View Full Version : RAF callsigns and R/T communication procedures

05-08-2010, 02:43 PM
I am lookign for authoritative information about the assignment and use of callsigns by the RAF in the Battle of Britain timeframe. For example, what was the format used by Ground controllers to vector RAF fighters towards incoming raids? What terms were used for bandits, bogies, etc? Was there a fromat for Calls...such as 'Vector first, then altitude, then number of target acft, etc? ETC

I know that iarbrone flights (sections) were often color codced, so callaigns might be "Red leader" or 'Yellow Three", etc...but were other Callsigns used as well? I kno that Douglas Bader apparently uesed "Dog's Body" as his call sign..

I can use either written or audio source material. I recently watched again the 1969 battle of Britain movie and did note some historically aaccurate Callsigns, such as "Cowslip" for RAF Northweald......but I also heard "Roger"s and "Wilco"s which I had thought were brought over by the USAAF crews later in the war.

Again, any authoritative information will be valuable.

05-08-2010, 02:49 PM
This should go a long way toward filling the bill. Note: that he mentions that radios should be used as SPARINGLY as possible. It was not like the movies (or hyperlobby) where people have conversations.

The info is good for call signs, but not formations flown during the BOB, as the RAF was still using Vics, and Idiot lines. (IIRC is what the Luftwaffe called them.)


The following was adapted from Hurricanes over Burma by Squadron Leader M.C. "Bush" Cotton DFC, OAM.


This summary of squadron tactics and formations
supersedes and thus cancels all previous tracts on the
subject. The reason for the change in tactics and
formations will be obvious now that our Hurricanes have
been replaced by the Spitfire VIIIs, thus giving us,
for the first time in two years, a machine which is
definitely superior to any enemy fighter. Because of
this superiority you will notice that the following
"Gen" is of a much more offensive nature than formerly,
but that does not mean that you can fly around the sky
just gazing through the reflector sight.
Spend as much of your time as possible in searching,
especially behind and in the sun.

Divisions Line Astern

Before we go any further. You will notice that we now
have only three colours in the squadron. Not only does
this simplify matters considerably from the R/T point
of view, but since the colour of the Starboard division
is always Green and the colour of the Port division is
always Red, then there should be no difficulty in
remembering your colour should your division have to
change sides, i.e. as in a cross-over turn.
A simple rule to determine your colour is to consider
the divisions as navigation lights, i.e., White in the
Middle, Green on the Starboard and Red on-the Port.


During practice flying, to help you remember your
colour, you may be asked at intervals by the Squadron
Commander to "Check In". On receipt of the above order
you will answer as follows: "White 2, Roger", "White 3,
Roger", "White 4, Roger", "Green 1 Roger" and so on
through the Green division and lastly Red division,
ending up always with "Red 4 Roger". In any case you
will be asked this after take-off on all flights where
R/T silence is not essential. It ensures that your R/T
is in working order. If it is not, see action to be
taken under the heading, "Action in event of R/T

The above formation will be used for joining up
immediately after take-off, for climbing turns in
gaining height over base and for quick manoeuvring onto
vectors during interception work. It will also be used
for orbiting while waiting for bombers to rendezvous
and, in this latter case, may be flown with the
divisions even more strung out in line astern than
shown above. It will be appreciated that this formation
is very vulnerable from the rear and thus it will be
only used when there is little likelihood of imminent
attack by enemy aircraft. It is a good formation for
the dirty type of monsoon weather, which we will
doubtless experience again, for it permits fairly
violent weaving in and out of cloud banks and between
rain storms.

As soon as weather (or the fact that a straight course
can be flown for a reasonable length of time on a
vector during an interception) permits, then the
following formation will be adopted:

Search Formation

To go from "Divisions Line Astern" to "Search", the
leader may signal by pitching his aircraft up and down
in the looping plane, or use the R/T. (To return from
"Search" to "Line Astern" he may rock his aircraft,
quickly, from side to side in the rolling plane).


You can see from the above lay-out that we have
retained to a small extent the cross-cover search by
flying the divisions in a slight echelon. However,
since we still want to retain maximum manoeuvrability,
then, if a division begins to turn you should slip
straight back into line astern.

The squadron turn will be done by the outside divisions
crossing over and above the centre division in the
usual manner unless the order "Break Turn" is given
(see, "R/T, use of) and then the divisions will do
their turns inside one another (but not so violently as
the "BreakTurn" from "Battle" formation). The No's 2, 3
and 4 in this case will follow their leader around in a
tight line astern.

