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Best Ground Attack Plane of WWII


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#1 GregP

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Posted 31 October 2003 - 12:18 AM

I see the best/worst fighter, bomber, and transport in here, so I thought I'd take an opportunity to put a plug in for the ground pounders.

For my money, I nominate the Repiblic P-47 with its eight 12.7 mmm MG and ability to both dish out and take punishment.

If I had more information on it, I might nominate the Ilyushin IL-2. All I know about it is that they made over 36,000 of them and it was very hard to shoot down. Truthfully, I haven't seen much information on its combat effectiveness as a ground attack plane, though I'd imagine they were effective or the USSR would not have made so many.

The Typhoon / Tempest would rank right up there, but the P-47 was around in greater numbers longer with its 8-12.7 mm armament, so I infer more "targets of opportunity" for the P-47's than for the Hawkers.

What do YOU think?

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#2 simon

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Posted 01 November 2003 - 02:04 AM

Hmmm, well I'd say just because it was built in greater numbers doesn't mean it was better, maybe the type as a whole achieved more, but based on the logic of numbers you could say the B-24 was better than the B-29...

Personally I'd say for light anti-vehicle work the Tempest's 20mm were better than the Browning .50 cals.

Going purely by the statistics the Il-2m is actually a pretty poor aircraft, ignoring the armour which was thick, but not impenetrable and in any case only protected the underside of the aircraft, and as is quite well reported not the poor rear gunner. It was slow, had poor defensive weaponary, and had a poor ceiling.

I'd vote for the Yak-9 anti-tank version (Think it was the Yak-9T but not certain), with a 45mm cannon in the nose and provision for rockets and bombs it could take out quite a range of German tanks, whilst retaining the speed and manouevrability and lighter weapons to take on other aircraft.

Runners up, in the fighter-bomber category would be the Thunderbolt, Tempest and the often overlooked Hurricane MkIIE/MkIV. For the dedicated ground attack plane, I'd say probably the Henschell Hs129, Il-2m, then Ju87G. I really haven't been able to find out enough about the He177P (Complete with 75mm cannon in the nose), or the Ju88P (75mm cannon in a disposable arrangement similar to that in the Hs129B) to be able to say, my guess is they were good, or at least effective, although not built in large numbers.

#3 Corsarius

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Posted 01 November 2003 - 09:02 PM

I'll vote for the HS129, because I really do like it.

Thinking of which, I have recently seen a 'front view' photo of just the nose/cockpit of the HS129 and then the Su-25 'frogfoot'. There is more than just a superficial resembalence there, I assure you!

Maybe it's why I like the Sukhoi product so much...

#4 GregP

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Posted 02 November 2003 - 11:29 AM

So, you guys are voting on the plane you THINK was the best or on the plane that achieved the most destruction in the war?

I think the plane that achieved the best combat record was the best. You could have the greatest attack plane in the world, but if you only made one and never precipitated any damage to the enemy, who cares?

The P-47 destroyed more ground targets than any other Western Allied aircraft. I can't really compare it with the Hs-129 without data. The Yak-9T was a VERY hard hitting. What did they DO? I have little to no Russian information on sorties , armoer, transports, or other ground vehicles destroyed by Yaks, much less the Yak-9T.

The B-25 also had a version modified in the Pacific to mount a 75 mm Cannon and they sank several Japanese destroyers and other shipping. I used to work with a guy who was a crew chief on one. He said they only used old, war weary B-25's (Pappy Gunn's squadron), and that the aircraft were good for 10-15 shots before the recoil made ovals out of the rivet holes in the aircraft's skin and the planes had to be scrapped since they were literally coming apart after less than 20 shots (the cannon had no recoil-absorbing capability, so it was transmitted to the entire airframe).

Whether or not this is true, I can't say, but his name was Paul Cherry and he had plaenty of authentic photos of the palne and the effects of the recoil.

#5 Corsarius

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Posted 03 November 2003 - 06:49 PM

quote:Originally posted by GregP

So, you guys are voting on the plane you THINK was the best or on the plane that achieved the most destruction in the war?

I think the plane that achieved the best combat record was the best. You could have the greatest attack plane in the world, but if you only made one and never precipitated any damage to the enemy, who cares?.


