B17: The Mighty 8th Redux - Tail Gunner

Turret Gunning in B17: The Mighty 8th Game...

A Beginner's View on Aircraft Gunnery

First off, this post isn't a 'how to' that will improve your experience as a defensive gunner in this game. I'm actually still just in the training or Quick Mission stage of this game and learning the basics myself, so I have nothing much to teach you as yet.

This is more just my observations about the art of turret gunning and a how it gave me some very fleeting insights into what the real thing must have been like (aside from terrifying)...

What I Changed From My Very Early Attempts

To say that my first few tries at playing a gunner - or rather gunners - in this game were  chaotic, confusing, aggravating and ultimately failures is perhaps not surprising. After all, at least the really aerial gunners went through gunnery school first before they too to the sky.

B-17 - The Mighty Eighth - The Consequences of Failure
Above: The consequences of failure! Between 1935 and May 1945, 12,732 B-17s were
produced. Of these aircraft, 4,735 were lost during combat missions. 

That said, some of the issues I encountered playing the gunnery stations in this game were hampered by two things that were beyond my control. First was that I actually tried to take on the roll of ALL the aircrafts gunners in the first place, jumping from one station to another during combat. And the second - related very much to the first, and the biggest problem - was the clunky mechanics of this game which meant that there wasn't an smooth transition from one station to another, at times there were - crucially - palpable pauses in between these transfers!

Frustratingly, while trying to track enemy planes flying by my B17, by the time I have - say - moved from tail gunner to waist gunner the target fighter had already passed by.

What ensued, therefore, what a game of 'Whack a Mole' where I ended up missing my targets the vast majority of the time. In fact, a lot of the time I didn't end up seeing them and didn't even get a shot off!

B17: The Mighty 8th Redux - Tail Gunner
Above: Just looking in the right direction at the right time. Gunnery - I found - was
about aiming at where the enemy might be, and not where they are!

Now, it's well documented that this game has 'issues' and that the underlaying mechanics are showing their age a bit (remember that this is a remaster of an older game). The generally clunky interface isn't something you should expect to have to battling while at the same time trying to play a fast passed game (at least the battle sequences are).

If you think the fast Me109s or FW190s are hard to get a bead on as the flash by your limited field of view, then wait until you meet the infamous Me262 jets!

B17: The Mighty 8th Redux - Tail Gunner
Above: A very, very rare moment where I got a clear glimpse of an Me262!

So How to Combat the Game Limitations as a Beginner?

Simply put, I just didn't try to fight the game's inherent quirks at the same time as trying to learn the basics of arial gunnery! And if there's one piece of advice I can impart to other novice gunners it's this....

Don't try to do everything, in the beginning do what the real airmen did - pick a station and stick with it throughout the mission.

I know, you will think that swapping positions is all part of the fun of playing the gunners, but trying to do so until you have built up experience and - most importantly - learned the game's control keys for doing so is a complete waste of your time. Like me, you will just end up most of the time looking into empty space, as the fighter you were trying to get has already gone.

My first try at this 'single station' approach was - yes, a little boring at times - but crucially I was in the right place at the right time when things did kick off. 

B17: The Mighty 8th Redux - Tail Gunner
Above: My first FW190.... A very rare 'kill' (probably damaged).

B17: The Mighty 8th Redux - Tail Gunner
Above: Sheer dumb luck! Amazingly I did manage to get a Me262 kill, BUT I had no idea
what was happening and HE flew into MY firing stream!

In fact, I actually started to get some hits and best of all - on my very first attempt using this method - we (the crew) managed to get our B17 home safely at the end of the mission, And that, I would argue, is the number one priority.... There are plenty more missions to try hitting the target.

What Does This Tell Us About REAL WW2 Gunnery?

Well, first off there is no comparison. The feeling of being a 19 year old kid stuck in a tin can flying a mind numbingly long way over enemy territory in freezing conditions is impossible to simulate. That these kids were able to function at all during these terrifying missions boggles my mind.

Add to this the chances of things going wrong with mechanical failures, imprecise navigation, adverse weather, the possibility of collisions, flak, enemy fighters, catastrophic ordinance or fuel explosions, etc, etc 

B17: The Mighty 8th Redux (PC) - Top Gunner
Above: Terrifying and sole destroying. A B17 is damaged and falls out of formation. I can
only watch helplessly from my turret as in the next moment it is swamped by Me109s!

Prior to 1944, a crewman's tour of duty was set at 25 missions. As a measure of the hazards they would encounter, it is estimated that the average crewman had only a one in four chance of actually completing his tour of duty.

So, we can't really glean anything about the human physical experience of a mission in a mere game That said, there were a few tiny instances during the game that made me think about some  aspects of what being a bomber's aircrew was like.

The first was - trying out all the gunnery stations - what a horrendously limited field of view each gunner had. Most positions were static with the guns limited to very restricted firing arcs, this was something I had not considered before. And even in the rotating turrets where - in theory - they had a better ability to track targets in a 180o arc your vision was impaired by the cluttered view from the turret as to reduce the perceived view to a fraction of what the ability to rotate - you would think - would give you!

B17: The Mighty 8th Redux - Tail Gunner
Above: Good gunnery? Well no, this 262 just happened to appear right in front of me!
I didn't even have time to pull the trigger before he was gone!

Worst - I think - was my tail gunners slot (IMHO), the view through that tiny rectangular window was so restricted, as was the guns limited movement, that unless a enemy was coming steadily straight for the bomber 6 o'clock you had little chance to react to tenemental attacks.

And if there's one thing we know about the German fighter pilots, they were no fools and they would do everything they could to exploit the B17's blind spots.

B17: The Mighty 8th Redux (PC) - Crew Status
Above: The numbers stack up against us! Each incapacitated crew member is one
less to do a job. In this case, we are TWO gunners down! Our chances shorten.

Another fact that I had never considered was the limited ammunition. In old movies I cannot remember an occasion that a gunner ran out of ammo... But in most of my missions so far there has been 'out of ammo' calls over the comms on each and every mission!

The twin 50 caliber (12.7 mm) guns in each of the waist positions - for example - was over 11,000 rounds. But the rate of fire of each of these Browning M2's was about 1,100 rpm. So, some quick math means that there was only 10 minutes of ammunition for a single mount and just 5 minutes for a  pair of guns! Other gun positions deferred, of course, but the fact remains that during a sustained attack it must have been possible for the inexperienced gunner to burn through most/all of his ammo in one go.... And then what do you do on the way home?

B17: The Mighty 8th Redux (PC) - Mid Gunners
Above: The B17 waist gunners. 11,000 rounds each sounds a lot, I bet they didn't think it was.

I'm sure ammunition conservation and the limit to short burst would have been covered in the gunners basic training, but in the heat of battle... That's maybe a different thing.

And the final thing I thought about during my virtual missions was this... What stopped an over enthusiastic or panicked gunner from blowing his own planes tail off or - indeed - firing at other B17s in a tight formation?

I did it...

B17: The Mighty 8th Redux - Tail Gunner

Not only was it a danger that your tunnel vision on a target could make you lose track of 'friendly' objects in your field of fire, but also there was no saying that other aircraft would not pass into your line of fire while you were busy firing at an enemy target (which is what happened to me).

I wonder, how many B17s were damaged - or worse - shot down because of stray .50 cal fire?

These were just some insights into the dangers of flying in a B17, you will definitely not learn them all from just playing a game. So I will end this post by putting up the following links which you might find interesting (links open in new windows):

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