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Guest Rockcliffe

How did WW2 bombers navigate?

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I'm assuming they didn't use dead reckoning, as they cruised at heights of about 30,000 feet and they flew in IMC. Tristan

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Why would you assume that? The whole point of ded reckoning is that you have no outside references for periods of time. It's perfect for traveling through weather and across wide expanses of ocean. Pilotage and ded reckoning were the main ways they found their targets. The only radio navaids they could have counted on were those based in friendly territory or planted by special forces, and that made their use quite limited. Even then, they could have been subject to meaconing.

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Hello Tristan,There are quite a bunch of good movies and books about WW2 bombers, check them out if you are interested in the subject, I would recommend Memphis Belle or you could read Stephen E. Ambrose's Wild Blue. A navigator was a part of the crew apart from the 2 pilots and gunners. They navigated with the aid of maps and compasses along with landmarks. Also bear in mind that there were night bombings so it wasn't just dead reckoning.Regards

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>I've heard that celestial navigation was used too. A recognition of>main stars could allow for latitude and longitude calculations. A >sextant and accurate watch would be needed.In the late 50s and early 60s, my ANG fighter unit had one C-47. It had a plexiglass turret on top where the navigator could "shoot" the stars with a sextant. Well that's what I was told. By then the old Gooney Bird was equipped with a direction finder (albeit with a hand-operated directional antenna) and even a VOR system. I don't believe it had DME nor do I think it was ILS-capable.This is the end of the history lesson; carry on.R-

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Tristan- early dead reckoning navigation to bomb targets in Germany was notoriously inaccurate. Often the attacking planes were miles off target. Later investigations showed this to be a waste of planes and crews. And the weather over Europe often meant that the target was never visible to the bomber crew. By 1943, electronics had developed to allow radio beam navigation to targets. "Gee" was the first such system, followed by "Oboe" and then "H2S", which if I recall, was a radar bombing system. Still the accuracy was very poor- to hit a specific factory, the bomber had to be extremely precisely positioned. The Royal Air Force and the Royal Canadian Air Force took on the task of night area bombing, often in very poor met conditions. The US 8th Air Force with the Norden bombsight had the task of precision daylight bombing of specific targets- an extremely dangerous mission until the long range P51 Mustang fighter was available to escort the B17s. To improve night bombing accuracy, the very fast DeHavilland Mosquito bomber was used in Pathfinder squadrons to fly the Oboe and H2S radio beams, then visually locate specific targets and drop coloured flares to indicate to the following bomber fleet where to release their bomb loads. With hundreds of bombers following the beams in a steady stream, a raid could take up to an hour or so, with the Pathfinders hanging around and dropping flares amidst heavy smoke, cloud, radar controlled searchlights & anti-aircraft fire and German night fighters trying to break up the formations and drive the bombers off target. So to answer your question- Yes, dead reckoning was used-especially on the return trip when many aircraft were way off the usual flight paths. A scary propostion in the dark with perhaps an engine shot out, nothing to be seen below through the cloud and the North Sea waiting for you when you ran out of gas after miscalculating your DR position. But the AGE of ELECTRONIC NAVIGATION had arrived !!Alex Reid

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>>A navigator was a part of the crew apart from the 2 pilots and>gunners. They navigated with the aid of maps and compasses>along with landmarks. Also bear in mind that there were night>bombings so it wasn't just dead reckoning.>>Regards>Night bombing and overcast bombing required them to use pathfinding aircraft. The general bomber force was typically not equipped or trained to do anything beyond pilotage, ded reckoning and night star shooting. Pathfinders in Europe would use systems like H2X or Oboe to find the target and then mark it with their bombs or give the drop command to the force. H2X was an airborne groundmapping radar system while Oboe used ground stations in friendly territory.

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Dead reckoning was certainly used, and caused a lot of missions to end up bombing the wrong city by mistake.Later in the war the first long range radio navigation systems came into use, allowing aircraft to determine their position with some accuracy based on the relative signal strengths from a series of radio transmitters at known locations in England.

