Tail Gunner Death Rate

By Biddrup Mallick Written by Biddrup Mallick I am a freelance writer with over 450 completed projects. I have written to more than 200 satisfied clients since 2011, completing more than 10 projects for each of these clients that added up to over 1 million words. My success stems from my ability to create logical arguments and meeting deadlines while staying true to the company’s voice and brand identity. In 2013, I won an award from Elance for being the top-rated provider in my category!
Updated on June 23, 2023

Tail gunners were a vital part of successful air crews in WWII conflicts. These gunners were responsible for spotting enemy fire from an aircraft’s rear, and for returning gunfire. 

About 23 out of 50 tail gunners in WWII lost their lives (over 40% death rate). Tail gunners had a short life expectancy overall, with most turret gunmen losing their lives before completing 5 sorties. 

Some estimates put the life expectancy of a tail gunner within two weeks or less. However, some tail gunners survived years of combat, racking up dozens of successful missions in the process.  

Older aircraft had single gunner turrets for return fire from their tail area. But advancements in aircraft design added more gunners (and turrets) to aircraft, hence reducing a tail gunner’s duties. 

Several records make it easy to determine best estimates of tail gunners and other relevant data. In this article, you’ll get ten (10) of the best statistics about tail gunners and their WWII activity.

1. The average death rate of a WWII tail gunner is 46%

RAF Bomber Command aircrew records

Out of 125,000 aircrews with gunners, over 57,200 (46%) were killed in action (KIA). Also, thousands of aircraft gunners were wounded during missions and over 3,000 taken prisoner. 

Casualties among air gunners among Allied powers were higher in Britain’s Royal Air Force and the Royal Canadian Air Force. Thousands of aircrew casualties were also recorded among Australian, Polish, French, and other forces. 

2. Over 20,000 RAF tail gunners lost their lives in WWII

Yorkshire Air Museum

The Yorkshire Air Museum suggests that over 20,000 RAF rear gunners died during air missions in WWII. Other unverified estimates put this figure at a much higher range of 30,000 or more tail gunner casualties. 

Total aircrew casualties recorded by the RAF throughout the war currently stand at 39,804. 

3. 71% of B-24 Liberator crews died in WWII  

WWII Missing Air Crew Reports (MACR)

More than 1,220 crewmen aboard B-24 Liberators were shot down over the English Channel and North Sea. Out of this total, only 366 (28.7%) survived. Also, over 80% of fighter pilots and combat airmen in these crews died during the conflict. 

4. 54% of B-17 gunners died in WWII

WWII Missing Air Crew Reports (MACR)

More than 3,800 8th Air force crewmen manning B-17 Flying Fortresses were shot down over the English Channel and surrounding areas. Among these numbers, around 54.4% of gunners didn’t survive after being brought down. 

5. 8,325 aircraft were lost after 364,000 sorties in WWII

The short life expectancy of WWII tail gunners in WWII was evident from lost aircraft after operations. Some returning aircraft during the period have had their rear turret area shot up or blown off with gunfire. 

6. The average life expectancy of a WWII B-17 crew was 11 missions

RAF Bomber Command aircrew records

Most B-17 crews comprised of 4 – 5 airmen (gunners included). On average, a B-17 could survive 11 missions with its crew before becoming unfit for use. Statistics vary based on the heat of conflict and timeline when these aircraft were deployed. 

7. 5 sorties was the average life expectancy of a WWII tail gunner


A regular WWII bomber aircraft had anywhere from 4 – 7 crewmembers. Bigger aircraft had up to three tail gunners, two pilots, bomb aimers, and wireless operators. 

In most cases, air gunners were expected to survive for at least 2 weeks at an average rate of 5 missions per fortnight. Some tail gunners were killed in their inaugural mission while few others survived up to 100 missions.  

8. The average age of RAF air gunners in WWII was 21

RAF Bomber Command aircrew records

Many RAF Bomber Command crewmembers were around 19 – 20+ years of age. The median age of these fighters was pegged at 21 years during several stages of WWII. 

9. Arnold Talbot Wilson is the oldest tail gunner on record KIA in WWII

War Graves Commission

Sir Arnold Talbot Wilson was a fifty-six-year-old lieutenant colonel who joined the RAF Volunteer Reserve in 1939. Before joining Britain’s volunteer reserve force, he was in the Indian Army 

The second oldest air gunner on record to be KIA in WWII is V.J. Wheeler in 1944 at 46 years.  

Apart from Wilson, William Wedgewood Benn is also recorded as the oldest operational pilot of WWII. Benn was a British pilot officer in 1940 and served as an air gunner on multiple missions before retiring at 67.  

10. WWII Vickers Wellington medium bombers supports three gunners

The Vickers Wellington is a twin-engine, medium-range bomber used mostly for night bombing operations. The aircraft was operated by six airmen in total including three gunners. 

Apart from the two pilots and observer, two gunners (middle and front) acted as wireless operators for the aircraft. The Vickers Wellington also featured a rear gunner turret sited at its tail section. 

The Vickers Wellington was phased out of service in the early years of WWII and replaced by the AWW (Armstrong-Whitworth-Whitley) twin bomber. Three gunners (top, front, and rear) also featured in a fully-operation crew in the AWW.