Fighter Command 1936-1968: An Operational & Historical Record: An Operational and Historical Record

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This series of books provides a fresh user-friendly look at the military airfields of the British Isles. The series is split geographically, each book including a number of counties on a regional basis. Badges of rank are illustrated up to the rank of group captain; the highest rank a pilot could hope to achieve without leaving the cockpit for a staff post.


de Havilland Mosquito operational history

Station commanders were typically group captains and were discouraged from flying on combat operations, although individuals such as Adolph Malan often paid lip service to this guidance. The rank of wing commander was typically responsible for a wing of three squadrons, a squadron leader naturally commanded a single squadron and a flight lieutenant would be his second in command, responsible for leading the second flight of the squadron. The officer ranks of the RAF were simple modifications of naval ranks after the RNAS and RFC were merged to form the RAF; flight lieutenant and wing commander were RNAS ranks with the similar responsibilities to their new RAF counterparts, and squadron leader was a modification of squadron commander, itself based on the rank of lieutenant commander.

The rank of group captain, equivalent to an army colonel, was used as RFC colonels typically commanded groups. Rank from top left: sergeant, flight sergeant, warrant officer class 2, warrant officer class 1, pilot officer, flying officer, flight lieutenant, squadron leader, wing commander, group captain. The rank of warrant officer 2 was declared obsolete during the inter-war period; however, not all WO2s were automatically promoted to WO1, so the badge is included here for completeness. He wears a Type B flying helmet with Type D oxygen mask. He also wears the top button of his Service Dress jacket undone in typical fighter pilot styling.

RAF Museum, P designed to work in conjunction with the Type D oxygen mask, which was fitted to the front via press studs. The Type D mask was of constant flow design, made of green fabric with a chamois lining. The oxygen mask also had an integral microphone for radio communications or, in the case of multi-crew aircraft, speaking via the intercom. Five separate specifications of microphone were cycled through the service life period of the Type D mask.

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  6. The Type B helmet was logically replaced with the Type C in mid, which was of a similar appearance but was designed to be more comfortable, with the earpieces now sited inside cylindrical housings of black rubber. The Type C helmet was compatible with the older Type D mask, but this too was replaced by the Type E oxygen mask in This black rubber mask was the first to feature a regulated flow design, which released air only upon inhalation by the user rather than the constant flow of older, less sophisticated designs.

    Pilots entered the war with the Mk III goggles. Of a simple design, these consisted of celluloid windows in a padded leather frame, mounted on an elasticated headband.

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    The Mk IV also had clip-on rubber Pilots and ground crews pads and an adjustable nosepiece to fit the wearer more closely, and had of No. The pilots provision to add a tinted anti-glare panel above the windows. The Mk IV wear an assortment of flying goggles did not always sit easily in place with the large earpieces of the Type suits, some with the detachable B helmet; this was overcome either by fitting large loops to the goggle band fur collar fitted, with to fit around the earpieces, or by securing them in place via press-studs.

    The Pattern life jackets. RAF Museum, X addition of these loops and studs increased the weight of the Mk IV goggles and made them unpopular with some pilots. Manufactured in a dull khaki, squadrons of Fighter Command often had them painted yellow for higher visibility in the event of aircraft ditching. The improved Life Jacket Mk 1, which had a carbon dioxide cylinder for inflation, with the oral inflation tube now being used only for top up was released in July Further improvements consisted of a fluorescent dye for releasing into the sea and a floating flap behind the head, both of which were added to aid spotting by rescue aircraft.

    Whilst specialized footwear had existed for aircrew since the earliest days of aviation, some pilots found that during the hotter summer months normal working shoes were sufficient for flying. However, for the colder seasons and higher altitude flying, three types of flying boot were in use by Fighter Command at the outbreak of the war. The Pattern boot was made up of suede with a sheepskin lining and a front zip. The Pattern was of black leather, manufactured with a fleece lining and a tightening strap at the upper shin.

