Rear gunner

Tail gunner

A tail gunner or rear gunner is a crewman on a military aircraft who functions as a gunner defending against enemy fighter attacks from the rear, or "tail", of the plane. The tail gunner operates a flexible machine gun emplacement on either the top or tail end of the aircraft with a generally unobstructed view toward the rear of the aircraft. While the term tail gunner is usually associated with a crewman inside a gun turret, tail gun armaments may also be operated by remote control from another part of the aircraft.

General description

The tail gun armament and arrangement varied between countries. During World War II, USAAF heavy bomber designs such as the B-17 Flying Fortress and B-29 Superfortress used a fixed gunner position with the guns themselves in a separate turret covering an approximately 90-degree rear arc. Typical armament was two 0.50 inch M2 Browning machine guns. In contrast, Royal Air Force heavy bombers such as the Avro Lancaster and Handley Page Halifax used a powered turret capable of 180 degree rotation containing the tail gunner and four 0.303 inch Browning machine guns. A similar arrangement was used in the American B-24 Liberator heavy bomber (but with two 0.50 inch heavy machine guns.)

In German aircraft such as the Dornier Do 17, Heinkel He 111 and Junkers Ju 88, the gun position covering the tail was often in the dorsal position at the rear of the crew compartment or part way along the back of the fuselage. This gave reasonable coverage above the line of the fuselage but might be supplemented by a ventral position that covered the rear arc from underneath the fuselage.

In smaller ground attack aircraft and dive bombers such as the Junkers Ju 87 and SBD Dauntless, the tail gunner was seated right behind the pilot and operated a machine gun on a flexible mount, either enclosed within the canopy or in an open position. In these type of aircraft, the tail gunner also usually served as the radio operator.

The tail gunner fulfilled a second role as a lookout for attacking enemy fighters, particularly in British bombers operating at night. As these aircraft operated individually instead of being part of a bombing formation, the bombers' first reaction to an attacking night fighter was to engage in radical evasive maneuvers such as a corkscrew roll; firing guns in defense was of secondary importance. The British slang term for tail gunners was "Tail-end Charlies", while in the Luftwaffe they were called Heckschwein ("tail-end pigs").

The tail gunner was most commonly used during World War II and early Cold War years (on large bombers), but the position has become largely obsolete due to advancements in long-range air combat weapons such as air-to-air missiles as well as modern detection and countermeasures against such armaments.

Partial list of aircraft with tail gun positions

This is a list of aircraft to show the different approaches to tail gun positions.


United Kingdom

British bombers of World War II featured Nash & Thompson hydraulic or Boulton Paul electro-hydraulic tail turrets usually fitted with 0.303 inch (7.7 mm) Browning guns.



See also

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