Sunday, March 29, 2020

Got Him!

German pilot jumps from a Focke Wulf Fw-190
(Screen capture)
Tom in NC asked this question the other day:
Are there any relatively accurate accounts of how many enemy fighters were shot down by our bombers?
The short answer is "No."

Tom provided a link to Quora in which the question was asked:
Did the gunners aboard B-17 bombers in WWII manage to shoot down enemy fighters?
Short answer there is, of course, "Yes."

With hundreds of gunners in a formation firing thousands of rounds at the German fighters attacking, there were bound to be German aircraft lost to the bomber gunners. Whether or not gunners could provide enough accurate information for a debriefer to give a gunner, or even the entire crew, a credit for an aerial victory is another thing altogether.

It's bitter cold, there's a lot going on, it's noisy. You're at your gun position hammering away at someone in another airplane who is doing his best to kill you. Not you personally but the aircraft you're in, along with nine of your mates. There's a lot of adrenaline involved and these are, for the most part, young men, some still in their teens. While the following clip is from a movie (Memphis Belle) the scene is pretty accurate for the speed at which the German aircraft pass through the formation -



For comparison, here's the real deal -



It was nearly impossible to verify if an individual gunner actually shot down an enemy aircraft, even if the target he is shooting at, while he's shooting at it, actually blows up, or immediately bursts into flame, there is no guarantee. After all, there are a lot of other gunners shooting at those guys.

Something I've often wondered about, with all of those bombers in formation, I wonder how many times the gunners from one bomber hit one of their own guys, not their own plane but another aircraft in the formation. Wouldn't surprise me if that happened more often than not!



Statistically, B-17 crews claimed twenty-three enemy fighters shot down per thousand sorties (a sortie is one mission flown by own aircraft). B-24 crews only claimed 11. Note that a claim is not the same as an actual aerial kill. For instance, in that Quora question linked above:
In the infamous “Black Thursday” raid of 14 October 1943, B-17 gunners claimed 288 German fighter aircraft kills whereas in actuality about 40 were shot down.
In the last video, the only sure claim is one in which your gun camera shows the enemy pilot jumping from the aircraft, the aircraft blows up, or the aircraft impacts the ground. Then it still might not be that pilot's kill alone. What if the same sequence shows up on another gun camera in your squadron? Or another squadron at a different base? You could have two "verified" kills of the same aircraft.

War is confusing, it happens very quickly in the air, and you can never quite be sure whether or not you "Got him!"



Recommended Reading:

  • Confirmation and Overclaiming Link
  • Luftwaffe Aerial Victory Claims Link
  • World War II Aerial Victory Credits (USAF) Link
  • Eighth Air Force Combat Losses Link


62 comments:

  1. Interestingly enough, gun camera footage inspired Geroge Lucas in his Star Wars movies...
    You can see shades of B-17 actions in Millenium Falcon fending off Tie Fighters, and strafing runs of warships in X-wings attacking Star Destroyers over Endor.

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    1. Yup, you can see he paid attention!

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    2. Amazing how much atmosphere is in space, no?

      I liked Star Wars when it was just a Saturday serial-type movie. When they tried to get all spiritual it went all stupid.

      Can you imagine how much money you could make in the Star Wars universe if you were a firearms instructor?

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    3. Bearing in mind that it's entertainment, not a documentary. Watching silent footage is rather boring, even if it is accurate.

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    4. Babylon 5 did space combat correctly and it wasn't boring. They used a combination of music, scored with interior shots, and good exterior shots to provide drama and tension.

      Star Wars was Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers (the serials from the 30's.)

      And the Storm Troopers (and then the stupid droids) could have at least tried to aim when shooting. I mean, when Afghani terrorists shoot better from the hip...

      Again, I like it when it was just a long Saturday Matinee serial.

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    5. The space scenes in the "Alien" series were not boring at all. They set the mood quite well.

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    6. A matter of taste I suppose.

      Preferred Star Trek myself.

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    7. Nothing about Alien or Aliens was boring! (Those two movies scared the shite out of me!)

