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Thread: Would RFC home defense (i.e. London) fighters use incendiary bullets against bombers?

  1. #1

    Question Would RFC home defense (i.e. London) fighters use incendiary bullets against bombers?

    Basically, I'm wondering if the British squadrons defending the British Isles would use incendiary bullets on missions to intercept bombers or not. For anti-zeppelin use I'm pretty sure that had incendiary ammunition on hand, the question is whether they would use it against aircraft. There was still a strong feeling against using them against non-airship/balloon targets, and (perhaps more importantly) they weren't overly reliable, and could occasionally malfunction somewhat explosively when fired. It would certainly be a way to even the odds against a stakken, but I'm wondering if it's historical or not.

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    I think yes. After doing some background reading on non standard ammo in the wake of the "Barker" discussion recently I learnt that by 1918 the use of explosive, atmour piercing and incendiary rounds was becoming more commonplace on both sides, to the extent that some squadrons standard loadouts were a combination of two or three types. The idea that these special types were banned is something of a myth, or at least a chivalrous notion discarded in the cauldron of war especially from 1917.

  3. #3

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    Quote Originally Posted by David Manley View Post
    I think yes. After doing some background reading on non standard ammo in the wake of the "Barker" discussion recently I learnt that by 1918 the use of explosive, atmour piercing and incendiary rounds was becoming more commonplace on both sides, to the extent that some squadrons standard loadouts were a combination of two or three types. The idea that these special types were banned is something of a myth, or at least a chivalrous notion discarded in the cauldron of war especially from 1917.
    I've found the same thing... and by as early as 1917. Both sides made use of tracer, AP, incendiary, and explosive rounds, and they did so regularly. In fact, it was oftentimes the case that no standard "ball" ammunition was loaded at all.

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    Quote Originally Posted by BraselC5048 View Post
    There was still a strong feeling against using them against non-airship/balloon targets...
    I'm thinking this has been overplayed. A-H aircraft used explosive rounds against Russian bombers in April 1916, and the RFC used Buckingham ammunition against ground troops in July 1916. Incendiary and explosive bullets were found on German aircraft captured in 1917... and the list goes on. Though they may have been designed to shoot down balloons and airships, they were used for far more than this.

    Besides, alleged German outrage over British use of the "Buckingham" round strikes me as willful blindness, as it was the Germans who introduced phosgene gas and flamethrowers onto the battlefield. Both sides made use of what they had.

    Quote Originally Posted by BraselC5048 View Post
    and (perhaps more importantly) they weren't overly reliable, and could occasionally malfunction somewhat explosively when fired. It would certainly be a way to even the odds against a stakken, but I'm wondering if it's historical or not.
    This is certainly true. The British were lucky... they could load their Lewis guns with the dangerous stuff, segregating it from its more benign cousins. The Germans... not so much. It's one of the reasons you'll see late war German scouts (notably the Fokker D.VII) flying without engine panels to take advantage of the cooling effects of increased airflow.

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    There is a massive romanticism about the war in the air, not helped by the "knights of the air" image, jousting above the clouds in honourable combat etc, unwritten truces on "holy days" etc. (also a great many technical and historical myths but then thats a problem with every conflict). The reality was rather more businesslike and horrific than some might have liked it to be seen. I'm fine with the romantic image, it certainly helps with promoting the game, participation games at shows etc. but in the back of one's mind should be images from Aces High rather than Blackadder.....

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    Quote Originally Posted by David Manley
    The idea that these special types were banned is something of a myth, or at least a chivalrous notion discarded in the cauldron of war especially from 1917.
    Interesting...I found the following:

    "The principal provision relating to the legality of weapons is contained in article 23e of the Annex to Hague Convention IV Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land of 18 October 1907, which prohibits the employment of "arms, projectiles, or material of a nature to cause superfluous injury." In some law of war treatises, the term "unnecessary suffering" is used rather than "superfluous injury." The terms are regarded as synonymous."

    "The terms "unnecessary suffering" and "superfluous injury" have hot been formally defined within international law. In determining whether a weapon or projectile causes unnecessary suffering, a balancing test is applied between the force dictated by military necessity to achieve a legitimate objective, vis-a-vis suffering that may be considered superfluous to that intended objective. The test is not easily applied. For this reason, the degree of "superfluous" injury must be disproportionate to the intended objectives for development of the weapon, that is, it must outweigh substantially the military necessity for the weapon system"

    Source of both quotes: https://www.globalsecurity.org/milit...iary-legal.htm

    To get back tot he question at hand, yes, it would seem that incendiary ammunition was used, at least on occsion by not only the Home Defense squadrons, but by all belligerents, at least by the late war, if not earlier.

