HEADQUARTERS, MARINE AIRCRAFT,
SOUTH PACIFIC, FLEET MARINE FORCE
19 JANUARY 1944
Reprinted by AIR INTELLIGENCE GROUP DIVISION OF THE NAVAL INTELLIGENCE OFFICE OF THE CHIEF OF OPNAV-16-V #S42 DEPARTMENT, WASHINGTON, D.C. 15 FEBRUARY 1944 OPNAV-16-V - # S42 15 February 1944
THE COMBAT STRATEGY AND TACTICS OF MAJOR GREGORY BOYINGTON, USMCR
Commanding Officer of VMF214
MARINE AIRCRAFT, SOUTH PACIFIC, FLEET MARINE FORCE
19 JANUARY 1944
These reports, representing a digest of Major Boyington's ideas concerning, and contributions to, combat aviation were prepared by the squadron ACIO from information received from members of the squadron.
AIR INTELLIGENCE GROUP
DIVISION OF NAVAL INTELLIGENCE
OFFICE OF THE CHIEF OF NAVAL OPERATIONS
Distribution: Standard Air Intelligence Group List
MAJOR BOYINGTON'S TACTICS
GENERAL OBSERVATIONS APPLYING TO ALL MISSIONS
- Tactics in the air should be studied and developed in comparison with time-tried tactics on the land and on the sea. The principles of scouting, out-flanking, ambushing, etc. , all provide a basis for the basis for the development of air tactics. Of course allowances and modifications must be made for our speed, for the additional dimension in which we operate, etc. But land and sea experience provide a starting point.
- Fighter aircraft are designed, and fighter pilots are trained, to fight. If there are enemy aircraft in the air , and contact is not made, something is wrong. The only exception to this are those situations where we must stay close to something we are expected to protect; where to attack means that we have been lured away.
- All missions must be preceded by thorough planning and briefing, with respect to the purpose of the mission and the purpose of any alternate missions, with respect to the rendezvous point and any alternate rendezvous points, etc. All possible contingencies must be considered in advance, particularly because all of our present operations are over enemy territory far from our bases. Success in the air is a lot of little things. Most of them can be taken care of before takeoff.
- All missions must be flown as planned and briefed unless there is real justification to the contrary -- there must be discipline. Along with realizing the purpose of the mission, each pilot must realize fully his responsibility for its successful execution.
- With proper planning and briefing, no use of the radio should (be) necessary except in emergencies and except in situations where tactical considerations require otherwise.
- Every effort must be made to obtain relevant weather information and to make intelligent use of such information.
- All fighters must realize the critical importance of recognition, in order to distinguish our planes from those of the enemy, in order to identify the enemy's different types so that his particular points of weakness can be exploited and his particular points of strength respected, etc.
- Fighters must not go into combat feeling that the division leader or at most the section leader will answer for problems of tactics, navigation communications, etc. In these regards leaders and wingmen are the same -- at any moment the customary leader may go down or may be required to return to base, or may become lost, or may be without a radio, and every one of the others must be ready to take over. And in particular, all pilots are equally responsible for spotting the enemy and for initiating immediate action either through their leader or by taking over the lead themselves.
- Pilots must make steady careful observation a habit. They must have a system and a routine for scanning the air both above and below, behind, on the flanks and ahead. The vigil must be unceasing.
- When bogies are called, the call must be so worded that everyone will know the location of the division from which the call has come, and the location of the bogies either with respect to a geographical landmark or with respect to the line of flight of the friendly force.
- Surface bogies should not be called unless it is practically certain that they are enemy bogies. The comparative slowness of movement of friendly forces on the water makes any revelation of their presence or position undesirable.
- In the execution of all missions, all advantages of sun, weather, terrain, etc., must be exploited.
- In danger areas high speed must be maintained. In the less dangerous areas, such a speed must be carried that all formations can stay together comfortably.
- We must not climb into bogies. We must gain our altitude away in a position from which the action can be observed, and our climb must be made with a high forward air speed.
- We must not pull up when closely and dangerously attacked. Speed is our defense. With moderate loss of altitude and certainly without going all the way to the water and running for home, the enemy can be outdistanced, and then altitude and position recovered for further attacks.
