29 March 1917 – “Fighting in the Air”

The weather on the Western Front turned poor again today. With little chance for flying, perhaps some of the RFCs pilots took time to read the latest tactical manual issued by the General Staff.

Following on from “Notes on aeroplane fighting in Single Seater Scouts” issued in November General Staff have published a new memorandum drawing on the experience of air fighting dusing the Somme battle entitled “Fighting in the Air”.

It emphasised that concentration, mutual co-operation and support, and a system of command whereby the number of units under each commander is limited to what he can directly and effectively control, were the key to success.

It signalled the end of the era of lone wolf pilots and placed the emphasis firmly on developing the fighting unit not as a single aircraft but a group of three or more.

The memorandum also reaffirmed Hugh Trenchard’s doctrine of offense, stating at paragraph 3:

“Offensive tactics are essential in aerial fighting for the following reasons

(i) To gain the ascendancy alluded to above.

(ii) Because the field of action of aeroplanes is over and in rear of the hostile forces, and we must therefore attack in order to enable our machines to accomplish their missions, and prevent those of the enemy from accomplishing theirs.

(iii) Because the aeroplane is essentially a weapon of attack and not of defence. Fighting on land and sea takes place in two dimensions, but in the air we have to reckon with all three. Manceuvring room is therefore unlimited, and no number of aeroplanes acting on the defensive will prevent a determined pilot from reaching his objective.”

The full text of the doucument can be found at Appendix XI of Volume 3 of the official history, The War in the Air.

 

 

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