    Each pattern was intended to replace its predecessor, but all three existed concurrently by the outbreak of the war. The latter two patterns proved difficult to fit with bulkier flying suits, prompting the release of the Pattern boot, which bizarrely did not enter service until July This had a similar front zip to the Pattern and was constructed of brown split hide and sheepskin lining. It was redesignated the Pattern following the addition of an ankle strap to tighten the boots after operational experience revealed they had a propensity to remove themselves from the feet following baling out.

    Flying gloves consisted of silk and chamois inner gloves, fingerless woollen mitts, and finally an outer gauntlet of brown leather with a cuff zip, designated the Pattern. In practise, with fighter pilots generally flying much shorter sorties than their brethren in Bomber and Coastal Command, the white chamois leather inner gloves were sufficient. However, early experience of the consequences of cockpit fires meant that even light gloves acted as a simple protective layer against fire, and gloves were not abandoned until aircrew moved to hotter climes later in the war.

    Gloster submitted the design to but was outclassed by modern, high-performance monoplanes the Air Ministry in , and the first production variants were delivered in even before war broke out. February and March of It was armed with four.


    Browning machine guns, two carried underneath the lower wings and two mounted to each side of the engine. With its enclosed cockpit and automatic mixture control, the Gladiator did possess some modern features. Many pilots noted its exceptional handling characteristics and near perfect harmony of controls. However, as a fixed undercarriage biplane it was arguably obsolete when it entered service, particularly when one considers the opposition it would soon encounter.

    While popular with its pilots, the Gladiator was unable to contend with modern opposition such as the Bf , and was ultimately replaced by the Hurricane and Spitfire, although it continued to fly in communications, liaison and meteorological roles until Modified for far greater than any fighter service as a long-range fighter, the 1F variant was equipped with a tray of four operated by the RAF when it first flew in , great things.

    However, it proved handling characteristics in comparison to modern, single-engine fighters vulnerable to enemy fighters in daylight operations and the made it poor in a dogfight, and early clashes left the Blenheim squadrons 1F fighter variant was restricted suffering heavy casualties. More useful were approximately examples to night-fighter duties.

    A Blenheim 1F scored the first AI radar success in combat on the night of 2—3 July , but even with a limited run of more powerful Blenheim IVs converted to the fighter role, the type was not well suited to air-to-air combat and was replaced by more manoeuvrable aircraft such as the De Havilland Mosquito. Bolton Paul Defiant A low-winged monoplane, with retractable undercarriage and an enclosed cockpit, powered by a single Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, the Defiant had all the appearances of a truly modern fighter.

    However, what separated the Defiant from its contemporaries was its armament: its four. The theory was that placing the guns in a turret gave the aircraft a far greater field of fire, and allowed the pilot to concentrate solely on flying the aircraft, leaving his gunner to aim and operate the weaponry. The mph and its manoeuvrability was poor. The Defiant scored notable concept of being able to attack successes early on in its career, with No. However, once German fighter pilots had enemy bombers proved unsound, and the Defiant was stopped confusing this new type with the Hurricane it closely resembled from easy prey for German fighters.

    Hawker Hurricane A low-winged monoplane with retractable undercarriage, enclosed cockpit and eight. At the outbreak of hostilities, 19 squadrons of Fighter Command were equipped with the Hurricane. It was a Hurricane of No. Mould claimed a Dornier 17 near Toul on 30 October Initially, four squadrons of Hurricanes had been sent to France shortly after the outbreak of the war, but this number would double over the next few months.

    While the Hurricane was a sturdy machine with a good rate of turn at low altitudes, the Bf was faster, more manoeuvrable and armed with 20mm cannon to augment its 7. However, the Hurricane proved robust in operating from field conditions, and was more than a match for any other German aircraft in theatre. Nevertheless, nearly Hurricanes were destroyed or damaged to the point of having to be abandoned in France, a huge loss for the RAF as it represented nearly a quarter of the front-line strength of Fighter Command.

