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Battle of Britain

-Tactics on Both Sides-

-The London Blitz-
-Tactics on Both Sides-
-Key Ingredients to Battle-
-The Dowding System-
-The Battle of the Beams-
-Phases of Battle-
-Canada Contributes-
-End Results-

Luftwaffe Tactics


The Luftwaffe changed its tactics vastly to try to find a way to break the RAF defenses. It launched many easy-moving fighter sweeps, known as Freie Jagd or "Free Hunts" to try to round up RAF fighters. The RAF fighter controllers were often able to detect the free hunts and move squadrons around them.

The Luftwaffe also used small formations of bombers as the bait, with cover from a large number of escorts. This tactic was more successful, but escort duty tied the fighters to the bombers' slow speed and made easier targets. Casualties were greatest amongst the escort units.

Standard tactics for raids soon became an combination of techniques. A free hunt would come before a raid to try to move any defenders out of the raid's path. The bombers would attack at altitudes between 10,000 and 16,000 feet, sometimes closely escorted by fighters. A 'detached' escort, or 'top cover' would fly above the bombers and maintain a distant watch.

Luftwaffe tactics were aflicted by their fighters, which were divided into single-engined Me 109 and twin-engined Me 110 types. The Me 110 Zerstörer (Destroyer fighters) proved to be too defenseless to the nimble single-engined RAF fighters so they had to be given escorts of their own and were eventually restricted in their employment. This causes the main chunk of fighter duties to be on the shoulders of the Me 109. Fighter tactics were then made more difficult by the Luftwaffe bomber crews who enoforced closer protection against the RAF. This attached many Me 109s to the bombers and, although they were more successful at protecting the bombing forces, casualties amongst the fighters mounted.

Royal Air Force (RAF) Tactics

Hawker Hurricane

The weight of the battle fell upon the RAF's 11 Group. Keith Park's tactics were to terminate individual squadrons to stop raids. The British would attack continualy in rather small numbers of aircraft and try to break up the tight formations of bombers. When formations had fallen apart loose bombers could be taken down one by one. When multiple squadrons reached a raid the task was for the slower Hurricanes to tackle the bombers while the more easy-moving Spitfires stopped or slowed down the fighter escort. This plan was not always completed as planned. But sometimes the Spitfires and Hurricanes switched roles.

In the early stages of the battle the RAF was damaged by its dependence on its ancient fighting drills. These limited their squadrons to tight 12 aircraft formations composed of three-aircraft "sections" in tight "V's" [nicknamed 'vics']. Because of the tight formation only the leader could look out for the enemy, while the others paid attention to him and each other. RAF fighter training also stresse “by-the-book attacks” which had sections break away in sequence. The German pilots tricked the RAF formations because they left squadrons vulnerable to attack. Germans used the looser, more flexible four-ship 'Schwarme' developed in the Spanish Civil War, using two pairs each consisting of leader and wingman. The frontline RAF pilots were aware of the basic defects of their own tactics. Nonetheless, they could not essentially change these tactics as arriving replacement pilots could not be readily retrained in the midst of battle. A compromise was adopted in which the squadron formations used a looser formation with one or two aircrafts flying solo above and behind to give added dedection and rear protection. After the battle RAF pilots adopted a modified attack based onGerman formations with some success .

During the battle, some commanders, disctincitively Trafford Leigh-Mallory of 12 Group, thought that squadrons should be formed into Big Wings, consisting of at least three squadrons, to attack the enemy “en masse”. Followers of this tactic claimed that interceptions in large numbers caused greater enemy losses while reducing their own casualties. Opponents showed that the big wings would take too long to form up, and that the strategy caused a greater risk of fighters being caught on the ground refueling. The big wing idea also caused pilots to overclaim their kills, because of  the confusion of a more intense battle-zone. This cuased the media to show that the big wings were more effective than they actually were.


Maggie Smith (June 2006)
History Summative