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Chapter III:

Most of the preceding discussion has had to do with factors that conditioned training in a vital way but not with training itself. Most of the remainder will represent an analysis of training practices, the problems to which they gave rise, and the solutions or attempted solutions of the problems. The choice of topics for treatment is not easy, because there is such a close interrelation among the main phases of the gunnery program. Aircraft recognition, sighting and firing systems, and turret operations are closely interwoven, and yet, for purposes of discussion, will be handled separately. Academic instruction and ground and air firing are mutually supplementary aspects of the training course, all subject to modification in the light of experience.

The content and comparison of the curricula of flexible gunnery schools are necessary to an understanding of the discussion of specific training problems. Planning of curricula and preparation of textbooks was the work, in large part, of Maj. W. L. Kennedy and Col. Delmar T. Spivey. The former, after a study of the English flexible gunnery schools in the summer of 1941, prepared the first five week's course at Harlingen and aided in the preparation of


textbooks to be used there.1 Colonel Spivey, project officer at Buckingham Army Air Field, performed a similar service for that station. In the early stages of their existence, flexible gunnery schools used as guide books Training Manual 1-271 and a Navy Department booklet, "Air Gunnery." After examining all available publications on gunnery in his planning for the school and comparing the results of his investigation with the subject matter of the two books, Colonel Spivey suggested to LAI? Headquarters the preparation of another text embracing some principles from each of the former ones.2

The curricula of flexible gunnery schools were naturally somewhat experimental in nature, particularly in the early stages of training. One of the first plans tentatively agreed upon by the Chief of the Air Corps and the West Coast Training Center contemplated four weeks of instruction. The first week would be devoted to familiarization with equipment and duties; the second, to sighting problems and laboratory work; the third, to ground range exercises and firing; the fourth, to air range exercises and firing. The following year, 1941, the feeling that there should be more emphasis on air range exercises and firing resulted in a five instead of a four weeks' program.3


Further discussion of programs of instruction will be clarified by including here three such programs. They are for the years 1942 (a revision of the 1941 program), 1943, and 1944.4

Safety precautions
Description and nomenclature of equipment
Gun Installation
Sighting and sight harmonization
Aircraft recognition and estimation of range
Methods of fire on various courses
Turret manipulation--Spotlight Trainer


Caliber .50 machine gun:
Caliber .30 machine gun
Aircraft recognition
Ground firing
Air firing
Caliber .50 machine gun
Aircraft recognition
Interphone procedure
Final comprehensive examination
Physical Training
Ground firing
Air training program
Phase checks


In July 1942 the curriculum provided for 210 hours of instruction, not including 40 hours of military training, during five weeks as compared with 150 early in the year. The increase Was a result of the need for additional and more thorough instruction and of the adoption of the flight system of instruction under which a small group bed one instructor assigned for all subjects, including range firing. This system, whatever its advantages, required more tine on the part of the instructor in those phases in which he was not well prepared. Hours in the ground school were increased nearly one-half. In recognition of the imperative need of coping with unfamiliar atmospheric conditions, a course was added in oxygen and high-altitude flying.5

Suggestions for lengthening the flexible gunnery course from five to seven weeks had been made before the end of 1942. The result of this discussion was a compromise under which the increase was from five to six weeks, a change made effective by a Flying Training Command Memorandum of 5 April 1943.6 The abandonment of the volunteer system, the expansion of the gunnery program, and the growing need for more scientific training in the light of the experience of modern-day combat were all factors in the increase to six weeks. The change from the volunteer system with a consequent increase in numbers meant on the whole less efficient personnel which required more instruction. In reference to the lessons of experience as a factor in the change, it has been said that "this extension had become necessary as a result of the


gradual accretions which had been made to the original curriculum until it was humanly impossible to accomplish all the training required within the five week period."7

Prior to the summer of 1943 a fluid system of instruction and a lack of precise standards of proficiency made it difficult for schools to rate personnel, though they did try to devise methods for so doing. However, in the Training Command Memorandum of 12 August 1943, the main requirements of which are given above, the most detailed and precise instructions were given as to the standards to be attained before graduation and assignment to OTU and RTU training.8 The directive defined those standards in such phases as gunnery, sighting, aircraft recognition, turret operation, and air firing. Definition of procedure and standards was also a marked characteristic of the curriculum of May 1944.9 The contrast in this respect between the program of 1942 and those of 1943 and 1944 suggests an evolutionary trend from haphazard experiment toward scientific precision.