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    8. People are moaning about Stormtrooper accuracy, but they wiped the floor with anything that was not having plot armor thick as Star Destroyer hull...
      ecample A: Tantive IV (Leia's ship in the beginning of New Hope): Stormtroopers perform exemplary boarding action, capture prisoners to interrogate.
      example B: Hoth. Rebel troops didn't really stood chance.
      And the Clonetroopers wiped the floor with Jedis in Order 66... Though the factor of surprise and betrayal was with them.
      Alien amd Aliens were both my top picks for Sci-Fi entertainment. Ripley Doctrine...
      (Nuke from orbit. That is only way to be sure.)
      And regarding Star Wars - I still wish for alternate universe where ithey would just use Thrawn trilogy for sequels.
      (Thrawn being basically expy for Bel Riose of Foundation cycle, who in turn is expy of historical Belisarius!)

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    9. Also, if anyone has not yet watched it, go get yourself The Mandalorian. Back to "Space Western" vibes of the original Star Wars.

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    10. Paweł #1 - Yeah, the Stormtroopers can't shoot thing is funny though.

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    11. Paweł #2 - I second that on The Mandalorian, most excellent!

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  2. Nicely done, Sarge - appreciate your diving deeper into this topic. And I'm headed off to the range in a bit to do my own "strafing" before our stay at home order goes into effect tomorrow.

    What's with your police pulling over cars with NY plates and trying to send them home? Off topic, I know, but with Cuomo threatening lawsuits, it could get interesting. One thing the virus has done is bring up big questions about the wisdom of such policies as higher density housing, mass transit and disposable bags, all for the good of society and the planet.
    I remember reading a long time ago that in WWII, military men from big cities had higher timers of antibodies for various diseases due to higher natural exposure in the cities and thus didn't get sick as often as the men from rural areas. But in the current situation, that advantage is lost since it's a novel virus.
    A little rambling this morning - sorry...

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    1. Apparently the incidence of COVID 19 is very high in NY, our governor decided that she didn't want that in Little Rhody. Not sure of the legality of what she did but we live in strange times.

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    2. Same reason Governor de Santis of Florida ordered 'recommended self quarantines' to all arriving from New York. It's not the county New York that is terminally stupid, it's the City folk that can't seem to understand cause and effect and disease vectors and silly little words like 'Stay at Home' or 'Shall not be Infringed.'

      You seem the same stupidity from New Orleans. And that city is getting hammered, in small amounts, but hammered in comparison to other cities in Louisiana.

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    3. And nowhere in the Constitution is there specifically a societal death wish firmly enshrouded. The Gov of RI is right.

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    4. Beans #1 - It ain't the city folk per se, it's probably the toilet lickers and Tide pod eaters that are to blame. Same bunch as the college-age Spring Breakers down on Florida's lovely beaches. Their leftist profs didn't teach them about reality.

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    5. Beans #2 - I wasn't questioning the Governor's rightness in closing the border to folks from New York, simply whether or not she has the legal authority to do so. I'm with her on this, though it makes me a bit queasy.

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    6. (Don McCollor)...Governors can be astute. Around 1920, the Governor of ND declared a moratorium on all grain shipped out of the state due to excessive price gouging by railroads on shipping rates. Completely illegal under ICC regulation of course (as he well knew). He also knew that the eastern flour milling companies could not afford the months of supply interruption as the case slowly made its way through the courts. The milling companies leaned hard on the railroads, and freight rates dropped almost overnight...

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    7. Sometimes you have to break the rules, otherwise nothing gets done.

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  3. A good friend of mine was a co-pilot in the Eighth Air Force in WWII. Man the stories he could tell. Had a chance to go up in a B-17 with him years ago. It really made me realize how the crew could become so close. After the war they stayed in touch and visited one another even though one lived in Texas another in Montana and my friend in Maryland. God I miss that guy.

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    1. Those aircraft were pretty close quarters and they depended on each other to stay alive. The more successful crews were like tight-knit families.

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  4. As a hunter, I've shot the same elk as another hunter. One shot was fatal, the other was not. Both bullets remained in the animal. So we weighed them. The bullet will typically expend about half of its mass. So we weighed them and that settled it (mine killed). That doesn't work in a melee when everyone is shooting at everything with the same type of weapon and the same ammunition, etc. It's like asking who shot which arrow at Agincourt by comparing bodkins.

    The feature film, "The Blue Max" was an interesting movie when it came to claiming kills. Of course they didn't have gun cameras.

