Normally, fighters shoot down bombers. but sometimes bombers "turn the tables" and destroy enemy fighters. My understanding is that American bombers did this from time to time against weaker Japanese fighters, less so against the Germans. For instance, Japanese ace, Sakuro Sakai was wounded by return fire from American bombers. (He damaged one or two of those bombers.)

American B-17s used for daylight bombing were called Flying Fortresses. They were given some defense capabilities that left them individually vulnerable, but somewhat capable of defending themselves in groups.

What are the statistics (if any) about how often American bombers survived attack from enemy fighters by taking them down? (I am interested in the "strategic" bombing of the German and Japanese homelands, and not "tactical" bombing over battlefields.)

  • 3
    Depends on a fighter . Light fighters like Ki-43 were not good bomber destroyers. Specialized fighters like Bf-110 G or Fw-190 A8/R2 would usually shred bomber to pieces, but were vulnerable to escorts etc ... Also, there were usual over-claims by bomber gunners. Due to short engagement window and inability to follow target, they often claimed kills on merely slightly damaged aircraft. In German records most of fighters lost were credited to enemy fighters.
    – rs.29
    Aug 9, 2021 at 7:48
  • 5
    The "success" for a bomber is not to shot down a fighter, but to survive and continue its mission. Bombers don't "fight", they just fend the enemy off. The same goes for ships vs bombers: they have little chances to shot a bomber down, but if their AA fire prevents the bombers/torpedo carriers from aiming, they have won.
    – Zeus
    Aug 27, 2021 at 1:37

2 Answers 2


The auto-defense weaponry of American bombers worked, but not in the way you mentionned:

  • Speaking about number of enemy fighters shot down by bombers: the number shot down during a battle is negligible compared to the number of bombers shot down in the same fight, either against Japan or Germany
  • Speaking about making the bomber survives attacks, and wait for escort fighters to "save" them, it worked

American bombers were able to go through heavy defenses because they were resistant and have enough machine guns to spoil attacks from fighters. This forced ennemy fighters to perform sophisticated attacks, following specific tactics (attack by behind, by below), and not just fly through the bombers and fire. Those tactics were efficent in beating the defense of bombers, but a fighter cover could easily disrupt them.

So the machine guns defenses of bombers were complementary to their robustness and to fighter cover.

Now, there were exceptions:

  • In a way: A B-29 performing a recon raid in 1945 was attacked by ennemy fighters: it took advantage of its speed and maximum altitude to flee, shooting down 7 planes in the process. The situation is very specific because the B-29 was equipped for recon so it could contest the speed of ennemy fighters and flee in the direction it wanted (while a bomber is supposed to continue his mission while fighting)
  • The other way: In April 1945, a German attack of 24 Fw-190 fighters equipped with rockets were able to destroy 40 B-17 in the raid, because the rockets allowed to attack from nearly any direction (except orthogonal direction), far enough from the machine guns defenses, and with little time since they don't have to fire long gusts: thus the FW-190 were not stuck by bomber's defenses, thus they avoided the fighter cover interference
  • "American bombers were able to go through heavy defenses because they were resistant and have enough machine guns to spoil attacks from fighters. This forced enemy fighters to perform sophisticated attacks." This suggests that American bombers had "some," though "imperfect" defenses against German fighters.
    – Tom Au
    Aug 25, 2021 at 18:46
  • 2
    I think the point of the answer is that the defense of the bombers only worked in concert with a fighter escort.
    – mart
    Aug 26, 2021 at 7:29
  • @TomAu Exactly, they had "some", consisting in resistance of their structure, and numerous machine guns: they had more than other bombers of any countries Aug 26, 2021 at 16:47
  • So in effect this is similar to roof-mounted machine guns on tanks: they had a negligible chance to actually shoot down an attacking aircraft, but were still useful by stressing the pilot with tracers buzzing by, and making him more difficult to aim.
    – vsz
    Sep 25, 2023 at 6:42
  • @vsz The analogy is correct Though, a dozen of machine guns on a bomber with trained crews are more efficient than one on a tank served by a guy who has other things to do. If you look into the American and British bombers being attacked by day fighters or Wilde Sau, you'll see the former inflicted significant losses to the latter (even if overall ratio was not in their favour) Sep 25, 2023 at 19:15

Not very well, because it mainly didn't work. The Schweinfurt Raid is an example when it really didn't work.

The bomber always gets through was a pre-war doctrine that looked good on paper, but didn't work in reality. The British discovered this in the beginning of the war: daylight raids were simply too expensive. Most bombers were (a lot) slower than fighters, less well armed and mostly not armoured.

The Americans thought they could counter it with massive armament, making the bombers virtual flying fortresses that mutually supported each other. They learned pretty soon that was not possible. Not even with the amount of .50 cal in many turrets.

20 mm and 30 mm canons in fighters have a much longer range that .50 machine guns. Fighters are more agile than bombers, and much faster. They could pick a victim, the bombers had to fly on.

Evasion wasn't really possible. Yes, they could manoeuvre, but they had to go to their target and back home again. That's a pretty fixed route - and opened them to fighter attacks. Not to mention AA fire, which was something the Germans (not the Japanese) were pretty good at.

The only way to counter this was to fight a war of attrition: we can shoot down more fighters than you can shoot down bombers. This culminated in the Big Week offensive in Feb 1944, where many of the most experienced pilots of the Luftwaffe on the Western front died.

The other factor was fighter protection. Only when long range fighters (a.o. P-51 Mustang) could accompany the bombers all the way, losses became tolerable.

The same applied to both theatres: daylight precision bombing became practical only when Germany/Japan ran out of well-trained fighter pilots. At the same time, allied fighter aircraft got longer range and their pilots got more experience.

The defensive armament of bombers was only of secondary importance.

  • 4
    Any chance of some loss numbers to back this up? Aug 10, 2021 at 3:04

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