Learning From The Past:
A Fighter Pilot's Obligation
SUBJECT AREA Aviation
LEARNING FROM THE PAST: A FIGHTER PILOT'S OBLIGATION
In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements
for Written Communications
The Marine Corps Command and Staff College
Major E. W. Hacker
United States Marine Corps
April 6, 1984
Thesis Statement: Although there have been significant tech-
nological advances in the capabilities of
fighter aircraft since World War I, the
basic tactics of aerial combat have not
I. THE BEGINNING
A. First Balloon Flight
B. First Military Actions by Aircraft
C. First Aerial Victory
B. Air Combat Maneuvering (ACM)
C. ACM Environment
III. EARLY WORLD WAR I
A. Need for Air Superiority
B. Forward Firing Gun
C. Oswald Boelcke
IV. BOELCKE'S DICTA
V. ANALYSIS OF BOELCKE'S DICTA
A. Training Important
B. Systems Knowledge a Must
C. Seeing the Enemy
1. World War II Eastern Front
2. Emphasis Today
D. "Taking It All In "
1. Multi-bogey environment
2. Aids utilized today
E. Formation Flying
1. Developed by Boelcke
3. Moelders' adaptation
4. Lateral separation
5. Allied adoption
F. Use of Rendezvous
G. Self-reliance in Multi-bogey Environment
H. Turning Fights Dangerous
I. Be Careful On "Bugout"
J. Don't Arc
VI. HARTMANN'S PRINCIPLES
A. See, Decide. Attack, Reverse
B. Patiently Aggressive
VII. SURVIVAL IN COMBAT
A. Rand Corporation Study
B. Red Flag Exercises
A. Basic Tactics - No Change
B. Learn From History
LEARNING FROM THE PAST: A FIGHTER PILOT'S OBLIGATION
The idea of tactical air operations had its beginning as
early as November 21, 1783 when Benjamin Franklin, American
minister to Paris, saw Etienne Montgolfier's test of the first
hot air balloon. Dr. Franklin immediately realized the impor-
tence of this experiment and voiced it in a letter to a friend.
It appears to be a discovery of great importance,
and what may probably give a new term to human affairs.
...five thousand balloons capable of raising two men
each would not cost more than five ships of the line....
and where is the Prince who can afford to cover his
country with troops for its defense, as that then thou-
sand men descending from the clouds, might not in many
places do an infinite deal of mischief, before a force
could be brought together to repel them.1
The use of manned aircraft as an instrument of war probably
began in 1911 when Mexico used aircraft to reconnoitre rebel
positions. Italy used aircraft in a war with Turkey in the
same year, and in 1912 and 1913 aircraft were used in the
Balkan Wars. The United States also committed aircraft to war
during the Mexican Expedition of 1914. However, it was during
the First World War that aerial combat began in earnest.
At the beginning of World War I, military strategists saw
the use of aircraft in a pure observation or reconnaissance
role. The first aerial victory was scored after the war had
been in progress for only three weeks. On August 25th,
Lieutenant H.D. Harvey-Kelly, leading a flight of three Royal
Flying Corps aircraft, spotted a German Taube2 over French
lines near Mons. He and his two comrades positioned themselves
around the unsuspecting German. Upset by the proximity of the
British aircraft, the German pilot attempted to dive away.
When this failed, the German landed his aircraft in a field
and fled on foot. The British also landed and, having failed
to find the fearful Taube pilot, set fire to his aircraft and
It was a small beginning, perhaps a humorous one, but from
here, aerial combat began to escalate and the fighter pilot
was born. New principles were soon to be developed by men
such as Boelcke and Immelman, Lufbery and Luke, Richthofen and
Ball; names which are legends to today's fighter pilots. It
is with these principles or rather tactics that this pager is
concerned. Although the capabilities of aircraft have increased
since World War I, the basic tactics utilized in their employ-
ment have remained the same.