OK. The way I work these things is one-on-one. You seem to have a broader view of things, which would lead (in sufficient quantities) us to have the Bristol Bulldog IV as the greatest aircraft of an alternate WWII as maybe England and it's allies just built nothing else, and sent ten thousand of them everywhere in each sortie.

I mean, fine, it would have been outperformed and outgunned at every turn, but hey, it would have been the plane that won the war: Lanchester's Law in action.

Ergo, you choose the P-47 not as it is a fantastic plane (which it is, and one of the few american planes I really like), but because of tonnage destroyed/ammo expended/etc.

It is my belief that to favourably compare them, you would have them lined up, theoretically, with cloned pilots that act identically, and sent individually to do a specific task. Whichever aircraft completed the task in a superior manner becomes the 'best'. After all, this is only speculation.

So while the P-47 is a good contender, I would put the Tempest ahead of it, as well as the Henschel.

As for things like the monstrous B-25 with the mega-gun, and the He-117 likewise (and, if I recall, a Japanese toryu with a 75mm gun, but that was for shooting B-29s), these aircraft are really in a seperate area, something like 'anti-shipping platform', rather than the ubiquitous 'air to ground'.

Hmmm. Rambling a bit, but I think saying the best 'air to ground' is almost like claiming a 'best fighter'. After all, aren't bombers air-to-ground? [:P]

#6 simon

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Posted 03 November 2003 - 08:50 PM

I've got to agree with Corsarius here, quantities do not equate to quality. Who is the better shot? The machine-gunner who expends a 1,000 rounds per minute, therefore probably scoring more actual hits on targets, or the Sniper who fires a single bullet an hour, but hits with every one?

Don't forget just because an aircraft was effective in whichever role it ended up in, does not necessarily mean that they were the best. It could mean as was the case with many Soviet and American aircraft in particular that they were available in sufficient numbers that the enemy were overwhelmed, that the training of their pilots was superior, the training of the enemy pilots was inadequate, or a combination.

I make my choices based on performance data available and where possible actual experiences and accounts, and OK I think for the most part none of us can help a little national bias.

If you take the combat record and divide it by sorties flown you would have a more meaningful figure, since this would give a rating per flight, meaning that you don't get a default winner just because it flew far more missions, but for most aircraft this detail is not easily accessible, or still cloaked in mystery and propaganda as is the case with many Soviet aircraft.

OK if only a few of an aircraft type were made it makes it far more difficult to assess it's capabilities, and makes a "Rogue" entry too influential, this is why I would only tend to use this method for aircraft that were built in significant numbers, up to individuals to determine what this means.

My understanding of the He177P was that was intended for anti-tank work, carrying the same modified Pak-40 as the Hs129, although like I say, I have no solid information on this.

Going OT, but theI think it the Ki67 "Hiryu" or "Peggy" with the 75mm gun was an experimental lash-up of which few were made, it proved incapable of reaching the altitudes or even matching speeds with the B-29s it was supposed to intercept, and as far as I'm aware never even flew a combat operation. In any case the combination of an apparently inaccurate handloaded cannon and bulky, slow bomber was supposedly virtually impossible to aim.

Definitions are pretty hard. I'd say a Bomber is an aircraft designed to attack a target on the ground with bombs.

A Dive-bomber is an aircraft which delivers bombs in a diving attack.

A Ground Attack aircraft is one which attacks enemy ground combat formations with cannon, rockets, bombs or missiles, with the intention being tactical support of friendly ground units. Anti-shipping is the same, except the targets must be shipping.

There is a bit of overlap here, especially between Dive-bombing and Ground Attack or anti-shipping aircraft, but these are what I use as a rule of thumb...

Oh yeah, apologees for the ramble too...

#7 tenmmike

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Posted 09 November 2003 - 02:33 PM

ill pick the il-2 and end of war il-10 as the two best dedicated ground attack a/c......any study of these 2 dedicated a/c will show their merits.. the hs -129 was a disapointment in performance..although the idea was good, the p-47 was used as ground attack and was good but not a true ground attack a/c

#8 simon

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Posted 09 November 2003 - 09:39 PM

I'm not overly convinced by the arguments that the Il-2m and Il10 were necessarily so superior. I still lean to the opinion that they were adequate, but that basically the Russians could afford the casualties. My own cursory studies of the Il-2m seem to indicate that it was far from invulnerable or even an impressive performer, and was slow, had poor manourevrability and a poor ceiling.

