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PauloHirth

World War 2 fighter armament effectiveness

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Tony Williams's stuff is really good. What it really boiled down to during WWII was machineguns versus cannon. Towards the end of the war everyone except the USAAF had switched to cannon, which tells you something.

 

In sim terms there have been discussions about sims not modelling the effect of chemical (i.e. exploding cannon shell) damage due to simplified or nonexistent internal damage models, which means it's hard to damage internal systems. I don't know how BoS will stack up here; Il2 was so-so, and Cliffs of Dover (which I haven't played) was supposed to be a big improvement in this area.

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 Cliffs of Dover (which I haven't played) was supposed to be a big improvement in this area.

 

 According to ATAG's mod it has internal damage modeled. With ATAG's last patch came a neat little application that informs you of damage received or damage sustained by the other A/C. It will give you the condition of the battle damage to systems like the hydraulics', radiators, controls etc. Now whether these are random messages that just repeat certain damage that could possibly be encountered, or if the game really recognizes exacting damage is not something I can speak on.

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Here is an interesting test with how a simulated wing copes with .30, .50 calibre and 20mm rounds.

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Maybe it was just a very fortunate stroke of luck for the U.S. fighter forces in WWII, but with very limited exceptions, most of their encounters were against other fighters so the need for anything much bigger than .50 cal wasn't needed. I don't think you can really count actions against Japanese bomber either. I would assume American forces saw more of them than the other Axis powers' bombers. From all we know, it didn't take much to set those ablaze.

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It is a very interesting and well put together article.

 

In defence of the 0.50 though: The weapons had a high rate of fire and fairly consistent ballistics (especially compared to loadouts that mixed weapon types). This may have made firing and deflection shooting in particular a bit easier. So the U.S. loads may still have had merit.

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As Rjel states, for the US the .50 was probably a better choice as they were shooting at either fighters or relatively light bombers.  Great muzzle velocity combined with a high rate of fire makes for an effective weapon.  Switch to the Germans and the .50 would not have been effective.  Taking down a B17, B24, maybe even an IL2 or P47 was better done with cannons.

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As legendary and reliable as the M2 browning was/is, its performance wasn't stellar for its time. The AN/M2 is significantly heavier than both the MG 131 and the Berezin UB, its rate of fire is on par or lower and while its muzzle velocity is a lot higher than that of the MG 131, it is only marginally better than the Berezin's.

 

Not to say, that the M2 isn't good. It's just not that much better than the competition.

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reliable

Actually Brownings were not so rarely prone to jamming.  

 

 

 

Not to say, that the M2 isn't good. It's just not that much better than the competition.

It was good enough. Not everything has to be exceeding opposition.

 

 

 

The AN/M2 is significantly heavier than both the MG 131 and the Berezin UB, its rate of fire is on par or lower and while its muzzle velocity is a lot higher than that of the MG 131, it is only marginally better than the Berezin's.

M2 was actually considered by Soviet military;

" A modified 12.7mm Colt-Browning machine gun was also tested, but although performing better than most Soviet designs, it was not accepted. The U.S. weapon was altered to fire the Soviet 12.7x108 cartridge and during the tests in 1939 an impressive rate of fire of 950 rounds per minute was achieved." - SOVIET CANNON A COMPREHENSIVE STUDY OF SOVIET GUNS AND AMMUNITION IN CALIBRES 12.7MM TO 57MM by Ch. Koll, page 58. 

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It was good enough. Not everything has to be exceeding opposition.

I agree. I'm not trying to bash the M2. But there are people who want to make the M2 out to be this amazing weapon, that was far superior to other WW2 designs. It's great for a WW1 design and it has had an amazing service history, but it's by no means miraculous.

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It must have been fun making that video! Of course the 20mm causes MUCH more damage than the .50 cal... The .50 cal punches holes, while the 20mm blows things apart.

