The AAF'S Potent Power Turrets

There are many features aboard Uncle Sam's military aircraft that the Axis leaders would give anything to have, and, next to the bombsight, there is one in particular that is causing them plenty of grief these days.

It is a device known as a power turret.

Why it is causing the Axis no end of worry was pointed out recently at Lowry Field, Denver, CO, where soldiers of Maj Gen Walter R Weaver's Army Air Forces Technical Training Command are being schooled to keep these turrets firing.

The study of turrets is an advanced phase of aerial armament. Lowry Field assigns only the most apt students to classes dealing with this new and potent weapon. The reason for this becomes clear when the general purpose and nature of the power turret are considered.

Technically, a power turret is a gun mount, power operated, which is capable of overcoming the terrific force of the slipstream (air stream driven back by the propellers), thus enabling the gunner to hold a steady aim on his target. This steady aim, or "tracking," is coupled with a sight so effective that it is almost difficult to miss.

There are, of course, a variety of sights, ranging from the simple, non-computing reflector type to the complex, computing sights which solve a variety of problems encountered in air combat, such as range, prediction, ballistics and a number of others.

Turrets of prewar days and of World War I were hand operated. The need for the power-operated turrets was not felt until the advent of high-speed bombardment and fighter aviation. With this development it became impossible, due to the slipstream force, for a gunner to lean out of the cockpit, and with his ring-mounted machine gun get a steady aim at his target.

Today, power turrets have to contend with fighter planes that travel 380 miles and more per hour. They must, therefore, be operated with a source of power other than manual, preferably electric or hydraulic.

Power turrets made their bow in the early '30s, but it was not until the battle of Dunkirk that they proved their value.

In a surprise appearance over the Dunkirk beaches, according to official announcements from the Royal Air Force, 12 Boulton-Paul Defiants, one of the first land-based fighter planes to be armed with a power-operated gun turret, shot down 38 Nazi planes without a loss to themselves. What startled the Nazi airmen was that they were shot down when flying parallel with and at presumably safe distances from British aircraft — an operation made possible only with power-operated gun turrets, of which the Germans knew nothing.

With this and similar experiences to guide them, American designers were encouraged to make turrets an integral part of the US bombardment aviation. That this step was not misplaced has been proved consistently by such battles as those at Midway, the Coral Sea, and over the European and North African theaters. Indeed, turrets have changed the approach of American designers to military aircraft construction.

Turrets are located on the top and bottom of medium and heavy bombers. Some bombers also carry a turret in the tail. This armament, supplemented with flexible waist, nose and tail guns, offers such effective intersecting cones of fire that "blind spots" are eliminated. The firepower thus afforded makes hostile air attack unsafe. No matter from what angle the enemy fighters approach they are subjected to immediate destruction.

The firepower not only enables a bomber to complete its mission and return to its base, but permits it to invite combat with fighter planes. A case of the hunted becoming the hunter. Flying Fortresses, for instance, can venture forth into Hitler-controlled Europe on bombardment missions without fighter escorts, and when the German fighter aircraft rise up to intercept them, the aerial gunners of the B-17s, well protected by armor plating, are ready to meet them with the most concentrated zones of fire modern military science makes possible.

Anxious though our bomber crews are to combat enemy aircraft, their primary function is to drop their bomb load where it will do the most harm. Consequently, it becomes the primary function of power turrets to see that enemy pursuit ships do not stop the bomber.

Training given to the men at Lowry Field who will maintain these turrets is of the most technical and thorough possible, though the men need not be supermen to grasp it. Usually, Lowry officers explain, they are high school graduates with a mechanical turn of mind.

As maintenance men, their job will be to keep turrets in a state of perfection for the aerial operators.

Toward this end, Lowry Field gives them a highly concentrated eight-week course on all the turrets and sights employed by the US Army Air Forces. They are given a comprehensive understanding of the .50-caliber machine gun, ballistics, hydraulics, electricity, controls and a number of other highly technical and scientific subjects.

In brief, they learn all about a turret and how to repair any malfunction of it instantly, for in combat time is priceless.

At the end of their eight-week course, they are graduated and stand ready to be shipped wherever an AAF power turret maintenance man is needed.

This article was originally published in the "Air Services Section" in the March, 1943 issue of Flying magazine, vol 32, no 3, pp 52-53.
The PDF of this article includes three detail photos of the top turret of a B-17.
Photos are not credited.