Bombs Weapons Rockets Aircraft Ordnance
Introduction to Aircraft Ordnance
At the beginning of the war bombs were of considerably better design
than the crude high-explosive packed artillery shells of the Great War.
But there was still a great deal of room for improvement. The majority
of bombs dropped during the war were high-explosive (general purpose)
bombs of 250, 500 or 1,000 lbs. Incendiary devices, essentially thermite
or magnesium burning at 1200 F or higher saw extensive use as well.
These relatively small 2, 4, or 30 lb weapons were often dropped in huge
numbers using cluster bombs. Cluster bombs contain many smaller bombs
or submunitions which spill out when close to the ground to cover a
large area. Anti-personnel attacks frequently relied on fragmentation
bombs and fragmentation cluster bombs which send lethal metal fragments
flying in all directions.
As the war went on some special purpose bombs were developed such as the Upkeep dam-busting bomb and the ‘Gland Slam’ and Tallboy deep penetration bombs. In general bombs of heavier weight and blast came into greater use as the war continued.
Bombs can be as small as a few kg, but the largest one ever dropped in
combat weighed 10 tonnes (22,000lb). Common modern bomb sizes are 225,
450, and 900 kg (500, 1,000, and 2,000lb).
Bombs can be categorized according to their effects:
- High-explosive. High-explosive (HE) bombs are also known as "general purpose" (GP) bombs and achieve destructive effect through direct
explosive blast. They are about 50% explosive by weight, and are
effective against most classes of targets that have not been "hardened"
A variety of explosive mixtures based on traditional high explosives (such
as TNT, RDX, PETN and so on) can be used for the explosive filler.
- Penetration and armor-piercing. Penetration bombs are generally similar to GP bombs, but use hardened cases to allow them to penetrate earth and
fortified targets. They only contain about 25% to 30% explosive by
They achieve penetration due to high speed and mass. The kinetic energy
of a large penetration bomb can punch through manym of earth and
reinforced concrete. They have delayed fuzes that prevent them from
detonating until they have come to rest.
Armor-piercing bombs are similar, but not necessarily as streamlined or
heavy. They are generally used for attacking armored naval vessels.
- Fragmentation. Traditional fragmentation bombs were small unitary bombs that were built with a casing that shattered on detonation into splinters
to attack exposed troops, light vehicles, and other "soft" targets.
Fragmentation bombs are generally in the form of cluster bomb
submunitions, and may consist of grenade-like balls that are encased in
plastic impregnated with ball bearings; "combined effects" submunitions
that incorporate splintering cases along with anti-armor and incendiary
effects; or submunitions that blast out a cloud of small metal darts,
known as "flechettes" (French for "little arrow").
- Incendiary. These munitions destroy by starting fires. They may contain a metallic incendiary material that burns at a very high temperature, or
an incendiary gel ("napalm") that flows over a target as it burns.
Incendiary metals include zirconium, magnesium, aluminum, titanium, and
depleted uranium. Thermite, which is a combination of iron rust and
aluminum, is particularly popular as an incendiary.
Napalm derives its name from its original thickening agent, sodium
palmitrate ("Na-palm") but most modern napalm actually uses polystyrene as
a thickener. Generally napalm bombs are simply stored as empty tanks, and
then "fueled" with napalm before use.
bombs, and illumination and marking flares. These are relatively specialized
munitions and will not be considered further in this short document.
There are three main sections to the overall structure of an aerial bomb:
the bomb body that contains the destructive payload, a tail section that
provides fins and other aerodynamic devices, and one or more detonating
fuzes, which can be at the front, back, or sides of the bomb.
These parts are often made in an interchangeable fashion, allowing a bomb
body to be fitted with different fuzes or tail sections.
The bomb body varies in size, of course, and varies in structure depending on
whether the bomb is a GP bomb, penetrating bomb, cluster bomb, and so on. In
most cases the tail section simply consists of a set of fins that stabilize
the bomb’s fall. However, with bombs designed to be dropped at low altitude,
the tail section provides some sort of drag-producing mechanism to ensure
that the bomb falls well behind the launch aircraft before it hits the
ground. Bombs so equipped are called "retarded" bombs.
In comparison to the bomb body and tail section, fuzing is a complicated and
diverse subject. Fuzing is characterized by the means by which the bomb is
armed and the parameter that causes the fuze to detonate the bomb. Arming
- A small propeller, or "arming vane", that spins a certain number of rotations after release to arm the bomb.
- An arming pin that is withdrawn by bomb release.
- An inertial fuze, used on retarded bombs, that is armed by the deployment
of brake fins or ballute.