Why then was it so successful? To me I think the answer lies in the fact that around 36,000 of them were built, not a great aircraft, but it just had the ability to swamp the enemy.

The Petlyakov Pe2FT Peshka was a much better machine alround, but tends to get much less publicity.

Welcome onboard, tenmike.

#9 tenmmike

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Posted 10 November 2003 - 06:05 AM

thanks for the welcome ..i think the ft was a light bomber http://www.ctrl-c.li...ram/pe-2ft.html perhaps this is the version your talking about http://www.ctrl-c.li...ram/pe-2sh.html ........ gotta go ill come back to argue later LOL

#10 GregP

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Posted 10 November 2003 - 12:59 PM

I understand what you guys are saying, and there is some merit to it, but I strongly disagree in principal.

The Martin-Baker MB-5 and the Commonwealth Ca-15 were absolutely stunning piston fighters, but did nothing for the war effort. So, while technically they may have been the best of the best, they actually did nothing to win WWII.

The P-47 may not have been designed as a dedicated ground attack aircraft, but certainly destroyed more targets than any other US or British ground attack aircraft, if only because there were more of them available sooner than there were Typhoons and Tempests, so they flew more sorties. The P-47 flew 423,435 combat sorties. The next closest American single engined aircraft in Europe was the P-51 at 123,873 sorties.

I have no data on the British aircraft, but seriously doubt the Typhoon or Tempest come cloase to the P-47. So, while they may, in fact, have been better-quality ground-attack planes, the P-47's did more damage and contributed more to the war.

In any 5-year war, there is a lot of technical development. The best machine may well be the last one produced, but it certain that it was not available for the bulk of the war.

What kept the UK alive during WWII? The Liberty Ship. Would anyone seriously that it was the best freighter ever made? Nope. But it DID deliver more cargo than any other type of vehicle used in WWII.

OK ... rambling.

Getting back to it, the IL-2 / IL-10, and the P-47 were the major Allied ground attack aircraft of WWII, Typhoon and Tempest notwithstanding. They simply did more to win the war ... ergo, they were the best of the best at WINNING THE WAR. If any German ground attack machine was even close, it failed miserably since it DID NOT DESTROY OR STOP the attackers. We pushed into Berlin and won.

I fail to see how the Henschel can even be considered. It had horrible flight characteristics and was pretty much ineffectual in the outcome. That pretty much describes a loser. The Ju-87 did more for Germany than the Hs-129, and it couldn't survivie in the absence of air superiority by the Luftwaffe.

Being a pilot, if I had to choose one to fly in WWII, I'd take a Tempest due to weight of fire per second, muzzle energy, and the reliable radial engine. But if I wanted to fly one and attack something in in 1942 I'd be out of luck since they hadn't been invented yet.

Combat results speak for themselves. Go back to the statement made earlier by someone, "the Mustang couldn't do what a Spitfire could do, but it could do it over Berlin." Ditto the P-47, IL-2, and IL-10. They did it EVERYWHERE to ANYTHING that looked like a target.

So, exactly on what are you basing your opinions in here? Only the "potential" of a design? if so, then the Germans surely had the technological edge and made many more experimental prototypes than anyone else. That also cost them valuable resources that MIGHT have helped their beleagured forces had it not been diverted thusly.

C'mon guys, the Hs-129 doesn't even figure as a major player in a single battle victory that I know of, much less the war.

The P-47, IL-2, and IL-10, on the other hand, figure prominently in anyone's book on ground attack in WWII.

They desrerve their reputations because they earned them in combat.

#11 Corsarius

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Posted 10 November 2003 - 03:37 PM

they were also, in general, numerically superior and enjoyed support that the other aircraft lacked.

*bangs head against wall*

I can certainly see your point of view. As a historian, it is accurate to a fault and I support it. You work strongly with Lanchester's law, and hey, it hardly ever fails.

But what can we do to make you view a comparative analysis of these aircraft one-on-one?

#12 GregP

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Posted 11 November 2003 - 02:13 AM

Comparative analysis one on one is fun and I freely admit that the latest models of any aircraft were probably, though not necesarily, better than previous models.

If we want a purely one on one comparison, then I suppose I'd choose the Hawker Tempest V as the best ground attack plane of WWII.

