First impressions of the .50cal change in IL-2

One contentious issue across multiple generations of WWII combat flight simulations is the issue of the representation of the Browning M2 .50cal. Less powerful than a 20mm cannon but more effective than a light machine gun, the M2 .50cal was the primary armament for most American combat aircraft in World War II. There’s been plenty of controversy surrounding the effectiveness of the real weapon as well as the effectiveness of the simulated version over the years. IL-2: Great Battles’ most recent patch changed some key values and that left me with a couple of big questions. Is the weapon actually better now? What comes next? I’ve done my best to try and provide some answers on these questions. Let’s have a look!

More punch?

Spending some time in the Quick Mission Builder flying the P-51 against a variety of aircraft targets.

First, it’s important to understand what has changed. Extensive research by community member Yak_Panther revealed that the .50cal’s bullets were traveling too slowly and they didn’t quite weigh enough. Subsequent investigations by members of the 1CGS team confirmed the very same. It was a mistake that went back all the way to 2015 and the introduction of the P-40 Collector Plane and the release of Battle of Moscow.

As of update 4.604, the .50cal has had three fundamental changes in response. First, the bullet weighs a bit bit more. Second, the bullet travels a little bit faster. Third, the dispersion pattern of the bullets has been altered so that they now spread out just a little more at the convergence distance than they did before.

The change seems to have had more of an effect than I would have guessed. Others can tell you the numbers but I’m more interested in how they practically affect my flying and combat effectiveness. The effect is not a dramatic one but rather a subtle one with some practical changes.

I am seeing a perceived increase in four types of damage. First, fuel tanks and radiators seem to rupture more frequently. Second, fuel tanks and engines seem to light on fire slightly more frequently. Third, the number of pilot kills that I’ve managed to get has gone up slightly. Finally, I’ve seen a few more aircraft shedding wings, ailerons, elevators, and other key airframe components than before.

The spread also seems to have helped. The .50cals remain tightly grouped weapons but they do spread around just a little more than before and that seems to have the effect of hitting the target more frequently in a burst of shots.

My impressions are based on a few hours of QMB testing plus one two-three hour flight session online. It’s not exhaustive and its not a numbers based approach that I would use to argue a finer point. However, I can report that I have an impression of having slightly more power on hand when hitting with primarily .50cal armed aircraft. And that seemed to be shared among the virtual pilots I was flying with too. Despite flying the underdog P-40, we were able to use teamwork, tactics and .50cal firepower to bring down a good number of 109’s often in a single firing pass.

The practical result? A few more single pass kills and less time on target reducing my overall risk of being bounced. This is good!

Spraying down a Bf109F-2 last night on Finnish Virtual pilots.

It’s not a magic bullet

Prior to this change, I never felt like the .50cal was as under performing as a few in the community suggested. On the other hand, and I’ve written this a few times, I always think it’s good to test, provide good data, and for development teams like 1CGS to be open to checking their work. In this case, a check was a valuable thing because a couple of errors have been corrected and my feeling was wrong.

I also still do not subscribe to the notion that they were previously useless weapons and are now suddenly useful. This update improves historical and simulated accuracy but it’s not magic.

Previously, it was not unusual for me to go on Combat Box with a few friends, fly P-51 Mustangs, and for the team to collectively come back with a half dozen or more kills split between 2 or 3 of us. Just before the patch arrived, I flew a team mission to attack an objective which involved strafing and bombing targets before we were bounced and had to fight our way back.

Pre-patch and killing a 109 with just a single glancing hit. It was not impossible before but it happens more frequently now.

I destroyed 7 aircraft total with 4 of them being on the ground and the other three being human piloted aircraft (arguably the more important metric). One of those aircraft went down with just a couple of bullets that severed a control cable and say that Bf109 crash to the ground. Completely ineffective? No. Suffering from some incorrect values. Yes, absolutely.

This change is not, however, providing some magical benefit to Allied pilots that was not there before either. Han from the dev team even went to the forums to provide some data on what we should and should not expect of the weapon. Axis pilots are not going to be suddenly shot down in droves and Mustang, Thunderbolt, Lightning, Warhawk and other .50cal armed aircraft will still need to use smart and practiced gunnery techniques as they always have. They are hitting just a little harder than before.

The added dispersion seems to help in these head-on situations. A Focke Wulf goes down in flames after a long range burst of .50cal.