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    The Saint Petersburg Declaration of 1868 or in full 'Declaration Renouncing the Use, in Time of War, of Explosive Projectiles Under 400 Grammes Weight', a predecessor of the Hague Conventions of 1899 & 1907, came about due to a fulminating musket ball developed by Russia who decided to negotiate a ban before an arms race developed and is what is usually referred to regarding use of this ammo type.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_...ration_of_1868

    "He is wise who watches"

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    Of course the incendiaries, APs and HE bullets were intended to destroy aircraft rather than the personnel who happened to be inside them, a nuance that wasn't really applicable in 1868. Similar situations exist today. For example, you can't field laser weapons designed to blind enemy personnel. However, you are allowed to field laser designators, or laser damage weapons designed to destroy enemy optical systems. If they just so happen to blind personnel in a target that is being designated, or who are close to or using optical systems such as telescopes and binoculars then thats bad luck... Sad, but true.

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    "...such projectiles are small and just powerful enough to kill or wound only one man, and as an ordinary bullet will do for this purpose, there is no overriding need for using these inhuman weapons. On the other hand, the use of a certain weapon, great as its inhuman result may be, need not be prohibited by international law if it has a great military effect." Ryuichi Shimoda et al. v. The State (1963)
    Slightly out of context as they were referring to atomic weapon damages (the case was unsuccessful) but essentially that's the point.

    "He is wise who watches"

  10. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by David Manley View Post
    Of course the incendiaries, APs and HE bullets were intended to destroy aircraft rather than the personnel who happened to be inside them, a nuance that wasn't really applicable in 1868. Similar situations exist today. For example, you can't field laser weapons designed to blind enemy personnel. However, you are allowed to field laser designators, or laser damage weapons designed to destroy enemy optical systems. If they just so happen to blind personnel in a target that is being designated, or who are close to or using optical systems such as telescopes and binoculars then thats bad luck... Sad, but true.
    To be fair... this is no different than today. It's been a while for me, but the Browning M2 was (at one time?) classified as an "anti-materiel" weapon, precluding it's use against persons. Shame if "persons" happen to be occupying vehicles, buildings, etc...

  11. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by fast.git View Post
    To be fair... this is no different than today. It's been a while for me, but the Browning M2 was (at one time?) classified as an "anti-materiel" weapon, precluding it's use against persons. Shame if "persons" happen to be occupying vehicles, buildings, etc...
    Not really, no, but this is a pretty common myth. Really, if you intend to use is primarily (if not almost exclusively) against infantry, you should load it mostly with ball and AP (tracer is always fine), but if it's intended more of an anti-halftrack/airplane etc. weapon (primarily dictated by what you're mounting it on), go ahead and load whatever you want.

  12. #12

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    More wondering not so much if it was loaded, but whether it would be historically justified within the context of the WoG system in this case.

    Perhaps incendiary bullets should only be given in-game in 1915-16 games. In later games, the use of a proportion of them would be assumed within the WoG system by default, and therefore there isn't a justification for giving an advantage within the game.

    In which case, as it is 1918, the answer to my question would be that it would not be historical to give them the gameplay advantage of incendiary bullets, as they are using them already. I suppose if there are any 1917-1918 scenarios involving balloons, they should still be given, representing an usually high proportion of incendiary and explosive bullets.

    Also, don't see why anybody would bother to load AP, nothing flying had any armor to penetrate in the first place, and I'd imagine that plain ball would have no difficulty going through pretty much any part of almost any plane, unless you want to cause deeper damage inside an engine or something.

  13. #13

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    Quote Originally Posted by BraselC5048 View Post
    Not really, no, but this is a pretty common myth. Really, if you intend to use is primarily (if not almost exclusively) against infantry, you should load it mostly with ball and AP (tracer is always fine), but if it's intended more of an anti-halftrack/airplane etc. weapon (primarily dictated by what you're mounting it on), go ahead and load whatever you want.
    My point exactly.

  14. #14

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    Quote Originally Posted by BraselC5048 View Post
    More wondering not so much if it was loaded, but whether it would be historically justified within the context of the WoG system in this case.

    Perhaps incendiary bullets should only be given in-game in 1915-16 games. In later games, the use of a proportion of them would be assumed within the WoG system by default, and therefore there isn't a justification for giving an advantage within the game.

    In which case, as it is 1918, the answer to my question would be that it would not be historical to give them the gameplay advantage of incendiary bullets, as they are using them already. I suppose if there are any 1917-1918 scenarios involving balloons, they should still be given, representing an usually high proportion of incendiary and explosive bullets.

    Also, don't see why anybody would bother to load AP, nothing flying had any armor to penetrate in the first place, and I'd imagine that plain ball would have no difficulty going through pretty much any part of almost any plane, unless you want to cause deeper damage inside an engine or something.
    Even tracer rounds were noted to have a rather inflammatory effect once fuel tanks were perforated. One didn't need incendiary bullets to set aircraft alight. As for AP, it was -- apparently -- believed that such rounds would play havoc with engines and such.

  15. #15

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    Quote Originally Posted by fast.git View Post
    Even tracer rounds were noted to have a rather inflammatory effect once fuel tanks were perforated. One didn't need incendiary bullets to set aircraft alight. As for AP, it was -- apparently -- believed that such rounds would play havoc with engines and such.
    Yes, the big difference between belief and reality. I would venture to say that the real effects of explosive rounds on WW1 aircraft were much less than what they believed (or possibly hoped) them to be.
    Karl
    It is impossible for a man to begin to learn what he thinks he knows. -- Epictetus

  16. #16

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jager View Post
    Yes, the big difference between belief and reality. I would venture to say that the real effects of explosive rounds on WW1 aircraft were much less than what they believed (or possibly hoped) them to be.
    Karl
    Totally. The cartridges were a little too small... and the aircraft were pretty flammable all on their own. Incendiary rounds were more successful, with both sides having developed increasingly functional rounds as the war went on.

  17. #17

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    Quote Originally Posted by fast.git View Post
    To be fair... this is no different than today
    Yes, that was my point

  18. #18

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    Quote Originally Posted by BraselC5048 View Post
    More wondering not so much if it was loaded, but whether it would be historically justified within the context of the WoG system in this case.

    Perhaps incendiary bullets should only be given in-game in 1915-16 games. In later games, the use of a proportion of them would be assumed within the WoG system by default, and therefore there isn't a justification for giving an advantage within the game.

    In which case, as it is 1918, the answer to my question would be that it would not be historical to give them the gameplay advantage of incendiary bullets, as they are using them already. I suppose if there are any 1917-1918 scenarios involving balloons, they should still be given, representing an usually high proportion of incendiary and explosive bullets.

    Also, don't see why anybody would bother to load AP, nothing flying had any armor to penetrate in the first place, and I'd imagine that plain ball would have no difficulty going through pretty much any part of almost any plane, unless you want to cause deeper damage inside an engine or something.
    You got it with your last sentence. AP was loaded primarily to cause more damage to engines

  19. #19

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    In 1918 the Junkers J.1 ground attack plane had an 'armoured bathtub' to protect the crew but there were not many of them used. The armour piercing bullets may have been useful against them.

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  20. #20

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    Quote Originally Posted by Naharaht View Post
    In 1918 the Junkers J.1 ground attack plane had an 'armoured bathtub' to protect the crew but there were not many of them used. The armour piercing bullets may have been useful against them.

    Click image for larger version. 

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    The AEG G.IVk also had armor around much of the cockpit and armor panels on the engine nacelles. Makes me wonder how 'Pilot wounded' and 'Engine Damage' special damage should be treated for these airplanes.
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    Ironically, the 1868 St Petersburg declaration allowed explosive and incendiary shells in cannon, using a 400g minimum mass definition.

    Hotchkiss developed his revolving cannon with that minimum in mind, so from 1872 you had a 37mm rapid fire gun firing explosive rounds.

    Which does mean that the occasional use of light cannon on WW1 planes, as well as bombs and rockets, didn't break the rules.

  22. #22

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    The Home Defence night fighters would load ammunition a while before the mission. Their excuse for including incendiary ammunition every night could be that the might encounter a Zeppelin.

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    In any case, the use of incendiary and explosive rifle calibre rounds against aircraft does seem to have been acceptable. Outrage and potential breach of conventions was directed more against the use of them against soldiers (i.e. strafing). Even there, no-one seems to have been too worried about tracer rounds.

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    From what I have heard a lot of Armourers were up to all sorts of tricks such as crimping the necks of the bullet cases, filing the bullet itself and introducing spots of mercury into the end of the bullet, all to give them an extra bite against "Zeps"!
    Rob.
    "Courage is the art of being the only one who knows you're scared to death."

  25. #25

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    Quote Originally Posted by mrinku View Post
    In any case, the use of incendiary and explosive rifle calibre rounds against aircraft does seem to have been acceptable. Outrage and potential breach of conventions was directed more against the use of them against soldiers (i.e. strafing). Even there, no-one seems to have been too worried about tracer rounds.
    As I recall there was a long discussion about this a few months back that started with "using incendiaries against aircraft was an unspeakable evil for which perpetrators could expect to be shot if captured", but some digging quickly revealed hat it was actually fairly commonplace. So more of a myth than reality



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