Ball turret

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Ball Turret
Air Ministry Second World War Official Collection CI1028.jpg
A crewman poses with the Sperry ball turret of a Royal Air Force B-24, Burma, c.1943-1945
Service history
Used by United States, United Kingdom, China
Wars World War II
Caliber .50 BMG

A ball turret was a spherical-shaped, altazimuth mount gun turret, fitted to some American-built aircraft during World War II. The name arose from the turret's spherical housing.

It was a manned turret, as distinct from remote-controlled turrets also in use. The turret held the gunner, two heavy machine guns, ammunition, and sights. The Sperry Corporation designed, ventral versions became the most common version, thus the term "ball turret" is most specific to these versions.

Sperry ball turret[edit]

Interior of the Sperry ball turret of a preserved B-17 (2008)

Sperry and Emerson Electric each developed a ball turret, and the designs were similar in the case of the nose defense version. Development of the spherical Emerson was halted. The Sperry nose turret was tested and preferred, but delayed until later aircraft. The Sperry-designed ventral system saw widespread use and production became sourced to several manufactures to meet the defense needs on several aircraft after the unacceptability of remotely-manned ventral turret systems. The predominant use was on the B-17 Flying Fortress and the B-24 Liberator, as well as the United States Navy's Liberator, the PB4Y-1. The ventral turret was used in tandem in the Convair B-32, successor to the B-24. Ball turrets appeared in the nose and tail as well as the nose of the final series B-24.

The Sperry ball turret was very small in order to reduce drag, and was typically operated by the shortest man of the crew. To enter the turret, the turret was moved until the guns were pointed straight down. The gunner placed his feet in the heel rests and then crouched down into a fetal position. He would then put on a safety strap, close and lock the turret door. There was no room inside for a parachute, which was left in the cabin above the turret. A few gunners wore a chest parachute.

The gunner crouched in a fetal position within the turret with his back and head against the rear wall, his hips at the bottom, and his legs held in mid-air by two footrests on the front wall. This left him positioned with his eyes roughly level with the pair of light-barrel Browning AN/M2 .50 caliber machine guns which extended through the entire turret, and located to either side of the gunner. The cocking handles were located too close to the gunner to be operated easily, so a cable was attached to the handle through pulleys to a handle near the front of the turret. Another important factor relative to the guns was the fact that not all stoppages could be corrected by simply charging (cocking) the guns. In many cases, when a gun failed to fire, it was necessary for the gunner to "reload" the gun, which required access to the firing chamber of the guns. Access to the firing chamber of the guns was severely restricted by the guns location in the small turret. Normally, the gunner accessed the firing chamber by releasing a latch and raising the cover to a position perpendicular to the gun but this was not possible in the ball turret. To remedy that, the front end of the cover was "slotted". The gunner released the latch and removed the cover which allowed a few inches over the firing chamber for the gunner to access and clear a stoppage. Small ammunition boxes rested on the top of the turret and the remaining ammunition belts fed the turret by means of an elaborate chute system. A reflector sight was hung from the top of the turret, positioned roughly between the gunner's feet.

The directional control was by two hand control grips with firing buttons incorporated. The left foot controlled the reflector sight range reticule. The right foot operated a push-to-talk intercom switch. The turret was normally electrically powered in azimuth and altitude. An emergency hand crank could be attached to reposition the turret from inside the aircraft fuselage. In the event of a power failure another crewman would use this to crank the turret into the vertical position to allow the gunner to exit.[1]

A B-24J's Sperry ventral ball turret in its retracted position for landing, as seen from inside the bomber.

On the B-17, the A-2 turret was close to the ground, but had enough clearance for takeoff and landing. However, the gunner did not enter the turret until well into the air, in case of landing gear failure. During take-off and landing, the turret had to be positioned with its guns horizontal, pointing aft. As the guns had to be vertical before the gunner could enter or leave the turret, a set of external controls were fitted so the turret could be repositioned while unoccupied.[2]

In the case of the B-24, the Liberator's tricycle landing gear design mandated that its A-13 model Sperry ball turret have a fully retractable mount, so that the ball turret would always be retracted upwards into the lower fuselage while the aircraft was on the ground, providing ground clearance with it in the stowed position.

ERCO ball turret[edit]

An Erco ball turret
Erco Ball turret, on display at National Museum of Naval Aviation, FL.

After testing in mid-1943, the ERCO ball turret became the preferred bow installation in the Navy's Consolidated PB4Y-1 Liberator and PB4Y-2 Privateer patrol bombers although other types continued to be installed. Earlier designs appeared in other patrol seaplanes. It served a double purpose, defense against bow attacks as well as fire suppression and offensive strafing in antisubmarine warfare. Since this turret is of the ball type, the gunner moves with his guns and sight in elevation and azimuth by means of control handles. Among the earlier designs was the Martin 250SH bow turret of the PBM-3 twin-engined patrol flying boat which had many points of similarity in design and action.

Popular culture[edit]


  1. ^ Kenneth Cleveland Drinnon (2004). Wings of Tru Love: A WW II B17 Ball-turret Gunner Memoir. Xlibris Corporation. p. 57. ISBN 978-1-4653-9776-8. 
  2. ^ Kenneth Cleveland Drinnon (2004). Wings of Tru Love: A WW II B17 Ball-turret Gunner Memoir. Xlibris Corporation. p. 35. ISBN 978-1-4653-9776-8. 

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