Fighter Command

by Sholto Douglas
Air Chief Marshal Sir Sholto Douglas, KCB, MC, DFC, has been Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief. Fighter Command. since November. 1940. Born in 1893, he was educated at Tonbridge School and Lincoln College, Oxford. then joined the Army in 1914 as 2nd Lieutenant Royal Field Artillery. In 1915 he joined the RFC, attaining the rank of lieutenant colonel. Was awarded MC, DFC, and Croix de guerre. One of his squadrons, No 84, shot down 201 German planes. He has been an expert on air fighting ever since; his RAF Staff College lecture on the subject has become a standard work. He was Assistant Chief of the Air Staff. 1938-40, then Deputy Chief of the Air Staff in 1940.

England owes its very existence today to these grim, young fighting pilots who outfought destiny with a handful of airplanes.

Fighter Command of the Royal Air Force is animated by a single policy — to attack the enemy wherever he can be found within fighter reach.

This offensive policy has been pursued with ever-increasing strength since the end of the Battle of Britain, when the Command met its responsibility for the protection of Great Britain against air attack by the decisive defeat of a numerically superior force. Today Fighter Command carries the war to the enemy in a constant series of day and night attacks which are in themselves the best form of defense and the precursor of that complete air supremacy which is essential to final victory.

Under the control of Fighter Command are all fighter squadrons in the United Kingdom and, as they are integral parts of the air defense organization, such allied services as the antiaircraft guns and searchlight batteries, the Royal Observer Corps, and the balloon barrage are also subject to the operational control of Fighter Command. Upon Fighter Command rests also the responsibility for initiating civil air raid warnings throughout the country.

The fighter squadrons are based on airfields, allocated exclusively to fighters and distributed over the length and breadth of the country. Two, three or more fighter squadrons may share a common airfield and day and night fighting units may operate independently from the same base.

In daylight, fighter squadrons detailed for defense duties do not normally maintain patrol lines on the off chance of meeting the enemy. The range of modern fighters is too limited to make such a system either practicable or tactically sound, so for daylight defensive purposes the fighter squadrons do not leave the ground until it is known that there are enemy aircraft to be intercepted and attacked.

In place of the daylight standing patrol it is the practice of Fighter Command to have on all its airfields at least one fighter squadron instantly ready for action. Such squadrons are known to be "at readiness," and until relieved by another squadron their pilots wait close at their dispersed airplanes, ready to leave the ground within a few minutes of receiving the order. Other pilots and airplanes on the airfield are also kept available at short notice while, if the need arises, the full fighter strength of the base can quickly be put into the air.

For the purpose of efficient operational control, fighter airfields are grouped into "sectors," each sector comprising several airfields and having a central control or operations room. It is from these sector operations rooms that the sector controller, in direct communication by radio-telephony with the pilot in the air, controls the movements of the fighters in his area.

Sectors in their turn are controlled by a Group Headquarters. Six or seven sectors, comprising a total of some 18 to 21 fighter bases and perhaps twice that number of fighter squadrons, may be included in a group.

These Fighter Groups cover the whole of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and they are all coordinated and controlled by Command Headquarters. A network of communications —telephone, radio and teleprinter — connects each fighter station to its sector and each sector to its Group Headquarters, the final link leading to the nerve center of the whole system —Fighter Command Headquarters.

Within this framework the organization of the Command is kept as flexible as possible. All fighter squadrons are highly mobile and can be regrouped overnight from sector to sector or Group to Group to meet changes in the strategic situation. Before the war, Fighter Command was organized only to look eastwards. The possibility of air attacks on Great Britain from French and Norwegian bases had not been envisaged or allowed for. There were no fighter bases north of Edinburgh or west of Chichester. When France fell, giving the enemy a chain of aerodromes many miles nearer the British coast and extending westwards as far as Brest, it became necessary to reorientate the whole scheme of Britain's air defenses. This was done, and today Britain's fighter defenses. look all ways and are controlled by an organization of which decentralization, designed to allow the maximum of initiative to subformations, is the keynote.