- An electric fuze that is armed by a time-delay circuit, set into operation
by a arming lanyard that is extracted by bomb release.
Detonation parameters include:
- Impact fuzes — that is, the bomb explodes when it hits something. Impact
fuzes can be mounted in bomb’s nose or tail; a tail-mounted fuze is often used on penetrating munitions, as a nose-mounted fuze would be destroyed by impact. There are also "all-ways" fuzes that can detonate on impact at
any angle, and which are generally used on napalm bombs and other unfinned bombs.
A variation on the simple impact fuze is the "daisy cutter" fuze, which
resembles of a long rod mounted on the nose of an HE or fragmentation
bomb. A daisy cutter allows the bomb to go off before it buries itself in
the ground, generating greater blast effect.
Impact fuzes may also have a short time delay, particularly in penetrator
bombs. This allows the bomb to penetrate the target before detonating.
- Time fuzes, which are set into action when the bomb is released and may have delays of hours to days. They are used to impede the efforts of
damage-control teams, or to harass enemy forces trying to pass through a
location after a bomb raid.
- Proximity fuzes, which contain a small radar set that triggers the bomb at a predetermined height above the ground.
- Hydrostatic fuzes, which go off at a certain depth under water. Such fuzes are generally used in depth charges.
- Magnetic, seismic, and acoustic fuzes, which sense the passage of a large object like a ship or tank and then detonate, allowing the bomb to act as
a mine. In US terminology, bombs so fitted are often called "destructor
as a mine may also have a time fuze so that it will self-destruct after a
period of time, either to harass an enemy, or to prevent it from being a
hazard to advancing friendly forces.
|Explosive||Main ingredients or chemical name||Remarks|
|Cyclotrimethylene trinitranmine||WW2 and still widely used, often mixed with TNT|
|Toluene, nitric acid||Main high-explosive used during WW2|
|Torpex||TNT, RDX, aluminum||Torpedoes and bombs|
|Amatol||TNT, ammonium nitrate||Shell and bomb filling in WW1 and WW2|
|Mercuric fulminate||Mercury, alcohol, nitric acid||Very sensitive, often used in bomb fuses|
|Lead azide||Lead, nitrogen||Substitute for mercuric fulminate|
(Lyddite, melinite, trinitrophenol)
|Phenol, sulfuric acid, nitric acid||Main Allied shell-filling in WW1|
|Ammonium picrate||Pricic acid, ammonium||Filling for anti-tank shells|
During the years following the Great War bombs were still thought of as
little more than artillery shells dropped from airplanes. In 1937 a new
series of bombs was adopted by the RAF which were aerodynamically shaped
with tail fins, far more suited to being carried and dropped from
aircraft. These came in a variety of ‘sizes’ from 40 lb bombs to 250 and
500 lb bombs. For the first two years of the war Bomber Command relied
heavily on 250 lb and 500 lb GP high explosive bombs.
Bombs were classified by their CWR (Charge-to-Weight-Ratio) the
percentage of explosive compared to the gross weight of the weapon. GP
(General Purpose) bombs had a CWR of 30-35% meaning that most of the
weight of these bombs consisted of metal casing not explosive. When it
was realized that the weight of the bomb casing is a necessary evil,
something to be reduced as much as possible this led to the development
of new weapons such as the 4,000 HC (‘Block Buster’) which greatly
increased the offensive power of RAF’s bombers.
MC (Medium Capacity) bombs had a CWR of 40-50% while HC (High Capacity)
weapons had a CWR of 75-80%, the latter being essentially explosive
packed metal drums. Extensive aerodynamic streamlining was dispensed
with since these bombs were carried internally. As already mentioned the
4,000 lb ‘Block Buster’ or ‘Cookie’ was a very effective weapon in this
class and after its introduction rapidly became a mainstay of Bomber
GP – General Purpose CWR 30-35%
MC – Medium-Capacity CWR 40-50%
HC – High-Capacity CWR 75-80%
DP – Deep Penetration
AP – Armour Piercing
SAP – Semi-Armour Piercing
HE – High Explosive
I – Incendiary
SBC – Small Bomb Containers
TI – Target Indicator (airborne pyrotechnic stores)
PFF – Path Finder Force
RP – Rocket Projectile
A/S – Anti-Submarine
CWR – Charge-to-Weight Ratio
Nickels – Propaganda leafets dropped by air.
White Bomb – attack with propoganda leafets.
