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Especially they are needed when firing with a automatic weapon like a machinegun to be able to see where your shots go. First you can´t aim as with a normal rifle and the distance you shoot is too far to see the impact of normal bullets.
Also in air-combat it is tremendous helpfull to see where your rounds go.
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"There was a considerable debate (which continues to this day) about the desirability of tracer ammunition. It was generally felt to be useful in bomber defensive weapons as the sight of tracers curving towards them was observed to distract attacking fighter pilots. In fact, the USAAF even used a tracer round for bomber defence, the M21 "Headlight," which was specially developed to be as visible as possible from the front for exactly this reason. On the other hand, Air Marshal Harris disapproved of RAF gunners using tracers as he felt that this encouraged them to "hose" the target instead of using their sights. In night bombing, some crews were cautious about firing as tracers merely gave away their position; so were their opponents. The Luftwaffe used Leuchtspur during the day (L'spur) but Glimmspur (dim trace) at night. Upward-firing guns in Nachtjäger (night-fighters) usually used no tracer at all, although some pilots liked to include some Glimmspur.
There was also a debate about the use of tracers in fighter aircraft. Some argued that tracers were useful in correcting their aim, or even in firing to one side of enemy aircraft to persuade them to change course (which sounds suspiciously like a theoretical concept; if enemy aircraft were in range, most fighter pilots would sensibly be shooting straight at them). The counter-argument is that the sight of tracers flashing past them gave enemy aircraft instant warning of attack and enabled them to take prompt evasive action. It has been reported that USAAF fighter units in Europe which did not use tracers scored considerably more successes, and suffered fewer losses, than those which did, which would seem to settle the argument. On the other hand, tracers could help the pilot in ground attack or in judging any sideways drift.
One general problem with tracers was the impossibility of matching the trajectory of other ammunition types, because of two conflicting factors. First, projectile weight was usually lighter than standard, and reduced as the tracer element was burnt up anyway; also the gas generated by the tracer burn reduced the pressure differential between the front and back of the projectile and therefore reduced drag. Tracers were generally specified to match the aiming point of other ammunition at some specified distance and remain within set tolerances at other distances. Another problem in explosive cannon ammunition was that the tracer used up some of the shell volume and thus reduced the space available for HE."
Tony Williams: Military gun and ammunition website and discussion
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Tony Williams wrote:"There was a considerable debate (which continues to this day) about the desirability of tracer ammunition. It was generally felt to be useful in bomber defensive weapons as the sight of tracers curving towards them was observed to distract attacking fighter pilots.]
Finn Ju-88 crews used every tracer they could get into their hands (almost all rounds in the belts SmK L'spur if possible).
MG-81s with their high cyclic rate, loaded with tracers did make Soviet fighters to break up their attack almost every time. That "hail" of 7.92mm tracers was more show than true effect - but they did the job...
Regards, Mark V
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I was trained as an 11B and did do squad live fire manuever courses where as squad leader I was issued a couple magazines of tracer to spot targets and or direct fire. This of course is of a subjective value as the typical issue rifle - in this case the M16A1 M196 tracer ignites it's visible trace from almost the muizzle. This can have mucho undesirable side effects like making the shooter the hottest target on the field for the enemy. The US M62 7,62 tracer ignites 36 meters from the barrel -good yes , but it does not fool too many of the very close locale where such fire is originating from. It was a no brainer as a reloader in my formative years to when I went in the army to have experianced the variable accuracy of tracers at any given distance - especially in comparison to non tracer bullets. But thankfully wih t the M60 in service then it was fairly easy at distances over 200 yards to let your tracers impact low or at the "foot" of a target and know your M80 ball rounds were on target.
I knew one US WW2 fighter pilot whom told me that when his tracers were into or covering the midpoint to tail end of the fuselage of a german plane he was hammering he knew his AP rounds were on target in the engine to pilot zones of that most unfortunate german plane.
I used to love takling soviet blue and green 7,62 tracers and load them into 7,62x51 cases and mix them in a blet of M62 US tracer and watch the virtual rainbow of blue/green/red love floating and bouncing downrange.
As for german use of S.mK. L'spur in aircraft MG's...not much of it was done excepting possibly non wingmount applications as the ammo mad for wingmount and synchronized 7,92 MG's was very high quality to insure few to zero misfires that could effect the plane staying aloft. Alot of the german MG ammo used in the bombers like He111's and Dornier's and Junkers was mixed the day tracer variety for very visable spotting by vapor trail and bright trace - plus it's inherant incindiary properties. All in all the germans made a remarkable amount of varied trace/incindary bullet types for aircraft application and training.
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The best example would be when I was the TC of an M-60A1 in Germany in the 1970s. The M-85 .50 caliber had sights that were very similar in form and function to the sights for the main gun, but I never learned to use them. I could zero them just fine, but I didn't have the confidence to use them to engage a target. I still remember the first day that I fired the M-85 on a range. I had every intention of using the sights, but, after the first burst, wasn't sure where I had hit, so I stuck my head out the hatch and watched the tracers after that.
I suppose it is possible that this was because my previous experience with the .50 caliber had been as a Sheridan TC firing the M-2 HB over open sights. I was either very lucky or very good at that because I was always told that I had 'killed' the target after a very few rounds. (Firing at point targets.)
I really believe that, if I had ever had any real training in using the sights in the cupola, I might have used them all the time, because I was very good with the main gun using its sights. I never received any training on firing the .50 calibers, except in the classroom, and that just isn't the same.
If I had been a fighter pilot, I am not sure what I would have done. It seems that most of the successful fighter pilots closed to point blank range before opening fire, although this would probably not be the wisest tactic when attacking a B-17 or B-24.
Another use of tracers was with vehicles like the 'ONTOS' and the Centurion, where ranging to the target was done with a .50 or larger caliber semi-automatic weapon mounted coaxially with the main gun. The rounds these spotting guns fired were designed to have ballistic characteristics very similar to the round that the main gun would fire. I have heard that this system was very effective on the Centurions, and certainly had the advantage of simplicity.
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The 50 cal spotter rounds were a special long tracer projectile with a standard case shortened to about half length. The 'foriegn' AT missile systems we tried out in the late 70's and into the 80's used a special 9mm diameter tracer projectile stuffed into a cross between the 7,92x57 and the 7,62x51 casings. The base of the cartridge had a unique primer arrangement where the special sleeve holding the primer would actually partially protrude when dishcarged to unlock the action of the subcal ranging unit.These cartridges came in 4 shot magazines reminiscent of some Remington and savage sporting rifles. The ranging tracer bullet is also designed to 'splat' on target or anything it hits to avoid misleading richochets.
The M85's the treadheads used was a royal POS , as well as their M73 coax 7,62 bullet hoses.That short recoil idea and their respcetive designs were if politley said under engineered !. Sorry for the digression.
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