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Gun tape


lawman56

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Here's a question that's been nagging at me for a few days. Hopefully someone knows the answer.

 

In many of the WWII era photos, especially of British fighters, (but some American ones as well, as my avatar shows), I've noticed tape covering the gun ports. My assumption is that it basically cuts down on drag as air flows through the open wing ports. Here's what I've been curious about. When was it applied?

 

Let's say our brave flier has returned from a mission where he has used his guns. Of course the tape has been blasted to bits, but when was it re-applied? I know at some point the guns would have been cleaned and serviced, but was the tape re-applied then, or after they were re-armed? Personally, it would seem they would be taped over after being re-armed and just prior to a mission. Sort of as a "flag" to let others know at a glance that the aircraft was "hot". But it also could have been right after they were cleaned, to prevent foriegn matter from entering the barrel.

 

Any thoughts on this?

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The "when" I don't know,good question.The what I believe was duct tape.Originally used to seal ammo boxes.It was actually used not so much to protect from foreign bodies,but to prevent the guns from freezing. It had also the then unknown but co-incidental benefit of preserving the integrity of the air flow.

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They were self-adhesive fabric, with a peel-off backing (think sticking-plaster for wounds, and you'll be about right.) They first appeared in 1940 (on the Spitfire, but it's not known when other aircraft had them, possibly even earlier.) Spitfires, at first, had "gun covers," but I've never seen what they looked like; it's possible they slid down the gun tubes and over the muzzles. They were all designed to stop open breeches from freezing at high altitudes, with (possibly) the secondary ability to indicate to passers-by that the guns were loaded, and cocked, so best to approach from the rear.
Freezing guns was always a major consideration, with rubber sheathes (not the apocryphal condoms) being used, at first, on the cannon, but they were still prone to freezing, becoming hard and breaking-up, with pieces entering the guns' mechanism. On the IIb & Vb, the cannon could be separately cocked by the pilot using a mechanism (looking rather like a clockwork toy's key) on the starboard cockpit wall; the eventually redundant pipework can still be seen in photos of the relevant cockpits, even as late as the Mk.IX.
The patches appear to have been pre-coloured, with red predominating here, but blue can be seen on South African Spitfires, and white on American aircraft.
Contrary to popular myth, they were not colour-doped into place, but were pre-coloured and coated, after application, with clear dope, which is why the edges always appear sharp in photos.

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So, if I read this right, the primary purpose was to prevent freezing, which makes sense. All the other stuff was secondary, or incidental. So when would the tape have been applied?

 

I've just recently started to look at the "bigger picture" so to speak, of how and when certain servicing was done to aircraft. Let's take my favorite P-51B for example, after returning from a mission, were the guns removed from the wing and cleaned immediately? Were they left in the wings at all times, unless they needed to be replaced for service? Would the ground crew placed the tape immediately on the ports, or after the aircraft the aircraft was fueled? Etc.... I know different teams did different things, such as fuel handlers, armorers, etc...

 

If my aircraft was being re-armed, would the tape be present? If it was sitting on the apron, awaiting the next mission, would it be taped?

 

I'm asking all these obscure questions so once I get ready to build a diorama, I can be more accurate in the depiction.

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I don't have any proof of when the tape was applied but from a logical POV I would say that the tape or patch was applied by the armorers after weapons  were cleaned and loaded. A patched or taped over gun port signified that the aircraft was armed and ready.

 

As far as the reason why, I would agree with those comments from others. Moisture seeping into the barrel then freezing at high altitude is a bitch as well as sand, dirt etc.

 

That's my take Jake.....

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I don't have any proof of when the tape was applied but from a logical POV I would say that the tape or patch was applied by the armorers after weapons  were cleaned and loaded. A patched or taped over gun port signified that the aircraft was armed and ready.

 

As far as the reason why, I would agree with those comments from others. Moisture seeping into the barrel then freezing at high altitude is a bitch as well as sand, dirt etc.

 

That's my take Jake.....

 Thanks for the info, that's my take on it as well, it seemed that the tape would serve as a sort of "flag", if you will. No tape, guns not ready. Tape, guns ready. Although not the actual intention, my experience in the Army has shown that there are many uses for one thing.

 

I'm planning a diorama in the future that involves ammo being loaded into the wing bays, and thought it might be intersting to show one set of gun ports taped over, ("ready"), and the others untaped as the ammo is reloaded.

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