How were gunners assigned their station?

If my memory serves me correctly, I believe the armorer-gunner, which was my duty, was usually assigned to the ball turret and the engineer-gunner was assigned to the upper turret. I'm not sure about the rest.

To add to the info I sent you about why I think the armor-gunner was in the ball turret and the engineer gunner was in the upper turret is because the ball turret was closer to the bomb bays and the top turret was closer to the cockpit.

Billy Nelson, S/SGT, 834th, ball gunner.


Thinking back, a couple of episodes regarding gunner assignments. I believe all gunners were cross-trained for any position. You are correct about the Ball turret position, the smallest or shortest gunner took it; in our crew that was Richard Chapman, but Our radio Ops, Malcomb "Jr." Barron was really the smallest crew member, but we needed him on the radios, he also had the job of shoving "chaff" out the side of the A/C from his radio desk position whenever we encountered flack. Our tail turret gunner, Harry Solley was adament about flying that position, even tho it made him air sick, he wanted to see where we had been and what damage we had done to the enemy! I learned about his air sickness problem very late in the game. He had covered it well and would not let his fellow gunners report the problem to me. I offered to move him to a more stable gunnery position swapping with another gunner, but he insisted he wanted that tail position and that he could and would do his job there. Crew member air sickness was a groundable condition! So he stayed and performed well. Harry was the oldest member of the crew, 34 or 35 I believe. The rest of us ranged in age from 21 yrs.(me) down to 18 (Jr.-the radio operator). The flight engineer, G. G. Beshore flew Top Turret, He needed to be close to engine controls, fuel gages and fuel controls. So, except for Flt Engineer, Radio Ops., the gunners pretty much drew straws or otherwise negotiated for the different gun positions. As I recall there were no arguements nor friction over who would serve where. We transitioned from the B-24 to the B-17 about halfway thru our tour without incident.

George Austin, LT, 833rd, pilot.


To my knowledge, positions were assigned by the individual's preference. My tailgunner, though six feet at least, trained for that position, and never moved. Waist gunners were most likely to exchange with the ball, but on my crew that rarely (if ever) happened, as my waist gunner was fairly stout. When my ball turret gunner got too cold, he would move into the radio room, and just leave the ball empty, especially if we were heading home. The top turret gunner was also trained as flight engineer. We depended on him for airspeed orally on approach, and other assistance like to check the tail wheel locked down, when the panel light failed to indicate that. The nose gunner was also trained as "toggleer", so gunners rarely changed from previously assigned positions.

Jim Simon, LT, 835th, copilot.


Funny that you should ask. In gunnery school, at least when i was at Kingman, AZ early in '43, we fired from manually controlled guns in beechcraft and in the rear cockpit of AT-6s. When I got to Clovis, NM for B-24 crew assignments, all flight engineers fired the top turret, the theory being that he should be close to the instruments, fuel-transfer controls, etc. The asst. Flight engineers usually flew the nose position (turret, after we got them that held for the 3 phases of training. My first crew was kept stateside as instructors, and I wangled a transfer to the 486th to go over. Through the 3 phases of training with the 486th, I fired top turret. When we got to england, engineers were assigned to the waist guns. Why? Never knew, but assumed the top turret was more important, so that if the engineer were needed in emergency, the top wouldn't be vacated. Sounds good? So, after 24 missions, the 24s went bye-bye and we got B-17s, engineers were back to the top turret. If you get any good answers, i'd appreciate knowing howz'a'cum.

Bob Bloch, S/SGT, 832nd, FE/Top/Waist


I know I had training in all gun positions of the B 24 in ( can't remember where) but was qualified in all turrets as to how they operated and had to do or spend time in them. The ball was usually, as you say, the smallest person. It scared the hell out of me though. I think the tail turret in the B 24 was a Consolidated mfg. the nose and Emerson mfg. the ball ???? but the engineer was in the top, and the radio was at a waist position.

We never thought of swapping positions, but we could operated them all.

Phil Anderson, S/SGT, 834th, RO/Waist


I am no authority but was assigned to the crew as the gunner in charge of the armaments on the plane. From what I gathered after the fact, I was sent to an air armament school in Denver where we were supposed to learn the bomb systems and the gun systems on the bombers the Air Corp had at that time. Then we were sent to gunnery school to learn how to shoot targets from a turret. The last gunnery school was "live" action where we spent considerable time using the shot gun to shoot "skeet" and then on the back of a truck with a circle ring to stand up in with shotgun in hand go around the track and as a Skeet clay disc came out of the Everglades (Station for me was Ft. Meyers, Florida), try to shoot it down. The gunner did not know from which direction they would be coming. Obviously, now, the idea was to train our reflexes to shoot ahead of the target so the pellets and target would collide at the right time. The final phase was to go up in a small plane outfitted with a gun and an open panel to shoot from. Another plane would come alongside, but at a distance out that was dragging a target on a long line (so as not to target the plane, but the canvas target). This time the gun was a machine gun, as I recall but not as big as the 50 caliber we had in combat, and using the firing technique they taught us (short bursts), see how many holes we made in the target. The target was 15 or 20 feet long and about 6 feet wide as I envision it now. They had so many bullets to be fired at the target so a count could be made. Somewhere along the line we spent time learning about trajectory from gun to target--the reason; they wanted to see how many holes a gunner could make without an electronic viewer to see how his reflexes for "leading" the target would be naturally. Two objects flying through the air coming or going in different directions must be coordinated correctly for them to collide. Never having had a gun or rifle or shotgun in my hand before the gunnery school, I had no idea what I was doing. But it worked. I had the highest score 21 "kills" of the clay pigeons on the skeet range of any of the class. And all they had told me about the shotgun was to put it on your shoulder and pull the trigger when you saw the disc.

At the last of the schooling, we were taught how to "lead" the targets. A final task was to sit in a theater like building with a huge screen ahead of you as you sat at a mock up of a turret. Airplanes would come out of the sky and you had to shoot them down. this same system was used to school us in identification. Pictures of various kinds of enemy and friendly planes would appear on the screen for fractions of minutes and out jobv was to identify them.

The armour gunner was assigned on the crew with his location the ball turret. The bombs in the bomb bay could be seen easily from the ball. If a bomb hung up then it had to be released before getting back home or the plane might blow. The other gunners went to the same gunnery schools but not the armament school

Now I don't know how much of this affected the war, but that is what I can remember of what my position was.

Ray Garrett, S/SGT, 834nd, armorer.


On a B17 The Flight Engineer manned the Sperry upper local Turret The Radio op manned his radios. The Armorer Gunner manned the ball or nose depending if it was a toggle ship; if so then the Armorer Gunner manned the nose as toggleer (Bombardier) and one of the waist gunners manned the ball. Three of the airmen were gunners only, all were trained on all positions. Three positions were graduates of Tech schools: Flight Engineer, Armorer, and Radio Op. Gunners were gunners only.

Bob Grant, S/SGT, 833rd, toggleer/nose.


You will probably find different ways gunners ended up in positions for combat. I can't speak for how they were selected because my first crew gunners were assigned to me when I got the list. The only one I had a problem with was the ball turret. My first one refused to leave with us for England. I was assigned another before we started out and he fired his 45 when on guard duty in Iceland. Then he refused to stay in his position during our first mission with the crew and even bent the curved door so it would not close to keep from having to stay in it. So I had to fire him and he was reassigned to the 15th AF in Italy. My next gunner loved the ball turret position and was killed while flying on the Cloud crew, because by then we had a PFF aircraft. All of our gunners were trained to work any gun position but never swapped to the best of my knowledge. And that is not the rest of the story but most of it.

Ron Bereman, CAPT, 832nd, pilot.

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