The Pacific War Online Encyclopedia
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National Museum of the USAF
Bombers were aircraft designed to
drop bombs and other explosive ordinance on enemy
surface targets. They generally also carried defensive machine
gun or cannon armament. Most were optimized for a particular kind of
bombing mission, which led to a bewildering variety of designs.
Heavy bombers were optimized for
range and bomb load. Most were also fairly heavily armed and
protected with armor plate for
survivability in enemy
airspace. They were most suitable for strategic bombing of fixed
locations such as arms factories or other economic infrastructure.
bombers sacrificed some range and bomb load for speed
and ease of manufacture. They were suitable for use against enemy lines
of communication, but usually lacked the range and survivability for
deep in enemy territory.
Light bombers carried a relatively light bomb load but were suitable for tactical missions requiring rapid response and flexibility. Most were single engine aircraft with a crew of two or three. Dive bombers specialized in accurate attacks with bombs against high-valued land or naval targets. Torpedo bombers, as the name implies, were naval aircraft specializing in delivering torpedoes against shipping, but they could also be employed as horizontal bombers against ground targets. A few light bombers, particularly in Japanese service, were capable neither of carrying torpedoes nor of maintaining the steep dives characteristic of dive bombers.
Heavy and medium bombers typically attacked using horizontal bombing
methods that were notoriously inaccurate. During a 1938 exercise, Army
bombers achieved a hit rate against target ship Utah of 11.9%
from 8000' to 18,000' (2400m to 5500m) altitude, which was far better
than ever achieved in actual combat. From 7 December 1941 through
the battle of Midway, Army bombers scored only a single hit on an enemy warship, which was at anchor at the time.
A horizontal bombing attack also required that the bomber flight
straight and level during the final bombing run, leaving it vulnerable
to fighters or antiaircraft fire.
The length of the run depended in part on the quality of the bomb sight
being used, but the U.S. Navy estimated that the Norden bombsight
required about a 45 second bombing run.
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