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No. 41 Squadron ‡
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Formations

Shape of Fighter Formations

53. A formation should be deployed so that individual aircraft may keep station with one another without the risk of colliding with any other aircraft in the formation. It should permit of a good all-round view of the surrounding sky against the possibility of surprise attacks from the enemy. It should lend itself to maximum control by the leader so that all the smaller component units of a formation may at any time, and with the minimum of delay, be directed to an attack simultaneously. The ideal formation will differ with every method and.d.lrection of attack. Each formation should possess a degree of flexibility to permit a quick alteration to some other agreed formation.

54. In order to avoid" overcrowding" of fighters in their pursuit of a relatively small enemy formation, their leader may decide to detach a portion of his formation. The task of the detached force is to harry remnants of the enemy force which may have escaped the fighters who originally intercepted and whose continued attack may have been rendered impossible by their dispersion and expenditure of ammunition.

Manual of Fighter Operations, A.P.3200. Air Ministry. April, 1949.

Finger Four

56. The "Finger" Formation. A squadron formation, composed of components of four aircraft each, and arranged as in Figure 8, is called a "Finger Formation" because the relative position of aircraft may be identified with that of the finger tips in plan view. More correctly, the formation may be likened to the knuckles of the hand, since the forefinger and little finger are, for the purpose of true illustration, "echeloned" too far behind the middle finger. From Figure 8 it will be seen that this type offormation has many advantages :-

  1. It permits of a good all-round view, especially of the vital area above and behind.
  2. It is easily divisible into cohesive sub-formations, thereby answering the requirement of flexibility.
  3. It is compact. Every aircraft in the formation can be seen by the leader. The disadvantages of a finger formation are that frequent turns make it difficult for the wingmen to keep station, and except for the aircraft in the middle of the formation, a wide range of throttle will be necessary. Constant alterations of throttle opening increase fuel consumption, and the endurance of the formation is that of the most extravagant aircraft in the formation.

Fig. 8.-Finger Formation.

Manual of Fighter Operations, A.P.3200. Air Ministry. April, 1949.

Fluid Six

5. During operations over Europe and North Africa in 1942-43 there emerged what is probably the most nearly perfect fighter formation of the war, the "fluid-six", which is shown at Appendix "A", Figs. 4.(a) and 4.(b). It is a loose formation suitable for freelance fighter sweeps, bomber escort, fighter-bombing, armed reconnaissance, patrols and straffing. It was extremely popular with pilots, particularly newcomers, as there was no "Tail-end-Charlie" feeling, and, if the formation is flown properly, all pilots are "well-up" and in position should a fight be imminent. It is both an offensive and defensive formation, as twelve pairs of eyes are continually searching the sky. It has the great advantage over other formations, that the Flight Commander is always leading his own Flight of six aircraft and thus he can watch carefully the flying discipline, skill and development of his pilots. Since the squadron flies in two sixes ("A" and "B" Flights) it eliminates the "bastard" section of four aircraft found in most other formations when a four is made up of two aircraft from each flight, which is most unsatisfactory. From the illustrations in the Appendix it can be seen that the whole formation is based upon the pair and relies for its success upon team-spirit and co-operation.

Appendix "A". Plan view of formations. Fig. 4(a).

Appendix "A". Head on view of formations. Fig. 4(b).

Air Fighting Tactics used by Spitfire Fighter Squadrons of 2nd T.A.F. during the Campaign in Western Europe,
Tactical Paper No. I. Air Ministry. February, 1947.