But wait, there’s more

Late in the war, American aircraft changed their ammo belt to include large quantities of the API (armor piercing incendiary) and APIT (the same API loadout plus a tracer) bullet mix. This was done in response to the arrival of the Me262 jet fighter with the idea being that the incendiary rounds would ignite jet fuel. Results soon bore out that the incendiary armor piercing bullet types were also more effective against other more conventional aircraft too and the revised belting spread around quickly after that.

At this moment, no weapon in the IL-2: Great Battles Series has any incendiary effects. Most other weapons can get by without this type of bullet because they typically also have a high explosive option in the mix. Even the German 13mm machine gun and Russian UB 12.7mm have small HE bullets that can cause quite a bit of damage (this is another hot topic for some).

New hit effects seem to give a better sense of where AP bullets are impacting the target.

So, it is my great hope that Jason and the 1CGS dev team can find some time later on down the road to add in incendiary bullet effects. As Jason pointed out in a response to a question on the subject, it isn’t just renaming a bullet name and making a flashy effect. They also want to simulate the effects that an incendiary bullet would have on a target including interactions with the fuel tanks. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if this is already part of a long range plan that first needs the new fuel tank system to be implemented before they can start to build a simulation of this type of weapon.

Groundwork in complex projects has to be laid out over prolonged periods of time so it may take a while to get this in. I’m fine with the reality of that.

The 1CGS team have consistently delivered on longstanding community wishes. It is sometimes hard to remember the good work that has been done when a new controversy comes up taking its place. It is also hard to remember that sometimes when the resolution is not immediately forthcoming. I would, however, submit to everyone that they absolutely listen to us, they do take action, and this latest update is not the last time that we’ll see the team tackle this legendary weapon and find better ways to simulate it and its contemporaries.

My first impressions on this most recent change could of course be wrong, everyone’s mileage may vary, and further changes down the road are almost certain. That said, I feel pretty confident at this point that the changes have made the .50cal at least a little more effective and hopefully that will satisfy more people.


24 Comments Add yours

  1. Dan says:

    Fantastic write-up, it’s good to see the .50s get corrected to this level. My understanding of what the “useless” comment was about by forum members was that by comparison to the 13mm (which is armed with HE belts instead of API funnily enough, which probably should be AP if we’re holding it to the same margin as the M2.50) vs the 20mm HE was that for 1 of these rounds hitting the target, you needed to hit the same “damage panel” close to 100 times with .50 AP, I believe Cass on the forums did some fantastic tests on this, though this was prior to this patch so I’m curious how they change now.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ShamrockOneFive says:

      There’s definitely been some good testing going on. I’ve a lot of faith in the folks who are questioning and then doing some pretty interesting tests to showcase it.

      My pet peeve is when people exaggerate things. It’s not that the weapon is “useless” which says to me that you can’t do anything with it. It’s that it’s less effective by X amount which the folks doing the data work can reliably show. That always speaks more to me anyways!

      All in all, good to see forward momentum on solving problems.


  2. Urgent Siesta says:

    Good article and interesting results – many thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ShamrockOneFive says:

      Thanks! Happy to provide some of my thoughts to the mix. I’m sure some will agree and some will disagree and that’s ok too! 🙂


  3. Blue 5 says:

    Interesting feedback. Please tell me we are not seeing more wing detachments…that’s depressing and totally unrealistic.


    1. [DBS]TH0R says:

      You mean like this? 🙂

      From my testing there is like 1% more wind detachments, and usually due to structural losses and high G maneuvers.


      1. ShamrockOneFive says:

        Yeah a few small percentage points difference at most. I’d agree with that.


      2. Blue 5 says:

        Yes. Go and watch all of the videos on YouTube and collate the number of detached wings from .303, .5 and even 20mm and 30mm. Then cross reference this with the thousands of pilot combat reports and the longer autobiographies. It happened incredibly rarely on the basis that the wing spar is the strongest part of the airframe.

        In reality happened on fleeting occasion. Happens too frequently in BoX. Frankly, I think that major fires are also over-represented.

        A few years ago in an F1 race a driver hit the brakes and both front tyres detached. If you played a racing game and that happened 10% of the time you would laugh at the physics modeling.