The Tempest Mk V came out in April 1945, threw 6.5 kg of fire per second, and had a muzzle energy of 2300 kW.

The P-47B came out in Mar 1942, threw 4.85 kg of fire per seocond, and had a muzzle energy of 1860 kW.

The Henschel Hs-123 came out in 1942. I don't have a source for the numbers but, if my calculations are correct, it threw out 8.61 kg of fire per second (impressive) and had a muzzle energy of 1275 kW. The low muzzle energy is the result of low muzzle velocity for the 20 mm cannon.

The Ilyushin IL-2 came out in 1940 (IL-10 in 43). It threw out 1.55 kg of fire per second and had a muzzle energy of 545 kW. However, the 2 7.62 mm MG fired forward and the single 12.7 mm MG fired rearward, so it could only deliver a fraction of these numbers to any single place. It was underarmed and the "puch" was the bomb.

The IL-10 had 2 x 7.62 mm MG and 3 x 20 mm Cannon, so it addressed the LI-2's light fire power. It could put out 3.84 kg of fire per second with a muzzle energy of 1560 kW firing forward, and had a single 20 mm cannon firing rearweard. MUCH better that the IL-2.

Of these, the Tempest Mk V wins on energy delivered to the target, and the Hs 123 wins on kg of fire per second. With the Hs 123's low energy, I'd give the nod in destructive power to the Tempest any day. Also, the Tempest was a pleasure to fly while the Hs 123 was quite sluggish and was a handful in combat, where slow-responding aircraft are not appreciated.

So, My picks would be, in order:

1. Tempest Mk V
2. P-47
3. IL-10
4. Hs-123
5. IL-2

Many of you will note I neglected the Typhoon. The Mk IB came out in May 1941, threw 5.2 kg of fire per second, and had a muzzle energy of 2010 kW. However, the Napier Sabre was unreliable until well into 1944, and I would NOT have wanted to fly in it until then.

If we throw it into the fray, it would come in at number 2 with everything else sliding downward a notch. So, for ground attack, I prefer the radial to the inline simply for reliability and ability toi take damage and get home.

OF Corsarius, that an evaluation one on one of the major ground attack types used by the USA, UK, and USSR, with the Hs 123 thrown into the fray for comparative purposes.

There was also a dedicated tank-buster version of the Ju-87 with some very hard-hitting cannon under the wing, but there were few of them and they weren't used much as ground attack machines.

The radial engined versions of the Fw 190 were also pretty good ground attack machines. The 190A-3 threw out 5.2 kg of fire per second with muzzle energy of 1210 kW. Not bad, but it was not used anywhere near so widely against the Western Allies as the P-47 was used against the Germans. I'd estimate that most of the ground attack 190A-3's were used on the Soviet front, where they were head and shoulders better than the IL-2, but could be shot down much more easily than the IL-2.

If we add the Fw 190 A-3, I'd place it about 3rd or 4th on the list.

To me, the Hawker Tempest wins this one easily. The Germans were lucky that Sea Furies weren't available in large numbers before they surrendered. If they had been, they would have wreaked destruction and mayhem everywhere they went ... at about the same level as the Tempest Mk V, but somewhat faster.

#13 tenmmike

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Posted 11 November 2003 - 05:31 AM

just a note here iv posted my thoughts( well i didnt just links lol) on this in the il-2 thread...youll note in the second link is a fairly nice comparison of why the author gives a fair eval of the p-47 comparrison with il-2 along with fairly intresting other points....albit short the arguments are about what i would write it must be noted that the il-2 flew pure ground support with the aircraft spending enormus times in costant attacks on german lines....greg i believ you weight of ammo throw is of only the early mods and doed not includ the 23 mm versions may i sugest you go to this link ( man i sure am posting lots of links haha)http://www.geocities...un/fgun-pe.html

#14 simon

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Posted 11 November 2003 - 06:28 AM

Actually the Tempest MkV was in service a year or so later (I don't have my books at the moment, so can't say for certain), the April 1945 model was actually the later radial engined MkII, it does cause some confusion that the MkII entered service later than the MkV and never actually saw operational use during WWII.

