Dicta Boelke

The first person to articulate air fighting in a structured way was the great German ace of WWI; Oswald Boelcke. In 1916 he put pen to paper, the outcome of which was 'Dicta Boelcke'. His rules for air fighting are, with a few variations, as valid today as they were when first created 80 odd years ago. Remarkable.

Boelcke's classic air fighting rules are:

  1. Try to secure advantages before attacking. If possible keep the sun behind you.
  2. Always carry through an attack when you started it.
  3. Fire only at close range and only when your opponent is properly in your sights.
  4. Always keep your eye on your opponent and never let yourself be deceived by ruses.
  5. In any form of attack it is essential to assail your opponent from behind.
  6. If your opponent dives on you, do not try to evade his onslaught but fly to meet him.
  7. When over the enemy's line never forget your own line of retreat.
  8. For the Squadron: Attack on principle in groups of four or six. When the fight breaks up into a series of single combats take care that several do not go for one opponent.

In typical efficient German fashion these rules were published in booklet form and distributed to each fighter pilot on completion of fighter pilot training, prior to his joining his first Jasta.

No such education of fighting skills were circulated with either the RFC or the Aviation Militaire. Knowledge was passed by word of mouth, usually limited to within Squadrons. Only the barest flying skills were taught during flight training, the neophyte pilot facing a hard learning curve once posted to the Front.

It wasn't until 1918 that a formal fighting code was circulated amongst the fighter Squadrons of the RFC and the Aviation Militaire. And that was only due to two unique men. For the British it was Edward (Mick) Mannock, arguably the greatest fighter leader in the RFC. For the French it was Albert Duellin, a contemporary of Rene Dorme, Georges Guynemer and Rene Fonck. Both these remarkable men, with no assistance from their own hide-bound military hierarchy, formulated their own view of air combat, put it to paper and circulated it directly to other Squadrons in their own Service.

Mick Mannock's rules were titled "Practical Rules Of Air Fighting". He wrote them when he was a Flight Leader with 74 Squadron. His basic fighting premise was "Always above, seldom on the same level, never underneath." According to Mannock, tactics should be adjusted according to the situation. However the main principle remained:

"The enemy must be surprised and attacked at a disadvantage, if possible with superior numbers so the initiative was with the patrol. ... The combat must continue until the enemy has admitted his inferiority, by being shot down or running away."

The 'Rules' were:

  1. Pilots must dive to attack with zest, and must hold their fire until they get within one hundred yards of their target.
  2. Achieve surprise by approaching from the East. (From the German side of the front).
  3. Utilise the sun's glare and clouds to achieve surprise.
  4. Pilots must keep physically fit by exercise and the moderate use of stimulants.
  5. Pilots must sight their guns and practice as much as possible as targets are normally fleeting.
  6. Pilots must practice spotting machines in the air and recognising them at long range, and every aeroplane is to be treated as an enemy until it is certain it is not.
  7. Pilots must learn where the enemy's blind spots are.
  8. Scouts must be attacked from above and two-seaters from beneath their tails.
  9. Pilots must practice quick turns, as this maneuver is more used than any other in a fight.
  10. Pilots must practice judging distances in the air as these are very deceptive.
  11. Decoys must be guarded against — a single enemy is often a decoy — therefore the air above should be searched before attacking.
  12. If the day is sunny, machines should be turned with as little bank as possible, otherwise the sun glistening on the wings will give away their presence at a long range.
  13. Pilots must keep turning in a dog fight and never fly straight except when firing.
  14. Pilots must never, under any circumstances, dive away from an enemy, as he gives his opponent a non-deflection shot — bullets are faster than aeroplanes.
  15. Pilots must keep their eye on their watches during patrols, and on the direction and strength of the wind.

 

Dicta Hartmann

Erich "Bubi" Hartmann, the world's top scoring fighter pilot ever with 352 confirmed air-to-air kills in WW2, had a simple formula: See - Decide - Attack - Coffee Break.

  1. See. You have to see your prey first. 90% of all kills are made against pilots who never saw the threat.
  2. Decide. Is it safe to attack? Can you get away with it or are there factors that should induce caution? Can you attack from your current position or must you maneuver?
  3. Attack. Make it swift and merciless. Fly close to your victim, from dead astern or slightly below if possible, and shoot only when you're certain to score an immediate kill. This means closing to minimum distance - your sight should be black with the enemy.
  4. Coffee Break. If you can't attack safely or without the enemy taking drastic action to evade you, take a coffee break. I.e, disengage and look for an easier victim. If you do attack, make it in one single pass and immediately disengage to a safe altitude or a safe area to regain situational awareness.