This is intended for people interested in the subject of military guns and their ammunition, with emphasis on automatic weapons, particularly in larger calibres (12.7+mm).
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Does anyone know when API ammunition was introduced for the aircraft version of the .50 Browning?
The M8 API (originally T16) was approved in October 1943 for aircraft gun use and was in general use by 1944, replacing the M2 AP.
OK, so there was incendiary available before that, but it wasn't API.
I haven't been able to find anything on the Web with dates.
Very little work was done on incendiary .50 cal until reports from Europe early in WW2 showed it would be useful to have. The British .303 Dixon/DeWilde design was copied in a simplified form (which was then copied back by the Brits). The .50 M1 incendiary was adopted in January 1942 with peak production in June 1943 (200,000 rounds per day). I don't know when it was first used in combat but presumably some time in the first half of 1942.
Some was in use by mid 1942
Gordon Prange "MIRACLE AT MIDWAY" has navy PBY crewmen trading with Army Air Corps men for
50 cal incendiary rounds for their guns at runup to Battle of Midway
That may be the case, but Incendary (M1) and Armor-piercing Incendiary (M8) are different designs having different effects.
As Tony already wrote, the M8 became available in late 1943, when Des Moines and Lake City started industrial production, joined by St. Louis, Twin Cities and Remington Arms in early 1944.
Source: Hackley/Woodin/Scranton: History of Modern U.S. Military Smll Arms Ammunition, Vol. II, 1978
Yes, the USAAF found that the .50 incendiary was a capable of doing a lot of damage but often couldn't penetrate deeply enough, while the AP could penetrate well but lacked destructive effect. So they eventually replaced both with the M8 API, at least in fighter guns in Europe, and were very satisfied with the result. The also sometimes mixed in a few M20 API-T, although there was disagreement about whether the tracers were worth it.