Stories From The Great War

The Great War Was The Last War That Letters And Stories Were Published Free Of The Military Sensor. This Blog Will Contain Interesting Stories Taken From Newspapers, Periodicals And Letters From 1914-1918..The War Years.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Fighting in the Air

A fantastic article about air fighting in WW1, from the Air Service Journal July 1917
Lieut. Col. L.W.B. Rees, RFC and RA

Fighting in the Air

By Lieut-Col. L. W. B. Rees, R.F.C. and R.A.
These notes are based on experiences of last year, so that it is impossible to lay down any hard and fast rules, as the conditions alter so fast. The deductions are based on the experiences of many R.F.C. Officers, to whom I am greatly indebted.
In the shooting problems the results are only close approximations. It has been taken that the bullet moves in a straight line for 200 yards, and that the bullet does not lag, due to relative speed of air and machine.
Comparison of Pilots
The British pilot always likes the idea of fighting, and is self-reliant. He is a quick thinker compared with the enemy, so that he has the advantage in maneuvre, He fights for the sport of the affair, if for no other reason. After the first engagement he gains great confidence from the Parthian tactics of the enemy. Very wisely, he is not hampered by strict rules, and as a rule is allowed to conduct his own affairs.
The enemy pilot, on the other hand, Is of a gregarious nature from long national training, and often seems to be bound by strict rules, which cramp his style to a great extent. The enemy pilots are often uneducated men, being looked on simply as drivers of the machine, while the gunner or observer is considered a grade higher than the pilot.
This last gives a great advantage to us. as, whereas our pilots act from a sense of "noblesse oblige," the enemy, when in a tight corner, often fails to seize and press an advantage.
We noticed that when there were two officers in the enemy machine, they-always attacked, but in many other cases the attack was not pressed home. Untrained enemy pilots might also account for this.
Comparison of Duties
Both the enemy and ourselves divide the machines into two distinct classes. We both have the reconnaissance and the fighting machines.
By reconnaissance machines I mean those that do reconnaissance proper, wireless, photography, and bombing. The fighting machines are used for fighting only.
I do not mean to say that the fighter does not do his best to see what is going on, or that a reconnaissance machine docs not sometimes fight, but their primary uses are as stated.
The chief difference in these types is that the reconnaissance machine is Usually n weight carrier, so that it cannot maneuvre quickly. It may be able to protect itself very effectively, but is so designed that the view for fighting is bad, or its method of fighting does not lend itself to offensive tactics.
The fighter, on the other hand, is built solely for the purpose of attacking and bringing down the enemy's machines, and he carries armament of an offensive nature.
The fighting machines are used for patrol, and for escorting the wireless, bombing, and reconnaissance machines.
The enemy uses his machines differently from ourselves. His reconnaissance machines come over our side of the lines only at long intervals; they seldom come over far, they travel at great heights and unaccompanied. They are so fast that only our fastest machines can catch them. If fired on they immediately dive for the lines, or for the nearest anti-aircraft battery or machine gun. As every village near the lines has its machine gun it
means that the machines can dive almost anywhere so as to get a covering fire from the ground. These machines very seldom turn and fight; very rightly going straight back with their information.
It might be remarked here that if machines dive steeply, flames, due to excess of gasoline, come out of the exhaust. The front cylinders also oil up, so that clouds of smoke come out of the exhaust as well. If the dive continues for any length of time the machine must land on account of oily or sooted plugs, and not on account of any aid which they may have obtained from the Lewis gun.
changed. One will not be able to effect this without great training and much thought.
Types of Machines The enemy reconnaissance machines are as a rule tractors traveling at a speed of from 90 to 100 m.p.h. I do not think that they climb very fast, as one seldom finds them traveling very low. The pilot sits in front of the observer, and the observer sits in a little barbette. This barbette permits of an all-round arc of fire, except where it is masked by the body or planes. The top of the barbette is armoured.

