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TOM’S GUIDE TO COMMAND

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Tom
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TOM’S GUIDE TO COMMAND

Post by Tom »

TOM’S GUIDE TO COMMAND

This is my guide to how I see the leadership function within the Tangmere Wing. It is not perfect and leadership is always subject to the particular idiosyncracies of the pilot in command of each unit. Each squadron also has its own identities and will do things in specific ways depending on how that squadron is led and the numbers that it has.

Five things are important:

1. Each pilot should have the capacity to think and to act, and to give and take orders. This also includes reading the brief...

2. This is a game so it should not be “real” command – if anyone was to say something like “Shut up X” I would hope it was to be said in the spirit of the game and in a ‘40s manner.

3. Not everyone wants or can lead in this environment. Who cares… as long as everyone enjoys themselves and what they’re doing!

4. A leader\'s job is to get all of his pilots into the right place at the right time. This might mean manufacturing a bounce, wading in to help, or avoiding combat to fulfil a mission brief.

5. It is every pilot\'s job to follow their leader and not act on their own. If this is not done then 4. above is impossible.

LEADERSHIP STYLE

This is down to the individual and how much and how well they have flown with others they are commanding in the past. It can mean lots of commands or very few, strong language or mild comments.

If you are flying with pilots that you have not flown much with before in organised missions then a more hands on approach is often necessary.

The most important quality is to be dynamic, to seize the role and to make it yours. Think ahead rather than just react, and when things go wrong deal with it straight away.

THE BASICSs

Comms

Comms always has to be kept short and sweet. Make sure that your orders are unmistakable as orders and that they are clear and concise.

The higher up the command level you are the more onus is on you to make sure that all pilots keep the comms channel clear. This starts at section leader level – if someone is always asking for engine settings then either you have not given them, you were not clear enough or that pilot has cloth ears. Be very clear and very concise. If not you may find the squadron leader telling that pilot to “button it” or for you to get your section in order!

Listening is probably more important, and again the leader of each unit has to listen “up” and “down”. Up, to commands from whoever is in charge, and down to the pilot under their control. Again, the higher up the command tree you are the more you have to listen to as you may have to react accordingly.

Orders are always top to bottom but information flows both ways.

Listening is perhaps harder than giving orders. You may be concentrating on navigation, or looking for a ground target or even engaged in air combat, but you still have to hear everything as you may be able to assist or give necessary commands, even if that is just to tell a pilot to button it and that they’re on their own for the present.

Pilot organisation

This is more relevant for missions involving pilots from other squadrons, and is more a function of the squadron or strike leader. Confusion abounds when pilots who are used to fly in certain sections are then in other sections for the duration of a mission.

Make it very clear who is in which section. Some people ejust do not listen to this, or have the memory of a goldfish, so make it clear.

Then make clear that the pilots in those sections know what their call sign is e.g. Gold 2 or Pencil 4. Insist on the use of the designated callsign because it is too difficult, even if you recognise who is speaking, to remember which member of which squadron is in which section for the mission. If someone who is normally Blue 2 is now Black 3 then you do not have to remember the names of pilots in each section, but you know that that pilot is the third member of the section that you have designated as escort/ground attack or whatever.

Use of a callsign can be avoided where pilots are known to each other. This depends on leadership style but everyone should be ready to adjust.

FORMATIONS

You may have to lead any of the following formations:

Section – either 3 or 4 aircraft

Flight – normally two sections

Squadron – normally two flights

Strike group – this can be any combination of sections, flights or squadrons each of which may have the same job/objective or each of which may have separate roles e.g. ground attack, flak suppression, escort and so on.

If you are a leader of any of the above then you have to know the mission objectives and tactics because if the more senior leaders get killed or shot down then you might be in charge and in control of completing the mission objectives.

Taking them in turn:

Section

This is the easiest form of leadership. It means:

1. Understanding the squadron leader’s tactics, given pre-flight or during flight

You have to know what is required of you. If you do not, or events start to get out of hand, then try and get orders from your flight or squadron leader. If all else fails you have to make a decision based on what is happening and how best you can fulfil the mission objectives.