There is always confusion over the use of the word tactics
as opposed to strategy. When discussing and writing about fly-
ing, early aviators tended to break fighting into two distinct
operations. These were described by Major Oliver Stewart4 as
"the preliminary maneuvering before the opposing forces have
joined issue and while they are, perhaps, only just visible to
each other in the distance, and there is the maneuvering after
the forces have joined issue by launching an attack upon the
other."5 As opposed to strategy, the word tactics in the air
battle is applied to air combat maneuvering (ACM) that takes
place after the fight has begun. In modern terminology, ACM
is that phase of air warfare in which the fighter operates in
close proximity to the enemy aircraft and brings his weapons
to bear primarily through the employment of large-scale, three
The ACM environment is characterized by high levels of
acceleration and deceleration, widely varying speed and alti-
tude, and high angular rates of the aircraft about its pitch,
roll, and yaw axes. In general, each combatant is attempting
to position his aircraft in a favorable firing position rela-
tive to his opponent, a process which becomes increasingly
difficult in direct proportion to limitations of the weapons
envelope. No phase of aerial combat places greater demands
on the aircrew-aircraft combination. The required maneuver-
ing is dependent upon turn performance capabilities, accel-
eration, and the use of the vertical.7 The successful out-
come of any ACM engagement depends almost entirely on the man-
ner in which the pilot employs the performance capabilities
and advantages of his aircraft relative to those of his enemy.
It is this relationship between aircraft performance and pilot
utilization of it that serves as the basis of ACM tactics.
In the autumn of 1915, the general staffs on both sides
of the battlefield began realizing the importance of the air
arm. Reconnaissance squadrons patrolled the forward edge of
the battle area photographing trenches, spotting for artillery,
locating enemy gun emplacements, and fighting the attempts of
enemy aircraft to gain the same information. As the importence
of air superiority was realized by the ground commander, the
fighter pilot's mission began to evolve. In February 1915,
Roland Garros, who later became an ace,8 mounted a forward
firing machine gun on his Morane monoplane.9 He was forced
down over German territory in April, after several aerial vic-
tories. Exploitation of Garros' gun by Anthony Fokker, a noted
aircraft designer, resulted in a synchronized gun system for
the German air force. On August 1, 1915, two German pilots
Oswald Boelcke and Max Immelmann, took off to begin one of the
most significant changes in aerial warfare.10 On that day,
Immelmann shot down the first in a long series of aircraft
with Fokker's gun. Fokker's invention and its introduction
into combat changed the airplane from an observation platform
to an aggressive attack platform and marked the real beginning
of the airplane's use as an instrument of war.
With the change in the airplane came a need for the tac-
tics with which to employ it. Perhaps the most legendary tac-
tician in the history of aerial warfare was Oswald Boelcke.
Boelcke was Germany's leading ace with 40 victories until
his death in an aircraft accident on October 28, 1916.11
Besides being a pioneer tactician, Boelcke was an excellent
leader and teacher, his most famous pupil being the Red Baron,
Manfred von Richthofen. Boelcke's Dicta are, generally, as
valid today as they were in 1916. As such, the following Dicta
will be utilized as the primary source of tactical principles
to prove the present validity of "yesterday's" principles.
1. Each pilot must know about the construction of his
aircraft, and the strengths and weaknesses, so that
he can get the best out of his machine and avoid get-
ting into situations in which his opponent can exploit
the weaknesses of design.
2. He must know as much as possible about the strengths
and weaknesses of any Allied (enemy) aircraft he
will likely encounter.
3. The pilot must be fully at home in his aircraft as a
result of training and familiarization flights, so
that the machine can be exploited fully without con-
scious thought, the full spectrum of aerial maneuver-
ing being second nature to the pilot.
4. The pilot must know all about his armament, so that
the right range and deflection can be simply selected,
and jams and stoppages cleared quickly and without
taking his attention away from more pressing matters.
5. The pilot must develop the knack of seeing enemy air-
craft without himself being seen, developing this
knack of spotting opposing aircraft at a considerable
range by constant practice in knowing how to search
the sky and what to look for.
6. The pilot must acquire the habit of "taking in"
unconsciously the general progress of the whole
multi-aircraft dogfight going on around the individ-
ual combat in which the pilot will become involved,
so that a third party entering the duel can be spot-
ted and allowed for, and no time wasted in assess-
ment of the general situation after the end of an
7. The pilot should become accustomed to flying in a
regular position in the formation, so that teamwork
will improve and each man will get used to flying
with the same companions.