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If you're interested in celestial navigation, have a look at the bubble sextant for FS uploaded by Dave Bitzer and Mark Beaumount (dc3_bbsx.zip). It approximates the procedure of celestial navigation. I must admit, I tried it a few times, but soon learned to appreciate at GPS! Still, it's one of the most inventive addons for FS I've ever seen.BlairCYOW

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Wow..totally relying on DR would have lead to quite a bit of navigation error. I guess they had specialist navigators on the flight, but for DR you really need to have regular reference to ground features, i.e positive fixes. Flying over extensive cloud cover without reference to the ground for long periods would certainly have caused track error, especially if wind aloft differed some what from forecast. Tristan

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Incidently, in Martin Middlebrook's book on the Berlin bombing raids he mentions that the bomber stream was thrown completely off course on one of the missions when it encountered 100 knot winds aloft. No one could believe such high winds could exist. In fact, they had just discovered the jet stream!My Dad was an RCAF navigator so I've always had an interest in this.BlairCYOW

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Another sidelight to aerial navigation in WWII was the system used by the DamBusters to maintain altitude on their famous raid. They had 2 spotlights- fore and aft which combined into one spot on the water when flying over the dam reservoirs at the precise altitude needed for the mines(bombs) to deploy properly.You can sort of duplicate this feat in Flight Sim. Fly over a large body of water at night so there are no land lights showing. Turn on landing lights, then descend slowly until these lights show on the water. Now fly at a precise/constant speed and maintain altitude using ONLY the refection of these lights on the water."Bombs Away Skipper!"PS- in the raid, the pretty streams of white, red, orange and green arcing toward you were NOT fireworks !!!!Alex Reid

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They did use de'd reckoning (deduced reckoning) in conjuction with celestial navigation and during daylight with star shots on the sun using sextants. They also used wind drift meters, and other gadgets like dropping a smoking canister in the water and tracking how far off bearing the aircraft would drift over a given distance. They also used the white caps on the ocean to see which way the wind was blowing and how hard (mostly only good for lower altitude I assume). Dive bomber pilots on U.S. carriers even carried sextants. Amelia Earhart had reported over the radio to the navy ship in the area of Howland Island that they had taken a line of position on the sun. Most searches today looking for her aircraft look along that line of position.Today we use celestial navigation just as they and seafarers did hundreds of years ago except we call it GPS and the stars are ones we put up there. Exact same concept though. Miller

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Flight Simulator teaches us a lot of bad habits - and basic navigation is one where we skip the basics.Most of us never plot our intended course across a map, never check our time between waypoints and calculate our ground speed and drift due to winds.In the first 30 minutes of flight a navigator on an aircraft of that age has a feel for the winds, their impact upon the intended course, the aircraft speed.An accurate watch was an early pilot's friend. Knowing how long it was taking to fly between two visual waypoints was critical.But celestial navigation was something quickly adopted by the aviation community - once they figured out how to create bubble sextants and handle height reduction.When I was in my first US Navy squadron in 1974 - navigators in our A-3 Skywarrior jets, our P-3 turboprops and our C-121 aircraft all routinely used the sextant.Of course we were based in Guam and there is a lot of open water out of the range of navaids to get from Guam to anywhere.My cousin was a B/N in F-4 Phantom's in 1967 when they flew the squadron aircraft from El Toro to Chu Lai.For many legs they needed the KC-135 tankers as pathfinders - but his description of having to find Wake Island on the leg from Midway when the pathfinder was grounded is scary. Of the eight navigators who thought they had a good position, four put the flight of 16 aircraft north of Wake and four put the flight south of Wake.Understanding and being able to use DR is a skill modern pilots need, but the workload has been so tremendously reduced that specially trained navigators are not needed in commercial aviation.But as one fellow who flies cargo B747's across the Pacific put it a couple days ago."Water on the right, land on the left - that's how to find Alaska when flying from China."

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The book North Star Over My Shoulder by Bob Buck talks a lot about celestial navigation, first a civilian pilot with Transport Command and later as chief pilot for TWA. He describes one flight from Alaska to Midway where, as you might guess, navigation was critical.

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