Gardening – Code-name for missions laying mines (known as cucumbers)
4 lb hexagonal stick magnesium incendiary
30 lb incendiary bomb
120 lb GP bomb – Standard inter-war bomb, used at start of World War II
40 lb GP/HE bomb
250 lb GP/HE bomb
500 lb GP/HE bomb
500 lb MC bomb
1,000 lb MC bomb
1,900 lb GP/HE bomb
2,000 lb MC bomb
4,000 lb MC bomb
4,000 lb HC/HE bomb ‘Cookie’
4,000 lb Pink Pansy
4,000 lb Red Spot Fire
8,000 lb HC bomb
US M41 20lb Fragmentation bomb
US M34 2000lb General Purpose bomb
Red Spot Fire – 4,000 lb incendiary bomb used as a target marker
Lancasters dropped no fewer than 217,640 1,000-pound bombs between 1942 and 1945.
First use Stats:
2,000 lb HE bomb – 7 May 1940 – by Coastal Command Beaufort
2,000 lb HE/SAP bomb – 1/2 July 1940 – Bomber Command dropped Hampden, on Kiel.
4,000 lb HE/HC (‘Cookie’) ‘block buster’ bomb – 1 April 1941 – two Wellingtons, against Emden.
8,000 lb HE/HC bomb – 1942 – Halifax first to use weapon operationally. Early September first 8,000 lb bombs became availible.
250 lb TI (Target Indicating) bomb – 16/17 January 1943 – by PFF against Berlin.
12,000 lb HE/HC bomb – 15/16 September 1943 – 617 Squadron, against Dortmund-Ems Canal.
12,000 lb HE/DP (‘Tallboy’) bomb – 8/9 June 1944 – 617 Squadron, against Saumur Tunnel.
22,000 lb HE/DP (‘Grand Slam’) bomb – 14 March 1945 – 617 Squadron, against Bielefeld Viaduct.
10-11 September 1942 – 4,000 lb ‘Pink Pansy’ incendiary bomb used as a
target marker with a load of Benzol, rubber and phosphorus, dropped by
Bomber Command on Dusseldorf.
A “cookie” or “blockbuster” was a 4,000 lb high capacity bomb. The RAF
“heavies” dropped large numbers of these high-explosive bombs along with
The RAF developed a 8,000 lb high-capacity bomb which was first used on Feb 10, 1942.
Tallboy and Earthquake Deep Penetration Bombs
These massive bombs designed by Dr. Barnes Wallis came near the speed
of sound during descent being streamlined and equipped with angled fins
that produced spin. Penetrating the ground before exploding they worked
by setting off shock waves that would bring down nearby structures. The
12,000 lb (5443 kg) Tallboy dropped from 20,000 ft (6096m) made a 80 ft
(24m) deep crater 100 ft (30m) across and could go through 16 ft (4.88m)
of concrete. On June 8-9, 1944 eight Lancaster bombers
of No. 617 Squadron used the deep penetration Tallboy bomb in an attack
against the Saumur Rail Tunnel. The new weapon proved its worth but at
the cost of losing 5 of the 8 bombers
on this mission. Eventually 854 Tallboy bombs were used, the most
note-worthy mission resulting in the destruction of the battleship
Tirpitz. The Grand Slam (Earthquake) bomb was of the same design as the
Tallboy but larger and heavier weighing 22,000 lb (9972 kg.) The Grand
Slam was first used on March 14, 1945 when a force of Lancaster bombers
led by Royal Air Force Squadron Leader C.C. Calder attacked the
Bielefeld railway viaduct destroying two spans. In another attack
against submarine pens near Bremen two Grand Slams pentrated over 7m (23
ft) of reinforced concrete before exploding causing the collapse of the
entire concrete ceiling. 41 Grand Slam Bombs were dropped by the end of
the war mainly against bridges and viaducts.
- Name: Tallboy
- Type: Deep Penetration Bomb
- Length: 21 ft (6.4 m)
- Diameter: 38 in (0.97 m)
- Weight: 12,000 lb (5,443 kg)
- Warhead: 5,200 lb (2,360 kg) Torpex explosive
- Number Used: 854
- Name: Grand Slam (Earthquake) Bomb
- Type: Deep Penetration Bomb
- Length: 26 ft 6 in (7.7 m)
- Diameter: 3 ft, 10 in (1.17 m)
- Tail Section length: 13 ft, 6 in (4.11 m)
- Weight: 22,000 lb (9972 kg)
- Warhead: 9,135 lb (4144 kg) Torpex explosive
- Number Used: 41
British 30-lb incendiary bomb
British 120-lb GP bomb
Standard inter-war bomb, used at the start of World War 2
British 250-lb Middle Capacity GP bomb
Standard inter-war bomb
British 500-lb GP bomb
Standard inter-war bomb
British 500-lb Medium-Case (MC) Mk III bomb
The MC bomb proved more effective than the ealier GP bombs, due to a
higher filling:weight ratio. It was widely used by tactical aircraft,
the 500-lb type also finding applications on heavy bomber aircraft.
