Tactics

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Tactics

Post by DIESEL on Fri Jun 12, 2009 11:39 am

The Luftwaffe consistently varied its tactics in its attempts to break through the RAF defences. It launched many free-roving fighter sweeps, known as Freie Jagd ("Free Hunts"), to draw up RAF fighters. RAF fighter controllers, however, were often able to detect these and position squadrons to avoid them, keeping to Dowding's plan to preserve fighter strength for the bomber formations. The Luftwaffe also tried using small formations of bombers as bait, covering them with large numbers of escorts. This was more successful, but escort duty tied the fighters to the bombers' slow speed and made them more vulnerable.

By September, standard tactics for raids soon became an amalgam of techniques. A Frei Jagd or fighter sweep would precede a raid to try to sweep any defenders out of the raid's path. The bombers would then fly in at altitudes between 16,000 and 20,000 feet (6,100 m), closely escorted by fighters. Escorts were divided into two parts, some operating in close contact with the bombers, and other a few hundred yards away and a little above. If the formation was attacked from the starboard, the starboard section engaged the attackers, the top section moving to starboard and the port section to the top position. If the attack came from the port side the system was reversed. British fighters coming from the rear were engaged by the rear section and the two outside sections similarly moving to the rear. If the threat came from above, the top section went into action while the side sections gained height in order to be able to follow RAF fighters down as they broke away. If attacked themselves, all sections flew in defensive circles. These tactics were skillfully evolved and carried out, and were extremely difficult to counter.

Luftwaffe tactics were influenced by their fighters. The Bf 110 proved too vulnerable to the nimble single-engined RAF fighters. This meant the bulk of fighter escort duties fell on the Bf 109. Fighter tactics were then complicated by bomber crews who demanded closer protection. Due to similar concerns over losses in the hard-fought battles of 15 August and 18 August, Göring ordered an increase in close escort duties. This decision shackled many of the Bf 109s to the bombers and, although they were more successful at protecting the bomber forces, casualties amongst the fighters mounted primarily because they were forced to fly and manoeuvre at reduced speeds.
Adolf Galland, the charismatic and successful leader of III./JG 26, became Geschwaderkommodore of JG 26 on 22 August.

Adolf Galland noted:

We had the impression that, whatever we did, we were bound to be wrong. Fighter protection for bombers created many problems which had to be solved in action. Bomber pilots preferred close screening in which their formation was surrounded by pairs of fighters pursuing a zigzag course. Obviously, the visible presence of the protective fighters gave the bomber pilots a greater sense of security. However, this was a faulty conclusion, because a fighter can only carry out this purely defensive task by taking the initiative in the offensive. He must never wait until attacked because he then loses the chance of acting. We fighter pilots certainly preferred the free chase during the approach and over the target area. This, in fact, gives the greatest relief and the best protection for the bomber force.

The biggest disadvantage faced by Bf 109 pilots was that without the benefit of long-range drop tanks (which were introduced in very limited numbers in the late stages of the battle), usually of 300 litre (79 US gallon) capacity, the 109s had an endurance of just over an hour and, for the 109E, a 600 km (360 mi) total range. Once over Britain, a 109 pilot had to keep an eye on a red "low fuel" light on the instrument panel: once this was illuminated, he was forced to turn back and head for France. With the prospect of two long over-water flights, and knowing their range was substantially reduced when escorting bombers or in the event of combat, the Jagdflieger coined the term Kanalkrankheit or "Channel sickness".
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