Most of my information disagrees with what you have as the armament for the Il-2 though, especially the main production version the Il2m which I understood carried a 7.62mmR ShKAS in the gunner's position and either 4 23mm NS23 cannon or 2 37mm NS37 cannon in the wings. Again I'm going purely by memory here, I'll check my books when I get the chance.

Also, you comment that the Il-2 was mainly dependant on bombs to cause damage. Well, I'd say that is basically true of the P-47, the Browning .50 cal HMG is a good weapon for air to air, but against anything more heavily armoured than a Kubelwagen it's bullets would just bounce off. The 20mm Hispano MkV at least could take on light armour and stand a chance of damaging it, but for anything else you either need rocket projectiles, bazookas, or bombs. The former weren't available for western aircraft until around early 1944.

Finally to pick up on a typo, because I'm just that kind of person ;), the ground attack plane was the Hs129, not the Hs123 which was a parasol winged army co-operation and tactical reccon aircraft in around the same class as the Lysander.

#15 tenmmike

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Posted 11 November 2003 - 07:36 AM

simon.. PLEASE REVIEW MY LAST 2 POST on this thread AND TELL ME YOU THOUGHTS ( disregard caps)

#16 GregP

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Posted 11 November 2003 - 09:02 AM

Oops! You're right Simon ... Hs 129! Damn!

You may well be right about the IL-2 as well, but I have 4 different sources for its armament, and they all agree. They also stated that the installed armament "varied a bit."

If the bulk of the IL-2's had the forward firing cannon, then I would move it up in the list depending on where the weight of wire and muzzle energy put it. It also gets GREAT marks for serviceability. Basically, I had it ranked low due to the apparently flimsy armament. If THAT changes, then the evaluation changes.

I stringly disagree with your statement about the 50-calibre MG. In most of my sources, the 50-cal MG ranks as the most destructive weapon overall employed in WWII.

I have seen films of P-47's blowing locomotives off the track, sinking small boats, and straffing a destroyer until it was dead in the water, so I must disagree. The muzzle energy of the P-47 is second ONLY to the Tempest in power, and would shred most any armor except perhaps a Tiger tank or a T-34. I have seen films of P-51's taking out Panzer tanks with gunfire.

So, I'm not too sure where you are coming from with that statement about the 50-cal being a weak gun. I shot one in the military and hit a 55-gallon drum half filled with concrete at 1000 yards. It threw the barrel about 20 feet in the air and rolled it another 100 yards before it stopped. That was from about 2 hits.

If it's is true the 50-cal is weaker than I think, then the films I have seen are lying about the aircraft type in the gun camera attack. That could be true, too, but the targets hit sort of "went in many directions." Old films have a way of becomming "unidentified" as time goes by.

My sources are pretty specific on armament, and they are as quoted above in my earlier post, but I am not opposed to the idea that they may well be wrong. A LOT of what I see on the internet is WRONG, even on supposedly "authoritative" sites. The same may well be true for books. When you are researching, say, the Fw 190 A-3, there aren't a lot of difinitive sources left alive, so you are left with historic documents which may well be wrong to start with.

I stand open to moving the IL-2 up on the list. If the weight of fire and muzzle energy place it anywhere near the Tempest, then it may well be number one. The IL-10 didn't have that mush firepower, so I kind of doubt the IL-2 would surpass the Tempest either, but it may well be higher than where I placed it, especially considering the serviceability, ability to operate when other couldn't, and the sheer numbers available. It might well be number 2 or 3, depending on the forwward-firing guns. I don't have much to say about rearward firing armament. It was a necessary additional weight and, if it served to prevent astern attacks from fighters, was well worth the weight penalty ... but it did not add much to the offensive power of the aircraft ... the Westland Beach Straffer notwithstanding.

#17 GregP

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Posted 11 November 2003 - 09:23 AM

OK, I did some more digging and came up with several sources that agree with the fact that the IL-2 probably had 2 x 7.62 mm MG in the wings and 2 * 23 mm cannon in the nose.

Taken at cyclic rate of fire, that would produce 5.58 kg of fire persecond .... putting the IL-2 right near the top. But, the 23 mm cannons were synchronized to fire through the propeller arc, and so actua,lly delivered less than cyclic weight of fire. Still, let's say it went from 5.58 kg per sec all the way down to 4.8 kg per second. That's enough to move the IL-2 into second place on the list, in my opinion.

