'Friendly' fire

Non-naval discussions about the Second World War. Military leaders, campaigns, weapons, etc.
paul.mercer
Senior Member
Posts: 1028
Joined: Fri Mar 26, 2010 10:25 pm

'Friendly' fire

Post by paul.mercer » Tue Jun 01, 2021 9:17 am

Gentlemen,
Watching some old actual film taken of the US B17's flying in what was supposed to be a 'protective box' formation and being attacked by German fighters, I have often wondered that with all those 50 cal guns on board and the gunners frantically trying to get on targets moving at high speed, just about how many bullets hit hit other B17's that were flying in close formation. Was there ever any feedback on adopting those closed up tactics?

Byron Angel
Senior Member
Posts: 1203
Joined: Sun Mar 06, 2011 1:06 am

Re: 'Friendly' fire

Post by Byron Angel » Wed Jun 02, 2021 4:06 am

Hi Paul,
I cannot imagine that damage from friendly fire could have been avoided. The only factors that likely served to moderate "blue on blue" mayhem was that the preferred German tactic was mass attacks from dead ahead of the bomber box. Engagement time during the pass (with a combined converging speed perhaps close to 500mph) was a mater of a very few seconds; but an attack from ahead meant that the pilots, the bombardier and the engines were all dangerously exposed and unprotected, while the bomber itself had relatively little defensive firepower ahead (the introduction of the 2x50cal chin turret in the B-17 and the 2x50cal nose turret in the B-24 did help in that regard).

After a firing pass from ahead, German fighters would typically split-S underneath the box, get vertical separation out of effective 50cal range, then hopefully re-group and re-position for another attack (a long exercise which involved climbing back up to altitude, re-forming on the flight leader, then slowly forging ahead to regain an attack position far enough ahead of the chosen bomber box). Some brave (crazy) pilots might choose to flash right through or over the box to avoid loss of altitude, but that also exposed them to defensive fire from the bombers. I really don't believe that there was much chance for bomber gunners to actually track or target a fighter passing through the box at 500mph combined speed. I think that, rather than relying upon accurate shooting by the bomber gunners, the real intent was to create a random volumetric zone of danger around the bomber box in all directions.

A lot of Luftwaffe gun camera footage (amazing what you can find on YouTube) shows German fighter attacking from astern, but I don't think this was common practice unless the target bomber was crippled and had fallen back out of its protected position in the box. There were also certain models of heavily armored (and armed) FW190s that might try their luck in stern attacks against a box, though.

FWIW,

B

OpanaPointer
Senior Member
Posts: 304
Joined: Wed Jul 06, 2011 1:00 pm

Re: 'Friendly' fire

Post by OpanaPointer » Wed Jun 02, 2021 12:28 pm

The "boxes" were 3d. Think of a sheet of paper sloped at a 45° angle down AND 45° right. (Lowest plane is at the lower right corner, highest plane is at the upper left corner, for example.) Planes can shoot out and up, but have to be careful shoot down to the right or up to the left. ALL the guns on one side can shoot at a plane coming in from that direction.

Byron Angel
Senior Member
Posts: 1203
Joined: Sun Mar 06, 2011 1:06 am

Re: 'Friendly' fire

Post by Byron Angel » Wed Jun 02, 2021 12:34 pm

Good point, OpanaPointer.

B

paul.mercer
Senior Member
Posts: 1028
Joined: Fri Mar 26, 2010 10:25 pm

Re: 'Friendly' fire

Post by paul.mercer » Fri Jun 04, 2021 8:12 am

Thanks for the info chaps,
What made me ask the question was after seeing some footage of the waist gunners blazing away at all sorts of angles. I also watched some of the footage taken by the German gun cameras and the sight of a B17 getting shot to pieces and slowly spiraling down is very moving, especially when one realises that in fact we are actually seeing 10 brave men die.

Byron Angel
Senior Member
Posts: 1203
Joined: Sun Mar 06, 2011 1:06 am

Re: 'Friendly' fire

Post by Byron Angel » Sat Jun 05, 2021 12:09 am

Hi Paul,
Last Monday was our Memorial Day commemoration of American war dead. Most everyone is aware of the huge losses suffered by the German U-Boat arm and British Bomber Command; not very many people appreciate the level of losses suffered by the US 8th Air Force over Europe.

Go here - http://personal.psu.edu/kbf107/Losses.html

Byron

OpanaPointer
Senior Member
Posts: 304
Joined: Wed Jul 06, 2011 1:00 pm

Re: 'Friendly' fire

Post by OpanaPointer » Sat Jun 05, 2021 1:49 pm

https://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USN/re ... index.html

At one point the manual reminds the student that the .50 cal. is lethal at 4 miles. The kill zone for the .30 cal. is considerably shorter.

(And yes, four miles would not be an aimed shot. I tried that once, got probables at one mile, not sure that was the target I was aiming at however. :think:

Byron Angel
Senior Member
Posts: 1203
Joined: Sun Mar 06, 2011 1:06 am

Re: 'Friendly' fire

Post by Byron Angel » Sat Jun 05, 2021 5:30 pm

OpanaPointer wrote:
Sat Jun 05, 2021 1:49 pm
https://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USN/re ... index.html

At one point the manual reminds the student that the .50 cal. is lethal at 4 miles. The kill zone for the .30 cal. is considerably shorter.

(And yes, four miles would not be an aimed shot. I tried that once, got probables at one mile, not sure that was the target I was aiming at however. :think:

Carlos Hathcock once mounted a telescopic sight on a 50cal HMG to snipe NVA/VC seen operating around the fire base at which he was stationed. IIRC. it was single shot or semi-auto fire at 2,000 yards or so.

B

OpanaPointer
Senior Member
Posts: 304
Joined: Wed Jul 06, 2011 1:00 pm

Re: 'Friendly' fire

Post by OpanaPointer » Sat Jun 05, 2021 6:47 pm


Byron Angel
Senior Member
Posts: 1203
Joined: Sun Mar 06, 2011 1:06 am

Re: 'Friendly' fire

Post by Byron Angel » Sat Jun 05, 2021 8:15 pm


I remember reading about this - quite a feat of marksmanship.
Target "neutralized". We live in an age of euphemisms today, do we not?

B

OpanaPointer
Senior Member
Posts: 304
Joined: Wed Jul 06, 2011 1:00 pm

Re: 'Friendly' fire

Post by OpanaPointer » Sat Jun 05, 2021 8:51 pm

Byron Angel wrote:
Sat Jun 05, 2021 8:15 pm

I remember reading about this - quite a feat of marksmanship.
Target "neutralized". We live in an age of euphemisms today, do we not?

B
"He's in a better place now." Nothing new about that kind of thing.

Post Reply