- Close attention must be given to the efficiency of our fire-power. Our guns' loading, their boresighting, their cleanliness, and their general performance at altitude as well as at the lower levels, must be perfect. As a result of tests of the comparative destructive power of tracer, armor piercing and incendiary ammunition, our squadron changed its belting from 1-1-1 to 2 incendiary -- 1 armor piercing -- 2 incendiary -- 1 tracer. In actual combat we found this load much more satisfactory. We also found it desirable to use the ring sight entirely in determining range and establishing lead, using the tracer merely to check the bore sighting.
- It must be remembered that with our armor plate, our self-sealing orpurged fuel tanks, and with proper evasive action, our rear vulnerability is not great.
- On the other hand, it is apparent that our most successful runs against fighter opposition are from eleven to one o'clock ahead and from five to seven o'clock astern, from a level just above to a level just below.
- The most common manoeuvre of the Jap fighter at present is a split-S, which happens usually when he is approached from ahead or from astern. In normal combat, if he cannot be hit before he has started down, he is usually gone.
- In normal combat in enemy territory it is not desirable, particularly for a single plane, to go below a base altitude, which might well be 10,000 feet. To go lower with a section of two planes may be desirable if both planes carry ample speed and are prepared to cover each other when necessary.
- In normal combat, clouds may provide cover either for us or for the enemy and must be considered constantly in both connections.
- All squadrons must keep the white star on their insignia freshly painted. Cleaning of the fuselage causes them to become indistinct in a matter of days.
- In all missions involving layers of aircraft stacked up through considerable air space, all must remember the difficulty of maintaining visual contact through all the layers.
- All pilots must check their oxygen equipment (as well as everything else) thoroughly before takeoff. To return to base early for oxygen reasons can hardly indicate anything less than negligence in preparation for the flight.
- When a pilot decides that for some reason he must return to base, he should make a visual sign to the other member of his section that he must do so, and should also indicate by visual signal whether he is able to go back alone.
- When a plane drops out, the other member of the section should join up on some other single plane, if any is available. A one-plane section is about as useless as a three-plane section.
- Jap fighters approaching from angles ahead will usually turn away at the suggestion of a run on them, or at any other suggestion that we mean business.
- Fighters must hold their fire until within range, as indicated by the size of the target in the ringsight. Otherwise, the Jap will be warned by that first over-anxious burst, will split-S and will be gone. On the other hand fire should be opened sooner in a head-on run because then we are closing faster and because the plane opening fire last usually turns away first and is a good target during that run.
- The larger a striking force, the greater its power, provided that it is not so large as to be unmanageable. At the present time it would seem desirable to restrict weeps to thirty-six to forty-eight planes, upon the assumption of course that all or very nearly all of them will continue to the target and will participate in the action. Later on the tactics of such sweeps may reach such development that larger forces can be handled efficiently.
- On each particular sweep the number of squadrons represented should be as small as possible, i.e. each squadron which does participate should have a large number of planes.
- On each particular sweep the number of different types of fighters participating should be as small as possible.
- The leader must fly in a position where he can be seen and followed easily. At the present time enemy patrols are not ordinarily airborne, or at least are not at altitude, before our arrival. Such being the case the sweep leader can fly satisfactorily in the bottom layer with the upper layers stepped back from his layer. However, if enemy patrols should be at altitude, it would be better for the sweep leader to be in the uppermost layer. On some sweeps the leader has led the middle layer. By and large, therefore, the sweep leader should be at that level where it is expected that the first contact will be made.
- The fighting should be kept in the same part of the air. It should not degenerate into a number of small fights, some going in our favour and some going otherwise, with some planes out of the action altogether.
- After the initial contact it is hardly possible to keep a division together, although it would be desirable if it could be done without throwing the division into a tail chase with only the leader doing any good. A section is a thoroughly satisfactory combat unit, and can be kept together much more easily than a division. Every effort should be made to keep the section together, but the wingman should not be simply chasing his leader. If the efforts to keep together fail, the separated planes should join up as soon as possible on other friendly planes.