8. The pilot must memorize a number of rendezvous points
in the area, so that if the formation is split up,
lost pilots can pick up the formation again by cir-
cling over the rendezvous point just under the clouds
(aircraft over clouds being very easy to spot) until
rejoined by others of the formation.
9. Formation is to be kept at all times, leaving the
leader to spot the opposition while the others cover
his and each others' tail by constant vigilance,
unless another pilot spots the opposition first and
signals the leader by moving ahead and waggling his
wings before turning in the direction of the opposi-
10. The leader will signal the best method of attack,
using all the advantages of sun, cloud, haze, and
rain, but always attacks will be from above where
11. Once combat has been joined in a dogfight, it is
every man for himself, but it is essential to keep
a cool head and courting disaster to try to evade
the attacker by the execution of copybook aerobatics
such as loops and half-rolls.
12. The use of smooth executed, predictable maneuvers
in combat is futile. One should always turn into
the attacker so that a circling combat will ensue;
here it is essential to turn as tight as possible
to try to close up on the attacker and dispatch him
with an accurate burst of machine-gun fire.
13. It is insensible to run from a fight with an aircraft
of equal performance, unless some tactical considera-
tion gives the pursued a considerable advantage.
14. To be avoided at all costs are jinking maneuvers,
for the pursuer can always cut across the corner so
formed and make up the necessary distance on the
Boelcke's Dicta are not all encompassing, but they do
provide a good framework for today's fighter pilots. Many of
Boelcke's Dicta are common sense. Every fighter pilot knows
it is important to understand his own capabilities and limi-
tations as well as the enemy's. Today's fighter squadrons
spend considerable time teaching neophytes and refreshing
old hands on the capabilities and limitations of both. This
is a never-ending process and becomes more complicated and
important as technology evolves.
Boelcke felt that training was the key to aerial maneu-
vering. Things have not changed. Perhaps many fighter pilots
were not given the requisite training in earlier times of con-
flict. The number of missing and dead fliers during World War
I certainly gives this indication. Some 9,378 British fliers,
8,212 Germans, and 237 Americans did not return from battle.13
French losses cannot be established since many of the records
were lost, but many historians think that they were as high
as those of the British. During World War II, Jadgegeswader-52,
a German fighter wing, scored over 10,000 aerial victories,
the vast majority on the Eastern Front.14 Today, the high
cost of new aircraft, the time required to produce aircraft,
and the smaller numbers of pilots available for combat make
training all that more important.
Presently, schools and advanced training for the fighter
pilot abound. One of the goals is to make maneuvering second
nature to the maturing fighter pilot. For example, a good
Marine fighter pilot receives tactics and ACM introduction
in basic and advanced jet traning. The instruction is refined
at Replacement Air Groups (RAGs) where the pilot receives a six
month syllabus concerning all aspects of his aircraft's employ
ment. However, the majority of training takes place in his
first fleet squadron. A pilot showing excellent potential may
be selected to attend the Air Combat Tactics Instructor Course
(ACT(I)), the Navy Fighter Weapons School (TOPGUN), or the
Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Instructor Course (WTI).
Training is paramount to a fighter pilot and most will argue
that there is never enough.
Boelcke differentiated between training and knowing one's
armament and weapons system. However, they can be considered
together. Today's aircraft do not provide a pilot with the
capability to "clear" a jammed gatling-gun. Instead, a pilot
must know how to handle missile "hangfires" and "tuning" prob-
lems, be totally familiar with a complicated weapon switch-
ology process, and know the proper parameters for employment
of the missile. The importance of knowing one's weapon system
was illustrated during the Vietnam War. In 1968, U.S. Navy
fighter pilots were downing 3.7 North Vietnamese aircraft for
every Navy loss. As a result of this poor showing, the Naval
Air Systems Command, under the aegis of Captain Frank Ault
performed an extensive analysis of aerial combat in Southeast
Asia. The Ault Report suggested the creation of Navy Fighter
Weapons School to teach the proper employment of fighter weap-
ons systems. The first class convened in March 1969, and
within two years, the kill ratio had increased to thirteen to
one.15 Today, TOPGUN is still providing Navy and Marine Aircrew
with the requisite training to destroy the enemy once he has
The knack of seeing the enemy without being seen in return
is an art. The most successful fighter pilots in history have
had the ability to patiently stalk their enemy. Oswald Boelcke
was probably the best at this during the First World War. How-
ever, it was the World War II fighter pilots of JG-52, flying
on the Eastern Front, that made this principle one of primary
importance. Outnumbered by 50 to 1, at times, JG-52 aces
found themselves relying on this principle to allow the use
of "hit and run" tactics and increase their chances for sur-
vival. Gerhard Barkhorn, a member of JG-52, estimated that
90% of his 301 aerial victories were against Russian pilots
who were unaware of his presence.16
Two events occurred in 1943 which made seeing the enemy
first even more important. First, the Soviets began forming
"Red Guard" units with pilots selected for outstanding flying
skills, marksmanship, and aggressiveness. Second, five dif-
ferent Soviet fighters were being produced which could out-
perform the German ME-109s.17 For the German fighter pilot, the
battle was no longer decided by courage, persistance or tac-
tical superiority. Surprize became the key to survival on the
Today's fighter pilot can still expect to fight in a
multi-bogey environment where visual identification is still
required; and as a consequence, the first "tally-ho" remains
important. A paucity of fighter assets requires that U.S.