    The Hurricane further proved its flexibility and adaptability in the Norwegian Campaign, with men of No. Furthermore, after operating successfully in the harsh climates of Norway, the squadron successfully returned to Glorious for recovery back to Britain. By August , Fighter Command could field a strength of 32 squadrons of Hurricanes, compared to 19 of Spitfires.

    While the Hurricane did not have the speed and manoeuvrability of the Spitfire, its thicker wing provided a more stable platform for its machine guns, and if both RAF fighters were involved in the same combat it was a common tactic for the Spitfire to engage escorting German fighters, leaving the Hurricane to tackle enemy bombers. Nicholson of No. Although not as fast or as XX engine gave an increase in reliability and power.

    The IIB was equipped manoeuvrable as the Bf , with RAF Museum, versatility of roles, its performance continued to slip further behind that of the P latest enemy fighters and its days as a dedicated fighter aircraft were numbered. The Hurricane would go on to serve in many theatres throughout the war, scoring notable successes in the deserts of North Africa and in the defence of Malta.

    It also performed admirably in ground attack and anti-shipping roles, as a carrier-based fighter with the Fleet Air Arm, and as an export fighter to several Allied nations. Supermarine Spitfire Capturing the imagination and affection of the British public perhaps more than any other aircraft of the era, the Spitfire was, in many ways, the most capable asset available to Fighter Command at the beginning of World War II. The Spitfire first entered service in July , with nine squadrons being operational by the outbreak of the war.

    Early Spitfires were fitted with two-blade, fixed-pitch propellers and armed with only four. The Mk IB experimented with early 20mm cannon, but was withdrawn from service following problems with jamming. Considered too valuable an asset to be employed in France, Spitfires initially saw far less action than other types in Fighter Command, but it was a Spitfire of No.

    The Spitfire proved itself in combat during the Battle of Britain, where it reached such a state of notoriety amongst German aircrew that some claimed to have been damaged or shot down by Spitfires when it was actually the more numerous Hurricanes which was responsible. This was followed in February by the next major Although less numerous than production variant of the Spitfire: the Mk V. The Spitfire V was strengthened the Hurricane in the early years significantly to absorb the power of the new 1,bhp Merlin 45 engine, and of the war, the Supermarine Mk VA retained the same armament as previous models, whilst the far more Spitfire captured the numerous VB was armed with two 20mm cannon and four.

    After the Battle of guns. The Mk V was also able to to develop through a myriad of carry a drop tank beneath the fuselage to increase its endurance. The Mk V variants, forming the backbone was a significant development from earlier models, now placing a more of Fighter Command in most theatres throughout the war. The Spitfire was forced to undergo constant developments and improvements throughout its operational life, until later marques, equipped with Rolls-Royce Griffon engines, a tear-drop shaped canopy and clipped wings, bore little resemblance to the earliest Spitfires.

    Hawker Typhoon Designed as a replacement for the Hurricane, the Typhoon initially entered service in summer , rushed to front-line squadrons in an attempt to counter the threat posed by the new Fw However, the Typhoon was initially plagued with problems. Its Rolls-Royce Sabre engine was unreliable, particularly when starting in cold weather, and its poor exhaust system caused a threat of carbon monoxide poisoning to pilots so severe that they had to wear their oxygen masks immediately upon starting up.

    Worse still, structural weaknesses in the Typhoon caused by a combination of factors, including harmonic vibration, resulted in instances of the entire tail unit detaching, often in a high-speed dive. These problems were to greater or lesser extents solved or alleviated by a series of modifications, but the Typhoon suffered mixed reviews from those who operated it for the remainder of its service life.

    It performed admirably in the ground-attack role and as a low-altitude interceptor. Its wings, control surfaces, gear and part of the fuselage were identical to those of the Beaufort. With the outbreak of hostilities looking all but unavoidable, the Air Ministry was faced with the problem of producing as many fighters as possible in a short time.

    The first Beaufighter AI kill for Fighter Command was in November , but it was not until January , when partnered with Ground Controlled Interception that the Beaufighter began to excel in its night-fighter role. Having performed well in the Mediterranean and Western Desert, as well as with Coastal Command, the Beaufighter was developed into several variants, with the Mk VI, equipped with more powerful 1,bhp engines, entering service in The Beaufighter continued to serve throughout the war, finally being withdrawn from service in when the last examples had been converted into target-towing aircraft.

