1. #1
    Hopefully this information will be useful for a squad who wishes to do things, by the book.

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

    I also made it into a pdf. The link to which is at the end of this post.


    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    been replaced by the Spitfire VIIIs, thus giving us,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 "b——y 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 left: "HELLO NITWITS! LEFT - BREAK!"
    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.

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  2. #2
    ytareh's Avatar Senior Member
    Join Date
    Dec 2004

    After praying fervently that your opponent is not
    wearing an "Anti-G" device

    I thought only a tiny amount of US fighter pilots had these...
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  3. #3
    I thought only a tiny amount of US fighter pilots had these...
    Time to think again, I think. The Franks flying suit, which is what he is describing, was Canadian development.


    Also I think it is worth remembering that Cotton wrote his tip sheet with the additional burden of imperfect wartime intelligence. It is only natural for him to imagine, have concerns, that the Japanese would also have them. Plan for the worst an all that sort of thing.
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  4. #4
    Great post Waldo.
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