pilots minimize their losses while maximizing their gains.
Good fighter squadrons emphasize seeing the enemy. Some
squadrons hang scale models of enemy aircraft at predeter-
mined distances across hanger work spaces, allowing practice
in picking out enemy aircraft at "long ranges." Probably the
greatest aid in seeing the enemy is a result of advanced
technology. "Heads-up" displays place airspeed, altitude,
and aircraft G readouts and radar and armament information on
the aircraft's windscreen which enables the pilot to spend
more time looking outside the cockpit.
After seeing the enemy, awareness of what he is doing is
important to success. Sir Frederick Rosier, former British
Air Officer Commander-in-Chief of Fighter Command and veteran
of World War II, said, "Very few pilots in combat have the
ability to scan the sky and take it all in."18 In multi-bogey
environments such as Boelcke's and Rosier"s, situation aware-
ness is a prerequisite for survival. The perimeter of the
fight and the approximate number of bogeys involved must be
determined before committing to an engagement. This precludes
being shot down by the unseen bogey. Many, otherwise, excel-
lent fighter pilots have lost their lives as a result of not
"taking it all in." Leutnant Werner Voss, commander of a
World War I fighter squadron and victor in 48 aerial combats,
made this fatal mistake. While attacking two flights of re-
connaissance aircraft, Voss failed to survey the area. Voss,
unintentionally, became engaged with seven SE5 Albatrosses
while six Bristol fighters and 17 Sopwith Camels and Albatrosses
circled overhead and below to prevent escape. Voss fell to
the guns of Lieutenant A.P.F. Rhys-Davids (22 victories) after
ten minutes of heroic fighting.19
Situation awareness is more difficult in today's envi-
ronment due to airspeeds in excess of Mach 1.0 (600 mph plus).
Dogfights now take place in less time and cover larger areas.
But, today's fighter pilots may have an advantage over their
earlier brethren. ACM flights end with a detailed debrief
of the air battle which force pilots to "take in" and remember
the entire flight. The Navy and Marine Corps have developed
and deployed instrumented flight ranges called Tactical Aircrew
Combat Training Systems (TACTS). These systems electronically
track multiple aircraft and produce three dimensional video
displays showing aircraft position over the ground or individ-
ual views from a pilot's cockpit. The result has been improved
situation awareness, better understanding of tactics, and
enhanced debriefing skills.
In recent years, the United States has been inundated
with electronic video games. Youngsters now spend many hours
playing these games, and the impact on future fighter pilots
will be immense. Besides developing eye-hand coordination,
these "frivolous" games require kids to take in more infor-
mation, process that information, and make decisions, all in
a shorter timespan. Tomorrow's fighter pilots will be better
at "taking it all in" and more capable of practicing what
Boelcke felt that pilots should become accustomed to fly-
ing in regular formations and to maintaining formation integ-
rity. This goes without saying; one cannot fight on his own
and survive day after day. This was found out the hard way
by such World War I aces as Rene Fonck, Albert Ball, Frank
Luke, and Werner Voss.20 They were all "mavericks" who pre-
ferred to fight alone, and as a consequence, they did not
survive the war. Boelcke rectified this preference for indi-
vidual combat by developing a standard formation which proved
successful in combat and later became the basis for all nation's
fighter forces. Although not technically considered a tactic,
Boelcke's formation deserves addressing since it still applies
in this supersonic age.
