Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Norden Bombsight (2004) (twinbeech.com)
18 points by spking 66 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 16 comments



Postwar analysis

Postwar analysis placed the overall accuracy of daylight precision attacks with the Norden at about the same level as radar bombing efforts. The 8th Air Force put 31.8% of its bombs within 300 metres (1,000 ft) from an average altitude of 6,400 metres (21,000 ft), the 15th Air Force averaged 30.78% from 6,200 metres (20,500 ft), and the 20th Air Force against Japan averaged 31% from 5,000 metres (16,500 ft).[46]

Many factors have been put forth to explain the Norden's poor real-world performance. ...

from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norden_bombsight#Postwar_analy...


The story of the Norden bombsight is remarkable in a whole bunch of different ways.

1) As an historic example of the US putting an inordinate amount of faith in high-tech solutions to military problems, only to be disappointed with how those solutions actually performed when they reached the field. (This story being a hardy perennial: see also the Browning Automatic Rifle, the Mark 14 torpedo, the M16 rifle, the F-111 fighter, the M2 Bradley AFV, the F-35 strike fighter, etc. etc. etc.)

2) As a cautionary tale of building your security plan around the wrong threat model: Nordens in the field were subject to extraordinary security measures to prevent them falling into enemy hands, none of which mattered because the Germans had a spy inside the Norden plant who had already passed them the plans for the bombsight three years before the U.S. even entered the war (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duquesne_Spy_Ring#Herman_W._La...).

3) As an early example of PR prowess from what would become known as the military-industrial complex: while the bombsight itself was kind of a dud, the Carl L. Norden Company (with the eager assistance of the USAAF) were adept at selling it to the public as a kind of wonder-weapon. As an example, here's a 1943 story from Life magazine about Norden partnering with the Ringling Bros. circus to work the bombsight into a show in Madison Square Garden: https://books.google.com/books?id=EU4EAAAAMBAJ&lpg=PA27&ots=...


Absent from this list: Laser guided bombs, thermal imaging systems, the F-15 Eagle, the Tomahawk cruise missile, the M1A1 Abrams tank, etc. etc. Examples of high tech solutions to military problems that produced extremely favorable lopsided outcomes when they reached the field.

Any military that places inordinate faith in low tech solutions is liable to lose most of their armor and infantry to an aggressor that they can't even see, much less fight. That seems like the much greater hazard.


This article covers some of the history of this discussion: http://www.airforcemag.com/MagazineArchive/Pages/2008/Februa...


> Any military that places inordinate faith in low tech solutions is liable to lose most of their armor and infantry to an aggressor that they can't even see, much less fight

This would of course come as news to the Russians, who absolutely creamed the much-higher-tech Germans in WW2. It turns out that five lower-tech tanks that start reliably are worth more than one high-tech tank that doesn't.

It's also worth noting that none of the technologies you list have ever been deployed in the field against a real peer competitor, and many have never been used in combat in the roles they were originally intended for. (The F-15 was designed as an interceptor, for instance, but in actual combat has mostly been used as a strike fighter. The M1 was designed to fight Soviet T-72 and T-80 tanks, which it has never had a chance to do -- even at the one real armor battle it has taken part in, the Battle of 73 Easting in 1991, it faced less capable export-version T-72s alongside older T-55 and T-62 derivatives.)


The Russian strategy during WWII and the winter war only "worked" because they accepted an enormous loss of troops to compensate for all of their other shortcomings. During the Winter War especially, Russian troops lacked equipment such as white camouflage and a single Finnish sniper killed at least 500 Russian troops.

This strategy may have worked, but it's not acceptable.


Also the Russians didn't win in a vacuum. The rest of the allies provided a huge amount of support in the form of lend-lease and supplies. The war of attrition would not have been winnable by Russia alone and came at an extreme cost of human life.


The Russians had the advantage of a far larger population and natural resource base, so they could out-produce the Germans many times over.


Those weren't developed in the throes of combat, diverting resources from traditional combat tech.

The Nazis were a huge fan of the technological approach - they even called them "Wonder-weapons". In actual fact the vast majority of the "Wunderwaffe" were duds for one reason or another - a major cause was rushed development due to the desire to have the technology now.

No discussion of the two philosophies is complete without mentioning A.C. Clarke's 1951 short science fiction story "Superiority", which was doubtless influenced by the Nazi failure.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wunderwaffe http://www.mayofamily.com/RLM/txt_Clarke_Superiority.html


To quote some guy, "You go to war with the army you have."

With the exception of the atomic bomb, it's hard to think of a technological innovation developed during wartime, diverting resources from traditional combat tech, that changed the outcome of the war significantly.

What one has to remember, though, is that Germany was significantly more resource constrained than the Allied powers. Resources are not always fungible. If you have a shortage of steel and manpower, and a relative glut of engineering talent, it behooves you to invest heavily in R&D to use that steel as efficiently as possible and equip those men as well as possible.

In some ways, Germany was doomed the day America entered the war to be ground between the gears of superior industrial powers. They had to claw for some doctrinal or technological advantage, however remote the possibility, because the outcome of trading losses at a 1:1 ratio was absolutely obvious.


I believe RADAR was a technology that was honed during the war that had a significant impact. They had experimental RADAR before Pearl Harbor but thought it was a glitch when they saw the Japanese approaching. I’m pretty sure later the newer more advanced sets had a significant impact on Uboat hunting.


I had read Superiority before, but it wasn't until I read this thread that I noticed the fact that in the story the designer of the problematic superweapons is named... Norden.


I got schooled by some veterans one day about the M-16.

It is a common story that the M-16 was a failure in the Vietnam war and that was true. However, it is like the story about the Patriot missiles that missed in the first Gulf War. It gets repeated over and over again (often by the same people.)

The reality is that things change.

The M-16 has performed well post-Vietnam. Some of that is technical fixes, a lot of it is better maintenance by higher quality and better trained soldiers. The government has often looked for a "next generation" weapon to replace the M-16 and nothing has measured up.


Moritz Thomsen, in My Two Wars, wrote of service as a bombardier. He quoted instructors as saying things along the lines of "You missed the Ruhr, but you still hit Germany." I don't think that those who served in the bombers had many illusions.


It's interesting to learn that there were orders to handle the device with the utmost secrecy within the US air force, while the Germans already had the blueprints:

> But U.S. intelligence experts received a shock when they interrogated Luftwaffe personnel: The Germans had known the bombsight’s secrets even before the war, thanks to a spy at Norden.

> Herman W. Lang, a naturalized U.S. citizen, had been employed as a draftsman and inspector at the Norden factory during the 1930s. American authorities didn’t know that he had served as Nazi stormtrooper in Germany between 1923 and 1927. Recruited as a member of the Duquesne Spy Ring, in 1938 Lang gained access to the plans for the bombsight and hand-copied the blueprints, which were then smuggled to Germany via ocean liner. [0]

[0] https://www.historynet.com/not-so-secret-weapon-the-norden-b...


Ironically the first group of photos are of the bombsite on the Enola Gay -- an atom bomb is the only kind of bomb which the Norden Bombsight could put on target.




Applications are open for YC Summer 2019

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: