e-Newsletter for February 2002

Requests for information/contacts:

Richard W. Akers, Bombardier, 835th. Originally, Richard flew with the Bedard crew, but wound up being a bombardier with several crews. If anyone remembers flying with Richard, please contact me.

LT Sills crew, 835th. Anyone who served with the Sill crew, or who knows how to contact any of the members is asked to contact me.

Message Board: I have canned the idea for a message board for the 486th website. I'm claiming technical ignorance on these devices, and the ez-board was available on a trial basis. However, the website www.heavybombers.com has its own message board, which organizes the messages by bomb group. I would encourage all to join, and use this message board. By the way, Scott Burris, the webmaster, is also an ex-sailor. His website is stupendous!

B17s Fly Again: Some of you may recall this documentary, which the members of the 486th made photographic contributions to. Mark Feijo, the producer, tells me that the film is in the final editing. I received a raw version of the video for a sneak preview. I think it will be a hit, and look forward to the release of the final version. Hopefully, Mark will be able to get the film on the air by this summer. He expresses his gratitude to the members of the 486th for their contributions.

Matthew Bukovac, 76th Squadron Station Complement: The managers of the estate of Matthew Bukovac were trying to liquidate some of his assets on e-bay. This auction was brought to my attention by Chris Lane, one of our associate members. Among the items up for auction, were a series of crash photos, and another set of combat photos. I contacted the seller, and we eventually were able to come to terms after I had won the bidding on the first two sets of photographs. With the boards backing, I will be purchasing the remainder of the collection. This includes 200+ combat photos; two photo albums of crews, USO shows, and life in general at Station 174; two yearbooks from Henderson Field, and dog-tags.

Many of these photos that I have seen so far, are unpublished, and will comprise an important part of the Association's historical archive. Most will be posted on the website in weeks to come.

Your memorabilia can earn you big money, depending on what you have. If you are considering what to do with your items, please contact me first. Photographs and documents are important to the historical record. Uniform items are a little more difficult to deal with, but may be of interest. Hopefully, your family will wish to claim these as heirlooms, or museums may take an interest. In the end, however, its your decision as to how to dispose of your personal items.

Website: Speaking of the website, a recently flurry of activity on my part has had unexpected results. I have been notified of one crew page that was wiped clean, and I'm sure there are others that have been reverted to an earlier version. The critical lesson here is "get fancy if you must, but look twice before you leap!" If you note any errors, broken links please contact me for action. Also, if you find the new format a little difficult to read, I ask you to let me know as well.

My plan for future action on the website will be to identify crews, as they were made up when they reported to Sudbury. I believe that I have identified 275 crews assigned permanently to the 486th. Other crews were only temporarily assigned, but I have not made them a part of the permanent record. I have verified a good number of these original crews, but I still have a long way to go. I hope to have this aspect complete by this Summer.

I am discovering that ground crew and support personnel are a hard lot to get to open up about their unit's/section's history. This website is not just about the fliers, but also about those who supported them. If you want to honor those whom you served with, someone has to speak up. Let that someone be you!

I have also started work on creating a "poor man's" database of missions flown by individuals. I have found 3,000 compiled over 3,000 individual sorties, and expect the final total to be over 60,000 when I'm done. Unfortunately, this will take a great deal of time since it requires a trip to the National Archives in Washington, DC. This is a two hour trip for me, and involves travel around the DC beltway. Needless to say, I don't get a chance to get there often.

Propeller Bosses: I recently read that the propeller bosses were painted in squadron colors. If so, this wasn't done on all aircraft. Does anyone recall the bosses painted in squadron colors?

Volunteers: I have received a note or two from individuals that would like to become more involved with preserving and recording the group's history. There are many things to do, and unfortunately, my "hot file" grows fatter. There are documents to transcribe, images to scan, and other research to perform. If you are interested in lending a hand, I'm at a point now where I'm no longer too proud to accept! All you need to do is step forward.

Books:

The Mighty Eighth: The Colour Record, Roger Freeman. Roger has collected color photographs the Mighty Eighth during its stay in England during WWII. The photos are organized and arranged alphabetically by Station. The Station and occupying group get a brief description. The photos themselves are worth the price: $39.95.