Understanding of guns was a sine qua non of sound flexible gunnery training. Many students had had so little experience with any kind of firearm that familiarization with shotguns and the .22-caliber rifle was required as well as with machine guns. Prior to the year 1943 there were many handicaps to instruction concerning guns and the use of them. In the earliest programs of instruction provision was made


for familiarization with .50-caliber guns, but there were indeed few to be had.10 At Las Vegas during 1942 there were assigned half as many .50-caliber as .30-caliber, but often there was a total of only two guns for teaching a class of 20 students. Training aids designed to familiarize students with firearms were unobtainable there during that year.11

All during 1942 the schools under the Eastern Flying Training Command were compelled to use the .30-caliber gun because ammunition for the .50-caliber was not available. They were also hampered by the lack of guns and by the use of the AT-6 airplane, which was not adapted to anything more than the simplest of beam shooting and was supplied with a very unstable mount for the aerial gunner. The situation improved, however, in 1943. By the first of that year the assignment of a number of B-34 planes to Tyndall Field had facilitated gunnery operations. Later, .50-caliber guns and training aids were received in greater numbers.12

The first class at Harlingen had but one gun, a .30-caliber machine type, on to practice assembly and disassembly. In February 1942 the only type airplane available there was the AT-6, which was too light to accommodate the .50-caliber gun. Because of this undesirable situation there was an "impossibility of giving the


students all the aerial training required of good turret gunners by firing only the hand-held .30-caliber machine gun from the rear cockpit of the AT-6 airplane."13 The assignment of B-34 planes in July 1942 made it possible to fire twin .30-caliber guns and a .30-caliber waist gun from a Martin turret. The gunnery situation was still further improved when, early in 1943, both Harlingen and Laredo were made B-24 training schools.14 This designation Was in line with the policy of specialization in planes then being followed at all flexible gunnery schools.

During 1943 increased efforts were made to bring about a greater degree of familiarization with guns. In a flexible gunnery conference held at Buckingham Army Air Field on 7 May 1943, the numerous representatives of both the Army and the Navy recommended that before graduation gunners must be able without assistance and coaching to demonstrate their knowledge of "the nomenclature and functions of the machine gun, ability to strip and reassemble the gun and correct the most common malfunctions."15 At Buckingham Field during the summer of 1942, 28 hours were devoted to weapons and 8 to malfunctions, and at Fort Myers in December of that year 30 hours to weapons and 10 to malfunctions.16 Byway of contrast, the Training Command in August 1943 required that 40 hours be devoted to the .50-caliber machine gun, 6 to the .30-caliber, and 20 to malfunctions.17


The Training Command also provided in great detail the instructions to be given in respect to weapons. The student must know the nomenclature and functions of all parts of the .50-caliber gun and the sequence of the functions. He must be able blindfolded to field-strip and reassemble the gun after the parts had boon purposely mixed in very confused fashion, and able also to adjust on the gun proper head space, the oil buffer tube, and the direction of feed. Add to these, 17 operations required when the student was not blindfolded and one understands to some degree the significance of this phase of training. The early emphasis upon the .30-caliber gun and the later upon the .50 caliber made the problem even more complex, because it was necessary to study the differences between the two.18