British 4,000-lb ‘Cookie’
The Cookie is one of the demolition weapons employed by the RAF.
Two 4,000-lb ‘Cookies’ bolted together
British 12000-lb High Capacity (HC) bomb
Three 4,000-lb ‘Cookies’ bolted together, not to be confused with the Tallboy deep penetration bomb.
British 12000-lb ‘Tallboy’ Deep Penetration Bomb
Could only be carried by the Avro Lancaster.
British 22000-lb ‘Grand Slam’ bomb
Could only be carried by the Avro Lancaster.
US M41 20-lb Fragmentation bomb
US M34 2000-lb General Purpose bomb
SC = SPRENGBOMBE CYLINDRICH (thin cased general purpose).
PC = PANZERBOMBE CYLINDRICH (armour piercing).
SD = SPRENGBOMBE DICKWANDIG (thick cased semi-armour piercing).
LC = LICHT CYLINDRISCHE (LC 50 parachute flare).
SC = SPRENGBOMBE CYLINDRICH – designed for maximum blast effect having a
high charge-to-weight ratio of 55 per cent explosive SC bombs were used
primarily for general demolition. Approximately 8 out of 10 of German
high explosive bombs dropped on the U.K. were of the SC type. Sizes
included 50 kg, 250 kg, 500 kg, 1000 kg “Hermann”, and the 1800 kg
“Satan”. There was even a 2500 kg type although rarely used.
PC = PANZERBOMBE CYLINDRICH – Having a charge-to-weight ratio of 20%
explosive, because of their penetration qualities they were used
primarily against ships and fortifications. The 1400 kg “Fritz” is a
good example of this type.
SD = SPRENGBOMBE DICKWANDIG – Medium cased steel weapons and, being
either anti-personnel or semi-armour piercing, had a charge-to-weight
ratio of 35 per cent explosive; 50, 250, 500 and 1700 kg versions.
LC = LICHT CYLINDRISCHE – About the same size as a conventional SC 50
bomb, hence its designation “50″. Used for target illumination and
marking at night.
The 1000 kg Luft Mine B was normally employed, and as such was
designated Bomben B when used against land targets. During 1941 a new
weapon, the BM 1000 “Monika”, made its appearance. This consisted of the
sea mine LMB, but fitted with a bomb tail unit, designed to be dropped
like a conventional bomb without a parachute.
U.S. Bomb Types:
The most devastating conventional bomb used by the Americans was the
M-69 incendiary cluster. The first B-29 raids against the Japanese
mainland were performed in the fall of 1944, using high-altitude
daylight precision bombing with high-explosive bombs. For several
reasons, this strategy proved ineffective, and by the spring of 1945
operations switched to low-level incendiary bombing at night.
The M-69 firebomb had been developed earlier in the war and proved ideal
for the task of burning Japanese cities to the ground. The M-69 was a
simple weapon, shaped like a long tin can and weighing just 2.3 kg
(6.2lb). Since dropping quantities of individual bombs from high
altitude would be wildly inaccurate – it was designed to be incorporated
into an “aimable cluster”, a type of cluster bomb that contained 38 of
the M-69 firebombs.
Aimable clusters would be released over the target and break apart at
about 900m (2,000 ft) altitude, scattering their M-69s. Each M-69 would
then eject a long strip of cloth to orient itself and crash nose-first
into the buildings below. On impact the payload of napalm would ignite
and shoot out of the tail of the bomb in a burning jet. Under ideal
conditions, this jet could extend 45m (100 ft).
|Name||Type||Bomb Weight||HE Weight|
|AN-M30||GP||100 lb||54 lb|
|AN-M57||GP||250 lb||123 lb|
|AN-M64||GP||500 lb||262 lb|
|AN-M65||GP||1,000 lb||530 lb|
|AN-M66||GP||2,000 lb||1,051 lb|
|AN-M56||Light Case||4,000 lb||3,245 lb|
|AN-Mk1||Armor-Piercing||1,600 lb||215 lb|
|M47A1||Wh. Phosphorous||100 lb||Used Mainly in Europe During Last 6 months of War|
|M47A2||Jellied Oil||100 lb||Most Widely Used Incendiary by U.S.|
|M50||Magnesium||4 lb||Used Mainly in Europe|
|M52||Magnesium||2 lb||Used Mainly in Europe|
|M69||Jellied Oil||6 lb||-|
|M17||Magnesium||500 lb Cluster of 110 M50||Most widely used Incendiary by 8th and 15th Air Forces|
|M19||Jellied Oil||220 lb Cluster of 36 M69||Dropped in Huge Numbers During Fire Raids On Japan|
SBC – Small Bomb Containers
Each container held 236 x 4-lb or 24 x 30-lb incendiaries.