There are three criterion which govern the organization
and the positioning of formations. First, they should present
a difficult target for anti-aircraft artillery or missiles:
more than one aircraft should not be vulnerable to the same
flak burst or missile detonation. Second, the formation should
allow aircraft to support one another quickly in the event of
air attack. Finally, the formation should provide latitude
for maneuvering within the formation without losing mutual
support. Many formations were developed during World War I,
but the most successful one was developed by Boelcke. It con-
sisted of four aircraft almost line abreast, operating in ele-
ments of two.21 Richthofen adopted Boelcke's formation and
with his fighter group (JG-1), known as the "Flying Circus,"
ruled the skies over France until his death on April 21, 1918.22
During the Spanish Civil War, it seems that German pilots
forgot the lessons of Boelcke and Richthofen and returned to
the three plane Vic formation. This arrangement protected the
leader on both sides but sacrificed maneuverability. The man
who revived Boelcke's formation was Hauptman Werner Moelders,
Germany's highest scoring ace in the Spanish Civil War with
14 victories.23 Moelders occupied the same position as Boelcke
in World War I, being the supreme tactician of his day in
terms of combat success and constructive thinking. The basis
of Moelders' formation was the Rotte (unit) of two aircraft.
This arrangement differed not so much in the reduction from
three to two aircraft but in the spacing. Earlier formations
flew with aircraft about 40 feet apart and allowed better con-
trol in typical European cloud conditions. Moelders placed the
two aircraft of the Rotte approximately 600 feet apart with the
leader slightly ahead of his wingmen. Each of the pilots con-
centrated his attention inward and watched the other's blind
spot dead astern.24
To increase firepower, Moelders initiated the use of
Schwarms consisting of four aircraft. These were composed of
two Rotten and were disposed with one Rotte flying slightly
ahead and to the side. The four aircraft were then in the rel-
ative positions of the nails on the four fingers of a hand.
The Schwarm was spaced between 1500 and 2000 feet apart which
made it impossible for the formation to turn in the right order.
Moelders solved this problem by originating a crossover maneu-
ver in which the man on the outside of the turn crossed to the
inside after 9O degrees. The formation then became a mirror
image of itself prior to the turn.25
The open position of the German fighter's formation per-
mitted each pilot to continuously scan the skies for the enemy;
whereas, in tight formations much time was spent watching the
leader in order to maintain position. Wide dispersion of the
formation meant that if one aircraft was attacked, the other
aircraft could perform a hard turn and "sandwitch" the attacker,
bringing weapons to bear. In a tight formation, an attack on
one aircraft essentially placed all the aircraft in joepardy.
Moelders' formation allowed complete freedom of maneuver since
maximum turn rates could be utilized without compromizing the
integrity of the formation, unlike the Vic initially used by
Moelders' Rotte and Schwarm gave the Luftwaffe a signif-
icant advantage at the start of the war. A tribute to these
tactics is the fact that all allied air forces eventually
adopted these formations. After suffering severe losses dur-
ing the Battle of Britain, The RAF switched to four-plane for-
mations. Squadron Leader A.G. Mahan, No 74 Squadron, lossened
the Vic, added another aircraft, and positioned the sections
700 to 800 feet apart. By 1943, this formation was modified
to a line of four fighters disposed almost abreast. By the
end of 1943, Moelders' formation had been universally adopted.
To the Germans, they were still the Rotte and Schwarm, to the
British and Americans the Pair and Finger-four, to the Russians
the Para and Zveno, and to the Japanese as the Buntai and
The basic fighter formation of World War I and World War II
has developed into the Loose-deuce, Finger-four, and Double-
attack formations used by today's USN and USMC, USAF, and RAF
fighter pilots.28 Due to speed and turn radii, lateral sep-
aration between aircraft has increased. For example, Marines
flying Loose-deuce, commonly referred to as Combat Spread, are
positioned from 6,000 to 12,000 feet apart, depending on alti-
tude.29 In addition, wingmen are stepped up or down on the
leader by approximately 5,000 feet, making attack on the for-
mation more difficult and maneuvering easier. Although every
effort is made to maintain formation integrity, hard maneu-
vering in a multi-bogey environment may result in a breakdown
in integrity and subsequent loss of mutual support.
