Tuesday, May 18, 2021
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I found your Web site to be most interesting especially as it gave a lot of information about No.5 OTU Boundary Bay and Abbotsford where I was trained to become a Ball turret gunner.

Also, on Turrets, Bill Bowler gave a lot information with an excellent coverage of the Tail Turret but I feel he rather glossed over the Ball Turret. It's possible that he never flew ball so he missed out on the thrills, fear, discomfort, and possibly even the benefits that this piece of machinery could provide

Firstly let me explain that the Ball turret was not my first choice of position. At Boundary Bay we were trained in all positions but the other gunners that I agreed to crew with, were all taller than me and the shortest, always became the Ball gunner due to the size of the turret. Didn't get a choice really. Got the short straw.

The Ball turret was a retractable sphere with a square door on top. The gunner had to get into it from inside the aircraft and it had to be lowered before it could become operational . This was a two man job, the ball gunner and usually the waist gunner. The turret had to be manually cranked round, using a small handle, until the guns, (two .5 Brownings), were pointing downwards. The lid/door could then be opened and the gunner had to slide in, feet first, past the Sperry gun sight, and sit on a small seat. His feet had to be about 18 inches apart so they would go into the solid stirrup arrangements on each side of a circular perspex window in the bottom of the sphere. Each stirrup contained a sprung pedal, one operated the gun sight the other, his throat microphone. The gunner would now lean forwards looking between his feet. Clip up his safety belt and the Waist gunner would close and lock the door which would then become the ball gunners back rest, and finally lower the turret. Once the ball stopped descending the gunner would --- Plug in his oxygen and intercom, switch on the electric's, set the sight and report to the Pilot he was operational. He would bring the guns to the horizontal position which would leave him lying on his back, looking between his feet through the gun sight to the Perspex window.

The Sperry sight was a box ,containing a computer? fitted about chest high, in front of the gunner. It had two small joy sticks poking out the top which controlled the movement of the turret with buttons on the top which controlled the firing of the guns. It had a glass screen which the was the vital part of sighting the guns, this was done with the foot control. No ring and bead for this turret. It was a 'Sperry'. Rolls Royce of turrets and must have been the start of the computer age,. but don't think Bill Gates had anything to do with it, wasn't born then.

The only view of the outside world was through the small perspex window between the gunners feet and after going round and round a couple of times it became difficult to know which was Port and which was Starboard, so the clock system was used for communication by all the crew. A clock was fixed beside the perspex window to show which direction the turret was pointing. 12 o'clock being the Nose , 6 o'clock, the Rear. Oh! Nearly forgot, the guns were fitted each side of the gunner, finishing within inches of his ears. They were so close to him, it was very difficult to cock without a toggle or clear blockages. The ammunition was stored inside and on top of the turret. It was fed through a complicated belt system. Not a lot of room for anything else. So, no parachute, only the harness and a Mae West. The chute itself was neatly stowed inside the aircraft, some way from the turret for some unknown reason.

There were two ways of getting out of the Turret. One, the gunner could pull on an emergency handle. This would pull the pinions out of the hinges on the door, which would make the door fall off. and the gunner would go out backwards .Not a lot of point in doing this though, as he didn't have a chute. Would have done a Houdini, disappearing without a trace. The other way , call for help, turn the guns to point straight down, try to open the door locks himself or, hopefully, the waist gunner would be around to let him out.

I have tried to give a description of a Ball Turret so that those who have never seen one, get a idea of the conditions. Hopefully they will then understand how Fear, Panic and Thrills were part of a gunner's experienced, also perhaps the Benefits that were derived.

To show how simple things can be very scary, let me describe my experience on a fighter simulation training flight. Whilst we were being attacked by fighters an order was given by the Flight Gun Controller 'Take evasive action Go'. We had never done this before and to say the result was scaring, is an under statement. Just imagine , there I was, cooped up in my sphere, peering through my sight, going round and round, up and down, following the commentary, trying to bring my sight on to the attackers. When suddenly our Pilot appeared to go biserk, dives down and climbs up, like a Yo Yo, banking Port then Starboard. I think he was trying to re live his training on a Tiger Moth doing aerobatics. I am sure the members of the crew who were not strapped down were tossed about like peas in a can. I could not move as I was like a sardine in a tin. Not only had I my own turret revolving to contend with but the antics of the aircraft on top. At least the other gunners could see what was happening I couldn't. I have been on the Big Dipper at the Chicago Fair and believe me it didn't hold a candle to how I felt on that day and we weren't even being shot at.

As for the benefits, I don't know if other air gunners felt the same, but each time a flight was over, I felt sense of achievement, a feeling of well-being and confidence. I even developed a good sense of humor, which I think was a necessity. These benefits served me well then and luckily, have remained with me all my life being a great help in both business and pleasure. To be honest though, I don't think I would choose to do it all over again.

I do have a small photo taken at Abottsford of our gun crew which may be of interest but am not sure how to get it to you. After all, I am nearly 87 but still a trainee on computers