View Full Version : How did tactics develop during WW2?

02-20-2004, 12:21 PM
I've been thinking about the massive development in power both in terms of speed, firepower and obviously range and altitude. How did the tactics differ from the beginning of war compared with the late war aircraft?

02-20-2004, 12:21 PM
I've been thinking about the massive development in power both in terms of speed, firepower and obviously range and altitude. How did the tactics differ from the beginning of war compared with the late war aircraft?

02-20-2004, 12:48 PM
<BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><font size="-1">quote:</font><HR>Originally posted by Bristolboy:
I've been thinking about the massive development in power both in terms of speed, firepower and obviously range and altitude. How did the tactics differ from the beginning of war compared with the late war aircraft?<HR></BLOCKQUOTE>A general summary.. WWII started off with a sort of WWI mind set with regards to fighters.. The low alt, ground and bomber support, TnB one on one mono on mono mind set that drove the ZERO and 109 designs.. The WWI mind set quickly changed from that to a high alt high speed war where BnZ became the norm. The tatics followed along those lines of thought.. Keep in mind, this is a general statment! Im talking generally big picture view here.. Which means Im not saying there was never a case of low alt one on one TnB DF's in 45! Just that they were the exception and not the rule!


02-20-2004, 12:57 PM
Ok, I`m a simple man with a simple explanation:

Fighters got shot down in droves, surviving men learned and made improvements. This meant faster planes to chase or outrun, better guns for killing the enemy more effectively and better formations- so you don`t get shot down while trying to keep formation. Simple!


The Fights continue out of the Servers...

02-20-2004, 12:59 PM
From here:

Fighter Combat by Robert Shaw (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0870210599/qid=1077306278//ref=sr_8_xs_ap_i1_xgl14/104-7928026-3979169?v=glance&s=books&n=507846)

Is this:

Before fighter tactics can be discussed effectively, an understanding of weapons systems must be developed, since these weapons are the driving forces behind tactics.

If your interest in genuine then purchasing the book will be a valuable investment.

The answer to your question can cover a lot of information.

Too much to quote here

02-20-2004, 01:00 PM
You also have to consider the idea prevailing at the time that "the bomber will always get through". Bombers in some cases were faster than fighters in the early going. Fighters were referred to as "pursuit planes", that is *bomber* pursuit planes. Only a few countries, like Germany, had well-defined fighter tactics. The British (tight vics and formation attack) had it flat out WRONG. The Japanese ignored lessons over China about bomber durability.

And as WWII played itself out, air technology was going through HUGE advances. At the start, your typical fighter had a 800 - 1000 HP engine and a top speed of about 275 (in a power dive),and sported two rifle caliber machine guns. In the end, double the horsepower, many times the range, nearly double the speed and several times the "weight of fire".

02-20-2004, 01:04 PM
In the beginning of the war, the allies had really dropped the ball (by which I mean England and France. Dispute that if you want to, anyone, but please consult some history reference first http://ubbxforums.ubi.com/infopop/emoticons/icon_smile.gif I am not here to bash, I do not have opinion on fact)

France had the greatest airforce in the world between the wars, and somehow got complacent. They develepod aircraft and tactics for those aircraft that made the planes useless.

The contemporary thinking was that "the bomber always gets through". A huge number of deaths per bomb tonnage was the excepted amount, turned out to be completely off base.

On the eve of WWII, Germany had a new idea in warfare in general, the lightning attack. Ground and air units worked closely together, tanks flanked the enemy and made great breakthroughs deep into enemy territory and attacked rear areas if possible.

German aircraft and tactics developed in part from this. Short range planes, limited bomb loads. Strategic bombing was not on their agenda to speak of. Hitler wanted to control the scale of war.

The allies tried their new planes and found they were useless, but had to use them anyway. They learned the hard way about design and tactics. Thank God for Sir Sidney Camm!