Boelcke recognized the problems with maintaining formation
integrity and suggested his pilots memorize several rendezvous
points in the flying area. Rendezvous points are still used
today to establish "anchor points" for Combat Air Patrols (CAPs)
and to allow mutual support to be regained when attack aircraft
exit target areas. However, there are several factors exist-
ing today tend to diminish the importance of rendezvous points
in the minds of fighter pilots. Depending on the range from
home base, ground control intercept sites can provide vectors
for separated or lost aircraft and alert pilots to the presence
of bogeys. In addition, the speeds available to current air-
craft and the use of on-board inertial navigation systems
reduce the need for memorizing as many rendezvous points as
pilots in Boelcke's day.
Besides recognizing the need for mutual support and
rendezvous points, Boelcke saw the formation as a vehicle for
offensive maneuvering. The increased lateral separation made
it necessary for the wingman to initiate attack if he gained
the first "tally-ho." Radios make it easier today; however,
Boelcke's signalling methods still apply when emission control
procedures limit the use of radios. Although World War I and
World War II flight leaders were responsible for determining
the best method of attack, the further increase in lateral
separation requires that the wingman have the capability to
signal the attack.
Today's Navy and Marine Corps have instituted the use of
military lead and tactical lead. The senior pilot (military
lead), as in Boelcke's day, has the overall responsibility for
the flight, until the visual sighting or radar contact is
achieved. But, today the aircraft with the best situation
awareness becomes tactical lead and determines how the attack
will proceed,using the sun, clouds, haze, and rain. Boelcke's
emphasis on attacking from above has also changed. The high
potential energy of today's aircraft and the difficulty of
looking down, either visually or with radar, make the low to
high attack were tactically significant.
Once the engagement occurs, as Boelcke said, "it is every
man for himself." The concept of tactical lead may breakdown
quickly in a multi-bogey environment with mutual support
becoming the exception rather than the rule. The resulting
one versus many engagements still require" cool heads" if the
the outnumbered are to prevail. Unpredictable maneuvers are
a must. Unless engaged, hard as possible turns should be made,
not to exceed 90 degrees, then the aircraft should be unloaded
(zero G) and airspeed regained.
The only tactical principle which fails to survive today
is the tight turn into the attacker. A tight turn results in
a loss of airspeed and should only be used as a "last ditch"
defensive maneuver when no other recourse is available. Regain-
ing airspeed in the presence of multiple adversaries is dif-
ficult at best. Erich Hartmann, Germany's leading ace with
352 victories on the Eastern Front, avoided the turning battle.
He felt that a dogfight against a numerically superior enemy
took control of the situation from his hands and increased the
enemy's chance of a lucky, surprise attack.30 A turning fight
means exposure of the aircraft's belly outside the turn radius.
Here, the old rule that "you're always killed by the enemy you
don't see" applies. As Oberst Dietrich Hrabak, Hartmann"s
commander, said, "Fly with your head, not with your muscles."
Although the tactic of turning into the attacker has not
survived today, the insensibility of running from an aircraft
of equal or better performance remains. Boelcke's Dictum is
effectively illustrated by one engagement involving Manfred
...his fuel evidently running low, the Englishman
abandoned the duel and struck out on a desperate zigzag
flight for home. Richthofen followed in tight pursuit
and, just short of the British lines, brought down his
quarry with a bullet through the brain. A short time
later, he learned that his victum was Major Lanoe Hawker,
spirited commander of No 24 Squadron and holder of the
Today's fighter pilots are taught to begin looking for a
"bugout" while on the offensive or at least in a neutral posi-
tion; to do so with a tactical disadvantage is fatal. For
example, the best time to depart the fight is after a head-on
pass. The pilot should ensure that minimum lateral separation
exists or an early turn by the enemy could be disastrous.
