The AN-M40 "Para-Frag" was a fragmentation bomb that was used by the United States during World War II.
The AN-M40 was quite unique in its design as a fragmentation bomb, particularly the fact that the weapon utilized a parachute in order to slow its descent and allow the aircraft dropping it to escape the harmful effects while at the same time being able to fly in low and achieve maximum accuracy. Notably, the AN-M40's standard fuse had the tendency to malfunction and thus turn the bomb into a dud, however the shear number of bombs that could be dropped at the same time meant that most attacks were extremely effective. This also counteracted the fact that each individual bomb had a relatively small explosive radius.
The bomb was most effective when attacking airfields as the fragments of the explosion would rip through aluminum air frames and kill any ground personnel present. The fuse on the AN-M40 was impact sensitive, though extremely sensitive. It should be noted that the designation, AN-M40 was only standardized by 1945, though the bomb had been in American usage long before then.
In order to allow for increased accuracy when using the bombs from a greater height than normal, the AN-M41 bomb was created with the addition of fins for stabilization in the air. Furthermore, a cluster-bomb variant was also created which fitted twenty-five AN-M41s into a single container and was designated the M26 Fragmentation Bomb.
The idea for the AN-M40 "Para-Frag" was first created by George Kenney in the 1920s. While the AN-M40 was not accepted for use in Europe, mainly because the Allies preferred high-altitude bombardment. However, the large amount of Para-Frags then available were moved to the Pacific. The first operational use of the AN-M40 was during an air raid over Buna Airfield in Papua New Guinea in which a large air group of various attacker aircraft such as A-20s and P-40s dropped nearly 300 "Para-Frags" over the target with an alleged seventeen aircraft ground kills despite severely poor weather. After this attack, the AN-M40 was put into full operational service with units in the Pacific. Seeing the success they had, their creator, Kenney urged the conversion of as many fragmentation bombs to the Para-Frag standard as possible. In the end, thousands of fragmentation bombs had been created during the war and used in dozens of strafing attacks on Japanese airfields during the war.
Formation flying and flak damage:
From the 416th Bomb Group:
10 April: Listed as Mission #11. A group of our A-20 aircraft were flown to a B-26 Bomb Base with no prior knowledge as to why we were there. At the briefing, the A-20 crews were told they were to preceed the B-26 formation over the most heavily defended target in LeHavre, France, where the really big guns were protecting the harbor. The B-26s took off and formed up. The A-20s then took off, and flew 2000 feet below the B-26s, with tunnel gunners dropping "window" which were aluminum strips. This window provided a fake target for radar controlled guns on the ground. It worked well, with the A-20s scooting by at high speeds, with the gunners not able to track them successfully. The flak bursts all exploded into the layer of aluminum strips, well below the B-26s who dropped their bombs successfully. No planes were hit. Window mission a success.
Captain Chester Jackson with Lt. Ralph Conte, BN, led the window flights. The A-20 crews flew back to the B-26 base, where we were hailed as heroes for protecting them from the deadly flak. B-26 pilots were all inquiring about the flying capabilities of the A-20 compared to the lumbering take-offs and their hot landing B-26s.
When Jackson parked at a revetment, dignitaries of the B-26 Group were there with General Dwight D. Eisenhower. "Ike" questioned our crew on the mission we flew and inspected our A-20, never having seen one before. He and Captain Jackson stooped low to look up into the bombbay, and Jackson knocked Ike's hat off his head. Everybody had a good laugh about it, except Jackson, whose face remained red for quite a while.
That evening, the A-20 crews visited the Officer's Club where a rousing crap game was in progress. One of the shooters was Hollywood Actor Robert Preston, who was very friendly, even though he was losing. None of our crews could buy a drink, as everything was paid for by the grateful crews of the guys who were on the mission that day. We all returned to Wethersfield the next morning, feeling good for the mission we helped succeed.
The success of the window screens became standard procedures for missions of light and medium bombers of the IX Bomber Command.
"Between March 3, 1944 and May 3, 1945 the 416th BG flew 285 "numbered" Combat Missions, along with an additional 20 un-numbered missions that were Recalled prior to reaching enemy territory."
This is a very good source! You can find personal stories, by most of the missions, strike photos, maps and much more.
I can't wait to finish the A-20 variant...
Mission No: 1/1
Campaign: Air Offensive Europe, March – April 1944
Date: 1 March 1944
Primary Target: Le Havre, Coastal Defense
Mission Profile: 3rd Element #6, Flight II, 200 Ft
Results: Formation Off Target, 5% (Poor), Flight 95% (Superior)
EA engaged: No EA encountered
Crew Mssns EA
Pilot: 2LT Nathaniel (Nat) Coell (0) (0)
Engineer: SSgt Jasper Caruthers (0) (0)
Gunner: Sgt Louis (Lou) Colfax (0) (0)
Damage: Superficial x3 (3), Left Wing Root x1 (25), Right Wing Root x1 (25), Left Flap inoperable (10) = 63 Peckham Points, AC ready next day 2 March 44
For our first mission in theater we were going after some coastal gun emplacement guarding the harbor at Le Havre. Each Flight was assigned a separate target and we were going in on the deck, 200 Ft, to avoid German radar. We wouldn’t have any fighter escort, but told that many would be operating in the area if we needed help.
Takeoff and assembly went well and soon we were cruising over the choppy waters of the Channel. The fuel in the auxiliary tanks was used up before we reached France, but I wasn’t worried as this was a short hop. The trick to foil the radar, the friendly fighter activity, or both must have worked as we didn’t encounter any German fighters enroute.
Though we were coming in low, I guess it’s hard to miss a formation approaching over the water, especially when the skies are clear. Flak was light, but moderate and fair, with 20mm and 37mm peppering both wings and the bomb bay. Both wing roots were damaged as well as the port flap. The flak knocked Banshee out of formation just as the target came into view. While we only managed to put 5% on target, the rest of the flight did better, achieving an overall result of 95%.
Coming out of the target we took some ground fire as well as the regular flak defenses. Being free of the formation, I threw Banshee into a series of maneuvers designed to throw off the Germans’ aim. It must have worked as we took no further damage. Emerging from the flak, I gunned the engines and rejoined the formation.
The trip back was equally uneventful, until we were over England. After reaching a point that I thought should have brought us home the formation made a sudden sharp turn. Apparently the lead Navigator wasn’t used to picking out landmarks at low altitude. The change in course also caused some confusion on the ground, some British Home Guard unit firing at us as we unexpectedly appeared out of nowhere to roar over their heads. Fortunately, no one was hit and we did make it back home to land safe and sound.
SSgt Kilmer is not pleased about the damage to the wings, but promises to have Banshee ready to fly by tomorrow.
Nathaniel Coell, 2LT, USAAF, commandingA-20G-20 Banshee