If the Command Headquarters should become cut off from its ancillary Groups and Sectors, the efficient operation of the fighter defenses. would remain virtually unaffected. Group Headquarters have been so planned that they would function independently of the Command Headquarters while, farther down the line of organization, Sector Controllers, cut off from their Group Headquarters, would still retain a full knowledge of what was taking place in the area under their supervision and would be able to deal directly with enemy machines threatening their territory. The efficiency of this system of decentralization was clearly demonstrated during the days of the Battle of Britain when lines of communication were frequently interrupted by enemy bombing.

The dispositions made and control and communications organized, there remains — to complete the system of air defense — the need for accurate advance warning of the approach of enemy aircraft. As the defending fighters have to leave the ground and climb to the height at which the raiders are flying, the warning must be adequate. To enable a suitable force to be deployed and directed towards an interception, there must also be accurate advance information of the strength of the raiding formation, its course, and the approximate speed of its approach.

This warning and this information Fighter Command obtains in a variety of ways, notably through its radio-location stations and through the Royal Observer Corps whose members, watching the skies from a thousand posts in all parts of the country, record the movement of enemy aircraft within their orbit and flash the news of their progress to those who control the operations of the fighter squadrons.

In operations rooms at Sectors, Groups and at Fighter Command Headquarters this correlated information of the enemy's approach is recorded by symbols on a table map, the tracks of the hostile planes and the approximate strength and height of the raiding force being shown. The group table gives, of course, a wider picture of the distribution of the enemy's attacking forces than the table at a Sector, which is concerned only with the smaller area directly under its protection. It is for the group commander, assessing the threat to his territory as a whole, to bring into action, if need be, squadrons from sectors other than those which may already be engaged or, if the strength of the raid demands it, to call for immediate reinforcement from neighboring Fighter Groups.

At Command Headquarters the picture widens still further and the Command table-map conveys at a glance the enemy's strength over the whole country. At this headquarters, as at those of the various groups, are liaison officers of the Navy, Army and Ministry of Home Security, the latter controlling the civil defense services of the country. The balloon barrage, the antiaircraft gun and searchlight defenses., the RAF Bomber and Coastal Command, are also represented by their liaison officers who are in direct communication with their various headquarters. Each has his essential part to play, for upon the rapid sifting of information and the coordination of guns, searchlights, balloon barrage and other civil defense services depends the efficiency of the countermeasures which the Command initiates.

The first countermeasure will be the dispatch of a fighter force to intercept and engage the approaching enemy formations. The strength of the enemy force, the significance of the line of approach and the probable target are quickly interpreted by the operational controllers. From that interpretation will follow a decision as to the number of fighters likely to be needed to counter the raid and the fields from which they can best be drawn to give a tactical advantage. The utilization of a balloon barrage to divert the line of attack, and by night, the coordination of antiaircraft gun batteries and searchlights separately or in conjunction with fighter aircraft, are other factors which the controller must take into account and upon which he must make decisions.

In the Sectors from which the defending fighters have been sent into action, the Sector controllers direct their forces towards interception of the enemy. Before each controller is the table-map recording the changing progress of the raiding formation — its height, speed, course and strength. In radio-telephonic conversation with the leaders of the fighter squadrons, he orders them on to a course and height which will bring them within sight of their opponents and in such a position that the strategic advantage will be theirs when the interception is made. He will, for instance, so maneuver them that, if possible, they launch their attack from out of the sun or from above and behind the enemy formation.

Once the enemy is sighted the controller's work is done and the leader of the fighter formation takes over. Summing up the strength and disposition of the enemy force, noting the types of aircraft of which it is composed, and searching the skies for the ambush that may be waiting up above, he decides the form the attack shall take. Over the radio-telephone he issues his orders to the pilots behind him. The formation splits up, each unit concentrating on the role assigned to it, and the battle is joined.

