission dropped it's load over the channel before landing and hit his Norseman by mistake.
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#17 Martin Bull

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Posted 05 March 2003 - 07:31 PM

Glenn Miller's disappearance could warrant an entire thread of it's own ! I think I'll leave that one for someone else....

Actually, I've not met an airgunner...
It would have been noisy but of course their ears were covered by the intercom earpieces. Certainly the Lancaster was a very noisy environment generally - I've read several accounts of aircrew returning from raids exhausted, and then being unable to sleep because they had become so accustomed to the constant noise of the aircraft...

Mid-upper turrets had 'interruptor' mechanisms to prevent the tail being shot off in the heat of the moment !
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#18 Martin Bull

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Posted 08 March 2003 - 10:46 AM

Found some discussion of this topic in the definitive work about the Lancaster, Francis K Mason's monumental ' The Avro Lancaster ' ( Aston Publications, 1989 ) : -

'The FN64 ventral turret..was generally regarded as being of very little use, being difficult and unwieldy to aim.

The Rose tail-turret, mounting two 0.5 inch Brownings, first appeared in October 1944..Although the weight of fire from the two heavy machine guns was slightly lower than from four rifle-calibre machine-guns, the range was greater and this was obviously of considerable importance whem defending a bomber from German fighters armed with 20- and 30-mm cannon. Naturally, the 0.5 inch gunfire possessed much greater penetrative power than the 0.303 inch ammunition ( It should be remembered that all the British heavy bombers had been designed at a time when the standard German aircraft gun was the MG17 7.92mm machine gun ).

Being considerably larger, the 0.5 inch Browning could not simply be fitted in the old turrets ; the Rose and FN82A tail turrets were somewhat heavier and required a new fuselage contour, incorporating a larger shroud fairing.

In the matter of the dorsal turret, it had been hoped to introduce the Bristol B17 turret, mounting a pair of Hispano 20mm cannon, and this was planned to equip Lancasters produced by Austin Motors at the end of 1944. As these turrets, guns and ammunition were more than twice the weight of the rifle-calibre gun turrets, it was necessary to move the turret position forward by seven feet, to avoid interference with the aircrafts' centre of gravity, to a location directly above the rear of the bomb compartment - thus severely restricting movement of the crew through the fuselage.

The 20mm gun installation was not ready in time...although the Canadian-built Mk Xs mounted an American Martin turret with twin 0.5inch guns in the same position.' ( p.198 )

I suppose, overall, that it's not that easy to alter mass-produced designs quickly under wartime conditions, when 'everything is a priority'....
"Stand by to pull me out of the seat if I get hit" - Guy Gibson

#19 Erich

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Posted 10 March 2003 - 03:27 AM

Martin :

Wasn't some of the Hali's and Lancs for anti-U boat ops and for Gardening missions altered with more streamilined and larger turrets to accept a possible single or twin .50 cal ? Also some side windows for a single weapon ?

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#20 Martin Bull

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Posted 10 March 2003 - 05:58 PM

Lancasters were always kept for 'Main Force' ops and did not fly specific anti - U-Boat patrols. Of course, 'Tallboy' Lancasters did operate against U-Boat pens. 'Gardening' ops were flown by normal Squadron aircraft without modification.

The Halifax, however, did operate in the anti-submarine and anti-shipping role as part of Coastal Command.

The most comprehensive book about the Halifax is ' The Handley Page Halifax ' by K.A. Merrick ( Aston Publications, 1990 ) and this says : -

'The value of even the single .303 calibre machine gun in the nose of the Halifaxes had been well proven during the early months of 1943. It was felt that a heavier calibre machine gun would improve matters and during the Summer experiments were carried out by No 58 Squadron with an American 0.5in machine gun mounted in the nose of their Series 1A Halifaxes. The trials were successful and by December over half the aircraft in the squadron had been fitted with these weapons.' ( p.132 ).

The same book carries a photo of a 58 Squadron GR MkII Series 1A captioned ; 'The nose cone had been additionally braced to carry a 0.5in machine gun'. (p.131 )

As for beam-mounted weapons, I cannot find a reference about Halifaxes and have never come across any mention of Lancasters being so equipped.


( PS : Confused over Halifax Mark numbers ? :rolleyes: Join the club ! ;) )
"Stand by to pull me out of the seat if I get hit" - Guy Gibson




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