- A rally point should be designated before hand for all planes on the sweep. If for any reason this is not done, those planes from any one squadron should have their own rally point. The rally point should be at a certain altitude, not too far removed from the probably center of action and preferably into the sun.
- Our fighters must keep in the fight for the time specified unless lack of fuel, lack of oxygen, or some other good reason require otherwise.
- The responsibility for the success of a bombing mission rests partly upon the bombers and partly upon their escort. When the bombers do a good job they (aside from hitting their target) do the following : They keep good formation, with all units massed as closely as practicable. They select courses which will allow sufficient clear air space above the bombers for the fighters to maintain visual contact. They select courses avoiding anti-aircraft fire as much as possible. They use imagination in varying their times of attack, their altitudes of attack, their courses of approach and retirement, etc. They carry sufficient air speed for the fighters to stay together comfortably during the non-dangerous part of the approach and retirement as well as during the dangerous part.
- The layers of fighter cover are ordinarily roving high, high, medium, low and close. On the approach all layers will tend to lean ahead of the bombers ; on the retirement they will be over the bombers. The higher the particular layer, the farther sideways its coverage should extend.
- The roving high cover should fly as high as possible consistent with good visual contact with the bombers (not more than a 10,000 foot spread), but not at more than 30,000 feet. It should fly well ahead of the bombers on the approach and ordinarily behind them on retirement. Its mission is the engagement and annihilation of enemy interceptors operating anywhere but particularly at the upper levels. It may leave the airspace over the bombers if that is necessary for the performance of its mission. It is a free unit.
- The high and medium covers are ordinarily the second and third highest covers. Their positions are respectively about 6000 and 4000 feet above the bombers. Unlike the roving high cover, the high cover is not authorized to leave the air space above the bombers.
- The fighters' air speed should be considerably greater than that of the bombers, for the safety of the fighters as well as for their great manoeuvrability. As a result they must weave, in order to keep their assigned positions. The low and close covers will weave back and forth over the bombers' line of flight. The other covers ordinarily will put half of their strength on each side of the line of flight, each half then keeping to its side of the line of flight.
- The low and close covers are respectively 2000 to 1500 feet and 100 to 500 fee above the bombers. They must hold those positions at all costs.
- When the bombers are SBD's and TBF's (which usually approach in that order and a mile or a mile and a half apart), the low and close covers must god down with the bombers, levelling off at about 5000 and 2000 feet respectively. The upper layers must settle down proportionately.
- Ordinarily the low cover must see that straggling bombers are covered.
- It is desirable for the bombers to open up on the radio if the fighter cover is inadequate at any particular point. i.e. Someone in the bomber force should act as a fighter director or fire control officer. The fighters are often innocently unaware of enemy pressure at some particular point.
- Fighter divisions should be able to keep together and fighter sections must keep together. The lower the layer in which a particular fighter happens to fly, the more vulnerable his position an the more prepared he must be to operate defensively with his section.
- No fighter straggling can be permitted, on the part of single planes, sections or even divisions. Fighters in real trouble should dive under the bombers.
- A bomber strike should be preceded by a fighter sweep, timed to arrive at the target at least half an hour before the bombers.
- The importance of thorough planning and briefing is particularly great in strafing. Every scrap of knowledge with regard to terrain, vulnerability of targets, location of anti-aircraft defenses, etc. , must be utilized. Each pilot must know exactly what his approach will be and where his targets will be found.
- Probably no target is invulnerable to successful strafing. But strafing missions cannot be run off under just any circumstances. Surprise is absolutely essential. All cover of weather, darkness, etc. , must be utilized. A mission which has succeeded largely because the attack was not expected certainly cannot be repeated immediately.
- Strafing restrictions issued by the intelligence and operations authorities must be strictly observed. But in the unrestricted areas there should be no hesitation or delay in destroying enemy targets which present themselves. Something which is wide open can be gone the next.
- We in the air sometimes fail to appreciate the effect of strafing upon enemy morale. We know the actual physical destruction which .50 caliber guns can cause, but we sometimes forget the amount of less tangible damage which those guns can inflict. Often such a target as a bivouac area in a coconut plantation cannot be seen but strafing of such targets has inestimable value.
