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The early USAAF raids over France in late 1942/early 1943 were flown principally by four B-17 F equipped BGs. The Fortresses mounted a single 0.30 cal gun in the nose fired by the bombardier using alternative sockets, none of which gave a good field of fire and did not pose a big threat to attacking fighters. JG 2 and JG 26 were the units to defend against these first USAAF raids. Hauptmann Egon Mayer, Kommandeur of III./JG 2 and Staka Georg-Peter Eder were credited as being the pilots who developed the frontal attack technique which was first used in an attack on 23 November 1942 against a USAAF raid on St. Nazaire. In a frontal attack it was possible to hit the vital parts of the cockpit and crew as well as the engines. The impact energy of the bullets was increased by the speed of the attacking aircraft as well as the targeted a/c.
It was on the other hand much more difficult to lead and set up a head-on attack as it demanded correct estimation of the target speed, course and altitude as even a slight deviation from the head-on direction made the attack less effective and more dangerous with the collision risk increased. To get the correct altitude and course the bomber formation was shadowed, overtaken and a final 180° turn executed. It took good estimation, timing and finally strong nerves to execute. With approach speeds of up to a combined 800-850 km/h there was only 2.5 seconds between opening fire and a collision! The 'fright factor' was expected to help break up the bomber formation and hence the defensive fire. The method was slightly modified to be initiated from a higher altitude making it easier to estimate closing speed and distance to the target - hence the classic "twelve-o-clock-high" warning! The USAAF of course tried to improve the B-17s nose armament, first by installing a hand operated 0.50 cal or even two fixed 0.50 cal in some aircraft. The final solution was the chin turret with two 0.50 cal introduced in later production aircraft. These on the other hand made the a/c a bit slower (10km/h) and more directionally unstable which was a disadvantage to tight formation flying. Frontal attacks were later augmented by stern attacks from the rear for a number of reasons - the lack of good unit leaders and experienced pilots who could skilfully could execute successful frontal attacks. In addtion the introduction of long-range USAAF escort fighters hampered the defenders attempts at assembly for frontal attacks while the improved frontal armament on B-17s and B-24s negating the earlier advantage of utilising a blind defence sector by attacking head-on.
(by F19 Gladiator)