Paul Tibbets: Proper Weapon Lubrication Under Extreme Conditions

For the WD-40 crowd, I humbly offer this selection from the “Return of the Enola Gay”,a memoir of Colonel Paul Tibbets, Army Air Corps- a brief tutorial on the maintenance and lubrication of the M-50 machinegun under extreme conditions.

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Page 86-87:

Returning from our first high-altitude practice run, several gunners in our squadron reported their weapons had malfunctioned. I took one look and discovered the cause. The heavy grease with which they were coated had thickened in the subzero temperatures at 20,000 feet, virtually freezing the action.

To solve the problem, I went back to something I learned as a boy in military school when we fired black powder in a little cannon every morning and night. I called all the gunners together for an elementary lesson in the care of their weapons.

“Listen carefully,” I said. “This may save your lives some day over France”

To begin, I told them to take their weapons apart and wash everything in hot water and GI soap in order to remove all traces of the factory grease.

The next step was to take a small quantity of gun oil in the palms of their hands, then lightly rub every part of the gun. This left the metal covered with a light film of oil, protecting it against rust without gumming up the action, even at 20 below zero.

After every practice mission, I ordered the men to repeat this tedious operation. Since the guns were now functioning well,some thought it was nonsense to do the same job over and over again. My strict enforcement of this gun-care order did not make me popular with the men who had to do the tiresome job. Although muttering under their breath, and perhaps referring to me among themselves as a finicky old s.o.b., they soon came to know their guns so well they could take them apart an put them together blindfolded.

There came a day when they would thank me, grudginly perhaps, for being so demanding. A few weeks later they were to see B-17s from other squadrons shot out of the sky because their guns jammed at a crucial moment when under attack by enemy fighters. My own outfit suffered some losses, but fewer than most, and never to my knowledge because of defective weapons.

There is nothing more embarrassing, or potentially fatal, than to have a gun jam at the moment a Messerschimitt is boring in for the kill. After the first time we were within shooting distance of a German fighter, I never had to remind my gunners to keep their equipment in working order. Cleaning their weapons between flights came to be looked upon as life insurance.

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