Report! Correct aim 2-20 fore, figure in enemy speed at negative 15 knots relative decelerating. Ready? Fire in Sequence on my mark... MARK!
LCDR Arnold Dering, Commander of the "X"-Turret, GKS-B-RW41 "Adamanta"
NOTICE: I am looking for a solution within the confines given in the question. If your answer does not work without introducing anything to the world (e.g. super precise lenses, magical hotstones, etc.) please take the time to weigh up the pros & cons of whatever you introduce.
In my mind-bogglingly breathtaking conworld heavily armoured airships majestically float through the skies with help of a science-defying, yet well thought-through lighter-than-anything material1.
Above the skies they duke it out between each other armed with machine guns, flak, artillery. Machine gun & flak fire saturating patterns & methods against flying enemies are well enough explored and used in our world. What I would like though, is to have the larger airships not only use their artillery to reduce bunkers and buildings to rubble, but fire shells at each other - in the air!
The only issue I see is a way to properly report misses in order to adjust aim for the next salvo. If they miss, the shell will simply hit something on the ground - potentially miles away from the target.
To solve this I was thinking about introducing a marker shell being fired until a promising bearing is achieved. This marker shell could either be something along the lines of traditional tracer bullets, or a self-detonating shell being primed to explode after a certain time (distance / speed).
In my understanding this would provide the spotter/targeter/aimer with a reference point - quite similar to the splash used by World-War navy gunners - being close enough to the target to be actually useful.
1Here's a question about how to control altitude with this physics-defying figment of my imagination.
Q: Are there any issues with the described technique(s)?
A good answer should address the following topics:
- What is the advantage/disadvantage of tracer shells over the detonating shells?
- What is the advantage/disadvantage of detonating shells over the tracer shells?
- If none of the techniques can work, why - what fact about aerial combat did I miss out on?
In addition it would be amazing if answers that explain why this does not work, to include a section proposing alternative solutions come close/to a similar result as what I am describing in the above prose.
Technology: The world is set technologically somewhere between the industrial revolution and the invention of internal-combustion-engines. There's been heavy development and optimizations regarding steam-driven-engines as there is, at least in parts of the world, little to no oil available.
Electricity is something fairly new and so far doesn't go further than being used for creating light aboard airships and being used for telegraphing (little to no electric infrastructure).
While oil is found and burned in other parts of the world, in this part of it the most commonly used fuels burned for heat are coal and peat. Additionally natural-gas, coal-water-slurry and fishoil are most commonly burned in lanterns to provide light.
Speeds: These Airships, most of the time, consist of two or more parallelly arranged lifting bodies with most of the mass of the ship hung between them, the center of mass being below the lifting bodies. This arrangement is intended to give them a sort of stability in the air similarly to a catamaran.
While some airships have multiple dedicated steam-engines, most of them feature central engine-rooms where work-power is diverted to engines, winches, etc. using gear-assemblies, drive-belts, drive-shafts, air compressors, ...
Under normal weather conditions military airships rate average speeds between 60-90kph. Military ships feature multiple, often pivotable, engine-pods along their hulls, allowing the application of thrust in almost any direction; the bigger the ship, the more pods naturally. In general speeds, etc. are based on WW1 & Interwar-Period craft, such as the Schütte-Lanz Airships.
Tactics: There are different classes of ships that refer to different sizes, armaments and tasks of the ship, the largest of these reaching widths of up to 160m and lengths of up to 400m. Aspect ratios vary from smaller ships @7:2 to larger ships @5:3.
Armament and engagement-tactics are loosely based on WW1/WW2 naval combat. That is cruisers/battleships would primarily fire heavy shells over vast distances (mostly for land bombardment), while smaller/medium ships would feature lighter weaponry to engage in ship-to-ship fighting (e.g. destroyers).
In addition almost any ship down to corvette-size carries a compliment of spotter/fighter/bomber biplanes. While a corvette would carry at most 1-2 planes, a destroyer would already carry a wing of 3-6 planes, a battleship half a squadron (~a dozen planes), up to carriers hauling multiple scores of plane (being basically huge flightdecks with underslung multi-story hangars).