A Lancaster bomber could carry a maximum of 14 SBCs. This means that
every Lancaster over a target could dispense up to 3,304 x 4-lb (13,216
lbs) or 336 x 30-lb (10,080 lbs) incendiary bombs. Another load-out for
the Lancaster that is more representative is 1 x 4,000-lb HE bomb plus
Napalm essentially “jellied” gasoline saw its first combat use during
the invasion of Tinian in June 1944. Dropped by fighter-bombers and
bombers it was used in subsequent assaults in the Pacific. For example,
during 16 days of ‘softening up’ attacks proceeding the invasion of Iwo
Jima B-24s dropped 1,111 drums of Napalm on the island.
rockets were in service before the war in several nations such as the
Soviet Union but their use was limited. The Il-2 Stormovik and other
Russian planes made devastating attacks against German armor and supply
columns. In the west, fighter-bombers such as the American P-47 and the
fired thousands of rockets at armor and troop concentrations. In the
Pacific rockets were invaluable in the brutal island-hopping campaign
where heavily defended positions had to be taken. Navy and Marine
Corsairs smothered pill boxes and bunkers with rockets and napalm.
Another application for rockets was in the anti-ship / anti-submarine effort. British Beaufighters, Mosquitos and Typhoons
became the scourge of enemy vessels even when protected by friendly
fighters. Although air-to-ground rockets were used in the air-to-air
role on occasion it wasn’t until the last months of the war in Europe
that a true air-to-air rocket came into service, the German R4M. They
were extremely effective but appeared too late to alter the course of
the war. This type of weapon – the folding-fin rocket became standard
armament for aircraft following the war till the advent of air-to-air
M-8 4.5 inch (11.4 cm) triple-tube “Bazooka” launcher
HVAR 5 inch (12.7 cm) rockets
Tiny Tim 11.75″ (30 cm)
RP Rocket Projectile
|M-8||4.5″ (11.4 cm)||16″ (40 cm)||860 ft/s (262m/s)||P-38, P-47, P-51|
|HVAR||5″ (12.7 cm)||72″ (1.83m)||140 lb (63.5 kg)||55 lb (25 kg)||1375 ft/s (419m/s)||P-38, P-47, P-51, Corsair, Hellcat|
|Tiny Tim||11.75″ (30 cm)||123″ (3.12m)||1284 lb (582 kg)||590 lb (270 kg)||810 ft/s (247m/s)||B-25, A-20|
|RP||3″ (7.62 cm)||55¼”||47 lb (21.3 kg)||25 lb (11.3kg)||1575 ft/sec (480m/s)||Typhoon, Tempest, Mosquito, Beaufighter|
|RS-82||3.2″ (8.2 cm)||22″ (56.0 cm)||1.28 lb (0.6 kg)||IL-2|
|RS-132||5.2″ (13.2 cm)||34″ (86.4 cm)||5 lb (2.25 kg)||IL-2|
RP aicraft ground attack rocket
Rocket Motor Tube
Total weight of 21.3kg (47 lb) w/ 25 lb AP head
11 lb cruciform stick of cordite – the main propellant charge.
Maximum Velocity of 480 m/sec (1,575 ft/sec)
- 60 lb Shell, HE/SAP
- 60 lb Shell, HE/GP, Hollow Charge
- 18 lb Shell, HE
- 25 lb Shot, AP
- 25 lb Head, Solid, A/S (Anti-Submarine)
- 60 lb Shell, Practice, concrete head (Training only)
- 12 lb Head, Practice, (Training only)
Upkeep The Dam-Busting Bomb
large cylindrical shaped weapon
weight: 9,250 lb (4200 kg)
explosive: 5,720 lb (2600 kg) torpex
hydrostatic fuze set to detonate at a depth of 30 ft (9m)
In December of 1942 a Wellington bomber was acquired to conduct full
scale tests. After several abortive attempts Barnes Wallis got the
spherical bomb to bounce 16 times across a stretch of water.
23 ED serial block Lancaster bombers were extensively modified to
accommodate the Upkeep weapon. The bomb bay doors were removed and
special pylons fitted, together with an electric motor to set the mine
spinning backward at 500 rpm before bomb release. This backspin was
crucial as it allowed the bomb to skip across the water, past several
torpedo nets, and strike the dam wall. The mid-upper gun turret was
removed and its gunner moved to the nose turret where ‘stirrups’ were
added to prevent him from inadvertantly treading on the bomb aimer’s
head. Fighter type VHF radios were added to all of the aircraft, close
control of the operation being vital to its success. Since the entire
mission had to be flown at low altitude specailly prepared ‘roller maps’
were provided to the bomb aimers to assist in navigation.