Japan had light, nimble, deadly aircraft. Their doctrine was: we shoot, we are not targets. The US was behind in most design stages. Good ideas, poor implementation, in part due to Congress and the US's reluctance to fight in Europe again. It took a trick (calling fighters interceptors) to get Congressional OK for the money to develop some fighter types. The US also was in the throes of sorting out design innovations- what should this plane really do? And how should we use things like turbochargers on aircraft with different roles, if at all? This is what hamstrung a fine engine made by Allsion, and the aircraft that used it. Good thing US planes were tough. The US had to learn from bitter experience to develop tactics, just like England and France. Germany had an advantage- they were attacking, first, and second, they had some combat experience from Spain. So in a way, the allies were reacting to Germany to develop tactics. Soviet strategy is odd to me, they had an airforce that was directly linked to the army ground forces, in effect. I can't really tell whether the VVS or Red army were dictating needs and therefore tactics. Certainly the VVS gained some experience from Germany itself before Barbarossa. German pilots had trained in Russia before the war.

Many ideas from WWI stayed with many airforces until it was learned what was good and what was bad, in modern air combat

Some countries, for example England, relied on principles that were clearly wrong in air to air combat for a long time. Example- the were instructed to open fire much too early, and had gun convergance set much too far, at first.

Bad tactics had to be 'unlearned' by a lot of countrys, and it was usually a very costly experience- witness the American daylight bombing campaign.

Hope I'm not too confusing, I'm in a rush

from the Hundred Years war to the Crimea, from the lance and the musket and the Roman spear, to all of the men who have stood with no fear, in the service of the King~ Clash

02-20-2004, 01:34 PM
Yes, generally speaking ASH_SMART is correct. The two figures commonly attributed with establishing what became the predominant fighter tactical doctrine in WWII were Werner Molders and Claire Chennault.

Molders established his ideas during the Spanish Civil War. The Germans found themselves facing fighter a/c that, though slower, were much more manuverable at those low speeds and low alts. and had better sustained turn characteristics than the Bf-109s. So, turning dogfights a la the First World War were out of the question. Molders developed things like a very strong leader/ wingman teamwork relationship, the finger four formation, hit and run tactics. These were eventually adopted as standard fighter doctrine by the LW. The British experiance with these tactics in the BoB (though not ALL the LW fighter groups had adopted Molders tactics at that point) caused them to eventually give up their tight, restrictive "Vic" formations and Fighting Area Attacks methods. Eventually, the Brits adopted nearly the same tactics as the LW, as did most of the combatants of WWII.

On the other side was Claire Chennault, the commander of the American Volunteer Group, better known as the Flying Tigers. Chennault's flyers faced a similar situation in their P-40s against Japanese Ki-27s and Ki-43s as the LW did in Spain. I'm not sure to what degree he was aware of the developements in Europe but it wouldn't surprise me if he was influenced by them since he was a dedicated student in developing fighter tactics. That or he developed very similar tactics (teamwork, leader/ wingman, hit and run) on his own. When American forces first tried to do battle with Japanese a/c on their own terms (the Japanese fighter mentality was still very enamoured with WW I tactics) in our front line fighters (F4F, and P-40) the results were terrible for the U.S. . But Chennault knew that the U.S. designs had great strengths (speed, especially in the dive, toughness, firepower) and he developed his tactics accordingly. Eventually, he wrote up his tactics for the U.S. armed forces and a copy made it's way into the hands of Jimmy Thach and Butch O'Hare who were Navy F4F pilots. They adopted these techniques and modified them slightly and came up with the famous "Thach Weave".

As I mentioned, eventually all the major combatants (with the exception of Japan, which held on stubbornly to the outdated ideas of individual fighters in turn fights and flying in unorganized "gaggles") adopted the basic tactics developed by Molders and Chennault with some of their own modifications (the Russian "bookshelf" formations come to mind). Anyway, theirs plenty of good reading material out there on the subject. A couple I'd suggest are:

A Fire In The Sky- The Airwar in the South-West Pacific by Eric Bergarud and
Fighter Boys- Saving Britain 1940 by Patrick Bishop

I'm sure others will provide titles for the Molders info. as well.

[This message was edited by LilHorse on Fri February 20 2004 at 12:47 PM.]

02-20-2004, 01:57 PM
germans took some ideas from the french btw :P


02-20-2004, 02:18 PM
Probably after May 1940, when they had the run of the place... http://ubbxforums.ubi.com/images/smiley/16x16_smiley-wink.gif

02-20-2004, 02:27 PM
The good tactics were devloped by trial and error, and a little bit of the Darwin therie mixed in. If the pilots delployed a bad tactic, they did not survive to teach it. A good tactic like the Thatch weeve was taught by survivors http://ubbxforums.ubi.com/infopop/emoticons/icon_wink.gif


02-21-2004, 01:26 AM
Two major factors have been overlooked thus far: Radar and radio communications. The bombers WOULD have always gotten through had radar not been developed to a useful level by 1940. For the Allied side, British invention of the magnetron (still used today in your family microwave)made compact and quite powerful HF and UHF radio wave transmitters possible, allowing radars not only on land and on ships, but on nightfighters and bombers (for navigation).

