allied bomber

The Henschel Hs 297

In last nights post of the fliegerfaust, I detailed how the Germans tried to create a shoulder fired anti-aircraft weapon during World War II.  The Henschel HS 297 was a mounted weapon of similar concept made to be mounted on a turret or vehicle.  The weapon consisted of a battery of thirty five 7.29 cm rockets, which could be launched all at once, in groups, or individually.  The theory was that it would be effective against low flying aircraft, and that by firing multiple rockets in a “shotgun” like effect, they might just hit something.  The Hs 297 was designed to be cheap and easy to produce.  However, only 50 were manufactured during the remaining months of the war. The weapon was only used once, against Allied fighter-bombers near Remagen. Like the fliegerfaust, the Hs297 was ineffective against aircraft, it being extremely difficult to shoot down an airplane flying at high speeds with unguided rockets.

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The heavy hitting MK 108 30mm automatic cannon that was mounted in a variety of German aircraft during the war, most notably the Me 262 which had 4 mounted in the nose of the aircraft. 

Its 30x90mm round was loaded with 85 grams of RDX explosive, which combined with the self fragmenting minengeschoss round only necessitated 4 hits on larger Allied bombers and 1 hit on smaller aircraft to bring them to pieces. This was compared to the average of 25 necessary hits to bring down a bomber with the 20mm MG 151 autocannon. 

While providing a great deal of firepower at a fairly light weight for aircraft, the MK 108 was notorious for its terrible muzzle velocity and overall accuracy. 

The Allies gave this weapon the nick name “Pneumatic Hammer” because of it sounded like a jackhammer when fired continuously. 

This video shows what a round from the MK 108 can do to a Spitfire’s wing if a successful hit is made. 

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Flakturm VIII G-Tower in Arenbergpark, Vienna

 Common wisdom tells us that modern artillery and military aviation made use of stone fortifications obsolete. However, the German Flaktürme are a remnant of WWII that looks more like something from the time of the Crusades then age of the Blitzkrieg. 

These monumental concrete fortresses served as platforms for batteries of anti-aircraft guns. In order to boost the air defense of German cities, Hitler ordered the building of a series of immense towers throughout the country. Three of these towers were built in Berlin, an additional two in Hamburg and six more in Vienna. 

 The towers were heavily armed, usually housing eight (four twin) 128 mm guns and thirty-two (eight quad) 20 mm guns. With these guns the towers were capable of rates of fire up to 8000 rounds per minute, with a range of up to 14 km in a full 360-degree field of fire. Each tower complex consisted of two separate towers, one G or gun towers and an L-tower which served as command center. In addition, the towers served as air raid shelters for up to 10,000 people. 

 The tower walls were 3.5m (!) of reinforced concrete, enough to survive an attack by conventional bombs carried by Allied bombers of the age. Soviet 203mm howitzers merely chipped away the concrete and could never actually penetrate the walls. It was only when supplies and ammo ran out that these towers were surrendered.

The majority of flakturms still stand today. They are too big to effectively dismantle or demolish, plus the space they occupy is worth less than the cost of demolition.

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B-17 Modification Overview


The B-17 is one of the iconic allied bombers of WWII. First flown in 1935 and in service up until 1968 in the Brazilian Air Force, the B-17 was a sturdy, heavy lifting power house. Practically anyone familiar with military aviation will be familiar with the B-17, but what many are not aware of are the interesting and unique B-17 modifications that were constructed during WWII. The most notable B-17 modifications were the XB-38, The YB-40 and the C-108.



The XB-38


The XB-38 was a converted B-17 modified to mount 4 Allison V-1710 engines. This replaced the usual complement of 4 Wright R-1820 radial engines.

The XB-38 was built in 1943 and first flew in May of that year. It was capable of a higher top speed (287 mph increased to 327 mph) but saw a decrease in it’s service ceiling(35,600 feet to 29,600 feet.) The project was canceled due to a number of accidents, including a serious engine fire that resulted in the destruction of the only prototype. Additionally, the Allison V-1710 engine was needed for production of the P-38 Lightening and the P-51 Mustang, among others. In 1944 a similar project was started to install inline engines on a B-29 Superfortress. Called the XB-39, the modified aircraft performed well enough, but cost concerns prevented the new design from entering production.


YB-40

Introduced in 1943, before the P-51 arrived in Europe for high altitude escort missions, the YB-40 was B-17 modified to act as an escort gunship for bomber formations penetrating into the European continent.

While the normal B-17 carried 13 Browning 50 caliber Machine guns, the YB-40 carried, on average, 18 and had room for up to 30 machine guns of various calibers. Some YB-40s even carried guns up to 40mm. Additionally, the YB-40 was full to the brim with ammunition, allowing it to sustain fire for far longer than the normal B-17. The YB-40 carried approximately 10,700 rounds of 50 caliber ammunition with 4,000 rounds stored in the bomb bay.