The problem of flying each plane level at just 60 ft was solved by the
ingenious use of a pair of Aldis lamps, one mounted in the nose camera
port, the other behind the bomb bay. The lamps were angled so that the
two spots of light touched at an altitude of 60ft and offset to
starboard where they were easily seen by the navigator who monitored
height during the bombing run. Standard bombsights could not be used due
to the unique nature of the attack so a sight was improvised consisting
of a plywood triangle, a simple eyepiece and a couple of nails. Finally
each Lancaster was provided with 3,000 rounds of ammunition per gun,
all tracer, to keep the German gunners heads down.
Johnny Walker Diving Mines
This British weapon 72 inches in length and weighing in the 500 lb class
had a most unusual mechanism of action. With a main charge of
approximately 100 lb Torpex/aluminum in a shaped charge and a hydrogen
gas generation system the idea was to form a large bubble of hydrogen
gas that would lift a warship out of the water and ‘break its back’.
Seven Lancaster bombers each carrying a dozen Johnny Walker bombs
attacked the battleship Tirpitz in September 1944. No damage was
inflicted and the Johnny Walkers were never used again. As ingenious as
the concept was in actual use the weapon failed to produce the desired
Interestingly enough 43 years after the attack the Norwegians found one
of the Johnny Walker devices still intact near Kara Fjord.
Highball ‘Bouncing Bomb’
This spherical bomb was designed by the brilliant Dr. Barnes Wallis to
be utilized against ships. Weighing 1,280 lb (580kg) and packed with 600
lb (272 kg) of explosive two Highballs could be carried by a Mosquito
fighter-bomber. Prior to release the bomb was imparted with a backward
spin of 700-900 revolutions per minute. Dropped at high speed 360 mph
(580km/h) and low altitude 60 ft (18.2m) the Highball would skip across
the water toward the target.
Although intended to be used against the battleship Tirpitz this did not
come to pass mainly because the ship stayed in ports beyond the range
of Mosquitos based in Britain. Focus shifted to possible use in the Far
East and a number of Mosquitos were modified for use on escort/jeep
carriers. Despite considerable training the weapon was not used in
‘Disney’ Rocket-Assisted Bomb
Designed by Captain Terrell RN of the UK, this 4,500 lb (2040 kg)
hard-case streamlined bomb was intended to be used against U-boat pens
and other super-hardened targets.
Dropped from 20,000 ft (6096 m) the bomb had a barometric fuze which
activated at 5,000 ft (1525 m.) At this point a rocket in the tail of
the bomb fired bringing the impact velocity up to 2,400 ft/sec (730
Carried on B-17 bombers
in pairs under-wing this weapon was first used on Febuary 10, 1945.
Nine B-17s of the 92nd BG dropped eighteen Disney bombs on U-boat pens
at Ijmuden in Holland, scoring one direct hit. The weapon saw further
use but suitable targets were often either too far away (such as in
Norway) or already over-run by Allied troops. Still by the end of the
war a total of 158 Disney Bombs had been used in combat.
This involved taking war weary B-17F bombers
and packing them with 20,000 lb (9070 kg) of Torpex or 10 tons of RDX
explosive. A volunteer two man crew conducted the take-off and flew the
plane to cruising altitude. After arming the plane, hopefully without
setting off an explosion, the crew would bail out while a chase plane,
usually a B-34 (an-RAF Ventura,) would direct the bomb laden plane into
the target via a radio control link. The idea worked better in practice
than in actual combat as several of the planes exploded prematurely and
the basic stability of the B-17 in flight frustrated efforts to nose
down into the target. Seven of these missions were flown in the month
of August under the code name Aphrodite. The first Aphrodite mission was
flown against V-2 rocket sites in the Pas de Calais area of France on August 4, 1944.
Japanese Balloon Bombs
During 1944 and into 1945 the Japanese carried out a most unusual
bombing campaign. Large paper balloons fitted with an ingenious
mechanism for maintaining altitude during the 6,200 mi (9,970 km) 3-5
day trip across the Pacific to America were launched in great numbers.
Each balloon carried a small incendiary device as it travelled at 25-170
mph (35-270 km/h) between 30,000-50,000 ft (9,144-15,240 m) altitude.
The thinking was that the large forested areas of the United States
could be set ablaze by the incendiary bombs dropped by these balloons.
