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"Aerial Bombing Attacks on Aircraft" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following U.S. intelligence report on Japanese and German aerial bomb attacks on Allied bombers originally appeared in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 26, June 3, 1943.

[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department publication Tactical and Technical Trends. As with all wartime intelligence information, data may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the text. Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]


For some time past isolated reports have been received of aircraft, usually Japanese Zekes and German FW-190s, dropping bombs in the path of our bombers. Recent information indicates increasing use of these aerial bombs.

The Japanese bombs appear to weigh from 50 to 100 pounds, and can be clearly seen from the time they leave the enemy plane. They explode about 5 to 10 seconds after leaving the plane, producing a vivid color, followed by white smoke streamers (which might indicate phosphorus) in a waterfall effect. One officer is of the opinion that if one of the larger bombs exploded inside of a five-plane Vee it might set most of the planes on fire, because of its intense heat. The bomb-fuzing system used may be either mechanical, functioning after a pre-determined time or after a pre-determined distance of fall; photo-electrical, functioning when a photo-electric unit in the bomb "sees" the target aircraft; or acoustic, functioning when the acoustic unit "hears" the target.

In some cases that have been observed in the Southwest Pacific Theater, the Japanese pilots have approached the American formation from head on, but at higher level, and have tried to time their release so as to have the bombs explode near the leading ship. After dropping the bombs, they pull up in a climbing turn. The force of the explosion, estimated from the blast effect on our planes, was stated to be about the same as that of a heavy antiaircraft shell, the blast giving nearby aircraft a severe tossing around.

The aerial use of bombs was first reported in May, 1942, in the Solomons area. A Zeke flew about 1,000 feet above and ahead of a formation of B-25s and dropped an object which exploded in front of the leader in a burst of bluish smoke and fragments. The bomber turned sharply and avoided it. The Zeke then turned and delivered a frontal attack on the B-25s. A few days later a B-17 was attacked by Zeke fighters. About the middle of June, our bomber formations in the Aleutian area were bombed by Zeke fighters.

Recently, during an attack by seven Type "O" single-engine fighters on a single Fortress, it was reported that the first formation of four Zekes climbed to a position directly above the B-17, when all four planes made a simultaneous release of small objects which exploded on a level with the B-17 but about 75 to 100 feet astern. The three other fighters, which had been flying on a parallel course, attacked the Fortress immediately after the explosions, opening fire at a range of 400 to 500 yards, and pressing the attack to within 150 yards. Having made their attack, they changed positions with the first four fighters and the entire procedure was repeated.

In a more recent report from the Solomons area, it is stated that a formation of 9 B-17s, while attacking Japanese destroyers, was intercepted by 8 to 10 Zekes which carried 2 aerial bombs apiece. Starting from an altitude of 15,000 feet, they dived and released the bombs above the B-17s after the pull-out. The bombs burst in front of the formation at a range of 20 to 150 yards.

Another B-17 formation was returning from a raid in the South Pacific when two or three float biplanes were observed flying approximately 2,500 to 3,000 feet above them. A bomb-shaped object was seen to drop from one of the planes. It exploded a very short distance above and to the right of the formation. A similar occurrence was reported with Zero's flying approximately 2,000 feet above the formation, while a float-biplane off at the side gave data to the fighters as to the altitude and the speed of the B-17s.

In spite of these attacks, to date there has been no report of substantial damage to our planes by Japanese bombs.

The Germans have likewise been experimenting with bombs of a similar nature. Reports from two Fortresses returning from a raid on the French coast are to the effect that, when they were proceeding at about 9,000 feet, two FW-190s dived to a position about 150 feet above them, and each released a cluster of bombs. The bombs burst about 20 yards behind the Fortresses, level with them or slightly above, without doing any damage.

FW-190s have bombed Fortresses from 1,000 feet while 3,000 feet ahead on a left right-angle course. The explosions occurred 600 feet ahead but level with the bombers, and appeared to be from bombs 6 to 10 inches in diameter dropped from wing racks. Altitude information was apparently supplied by Ju-88s flying level with our planes. In another raid, some damage to our planes was sustained by fragments from aerial bombs which appeared to be time bombs, 18 inches long and dropped singly. Information received from North Africa indicates that German and Italian fighters are apparently dropping bombs on our B-24s, and that one may have been destroyed in this manner. Apparently without sighting, 20- to 30-pound bombs are released by the fighters at 1,500 to 3,000 feet above the bombers, after the latter's altitude has been measured by level observation. Fuzes appear to be set for detonation in a vertical line 50 feet apart. One observer reported that a formation of B-17s flying over the French coast at 23,000 feet was attacked by dive-bombers, and the right elevator of one plane was severed by a bomb explosion forcing it down out of control. Other crews have described aerial bombing by FW-190s, which approached at 6 o'clock 4,000 to 5,000 feet above and released one 100-to-500-pound bomb each. Both white-and-gray and red-and-black bursts 30 feet in diameter have been seen. However, no definite pattern to these attacks has so far been indicated.

Although the Axis powers have not up to date had any particular success with the dropping of time bombs, such tactics may be encountered on an increasing scale, for it seems probable that they are making definite attempts to develop this form of attack.


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