The same reporting and plotting system which brings the fighter and antiaircraft gun defense into action is also the basis for the mobilization of the country's civil defense organization. The air raid sirens that warn the public to take cover are sounded upon instructions from Fighter Command. From the advance information at its disposal the Command is able to assess the route of approach and the probable area of the main attack. With a minimum of delay, the civil defense authorities, warned by their liaison officers with the Command, are enabled to set into motion their plans for moving reserves of firefighters and rescue workers to the threatened areas.

This speed in the communication and exchange of information, so essential to the successful interception of enemy air forces, applies equally to the success of the Command's liaison with the naval and military forces. On one occasion, for example, a night fighter pilot on patrol over southern England reported by radio that an Army convoy moving along a road was showing more light than was desirable. The information was passed by Fighter Command to its Army Liaison Officer who in turn relayed it to the Army Commander of the area concerned. The leader of the convoy was contacted by wireless as he drove along and within 10 minutes of sending out his original message the patrolling night fighter pilot was able to report that the lights of the convoy had been adequately dimmed.

On another occasion a Fighter squadron was on a routine patrol when the naval authorities at a port some 80 miles away reported that a German bomber had slipped in and was "inconveniencing" shipping in the Thames Estuary. The Controller ordered the squadron off to deal with it and the bomber was shot down into the sea. The squadron leader reported its destruction to the Controller who, within 15 minutes of receipt of the original report, was able to tell the port authorities that the bomber had been disposed of.

In surveying the work of Fighter Command over the past two and a quarter years of war it is necessary to distinguish between day and night fighting. Each is a separate battle, with its own problems and its own technique. The Command's day fighting activity may be said to date from May and June, 1940, two months which saw the dispatch of two fighter squadrons to Norway and the beginning of the Battle of France, Until then there had been little operational activity over the United Kingdom either by day or by night, though the Command had made good use of the lull to train and build up its strength in men and machines in readiness for the storm that was about to break. In that invaluable breathing space a substantial increase was made in the numbers of Spitfire and Hurricane fighters, of both of which types Fighter Command had all too few when the war began in 1939.

It was their superiority of numbers, though not of quality, which helped the enemy to attain their quick and startling successes in Norway and in France. Though Fighter Command sent a large proportion of its available fighter force to France so long as air bases were to be found there, leaving only a very thin air defense at home, it could not redress the balance, and throughout the Battle of France the allied air forces were greatly outnumbered.

Then came Dunkirk and the first opportunity for Fighter Command to employ its full organization against the enemy — albeit at a disadvantage because of the long range at which the battles had to be fought. Yet Dunkirk, disastrous though its implications were, was the first decisive victory of Fighter Command over the Luftwaffe. Despite the odds in favor of the enemy, Fighter Command succeeded in establishing and maintaining local air superiority, and the success of the Dunkirk evacuation was in no small measure due to the protection afforded by our fighters. Fighter Command suffered heavy losses which it could ill afford in the course of that operation, but the enemy's losses were still greater and the Command achieved its purpose. In those two months of May and June which saw the true start of day fighter operations Fighter Command destroyed 500 enemy aircraft for the loss of 205 of its own pilots. Superior numbers, it seemed, could not command success in the face of superior quality of men and machines.

After Dunkirk, instead of sending his air force against Britain, Hitler turned it to the final subjugation of France. Historians may decide that this was the German Fuehrer's first big strategical error. That period of recuperation gave Fighter Command an opportunity to build up once more its depleted formations. The opportunity was seized. While factories worked day and night to produce Spitfires and Hurricanes, the resources of Bomber and Army Cooperation Commands were drawn upon to increase the number of fighter pilots. Quickly the fighter squadrons were built up anew and when the Luftwaffe again resumed its offensive against Britain, Fighter Command was back to the same strength as it had been at the beginning of May, before the Battles of France and Dunkirk.

Then came the momentous days of August and September, 1940, — the days of the Battle of Britain. They began with the Battle of the Aerodromes — when the Luftwaffe, having failed to defeat our fighters in the air, sought to destroy them on the ground and to make untenable their bases in southeast England. Fighter Command's system of dispersal and the flexibility of its carefully-planned scheme of ground organization successfully countered that attack. There followed, in September, the Battle of London, a last supreme effort by the Luftwaffe to achieve its immediate purpose by reducing the capital to ruin.