In November of 1944 the remains of some of these balloon bombs were
discovered and reported. By March the following year reports indicated
that roughly 100 of these balloon bombs were crossing the Pacific per
month. On March 5, 1945 Mrs. Elsie Mitchell and five children were
killed when they came upon one of the incendiary devices while out
fishing at a lake. These were the only casualties of enemy action
against the mainland of the United States during World War II.
Altogether some 9,300 balloons were released during this campaign but
with essentially no results as no forest fires resulted and less than a
thousand of these weapons actually landed on American soil.
Aerial Mines, Depth Charges
250lb Mk XI Aerial Depth Charge
Mk. I-IV – 1,500lb and 1,850lb
First introduced for Bomber Command Operations in April 1940, the Mk. I -
IV was sturdily built and designed to withstand drops from aircraft
flying at 200 mph at altitudes varying from 100 to 15,000ft. Containing
approximately 750lb of explosives the mine could be detonated using
various triggering devices depending on the application required. The
type along with the Mk. V and VII became the standard mine used by the
Command until being replaced by the Mk. VI in 1944.
Mk. V – 1,000lb
Introduced into service sometime during 1940-41 this mine was a smaller
version of the Mk. I-IV. Containing between 625lb and 675lb of
explosives this mine was usually detonated using magnetic triggers,
although it could be configured to use our triggering devices.
Mk. VI – 2,000lb
A similar mine to the of the Mk. I-IV in that it could be configured in
various ways to dentate. This mine differed only in that it contained
2,000lb of explosives in comparison to the 750lb of the Mk. I-IV.
Mk. VII – 1,000lb
Introduced in 1944, the Mk.VII was an improved version on the Mk.V
although no increase in the size of explosive charge was made.
CSBS – (Course Setting Bombsight)
ABS – (Automatic Bombsight)
SABS – (Stabilizing Automatic Bombsight)
Mark VII – introduced in 1932.
Mark IX – introduced in 1939.
Mark X – cancelled due to its unsuitability for night bombing.
Mark XIV (T1) – introduced in August of 1942 with the PFF.
SABS Mk IIA – precision bombsight introduced August 1943.
Mark XIV (T1) – introduced in August of 1942 with the PFF.
By 1943 the Mark XIV was installed in all RAF heavy bombers. The USAAF also used the Mark XIV bomb-sight designated T1.
It was designed to enable the run up to the target flying straight and
level to be restricted to a mere ten seconds and enable the pilot to
carry out evasive manoeuvres on his approach to the target. It could be
used to bomb both on the climb and the glide. The bombsight consisted of
a computer cabinet mounted to the left of the Air Bomber and a
stabilised sighting head with optical graticule. The sight was one of
the first practical uses for a mechanical computer.
This was the bombsight of choice for Bomber Command until the end of the
war and beyond. Shortly after its entry into service, its manufacture
was subcontracted to the Sperry Gyroscope Company in America who after
re-engineering it to meet American standards, arranged for A.C. Spark
Plug , Division of General Motors to manufacture in quantity. Known as
the ‘T1’ version a total of 23,000 were made for use in the RAF and
Commonwealth airforces. In some respects, it was a mechanical
improvement on the British manufactured sight but was fully compatible
with it in every way.
The principal source of inaccuracy was the need to set on the computer
the wind speed and direction which under operational conditions, could
be often in error. A T1A version was produced for use with the faster
Mosquito and to allow for the greater operating height.
August 1943 as the SABS Mk IIA tachometric precision bombsight precision
sight. The SABS provided an even more complex mechanical computer being
able to calculate its own ‘wind’ and to automatically release bombs.
These were qualities it shared with the Norden and probably the German
Starting in 1941 Barnes Wallis had designed a range of very large bombs,
namely the Tallboy of 12,000 lb and Grand Slam of 22,000 lb. These
bombs to be effective, had to be dropped within 150 yards of the target
from 20,000 ft and the SABS MkllA proved to be the ideal sight for this
purpose. A direct hit was not required as it was anticipated that the
bomb if landed close to the structure would destroy the foundations of
the target causing a degree of damage that would take many months to
This sight was mainly fitted to the Lancasters of 617 squadron and used
in their precision bombing of tunnels, V1 and V2 launch sites. In
company with 9 squadron using ‘Tall boy’ and ‘Grand Slam’ earthquake
bombs the German battleship Tirpitz was sunk in less than 10 minutes
once the attack began. To achieve such a high level of accuracy required
a considerable amount of bombing practice on the bombing range.
The accuracy of 617 squadron improved greatly with an average radial
error of 170 yards being recorded over the period of June to August 1944
and improved to 125 yards in the period of February 1945 to March 1945.