The Mighty Eighth War Manual, by Roger Freeman. Currently out of print, but being re-released in May of this year. Cost about $27.95. Reserve your copy now! If you're a student of tactics, or just a Freeman fan, this is a book for you.

Battles with the Luftwaffe: The Bomber Campaign against Germany 1942-45, Theo Boiten and Martin Bowman. This collection and analysis of first-hand accounts from World War II veteran aircrew offers a fresh look at the day air war that raged over Europe. It retraces not only the course of events of the war years as experienced by both allied and axis aircrews, but also offers vivid descriptions of weaponry, aircraft and tactical developments during the extensive bombing campaign. Over 300 photographs. $44.95. I think this book attempts to be even handed in the coverage of the air war over Germany. However, the slant leans toward the Luftwaffe side. There are many individual recollections, which are interesting, but the general text is more like a chronology than an expose of the trials and tribulations of flying combat. Its a good book, but I wouldn't put it high on my list of books to have.

The Art of Bombing

In theory, precision, horizontal, daylight bombing from high altitude is a simple problem to solve. All you need to know is the altitude, and the precise time over target. For example, consider a bomber (choose your favorite) at 26,000 ft. From this altitude, and neglecting the affects of the air, a bomb will fall to the ground in 40.1859 seconds. If the Navigator tells you the precise time over the target will be 1300 hours, the bombardier simply toggles the bombs at 1259 hours, and 19.8141seconds. In theory, the aircraft will pass over the target at the precise instant the bombs strike it. The first problem with this is navigation wasn't sufficiently accurate to give precise times over target. The solution is to reduce the problem from one of timing to one of geometry.

At 150 kts over the ground the release point is 10177.0792 feet from the target. The aircraft, release point and target form a right triangle. The angle from the vertical to the target is 68.2 (nadir/bombing angle) (see fig. below). The bombardier now only has to set a sight to that angle, and release the bombs as the target passes through the crosshairs. Now, add the affects of the air on the ballistics of the bomb, and motion of the aircraft, and the science of bombing becomes an art, dependent on the skill, and teamwork, of the pilot, navigator and bombardier.

In reality, when the bomb hits the slip stream it begins decelerating in the horizontal direction, with the effect that the bomb will be behind the aircraft when it impacts the ground. The horizontal separation between the bomb and aircraft is called the "trail." Trail is also affected by the changes in the acceleration in the vertical. With no air, only the downward pull of gravity accelerates the bomb. Atmospheric drag counters gravity and slows the bomb's fall. Moreover, the drag increases as the bomb's speed increases. If dropped from a sufficiently high altitude, the bomb may even achieve a "terminal velocity," and will continue its fall at constant speed. This increases the time in flight affecting the location of the release point.

The above affects occur only in the direction of flight. If there is a cross wind, the aircraft will drift in the direction of the cross wind, and impart a cross component to the bombs velocity. Consequently, the bomb impacts to the side of the target if no corrections are made. The bombardier must now have the means to take all of this into account in order to achieve the goal of scoring a hit. This necessitated the creation of special bombing computers.

The Norden and Sperry bombsights were designed to compute the release point based upon the data the bombardier programmed into it shortly after take off. The bombardier entered the aircraft's speed over the ground, altitude, bomb weight, and drift information into the bombsight. The bombsights then directed the aircraft's autopilot to steer the aircraft to the proper release point. Once the target was visually identified, the bombsight was "locked" onto the target automatically keeping it in the crosshairs. If the target drifted from the crosshairs, the bombardier could correct using appropriate controls on the bombsight. The sight was properly synchronized if the bombardier successfully zeroed cross track and in track drift. The sight now would calculate the proper "time" of release. Initial computation of drift was done by the Navigator using a device known as a drift meter. This device consisted of a telescope and a direction indicator. A reticule visible through the eyepiece would be rotated until points on the ground moved along the lines of the reticule. The Navigator could then read off the direction of drift and relay that information to the bombardier. Fine adjustments were then made by turning the appropriate knobs on the sight.