Thus it will be seen that this formation is still very
manoeuvrable in both 90 and 180 turns and, at the
same time, it is sufficiently opened out to allow
individuals to search sideways and also will allow a
slight amount of "jinking" while searching. Further to
this, the leader of each division can see each man in
his formation by inclining his head slightly, one way
or the other.

The respective Division Commanders of the Port and
Starboard Divisions will use their own discretion for
stepping up or down sun. They will normally only do
this when the sun is well on the one beam and makes
formation keeping difficult.

By the way. All No. 3's are Section Leaders. Therefore
No. 4's are just as much responsible for sticking to
them, as they are, to the whole division.
The next formation we go into is:

Battle Formation

If you are flying in a division and you get the above
order, or if the Squadron Commander does a pitching
movement and the Division Leaders also start pitching
then this is what happens:


After each division has completed the above manoeuvre
(except Red Division which does opposite to the other
two) then this is how the whole formation should look:


This formation gives exceptionally good cross-cover
protection of the rear without weaving and it permits
maximum use of the 180 "Break Turn". In this manoeuvre
the wing men (No. 2's and No. 4's) follow their leaders
around in close line astern. To be effective the No.
1's and 3's must always keep well forward in true line

No doubt you are wondering what is going to happen if
the Squadron has to do a 90, or less than 180, turn.
Here's the gen:

Turn to Starboard:

White 1 starts around and White 3 dives under and joins
back into line astern as the turn lengthens and he
falls back.

Green 1 starts around and by diving under (as in normal
cross-over) he aims to finish up with his division on
the Port side of White division (therefore he also
turns a bit slower). Green 3, of course, dives under
and comes into line astern (see figure below).
Red 1 turns fairly sharply, to cross-over behind and
above White division and finish on his Starboard side,
and this automatically causes Red 3 to fall back into
line astern.

This is how it looks half-way through the turn:



This is how it will look when nearly completed (we

What is wrong with this picture? You're quite right. We
shall now have to remember that the colours have
changed. Try to remember this as soon as the turn has
finished and don't let all this confuse you because it
always looks difficult at first. Practise will make you
perfect and we shall see that you get plenty of it.
Again, for your information we have:

Turn to Port:

White 1 starts around normally and White 3 falls
automatically into line astern.

Green 1 starts around fairly quickly because he aims to
cross-over and finish inside (Port side) of White
division, Green 3 falls into line astern so damn quick
that it isn't even funny.

Red 1 starts his turn a bit more slowly (while diving
under the front of White division with the intention of
finishing with his division on the Starboard side of
White division) and Red 3 goes down and under in the
prescribed fashion, in order to eventually finish up in
line astern. Here's how it should look halfway through
the turn:


And here is how it should be when the turn is nearing


All you have to do to finish it off is to automatically
change colour. Any comments about "by chameleons" you
can keep to yourself.

Having arrived in the line astern position, any
continuation of the Squadron turn will be taken care of
by further normal cross-overs as in "Search Formation".
As soon as a straight course is being flown then the
original Battle Formation can be easily resumed, or
otherwise, as ordered.

If, while in "Battle Formation", the Squadron Commander
rocks his aircraft violently in the rolling plane, then
this is the signal for immediate return to "Search"
formation. Remember these visual signals because you
must learn to do all these manoeuvres with an absolute
minimum of R/T.

The "Break-Down"

This manoeuvre simply consists of the whole squadron,
or any one specified division, or even section,
flicking smartly over onto their backs and completing
the half-roll and pull-out in formation. Not only can
it be used if a division or section are hopelessly
outnumbered by attacks from above, but it is a good
fast way of attacking enemy aircraft which may have
passed underneath the squadron head-on. In any case the
occasion may well arise when it can be used and the R/T
orders must be clear as to which side the half-roll
must be done. This brings us to:

R/T. "Use Of"

This will naturally be used as sparingly as is humanly
possible. All normal turns can easily be done without
it as No. 1 's and No. 3's are always formating on
their Squadron and Division commanders, respectively.

a) For break turns the following will always be

used: To "Break" to the right:
The power to "Break" the squadron will rest with the

Section, Division and Squadron Leaders only, until
further notice.

b) To "Break" one division to the right and two to

the left (in event of being attacked from both sides)
the drill will be as follows:

RIGHT BREAK - GO!" or vice-versa:


c) To "Break Down" the following will be used:
If the unit to be "Broken Down" is smaller then it can
be designated after the "NITWITS".

The power to "Break Down" the whole Squadron will
rest with the Squadron Commander only, until further

Action in the Event of R/T Failure:

The pilot concerned will rock his machine slowly in the
rolling plane.

