Air Gunners – Get that Fighter! WWII Army/Navy Training Guide

Air Gunners played an integral role in the defense of American bombers during WWII.

During the 1930’s, the Army Air Corps adopted the doctrine of long range strategic bombing.  At the heart of this concept were advancements in aircraft technology and the development of the Norden Bombsight, which according to Theodore Barth, President of Carl L. Norden Inc., could hit a 15-foot square target from an altitude of 30,000 feet.



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B-17 Tail Gunner

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Ball Turret Gunner

Although practice results for American bombardiers were less impressive than Barth’s claim (in 1940, Air Corps bombardiers averaged a 400 foot bombing pattern around a target from 15,000 feet) Air Corps commanders believed their bombing strategy would prove decisive in a future war. They envisioned mass formations of heavy bombers flying too high for enemy ground defenses and flying too fast for enemy fighters to keep up. As an insurance policy, Air Corps bombers bristled with defensive armament, enough it was believed, to fend off attacking fighters.

At the beginning of WWII, the Army Air Corps had two heavy bombers at its disposal, the B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator. Each plane boasted multiple gun turrets and depending on the plane’s variant, up to thirteen .50 caliber machine guns.  Due to the strategic placement of the gun positions, every angle of attack was covered by an air gunner. This protection would be vital for American bomber crews who initially flew unescorted daylight raids over enemy territory.



The combined defensive firepower from air gunners in a close bomber formation was immense, making attack difficult for enemy fighters. However, even with this protection, bomber crews of the American 8th Air Force, the unit tasked with the strategic bombing of German Industry was suffering crippling losses, on some missions as high as 20%. These losses raised grave concerns about the future of the American strategic bombing campaign.

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B-17 Waist Gunners from the 457th Bomb Group

By early 1944, with the development of the long range P-51 Mustang and the ability of the Army Air Force to put up larger bomber formations, the tide of battle swung in favor of the Allies.

 Below is a training guide from February 1944, for Army Air Force and US Navy air gunners to prepare them for combat. It may come in handy in case you ever need to shoot down an enemy fighter.



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Air Gunners – Get that Fighter

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