    While the living conditions would never be as hard as those experienced by their brethren in the infantry, front-line life overseas was often far from comfortable, and defending Britain from the well-equipped airfields of the home front still brought its own unique difficulties. However, in the opening days of the war very little contact Created by Bill Hooper, Pilot Officer Prune was a cartoon fighter pilot whose escapades and buffoonery were intended to teach valuable lessons to aircrew, in a light-hearted and amusing fashion.

    Pilots were still stationed around Britain, with little actual change in their day-to-day routines. Airfields would often be built around four runways, the longest of which would be some 1,m 1, yards in length, and they were often grass, concrete runways being something of a rarity. Large bases also had their own sports facilities, with pitches for football, rugby and cricket, and gymnasiums or tennis and squash courts — these facilities were far too expensive and time- consuming to build in the smaller airfields that were constructed after the outbreak of war.

    Food, accommodation and medical and dental care were free; flying clothing was provided free of charge, although officers were expected to pay for their uniforms. Squadron buildings also varied greatly from purpose-built, permanent buildings to hastily constructed Nissen huts, made up of little more than simple brick walls and corrugated iron roofing.

    Flying consisted of training sorties to keep essential skills current, as well as Air Tests — flying aircraft with recent repairs or maintenance to ensure that they were fully serviceable. Evenings were often spent in pursuit of the time-honoured interests of young men in the armed forces: drinking and socialising. Alcoholic drinks were on sale in messes, but local pubs or journeys into nearby towns and cities were also popular alternatives for a change of scenery. Formalized rules governing drinking and flying were yet to be instigated, as Flt. David Price-Hughes recalled: David was tight [drunk] at a Hunt Ball in which there was a cabaret show.

    Being skateless he found the surface slippery, and the evening ended with Alban on all fours proceeding rapidly round the rink in one direction, while his fellow inebriates did likewise in the other. Most of them are from decent families… yet, owing to some stupid regulation laid down by some idiot or idiots unknown… they are not allowed even to speak to the officers… which is damned silly and only serves to focus the attention on them more.

    With the French Air Force still active, RAF squadrons sent to France were relegated to suitable fields with hurriedly erected facilities to serve as their bases of operations. Flight Lieutenant Price-Hughes recalls his first experiences of France: The first sight of the French coastline was a thrill which was not lessened by the discovery that we were right on track… the only observable differences were the lack of hedges or any sort of division between fields, and the comparative sparseness of houses and villages… we found it difficult to locate the aerodromes, as they were nothing more than fields: no buildings save a tin hut, the only signs of activity being picketed aircraft.

    Squadron HQ… was 6 miles away in another village. And such a squalid village, tawdry houses, and mud, mud, mud everywhere. Our lunch consisted of bread, butter and cheese which did not suit us at all… 57 squadron told us that they are not popular with the local inhabitants… they believe that France is fighting for England, that the war is really for the sake of England… Field conditions experienced they render all possible assistance, but, as we saw, leave us strictly alone, and at a typical improvised airstrip show no signs of friendliness.

    The Hurricane proved robust and well capable of adapting to the rigors of life in Relations between French civilians and RAF servicemen supporting the the field, and was popular with British Expeditionary Force alike were unfortunately often far from cordial, its pilots and ground crews as described by Flight Lieutenant James Patterson, a New Zealander.

    After this misunderstanding was resolved, Patterson was released and returned to his aircraft, only to find one of his ground crew had been shot by a soldier serving in the French army. Flight Lieutenant David Price-Hughes described his accommodation once his squadron was properly established: The billet is a farmhouse, with a high wall around, through which one passes by a heavy gateway. My bed is of antique design in brass, but comfortable enough, and there is no danger of suffering from cold at night.