Many of the enemy pilots are heavily handed, so that the machine turns over on landing, if the ground is at all rough.
Our reconnaissance machines, on the other hand, are continually over the enemy lines, and they go so far afield that they have to turn and fight when attacked.
The enemy fighters never come our side of the lines, so that our fighters have to go for miles to get a fight. This affects the tactics insomuch as the enemy can risk getting hit on the engine or through the tank, knowing that he will suffer no more than an ordinary forced landing. Our fighters have to be more careful, as hits on the engine usually mean that the crew of the machine must be taken prisoners.
For this reason we must do better shooting than the enemy. We must fight to the very best advantage, and having decided to open fire we must aim to disable the enemy during the first few rounds, or at any rate. during the first drum. There should be no long-range shooting, and if we can manage to disable the enemy quickly, there will be no need to go out of action in the middle of an engagement while the drum is being
which may deflect a few bullets, but is of such shape that it would seem to be little more than useless weight.
As these machines never attack, they do not usually fire ahead. They can fire at an angle of 45 deg. with the line of flight ahead. They can fire over the whole semicircle astern. . They can fire straight up, and fairly well straight down.
These machines use both lead and armour-piercing bullets, fire belts of perhaps 200 rounds, and when the belt is finished they pause quite a long time, apparently to reload.
When attacking these machines on the enemy side of the lines, when one is creeping up apparently unobserved, the enemy A.A. batteries fire ahead of their own machine, and so call his attention to the danger.
The enemy fighting machines are of four types.
The first type is the small, very quick monoplane, the small Fokker type. Apparently they are very hard to fly, as the enemy do not seem to possess more than two or three. One can tell them at once at a distance on account of their apparent speed compared with the other machines

