ARMY AIR FORCES HISTORICAL STUDIES No. 31
FLEXIBLE GUNNERY TRAINING IN THE AAF
The original of this monograph and the
documents from which it was written are in
the USAF Historical Division, Archives Branch,
Bldg. 914, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama.
Assistant Chief of Air Staff. Intelligence
It is the desire of the President, the Secretary of War, and the Commanding General, AAF that a solid. record of the experiences of the Army Air Forces be compiled. This is one of a series of studies prepared as "first narratives" in the projected over-all history of the AAF.
The decision to make the information contained herein available for staff and operational use without delay has prevented recourse to some primary sources, Readers familiar with this subject matter are invited to contribute additional facts, interpretations, and constructive suggestions, To this end perforated sheets, properly addressed, may be found at the back of the study.
This study will be handled in strict compliance with AR 380-5
|Stripping Guns and Detecting Malfunctions|
|Moving Base Ranges|
Although flexible gunnery schools are a product of the years since 1940, there is evidence of casual and continuing interest in that type of training during and since the period of World War I. It was not, however, until some time after the United States entered the war in 1917 that efforts to produce flexible gunners showed results. The process of providing facilities and equipment to prepare them was slow. The Lewis aircraft gun was modified to meet flexible needs, and though 30,000 of that type of gun had been produced by the time the Armistice was signed, none had been delivered until late in May 1918.1 The Browning gun also was adapted to flexibility, but too near the end of the war to be of much use.2
Flexible gunnery training during the years 1917-1918 consisted of two kinds. First, there was ground instruction which comprised nomenclature, stripping and assembling of guns, range practice, and lectures on sights. Second, there was aerial instruction which included firing with machine guns and manipulation of the camera gun. The camera gun was a device which, instead of piercing another plane with bullets, took pictures showing where hits would have been made on the other plane, had a gun been used. Further aids to accuracy in hitting the
target were the Norman Compensating Forsight and the Ring Sight, which were designed to gauge the speed, respectively, of the flyer's own airplane and that of the plane at which he was firing.3
While interest in flexible gunnery was not marked during the years 1919 to 1940, there is evidence of its continuity. Some attention was paid both to training and to provision of necessary equipment for combat gunnery, The Chief of the Air Corps stated in 1926 that during the preceding year all machine gun training was transferred from the Primary Flying School at Brooks Field, San Antonio, Tex. to the Advanced flying School at Kelly Field, also at San Antonio, At the latter school gunnery training was included in a 6-month course in advanced flying for flying cadets and Regular Army officers.4 How limited the flying facilities were at Kelly Field is shown by the fact that early in 1926 only one JN-6H Curtiss airplane was available there for gunnery practice.5 At Wright Field in 1927 gunnery ranges, equipped with necessary targets, frames, and bullet-proof dugouts for observers, were being established for the purpose of flexible gunnery training,6 and at Langley Field, during the late 1920's, annual machine gun and bombing matches were held, at which one of the events was competition among flexible gunners.7 In commenting upon the fourth annual event of that character,
the Chief of the Air Corps declared that "gratifying improvement in the proficiency of Air Corps in aerial gunnery and bombing" had taken place.8 Provisions for and discussions of flexible gunnery equipment represent additional evidence of the continuing interest in flexible gunnery during the 1920's and 1930's. In specifications to bidders for construction of a modified type of Martin bombardment plane, the Engineering Division of the Air Corps in 1919 included the following in respect to flexible equipment: 2 Lewis guns in front and rear cockpits, respectively, with Type B flexible gun mounts, 20 Lewis gun magazines, 3 Lewis gun sights, and 2 Lewis Wind Vane flexible gun sights, 120 m.p.h.9
Flexible gun ring mounts were the subject of experimentation and discussion, Though the scarff mount had been standardized, there was considerable dissatisfaction with the operational difficulties which it presented. Successful experiments resulted in a recommendation of standardization of bombardment planes of another mount which was heavier and more complicated but easier to manipulate than the scarff type.10 In 1933 the Chief of the Materiel Division expressed the opinion that in the mounting of flexible machine guns further improvement had been made in providing "greater protection for the gunner from the wind blast," an accomplishment made possible "by the application of a turret inclosure to the front cockpit and a semi-turret inclosure to the rear."11
There were significant changes in respect to the type and caliber of flexible guns. For some years there had existed a feeling that the Browning was superior to the Lewis gun, and before the end of the 1920's action had been taken to install the single flexibly mounted former type in place of the double Lewis type.12 The .30-caliber gun had been in general use, but before the end of the 1930's the .50-caliber one was also used to some extent. The adoption of the latter type necessitated the development of new accessory equipment and required the strengthening of the airplane structure in the vicinity of the gun position.13
It is thus apparent that flexible gunnery activities were by no means absent before the advent of World War II. The training was apparently somewhat superficial and not highly-specialized, and, in the words of the Chief of the Air Corps in 1935, decisions ware yet to be made in respect "to almost every phase of armament equipment" that had to do with flexible gunnery training. He did, however, add that during the preceding fiscal year "the number of flexible guns employed was increased and distributed about the airplane to provide greater defensive ability."14
Notes to Introduction:
1. Division of Military Aeronautics News Letter, I (1918-1919), 14 Dec. 1918, 1, 9.
2. The Signal Corps and Air Service: A Study of Their Expansion in the United Thirties, 1917-1918, 98.
3. Ibid., 58, 97-98, 102.
4. Annual Report of the Chief of the Air Corps (1926), 128-130.
5. 1st ind. (Chief of Air Service, to CO Kelly Field), 9 Feb 1926.
6. Annual Report of the Chief, Material Division (1928), 97.
7. Annual Report of the Chief of the Air Corps (1926), 153-159; Ibid. (1928), 31-32.
8. Ibid. (1928), 32.
9. Engineering Div., Air Service, Specifications to Bidders for Bombardment Airplane, Martin Type, 12 April 1919 in AAG 452,1A Martin Bombers.
10. Annual Report of the Chief, Material Division (1928), 89, 90, 93; Ibid. (1930), 141.
11. Ibid. (1933), 27.
12. Ibid. (1927), 75-76; Ibid. (1929), 201.
13. Ibid. (1928), 93; Annual Report of the Chief of the Air Corps (1936), 46.
14. Annual Report of the Chief of the Air Corps (1935), 35.