    A built in cupboard, which forms a fine bookcase and wardrobe, a table in the corner on which are two tin bowls and a tumbler, a slop pail, a towel rack, and a larger table on which I am writing from the furnishings of this luxury hotel. The floor is bare, but the boards are polished. While the pilots of Fighter Command were not living and working in the conditions to which they had become accustomed, there is no doubt that, for the majority of the French campaign, aircrew living conditions were far superior to those of the front-line forces in the army.

    However, the conditions experienced by squadrons sent to Norway were considerably harder. Prior to deploying to theatre, the squadron should have had its unit identification codes removed from the fuselages of its aircraft for security purposes, but the few surviving photos of the Norwegian campaign show that this was only achieved on some of its aircraft.

    Number Squadron operated from Bardufoss during late May and early June, with a detachment of two aircraft flying from a hastily prepared landing strip at Bodo. The squadron was involved in almost daily combat, protecting British ground forces from German bombers in poor weather conditions with barely adequate logistical support. Whilst outclassed by German fighters, the nimble Gladiator with its excellent rate of climb and manoeuvrability, proved to be an effective interceptor, and gave a laudable account of itself against enemy bombers and reconnaissance aircraft during the campaign.

    As Norway was covered in a thick A work party carrying out road repairs in Bardufoss. Heavy rain blanket of snow, the campaign lent itself more to carrier-borne air power, as well as snow proved to be rather than host nation support, but although aircraft of the Fleet Air Arm a problem in maintaining were heavily involved in the air war it was the high-performance Hurricanes adequate lines of of No.

    Accommodation for pilots was, Squadron inside a blast shelter built up of locally sourced as with France, provided by locals, although the relationship with the timbers. Operating from field Norwegians was by and large far more cordial: the RAF squadrons were conditions, pilots lived and more dependent on local knowledge and expertise to survive the harsh worked in very different climate, whilst the Norwegian armed forces were in some ways less capable conditions to their colleagues in Britain.

    RAF Museum, than those of the French, leading to a greater reliance on each other from PC both parties, a significant factor towards a better working relationship. The Norwegians help to move a stranded vehicle from No. Whilst pilots were subject to working in harsh conditions, they praised the bravery and hospitality of the Norwegian people they worked alongside.

    Simple factors which had been taken for granted, such as keeping roads to and from airstrips clear, now became a full-time job after snowfall. The move back to Britain following the campaigns in France and Norway certainly provided more comfortable conditions in many cases, but the tempo of operations presented its own problems.

    The working routine for pilots was largely similar across all groups. The day began at around an hour before dawn, with pilots having breakfast before being transported to Dispersal — the building which housed them during the working day. By this stage the aircraft had been thoroughly checked by ground crews overnight, and were being run to warm up the engines. Pilots were informed which aircraft was allocated to them for the day, which Section they would be flying in, and with whom. For many squadrons, keeping these parameters as fixed as possible was desirable. Although they all rolled off similar production lines, individual aircraft had unique handling characteristics to which pilots grew accustomed, and working with the same pilots in the same section also bred familiarity, which was vital in combat.

    Having been allocated an aircraft and section, pilots would then collect their flying kit and walk out to their aircraft. The modern practice of pilots conducting a detailed walk-around was not carried out; ground crews had already completed pre-flight checks. Great care was then taken in setting out seat and parachute harnesses, and arranging kit efficiently so that take-off was as quick as possible.

    With the aircraft ready in all respects to scramble, pilots then reconvened at Dispersal. This feat was nothing short of remarkable for many reasons — none of the pilots were trained in deck-landing techniques, the aircraft were not fitted with arrestor hooks, a high-performance, land-based fighter of the era had never before been landed on the deck of a carrier, and the light levels were poor, making the whole procedure even more difficult. The Hurricanes were fitted with sandbags aft of the centre of gravity, so that full brakes could be applied immediately upon landing without the tail rising to cause a propeller tip strike on the deck.