In the sky. The Americans say that they are so fast that they cannot make a forced landing across country. This may not be so, but this is the only allowable case iu which a few long shots might be fired, on the chance of verifying this statement.
They have a stream line in front of the propeller, which makes them appear
instead of the usual monoplane
For this reason they are very hard to see against the haze which always hangs over the horizon.
The pilot sits up very high in his nacelle, so that he gets a splendid view. He has a fixed gun, and can apparently fire only straight ahead.
The machines try to creep up behind their targets unseen. If seen or fired on they dive immediately and come up again after a short while. They do not as a rule accept a set battle.
The second type is the machine a little larger than the one above. It also Is a monoplane, and carries either a pilot alone or pilot with a gunner. They fly in flights of four or six, and travel at a great altitude. When they attack a machine they dive at it firing the whole time, one after the other. They do not stop to reload, but go straight down, even if they are not fired on. They do not usually return to the attack. They fire straight ahead and straight up, but do not usually fire astern.
The third typo is the large unwieldy machine, not meant to maneuvre, but which carries an armament heavier than can be carried in a small single-seater. The twin-engine twin-body machines are of this type. Tbese machines have everything duplicated and a practically allround arc of fire. They are fairly fast and are fairly good climbers. They are not as useful as would appear at first sight, because machines attacking from a flank arc extremely hard to hit.
The fourth type is the slow, very heavily armoured machine, which cannot climb much. It carries a comparatively heavy gun—a 2-pounder, 1%-ineh machine gun, Or something after that style. This type is not developed, as no machine can carry armour heavy enough to be really effective.
Bullets penetrating armour carry with them fragments of the armour, so that more damage is done, on soft material (spars, tubes, etc.), by bullets which have pierced armour than by bullets which make a good clean hole.
The Use of a Fighter As I have mentioned above, the duty of a fighter Is to put the enemy's machines out of action. Most of the fighting takes place on the enemy's side of the lines, so that it is not sufficient to make a machine land, as machines are comparatively easy to obtain. Every effort should be made to disable the enemy pilot, as this nearly always ensures the destruction of the machine as well, even if dual control is fitted. In any case, it prevents the enemy using his armament effectively, and stops the machine maneuvring.
If the pilot be taken as the target, the shots which miss the target will hit the observer and engine, or may ouuse damage to the rigging.
To be of real use the pilot of a fighter must be extremely keen sighted. I believe one can intimidate the average enemy pilot more by showing that he has been seen than by doing anything else. It is very hard to see machines at any distance at all, yet there must always be machines in the air within attacking distance. One can often pick up the enemy machines by finding out what the anti-aircraft batteries are attacking. Machines have a habit of appearing from apparently nowhere, so that if a pilot is not alert he is
taken at a disadvantage. If an unobserved machine opens fire it takes at least 2 seconds to pick him up and to come into action. By that time the enemy has fired 12 rounds, which are quite enough to do serious damage.
The Target
When one sees a machine one is apt to think that hits anywhere will be effective. One is trained to imagine that a small thing, such as a frayed cable, is certain to cause a wreck. Yet machines go up every clay and return absolutely under control, but having dozens or even hundreds of holes in different places. It should be remembered that after being over the enemy's lines, machines should be brought back with the greatest care. Machines are sometimes wrecked over their own aerodomes because a thoughtless pilot does a steep spiral, perhaps, not knowing that his main spars have been pierced. • The only useful target to really attack is the pilot himself. This target is very small, being of a size about 2 ft. by 1 ft. 6 in. by 1 ft. 6 in., and even then shots which hit this target are not certain of putting the pilot immediately out of action. Therefore, one must concentrate one's attention and one's shooting on this small target, the pilot, till one has attained one's object.
If we attack a machine from directly in front or in rear the engine may cover the pilot's body, or vice versa. This Is the minimum target which the machine can present, and any shots hitting the target do damage, but there 'is a lot of 'room round the target in which shots which do not actually strike do no damage.
Now, If we imagine a machine being attacked from the side, or straight from above or below, the target which we must aim for still remains the same small one, but now the rounds, which before were non-effective, will hit the engine and observer, and will become effective.
This leads one to suggest that the way to attack is straight at an enemy from above, below or from the side, keeping one's own machine end on to him.
It is very hard, when lookin at a machine in the air, to know where the pilot is sitting. This may sound incorrect, but if approaching from below one sees only the bottom of the enemy's body', and as the machine is unfamiliar, the exact spot we want to hit is hidden. Even If we could hit a small practice target every time, the service target of a similar size, hidden behind fabric, is quite a different proposition to tackle.
With a small fighter we should close-as soon as possible, keeping end on to the enemy, so that he will have no chance of setting any sights he may have. We are then never at a disadvantage, and we have the advantage of being the attacker. A machine coming at one quickly always makes one a little nervous, especially if one does not know the pilot.
With a heavy machine it is different, as a heavy fighter can carry elaborate sighting devices. By using his very unwieldiness to make the machine a stable gun platform, he has more chance of concentrating his fire on the target than the little machine which is trusting to maneuvre. Once a machine starts to maneuvre the shooting is upset till the changes in speed and direction become again constant.
If we get a small fighter against a large fighter, if each is equipped with suitable armament, both machines should fall together. But one must remember that the small fighter has the advantage of the initiative, that the large fighter has a bigger area on which hits will take effect, and that it should always be pos
sible to make the large fighter maneuvre by getting into a blind spot. Once the large machine mancuvres it is at the mercy of the small one, because good shooting cannot take place from a variable motion platform.
Estimating Relative Speeds
When two machines meet and both maneuvre it is very hfcrd for either to estimate the relative speed. Take the case of two machines of equal speed revolving round a fixed point.
The relative motion is apparently nil, but the actual relative motion at the moment of firing is practically the same as though each machine were flying straight.
The enemy apparently sits on the gun sights without motion, but the maximum allowance for speed must be made.
Then, again, as both machines are banking over, it will be very hard to estimate if there should be an allowance, because the gun is apparently elevated.
If one machine steers a straight course at a known speed he has something to go on, and can use the sights and range of speed-finders, which he has prepared beforehand.
The armament depends on the type of machine, and it should be borne in mind that a little extra weight iu machines, light machines especially-, makes grout alteration in the climb. (It does not so much affect the speed.)
Carry a primary and a secondary armament, i.e., (i Lewis gun and a strlepped rifle or pistol. If the machine will take the weight, carry at least two guns for each pilot and gunner. Guns used in pairs do not seem to jamb so frequently as guns used singly. The rifle can be used for taking long shots, as it does not use ammunition at the same rate as the gun and is just as unlikely to hit.
Take up at least five drums of ammunition per gun, as this should account for a flight of machines, with a drum to spare. If rifle grenades are used, the range must be very short, as the grenade is a very low velocity projectile.
One 10-lb. bomb or a few hand grenades can be dropped on the enemy machines from above, and may save one losing height. Anyhow, the enemy will see the bomb falling, and not knowing how manvare carried, will keep clear from below The extra weight can always be dropped when quick climb is necessary.
Keep any gadgets inside the machine" so as not to affect the streamline. Make certain that the use of the gadget will repay the loss of power due to extra weight or head resistance.
When night flying carry dark glasses, so that the gun sights may be used, even if one Is within the enemy's searchlight.
The ranges at which fighting takes place may vary from 400 yards to 4 yards. It is very hard to approach a machine to within 100 yards without being seen. Hundreds of rounds are fired every day at machines at ranges estimated at 50 yards or less without doing any damage. At 200 yards one may expect to get hits and I have taken that as the normal fightings range. I do not think that there has been a single instance in which machines have been brought down at ranges over 400 yards.
Thus we see that it is useless waste of ammunition to fire at long ranges, and that one should try and close to within 50 yards in order to do any damage.
Do not fire "just to show him you are there "; fire always for effect.

