7 November 1916 – “Notes on aeroplane fighting in single-seater scouts”

In an effort to improve the survival rates of its pilots, and to codify the lessons learned to date, the General Staff have issued a pamphlet on “Notes on aeroplane fighting in single-seater scouts”.

“Our single-seater scouts have now taken part in a sufficient number of engagements to enable us to deduce, from observed facts, some principles governing the use of these machines.

The present notes merely aim at stating these principles and the means of applying them.

1. Characteristics of the Single-seater Scout.

1. The single-seater scout is fast, very easily handled, a good climber, and capable, owing to its qualities of penetration through the air and the stoutness of its build, of diving with great speed on an adversary.

2. Its armament consists of a machine gun, whose axis of fire is directed forward and in a fixed position in relation to the machine. Sometimes a second gun is carried ; its axis of fire is parallel to that of the other gun. Thus equipped, the machine is best fitted for attack. For defence it chiefly relies on its speed and power of manoeuvre.

3. Its field of view upwards and downwards is only fairly good; constant attention and much practice are required to keep other machines concerned, friendly or enemy, in sight during the movements of an engagement.

2. Qualifications of Single-seater Scout Pilots.

1. None but specially selected pilots are capable of flying these machines. A high standard of physical fitness is essential. The heart, lungs, and ears are subject to great strain, for pilots, in the course of their flights and fights are called upon not only to climb very high (15,000 feet or over), but also to undergo great, sudden and frequent changes of altitude. Eyesight, too, must be excellent ; otherwise the enemy’s machines will escape, and the pilots themselves will be open to surprise, or may attack friendly machines, a mistake that is easily made.

1. Pilots must give constant attention to increasing their skill not only as pilots, but also as machine gunners, and to keeping their machines and guns in fighting trim.

2. Important as are self-control and courage in action, an attack to be successful must be thoroughly thought out.

3. The chief characteristic, however, of a fighting pilot is a fixed determination to bring down the greatest possible number of adversaries.

3. Fighting Tactics of the Single-seater.

1. As a general principle a single-seater should never cruise alone, and an attack by an isolated single-seater should be the exception.

2. If the pilot, instead of confining his attention to the sky, allows it to be diverted to examining the ground, he may be easily surprised. A singleseater pilot should make a point of collecting useful information in his flights, and for this he will, as a rule, have many opportunities, for it is only rarely that the enemy aviation will be so active that it will claim his entire attention.

3. The principle on which the isolated single-seater fights is surprise, which is only made possible by keen observation, coolness, patience, and experience. Surprise, moreover, is daily becoming more difficult, as enemy machines are now often warned of the presence of our scouts by observers from the ground who fire very visible, generally on the dangerous side, smoke balls that are very easily seen.

4. If the enemy are numerous, chance of surprise is small, and the attack not only will be deprived of this element of success, but also will lack the impulse which springs from the consciousness of superiority of force.

5. The Germans now put up barrages at different levels, and often wait to catch our scouts when they are manoeuvring prior to attacking the enemy’s machines.

6. In frequent cases isolated scouts will be called upon to fight singlehanded, e.g. :

(i) When enemy machines have penetrated our lines, for every enemy machine which crosses our lines must be destroyed at any price.

(ii) When for some reason or other a formation has been broken up and its elements have failed to join other formations.

4. Scout v. Scout.

1. The fight of scout v. scout is a struggle either to obtain position behind the enemy’s machine in prolongation of its axis or, if he is faster in manoeuvring, to prevent him obtaining a favourable position for firing. The manoeuvre for position often takes a very long time without either machine being able to fire at the other.

5. Scout v. Single-, Double-, or Multi-seater Machine.

1. Principle. Act by surprise; when this is not possible, manoeuvre so that the enemy cannot direct his fire properly. To carry this principle into effect it is essential:

(i) To observe the adversary,

(ii) To approach without being seen, and

(iii) To give the enemy no opportunity for adjusting his fire.

2. Observe the Adversary. Very often the adversary has a mission to fulfil, e.g. ranging, photography. The time to attack is when he is engaged in carrying this mission out, For instance, a hostile machine is seen to approach the line in uncertain evolutions. Generally on such occasions he begins by observing the sky. Eventually, reassured by his inspection, he makes up his mind to fly across the lines and to undertake his mission. It is when thus occupied that he is open to surprise.

Again, a machine may be seen cruising, apparently without any special mission that requires his undivided attention to the ground. On such occasions it is often better to watch him for some time from afar until his attention slackens and his evolutions become less regular. Then is the time to effect a surprise.