    The tremendous skill displayed by No. Unfortunately, the success of 8 June was overshadowed by tragedy, when Glorious was sunk the next morning by the battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. Anticipating who were able to overcome the nerves of waiting to be scrambled, sleeping losses, the numerically inferior in chairs or on cot beds inside the huts. The Dispersal telephone became an Spitfires were confined to Britain and kept out of the object of fear; each ring had the potential to be a scramble, but was often campaigns in France and something far more trivial or mundane.

    When scrambles were ordered, the Norway. RAF Museum, number of aircraft depended on the size of the raid — scrambles could be PC ordered by sections of three aircraft or flights of six fighters, but were often full squadron scrambles of all 12 aircraft. After the confusion of combat, squadrons rarely returned in strength to their airfield, as they were likely to have been separated and returned in small formations or individually. If guns had been fired in anger, the tape over the gun ports to stop the guns freezing at altitude would now be torn, causing a distinctive whine of air across the wings as the fighters descended to land.

    Ground crews would quickly refuel, rearm and top up oxygen on their aircraft, turning them back round and ready to fly again in as little as ten minutes. Meanwhile, pilots would return to the crew rooms at Dispersal for debrief, giving details of any enemy engagements to the squadron intelligence officer. Not knowing when the next opportunity to eat would occur, pilots would often grab food immediately on completion of debriefing, and the squadron would be returned to readiness.

    After the initial attack, when aircraft were scattered in each direction, it was nearly impossible for squadron leaders and flight commanders to observe individual pilots, who, in an act of self-preservation, had the opportunity to flee an engagement. However, while this temptation was understandably strong, by far the greater part of Fighter Command was able to overcome it.

    Deere commented that the danger was strongest when fatigue allowed self-preservation to overcome the sense of duty. You probably read of the squadron that got 21 aircraft in one day, well that was the start for us and it kept on like that until there were only four of us left and one aeroplane, so they decided that we were no longer operational, we dined with Lord Beaverbrook met the Prime Minister talked on the wireless and were finally sent up to a place called Drem in Scotland to recuperate and reform. Whilst squadrons were rotated wherever possible out of No. With the onset of autumn in and the threat of invasion significantly reduced, pilots could settle down into a much more workable routine.

    Ground attack or escort missions over occupied Europe meant that pilots would now know in advance when they would be flying, leading to working routines which were far more manageable than in the dark days of summer German raids over the British mainland continued throughout the war, with Fighter Command still using RDF to scramble and intercept incoming raids, but with the more versatile role of the fighter aircraft, and the Luftwaffe changing its concentration of operations to other theatres, pilots of RAF Fighter Command based in Britain between and had more favourable working conditions.

    The myth that the Battle of Britain was won by a handful of ex-public school officer pilots is a complete fallacy; thousands of pilots throughout the war served in all commands of the RAF as NCOs. Just as there was a myriad of different people entering Fighter Command, so too were the reasons behind enlisting, and the personal motivation for individuals to continue flying operational sorties. That there are things worth dying for I can no longer believe, greatly though I should rejoice to find myself wrong.

    Running to the aircraft was extremely awkward when the parachute was worn properly. The squadron CO stands in the doorway, reviewing a report of the last intercept 1. Two Polish pilots stand together 4 , further evidence of the lengths taken by Fighter Command to bolster its numbers from outside its normal pools of recruitment. The table below illustrates the diversity of backgrounds employed by Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain, although the numbers still show the vast majority to be of British origin. Why therefore am I fighting? The mainspring of my actions can, I think, be found in my vanity.

    I have an overwhelming desire to be the centre of attraction… at the end of the war I see a figure standing, upon his left breast rows of medals I see this hero returning in triumph from the war, feted by all as a reincarnation Rudolph Valentino, the cynosure of all eyes. It was the convoy and we got there too late… [the German aircraft] got one of our chaps, but worst of all they sank these ships blast them and we arrived to find them sinking and people wallowing about in the water.

    It makes me even more realise the utter futility of war, and Oh God it makes me so wild that I Pilots of No. I think he thought he was going to be publicly tortured. He was quite a young chappie quite decent really but very fed up with the war. A fighter pilot reads a book in between flights. Behind him are recognition posters. In the confusion of air-to-air combat it was all too easy to mistake a friendly aircraft for that of a foe.

