• U.S.

AIR: Heavy-Gunned Dreadnought

3 minute read

A new conception of the warplane is emerging in Europe. Today it is the Flying Fortress (B17) and Liberator (B-24). Tomorrow it will be the air dreadnought —not only capable of bombing the earth below but able and eager to fight anything aloft.

The present Fortress is such a plane in embryo. But it is only the forerunner. The 1943 planes will have bigger bomb loads (probably ten tons or better), longer ranges, even more anti-fighter fire power. It was to such planes that President Roosevelt referred in part last week when he announced a revision of the U.S. aircraft program. The bulk of U.S. bomber production next year will probably still be in planes like the Fortress and Liberator, but newer types should be going into service before summer.

The designs of the new dreadnoughts owe much to U.S. and British experience in battle. The R.A.F. originally taught the U.S. Army Air Forces to increase the gun power of fighters and bombers. In the 1942 Fortress and Liberator the Army not only taught the British a lesson but dismayed the Luftwaffe over France.

Luftwaffe Shocked. The secret of the Fortress’ power in air combat is its batteries of ten to thirteen .50-caliber Browning machine guns in nose, tail, top and belly turrets.

When Luftwaffe pilots first met the Fortresses, they had a brutal shock. Used to sitting beyond the short range of .30-caliber guns and potting British bombers with their light aircraft cannon, Messerschmitt and Fw-190 pilots found themselves in heavy fire as they approached the U.S. bombers. For a while U.S. commanders had trouble persuading their gunners to fire when the Germans were many hundreds of yards away: the gunners, unused to their high-velocity, long-range weapons, had been trained to wait too long. But they soon learned better, and Fortresses knocked down at least 48 German fighters in one battle over France last month (TIME, Oct. 19). Now the Germans apparently are also learning: they lost only nine fighters in a brush with U.S. bombers last week.

More Shocks? What, if anything, the Army is doing to step up the fire power of its newest bombers is of course a secret. But the normal progression in armament development would be from heavy machine guns to light cannon, with higher velocities and fire speeds than those now generally mounted in aircraft.-

Giving the heavy bomber enough fire power to provide its own protection against enemy fighters—in effect, making the bomber itself a long-range fighter—enormously increases the range and power of offensive air fleets and widens the European area in which Allied armies may operate from Britain with air support. These are changes which may well affect the timing, location and success of the second front.

*An officially released fact is that the Air Forces are already increasing the bomb capacity of the Fortress from its present two to three tons to more than the eight tons now carried by Britain’s great Lancaster bombers.

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