Compare this with the normal B-17 which carried approximately 2,000 rounds total. The trade off was, of course, speed, and climb rate. The YB-40 was reported to take 48 minutes to climb 20,000 feet while the bombers it was escorting only took 25 minutes to climb to the same altitude. 

This drawback, along with the fact that the YB-40 could not keep up with the B-17 formations, especially after they had dropped their bombs, meant that the YB-40 did not see use after the introduction of the P-51 Mustang. Despite its drawbacks, the 25 completed YB-40s flew 48 sorties and shot down 5 German aircraft plus 2 probables. The last recorded YB-40 combat mission was in July of 1943, however, the new turrets developed for the YB-40 such as the Bendix chin turret (pictured below) and the improved “Cheyenne” tail turret proved effective enough to be mounted on late war B-17 bombers.

A single Consolidated B-24 Liberator, called the XB-41, was modified in a similar fashion to act as a long range bomber escort, but it never saw combat.


XC-108

The XC-108 was a modified B-17 bomber converted to act as a V.I.P. transport for General Douglas MacArthur.

The plane was stripped of arms and armour except for the nose and tail turrets. The interior was converted into a private office for the General. The plane was fitted with a kitchen and living space. After the success of this model, the USAAF, with plenty of obsolete bombers laying around, began looking into ways to convert bombers into transport craft. A number of models were produced including the XC-108A, cargo and troop transport that could carry up to 64 fighting men, and the XC-108B which was converted into a fuel tanker. The B-24 Liberator was similarly modified into a transport known as the Liberator express. This model saw widespread use with 287 aircraft built.


PSA

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July 2, 1916 - Battle of the Somme, Day Two: Chaos Behind German Lines, Allies Exploit Successes

Pictured - Troops from the Worcestershire Regiment, 48th (South Midland) Division, bring up a Lewis gun to deal with German counter-attacks.

The most surprising thing about the Somme battlefield on the morning of July 2, the second day of the battle, was the sense of quiet that pervaded over it.  In truth, rifle shots and machine-gun bursts still rattled constantly, and shells whirred loudly overhead.  Compared to the week-long cacophony leading up to the battle, however, and the first day itself, the second day was both silent and almost peaceful.

Soldiers’ ears may have been briefly relieved, but their noses were not.  Explosive gas, lingering chlorine clouds, and the stench of decomposing flesh from thousands of dead bodies filled the air.  Yet their were few enemies to be seen.  German artillery remained placid, and British reconnaissance reported little enemy presences.  This suited the British just fine; after the first day on the Somme, the troops were not inclined to push on. Lieutenant Siegfried Sassoon spent his day “lying out in front of our trench in the long grass, basking in sunshine where yesterday morning one couldn’t show a finger.”  British soldiers reinforced captured trenches, and were relieved to encounter few serious counter-attacks.

Behind the lines, however, was abuzz with activity.  Fritz von Below, the commander of the German Second Army on the Somme, frantically ordered reserves up to the front.  Allied bombers and artillery harried them as they moved up, though, and many units did not arrive until the very end of July 2. For now, the Germans could do nothing except try to hold their lines.   Although they had wreaked havoc on the British the day before, Below now found that his own positions were in serious risk of breaking.

The first day of the Somme was not a spectacular Allied success, but it was not a horrible failure either, despite its morbid casualty bill.   Haig’s overambitious plan to break through had not worked, certainly.   Yet he remained confident of victory, and expressed “great satisfaction with the situation along the English front, and had stated they had so far accomplished more than they had expected.” The BEF’s commander spent the day visiting the wounded, who he reported were in similar good spirits.  The butcher’s bill of July 1 had certainly left many angry, though, like one anonymous officer who suggested that the battle had already been lost “by three minutes”.

The biggest wrench in the Allied plan was that the biggest triumphs had not come north of the river Somme, around Thiepval and the British push, but south of the river, in the French sector.  Here the Germans desperately organized scratch companies of rear-area support troops to prevent the line from breaking.  German companies fled through French villages, screaming “The front is broken! The French are coming!”  French peasants taunted them as they ran past. French artillery smashed in the German second-line in the morning, and the colonial infantry division, singing La Marseillaise, overwhelmed the single division of elite Prussian Guards holding the front. The fight was over in half and hour.  The heroic French feats on the Somme prove critics of Allied war planners utterly wrong: in under forty-eight hours, the French army had broken through German lines on an eight-kilometer front!  The Allies had not achieved a break-through, but they had gotten a break-in, in an unanticipated one, on the the French front rather than the British.