The bombardier also controlled the interval of the bombs release. The intervalometer setting would be predetermined by the squadron bombardier and intelligence officer. The type of ordnance, type of target, and its spatial extent were key factors. Hitting a factory, or a hardened target, required a close spacing, while hitting an enemy aerodrome demanded a wider spacing.

During the bomb run lateral control of the aircraft was given to the bombardier, with the bombsight supplying steering information to the autopilot. The pilot maintained control over the altitude and speed of the aircraft, or could give that control to the autopilot as well. Obviously, the pilot had to have steady hand to ensure the altitude and speed remained constant. This could be made difficult in the rising warm, turbulent air encountered over large urban areas.  The turbulence created by the FLAK barrage also added to the problem of calibrating the sight.

Getting to the target required the bombers to fly in a box formation to deny enemy fighters an easy kill by dispersing the bomber squadrons, minimize the fighter's ability to get in among the bombers, and to allow the bombers to put up walls of fire to keep fighters at bay. This also made it difficult for anti-aircraft artillery to concentrate fire on the bomber stream. This spread of aircraft was counter-productive to concentrating ordnance on target. Consequently, the bomber formation had to maneuver to prior to the bomb run to go from squadrons in line abreast to trail. This maneuver, referred to as Pre-IP (PIP), was executed prior to reaching the Initial Point (IP). The low squadron would maneuver to the opposite side, and outboard of the high squadron. When the turn at IP was completed all three squadrons would be in trail and lined up on the target. The IP was located downwind from the target to minimize cross drift. It was also at the IP that the bombardier took control of the aircraft and began the bomb run. From this point, until bombs-away, no evasive action was taken. Chaff (aluminum strips used to reflect RADAR signals) was dropped to hopefully interfere with the operation of radar on the German flak batteries below.  It didn't always succeed --- but it was worth the effort. On a clear day they could visually correct their fire.  But in complete overcast weather the chaff was more successful.

The key to successful bombing was the time allowed the bombardier to locate the target, and calibrate the sight with coordinated hand movements over the various knobs as he watched the target. A major factor affecting the success of this process was visibility: cloud cover, haze and smoke all made it difficult to spot the target reducing the time the bombardier has to calibrate the sight. The bombardier also had to be sensitive to the scale of his corrections, since he was flying in tight formation with other aircraft. Major corrections risked the possibility of disrupting the formation, and possibly causing mid-air collisions.

The job of the bomber crew was to get the bombardier and his bombs to the target. From the IP to the release point, it was all on the bombardier. Time was his ally, and it was always in short supply. The pressure to put ordnance on target, and to get out of the target area was tremendous. It was up to the bombardier to decide whether he had the time to properly set the sight and drop his bombs, to "go around" and try it again (which made him quite unpopular with the rest of the crew and formation), or to head to an alternate target. This decisions was made by the Group Leader for the mission.

Once bombs were away, the pilot took control back from the bombardier and immediately put the aircraft into a shallow dive and a turn to the Rally Point (RP). The pilot dove for 1,000 feet automatically changing altitude into speed, and, with the turn, acted as an evasive maneuver. The squadrons turned to rally in such a way that put the squadrons back in line abreast when the turn was complete.

The above assumes the bombardier has a clear view of the target from the IP until the release point. Not only was the weather, and smoke screens a factor, the aircraft type also played a role. The cramped space in the nose of the B24 made the operation of the bombsight more difficult. The forward view in the 24 was restricted making it all the more difficult to pick out the target. In the B17 there was plenty of room for the bombardier to work and a nearly unobstructed view giving him a better chance of picking out the target sooner, with less help, and buying him more time to perform his job. He also had a seat to sit on, instead of kneeling before the sight. The Sperry sight had one knob on each side.  While the Norden had them both on the same side, making it a little more uncomfortable to operate.

The bombardier had a lot of things working against him. Weather, smoke and haze were things beyond his control, and resulted in many cancelled missions, or the selection of alternate targets. This was a serious problem early in the war, but by the end RADAR would play a key roll in the bombing success of the 8th AAF.

For more information about the Sperry and Norden bombsites, the following link is very enlightening.

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