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Thread: RAF Fighter Squadron structure?

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    Default RAF Fighter Squadron structure?

    Does anyone have a good primer on the structure and organisation of an RAF Fighter Squadron around 1941/42?

    I'm interested in determining (under ideal conditions):

    1. No. of aircraft allocated to a Squadron/Flight/Section
    2. No. of flying personnel posted to a Squadron/Flight/Section
    3. Names of the various elements (eg "A" and "B" Flights were comprised of Red/Yellow/Blue/Green Sections??)

    For example, who is "Blue 3" etc.

    What was the basic fighting structure at this time? Had the RAF moved from Vic formation to Finger Four?

    It would help me better understand some of the books I am reading.

    Regards

    Adrian
    Interests include Spitfires in Malta 1942 and 460 Sqdn 1943-44 (including Black Thursday)

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    Adrian,
    So far as know, the "standard" aircraft establishment of an RAF fighter squadron, in any theatre of operations, was 16 during practically the full period of WW2. This I can confirm as being the establishment figure given in the RAF "Narratives" as well as numerous othr official references. However there MAY have been certain unusual squadrons with different establishments for a specific purpose at certain times, but the figuer 16 would probably cover 99% of situations.
    As to the question of Flights, there would be eight aircraft per Flight, normally designated "A" and "B" Flights. Aircraft were NOT organized into Sections.
    As to the personnel establishment (pilots only here), I am on less certain ground, but I believe that at the beginning of the war this may have been 21, and most at this stage would have been of junior officer rank, plus a sprinkling of Sergeants. Pilots were organized into Flights and Sections, originally three pilots per Section (which would give seven sections for 21 pilots, but I cannot say that I have read this anyway and this statement can thus be considered highly speculative). However "new chums" on the squadron were possibly not immediaitely allocated to a Section until the CO or Flight Commander considered them "operational" (or "combat read"). This was particularly so early in WW2 prior to the setting up of the original Fighter OTUs. As you know, Sections were normally given a designation, with Colours being the most popular, although names for alcoholic drinks was also a popular choice, also precious stones.
    To return to the personnel establishment (and strengths), I believe that during the Battle of Britain it was not unusual to have an actual pilot strength of almost 30, although a few of these were considerd not ready for operations (too inexperienced) or were recovering from minor injuries or wounds and could be held on unit strength pending their return to flying status (and would be employed on miscellaneous non-flying duties, although this was probably not a common practice). Many biographies opf fighter pilots give quite a good idea of general squadron life, but they rarely mention establishments although they would heve been fully conversant with them at the time.
    David D

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    I'm just reading The Darlington Spitfire, which mentions "Laddie" Lucas returning to a UK-based squadron after his spell in Malta, mid 1943, to find it still flying the "line astern" tactics. He converted it to "finger-four". There is a discussion of fighter tactics in (I believe) Fighters Over The Desert (or possibly Fighters Over Tunisia) which describes line-astern and line-abreast tactics in 1941-42. Clearly the change-over to "finger-four" was not a simple matter, in time or space.

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    Finger four is a rather demanding formation, and some experience is necessary. The line astern battle formation mentioned is probably not the classical sections one after another, but rather sections flying line abreast, each one line astern, stepped down. When Polish fighters arrived to Tunisia in 1943, they found the RAF squadrons still flying line abreast. They have (literally) converted some of them to finger four in mid 1943.

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    Not each section in line abreast: this is specifically described as each section in line astern, in a late-1942 reference to 92 Sq as opposed to the later 118 Sq. So the old Vic formation had gone, but not directly replaced by finger-four.

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    David,

    Thank you for the explanation and detail. That helps a lot.

    With the 16 aircraft on establishment, would any of those be in the "immediate reserve"? Or would a full squadron scramble imply all 16 aircraft in flight?

    As for personnel, I can confirm for No. 611 Squadron at the beginning of December 1941 (source ORB) that aside from the CO, 'A' Flight included 14 pilots (including Flight Commander) and 'B' Flight included 11 pilots (including Flight Commander), for a total squadron strength of 26 pilots.

    As for the new chums, I can confirm that in my grandfather's case, when posted to various squadrons during early 1942, that the ORB Appendix recorded sometimes that he didn't fly operationally until assessed by his Flight Commander.

    Regards

    Adrian
    Interests include Spitfires in Malta 1942 and 460 Sqdn 1943-44 (including Black Thursday)

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    Graham and Franek,

    Thanks for illuminating me on the transition to Finger Four flying. It seems that parts of the RAF insisted on continuing to teach the Vic formations as part of 'doctrine'.

    Regards

    Adrian
    Interests include Spitfires in Malta 1942 and 460 Sqdn 1943-44 (including Black Thursday)

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    With 16 aircraft on hand, the real number of operational aircraft will almost always be lower. The rule for big offensive operations (Circus, Rodeo, etc...) was to send 12 aircraft per squadron AFAIK. I found some case were a squadron sent 13, 14 or even 15 aircraft in an operation, but 12 was far more frequent.

    This applies to Fighter Command units, but also to other theaters, like this example in Tunisia on 5 April 1943:
    "Wg.Cdr. Berry led 11 Spitfires 5s from 154 Squadron and 11 more from 232 Squadron, together with 12 Mark 9s from 81 Squadron to escort 12 Hurribombers of 241 Squadron to attack Enfidaville airfield."

    For scrambles, most of them will be launched against enemy lone raiders (usually recon) and so concern only the readiness patrol, that depending of the period will be 2, 3 or 4 aircraft. If the whole squadron was scrambled, then every available aircraft will take off but this number will vary a lot depending of the circumstances.

    For example here are the numbers of plane scrambled by RAF squadrons engaging the Jabo raid on London on 20 January 1943:
    122 Sqn 10 Spitfires
    332 Sqn 11 Spitfires
    340 Sqn 13 Spitfires
    611 Sqn 12 Spitfires

    This was a rather big raid, and going far inland compared to other German daylight raids in 1943. Other intercepetions of Jabo raids in spring 1943 were more often done by 6-7 scrambled aircraft or by the airborne patrols (usually 2 aircraft).

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    Default Th exception which proves the rule?

    Towards the end of the war in NW Europe, this may have changed somewhat. After D-Day 263 Squadron, flying Typhoons, "doubled up", as observed in the ORB:-

    7 June 1944

    "A double, mixed squadron of 8 Typhoon Bombers and 8 Typhoon R.P. (8 X 60lb H.E.) was now bricked-up; a state which was to be “phenomenally” maintained – the words are the A.O.C.'s. Thus two “Squadron” operations became possible simultaneously either in two waves with the same objective or with different targets."

    Obviously, this required an increase in the aircraft allocated to the Squadron although, as observed in the ORB the following day, not a substantial one.

    "Despite yesterday's activity, all the 19 Aircraft on charge to the Squadron were serviceable by 1000 hours. F/Lt Wannop and the ground crews of 6263 (Ex 3055) and of the Squadron had worked all night on them, as they did not infrequently during this and other months."

    Of course Typhoons were a little different to the pure interceptor boys, but I thought I'd add to this interesting debate!

    Regards,

    Jeff

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    I am afraid that reducing the problem of RAF battle formations to vics and finger four is an oversimplification. In MTO quite common formation was line abreast, that means all aircraft flying line abreast! A modification of the formation was to put sections of two flying line abreast, with wingmen stepped back. It must be also mentioned that vics line astern were used up to the end of war, albeit not as a battle formation. It was much superior to finger four in conditions of adverse weather.

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