Fighter formations

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Post by DIESEL on Fri Jun 12, 2009 11:38 am

In the late 1930s, Fighter Command were not expecting to be facing single-engine fighters over Britain, only bombers. With this in mind, a series of "Fighting Area Tactics" were formulated and rigidly adhered to, involving a series of manoeuvres designed to concentrate a squadron's firepower to bring down bombers: with no apparent prospect of escorting fighters to worry about, RAF fighter pilots flew in tight, vee-shaped sections ("vics") of three. These restricted squadrons to tight 12 aircraft formations composed of four sections in another tight "V". With this formation, only the squadron leader at the front was free to actually watch for the enemy; the other pilots had to concentrate on keeping station. RAF fighter training also emphasised by-the-book attacks by sections breaking away in sequence. Fighter Command recognised the weaknesses of this rigid structure early in the battle, but it was felt too risky to change tactics in the midst of the battle, because replacement pilots, often with only minimal actual flying time, could not be readily retrained,and inexperienced RAF pilots needed firm leadership in the air only rigid formations could provide. German pilots dubbed the RAF formations Idiotenreihen ("rows of idiots") because they left squadrons vulnerable to attack.

Front line RAF pilots were acutely aware of the inherent deficiencies of their own tactics. A compromise was adopted whereby squadron formations used much looser formations with a one or two "weavers" flying independently above and behind to provide increased observation and rear protection; these tended to be the least experienced men and were often the first to be shot down without the other pilots even noticing that they were under attack.During the battle, 74 Squadron under Squadron Leader Adolph Malan adopted a variation of the German formation called the "fours in line astern", which was a vast improvement on the old three aircraft "vic." In 1941, Squadron Leader Douglas Bader, then commanding 242 Squadron but often leading the Duxford Wing, devised the "finger four". Malan's formation was later generally used by Fighter Command.

The Luftwaffe employed a loose section of two, based on a leader (Rottenführer) followed at a distance of about 183 meters (200 yards) by his wingman (nicknamed the Rottenhund or Katschmareks), who also flew slightly higher and was trained to stay with his leader at all times. While the leader was free to search for enemy aircraft, and could cover his wingman's blind spots, his wingman was able to concentrate on searching the airspace in the leader's blind spots, behind and below. Any attacking aircraft could be sandwiched between the two 109s.

In the Luftwaffe formations, the pair allowed the Rottenführer to concentrate on getting kills. This latter aspect, however, caused some grievances in the lower ranks because it was felt that the high scores of some Rottenführer came at the expense of the Katschmareks. During the Battle of Britain, a pilot who shot down 20 aircraft was automatically awarded the Ritterkreuz (Knight's Cross), to which was added the Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds for each additional 20 aircraft. Those pilots who appeared to have a chronic desire for these awards were said to be suffering from Halsweh (a sore throat). Few wingmen in Luftwaffe fighter formations were able to shoot down opposing aircraft, while their formation leaders were scoring heavily.

Two of these sections were usually teamed up into a Schwarm, where all of the pilots could watch what was happening around them. Each Schwarm in a Staffel flew at staggered heights and with 183 meters (200 yards) of room between them, making the formation difficult to spot at longer ranges and allowing for a great deal of flexibility.By utilising a tight "cross-over" turn, a Schwarm could quickly change direction. This formation was developed based on principles formulated by World War I ace Oswald Boelcke in 1916. The Finnish Air Force, from 1934 on, adopted similar formations, called partio (patrol; two aircraft) and parvi (two patrols; four aircraft),for comparable reasons, though Luftwaffe pilots (led by Günther Lützow and Werner Mölders among others, during the Spanish Civil War) are generally given credit.

The 110 fighters adopted the same "finger-four" formation as the 109s, but were seldom able to use this to the same advantage. When attacked, Zerstörergruppen increasingly resorted to forming large "defensive circles", in which each 110 guarded the tail of the aircraft ahead of it. Göring ordered that they be renamed "offensive circles" in a vain bid to improve rapidly-declining morale.These conspicuous formations were often successful in attracting RAF fighters, which were themselves sometimes "bounced" by high-flying 109s. This led to the often repeated myth that the 110s were being escorted by 109s. The 110's most successful method of attack was the "bounce" from above.

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