    The first fatality suffered by Fighter Command during the war was when a Spitfire of No. Some pilots even began to adorn their aircraft with the name of their wives or girlfriends, or even full nose art, as famously adopted by No. However, these personalized touches never became as popular as in German or American Air Forces, partly because individual aircraft frequently changed hands within a squadron as opposed to being assigned to individual pilots. Flying Officer Ralph Hope was killed during the of Fighter Command in the Battle of Britain — his final action was described in a letter to his family by summer of His plane was shot out of being applied to the injuries control over a thickly populated area and he could have baled out with every of many unfortunate pilots.

    This, though, would have meant the machine crashing The renowned plastic surgeon Archibald McIndoe and his where it pleased, in a factory, shop, private house or anywhere, and rather staff worked tirelessly with than take this risk, on behalf of the people he chose to take the risk himself, RAF aircrew to advance the and attempted a forced landing in a large field of allotments. The plane science of plastic surgery and however dived out of control before he effected the landing.

    Ralph was thrown improve their treatment and rehabilitation. RAF Museum, clear, but it was too late for the parachute to function. It is a consolation PC to know that this grand action was successful: the plane did crash in the allotments and no one was injured. The ranks were joined by pilots from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa, eager to help stop the Nazi advance in Europe before it threatened their own homelands.

    Other pilots had already experienced the German advance first hand — men from Poland, Czechoslovakia and France who were fanatical in their hatred of the German foe and only too happy for the opportunities afforded to them by the RAF: a modern fighter aircraft and the chance to engage the hated enemy. Air-to-air combat had not been practised in anger since World War I, and many of the most valuable lessons learnt via the trial and error of dogfighting had been lost during the inter-war period.

    The initial, tight formations flown in World War I were now unnecessary — pilots of the earlier conflict needed to fly in close formation so that each element leader could give hand signals to his wingmen. By the late s, with most modern combat aircraft equipped with radios, fighter leaders could now easily instruct their wingmen on how to attack. However, the advantages of a fighter being free to manoeuvre had been completely forgotten, and tight formation, which constrained this freedom, was no longer necessary.

    The common belief was that German fighters such as the Bf did not have the endurance to escort bombers over Britain; therefore, the obvious tactic open to the Luftwaffe would be to mass their bombers together in close formation so that their A flight scramble — six pilots race to their aircraft. In theory, then, Depending on the size the best way to attack these formations would be to use similar tactics, keeping of incoming raids or the fighters locked together in their own tight formations to amass their firepower.

    Even after experience in the opening strength. Approach Pursuit, b. British fighters approach their targets in close formation, opening fire under the command of Section Leaders. These tactics proved completely unworkable under real combat conditions. As well as almost completely inhibiting the ability of the visual signals from the cockpit fighter pilot to use the agility of his aircraft, a second problem occurred.

    Only of the lead aircraft, a function the leader was concentrating on lookout — formations were so tight that the which was unnecessary by As only section leaders second and third aircraft in each section were concentrating on maintaining could keep a good look-out, their positions in formation and on not colliding with their wingmen, rather one proposed solution was to than checking the skies for enemy aircraft.

    This vastly reduced the capability have one vic weaving behind of the section not only to find enemy aircraft, but also to defend themselves the rest of the squadron to act from being jumped by enemy fighters. RAF e. In the confusion of combat it was all too easy for two pilots to claim the destruction of the same enemy machine without any idea of the other pilot opening fire on their target. Gun cameras helped to alleviate this problem and give more accurate results on the actual damage being inflicted on enemy aircraft.

    This removed the initiative from other pilots, even over the choice of when to open fire on the enemy. As well as limiting manoeuvrability and situational awareness, the six standard attacks were all based on two incorrect assumptions. First, that enemy bombers would not be escorted by fighters — RAF fighters were immediately placed at a dangerous disadvantage by the lack of flexibility in their tactics.