In his last Dicta, Boelcke advocated avoiding jinking
maneuvers when being pursued by an adversary. By jinking when
on the defensive, the enemy is allowed to cut across the circle,
reduce the nose-to-tail distance, and arrive within weapons
parameters. In modern terminology, the words "don't arc"
are taught to new fighter pilots. This is, perhaps, the most
common mistake made in today's mock combat. New pilots are
constantly reminded of this principle, yet only time and expe-
rience seem to lesson the tendency to "arc."
Although this completes a brief discussion of Boelcke's
Dicta, one cannot leave the subject of fighter tactics with-
out mentioning Erich Hartmann's four principles, which sup-
port Boelcke's Dicta: See--Decide--Attack--Reverse. Seeing
the enemy first allowed Hartmann to decide how the action
would begin. He carefully evaluated the enemy, always looking
for the element of surprise. He, like Barkhorn, estimated
that 90% of the pilots he shot down never saw him coming.
When Hartmann attacked, he used superior speed and pressed
his attacks to minimum range, maximizing the destructive fire-
power of his guns. The last principle was a pause in combat.
He would not reattack immediately but would survey the situa-
tion to determine if the advantage remained. If the advantage
had disappeared, he would patiently search for another unsus-
A fighter is as good as his tactics, no better. Tactics
are utilized for only two purposes: victories and survival.
Both will be equally important on the battlefield of the future.
In 1943, on the Eastern Front, only 25% of the new pilots lived
through their first four missions.33 When an able pilot sur-
vived a break-in period of learning and became what the Germans
called an Experte, he often survived long periods of operations.
It was the youngster with inadequate training who failed to
A Rand Corporation study conducted after the Vietnam War
concluded the same as did World War II pilots on the Eastern
Front: pilots who fail to survive in combat are most likely
to be killed within their first few missions. The study
revealed that the first ten missions were key to overall sur-
vival. As a consequence, the Air Force initiated the Red Flag
Exercise at Nellis Air Force Base. Using a realistic threat,
the goal was to provide pilots lacking combat experience with
their first few "combat" flights. It appears to be an excel-
lent program; however only actual combat will prove its worth.
In an effort to survive the next war, fighter pilots
throughout the world continue to develop new tactics. They
are always looking for a better "mousetrap." Although there
have been significant technological improvements in the cap-
abilities of fighter aircraft since World War I, the basic
tactics of aerial combat have not changed. In the multi-di-
mensional, lethal ACM environment there is neither the time
nor the resources for on-the-job-training. Too much is at
stake to ignore the teachings of such men as Oswald Boelcke,
Erich Hartmann, and Werner Moelders. Fighter pilots must
always be ready for war; when the time for decision arrives,
the time for preparation is past.
Oberst Dietrich Hrabak told his new fighter pilots that
they "must act aggressively always, of course, or you will not
be successful, but the aggressive spirit must be tempered with
cunning, judgment, and intelligent thinking."35 The lessons
learned in the skies of 1916 France will undoubtedly pervade
the skies of any future conflicts. The question then becomes,
do the fighter pilots of today have the insight, intelligence,
and strength to apply the tactical lessons of the past? After
all, it was Plato who said, "A fool learns by experience, the
wise man by the experience of others."36
1Lieutenant Colonel Richard D. Koehnke, "World War I
Aviation: A Prologue to Fighters," Air War College, Air
University, Maxwell Air Force Base, March 1980, pp. 4-5.
2The Taube (Dove) made up half of the German Air Force
in 1914. It was an unarmed, stable monoplane utilized for
reconnaissance and carried a pilot and observer.
3The Encyclopedia of Air Warfare , Thomas Y. Crowell Co.,
New York, N.Y., 1975, p. 16.
4Major Stewart was known throughout the later stages of
the war for his ability to teach and to develop tactics. At
the end of the war, he was an ace with six kills to his credit.
5Major Oliver Stewart, The Strategy and Tactics of Air
Fighting, Longman, Green and Co., London, 1925, pp. 4-5.
6F-4 Tactical Manual, Volume I, Dept. of the Navy, CNO,
Government Printing Office, Washington D.C., June 1980, p. 17.
7Ibid, p. 19.
8The term ace at first meant an excellent flier, a high
card to play against the enemy. It soon denoted a pilot who
had achieved five confirmed victories on the allied side or
ten victories for German fliers.