The malfunction phase of gunnery training, as already suggested, received considerable attention. It the Las Vegas school throughout 1942 the ground firing course included tripe to a malfunction range where runaway guns and stoppages were illustrated. The course at the range after March 1942 was concentrated in the fourth week of school, so that it would have a close time connection with theoretical instruction along this line. An idea of the development of this type of training may be gained by reference to the fact that there were at Las Vegas in January 1942, 12 instructors on the range using six .30-caliber machine guns as compared with 33 instructors in October using thirty-six .50-caliber and ten .30-caliber guns. In 194$ the weapons and


Stripping Guns and Detecting Malfunctions

Image: Blindfolded
Image: Malfunction Range
Malfunction Range


malfunctions courses were integrated under the direction of one officer.19

The opening of the harmonization range at Tyndall Field in 1942 demonstrated that students were receiving insufficient instruction in gun malfunctions. The result was the establishment of a separate range where a complete course was given in those malfunctions likely to occur in .30-and .50-caliber guns. Before the year was over harmonization ranges were abandoned at both Tyndall and Buckingham fields, because so much emphasis had been placed upon instruction and firing at the malfunction and moving target ranges.20

The Training Command in 1943 provided for increased and detailed attention to malfunctions. Seven were enumerated which the student was expected to determine by their symptoms: (a) failure to feed into feedway, (b) failure to extract from ammunition belt, (c) failure to feed into the chamber, (d) failure to fire, (e) failure to control fire, (f) failure to extract from chamber, and (g) failure to eject. Methods of determining malfunctions or their symptoms and the procedure to follow on the range were included in the 20-hour course. Range work was assigned 12 hours or 60 per cent of the total time.21

In a report to Headquarters AAF in August 1944, the IX Bomber Command complained of weaknesses in preflight procedure as a defect in flexible gunnery training and expressed the opinion that thorough


preparation on the ground would eliminate the causes of inoperative guns in combat. Headquarters AAF agreed that there was no standard preflight procedure, and suggested to the Training Command that, through cooperation with the four training air forces, a standardization program be devised.22

So obvious is the connection between recognizing aircraft and operating guns that it is not surprising to find in the early programs of instruction provisions in regard to recognition. Twelve hours were to be devoted to aircraft recognition and range estimation, and training aids were to be supplied for the course. In 1943, 20 hours were required for this type of instruction, and the procedure in imparting it was given in more precise and detailed fashion.23

As was true of all early phases of flexible gunnery training, acquiring knowledge of aircraft was beset with difficulties. Manuals had to be prepared. Information was lacking. The aids necessary to instruction were not immediately available. As the course was planned, it involved knowledge of the exact dimensions and detailed features of planes. In order to identify structural dimensions, wing span and fuselage length of aircraft were emphasized. The system was named WEFT (wings, engines, fuselage, and tail). The student was expected


to became familiar with German, Japanese, Italian, Russian, British, and American aircraft.24

This system did not prove very satisfactory. A gunner was expected to remember too many things during the very short time when he was preparing to resist an attack. Schools received information concerning a new system, known as the Renshaw or "flash" system. It was introduced by Professor Samuel Renshaw, of the Department of Experimental Psychology at Ohio State University, and resulted in the establishment there of the United States Naval Training School in Aircraft Recognition. Late in 1942 many officers of the Flying Training Command entered this school, and in 1943 the system taught there was generally adopted.25

A competent observer of the results of flexible gunnery training in a combat theater has declared that aircraft recognition is more a matter of tactics than of visual acuity. The enemy flying Allied captured aircraft has on occasion, he states, approached and shot dorm American bombers. Information given months before is often obsolete at the time of action, and furthermore at such time a gunner is too busy planning to resist attack to apply theoretical knowledge.26

Easier methods of aircraft recognition resulted in a reduction in the 27 hours devoted to it from 20 in 1943 to 10 in 1944.27


On the basis of comparison of three typical programs of instruction, it may be stated that an evolutionary process was going on in flexible gunnery training in respect to both quantity and quality. The quantitative trend is illustrated by the requirement of 150 hours of instruction early in 1942, 210 in July of that year, 280 in August 1943, and 290 in May 1944. The qualitative trend is illustrated by the more precise definition of standards and procedure in the programs of 1943 and 1944 than in those of 1941 and 1942. Though hampered by lack of guns and planes, especially the type of plane in which the .50-caliber gun could be used, AAF authorities directed increasing attention during 1943 to stripping and reassembling guns and correcting common malfunctions. Aircraft recognition was stressed, but after the substitution of the simpler Renshaw or "flash" system for the more complicated WEFT one in 1943 not as many hours of instruction were devoted to that subject.