    Second, the attacks assumed that German bombers would not take evasive action, and that their return fire would be ineffective. In practise, this was very often not the case; the attacks called for RAF fighters to present the bomber with a no deflection shot — if attacking from the side or at an angle, the gunner would have to deflect — to aim ahead of the fighter and shoot at a space which would be occupied by the target by the time the bullets arrived. These no deflection shots presented bomber gunners with little challenge.

    Perhaps worst of the standard attacks were No. Fortunately, the standard attacks saw very little use in combat. RAF squadron leaders generally had the experience and initiative to completely ignore the prescribed doctrine and take responsibility for the tactics of their own individual squadrons. His Ten Rules were not only so popular that they were published as a poster for displaying at all Fighter Command stations, but are also in some places still practised by fighter pilots today.

    Whilst shooting think of nothing else, brace the whole of the body, have both hands on the stick, concentrate on your ring sight. Always keep a sharp lookout. Height gives You the initiative. Always turn and face the attack. Make your decisions promptly.

    It is better to act quickly even though your tactics are not the best. Never fly straight and level for more than 30 seconds in the combat area.


    When diving to attack always leave a proportion of your formation above to act as top guard. Go in quickly — Punch hard — Get out! This development followed a similar pattern to that of tactics in the Luftwaffe; Adolph Malan was a South German pilots flying with the Condor Legion during the Spanish Civil War African pilot whose pre-war experience in the Merchant had initially relied on similar, tight formation flying tactics. Considered by development of the Schwarm swarm. The Schwarm of four aircraft consisted many of his contemporaries to of two Rotte or pairs — the leader of the first pair flew with his wingman be more a gifted marksman and tactician than a pilot, his slightly above and behind to one side, while the second pair flew further back Ten Rules of Air Fighting were still.

    As soon as combat began, the Schwarm could easily break down into disseminated throughout two pairs, with the leader free to engage enemy aircraft, knowing that Fighter Command. RAF Museum, P According to aviation historian Mike Spick, four out of five victims never saw A pilot looks over the emblem on the rear fuselage of a downed Bf While the Bf had been tested and blooded during the Spanish Civil War, the Hurricanes and Spitfires of Fighter Command were more than able to meet the German machine on equal footing.

    Aircraft took off together in an attempt to expedite their departure and formed up in strength as quickly as possible once airborne. RAF Museum, P their attacker until it was too late in fighter-on-fighter combat, leading to the necessity for loose, flexible formations, which allowed every pilot to keep an Pilots of No. In France and Norway, how many hours and a fighter squadrons were operating all but independently. Another vital aid for airborne fighter pilots were anti-aircraft AA guns; just as important as attempting to damage or destroy enemy aircraft, ground-based guns also painted the skies around enemy formations with Whilst the vast majority of combat operations undertaken by Fighter Command in north-west Europe were against German units, they also encountered an expeditionary force from the Italian Regia Aeronautica in the final months of Hopelessly outclassed by the RAF, the Italians vacated the theatre in January , having sustained heavy losses for very little success.

    As far as possible, individual pilots were kept in the same position within the same section to foster teamwork and familiarity.

    Fighter Command 1936-1968: An Operational & Historical Record: An Operational and Historical Record Fighter Command 1936-1968: An Operational & Historical Record: An Operational and Historical Record
    Fighter Command 1936-1968: An Operational & Historical Record: An Operational and Historical Record Fighter Command 1936-1968: An Operational & Historical Record: An Operational and Historical Record
    Fighter Command 1936-1968: An Operational & Historical Record: An Operational and Historical Record Fighter Command 1936-1968: An Operational & Historical Record: An Operational and Historical Record
    Fighter Command 1936-1968: An Operational & Historical Record: An Operational and Historical Record Fighter Command 1936-1968: An Operational & Historical Record: An Operational and Historical Record
    Fighter Command 1936-1968: An Operational & Historical Record: An Operational and Historical Record Fighter Command 1936-1968: An Operational & Historical Record: An Operational and Historical Record

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