German Fighter Tactics Against Flying Fortresses

This report reproduces a study dated 11 November, 1943 by the Third Bombardment Division, VIII Bomber Command, covering German fighter attacks against Flying Fortresses. The tactical diagrams and conclusions are a result of an analysis of more than 2,500 separate encounters covering a period of 6 months.

An analysis of this information has revealed that enemy tactics can be divided into a number of standard patterns. While there are minor variations of these patterns, the tactics presented here are the standard attacks in use at the time of the study.

The accuracy of the diagrams has been verified by several hundred experienced bomber crews as well as by numerous operations officers. Their reliability has also been checked by a number of fighter pilots who have escorted B-17 formations.

It is emphasized that individual crews may have seen attacks which vary from these standard patterns. The Hun is an opportunist and is quick to change his approach. It is also emphasized that the ranges at which attacks begin and end may vary from those shown here. Ranges given on the diagrams are representative and should be considered as averages.


Brig. Gen. Curtis Le May, commanding the Third Bombardment Division, states that he considers this study as "an excellent example of a thorough collection of intelligence data bearing on the employment of fighter aircraft by the enemy during the progess of combat operations."

One intelligence officer in each group has been appointd to specialize in the collection of information covering enemy tatics. This report is the result of the work of these officers. Final compilation was completed by the A-2 staff at Third Bombardment Division under the direction of Lt. col. Carl Norcross, Assistant Chief of Staff, A-2.

It is believed that this material will be of value to operations officers, intelligence officers, and gunnery officers in training air crews.

The Rocketeers

High Squadrons of High Group, of Any Combat Wing, But Usually of Last Over Target


This attack was first employed on the Schweinfurt mission, 14 October. In Line-abreast, the single-engine e/a approach on level or slightly higher position. Aircraft A, V C, and D after firing their projectiles, peel off as indicated in diagram. Aircraft E and F, which are not equipped with rocket armament, close in to attack any Fortresses which may have been crippled by the rocket projectiles or which may, for any other reason, seem to straggle. How close aircraft E and F press home their attacks depends upon the prospect of the "kill".

Note.- This same line-abreast formation is used by twin-engine e/a when firing rocket projectiles. After the projectiles are fired, the twin-engine e/a often close in for the cannon attack.


It's a two-to-one bet that the e/a which will close in for attack is or are located in the center of the formation. THE STRAGGLER'S NUMBER IS UP. KEEP IN FORMATION AT ALL COST AFTER EXPLOSION OF ROCKET PROJECTILES. The tail gunner (officer) in Fortress No. 1 must be alert to this attack and warn formation leader when e/a are jockeying into position.



The best defense against rocket attacks from the rear is slight weaving of the formation. Due to high trajectory and low velocity of rockets, slight weaving will carry the formation out of the effective range of bursts.


Lead Squadron of High Group, Any Combat Wing


This maneuver, as practically all other head-on attacks, is performed by single engine aircraft. The fighters, flying parallel to Fortresses as indicated in the diagram, pull ahead into positions at 11, 12, and 1 o'clock for commencment of their respective dives. At this time they are approximately 2,000/2,500 yards ahead and 500 yards above the level of the squadron to be attacked. They appear to be converging as they come head-on.

Break-aways are made as follows:

  • C does wing up break away to left at 800 yards.
  • B does slow roll and belly-up dive (the Split "S") at 500 yards.
  • A does wing up break away to left at 300 yards, and dives until out of range.

Sometimes (as was done by "Goering's Abbeville Kids" in the Stuttgart mission on 6 September 1943), the dives are extended as indicated by the black lines in diagram, with slow rolls and belly-up dives (Split"S") underneath the squadron.

The same diving attacks are often made from the rear of Fortress formaations. FW-190s and Me-109s can and do make these angular attacks, singly and head-on or from astern. Such attacks can be made from any clock position from 10 to 2 or from 4 to 8.


A slight turn will make all of these attacks a deflection shot. A slight dive or climb will uncover more turrets.

Tail Gunner's Headache


Low Squadron of Lead Group, Usually of First Combat Wing Over Target


On either side of the squadron and at a distance of approximately 2,000 yards, the single-engine fighters queue up for attacks in trains. They are about 500 yards above the level of the lead squadron, flying a parallel course.