Fighter Command tasted victory in those two decisive months — 180 German aircraft brought down on August 15th, and in the whole month, 957 destroyed by fighters alone; 185 destroyed in one day on September 15th, and this for a loss of only 25 British aircraft and 14 of their pilots. Altogether, in the Battle of Britain, 2,375 German bombers and fighters were destroyed. The losses of Fighter Command were 375 of its pilots killed and 358 wounded. As the Battle passed its zenith, the daylight raids by German bombers became fewer, while the proportion of fighters in the enemy formations increased until soon only fighters carrying small bomb loads and flying high were coming over. The day bomber had proved too vulnerable to fighter attack to be risked further.

The day bombing of Britain on any appreciable scale ceased in October, 1940, and has not since been renewed. Instead, the Luftwaffe has contented itself by day with "nuisance" policy of tip-and-run raids by single bombers, usually on coastal objectives. A large scale night offensive, which began in October, 1940, and continued throughout the winter, was the next phase of operations, and while it lasted most of the Command's operational activity was by night.

The onset of this new offensive found Fighter Command deficient in the appropriate types of aircraft and equipment and its personnel inexperienced in the special technique that is required for interception and engagement at night. Successes were few at first, but gradually the new art was mastered. The British pilots began to see the night raiders, to fight and to destroy them. Three were brought down by fighter action in January and five in February. As experience grew and the night fighter force was strengthened, victories mounted rapidly. The "bag" for March was 21 night bombers destroyed. This score was more than doubled the following month when 50 raiders were brought down, and was multiplied by five in May when 106 of the Luftwaffe's bombers fell to the guns of the Command's night fighter pilots. This was apart from the many others brought down by antiaircraft gunfire. On the night of May 10, 1941, 33 night raiders were destroyed, 29 by fighter action and four by antiaircraft guns.

That night marked the end of the Luftwaffe's big-scale night offensive. Since then the enemy's night effort against Britain has dwindled to occasional "retaliation" attacks by 100 or more aircraft and to sporadic raids by smaller formations. Of these a greatly increased and strengthened night fighter force takes regular toll.

Meanwhile, the Command's day fighter force had not been idle or neglected and by January, 1941, was strong enough to take the first steps towards gaining the initiative by offensive patrols on a small scale over the German-occupied territory of northern France. Bombers, strongly escorted by fighters, were used on these offensive missions. In May, 1941, Germany transferred the greater part of her air fleet to the Russian front, intending to leave very little in the west. The Luftwaffe continued to make occasional "nuisance" raids with small numbers of bombers, usually at night and against coastal towns, and to harass coastal shipping, but day or night raiding on any great scale had by then altogether ceased.

The time was now fast approaching when Fighter Command would be in a position of sufficient strength to launch a counter-attack in real earnest. That day came in June, 1941, when there began a full-scale daylight offensive which, except only when weather conditions have been prohibitive, has been maintained ever since and has now, with the recent start of the 1942 Spring offensive, been stepped up to an intensity of fighter attack as yet unprecedented.

Beginning with small-scale attacks on the other side of the Channel, Fighter Command gradually increased the weight of its offensive. Today formations of fighters two to three hundred strong are frequently employed on a single operation. The immediate result has been the achievement of a fair degree of daylight supremacy over the greater part of the enemy occupied territory within effective range of the Command's home-based fighters — and certainly supremacy over the North West corner of France, from Ostend to Dieppe and above the Cherbourg peninsula. So long as this supremacy is maintained — and it is the short range fighter which determines it — bomber forces can be escorted by fighters to daylight attacks on important objectives in the occupied territories. Docks, harbor installations, power plants, and armament factories linked to the German war effort can be sought out in daylight and attacked with a degree of accuracy rarely possible by night and with a bomber force virtually immune to attack by enemy fighters.