      3. [DBS]TH0R says:

        I just posted a video clearly showing .50s clearly removing a wing from a plane, and a fully metal one at that (Mig-15). “I’ve read biography and countless reports” is pure anecdotal and I will happily find you accounts of pilots stating that wing braking did happen. The current percentage of how and when it happens is anything but over done, as ShamrockoOneFive and I have said already.

        Besides, this is the least of the currently still present FM problems. The most pressing issues are overperforming medium caliber HE calibers and underperforming high (30 and 37mm) caliber weapons in-game. Second worst issue being aero (loss of lift) penalties which are hilariously over done, and often poorly scripted (e.g. just one hit of the 13mm in tail section induces random pitching up and down).

        Third on my list would be further improving G-Force stamina and increasing the effects of sudden negative G-forces on pilots body.


      4. Oyster_KAI says:

        I’m also very dissatisfied with aero penalties. As long as there are holes in your wing, you may need to press the stick 70~80% in the opposite direction. It’s impossible to fly home without the front end of the wing. The simulation done by DCS in this part is much better.


    2. ShamrockOneFive says:

      I’m seeing a few but I wouldn’t say there was a huge increase. I also wouldn’t call it unrealistic either… it happens maybe every 7th or 8th kill instead of every 9th or 10th kill.


      1. Blue 5 says:

        Too many. Unrealistic.


      2. [DBS]TH0R says:

        Based on what? Firing up close, 3 or 4 .50s positioned close together – close as in from point blank distance are more than capable of severing a wing.

        Once we get API less rounds should be needed to down a plane, therefore the percentage should go down again.


    3. Dog says:

      How do you figure? There’s more than a few examples of wing fractures and severing due to .50 cal fire. AP rounds hitting a wing spar and then g-load would easily cause a structural failure in a wing.


  4. IL2 Pilot says:

    The latest patch is a step in the right direction, but more steps are necessary. Small caliber high explosive rounds are over-performing. It has been this way ever since 4.005 released in April of 2020. That is a long time to wait for a fix and why people are frustrated. Here is hoping they follow through on the promised revamp soon.


  5. Blue 5 says:

    They could not ‘easily’ cause that kind of damage. It happens very very rarely. The spars are stressed to around 10x the aircraft weight and are usually box-shaped and hence extremely robust.

    Seriously, watch available gun-camera footage and do a quick tally. I can think of a few occasions when I can recall it being reported and that usually was as the doomed aircraft exceeded Vne or got into a vicious spin.

    Compared to other damage that lead to aircraft loss, it was a minority. It happened, certainly, with .5-armed aircraft on a small number of occasions by percentage. It happens – IMHO – too frequently in BoX.

    @THOR I am sure that you can find accounts. But these remain a very small minority.


    1. [DBS]TH0R says:

      Here is a quote from a discussion I had on the subject with YakPanther, the author of the .50s fix:

      “The wing tips would be more prone to braking off, like in that Mig-15 video (I posted here). For most wings with dual spars, the aft spar does not extend to the tip. So it’s less rigid. This is problematic for wings like Mig-15’s and Fw-190’s. Because those wings develop an axial torque (twisting) at high load factors. Damage to the spar reduces the wings ability to withstand axial loads to a greater extent than normal loads (Nz / G loads).”


      “The cause of the famous snap stall on the 190 is the to the wing tips bending upwards under high loads”

      What I will agree being a problem is if wings break off at their root. Not at half length or wing tips. But this comes down to each plane damage model and how it was done in-game.

      Part of the reason why I think you believe it is happening too frequently is because pilots often continue flying when their plane is lost but attempting to get that “final shot in”. For the example pilots in MP often continue flying even when on fire, whilst in real life a pilot would be bailing out at first opportunity. This then leads to the attacking fighter continuing to fire at the doomed plane and resulting in slightly higher percentage of wing shearing when compared to the real life. A blurry vision or some kind of negative effect to the pilot if an engine is on fire in front of you should be added to the game IMHO.

      We could also factor in wing ammunition explosions (which is also rare – but gun camera videos exist) to the overall wings braking off scenario i.e. percentage. But I don’t think this is modelled currently as we don’t have API belting.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Blue 5 says:

        Those are some very good points.

        Yes, the clean ‘snap at root’ is probably what gets my goat. The surface, tips, large parts of spars and similar are more likely to come off first. The wing root is bloody strong and enjoys the greatest combined structure of the whole wing.