Fighting in the Air

By Lieut-Col. L. W. B. Rees, R.F.C. and R.A.

The first installment of this article appeared in the Air Service Journal of July 12, 1917.

Tracer Bullets

When tracer bullets came in it was thought that they would make close fighting impossible. They have not made the difference that one would expect. One reason is, that it is very hard to estimate the range in the air, just as it is at sea. The tracers burn for a comparatively short time, so that they go out before hitting the target. This means that the bullet apparently hits, but really falls away from the target.

If you in your younger days have ever tried to concentrate the curved trajectory of the garden hose on the nurse or gardener, you will know how hard it is to obtain effective shooting if the target dodges.

Even if we can see the hits of the bullets it is very hard to keep the proper point of impact during quick manoeuvre.

If tracer bullets are fired in the center line of the machine the observation would be much easier than if they are fired to a flank.

Before Ascent

All Gunners and Pilots, if they use! guns, should make certain themselves; that the guns have been properly cleaned, oiled, and adjusted. It is sometimes not realized by the mechanic in charge of guns that although on a warm day, on the ground, the gun will work perfectly, having been cleaned with "Vacuum" oil, yet, when the gun is taken and kept at a great height, the oil freezes and the gun jambs.

I do not intend to go into the care and adjustment of the Lewis gun, but I must mention that any deviation from the methods laid down nearly always means a jamb. See that the implements for freeing a jamb are carried in the machine. Care in gauging and selecting cartridges makes for certainty of action.

The adjustment of the sights with regard to the gun barrel must be frequently checked, both when the gun is out, and also in the machine. Fire the gun from the machine at ranges at which it is intended to get hits, and see that the sights are aligned on the point of impact of the shots.

It is also useful to fire one or two shots at a target on the ground when leaving the aerodrome, as this checks the sighting, and ensures the gun being cocked. If this is not done one will perhaps forget to cock the gun before coming into action. (Yes, it has been done.)

You can also check any adjustment you have made for allowing for your own speed.

any machine which approaches is necessarily an enemy. The Fokker and Morane, the "Two Tail" and the Caudron, the Albatross and the Curtiss have very much the same silhouette, especially if seen from the front. All machines are becoming more and more alike, and new types are being flown every day.

If one keeps between the sun and the machine under observation, then his marks become visible before he can see ours. You have seen the halo which surrounds one's shadow when it is cast on haze or clouds. The phenomenon takes place when one is on a tower, a hill or in the air. If you keep the enemy within the black patch in the center of the circle he will probably not see you till you are quite close.

To prevent being caught like this there is a service issue of tinted glass for the goggles for use in sunny weather. This glass prevents glare, and enables one to see fairly well towards the sun.

On Sighting the Enemy

Make certain that the gun is loaded and cocked, so that one can turn one's whole attention to the enemy.

If you are flying a small fighting scout you can fly in any direction, including straight up for short distances, so that you can attack from anywhere you wish.

A scout should be able to get within 1000 yards (or less) of the enemy without being seen, if it keeps between the enemy and the haze over the horizon, climbing to the attack as the Fokkers do.