If not to counter, at least to seek to parry this ever-mounting offensive, the Luftwaffe must stretch its fighter forces to the limit, thereby fulfilling the chief object of the British air offensive — to open up a second air front in the west and relieve the pressure on Russia by keeping engaged the greatest possible number of German aircraft. Since the summer of 1941, the Fighter, Bomber and Coastal Commands of the RAF have, by their joint offensive, kept more than 50 per cent of the Luftwaffe's total fighter force pinned down in the west. To meet the greatly increased weight and tempo of this offensive calls for either a sustained effort beyond the endurance of the present German fighter force in the west or for the diversion of substantial reinforcements from the Russian front. If the latter course is followed the enemy may jeopardize his campaigns in the east; while if he concentrates his air strength on the Russian front, British air mastery in the west will be assured, with the attendant risks of an Allied mechanized force landing in France under the same protective air canopy as made possible the capture of Singapore and Java by the Japanese. And if the Russians are themselves able to establish a measure of air superiority over some parts of their front, the result of this splitting of the enemy's fighter strength will be to throw the Luftwaffe on the defensive in both west and east.

The offensive phase which Fighter Command entered upon last June and is now pursuing daily with ever gathering momentum has naturally called for tactics entirely different from those successfully employed during the Battle of Britain. As the result of experience and constant experiment, two principal methods of daylight attack have been evolved — the first, high level attacks with the uppermost squadrons flying at heights of 30,000 feet or more; and the second, low level attacks relying mainly on the element of surprise. The two forms of attack lend themselves to a variety of offensive operations and tactical dispositions. Adaptations of the high-flying attack are employed in the large scale fighter "sweeps" of the enemy territory and to the great combined fighter and bomber operations. Low-flying attacks may range in form from diving attacks on enemy ships or land strong points by cannon-equipped or bomb-carrying fighters to small-scale harassing operations by fighters making use of cloud cover or sea-level approach to surprise the ground defenses.

Though tactical dispositions cannot here be described in any detail, some idea of their complex character is afforded by an outline of a large-scale combined fighter and bomber operation. Several hundreds of fighters with a squadron of high-speed bombers may be engaged in one such operation, the program for which will have been worked out in advance to the last detail and to a time schedule calling for minute-hand punctuality. The pilots, both bomber and fighter, will have been carefully briefed in the parts they are to play and in the route and heights to which they must adhere. Fighters and bombers take off from their respective airfields and, having attained their allotted heights, converge upon a given rendezvous to take up their predetermined places in the formation.

With the bombers in the center and the protecting fighter squadrons stepped up in tiers, the "beehive" heading out across the English Channel may extend to a sky depth of 10,000 feet and cover a horizontal distance of more than a mile. Each fighter formation — high cover, rear support, close escort and so on —— as a specific role assigned to it and a duty which it will perform until the bombers, having gained their objective and dropped their bombs, have come back across the Channel and the formations have dispersed to their various bases.

Since Fighter Command began its present intensified offensive, six, seven or eight major operations in one day between dawn and dusk, have been frequent occurrences.

The daily balance of results is sometimes against the Command, though more often in its favor. More significant than any daily counting of heads however is the fact that from January, 1941, — when Fighter Command first took the offensive — to May 1st, 1942, its pilots destroyed nearly 1,000 enemy aircraft in daylight on the other side of the Channel. Its own daylight losses during the corresponding period were 644 aircraft, 76 of whose pilots were saved.

These casualty figures are very different from those of the Battle of Britain period. In those days the Luftwaffe on the offensive over this country was losing its aircraft in the proportion of three to every one of ours brought down. Fighter Command on the offensive over the enemy's territory has so far succeeded in maintaining a balance in its favor in the ratio of nearly two enemy aircraft destroyed for every one of its own lost.

The very nature of offensive operations, involving fighting for the most part over hostile territory where even a bullet in the engine cooling system may mean a forced landing, must inevitably bring heavier losses than will be incurred on the defensive. Pilots who may be forced to take to their parachutes are no longer assured, as in the Battle of Britain, of landing on friendly soil ready to fight again.