Reliable voice radio communications with both ground and other aircraft was another key to fighter tactics. The 'team' tactics used successfully by the Germans and Western Allies would have been impossible without reliable radios. Likewise the successful interceptions of bomber formations.

This lack is what hamstrung both the Soviets and Japanese in their tactical development. At the speeds and altitudes WWII fighters operated at (and both went steadily higher throughout the war), with enclosed cockpits, the hand signals used right up until the late '30s weren't possible, which isolated individual aircraft as tactical units. This allowed enemy units with good communications to split up the opposition's formations into smaller groups and defeat them in detail.

As these conveniences became more available, leaders and individual pilots were constantly figuring out how to make better use of them in combat, and making them an intrinsic part of air combat doctrine.



"Here's your new Mustangs, boys. You can learn to fly'em on the way to the target. Cheers!" -LTCOL Don Blakeslee, 4th FG CO, February 27th, 1944

02-21-2004, 10:28 AM
There is evidence indicating to me that Energy tactics were further developed by the Germans when the FW190 became available.

Energy tactics being a natural tendency for one pilot to gain advantage over another probably existed since planes began shooting at each other, however the refinment of the technique may have leaped ahead during that time in the Second World War when German pilots found a significant advantage in their FW190s capabilities over that of the British Spitires.


"The ADFU trials confirmed what the RAF already knew-that the Fw 190 was a truly outstanding combat aircraft. They also produced vitally important information which went some way towards restoring the situation in so far as the RAF was concerned and in eradicating something of the awe in which the Focke-Wulf had come to be held by Allied pilots.
It was concluded that the Fw 190 pilot trying to "mix it" with a Spitfire in the classic fashion of steep turning was doomed, for at any speed - it would be out-turned by its British opponent.
Of course, the Luftwaffe was aware of this fact and a somewhat odd style of dogfighting evolved in which the Fw 190 pilots endeavoured to keep on the vertical plane by zooms and dives, while their Spitfire-mounted antagonists tried everything in the book to draw them on to the horizontal.
If the German pilot lost his head and failed to resist the temptation to try a horizontal pursuit curve on a Spitfire, as likely as not, before he could recover the speed lost in a steep turn he would find another Spitfire turning inside him! On the other hand, the German pilot who kept zooming up and down was usually the recipient of only difficult deflection shots of more than 30 deg.
The Fw 190 had tremendous initial acceleration in a dive but it was extremely vulnerable during a pull-out, recovery having to be quite progressive with care not to kill the speed by "sinking""

The above quote is from:
Wings of the Luftwaffe by Capt. Eric Brown (http://www.amazon.com/gp/reader/1853104132/ref=sib_dp_pt/104-7928026-3979169#reader-link)

And this:

"Instead of telegraphing their intentions by forming up at high altitude in full view of the German radar, the British now took to crossing the Channel at low level, then climbing flat out just before they reached the coast. At the same time, increasing use was made of low-level penetrations by light bombers, which called for a different approach to the fighter escrot mission. For the Jagdflieger, the leisurely wiat at cockpit readiness, followed by a calculated climb to altitude, was now eliminated: the Spitfires, rocketing skywards at full throttle, were often already above.
With the advent of the FW 190A, this was not as critical as it once had been. The aircraft was a superb dogfighter, and its pilots used it as such. The previous summer, faced with slashing attacks by the 109s, the constant complaint of RAF pilots was that 'Jerry' didn't stay and fight, totally ignoring the fact that in the 109 this was tactically correct.
Now they were repaid in spades: in his new FW 190A, 'Jerry' stayed and fought as never before."

The above is from this book:
Luftwaffe Fighter Aces the Jagdflieger and their Combat Tactics and Techniques by Mike Spick (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/1853675601/qid=1077384322/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_1/104-7928026-3979169?v=glance&s=books)

Text is bold is my editing