When you have seen the enemy, do not bank the machine more than is absolutely necessary. At long ranges the sun shining on the planes makes the machine very visible, and at short ranges banking makes one's marks more visible.

Keep end on the enemy as long as possible, because that position is the most invisible, and the end-on target is the smallest.

If the character of a machine is doubtful, the marking on the tail usually shows up before anything else.

Scouts approaching from 2000 feet above are very often not observed.

When within 800 yards of the enemy do not fly straight unless you have reason to think that you are unobserved, because it is not known what range and speedfinders the enemy uses.

If there is reason to think that the enemy has seen one, open fire Before the enemy, as one always runs the risk of being hit by stray bullets at 400 yards range.

Close to within 100 yards if you can.

Having decided to open fire, go »r.i. Out. This gives one the best chance of hitting, and intimidates the enemy.

The above statements are in places contradictory; it depends on one's temperament what one should do.

Having taken every possible precaution, trust to one's luck as far as possible. It is well known that Napoleon considered unlucky men of no use as fighters.

Usual Enemy Tactics

The single-seater Fokker tries to approach from behind. If seen or fired on he dives, to come up again a short time later. They attack in this fashion time after time.

The slightly larger Fokkers dive at their target from any angle. Having tired they go straight down.

Reconnaissance machines dive for the nearest A.A. Battery and fire over their tails.

The heavy fighters aim at bringing all their guns to bear.

Machines seldom fly straight and make a proper attack.

The Engagement

Open fire before the enemy.

Open fire at the shortest possible range.

Open under the most favorable conditions.

Try to disable the enemy at once.

Close as soon as you can, so as to prevent the enemy setting his sights and taking

It is useless expecting to hit successfully at ranges over 400 yards.

Reserve your fire till within 100 yards of the enemy but if discovered open fire before the enemy.

At ranges of 50 yards and under, If attacking from the flank, aim at the enemy's leading edge as you see it (one or other wing tip). This statement is only a guide.

If one must collide go straight up, as the enemy nearly always goes straight down. Then if one hits the enemy one hits him with one's undercarriage..

Do not collide unless by accident. If the enemy pilot is disabled the enemy machine may travel quite normally for a long time, so that one runs the risk of wrecking one's machine uselessly. •■

If it is necessary to change drums, dive under a tractor, as that upsets his aim.

As a rule it does not pay to follow a machine below 3000 feet. At that height the machine guns from the ground become dangerous, and if the enemy machine is not disabled before that it will probably not be disabled at all.

It is dangerous to cross the trenches at heights below 2000 feet.

If no enemy is in sight never fly straight, even on our side of the lines. This prevents the enemy getting the size of the machine accurately. If the size is known it is very easy to get the range at short distances, as used in fighting in the air.

Do not take anything for granted. Work out all your own deflections, etc., for your own machine. No two machines fly normally at the same speeds.

Do not get put out when you find that your pet theory does not work.

machines are closest, and back again to we present the largest possible target to 50 feet as the last rounds are fired. the enemy.

Tractor vs. Tractor (Going Same Way)

If two tractors are going the same way in straight lines, if the pilot steers so as to collide at some point ahead, the gun should be fired with zero deflection, so as to obtain hits, no matter what the speeds of the two machines may be.

This means that one has to swt^ep 50 feet with 50 rounds; therefore, as the target is small, each round must be moved almost exactly one foot from the last, so as to keep all shots on to the target.

As the gun fires the rounds form quite a large cone, so that the shots which would have been in for line are possibly out for elevation, so that only very few hits are likely to be obtained.

The deflection for the normal travel of one's own machine can be altered automatically very easily, but if devices for this are used the machine must travel on a level keel in a straight line at the prearranged speed.

As a rule, when fighting, machines are going up or down, so that the speed may be nowhere near the prearranged speed.

Thus we see that machines firing from a flank cannot expect to obtain good shooting.

Machines Meeting

Machines can move at the present time in any direction the pilot wishes. The speeds of a fighting scout may vary from 40 m.p.h. when climbing to 100 m.p.h. on the level, and nearly 150 m.p.h. when diving.

These machines can change from one speed and direction to any other very quickly indeed.

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