The Norden Bombsight

Discussion in 'The War In The Air' started by The Aviator, Dec 13, 2007.

  1. The Aviator

    The Aviator Discharged

    I guess all my life since I became interested in Second World War aviation I have heard the Americans talk of their famous bombsight.
    It was so secret that the US wouldn't at first allow B-17s procured for the RAF in 1942 to be fitted with them.
    Although I am yet to find a mention of it, I have read in the past that the Norden sight was actually fitted with an explosive device that could be triggered in case the aircraft crashed in enemy territory.

    The Norden bombsight however, was crucial to the success of the U.S. Army Air Forces' daylight bombing campaign during World War II. Initially developed by Carl Norden for the U.S. Navy, the Army Air Corps acquired its first Norden bombsight in 1932. Highly classified, it gave American forces bombing accuracy unmatched by any other nation at the time.

    Initially, production of the Norden bombsight lagged, forcing the rapidly expanding Army Air Forces to use the less accurate Sperry S-1 bombsight. By 1943, however, enough Norden bombsights had become available, and production of the S-1 ended.

    The Norden bombsight functioned as a part of a whole system. As the bomber approached its target, the bombardier entered data about wind direction, airspeed and altitude into the bombsight's analog computer, which calculated wind drift and provided the correct aim point. An internal gyroscope provided the stability necessary for using the telescopic sight at high altitudes. When connected to the Sperry C-1 Autopilot, the Norden bombsight provided unprecedented accuracy.

    Although newspapers at the time claimed it was so accurate that it could "drop a bomb into a pickle barrel," the Norden bombsight seems archaic by the standards of today's U.S. Air Force. On the famous bombing raid against the ball-bearing factories at Schweinfurt in October 1943, the 8th Air Force sent more than 250 B-17 bombers to destroy the target. The bombardiers used Norden bombsights, but only one of every 10 of their bombs landed within 500 feet of their target. As a result, despite paying the high price of 60 bombers and 600 aircraft, the raid failed to completely destroy the target, and additional bombing raids were needed.
    By contrast, modern precision guided munitions are accurate to within a few feet, making a single airplane more effective than the hundreds of bombers of WWII.

    Check out this great site for details of the Norden sight.

    Attached Files:

  2. Slipdigit

    Slipdigit Old Hickory Recon

    Yes, accuracy was severly lacking. By 1943, the average error was 450 in perfect conditions and 1200 yards in poor conditions. For night bombers, the figure was closer to 3 miles.

    The pinpoint bombing really meant that only about half of the bombs dropped within a quarter mile of the target and resulted in "agricultural bombing"-the plowing up of fields around the target.

    In 1942, only about 10% of bombs dropped by Bomber Command were falling within the target area, sometimes leaving the Germans wondering what the target actually was.

    Both bombing campaigns were wasting bombs, aircraft and more importantly, men.

    Brute Force, by John Ellis, Chap 4
  3. 4th wilts

    4th wilts Discharged

    is it not true that jerry knew and indeed made a running copy of this wonder device,before war was declared,i seen it on a t.v show a while ago with charlton heston doing the narration.yours,lee.
  4. machine shop tom

    machine shop tom Senior Member

    There is a small Yankee Air Force museum about 50 miles from my home that has a Norden bombsight.

    Very interesting piece.

  5. The Aviator

    The Aviator Discharged

    What's that museum called Tom. Might have a look at it on the net.
  6. machine shop tom

    machine shop tom Senior Member

    What's that museum called Tom. Might have a look at it on the net.

    Yankee Air Force - Wurtsmith Division

    I've taken my son (11) there a couple of times. This last summer we saw the B-25 Yankee Warrior. A few years back the Collings Foundation brought their B-17 and B-24 there and I got to tour both.

    The Collings Foundation - Preserving Living Aviation History for Future Generations


    BTW, the air base the museum is located on is an old SAC base. There used to be nuclear-armed B-52s on stand-by there 24/7/365. I used to go and watch those behemoths take off and land.

  7. Smudger Jnr

    Smudger Jnr Our Man in Berlin

    My late American Uncle whose name was Ross, worked at Base Air Depot No 2 at Warton Lancashire.

    He worked for the company called Honeywell, which staill produces electrical gadgets.
    This company was involved in the development of the bombsight.

    He was an early worker in mechanical and electrical computers and set up the training school at Warton.

    Although not in the military he was given the honoury rank of a Captain and so was in uniform, which helped with the heavy security. I wonder if this was unique?

    At first the bomb sights were escorted by armed guards to and from the aircraft and kept in secure rooms until required by operations or maintainance.

    My uncle was strictly forbidden from ever flying in any of the bombers, so he must have been an important cog in the machinery.

    In 1943 Ross was out on a bicycle ride with some other friends and became hopelessly lost due to all the roadside signs being taken away.

    My late fathers younger sister rescued them and took them back to the base, which was the start of a romance that ended in them becoming married in 1944.

    Kathleen my aunt is still with us and has grand and great grand children and still lives in Pennsylvania, USA.

  8. Gage

    Gage The Battle of Barking Creek MOD

    I thought only the lead aircraft carried a Norden and the rest bombed on his lead? So not every aircraft had a bomb sight.
  9. Smudger Jnr

    Smudger Jnr Our Man in Berlin


    I think that the Norden bombsight was a standard fitting to most US Bombers, but as you pointed out there was a nominated lead bomb aimer, who was usually the most experience in the group.

    When the lead bomb aimer dropped his bombs then the others dropped theirs.

    If this plane did not make it over the target the next in line would take over as lead and so on.

    The attached site is a good one all about the Bombsight.


  10. Wimpy

    Wimpy Member

    Was it true that every bomber fitted with the Norden bomb sight had an armed guard when it was parked on the tarmac?

  11. Smudger Jnr

    Smudger Jnr Our Man in Berlin

    I am sure that I read once that that was the case early on.

    However, later, when it was found that the Germans knew all about the bombsight the armed guards ceased.

    That's my understanding of the situation.

  12. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    It was regarded that the Norden bombsight was an inferior bombing aid to the Sperry bombsight which apparently became second in the procurement race.

    The problem with training in North America is that the excellent practice bombing results could not be repeated over Europe.The cloud base, frequently, was low, such that the bombsight could not be used in poor weather conditions.The solution was to harness radar bombing which the British TRE was developing.The USAAF did not have experience of night bombing and could not operate by day if the cloud cover was low. (A similar case,20 years later, when the F104 was stated to be an excellent fighter over the skies of North America but a poor performer when "tried and tested" in the European adverse weather conditions.)

    The Norden bombsight was so highly thought of by the US establishment that the gear was declared top secret and information was denied to the British government.However the British government did allow the secrets of H2S to be made available later to the Americans to give them a kick start with their own form of H2S,H2X.

    There was a change of policy when the British government bought the early Fortress version, the B17C, which was designated by the RAF as the Fortress 1 and had the Norden fitted but a poor performance from the bombsight and frequent mechanical trouble from the aircraft, curtailed its use by the RAF with 90 Squadron.The operational performance of this squadron was dismal when equipped with the Fortress 1
  13. canuck

    canuck Token Colonial Patron

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