How did WWII bombers in formation avoid shooting eachother down?

Discussion in 'The War Room' started by Kytescall, Apr 14, 2012.

  1. Kytescall

    Kytescall The Warden of Sand Quentin

    Right, so WWII era bombers had guns sticking out in all directions to defend themselves from enemy fighters, but when they were flying in formation wouldn't they have been in danger of damaging each other with stray bullets?

    Did they have special procedures or tactics to prevent this from happening or was it simply accepted as a necessary risk?
  2. Le Marquis de SB

    Le Marquis de SB Fashionable Sadist

    I'm sure they did have procedures and such to prevent this. I'm also sure they did hit each other on occasion.

    I'd have to look this up.
  3. Gaius Marius

    Gaius Marius Fluffiest mod Moderator

    They were large planes that could take a lot of damage, and when one did go down it was hard to tell if it was from an enemy or friendly fire. There were a lot of friendly fire incidents that tended to get ignored amidst the whole fighter attacks.
  4. Reaper_93

    Reaper_93 SB's Fav. Dungeon Master

    As far as I know they flew in the formations they did to have clear lanes of fire (in theory at least). In practice I'm sure there was plenty of friendly fire going on by mistake.
  5. DB_Explorer

    DB_Explorer An advocate of faithful contracts.

    I want to know how many shot their own wings off like out of Indiana Jones.
  6. kclcmdr

    kclcmdr Kai The Kmpire! Amicus

    Shot off..

    There is one where a B-17 bomber from the upper formation drop its bomb accidentally on one of the lower formation and one bomber lost a rear right wing...
  7. Restless Coyote

    Restless Coyote Tank Cat Super Awesome Happy Fun Time

    That's, er, that was a horizontal stabilizer.

    As for the original question, US aircraft, at least, used specific defensive formations that allowed the individual aircraft maximum free range of fire while offering converging fields of fire for formation as a whole. I imagine there were instances of gunners fixating on enemy aircraft that came through the formation and inadvertently hit others in the formation, but I doubt it was a common occurrence.

    Here's a good image of a "Combat Box Formation"
  8. 1 or 2 or 10 .50cal rounds will not do much to a B-17.
    30-60 20mm....
  9. Nuts!

    Nuts! is

    Interesting question. IIRC American bombers flew in a formation nicknamed the "combat box" or something similarly silly, with relatively clear lanes of fire as other posters mentioned.

    The heavy bombers - B-17s, B-24s, and Lancasters - could survive a MASSIVE beating and keep flying. The US bombers used .30-caliber machine guns for defense, and the RAF relied on .303-caliber guns for the same job. I don't know the statistics, but I imagine that the RAF night bombing raids would have led to more friendly fire casualties, since it's harder to tell the difference between a big blurry shape and a small blurry shape in the distance. At the same time, the RAF flew in smaller wings to minimize the risks of blue-on-blue and getting swarmed by Luftwaffe fighters, so I don't honestly know for sure.

    I imagine that it's not so much the bomber that's at risk as it is the crew. Despite being fairly well-armored, there's only so much you can do to stop a .30-cal round, and I bet that some gunners died from friendly fire incidents that way.
  10. From what I've read, American and British WWII bombers held rigid formations and did not manuever individually even when under attack. They only manuevered as a group. This also helped maximize the number of bombs on target.

    By staying in formation, each of the gunners knew where the neighboring bombers within his field of fire would be located and could minimize his chance of hitting one.

    That said there were bombers hit by friendly fire anyway.
  11. I suppose you could put an interrupter gear to keep the guns from firing into the bomber itself, but you still have to rely on the gunners themselves to release the trigger when their gun is pointed at another friendly plane.

    I've have read of bomber crews firing on their escorting fighters, kind of a very bad thing if the escort is a Mustang or other inline engined fighter.
  12. Orion Pax

    Orion Pax Librarian- the original search engine

    Dunno where you read that but i'd ask for a refund on that book. RAF heavy bombers flew in a bomber stream, not a rigid formation. They also did it at night, so less chance of being swarmed by Luftie fighters. However if one of them did start tailing you you pulled a corkscrew maneuver, nightfighter pilots admitted post-war once a bomber started throwing itself around like that there was little they could do to get to it.

    As for friendly fire? It wasn't a huge problem for the RAF, but there was enough of a worry about it that they initiated Village Inn:
    When you look at a Lancaster it has two round "spectacles" on the Air Bombers nose blister, these would have held panels that reflected infra red light indicating to gunners ahead that it was a friendly aircraft. (just read the wiki article and realised it didn't mention the infra red setup, probably because that part was not used operationally)
  13. Gosu

    Gosu Read this very carefully, I wrote it only once

    No, .50-caliber.

    The RAF did not fly in wings at night, all bombers flew individually although they did follow the same route.

    The gunners on a bomber were mostly useful, IIRC, to keep watch behind and below the bomber. There the night fighters usually appeared and when they were spotted in time, the pilots could try evasive maneuvering. Which, it being dark, was not that unsuccessful as you might think -- once out of sight of the night fighter, it had to set up another GCI and/or radar interception which was time consuming. Unless it was against Wilde Sau tactics, but those relied on external lighting.
  14. Not RAF bombers, USAAF B-17's and 24's shooting at their escorting P-51's 47's and 38's as they dove into the bomber formations behind the Luftwaffe fighters.

    For the night time RAF bombers, the blue on blue danger came from the British AAA and the USAAF and RAF night fighters.
    At least one recon mosquito was downed by a USAAF night fighter.
  15. You're right. That was my mistake.
  16. Jonen C

    Jonen C F.M.D.G. Arbiter

    This is the answer.

    Literally. The. Answer.
  17. Nuts!

    Nuts! is

    We're talking about different models here. The first American bombers had .30-cal guns, although you're right that most were upgraded to M2s later.
  18. True, but for most of the bombing campaign (maybe all of it) they used .50 caliber machine guns. In fact, according to Wikipedia, they made the change with B-17D, while the first variant used in combat by the USAAF was the B-17E.
  19. The USAAF and even the RAF started moving away from the .30 and .303 aircraft mounted machine guns early on because they were not very effective against the German aircraft.