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    1. Exactly!

      Bottom line is that the enemy went down, one less aircraft (and maybe pilot) to face the next time over Germany.

      I need to re-watch The Blue Max. WWI aircraft and Ursula Andress, what's not to like?

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    2. The aviation work in "The Blue Max" was very good. Real aircraft just look better and perform more correctly than CGI stupidity. Even with all the technical faults of the aircraft, they just 'fly' better.

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    3. Ursula Andress had a perhaps undue influence on my young pre-teen self, mostly in 'Dr. No', which was coincidentally playing on TV today in a Bond Marathon. Though I think Daniela Bianchi in 'From Russia With Love' had an even greater impact on me. Guess she still lives in Rome ... The good old days before plastic surgery took over the film world...

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    4. To me it was a combination of Dianna Rigg from the "Avengers" and the worst Bond ever, and Anna Quayle from "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang." Something about long legged brunettes with a wicked sense of humor (and sexy underwear, can't forget that) really made an impression on me.

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  5. Well, that last bit is kinda how George Preddy wound up with 26.83 kills.

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Preddy

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  6. Harder to get, but the Germans might have records, if they didn't burn them, (or the Russians).

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    1. Record keeping started tailing off in later '44. Rather than have somebody do paperwork they went to the front. A lot of records were destroyed as well. (Or vanished into the USSR, never to be seen again.)

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    2. Can you imagine how the Soviet subjects would have reacted if they learned the true toll of the German Luftwaffe against the Soviet's finest?

      This is how records 'accidentally' disappear or get burned.

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    3. Ah, but the State is never wrong. Unless you've got proof.

      "What proof Comrade?"

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  7. From another book I have--

    A B-17 in the middle of a formation took a flak hit and caught fire as they were coming off the target. The formation scattered
    fearing the burning ship might explode. In this particular story, the pilot, knowing they were now fighter bait, stood his plane on it's nose in a dive for the deck. Made it in record time from 25,000 feet. IIRC, he leveled off at around 1500 feet, low enough so enemy fighters could not get under them.

    So now they looked like a crippled straggler, except that they weren't Crippled. As they were attacked on the way home, the pilot turned and jinked to take evasive action and bring as many guns to bear as possible, as gunners called out the attacks. Short version is they made it back. Their plane looked like a flying sieve, but amazingly every thing still worked, and their were no injuries.

    During the fight, the toggelier running the chin turret engaged multiple head-on passes, snapping out a burst as they flashed by. Obviously he had no idea of the end results, but the tail gunner did. The only one he was sure of was a twin engine enemy A/C that flew up parallel on their right, then crossed over in front of them (dumb idea). He hammered the jeebus out of that one, watching is catch fire as the pieces flew off.

    After they RTB and debriefed, that gunner was credited with five kills. He was now an ace.

    Here's a demonstration of the B-29 gunnery system--

    Note that those turrets are QUAD .50 cals--

    Part 1

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nskFayhBcy0

    Part 2

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5h4yBxydz0E

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    1. Neat videos - on the second one, I LOL'd when the guy in the background walked up to the front of the guns, which had what appeared to be belts of .50 BMG cartridges loaded, and stood up to look into the guns' barrels! Gun Safety anyone?? Dang! (yes, I imagine they are de-milled guns, but "Treat all guns as if they are loaded", right?)

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  8. You should enjoy this, it fits today`s topic.

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=DWYqu1Il9Ps

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  9. Some days, Blogger and HP, I hate you, hate you with a passion.

    So here is an attempt to reconstruct a rather long comment.

    Did you know the Luftwaffe got their hands on B-17s? And used them?

    First, when getting working copies of D models, they analyzed the firing abilities of the guns and determined that the remote operated belly turret sucked rocks and the rear was totally exposed as it wasn't, so attacks from the rear and from below were the recommended pattern.

    Then the E came around with a better ventral manned turret and rear armament, and attacking the rear and from underneath weren't good anymore. Then the Germans got hold of an E model, and then attacks from the front became the way to do it. Then later F models and all G models came around with the dual-gun chin turret and flummoxed Kraut attacks. Until they got their hands on a G model and figured out side slanting attacks paired with attacks from rear high were the best way to achieve hits.

