Military History/B17 defense


Hello: I was wondering if WW2 B17s flying over Germany could have defended themselves by deploying special purpose "gunships" which would have flown in formation with regular bombers carrying bombs and the usual assortment of .50 cal Brownings.The gunships would have carried a few electrically driven 20mm Gatling guns and spare ammo in place of a bomb load-I read somewhere electrically driven Gatling guns were around at the end of the 19th century.Would this,in your opinion,have helped them better survive Luftwaffe fighter attacks,especially before the advent of long range Mustang escorts? I realize flak would still have been a problem. Thanks.

An interesting idea a cross between and AC-130 and a B-17.  The US Army Air Force did have a program to develop an escort version of the B-17 called the B -40 projects.  The B-40 would have been a B-17 with an extra turret and dual mount machines guns in the side gunner positions.  The XB-40 flew well so several YB-40 where built and sent to Europe.  On the way to the target they could help but after the bombers dropped their bombs they were faster than the B-40 with the extra guns due to drag.  So the YB-40s got left behind.  Soon after the test YB-40 started flying the first Merlin powered P-51 took to the air and finally the US had a fighter that could fly all the way to the target in Germany.  A Gatling gun would have been as much of a drag as a machine gun so not sure it would have helped.  Also the first Gatling guns were hand cranked and the US Army gave them up before World War 1.  Gatlin did design an electric motor for his guns and did test it, but to my knowledge none were used in the US Army.  The US Army didnít want to haul batteries around with their machine guns.  Also by the 1900 the Maxim machine gun using a gas mechanism was the machine gun of choice.  The M61 20mm Gatling gun didnít arrive unit the early 1950s.

I do like your idea but not sure it would have done much good.  The extra weight and drag would have been an issue for the Gatling armed B-17.  What was need was the B-29 with its computerized firing control system.  The B-29 with its extra range was ideal for the bombing campaign of Japan, but its fire control system would have put the hurt on the Luftwaffe.

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Paul Sutton


I can answer questions on World War Two weapons, tactics, and strategy. I can answer questions on Weapons systems and their development. I can answer guestions on Space exploration history. I am a World War 2 expert. I study Military Weapons Systems and the usage of those systems.


I work for Saint Petersburg College as a TRS or Technology resources specialist. I read 10 to 15 books a year on World War 2 and weapon systems. I also have a BA in History from USF.

I have a BA in history from USF.

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