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View Full Version : How controllable were the 50Cal on B-17 and B-29's?


Jamie Young
May 19, 2001, 10:24 PM
I'm pretty sure I'm right in saying those planes were armed with 50cal right? We've all heard the debates about how uncontrollable .308 in full auto is compared to .223 for a rifle. And I was wondering how hard it must have been to fire a 50cal gun and hold it on a German/Jap fighter. Anyone have any experience with one? Did the heavier gun make it easier to hold on target? Or was it always spray and pray?

Badger Arms
May 19, 2001, 11:07 PM
Wasn't a door gunner myself. You're talking about the M-2 which is a heavy, in-line recoil gun designed by John Browning. It was imminently controlable and effective. As testament, how many other guns designed before the 2nd world war are CURRENT ISSUE? The B-29 used 20mm guns, IIRC although it might have had .50's. These were all remotely-controlled too, I think.

If you've ever fired a Ma-Duce, you'll know what I mean. I pitty the poor bastards on the other end of that beauty.

Rex Feral
May 20, 2001, 08:08 AM
In the B-17G, the most heavily armed version, there were 13 .50s. Only 5 of these were single guns in flexible mounts, 1 on either side of the waist, 1 on either side of the nose, and 1 in the dorsal position about halfway between the top turret and vertical stabilizer. 8 of the guns were paired up in turrets under the chin, in the ball, in the tail and on top right behind the cockpit.
In the turrets, the guns were all in rigid mounts, the gunners hands did not touch the weapons, and these were the most effective weapons, able to track moving targets smoothly. The single guns were hands on in flexible mounts and not very effective unless a fighter got close.

The B-29s had 10 .50s and 1 20mm, all in rigid powered mounts, but by the time they came into service, there weren't enough effective fighters left to cause heavy losses to the high flying, fast moving B-29s.

In reality, one bomber on it's own was generally a dead duck, it's own armament was not enough to protect it against a more manuverable fighter. The best defense was massed firepower of all the guns in the bomber formation firing at attacking fighters, kill claims were highly exaggerated, with gunners from several bombers claiming the same kill.

Jamie Young
May 20, 2001, 10:44 AM
Where was the 20mm mounted on a B-29?

Rex Feral
May 20, 2001, 11:01 AM
The 20mm was in the tail.

Jamie Young
May 20, 2001, 11:03 AM
What was the thinking behind that? No Pun intended :)

Rex Feral
May 20, 2001, 11:22 AM
I'm not sure, the rear turret had 2 .50s and the 1 20mm. Maybe they figured with an altitude of 36,000ft and a speed of 360mph, most of the opposing fighters would be playing catch-up? ;)

Hutch
May 25, 2001, 09:28 AM
That was the thinking. There were quad-mount .50's in the back of the earliest B-52's, even, later replaced by a rotary 20mm Vulcan. I s'pose the current versions have dispensed with these.

Quartus
May 25, 2001, 06:32 PM
I've cranked more than a few rounds out of a .50 from the top of an M-113. Very flexible mount, but no problem controlling the gun. Point and click, so to speak.

Hitting a fast moving fighter plane is quite a different challenge, though.

Badger Arms
May 25, 2001, 07:22 PM
I used to be a mechanic on B-52's. The Quad-50 was on the "G" models and the Vulcan was on the last production version, the "H" model. Both were remotely controlled from the front through Radar control. Earlier versions had a Tail-Gunner position. The Tail-Gunners went away Early in the 1990's as they were really ineffective against missiles.

Jamie Young
May 25, 2001, 08:23 PM
I was unaware of the fact b-52's had mounted guns on them. I thought they just carried bombs.

Nightcrawler
May 25, 2001, 09:17 PM
There was a progam looking into the feasibility of having rear-firing AIM-92A stinger IR-guided missiles (the FIM-92A version is the US's standard shoulder launched manportable surface to air missile) mounted in the the empenages of B-52 Stratofortresses. I guess it never got anywhere, but it was certainly an interesting idea.

Badger Arms
May 26, 2001, 11:17 AM
It's like trying to hit a bullet with a bullet. Closing speeds are much too great trying to do this.

glockten
May 27, 2001, 01:02 AM
During the Vietnam War, there were two confirmed MIG kills by B-52 tailgunners.

Bruegger
June 8, 2001, 12:50 PM
The (felt) recoil on a mounted M2 isn't that great. The gun itself (barrel and receiver) weighs 85 pounds or so. Since these guns were fired "free gun" as opposed to using a traversing and evelating mechanism on the mount, they weren't capable of the precision available with a T&E, but certainly more useful for going after fast-moving targets. AAF Gunners in WWII went to Aerial Gunnery School, where they learned to lead targets and fired at aerial targets pulled on a wire behind another plane.

Pa Bruegger was a Navigator on a B17, and had two .50s at his beck and call, 1 on either side of the nose. As has been stated earlier, it's not so easy to hit moving targets with these things and the only "Fritzes" Pop got to shoot at got home to their beer, bratwurst and sauerkraut. Bombers being hit by "friendly fire" wasn't unheard of, because they flew in close formation (sometimes 1,000 planes at once).

In the early days of the war there were no fighter escorts over Deutchland. The best defense the bombers had was flying a tight formation, so there were many guns facing in all directions. In a unit that flew tight formations, most bomber losses were to flak, not fighters.

A lone B17 was indeed a dead duck, because it would be swarmed by multiple ME109s and FW190s. When Pop's plane got hit, and they fell out of formation, the tail gunner reported six or so bogies on their tail, but since the plane was burning merrily, the fighters didn't waste ammo on them!