        But I think your point about handling is a key part of the issue. The AI are not the sharpest tools in the BoX and I suspect tend to haul on their virtual sticks too hard which exacerbates the aircraft condition and accentuates the likelihood of a whole wing departing.

        For MP we all fly overly aggressively much of the time, plus the fact that the damage is not as apparent compared to being in an aircraft that feels sick (also why we tend to stall / spin / ground-loop rather a lot). Becomes easy to pull too hard because we lack the feedback that something is wrong and hence be gentle.

        The ammo explosion obviously could cause this as well.



  6. KotwicaGoose says:

    While I appreciate the patch, the fact that it, for starters, took this long, and involved A LOT of overt toxicity from the devs — when ‘we’ were the ones providing the information they eventually used — has made me completely lose respect and trust in the BoX team.

    The fact that incendiary effects aren’t in-game is quite ridiculous, if not downright absurd. This effect is absolutely necessary in any WWII aviation damage model. If it is a technical matter that makes modeling incendiary rounds difficult — as the devs have claimed about quite a few things in the past — then I say they made a poor engine choice for a modular game of this genre.If it’s not a technical issue… well, I don’t really know what to say. I suppose incendiary rounds weren’t terribly important to the original Soviet and German lineups. The Germans had their famous minengeschoss, and the Soviets could just be given their HE-F ShVAK rounds. Although even ShVAKs made use of FI and FI-T rounds. German incendiary rounds would’ve just been overshadowed by the mine shells, and even the MG 131 and Breda-SAFAT HMG rounds didn’t have pure incendiary rounds… rather, their HE rounds were a blend of (mainly) PETN and a small amount of thermite. So, alright, original game, no incendiary? Fine.

    But the US relied heavily on the M1 incendiary, and by 1943, was very reliant on the M8 AP-I and M20 API-T. According to ‘Flying Guns World War 2: Development of Aircraft Guns, Ammunition and Installations 1933-45,’ early-war .50 belts should be “…loaded with 40% [M2] AP, 40% [M1] incendiary and 20% [M1] tracer…” while late-war belts were “…loaded with the M8 API…” with the occasional M20 API-T for tracers. Some pilots opted not to load tracers, as “…the tracer fell out of favour when it was realised that it was providing more help to the enemy.”

    .50 calibers are missing a huge component of their damage, still. End of story. I’d like to see this discussion if it were minengeschoss shells missing from German belts.


    1. ShamrockOneFive says:

      This wasn’t a particularly good episode in the history of this sim. I really don’t want to get into the drama of it because the whole thing gives me a headache.

      What I am glad about and what I wanted to write about was if the change has had an impact. More than I expected. Based on some really good community research and and recognition that the values were wrong by the 1CGS team.

      Incendiary effects would be really nice to have. That request won’t go away, I’m sure. Although it seems like a small ask I suspect there are cascade of things that need to be done to get them in. I don’t just want a flashy effect… I want that incendiary effect to mean something.

      That it’s come up right now and been an issue since the last damage model update suggests to me that the incendiary effect itself wasn’t actually high on the community’s wishlist but the overall effectiveness was. So, I think the needle has moved but there’s more to do.


  7. Jason says:

    As any old timer will know…surely the REAL question is whether I can destroy a Tiger Tank with them (even if it means bouncing the bullets off the road and into tehir underside) 🙂


    1. Blue 5 says:

      That’s easy. I used to do it all the time in my T-16 back home, and a Tiger is a lot bigger than 2 meters

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Det says:

    “While I appreciate the patch, the fact that it, for starters, took this long, and involved A LOT of overt toxicity from the devs…”

    This has been an ongoing issue and not just from a .50 standpoint. I pointed out their lazy modeling/texture mapping for the Collectors G-6 three years ago and they told be to pound sand and to stop being so “negative”. Which by the way, continued into the G-6 for BoN. Copy/paste.

    I also pointed out the horrific damage modeling for the kinetic munitions in TC, provided computational examples with extensive evidence from reliable sources concerning the mathematics and they blacklisted me, more or less. A few were very receptive (Discord) and even pointed out that they had come across the same info but were told to leave it alone.

    There’s an adage out there – Game developers aren’t your friends and developers aren’t their company.

    Two cents and all that.


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