How to Become a Ball Turret Gunner
By David Sears
Originally published by Air & Space Smithsonian, May 2015
To learn to shoot from a bomber, World War II airmen went to the movies.
Gunners on World War II bombers had only a microsecond to estimate an attacking fighter’s range, speed, path of attack, and bullet ballistics. During attacks that themselves lasted merely seconds, the gunner had to make those mental calculations, then align his weapons and sights, praying that the guns wouldn’t jam or the barrels melt. To teach bomber crews how to survive these aerial attacks, the Army Air Forces opened schools in isolated locales with favorable flying conditions. The first opened in mid-1941—despite, in the words of an Army report, the “unsatisfactory moral conditions” of the location: Las Vegas
Before the Army began preparations to enter World War II, aerial gunnery had been taught in more generalized Air Corps schools. But in the fall of 1941, the service opened a second school, near Harlingen, Texas. In the next two years, five more—another in Texas, two in Arizona, and two on Florida’s Gulf coast—followed. At full speed, the seven schools churned out 3,500 graduates a week, and nearly 300,000 by war’s end.