3. Approach without being seen. As a general rule place yourself between your adversary and the sun ; then, according to the height of the sun, dive on him or make your attack on his own level.

If there is no sun, an opportunity of surprising him often arises in the course of his evolutions, by getting behind him, in prolongation of his axis or slightly below it. Such a form of attack is especially applicable when manoeuvring in enemy country, for then the hostile observer is not so much on the alert, and, in order to shelter from the wind, is likely not to put his head over the fuselage to keep watch. If he observes at all, it is only the air above him.

When a scout is far over the enemy’s lines and sees a hostile machine rise from the aerodrome, climb for height, and make for the line, with its probable intention of carrying out a reconnaissance—indications of which are his high altitude and clearly marked direction—a chance of surprise is offered, provided the scout follows the hostile machine close and in the same vertical plane, but on a slightly lower level, where he will be hidden by the tail-piece of the hostile machine from the enemy’s crew. When within some half-dozen kilometres of the lines the enemy will cruise for a brief period to see that the air is clear; he will then go straight to his objective. This is the time for attack, for both pilot and observer, reassured by their observations, will be keeping a look-out forward. In cloudy weather, as an aeroplane then forms but a thin and barely visible line, it is generally an advantage to approach the enemy on his own level. In such weather scouts must be very active, for then the Germans venture much more readily over our lines than in sunny weather, even though the time is favourable for a surprise by our scouts.

4. Do not let the enemy adjust his fire. If the enemy attempts to fire, do not fire yourself, and do not make for him in a straight line, for a cool gunner firing at a machine making straight for him has the greatest chances of hitting it and bringing it down.

Make for your opponent in a zigzag course which obliges him to change the aim of his gun from side to side. Keep also a little above him, and as you approach get ready to start firing; then when about 100 yards off, and the conditions are favourable, e.g. when the enemy gun is still pointed to port, and you yourself have turned and are already slightly on the starboard side, charge straight at him, firing a rapid burst. The shots should be fired at about 50 yards from the target.

Under these conditions 15 to 50 rounds can be fired, after which you must swerve so as to avoid a collision. If the enemy is not brought down, sheer off quickly to the rear by a sudden turn or loop ; be very careful to keep tacking, with sharp turns, and avoid losing height.

As soon as you are again in position repeat the attack in the same manner. In these attacks it is needless to make any correction of aim on account of the relative speed of the machines, as the courses of the two machines are parallel during the firing and the distance is small.

Some pilots, instead of charging the enemy after this method, approach him within 100 yards in one of his blind sectors, and then by a sudden loop get into a position to shoot him from behind. This manoeuvre requires a great knowledge of the German machines and plenty of training, for it must be carried out with extreme precision. It cannot be recommended for general adoption. In any case single-handed attacks by single-seaters require a coolness, a gift of observation, a familiarity with the gun, and a skill in manoeuvring which are possessed only by first-class pilots.

Naturally the attack of two double-seaters by a single-seater requires very special qualities of judgement, for it must be very accurately timed. The problem is comparatively simple when the group of enemy machines is within our lines, the machine farthest from the line must then be vigorously attacked.

6. Battle Teams.

1. The normal battle unit is a group of two machines; a third machine may join them if needs be. The constitution of such units is a matter which requires the particular attention of a Squadron Commander.

2. An essential condition of success is that a team be homogeneous; consequently, the machines must be of the same type or at any rate equivalent in speed and capacity of manoeuvre. But above all the two pilots of a team must have mutual trust in one another’s courage, skill, and judgement. A single-seater squadron should, therefore, be composed of none but first-class pilots.

7. Co-ordination of Movements in a Team.

1. The team always manoeuvres in accord. One of the two pilots is appointed before the flight to take the lead, the other co-ordinates his movements to those of the guide’s. As a principle the machines never fly more than 400 yards apart, the one in the rear slightly higher and in echelon. Normally the two machines fly at low speed.

2. If the leading pilot sees his comrade suddenly move away by a sudden increase of speed, a change of course, a climb or dive, he must follow in order to find out the cause of this evolution—e. g. attack by enemy aeroplane, heavy A.A. fire—and it is only after the reason no longer exists that he resumes his part as guide.

3. Except in cases of urgency, no movement that would break up the team should be made by either machine without first signalling ‘attention’ to its comrade ; the signal for this purpose will be a violent and continuous lateral swinging of the machine. To ensure that the signal is seen, the machine which makes it must put itself in a position where it can be seen by its comrade; the latter will repeat the signal as soon as it is seen.