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As Rjel states, for the US the .50 was probably a better choice as they were shooting at either fighters or relatively light bombers.  Great muzzle velocity combined with a high rate of fire makes for an effective weapon.  Switch to the Germans and the .50 would not have been effective.  Taking down a B17, B24, maybe even an IL2 or P47 was better done with cannons.

 

For the USAAF the benefits of standarization and lack of teething troubles probably outweighed any marginal gains that could have been had from cannon or a more effective HMG. There was also the bungled attempt to adapt the Hispano cannon.

 

However, as has been pointed out the USAAF experience was atypical in that they did not face a lot of bombers or other heavier aircraft. All the other air forces and arms that did eventually switched to cannon, including the USN during and the USAF after the war.

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The story of the American cannon troubles is worth quoting in full from Wikipedia:

 

The British version [of the Hispano-Suiza HS.404] was also licensed for use in the United States as the M1, with both the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC) and U.S. Navy planning to switch to the 20 mm caliber as soon as the gun could be produced in sufficient numbers. A very large building program was established, along with production of ammunition, in 1941. When delivered, the guns proved to be extremely unreliable and suffered a considerable number of misfires due to the round being lightly struck by the firing pin. 

 

The British were interested in using this weapon to ease the demand on production in England, but after receiving the M1 they were disappointed. British wing-mounted fighter weapons by this period were cocked on the ground by the aircraft armourers before flight, the built-in pneumatic cocking mechanism used previously being regarded as unnecessary weight and detrimental to aircraft performance, so any stoppage in flight made the gun unusable until it could be cleared on the ground. The misfires also had the tendency to cause aircraft with wing-mounted guns to yaw towards the wing with the failed gun when the guns were fired, due to the unequal recoil, thus throwing off the pilot's aim.

 

In April 1942 a copy of the British Mk.II was sent to the U.S. for comparison. The British version used a slightly shorter chamber and did not have the same problems as the U.S. version of the cannon. The U.S. declined to modify the chamber of their version, but nonetheless made other modifications to create the unreliable M2. By late 1942 the USAAF had 40 million rounds of ammunition stored but the guns remained unsuitable. The U.S. Navy had been trying to go all-cannon throughout the war but the conversion never occurred. As late as December 1945 the Army'sChief of Ordnance was still attempting to complete additional changes to the design to allow it to enter service. Some variations of the 20 mm guns used on the Lockheed P-38 Lightning aircraft were produced by International Harvester. The P-38's nose-mounted M2 featured a built-in cocking system, and could simply be re-cocked in flight after a misfire, which made the misfires less of a problem than with other aircraft.

 

The U.S. followed the British development closely and when the Mk.V was designed, the Americans followed suit with the A/N M3 but unreliability continued. After World War II the United States Air Force (USAF) adopted a version of the M3 cannon as the M24, similar in most respects except for the use of the addition of electrical cocking, allowing the gun to re-cock over a lightly struck round. The problems of the American weapons led to most US fighters being equipped with the AN/M2 .50 cal Browning light-barrel HMG throughout the war.

 

So the US clearly wanted to swith to cannon already during the war, it was just that aircraft cannon production kept running into problems. Quite amazing really given how successful the US was at mass producing everything else, but I guess there were some specific and apparently hard to fix issues.

Edited by Duckman

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Curious - why not just adopt a working foreign design and go with it.  Sounds like we were presented with possibilities but just couldn't resist the urge to twiddle with it.  

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Curious - why not just adopt a working foreign design and go with it. Sounds like we were presented with possibilities but just couldn't resist the urge to twiddle with it.

Sometimes it's just a question of practicality.

 

The US actually considered copying the Soviet design that was the basis of the ShKAS and ShVAK, because they were impressed by their rate of fire and very smooth cycling, but in the end they dropped it, because the "bird cage" mechanism required a certain softness and malleability in the steel used. Using high quality hardened steel, as was standard in US arms Industry actually made jams more frequent.

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