9The Morane monoplane was a Morane-Saulnier Type N and
was normally used as a scout. It had a maximum speed of 102
mph and held the altitude record of 18,405 feet in 1912.
10Koehnke, p. 24.
11Ezra Bowen, Knights of the Air, Time-Life Books, Inc.,
Alexandria, VA., 1980, p. 122.
12Chris Chant, The Pictorial History of Air Warfare,
Octopus Books Limited, London, 1975, p. 118. There have been
several different lists recognized as Boelcke's Dicta, most high-
lighting eight principles. This list is more encompassing and
provides better insight into World War I tactical principles.
13Bowen, p. 175.
14Major Richard P. Barnett, "Luftwaffe Aces on the Eastern
Front 1943-1945: A Primer in Multi-Bogey Tactics," Air War
College, Air University, Maxwell Air Force Base, 1983, p. 30.
A Jagdgeschwader is a Luftwaffe air wing consisting of 120
fighters. Thirty-four pilots of JG-52 had over 100 confirmed
victories or greater, including Erich Hartmann (352), Gerhard
Barkhorn (301), and Gunther Rall (275).
15While the Navy's kill ratio increased from 3.7 to 1
to 13 to 1, the Air Force's kill ratio declined from 3 to 1
to 2 to 1.
16Generalleutnant Barkhorn made this estimute during a
visit to Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron One,
Yuma, Arizona in May 1979.
17Barnett, p. 15.
18Edward H. Sims, Fighter Tactics and Strategy 1914-1970,
Aero Publishers, Inc., Fallbrook, CA., 1972, p. 141.
19Chant, p. 123.
20It would take an entire paper to acquaint one with the
accomplishments of these four World War I fliers: one French,
one British, one American, and on German. They were but a few
of the "loners" who failed to survive the war. Bowen's
Knights of the Air provides an in-depth look at these pilots.
21 Koehnke, p. 43.
22Bowen, p. 133. Richthofen's original squadron, Jasta
11, painted their airplanes red in a manner after Richthofen's
own, Diable Rouge or Red Death. His expanded command,
Jagdgeschwader 1, began taking on different colors. One pilot
recalled "machines with green wings and yellow noses, silver
wings with gold noses, red bodies with green wings, light blue
bodies and red wings." British airmen dubbed this display
the "Flying Circus," for both its many colors and its circus
like habit of folding its tents and moving from place to place
23Moelders had 114 victories and became General der
Jagdflieger (Fighter Forces General) before his death in an
aircraft accident on November 22, 1941.
24Chant, p. 124.
25Ibid, p. 125.
26Ibid, p. 126.
27Ibid, p. 127.
28Barnett, p. 8.
29The term Loose-deuce actually applies to the tactical
use of aircraft. The formation is called Combat Spread. At
sea level an F-4 going 500 nautical miles per hour needs
approximately one nautical mile of lateral separation in
which to turn and bring missiles to bear on the enemy and
still be outside of minimum range for firing. This lateral
separation increases with altitude since turn radius increases
30Barnett, p. 30.
31Bowen, p. 133.
32Barnett, p. 33.
33Ibid, p. 13.
34Sims, p. 140.
35Barnett, p. 31.
36Ibid. p. 2.
Barnett, Richard P., Major, USAF. "Luftwaffe Aces on the
Eastern Front 1943-1945: A Primer in Multi-Bogey
Tactics." Air War College, Air University, Maxwell
Air Force Base, March 1983.
Bowen, Ezra. Knights of the Air. Alexandria: Time-Life
Books, Inc., 1980.
Chant, Chris. The Pictorial History of Air Warfare. London:
Octopus Books Limited, 1979.
The Encyclopedia of Air Warfare. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell
F-4 Tactical Manual, NWP 55-5-F4, Volume I, NAVAIR 01-245FDB-1T.1.
Department of the Navy, Chief of Naval Operations.
Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, June 1980.
Koehnke, Richard D., LtCol, USAF. "World War I Aviation: A
Prologue to Fighters." Air War College, Air University,
Maxwell Air Force Base, April 1980.
Sims, Edward H. Fighter Tactics and Strategy. Fallbrook:
Aero Publishers, Inc., 1972.
Stewart, Oliver, Major. The Strategy and Tactics of Air
Fighting. London: Longman, Green and Co., 1925.
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