8. Attack on an isolated German Machine by a Team of two Scouts.

1. In this case surprise is not essential. Faced by a combined converging attack the enemy is likely to lose his nerve. While he is engaged with one machine he is attacked and driven down by the other.

2. Two methods are recommended:

(i) The attack on both sides. The two scouts first obtain a position above the enemy, and, if possible, with the sun behind them. They then increase the distance between them to 600 to 800 yards, following at the same time the movements of the enemy. They next increase their speed and dive on him simultaneously. At 100 to 50 yards from him they open fire.

When the German prepares to fire at one of the attackers the latter closes on him, carefully tacking to avoid a straight course, but remaining on the side from which his attack started; meanwhile the other scout closes in and fires at leisure.

This manoeuvre requires a very high measure of co-operation between the two pilots, for it is absolutely necessary for them to approach simultaneously so that the enemy cannot shoot one first and then turn on the other,

(ii) The attack on a vertical line. One of the machines dives into a position 150 yards behind the enemy in the blind angle of its tail piece, and opens fire at this range if sure of his aim; his comrade dives in the same vertical plane, keeping 100 yards higher than the first, and fires point blank.

The enemy’s defence will generally consist in an attempt to circle round the lower scout and shoot him in the process. The scout must manoeuvre so as to keep behind all the time. While the German thus tries to shoot the lower scout the upper one has ample opportunity to sweep down on him and shoot him point blank. Very often the lower scout will not even need to open fire at all. This manoeuvre is one of the easiest to co-ordinate well.

9. Attack of two Enemy Machines by a Team of Scouts.

1. This attack resolves itself into two distinct duels of scout versus scout, each scout diving on one of the adversaries. It would appear at first sight that such attacks can be executed only by pilots of exceptional capacity ; but in practice it will be found that the German team breaks up under the threat of attack. The two scouts must then converge at once on the hindmost machine.

2. It often happens that, of the two enemy machines, one is entrusted with a mission—e. g. ranging or photography—while the other simply protects the first. In this case the protecting machine usually stays within its lines to cover the retreat of the other, which goes out alone to the point necessitated by his mission.

The scouts must of course attack the protecting machine while the other is busy, and then settle the latter’s account. With these objects close observation of the doings of the enemy is essential.

10. Engagement of several Teams of two Scouts.

1. If the scouts are equal in number to the enemy machines, the teams attack each team for itself, as explained above. As often as not, however, the Germans scatter before such an attack; some take to flight and the scouts must then co-ordinate their movements so as to concentrate their efforts on the machines lagging behind.

2. If the scouts are in superior numbers, the teams which are in the less favourable positions for an attack owing to distance, bad position of the sun, &c, must attract to themselves the enemy’s attention and, while watching the fight, be ready to help any of our machines in a difficulty, or to intervene if an opportunity offers. A careful watch must be kept for hostile reinforcements which might turn up unperceived and attack the scouts while they manoeuvre. In short, the surplus teams form a reserve and a guard.

3. If a group of German machines, instead of scattering, makes a stand before the attack of a group of scouts, it becomes necessary, according to the circumstances, either to engage in a fight to the last or to force the enemy to scatter by means of turning movements on the part of the surplus teams. In any case, any faint-hearted demonstration, particularly if far behind the German lines, must be avoided.

11. How to Manoeuvre one or more Groups of Teams.

1. The number of teams that can manoeuvre properly together is three (i.e. six machines). A group of scouts beyond that number is difficult to handle, and it is better to form several groups working independently. One of the team Commanders is Group Commander; the other Commanders conform to his movements after having been warned by the signal ‘attention’.

2. From one group to another the only means of signalling is by flares. Each Group Commander should therefore be provided with a signalling pistol. The signals by flare should be settled beforehand. No general code can now be laid down.

12. Departure and Assembling of Groups.

1. As a principle the two machines of a team leave the aerodrome together and land together. They go straight to the starting-point. The group, on the contrary, meets at a starting-point chosen above the lines, for there would be a waste of time if all the machines were to leave the same aerodrome together.

2. When two or more groups have to carry out flights simultaneously, they must have different starting-points and must fly at different altitudes between 7,500 and 15,000 feet.

13. Rallying-points of Groups.

1. A group of scouts is almost always scattered after a fight. Immediately after the engagement it goes to its starting-point to re-form; and this is also its rallying-point.

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