Flexible gunnery training existed to some extent in the United States during World War I Instruction was given in both ground and aerial exercises, The Lewis and the Browning aircraft guns were modified to meet flexible needs, though the changes in the latter took: place too late in 1918 for it to be of much use during the war. The student was required to become familiar with the Norman Compensating Sight and the Ring Sight, which were designed to gauge respective speeds of opposing planes. Between 1919 and 1940 no flexible gunnery schools were established, though a meager amount of gunnery training was given at some of the six flying schools then in existence. Provisions for flexible gunnery equipment in planes and specifications of guns to be used constitute additional evidence of at least continuing interest in such training.
Though in some cases preliminary steps had been taken as early as 1940 to establish specialized flexible gunnery schools, none was actually established before 1941. Plans toward this end were facilitated in the latter year when Maj. W. L. Kennedy made a comprehensive report based on a study of the AAF gunnery system. The following is the order in which the seven flexible gunnery schools came into existence:
|Las Vegas, 25 January 1941||Kingman, 27 May 1942|
|Tyndall Field, 15 April 1941||Ft. Myers Instructors, 5 July 1942|
|Harlingen, 6 May 1941||Laredo, 12 August 1942|
|Yuma, 11 November 1943|
In the face of all the numerous problems confronting these schools, they succeeded by August 1944 in reaching the annual rate of production of graduates 'which they had hoped to achieve by March 1944. That rate was 3,500 per week or approximately 180,000 per year. By 1 September 1944 the total number of graduates of the seven schools was 214,828.
The problem of student personnel may be viewed from a number of angles. Physical and mental requirements for admission to schools had to be determined, and the members of a bombardment crew to be given flexible gunnery had to be designated. Entrance requirements during most of 1942 were higher than they were late in that year and in 1943, a modification explained by pressure to fill increasing quotas. Pilots were not required to take the gunnery course, but beginning late in 1942 all other members of a bombardment crew, photographic personnel excepted, had to do so. This requirement, however, frequently was not carried out in the case of bombardiers and. navigators. Career gunners had priority in flexible gunnery schools, with the result that school facilities often could not accommodate the full flow of bombardiers and navigators. The two latter groups were exempted from flexible gunnery training for a brief time in 1944, but photographic personnel, increasingly important after emphasis upon the gun camera, were subjected to the requirement in that year.
For a time during the fall of 1942 specialists, such as airplane mechanics, radio operators, and aircraft armorers, were in such demand for other activities that they were not admitted to flexible gunnery schools. This policy was Changed late in 1942 because of the feeling that mechanics, with specially helpful aptitudes already developed,
were better material for gunnery training than nonspecialists. In April 1943 gunnery training was confined to specialists, to whom it was believed the compulsory features then in existence would be more acceptable than to basic trainees. However, after approximately three months the demand for numbers to meet the needs of a rapidly expanding program led again to the inclusion of nonspecialists in the training program.
Though other factors, such as the assigning of rank to a graduate gunner, entered into the morale picture, voluntary enlistment versus compulsion was the principal question of that Character. Failure to fill quotas or to secure sufficient personnel under the voluntary system led to its abandonment in January 1943. AAF authorities differed over the wisdom of this step, and the immediate reaction of prospective trainees did not augur well for the change; however, within some months, after an educational campaign to "sell" flexible gunnery, the compulsory principle became more popular and the elimination rate of 35 per cent which the Flying Training Command had predicted that principle would produce did not materialize. This prediction was based on the theory that fear of flying, a cause for elimination along with ground and air range deficiencies and failure on the final examination, would greatly increase.
Competent instructors and officers were of course a desideratum in connection with the flexible gunnery program. Instructors were at first obtained from technical schools and from graduating classes of gunnery schools. Though not well prepared, for about a year they followed the flight system of instruction under which each instructor carried his flight through all courses. This system had advantages and disadvantages, but the latter seemed predominant with the result that the method was
abandoned. In order to secure better instructors, facilitate gunnery research, and disseminate gunnery knowledge, the Central Flexible Gunnery Instructors School was established late in 1942 at Fort Myers.
The lack of gunnery officers and the lack of a systematic way of getting them resulted in the establishment in 1943 of a gunnery officers school at Fort Myers where a four-week course of special instruction was given. Subsequently the course was increased to five and then to six weeks. These increases were designed to meet the elaborate plans of AAF authorities for the training of 1,500 officers in addition to those available. Officers accompanied students on flying missions and supervised in general the work of students and instructors.
The operations of students, instructors, and officers were conditioned. by the acquisition of satisfactory training equipment. Experimentation and Maj J. W. Kennedy's report on 13 RAF synthetic devices were factors in deciding what was satisfactory. Many times the training program was hampered by lack of planes, turrets, trainers, cameras, sights, and other essentials. To secure some of this equipment it was necessary for AAF authorities to enter into negotiations with the Navy. At times it was necessary to determine the proper procurement authorities.
Among the early essentials of the training program proper were textbooks and curricula. In the preparation of these much credit is due Major Kennedy and Col. Delmar T. Spivey, project officer at Buckingham Army Air Field. There were two fundamental differences between the curricula of 1941-1942 and those of 1943-1944. The latter provided for a longer course and defined procedure and standards of proficiency with much more precision. Those standards were defined in such phases
as gun familiarization, sighting, aircraft recognition, turret operation, and air firing. An understanding of guns was a sine qua non of any successful use of them; hence, much attention was paid to malfunctions and to the stripping and reassembling of guns. The tendency was to use the .50-caliber type, but its scarcity combined with lack of ammunition for it resulted in wide use of the .30-caliber for some time.