I stand corrected, but fall abck on sources that disagree. It may well be that the very early IL-2's had the light armament and the production lanes had the heavy hitters aftrer testing of the prototypes. I can't say, but I do acknowledge that if the IL-2 DID have the 2 * 23 mmcannons, it was a fearsome ground attack aircraft. Coupled with its other good points, that may well move it into first place ... especially given the survivability of the airframe.

This is FUN! Makes me THINK! Thinking beats taking someone else's word for any day of the week!

Thanks for pointing out some potential errors, guys. I appreciate it and have revised my opinions accordingly.

I shudder to tjhink of the destruction it could have caused if equipped with 4 * 23 mm cannons. I bet the german tankers are glad it didn't have that, too. If it DID, then not a tank would be safe, and if THEY aren't safe, neither is anyone ELSE.

#18 tenmmike

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Posted 11 November 2003 - 10:04 AM

im bumping simon on his above post......greg the il-2 had no guns in the nose..... also some late model il2 had 37 mm cannons in replace of the even very nice later 23 mm.. il-2 m the later being the VYa 23mm cannon


#19 GregP

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Posted 11 November 2003 - 12:22 PM

Hey guys,

Got a very nice and tactful email from tenmmike disagreeing with me in regard to the powqer of the WWII 50-cal MG (Browning M2). He apprarently has quite a bit more experience than me at military arms.

He doubted the claim about the 55-gallon barrel being hurled about. I answered him that we DID shoot the 50 (can't say if it was an M2 or an M3) and the barrel DID move as I stated. I did allow that maybe the firing range instructor was full of crap when he claimed it had concrete in it. They didn't let us out on the live-fire range after we shot.

I also asked him if the M3 had more power than the M2. No reply as yet, but my sources all say the M3 had more muzzle energy. I was under the impression they shot the same round, so the "more muzzle energy" claim doesn't make sense unless the M3 shot a 50-cal round with more powder in it. Barrel length will add or subtract SOME energy, but not as much as the difference I see claimed between the muzzle energies claimed for the P-51D and the F-86A ... both of which had six 50-cal (12.7 mm) MG installed. The P-51 had six Browning M2's and the F-86 had six Browning M3's.

Any comments?

Also, haven't any of YOU seen the straffing flims from P-47's and P-51's where they decimated targets? I see 'em on the Discovery Wings channel sometimes, but have also seen them on WWIvideo documentaries in the past.

Again, any comments?

Last, I also was informed via email that the IL-2 did NOT have any nose cannons. If that is the case, we are back to the question, "Exactly what forward-firing armament DID the Ilyushin IL-2 have in the main variants, and what were the firing characteristics?"

Any Russian people in this forum? What do YOU think?

When I saw an IL-2 outside Moscow, I confess I was more interested in the AIRPLANE than the armament. I can't really recall paying any attention to the armament. I was much more interested in the cockpit layout, the airframe, THE ARMOR (couldn't MISS it! ... looked like a flying safe. I'd swear it looked to be, maybe, half an inch think or more!), and the engine / propeller combination. It was very crude, but looked like it would work in any conditions. Of course, they never TRIED them in the desert ... but that's another story, huh?

Most internet sources claim the IL-2 had one 7.62 mm MG for the observer. Then I see a claim for two 7.62 mm MG in the wings, another claim for two 7.62 mm MG in the wings and one 23 mm cannon (location unspecified), and another claim for two 7.62 mm MG in the wings and two 23 mm cannons in the nose! I even found one place that claimed four 23 mm cannons in late models!

Now I'm REALLY confused. Maybe they had ALL these armaments, depending on who Jospeh Stalin threatened on that particular month. Maybe the armamanet changed when they moved production east after the German advance. Maybe it changed in light of battlefield success (or lack thereof).

At this point, I'm not too sure anymore.

I AM sure that anything diving at you with eight 12.7 mm MG should scare the hell out of you unless you are in a VERY well armored tank.

Again, comments?

#20 Corsarius

Corsarius

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Posted 11 November 2003 - 12:33 PM

OK, I'm at work and thus away from my library, but to my knowledge the IL2 always had both forward MGs as well as cannon. Rockets were added later.

A curious peice of info that I heard was the MGs on later models of IL2s were merely used as rangefinders for the cannon. I think (maybe) they had 4x20mm...




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