If the Squadron Commander's R/T packs it in, then the
next senior Division Commander will swing his flight
into the middle and take over the lead of the squadron.
The C.O.'s section will fall back into the No. 3 and 4
positions in his own division and the original Nos 3
and 4 will take over as the leading section in that

If a Division Leader's R/T fails he will fall back and
his section will become the last in that division.
Except during an interception there should be no need
to return to the aerodrome because of R/T failure.

Cloud Flying

By now you should know which types of cloud you can and
cannot fly through. Under certain conditions it is
sometimes necessary to fly the whole squadron formation
through cloud. Here is how it will be done:

a) From the "Line Astern" formation the order will


b) On receipt of this information the division
leaders will set compasses and gyros and note the
A.S.I, and rate of climb, or descent.

c) When they have done this they will swing away

to about 100 yards and allow No.'s 2, 3 and 4 to come
forward into close "VIC" from their normal "Search
Formation" stations. Thus:


d) When the Squadron Commander sees that everybody
is all set he will give the following order:


e) On receipt of this order Red 1 and Green 1 will
swing off to Port and Starboard respectively, on a new
vector of 5 for three minutes. They will then
straighten out and continue on the original vector at
the same A.S.I, and rate of ascent or descent.

f) On breaking cloud they must immediately look
inwards for the centre division and, upon contact,
reform in their original stations unless told
otherwise. (On coming out above cloud be prepared to go
straight into "Battle Formation" because you could be a
sitting shot).

g) There may come a time when the formation is
inside cloud and it will have to turn back and descend.
The order will be:


After acknowledging this order, Red and Green divisions
will turn outwards to Port and Starboard respectively
and do a rate 1 turn for 180. White Leader will fly
straight ahead for two minutes and turn back in
whichever direction he chooses. The whole formation
will let down at 500 feet per minute and 250 miles per

This may well mean that the whole formation may be
split up, but this is better than flying gaily into a
thunder-storm and splitting up the kite itself.

Flying in the "G" Suit

With this suit on you must still maintain your
formation and your team-work up to the very last
minute. Once you have split up and it has developed
into a case of "Every man for himself then you must
still endeavour to attack only when you have the height
on the Jap.

There comes a time however, in the life of every pilot
when he has everything, including the kitchen sink,
thrown at him and this may be the time when a sticky
position can be reversed into a treacherous trap for
the lecherous Jap. With plenty of altitude in hand (go
home quickly if you haven't got this) do a flick
half-roll onto your back and, after you have built up
sufficient speed in an aileron turn, then convert this
into a powered spiral and hold a constant 6 "G"

After praying fervently that your opponent is not
wearing an "Anti-G" device you may well find that he
has been silly enough to follow you down. If he has,
then you've got him by the short and curlies. If he has
not then don't hang around because he may still follow
you down later on.

You have got a good tactical defensive device against
enemy fighters. Use it as such and don't at the same
time be led into dog-fighting at speeds lower than 250
m.p.h., or "G" lower than 5, or a height lower than
15,000 feet.


Your Spitfire has to be flown above the enemy to be
really useful so, in a scrap, always regain height as
soon as possible when the squadron splits up. By doing
this you may have a chance to protect one of your own
aircraft underneath from being jumped.

Remember always: but especially when alone:


AUTHOR'S NOTE: The above paper was produced by me,
after I had left 17 Squadron, to illustrate to other
squadrons the methods we used, both before and after
receiving the Spitfires, to ensure that we could
operate our twelve machines in the air almost as one.
It simply sets out in more readable form the various
notes we had on the subject. I had the time to do this
while on the RAAF test-flying unit in Australia.

The main aim was to arrive over the target area (be it
on bomber escort or interception of an incoming raid)
In a cohesive group without having the "Tail-end
Charlie" problems that beset squadrons in the Battle of
Britain, thus allowing any out-of-formation stragglers
to be easily picked off by the enemy. It was a foregone
conclusion that the squadron would be split up into
small units if large numbers of enemy were encountered,
but they were at least in reasonably close proximity to
one another for mutual support.

Sadly, although we could fly all the above patterns
really well after practice, they were never able to be
used by the squadron in combat, as the Spitfires became
mainly ground-support aircraft in the final retaking of
Burma in 1945, due to the Japanese being almost
entirely without air support. The squadron shot down
only seven confirmed (and two probably destroyed)
Japanese aircraft in the whole of that campaign.

05-09-2010, 10:41 AM