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Notes to Chapter III:

1. History of Central Flying Training Command, Installment 3, III, 665-67.

2. History of Central Flying Training Command, Installment 2, II, 978-80.

3. History of Las Vegas FGS, 1 Jan. 1939-7 Dec. 1941, 7-8, 82, 84; ibid., 8 Dec. 1941 - 1 Jan. 1943, 3.

4. Program of Instruction for the Training of Aerial Gunners (Flexible), W4076 AC, 2-20-41, Rev, 1-5-42, W7680, A. F.; T. C. Memo No. 50-13-1, 12 Aug. 1943; T. C. Memo No. 50-13-1, 31 May 1944.

5. History of Las Vegas FGS, 8 Dec. 1941-1 Jan. 1943, 9-12, 16, 37.

6. Project Book, CG AFFTC, Flexible Gunnery Sec., 30 Oct. 1942, 8 April 1943.

7. History of Harlingen Army Air Field, 1 May 1941-1 March 1944, II, 7.

8. T. C. Memo No. 50-13-1, 12 Aug. 1943.

9. T. C. Memo No. 50-13-1, 31 May 1944.

10. Program of Instruction for the Training of Aerial Gunners (Flexible), W4076 AC, 2-20-41, Rev, 1-5-42, W7680, A. F.

11. History of Las Vegas FGS, 8 Dec. 1941. - 1 Jan. 1943, 17-19.

12. History of Eastern Flying Training Command, Installment 2, II, 999, 1002, 1004; ibid., Installment 3, II, 885-87.

13. History of Central Flying Training Command, Installment 3, III, 670-71.

14. Ibid., 671, 688.

15. History of Eastern Flying Training Command, installment 3, II:, 830-32.

16. Ibid., Installment 2, II, 976-78.

17. T. C. Memo No. 50-15-1, 12 Aug. 1943.

18. Ibid.

19. History of Las Vegas FGS, 8 Dec. 1941-1 Jan. 1943, 55-57; ibid., 1 Jan. 1943-1 Jan. 1944, 77.

20. History of Eastern Flying Training Command, Installment 2, II, 963-64; ibid., Installment 5, II, 879.

21. T. C. Memo No. 50-13-1, 12 Aug. 1943.

22. Maj. Gen. R. W. Harper to CG AFTRC 9 Aug. 1944, with attached report of IX Bomber Command, in AAG 353A, Gunnery Training. The term "preflight procedure" as used in this paragraph has broader implications than its application to this chapter, but does include the gunnery developments discussed above.

23. For early program see Program of Instruction for the Training of Aerial Gunners (Flexible), W4076 AC, 2-20-11, Rev. 1-5-42, W590, A. F.; for later program see T. C. Memo No. 50-134, 12 Aug. 1943.

24. History of Eastern Flying Training Command, Installment 2, II, 980-981; History of Buckingham Army Air Field, Installment 1, 93-94; History of Las Vegas FGS, 8 Dec. 1941-1 Jan. 1943, 21-23.

25. History of Buckingham Army Air Field, Installment 1, II, 95; History of Eastern Flying Training Command, Installment 2, II, 981-82; ibid., Installment 3, II, 870.

26. Hq 15th AF to CG AAF, 9 May 1944, in AAG 353, Gunnery Training.

27. T. C. Memo No. 50-13-1, 12 Aug. 1943, 32 May 1944.

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