If your section has a specific role then you have to be ready to give necessary orders to fulfil that role. If you operate independently or with total autonomy then you are the sole leader of your section and so you have to arrange forming up, ingress and egress from the target or combat zone and you have to keep your section together.

2. Keeping the section together and in the right place

Keep your pilots together, changing your own engine settings as necessary to make it easy for the section to be together as quickly as possible before speeding up to formate on the flight or squadron leader. It is very hard to maintain a great formation in the virtual environment, so a slightly spaced and fluid formation is absolutely fine, as long as everyone is less than 300 yards away. If a section pilot wanders off, get them back.

Keeping the section together is vital so you have mutual support. This means giving turn directions and waiting one second before turning, and giving engine settings so that the section can keep a relatively good formation. If you do not do these two simple things (and it is easy to forget to do so) then the section can scatter and waste too much time re-forming. This can include ordering a loose formation as you will be making constant direction changes e.g. during escort missions.

If your role is to stay in squadron formation or in a set position then do so. Avoid the temptation to act independently, the best example being the sighting of contacts. Too often a section leader disappears in the direction of a contact without orders, only to drag their section into trouble or to waste time rejoining the formation. As we all know, contacts are reported then it is up to the overall leader to decide what is done.

If you or your section have a problem then report it. The best example is a strung out formation that makes it impossible for your section to keep place. If all aircraft are supposed to be in squadron formation then report it to the squadron leader and it is then his responsibility to get the entire formation back together.

3. Following the flight or squadron leader’s commands

This is self-explanatory but harder in practice than it sounds. It means hearing and understanding those commands, and when you need new commands then ask for them. If you want to do something, then by all means request permission to do so and if it is granted you need to give your section the appropriate command.

Flight

This is the next step up. You have to fulfil all of the requirements of a section leader, but you have another section leader who is subordinate to you. You have to be even more ready to step up to overall command because of the squadron leader buys it, you’re in charge!

1. Overview

You have to keep in mind the relative positions of the flights, so that the entire flight is in position to fulfil the squadron leader’s tactics.

2. The sections

Unless the mission requires otherwise, keep the formations in close formation and no more than 500 yards apart. If you see the other section drifting off then call them back.

You need to rely on the other section leader to keep his section together. If it is not then tell the other section leader to get his section in order. You may have to give a command to allow both sections to re-form, for example changing engine settings or setting a rendezvous point.

3. Independent thought

The squadron leader is relying on you to keep your flight at maximum readiness for whatever happens. This means that you can exercise independent thought to decide how best to do what the squadron leader has asked of you. The squadron leader may of course direct otherwise.

Squadron

You have to fulfill all of the requirements of the section and flight leaders, not only in relation to your own section or flight but in relation to all pilots within the squadron. If Green 2 reports he is overheating then that is a problem for the entire squadron as the formation will break up and the cohesion of the unit is lost.

1. Brief

You have to read the brief then to formulate your strategy/tactics for the mission. Then you have to explain it clearly and concisely. Avoid over complication. Before starting the mission you should arrange the following:

- forming up
- formations
- rendezvous points
- heights
- an overview of action in the combat zone

2. Forming up

Do not rush off. If you take off and go at 100% then nobody will ever get into formation with you. Give engine management commands keeping your energy low, or orbit until the formation is place, before increasing power and setting off. Get together from the outset and it all becomes easier. For this purpose the most important pilot is the last one to take off – when he is in formation then you know that the sections and flights are in their designated positions.

3. Formations

Bear in mind that formations can be changed or made fluid. By all means set a standard formation but remember that you may have to move the sections around as events warrant it, for example if you send a section off to investigate a contact then this may leave some bombers unescorted, so another section has to be moved to cover the gap.

Treat the section leaders as members of a formation and rely on them to keep their pilots together.