Fighter Command's offensive policy has not been confined to daylight hours. Starting first on a small scale and steadily increasing in weight and scope, night attacks have been carried out regularly for the past 18 months. Now, each night that weather permits, enemy aerodromes in the occupied territory are bombed by fighter-bombers of the Douglas Boston type. In addition, whenever the enemy shows signs of activity by night, our fighters patrol his aerodromes at the time when his bombers are taking-off or returning to land. Not only are many Luftwaffe raiders destroyed in this way both in the air and on the ground, but the constant menace of these patrols and the disorganization they cause must inevitably have a most adverse effect on the morale of the Luftwaffe's bomber pilots and ground crews. Fighter Command's policy is to hit the Hun as hard and as often as possible by day and by night, and as the last squadrons of day-fighters come sweeping back from France in the dusk, the first night fighter patrols will be making ready to take over and carry the war to the enemy through the hours of darkness.

The air protection of British shipping in coastal waters is another duty laid upon Fighter Command and one so vital to the joint war effort that it must be constantly and effectively performed. Every convoy and naval escort that leaves or enters a British port comes under the protection of fighter patrols, and throughout the daylight hours, so long as weather permits, fighter escorts, operating in relays, are in close attendance upon a convoy until it is safely in port or has been passed out of fighter range into the care of the long range airplanes of Coastal Command.

The scale of this little-publicized effort of Fighter Command may be gauged by the number of sorties made in the course of convoy work — a sortie being a single flight by one aircraft. In the 12 months of last year these totaled approximately 55,000 — an average of 153 sorties a day. In one month alone, over 8,000 sorties were made by fighters in the escort of shipping, and as many as 18 convoys have come under the protection of Fighter Command in a single day. These sorties were additional in all cases to the Command's normal daylight offensive and night defensive operations.

Fighter protection of coastal shipping has proved highly effective. From the spring of last year, when it first became possible to step up the scale of air protection to its present high level, the enemy's air attacks on shipping steadily declined and our shipping losses fell in consequence. From 200 in March, 1941, daylight air attacks on coastal shipping dropped to 105 in May, and in that month our daylight shipping losses fell by two-thirds. June saw our losses halved again, and by last December the number of daylight attacks on coastal shipping had fallen from the 200 in March to only 30, a decrease of nearly 50 per cent compared with the previous month and the lowest number since February, 1941. The best result the Luftwaffe could show for the last six months for 1941, was an average of less than one ship a month sunk by air attack in daylight. And against this meager result the Luftwaffe had a reckoning of its own to set — in the last five months of 1941, 42 of its shipping raiders had been destroyed, 24 by gunfire from merchant ships and naval vessels and 18 by the fighter escorts; while in the first two months of 1942, when the enemy effort against coastal shipping temporarily flared up again without corresponding result, 10 more raiders were destroyed, seven of them by fighter action.

Opportunities for combat are eagerly seized upon by the fighter pilots as welcome breaks in the monotony of their endless patrols, but their victories are, in fact, only incidental to their main purpose. Convoys of fighter escorts, by their presence alone, serve as an effective deterrent to enemy air attacks. Already the protective effort put forth each day by Fighter Command has forced the enemy more and more to keep away from coastal shipping by day and to restrict his attacks to darkness or dusk when, though the chances of a successful direct attack are greatly reduced, fighter opposition must necessarily be less effective.

In the past 12 months the number of daylight attacks, as compared with those delivered at dusk or by night, has shown a substantial average reduction. In March, 1941, 82 per cent of the Luftwaffe's air attacks on coastal shipping were made in daylight. By May, the figure had dropped to 40 per cent, by September, to 20 per cent, while by December, only 18 per cent of his attacks were being delivered during daylight hours. The percentage rose again in the first two months of this year, coincident with the temporary increase in the enemy's effort against coastal shipping, but has since declined to its former low level. Meanwhile, the long lines of the United Nation's convoys, their volume unabated, continue to stream past the coasts of Britain or thread the narrow Straits of Dover in daylight beneath the protective screen of their fighter escorts.