Two other precision bombing squadrons were formed based upon the Mk XlV
bombsight and in the period of February to March 1945 their average
error was 195 yards.
Less than 1,000 SABS bombsights were manufactured and after the war
great difficulty was experienced in finding sufficient sights to equip
two Lincoln squadrons for precision bombing against Japan. Compare this
with the 23,000 T1 sights manufactured in America.
There was in Bomber Command at the time much discussion on the
comparative merits of the two bombsights. The SABS although potentially
more accurate lacked the degree of tactical freedom afforded by the Mk
XlV/T1. As a result the Mk XlV/T1 was known to Bomber Command as the
‘area’ bombsight of the RAF and the SABS as the ‘precision sight.’
It was a much more complex sight to use and to maintain than the Mk
XlV/T1 and required more man-hours in manufacture. For the majority of
the squadrons in Bomber Command the Mk XlV/T1 was still the preferred
The Norden Bombsight
One of the most highly praised devices put into U.S. bombers
was the Norden bombsight, it combined the M-1 bombsight and the C-1
automatic pilot. This complex device measured 12 by 19 inches and cost
over $10,000 a copy. In high altitude bombing trials the Norden
bombsight demonstrated remarkable accuracy and the Army Air Corps had
high expectations for it.
In 1935 the 19th Bomb Group, based at Rockwell airfield, California,
started using the Norden bombsight in bombing runs. With a little
practice bomber crews found they could regularly place their bombs within 164 ft (50m) of a target from 15,000 ft (4570m).
In 1940 the Air Corps gave the Sperry Gyroscope Company a contract to
build a bombsight equivalent to Norden’s. Ironically Carl L. Norden was a
former employee of Sperry. The company had to make the sight without
violating the patents that Norden possessed. The result was the S-1
bombsight which worked on a similar principle in tying an automatic
pilot device, the A-5 automatic pilot in this case, to the bombsight.
Flight tests using the Sperry S-1 bombsight began in May 1941. The first
production type was installed in a B-24 Liberator in Feb 1942 and made
its first flight a month later. The Sperry bombsight had serious
problems and deficiencies from the beginning. The stability of the
optics was poor so that the field of view tended to “jump around” a
lot. Additionally the S-1 took twice as long to calculate data imputed
from the bombardier, 60 seconds instead of the 30 for a Norden, this was
serious since it forced the bomber
to fly straight and level for a full minute during a bombing run, the
time when it was most vulnerable to enemy fire. Despite this thousands
of S-1 sights were made and put into bombers destined for Russia and Britain. The relatively few Norden bombsights went into B-17 bombers while many B-24 Liberators got the Sperry S-1 instead.
Secrecy was given paramount importance, Norden bombsights were removed from bombers
right after they landed and crews were instructed on how to destroy the
bombsight in case of a forced landing in enemy territory. The elaborate
measures to keep the Norden bombsight a secret were undermined in 1938
by Herman Lang, a worker at the Norden plant and a German sympathizer.
He sent detailed drawings to Germany and even flew over before the war
to answer specific questions about the bombsight. In any case the
accuracy achieved in high level bombing missions over Europe proved less
than was hoped for, mainly due to the pressures of intense combat and
the often poor weather over the continent. But the Norden was good, at
least five times more accurate than most RAF bombsights.
During the summer of 1944, 47 B-29s raided the Yawata steel works from
bases in China; only one plane actually hit the target area, and with
only one of its bombs. This single 500 lb general purpose bomb (which
hit a powerhouse located 3,700 ft from the far more important coke
houses that constituted the raid’s aiming point) represented one quarter
of one per cent of the 376 bombs dropped over Yawata on that mission.
In the fall of 1944, only seven per cent of all bombs dropped by the
Eighth Air Force hit within 1,000ft of their aim point; even a
fighter-bomber in a 40 degree dive releasing a bomb at 7,000 ft could
have a circular error (CEP) of as much as 1,000 ft. It took 108 B-17 bombers,
crewed by 1,080 airmen, dropping 648 bombs to guarantee a 96 per cent
chance of getting just two hits inside a 400 by 500 ft area (a German
Average % of bombs dropped which fell within 1,000 ft (610 m) and 2,000
ft (306 m) of pre-assigned MPI’s on visual missions under conditions of
good to fair visibility.
|Distance:||1,000 ft (305 m)||2,000 ft (610 m)|
|Date:||1st Div. B-17||2nd Div. B-24||3rd Div. B-24
B-17 from 8/44
|8th AF||1st Div. B-17||2nd Div. B-24||3rd Div. B-24
B-17 from 8/44