These formations vary, but at points X and Y the fighters are in trains of two or three to the side, ready for alternating dives, with from 5 to 10 seconds intervals between. In other words, two or three e/a, in train, dive from point X, then two or three e/a, in train, from point Y. The procedure is repeated until all planes (sometimes 18 or more to the side) have taken their turns in diving.

Fighters diving from point X pass under the lead squadron, while the e/a from point Y do a shallow dive, a slow roll, then a belly-up dive (Split "S") when within 500 yards (or less) of the lead element of the squadron. The low squadron can be attacked in the same manner.

The same tactics are employed in dives through the formation, i.e., between the lead and low squadrons or between the lead and high squadrons.


If these attacks are not properly coordinated, it is a gamble to take evasive action against either of them; if they are coordinated, the nose attack with no deflection is most dangerous. Don't give the fighters a no-deflection shot.

Because of the decoys, this maneuver more than any other, has a tendency to draw fire from Fortress gunners. The group or squadron showing poorest combat formation is usually the one to come under attack.

The Roller Coaster

 Lead Squadron of Low Group, Any Wing


From 12 o'clock high, single-engine fighter (FW-190 or Me-100) dives from distance of 2,500 to 4,000 yards to point Y, about 800 to 1,000 yards from nose of lead Fortress, and swoops up, like a roller coaster, to fire a few bursts at under side of Fortewss at point X, where the fighter comes to a stall and noses down into a steep dive. This attack could also be made against the lead squadron. It would hardly be made against the high squardron, unless it were trailing the other two squardrons of a group. Twin-engine fighters may also perform this maneuver.


Force the fighter to make a deflection shot by turning slightly and shoot him between points X and Y.


Low Squadron of High Group, Any Combat Wing


This maneuver is conventional and designed to break up the Fortress formation. The trailing e/a (on top) pulls up at about 500 yards range and does a fast climb over the squadron. The leading e/a (on bottom) comes in closer (usually to 400 yards) and, with wing up, dives away to the right.

Other single-engine ea can often be observed lining up for similar attacks from other clock postions: sometimes from high, sometimes from level. If from level, the attack is often suicidal for the fighter which tries to pull up and climb over the squadron.

The Scissors Movement can be commenced from clock positions ranging from 10 to 2. It could be used against the lead squadron, with leading e/a diving away to left.


Avoid giving fighters a no-deflection shot. Make slight turn into the attack. wing a/c must hold formation on this attack and not take individual evasive action to avoid fire.

Gunners must be alert to targets in their respective sectors. One of these fighters will be available to the top-turret gunners, while the other will be available to the ball-turret gunners.

The Pepper Spray

 High Squadron of High Group, Any Combat Wing


From Position indicated in the diagram, the single-engine fighter makes a steep dive of approximately 4,000 yards to point X over the squardron formation, at which it skids, spraying the Fortresses with cannon shot. Because of its very fast rate of speed the fighter is able to pull up and over the squadron. Attention is called to the decoys on either side or the Fortresses. These decoy fighters usually fly level with or slightly above the horizontal plane of the Fortresses and at distances away which vary from 1,000 to 2,000 yards. Every now and then, one of the decoy aircraft will make a feint (much as a boxer would do), to give the impression that it is turning in for an attack.


A slight turn will make this attack a deflection shot. As for the decoys, remember that airplanes which are not attacking are not dangerous. Do not waste ammunition on them. FIRE AT THE ATTACKING PLANE!


Low Squadron of Low Group of Any Combat Wing


This attack, known as the "sneak" (tail), can be made against No. 5 and No.6 Fortresses as well as against Fortress No. 4. The approach is from slightly low to level and, almost invariably, is from "out of the sun" or from a cloud position. How much below level the attack is commenced will depend upon the position of the sun or the cloud with respect to the Fortresses.

The same type of attack is often made from the 5 o'clock position, slightly low.

The lead squadron is not immune to attack of this type, but seldom experiences one. However, the high squadrons of groups have known fighters to sneak up on them from 5 and 7 o'clock positions, slightly low. It seems to be the gereral practice for sneak attacks from astern positions, slightly low, to be made agaisnt low squadrons of groups.


Attacks by individual airplanes are not dangerous and this one can be shot down, if all gunners are alert and cover their sectors properly.



Lead Squadron of Any Group. Any Combat Wing


This attack is known as the "sneak" and is made against the lead element planes of the formation. Almost invariably, the fighter will attack " out of the sun" or from a cloud position, when it comes head-on from low. How much below level the attack is commenced will depend upon the position of the sun or the cloud with respect to the Fortresses.

The attack is often made against the No. 2 Fortress from the 1 o'clock, slightly low, position. From this position, the No.1 and No.2 Fortresses of the high squadron are often attacked.

The same type of attack is often made against the No.3 Fortress of the lead and low squadrons from the 11 o'clock, slightly low, position but the breakaway is the same, i.e., there is a slow roll, followed by a break-away in a belly-up dive.



Attacks by individual airplanes are not dangerous and this one can be shot down, if all gunners are alert and cover their sectors properly.


High Squadron of Low Group, Any Combat Wing


The Me-110 and Ju-88 attack simultaneously, as indicated in diagram. At point Y, the Ju-88 breaks away to the right, wing-up, while the Me-110 does a slow roll and a break-away to the left in a rather steep dive.

Sometimes this maneuver is performed by a pair of Me-110s.


Each gunner must cover his sector. Coordinated attacks are common. Tail gunner in Fortress No. 5 must be alert to this type of attack. Top-turret gunners in rear of Fortress formation should watch e/a attacking from high, astern.

THE SWOOPER (12 O'Clock High)

Lead Squadron of Group, Any Combat Wing


In the diagram above, the single-engine aircraft makes a diving attack from 10 o'clock, high, swooping down under the squadron. Seldom is the fighter closer to the Fortress squadron than 500 yards, and in this type of attack the fighter comes down from an angle of between 30 and 40 degrees, without rolling over. The fighter pulls out of the dive when clear of the squadron.

IMPORTANT: This type of diving attack can be and often is made under the high and low squadrons, as follows:

(1) Under low squadron, from any position between 6 to 12 o'clock, high.

(2) Under the high squadron, from any position between 12 to 3 o'clock, high.

The diving attack under the lead squadron is often made from any position between 9 to 1 o'clock, high.


While in the majority of these swooping attacks the figher goes under the squadron formation, sometimes it goes over the formation. If the combat formation is bad, the fighter may dive and go through the formation, i.e., between the lead and high squadrons or, if diving from the 12 to 3 o'clock positions, between the lead and low squadrons. Almost invariably, when the fighter dives and pulls up over the formation, the pull-up is over the high squadron.


Diving attacks with deflection are what we like. The fighter is at a disadvantage. He has a hard shot and can get in only a short burst. Gunners have plenty of time to shoot him down.


Low Squadron of High Group, Usually of Last Combat Wing Over Target


The twin-engine fighter approaches from 6 o'clock, level or slightly higher, and at points 1,2, and 3 takes slight evasive action by weaving. Evasive action can be expected to follow almost every burst of cannon fire.

The twin-engine fighter, equipped with rocket armament, fires from 1,200 to 2,000 yards. It may close in for cannon attack after exhausting supply of rocket projectiles. In making the closure, evasive action is taken as indicated above.

At point X, the fighter peels off to right or left and does a shallow dive until out of range of .50-caliber M/Gs of Fortresses.

This attack occasionally is made against No. 5 and No. 6. The attack is seldom closed to less than 800 yards behind Fortress No. 4.


The twin-engine tail-pecker can be expected to return to its 6 o'clock position after evasive action is taken. Hold fire until fighter is within range, then nail him to the cross on his straight-and-level flight, not when he is taking evasive action.


Low Squadron of High Group, Usually of Last Combat Wing Over Target


Fighter flies on level (300 yards below horizontal plane of Fortress No. 4), but at points 1,2, and 3 lifts nose and fires a few bursts of shot. The peel-off is to the right or the left at point X which is approximately 800 yards behind Fortress No. 4.

This typical tail-pecking attack is sometimes made against Fortress No. 5 or Fortess No. 6.


Although quite common, this type of attack is not too dangerous. The ball turret gunners can have a lot of fun with the tail-pecker which comes in from below, but should avoid long shots.

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