    Also, the Germans flew many shadow B-17s. Rebuilt from damaged planes, the Luftwaffe flew these planes up to and near B-17 groups, in order to spy on them and report actual air speeds, headings, makeup of the forces, air conditions to waiting fighters and flak units. What made this bad for the B-17 groups was that it was common practice for lone B-17s, lost from their own formation, to sidle up to another group and hang near them. You don't shoot lost sheep, do you? Once it became known to the US fliers that Germans were operating spy planes, they started shooting at any B-17 that looked suspicious. And hollering that your plane is getting shot at by other B-17s didn't work, because the Germans cannily added Amerianized English speakers to their shadow B-17s in order to say to the US B-17s to not shoot at them.

    War's fun, isn't it? No.

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    1. More fun.

      https://ww2aircraft.net/forum/threads/the-phantom-p-38.445/

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    2. Beans - All's fair in love and war.

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    3. RHT447 - Not fair! Oh wait...

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    4. (Don McCollor)...The British had another defense against German night fighters being directed by ground radar. They had their own German speaking controllers (in England) monitoring the German frequencies and issuing unauthorized orders, counterorders, and disorder. In one case, the German and British controllers ended up in a prolonged argument about who was the real one (and tying up the frequency nicely). Another time, the Germans abruptly switched to female controllers - of course the British had anticipated this, and had their own German speaking female controllers standing by....

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    5. Interesting! Clever chaps those Brits.

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    6. They were very clever when unleashed in special operations and subterfuge type missions (SOE and commandos, e.g.). Yet today the Brits can't figure out that taking away the means of self defense from their citizens will not stop criminal attacks. My friends on the Manchester police armed patrols know that the policy is useless and stupid, but they have no power to affect change.

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    7. Most people blame Labour. It's why Labour got thrashed in the recent elections, and now Britain is once again free from control (mostly) of the Continentals.

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    8. We'll see how long that lasts. The EU is a mess.

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    9. it didn't help when Jeremy Corbyn became the face of the Labour party - kind of like a more bigoted Bernie Sanders...

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    10. A bit of trivia on the making of Memphis Belle. The 1990 version was produced by Catherine Wyler, daughter of William Wyler who made the original Memphis Belle.

      And I thought the 1990 version was excellent. I read somewhere that the number of suicides and self-inflicted wounds by Krewmen was pretty notable.

      How many could do what they did?

      And I read somewhere that a man assisting William Wyler on the plane was killed during a mission. Wyler had guts.

      Imagine it’s 20 below zero up there and you’re fighting for your life

      And I too wonder how many B-17s if not shot down were damaged by friendly fire?

      With those formations there had been a lot of them.

      23 per thousand sorties does not seem like a very good record

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    11. And those are claims, not confirmed kills.

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    12. (Don McCollor)...Yes, the Brits were clever. One little known operation the night before D-Day morning (June 6) was performed by pathfinder bombers (I think it was 633 squadron [the Dambusters]), who flew a very precise course at night (without GPS) with almost split second accuracy. This was a racetrack pattern parallel to the English Channel, slowly working their way toward Calais at the speed ships would sail while dropping bundles of Window (chaff) at exact intervals so a new one blossomed just a little further toward France before the last one faded. To the German shore radars, it would look like a massive convoy sailing toward Calais....

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    13. Have to keep the Jerries fixated on Calais!

      (Pretty cool story Don.)

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  10. (Don McCollor)...even stranger than gunner kills was a B17 pilot in the Pacific who is supposed to have shot down a Zero. In Martin Caidin's "Flying Forts", the pilot had a single 50 cal fixed to fire straight ahead under his control along with a crude sight. His lone B17 was on a recon mission to photograph a Japanese airfield. The ball gunner was looking straight down during the photo run counting dust trails on the runway below as Zeros took off - estimating at least 20 in the air. Later, one Zero came in high from behind (aka 6 o'clock high) raking the B17 then pulled out ahead. The account said they could see the Japanese pilot turning his head and gaping in disbelief as the B17 banked and dove after him like a fighter, and indicated that it was the pilot's 50 that shot him down...

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    1. Another one of those "You got shot down by WHAT?" stories. 😂

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    2. Pilot Jay Zeamer and old "666".

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Im086TCu3I

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Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)