Recognizing aircraft was another phase of the program beset with difficulties. Aids necessary to instruction were lacking. To know the dimensions and features of numerous planes was not easy, so the WEIT system of recognition gave way to the flash or Renshaw system.
The heart and essence of a successful training program consisted in finding a way to hit the fighter before it destroyed the bomber. Sighting and firing systems thus received a major share of attention. One of the simplest of firing devices, which had at least the virtue of offering greater familiarity with arms, was trap shooting. Most valuable was skeet-firing, an activity so arranged that the gunner had to make allowance for the factor of lead. Skeet was condemned by some on the ground that the shooting was from a stationary position and that it involved lead ahead of the target instead of behind it.
Others defended it because it gave familiarity with firearms and was, in part, practiced from a moving base. The problem of sighting a flexible gun has been a continuous one during the flexible gunnery training program. During 1942 gunnery students had to become familiar with 10 different types of sights. When the gunner tried to estimate the difference in speed between his plane and that of the enemy (the relative speed system of sighting), he became
involved in a very complicated process of computing lead. A possible way of simplifying that process was through the use of tracer, which seemed to offer the possibility of visual checking of harmonization of guns and sights and of indicating proper lead in deflection shooting tracer, however, unless used with care was found to be very deceptive, and limitations were placed upon its use.
Position-firing, which is based upon an understanding of the pursuit curve of attack, consists in firing upon the enemy plane when it is in a position to make an attack. There was some difference of opinion over this system, which assumed much prominence during 1943 and 1944. Many held that it simplified the sighting problem, but others contended that it was wise to use automatic computing sights so as to fire at planes before they were in a position close enough to attack. The tendency was to use this system but reduce and simplify computing sights without abandoning them. The favored sights were the K-13 and K-15.
From the summer of 1943 through August 1944 the most significant development in connection with flexible gunnery training was the gun camera mission. This training phase involved the installation of a gun camera in gun position on bombers and the assessing and scoring of the film. This system was felt to come nearer to approximating actual combat conditions than any other that had been devised. It necessitated increased photographic personnel and large consignments of fighter aircraft. Fighter aircraft attacking bombardment planes on a true pursuit curve, it was claimed, represented training far superior to that given when firing against aerial towed targets. There was a feeling that air-to-ground firing gave practice not only in handling aerial
guns but in making possible firing on targets on a pursuit curve while aerial towed targets offered only the first of these advantages. The latter practice, however, was not entirely abandoned, but instead efforts were made to improve its value. Gun camera practice developed slowly because of lack of fighter planes, camera installation equipment, and film assessing devices.
To understand and manipulate a turret when flying and firing under abnormal atmospheric conditions is a difficult task. Installing turrets in planes for which they were adapted and installing sights in the former were other aspects of this problem. It is, by way of summary, a sufficient commentary on maintenance and manipulation of turrets to state that those detailed processes consumed 35 hours of instruction in 1942 and 50 hours in 1943. Manipulating a turret necessitated, moreover, increased training in high-altitude flying and in the use and adjustment of oxygen equipment.
When one considers all of the other obstacles that had to be overcome, especially during the early phases of flexible gunnery training, he can visualize the extreme difficulty a student would bate in learning to understand the operation of six turrets, the number in existence in 1942. Inefficiency in turret training and unfamiliarity with equipment to which the student was assigned were the results of multiple turret instruction and were the main factors that led to turret specialization early in January 1943. Schools were also designated for training in specialized aircraft, and instructions were given in regard to which turrets would be operated by respective groups on the
Malassignment of gunners and insufficient preparation were the main points of criticism of turret training after the specialization principle was adopted. AAF Headquarters and the Flying Training Command cooperated to correct the first defect and placed increasing emphasis upon careful phase checks to correct the second. Improvement was made to the point where it seemed to justify in 1944 a modification of turret specialization. Thereafter instructors and students were to be familiar with the gun positions on the airplane to which they were assigned.
Another problem in connection with flexible gunnery was that of retention of skills once acquired. Until agitation took place and corrective steps were taken, students were allowed, too much time between training phases and. hence not only failed to retain that had been learned but did not derive the additional benefits of continuity. Those responsible for training in the schools and in the OTU's, respectively, each blamed the other somewhat for the existence of this defect.
In the attempt to check the deficiencies which stemmed in part from the lack of a continuous program, emphasis in 1943 and 1944 was placed upon three interrelated factors: Phase checks, standardization, and closer liaison among training agencies. Phase checks, which were required with increasing frequency in the flexible gunnery schools, the OTU's, and the combat theaters, were for the purpose of correcting as well as discovering deficiencies. The Central Flexible Gunnery Instructors School, which in 1944 was temporarily placed under the 75th Flying Training Wing and then under the Training Command, became increasingly a standardizing and coordinating training agency. Other
of the Harlingen and Laredo schools from the jurisdiction of the Central Flying Training Command to that of the Eastern Flying Training Command and the creation of a deputy to the Commanding General of the Training Command. The duties of this official were to supervise and inspect gunnery training activities end to coordinate the activities of all agencies connected with that training.
This presentation has been developed in terms of a conception of problems and their solution or attempted solution. There were problems that arose in connection with factors that conditioned training and in connection with training activities proper. It is impossible to divorce the one group from the other or to conceive of instruction in the schools as an activity apart from the next phase of training.