School for Destruction

by Corporal Jack Angell

He may have come from South Bend, or Hoboken, or New Haven. Maybe he was a shoe clerk, or a coal miner, or a college senior. All that matters now is that he's an American, and he's the man that Lowry Field's famous armament school is training to put the brand of death in the air that will bring defeat to the Axis hordes.

It was Brig Gen Claire Chennault who scanned the bullet-scarred planes of his Flying Tiger-AVG Forces and broadcast the hurried plea, "Send me armorers." That was all. Just send him armorers — men who could put the bombs in the racks, men who could fit the hard-hitting fire in the deadly caliber .50s, men who could make guns speak so that the invader might be silenced.

Gen Chennault's words are typical of a revision of air attitude which has placed a major emphasis on flying firepower. Time was when America's finest flight engineers designed the world's best engines, fitted them to the noses of the world's fastest fuselages — and then threw a few guns on just for kicks. The famous Curtiss P-36 series, standard pursuit equipment for the US Air Forces until the very brink of the war, was equipped with but two small-caliber-.30 machine guns synchronized to fire through the propeller. The Boeing P-26 series, considered to be the fastest, most efficient pursuit plane in the flying-fighting business for its time, was also armed sparsely with but a couple of .30s.

Yesterday afternoon's Curtiss series of attack planes, forerunners of this morning's low-skimming scavenger planes — complete arsenals of death — were by comparison as scantily clad in armament as a Gypsy Rose Lee classic.

The current concept — a concept which makes Lowry Field's mammoth school of armament a major Air Force factor — is in many ways a complete reversal of former flight engineering precepts. Today the trend indicates an attempt to ascertain the firepower first — and then throw the plane around the guns. The Bell P-39 Airacobra is a good example. The Airacobra is equipped with a 37- or 20-mm cannon in its nose, two caliber-.50s synchronized to fire through the propeller arc, and four caliber-.30 guns mounted on the wings. The Lockheed P-38, twin-nacelled Lightning is armored with a 37- or 20-mm cannon and four .50-caliber machine guns — all free-firing and unhampered by synchronization slowdown. The dependable Curtiss P-40 series, standby of allied pursuit power in this war, is now fronted by six calibre-.50s fixed in rakish firepower fashion on the wings. The new Republic P-47, reputed to be the fastest ship in the world, has "six or more" .50s free-firing in salvo from the wings. Somebody is gonna get hurt! The British Hurricane interceptor has long boasted of four 20-mm cannon, and has proved successful not only in matching German Stuka and Messerschmitt firepower, but has also been effective in sinking small enemy ships in coastal raids.

Then take a look at today's bombers. The old army bombers, considered dreadnaughts until the late 30s, were lumber barges alongside the modern array of Uncle Sam's bombardment fleet. Huge Flying Fortresses move with the speed of most pursuit planes, and are capable of carrying almost four tons of bombs. A tremendous range makes the Flying Fortress even more formidable because the distance the load can be carried is even more important than the tonnage of destruction. Defending it is virtually a flying munitions plant. Two calibre-.50s move in an encompassing arc from the tail turret; four more .50s are swiveled from upper and lower power-turrets; still an- other pair of .50s spit fire from the side openings, and a smaller .30 is available to the bombardier in the front compartment. Guns alone on this plane constitute a major weight problem — but they make it one of the world's most efficient death merchants.

The new Consolidated B-24 carries much the same armament as its Fortress cousin — and even a half-ton more bombs. Its duck-like waddle on the runway belies its swift grace and amazing firepower. The waning Douglas B-18 series, still potent and fast, carries four tons of bombs; and if its big brother, the B-19, is perfected for heavy duty you'll have a ship that holds enough eggs to wipe Tokyo off the map in one sitting — with Grant's Tomb tucked away in the bomb bay just for balance!

General Doolittle's North American B-25 is supposed to be just a "medium" bomber, but it has a wide cruising range at high speed, plus a man-sized armament complement. It carries 3,000 pounds of bombs and is defended by four .50s (distributed effectively in two turrets over the surface of the fuselage) and a single "flexible" .30.

These are just a few representative examples of what America's fathers of firepower are turning out these days. Thousands of armorers are needed to care for the guns and bombs, to maintain the costly control equipment and to keep the aircraft's firepower in top fighting shape.

That guy we were telling you about a while ago — the guy from South Bend, Hoboken, or somewhere — well, he's the gent that Lowry Field's armament school is training to take care of the bombs and guns and bullets that will clear the skies for American air supremacy. With all due respect to the pilot, God bless 'im, this soldier on the ground, to date grossly underrated, holds the key to aerial victory. One round well placed in a machine gun chamber, one gun alive with fire, one bomb well fused, can mean a difference between win or lose. On the level, this guy, unsung and unheralded, is a mighty important cog in America's war machine.

