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What would go into flying a real WW2 patrol mission?

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I've been wondering how a fighter or bomber patrol mission in WW2 would actually be executed: what the map was like when pilots picked a route to target, when and how high they would fly, what pattern would they fly over the target, etc.


I ran across this account of a WW2 mission to disrupt enemy transports which provides some detail:



Let me tell you something of the type of operation (mission) that we were engaged on. 305 Squadron was part of 2nd Tactical Airforce and our main task was to bomb and disrupt enemy transports. Apart from one daylight operation all the other flights were at night. In the late afternoon or early evening we would be briefed by Wing Commander Grodzicki- giving details of patrol areas and enemy activity to be expected, bomb load carried and take off times. The Meteorological Officer would give details of the weather and possible diversions if the weather was bad on the return to base. The Intelligence Officer gave details of enemy troop and transport movements and the “bomb line.” This was the line between the enemy and the allied troops. No bombs were to be dropped or any attacks made on our side of the bomb line. Routes to the patrol areas were suggested to avoid major “flak” areas. After briefing Tony and I would plan our route and study a topographical map noting any high ground or major obstructions, and any known flak areas.


We would take off singly and fly at 4,000ft to an area behind enemy lines. Here we would patrol for about an hour when another Mosquito would take our place. During the patrol we would search out signs of any movements on the ground. Once we spotted something we would go down lower and investigate. If the movement proved to be a train, lorries, tanks or barges we would then attack from low level with 500lb bombs, .303 machine guns or cannons. This could sometimes be a bit “scary” as there was always a danger of going too low. Most of our losses were due to hitting the ground or obstructions such as trees or power lines, and sometimes the object being attacked. If my navigator thought we were too low he would shout "Up!" I never argued, but immediately pulled back the stick to gain height as quickly as possible.


I've found these videos on R.A.F. low-flying navigation which explains how they would plan the route and fly to the target.


Can anyone provide a link to the map or description the Intelligence Officer would provide so the pilots could do their route planning?


I'd also like to know what pattern pilots would fly over the target, and for how long.  Maybe a racetrack pattern?  In-game the AI flies a tight circle in-place; Shaw says a figure 8 is probably best so you are always facing the enemy approach.  What did the pilots actually do?

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Those are some deep questions, and there is no one answer to any of them.  Tactics, techniques and procedures could vary wildly even within a given air force and specific theater and time period.  You can find bits and pieces of answers by reading through pilot memoirs, after action reports and similar sources.  This book delves into a TON of operational minutia specific to the US 8th Air Force, and is worth a look if you're interested in that aspect of WWII.

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Thanks, good to know.


After some Google bashing I turned up this Master's thesis about RAF WW2 ground attack missions.  The thesis points to a few places that give details about RAF tactics, such as the Operations Record Books.  For example, it gives specific details about how pilots would control the Spitfire IX while dive-bombing.


The operations and history of No 126 Wing RCAF may have some info as well.

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16 minutes ago, Garafrax said:

For example, it gives specific details about how pilots would control the Spitfire IX while dive-bombing.


And of course, once I think I found an answer about how the RAF did dive bombing, I find this video interview with a Spit V pilot talking about dive bombing where he says "we each had our own system".  Nothing like the standardized training the US Navy did with dive-bombing practice ranges.  It sounds like the RAF said "Go dive-bomb these targets. You'll figure it out, here's some rough guidelines to get you started."


It reminds me of how the AAF and RAF used different approaches to flight instruction: for a given US airplane I can find training films, reference to practice ranges, and long pamphlets with illustrations.  For the same plane the RAF had a typed pamphlet a couple pages long with the key numbers and flight characteristics: I'm guessing the rest was learned from your instructor or in the air.

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This film segment shows an AAF fighter briefing with a mission map.  The briefing looks very similar to what I've read about RAF navigation: fighter pilots were expected to memorize the map and the targets.  Pilots were given times, altitudes, and headings for dead-reckoning.  Otherwise they used their eyes and their heads.


Nifty how the pilots kept all of their mission notes written in ink on the back of their hand.


The briefing also mentions how they engaged secondary targets:  "Escort the bombers to point X.  If possible strafe these airdromes before heading back.  Expect 30 flak guns at each.  Take the guns out before strafing the aircraft on the ground".

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