4. Rendezvous points

This can be for any purpose, at any position or any height. Be very clear in the rendezvous point that you give and make sure it is understood by all pilots. You will still get asked where it is.

A rendezvous point is just that. Unless a pilot has a damaged aircraft and is returning to base then all aircraft should make for the rendezvous point. If they do not then call them to it; keep everyone together as much as possible. It is much better for morale for everyone to return together.

Make sure you set a single rendezvous point near to the combat zone regardless of what may occur. Then each pilot should know that if they are alone then they head to that point then ask for orders. They can of course request orders whilst they head there.

5. Heights

This is important, both for forming up, commencing any attacks, escort cover, rendezvous and so on. Your height will constantly be changing so if you know that a pilot or section is trying to find you then keep providing updates.

6. Overview of action in the combat zone

Now it gets tricky. This is a hard thing to train and it can be instinctive/intuitive rather than a reasoned process – in the heat of the action it is hard enough staying alive and trying to kill something to start thinking about everyone else.

You have to keep a mental three-dimensional map of the positions of each target and pilot. Then you have to push the pieces around as necessary. This might be as simple as saying “Blue section attack bombers, yellow and green attack escorting fighters and red section climb to cover all aircraft.” Try and have a number of options in mind from the very start. You should know by the type of mission what will be required so you should have a rough idea of what you will face.

You also have to keep updating your mental map. If yellow was to attack flak, but get bounced, then the flak still has to be attacked by somebody but now yellow may need help. Chop and change as necessary.

Strike leader

I use this term to describe the person who has overall command of a ground attack mission, whatever the objective is.

The strike leader’s main focus is bringing all aircraft into play at the precise moment of strike. This might be with forward sweeping escort, co-ordinating flak attacks or just simply getting all ground attack aircraft into the right position at the right time for the attack.

This position needs a lot more talking, and constant requests for position updates from the various units. All functions of a squadron leader are present but with emphasis on the following parts of each mission.

1. Planning

Similar to a squadron leader’s role, you have to succinctly set out exactly what is required of every single aircraft. The nature of the mission will decide how exotic your strategy is and the tactics for achieve mission success. This takes experience and a full understanding of the capabilities of the aircraft available to you.

2. Ingress

The formation has to be gathered up and everyone kept close at hand unless you have decided that some units will operate semi-autonomously. If escorting fighters are available you have to set their disposition and whether or not they are close or medium escort or they have the capacity to free hunt.

3. Initial point

This is the last waypoint, or position, before the attack starts. Timing here is critical so either everyone has to be together or all units have to be in a position to do their job as required by the tactics you have set out previously. If not, then strong commands have to be given to bring the threads of the plan together. As a last resort you re-form before making the first attack.

4. The attack

At this point you should trust all unit leaders to do what they have to do while you focus on your specific job.

If you are leading the attack then set it up properly so everyone can follow you in. Press the attack home. Make sure that everyone carries out the attack properly. If you have to drop a torpedo from close in then make sure that everybody does. Try and make sure that nobody hits the ground or water; the Earth is a rather large object but some still find it difficult to avoid it.

5. Egress

You should already have set the egress heading and a rendezvous point. Make sure everyone forms up and that escort fighters are available for cover. Do not let anyone lag behind, or if they do then detach an escorting fighter to cover them.

Overall the best position to be in is where every pilot understands their position in the command structure and their role within the mission. Then everything slots into place.

This guide might be amended periodically if any clarifications or amendments are needed.

Tom
In selecting the motto... 'all for one and one for all'... I have done so because it expresses what should be the creed to every Fighter Pilot. Never forget that you are an essential cog in the wheel, and if you break or fail it will let down your brother pilots, and the grimness of war allows for no such weakness.

Air Vice Marshal Saul in the foreword to 13 Group's 'Forget-Me-Nots for Fighters'

"They fly Hurricanes, isn't it?, them's shit planes for remtards on free dinners..."
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