He gets the best training that aircraft science can give him and the Air Forces make sure that he has the ability to consume the knowledge that they dish out to him. He came from an Air Forces Basic Training center — perhaps Sheppard Field, TX; Keesler Field, MS; Jefferson Barracks, MO, or one of several newer stations. There, he was earmarked for an Air Forces Technical School because his general Army Intelligence test put him in a top bracket, and because he passed an additional technical test that classified him as eligible for technical school. He expressed a preference for armament because he wanted plenty of action — fast.

So he came to Lowry. He went to school eight hours every day for three months under experienced instructors using the latest equipment for his enlightenment.

He started out on the so-called Basic phases. He learned the fundamentals of electricity and how they are used in aircraft. He learned what happens when the pilot presses the trips of his guns and bomb racks; he learned what a solenoid assembly is — and how to energize it. He learned about relay switches, magnetic control and a dozen other phases of electrical armament that he never dreamed had existed.

Soon after, his instructors versed him in the art of chemical warfare. Before long he knew the rudiments of using and filling gas bombs, how to decontaminate a surface, and principles of self-protection. From there he went into the classrooms of Ammunitions and Explosives. He picked up a knowledge of bullets and bombs — what they are, what goes into them, and what they are used for. A course in Small Arms came next, and here he learned the mechanisms and parts of the standard army weapons, the calibre .45 pistol, the Springfield and Garand rifles, and the Browning automatic. A study of these formed a valuable background for an understanding of the more complicated machine gun and aerial cannon course to come.

In the machine gun course, the first phase of his advanced studies, he was schooled for three weeks in the mechanism, the maintenance and operation of the aircraft machine gun. He dismantled it in competition with his classmates, he studied the ingenuity of a man who had applied himself to machine guns years ago — a man named Browning, and he shot it on the range with an eagle eye towards spotting malfunctions. Here, too, he learned the operation of the 20- and 37-mm cannon, and the intricacies of the precisioned nose fuse which makes it one of aircraft's most potent weapons.

By this time one out of every four of his classmates has washed out. The tests have been frequent and exacting, the class work rigorous — because it's no cinch to be the kind of an armorer Uncle Sam needs.

Later in his advanced phases he learned about the construction and maintenance of gun sights and bomb racks with their maze of restricted details. He went out on "the line," which is airmen's terminology for the hangar and apron area where the planes are housed and serviced. Here he spent three weeks, and picked up actual experience in synchronizing machine-gun fire. He put in hard hours loading and fusing the practice bombs, overhauling the guns, inspecting the racks, belting the rounds, and performing a myriad of countless other duties that are the "practicing armorer's." After his three weeks on the line, the school officials handed him his diploma and he stands by — ready to be shipped to one of America's tactical outfits.

The $2,300 his government has spent on him will pay dividends.

If he had top grades, and a technical aptitude, he may be retained and sent to Lowry's Power Turret school. The current concept of operating fixed guns from revolving turrets, harmonized with the precision of the gun sights, has become an important phase of bomber defense, and Lowry is training thousands of men for adequate maintenance and turret repair.

Any night in the week, you'll see the lights burning along armament row at Lowry. Three shifts operate on a 24-hour basis for the three months' duration of the course. Men are learning a technical lore at all hours of the day and night. In the middle 1920s when the school was founded at Chanute Field, IL, there was only one shift, and a short one. Armament training was in its experimental stage then. In February, 1938, the armament division was transferred to Lowry Field under the direction of Capt Herbert W Anderson, now Lt Col Anderson, Executive Officer at the Air Forces Gunnery School at Las Vegas, NV. A dozen officers have headed it since. At present, Lt Col William F Day, a soldier-scholar with long years of Air Forces technical experience behind him, is the school's director.

Since the late 30s, hundreds of armament students have grown into thousands, and thousands have grown into many thousands. Besides being a major Air Forces phase in itself, Lowry's armament school is a prep for the Air Forces Aerial Gunnery School at Las Vegas. Graduation from armament school is fast becoming a prerequisite for admission to aerial gunnery. A soldier should know his gun before he shoots it. Lowry soldiers do, and consequently man the guns in many of the Allies' ace flying outfits. Lowry men won hero awards with Doolittle in his Tokyo venture; Lowry men have poured hot lead on the Luftwaffe in North Sea encounters; Lowry men today are even a significant part of the air battle of Egypt. It is safe to predict that they will follow the destinies of the Allied air fleet wherever it goes.

The men with the wings on their tunics fly 'em all right, but you can lay a very decent bet that it's the armorers who drive thumbtacks in that Keep 'Em Flying sign. For made right here at Lowry are the men who put the sting in the speed of American flying power; the men who turn air into death-disciples of the Great God Fire-Power!

This article was originally published in the October, 1942, issue of Air Tech magazine, vol 1, no 1, pp 35-37, 56.
The original article includes 8 captioned photos.
Photos are not credited, but are surely AAF.

Photo captions: