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ErikB

Swordfish TAGs and their Vickers MG's

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The OP was asking about 860 Sqn. on MAC ships. If you wanted flak suppression, you asked for a Wildcat.

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I recall reading about an incident when a Swordfish rear gun let a shot go while the TAG was stowing it in the rear fuselage.

Seems Swordfish on Fleet Carriers were stowed in the hangar and the armourers did the job, as you say.

Claudio

I think you will find not only in the FAA on carriers, but in general with RAF also.

I recall speaking to a Sunderland pilot who flew both with 270 Squadron and 490(NZ) Squadron, and he stated quite categorically, that apart from changing the ammunition cans on the VGO's or changing belts on the stern quads, the squadron armourers took care of any movement in/out of the aircraft and servicing/replenishing while the aircraft were on the water or even beached. That also included fixed forward firing guns also in the Sunderland (Mk III/a/V).

Alan

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Don't be silly. I haven't described any of those as "ridiculously small firepower" so wind your neck in.

Hi, Nick,

Of course not. I have. But the answer you got is most relevant. I wouldn't do what you propose even were you armed with just a .22 revolver. We are not talking about firing a VGO from a stable position to a defenceless target in a gun range. We are talking about seriously thinking about doing fire suppression with it, aiming at a warship, returning fire with heavier firepower to a more vulnerable (if elusive) target. REgards.

FErnando

EDIT: the case you mention should be that of Richthofen. I really think it is an entirely different proposition. Even so "small arms return fire" is a serious haphazard to strike planes even today.

Edited by Fernando

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The point is not that the Swordfish gunner is choosing to fight in this manner - who would indeed - it is that the Swordfish is already being shot at by the U-boat crew and however powerful their armament, a well-aimed burst of machine-gun fire will kill the gunners or at least put them off their aim. They are in the open air, not sheltered in that steel tube. Plus there is a considerable psychological boost for the Swordfish crew.

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The point is not that the Swordfish gunner is choosing to fight in this manner - who would indeed - it is that the Swordfish is already being shot at by the U-boat crew and however powerful their armament, a well-aimed burst of machine-gun fire will kill the gunners or at least put them off their aim. They are in the open air, not sheltered in that steel tube. Plus there is a considerable psychological boost for the Swordfish crew.

Hi, Graham,

Agreed! That's why (as I said earlier) I find entirely reasonable that the aircraft crew did let go with whatever they had at hand. But a deliberate and concerted effort to suppress fire as a routine tactic looks very arguably to me. The follow up of that reasoning is that if any gain could be made from removing the (unused) gun, it would probably be removed.

FErnando

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That TAG's did engage U-boats is known. For example 13,April 1940 Second Battle of Narvik, Swordfish from HMS Warspite floatplane L9767 engaged U-64 inside Herjangs Fiord attacking with 250 lb bombs and LAC M.G.Pacey raking the conning tower. They sunk the first U boat by an aircraft in WW2. The pilot got a DSM, the Observer a DSC and the poor TAG nothing as usual.

Hi, JohnT,

I know that an airman would fire at the enemy with whatever he has at hand no matter distance or probable effects; it's just a natural reaction. But what we were talking is about carrying the gun, which presupposes an established operative procedure or tactic of making supression fire with it.

BTW, did U-Boats have any AA armament that early in the war?

Fernando

Edited by Fernando

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I suspect that the U-64 didn't have any AA, but suppressing the role of the crew guiding the submarine in restricted waters would still be valuable. However, I must admit my comment was more directed at the MAC Swordfish in the main discussion.

But let's not forget that military action is directed at killing people. If the U-64 had escaped unharmed but the TAG had killed the Commanding Officer, that would still have been a useful action in military terms.

Edited by Graham Boak

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Hi, gentlemen,

A final reflection on the matter, not involving the VGO but the forward-firing Browning. Were not MGs used as aiming or at least ranging devices for the firing of RPs? Like in Hurri IVs?

Fernando

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I suspect that the U-64 didn't have any AA, but suppressing the role of the crew guiding the submarine in restricted waters would still be valuable. However, I must admit my comment was more directed at the MAC Swordfish in the main discussion.

Hi, Graham,

Agreed again. But what I was thinking was about the returning fire (or lack of) the Swordfish crew might have been receiving. Peppering the conning tower of a sub which cannot return fire is an entirely different proposition than doing so to a flak-bustling one. In the first case, as you say, whatever weak own's firepower might be, it might be worthy. And safe.

Fernando

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This topic sent me back to the bookshelves for a read of the chapter on this weapon in The Guns of the Royal Air Force 1939-1945 by GF Wallace. It seems to have proved a very satisfactory weapon and in some respects superior to the Browning for reliability and far easier to maintain. It's problem comes with its inability to be used in multi gun turrets. The author describes it as an excellent gun in itself and in some ways superior to the Browning and Hispano guns. He does not elaborate further to explain his comment as regards the Hispano.

That TAG's did engage U-boats is known. For example 13,April 1940 Second Battle of Narvik, Swordfish from HMS Warspite floatplane L9767 engaged U-64 inside Herjangs Fiord attacking with 250 lb bombs and LAC M.G.Pacey raking the conning tower. They sunk the first U boat by an aircraft in WW2. The pilot got a DSM, the Observer a DSC and the poor TAG nothing as usual.

A further issue was that the K was less amenable to synchronisation than the Browning, and the drum would have limited utility in fixed mounts. A number of Gladiators were originally built with K's in the wing mounts: better than the Lewis but less effective than the Browning there. The Browning had a reputation for being hard work - the US Navy found that their 0.30" version on flexible mounts took an inordinate amount of upkeep.

The Hispano had a reputation early on for feed issues, I think. The aircraft versions had been designed for engine-mounted applications and the reduced rigidity of wing mounts had an impact.

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Even so "small arms return fire" is a serious haphazard to strike planes even today.

Precisely. The rear gun was primarily a defensive weapon but it was routine in most air forces for rear gunners to fire at a ship or land target as they egressed from attacking it. Well aimed fire and an effective fall of shot were still lethal and discouraging. A .303 round in the face would be unlikely to be described as "ridiculous" or "small" by its victim.

"Seahawk" missed my point in his eagerness to score one.

Regards

Nick

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A bit off topic, but having just read Carey's book on the PB4Y-1 in GB (http://www.schifferbooks.com/u-s-navy-pb4y-1-b-24-liberator-squadrons-in-great-britain-during-world-war-ii-488.html), I was wondering how effective the Swordfish was? The PB4Y-1's could be considered marginal having only sunk 5 u-boats in 2 years, for loss of 10 aircrews to all causes. What was the kill to loss ratio for the Swordfish on MAC ships? Overall?

Tim

The effectiveness of air power against the U-Boat threat wasn't just in terms of submarines sunk by aircraft. Spotting of submarines that were then attacked by ships was common, and the simple effect that air power had in forcing U-Boats to remain submerged, eroding their effectiveness at locating and approaching targets was very significant.

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Very true: the true measure of effectiveness of ASW aircraft is the number of merchant ships not sunk. This value can be seen by comparing losses in convoys without aircraft, to those in ones with.

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Very true: the true measure of effectiveness of ASW aircraft is the number of merchant ships not sunk. This value can be seen by comparing losses in convoys without aircraft, to those in ones with.

Forcing the U boat submerge was a success. A submerged U boat was slower than most convoys and would lose contact, and it couldn't charge its batteries properly which limited its radus of action.

When the homing torpedo came in to use later in the war, forcing it to submerge was the aim as it turned the sub into vulnerable target!

Selwyn

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I had considered that. I've read that simply transmitting the radar would submerge a Soviet sub and cause it to go quiet. I also read the Germans submariners did not realize until very late that allied ASW had radar. High command did but didn't share it, so Uboat commanders were ignorant of the means that aircraft found them so easily; but they were reporting strange radio signals just prior to contact.

Air ASW tactics are fascinating in their development during the war. The allies actually had most of the same technologies used during the Cold War (albeit more reliable, later) but training and tactics had not yet matured enough to get the most out of it until very late.

Tim

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The U-boat commanders were not only aware, but from August 1942 the boats were actually fitted with a clumsy array to detect the early ASV signals. See Metox http://uboat.net/technical/detectors.htm. These were however entering service at a time when the centimetric ASV was arriving on the Allied side, and were not be able to detect this. They were replaced by Naxos. I suspect that this is what you are remembering.

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Lord Kilbracken, " Bring back my Stringbag" P.107

"Charles Simpson was our "gunner" as by force of habit our wireless operators were still ludicrously known - of course we had no guns."
​The occasion he describes is joining F Flight, 836 Sqn for MAC ship Acavus.

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The OP was asking about 860 Sqn. on MAC ships. If you wanted flak suppression, you asked for a Wildcat.

They didn`t have Wildcats available on MAC Ships,.....just three or four Swordfish stowed on deck or in a small hangar on some vessels depending on whether it carried oil or grain. It was the Escort Carriers which used a squadron of Swordfish (or Avengers) with Wildcats,....although Sea Hurri`s were originally used.

Cheers

Tony

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On 25/08/2016 at 4:26 PM, Greenshirt said:

A bit off topic, but having just read Carey's book on the PB4Y-1 in GB (http://www.schifferbooks.com/u-s-navy-pb4y-1-b-24-liberator-squadrons-in-great-britain-during-world-war-ii-488.html), I was wondering how effective the Swordfish was? The PB4Y-1's could be considered marginal having only sunk 5 u-boats in 2 years, for loss of 10 aircrews to all causes. What was the kill to loss ratio for the Swordfish on MAC ships? Overall?

Tim

 

That depends on whether you equate effectiveness with kills, or with stopping the enemy from doing their attacks.  The Swordfish patrolling around convoys kept countless U-boats submerged and thus reduced their chances hugely.  Look at the stats for convoys with and without air cover - especially Russian convoys, but also in mid-Atlantic - if you doubt me.  And the Swordfish was pretty much the only aircraft that could operate off decks as small and lively as MACs in seas like that.  

 

Edit: sorry; Mitch K has already made the same point!

Edited by Ex-FAAWAFU

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Hi!

Speaking from a top of my head I vaguely remember reading somewhere that MAC Swordfishes sunk one submarine - and it was an own goal as the sub was either Dutch or French. They had, however, damaged several Kriegsmarine submarines during their career. However, it would be a moot point to calculate loss to kill ratio even if the unfortunate submarine would be German as on grain MAC ships there were no hangars and write-offs due to elements were the main cause of losses.

Debate about a value of TAG's machine gun jogged my memory about Afghan war use of Il-28. IIRC there was an article which claimed that after experiencing relatively high losses among strike aircraft early on, Soviets resorted to adding a single Afghan air force Il-28 as a sort of rear end Charlie. Following strike planes over the target, her rear gunner let off his two 23-mm cannons upon pulling up to make sure mujahedins kept their heads down. Not quite positive about the story (it has been more than thirty years since I read it), but it makes sense. Cheers

Jure

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