In the course of all these widespread and diversified operations Fighter Command and its allied antiaircraft defense organization has been responsible for the destruction of a total of some 4,679 enemy aircraft up to May 1, of this year. Fighters alone have shot down 4,312 of these for the loss to themselves of approximately 1,769 aircraft and 1,268 pilots. By night over the same period a total of some 630 enemy raiders have been destroyed in flight.

To turn now to the airplanes that have been called upon to achieve this result, it is perhaps not generally realized that Fighter Command's chief equipment at the outset of the war consisted of Gloster Gladiators — an obsolescent single-seater biplane fighter with an air-cooled radial motor. Spitfire and Hurricanes, proven types though they were, were all too few, and it was only by dint of the most strenuous effort that it became possible to re-equip the fighter squadrons with these two more modern types in time for the Battle of Britain.

Both types have since been greatly and consistently improved and in their latest forms are still the mainstay of the Command's day fighting force.

Perhaps the most noteworthy feature of British fighter development since the war has been the adoption of the cannon on both day and night fighter types. It is a policy which has been abundantly justified by war experience. Since the Command's Spitfire and Hurricanes were re-armed with cannon, either as sole armament or in conjunction with machine guns, the number of enemy fighters destroyed has been greatly increased.

The cannon fighter, in fact, may be termed the dive-fighter of the Command, the reply to the dive-bomber. It can indeed, be argued that it can do more than its rival. A bomb does damage where it falls, but cannon-fire makes possible the infliction of more widespread and no less effective damage by a smaller number of less vulnerable aircraft.

Cannon-equipped fighters have also proved most successful in night interception, which is generally of such brief duration that maximum hitting power must be brought to bear in the few seconds available. In daylight use against the enemy's fighters, cannon fire has a truly devastating effect and there have been several instances in which aircraft so hit have been seen to disintegrate immediately. "It was like having an ashcan emptied in your face," was the graphic description of one fighter pilot who saw a Me-109E break up under his cannon-fire and was obliged to dive clear of the debris.

Fighter Command has also developed its own fighter-bomber, in the form of a Hurricane fighter equipped to carry two 250 pound bombs, one under each wing root. These fighter-bombers, making good use of a low-level approach to surprise the ground defenses., have proved highly successful in attacks on enemy aerodromes and other objectives in the occupied territories across the Channel. Once relieved of its load the bomber turns fighter, able to defend itself against air attack or to carry out machine-gunning attacks.

Of the Command's night-fighter types, the standard airplane at the outset of the war was the twin-motored Bristol Blenheim. Later, our night defenses. were reinforced by the single-motored Boulton Paul Defiant, a tandem two-seater monoplane in which the rear gunner is armed with four machine guns in a power-operated turret.

Among the new fighter types produced since the war, one of the most successful has been the Bristol Beaufighter, a twin-motored low-wing monoplane with a maximum speed in excess of 330 mph and an armament of four cannon and six machine guns. This airplane, one of the fastest and most heavily-armed fighters in existence, has a long and remarkable record of successes in night actions. Suitably equipped Spitfires and Hurricanes also play their part in the Command's night fighting force and many of the Command's most successful night offensive operations over enemy territory have been carried out by Douglas Havocs (modified DB-IIIs) whose high speed, useful bomb-load and good handling qualities are admirably fitted to this type of operation.

With these proved types and others of more recent design Fighter Command is launching its offensive on a scale such as no country has equaled. It is an offensive whose peak is not yet in sight, but one which will steadily grow as the production of American and Canadian factories swells our own, and as airmen cross the Atlantic in their tens of thousands to fight beside those of Fighter Command on the second front which the RAF has already opened in the west.

This article was originally published in the September, 1942, special Royal Air Force issue of Flying and Popular Aviation magazine, vol 31, no 3, pp 61-69.
The original article includes a thumbnail portrait of the author, 18 photos, and 1 diagram.
Illustrations from the RAF.

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