- High speed runs are essential. Speed will reduce the number of rounds which can be delivered and will diminish the opportunity for observation, but it must be maintained. Ordinarily each plane should make but one run -- if more firepower is desired the number of planes should be increased.
- Particularly if the approach is made in line or in a flat echelon, the last mile or two of the approach should be made at a constant power setting so that all pilots will be able to devote full attention to the target. Any pilots who unconsciously jam on the throttle just before reaching the target, will run the risk of entering the fire of the other planes and of colliding with those planes later in their attempts to get back into position.
- Strafing must not be done in column. The greatest safety factor is achieved with a line or flat echelon. If the target is so small that all planes cannot get their guns to bear from a line or flat echelon, they should approach form different angles attacking as simultaneously as possible.
- The approach must be as low as possible, with a momentary pull-up just before reaching the target, for the purpose of identifying the particular targets and getting the guns to bear.
- An impulse to fire too early must be restrained. For effectiveness and for saving gun barrels, fire should be held until one is definitely within range.
- The retirement must be low and very fast, with an eye for possible water spouts from heavy fire.
- Upon the word to Scramble, it is important to get the fighters off the ground, and only second to get them joined up in their usual order. Any four planes can make a division if the take off has been mixed up. And if the take offs are unduly delayed, any two planes should proceed together as soon as possible. Planes should never proceed singly.
- Since fighter direction by radio is never perfect, due to failures of radar, the adversities of weather, etc. , it may be possible to locate the enemy only if our planes operate as a scouting force, i.e. It may be necessary to break the interception force into smaller units such as divisions, which should keep each other in sight but should make their coverage as wide as possible. Of course upon establishment of contact the force should be reunited. It should be exactly like locating the enemy in operations upon land or sea.
- When an enemy force is approaching and the fighters go out, some of them should be required to remain over the area or object in danger of attack, in case the interception is not a complete success.
- When it is expected that bombers are included among the approaching bogies, our interceptors should have as little as possible to do with enemy fighters. In such a case our mission is to prevent those bombers from doing any damage with their bombs. This means that the bombers must be located, and shot down, or at least their formation must be broken up and the individual bombers forced to jettison their bombs.
PATROLS, INCLUDING DUMBO AND TASK FORCE COVERS
- Too often, fighters consider patrols and dumbo and task force covers a waste of time. However, along with performing the mission properly, the time involved can be utilized to good effect.
Wingmen can develop their formation flying, making it perfect but effortless. Leaders can exchange the lead with their wingmen, to see how well the wingmen can lead and to see how well they themselves can fly wing. Divisions can perfect their teamwork and section manoeuvres by practicing tight turns, violent scissors, etc. Leaders can select patterns for flight the basis of which will be readily apparent to those following them, so that a minimum of concentration will be necessary in keeping the planes together. All pilots can practice their own systems of observation particularly in focusing upon very distant objects. In the case of a dumbo cover, the fighters can fly as if escorting bombers. Quite frequently, upon completion of the mission, the divisions can go into tail chases which will release energy and improve technique. The average tour of combat duty involves too much straight and level flying.
- As much altitude should be held as is consistent with good visual contact with the object or area being covered. The position should be into the sun and generally between the object or area being covered and the enemy's territory.
ACCOMPLISHMENT RECORD OF THE "BLACK SHEEP" SQUADRON UNDER MAJOR GREGORY BOYINGTON, USMCR.
Two tours : 12 September, 1943 -- 24 October, 1943.
27 November, 1943 -- 8 January, 1944.
94 Enemy planes destroyed in aerial combat, (92 if them fighter planes, 91 of them over enemy territory). 32 Enemy planes probably destroyed in aerial combat. 50 Enemy planes damaged in aerial combat. 21 Enemy planes destroyed on the ground. 197 Total Enemy planes destroyed, probably destroyed or damaged. 1 100-foot AK destroyed. 1 50-foot AK destroyed. 1 70-foot Japanese-operated Chinese Junk destroyed. 1 70-foot steam launch destroyed. 20 Japanese barges destroyed. 3 Japanese barges loaded with troops destroyed. 1 Raft loaded with enemy troops destroyed. 15 other craft probably destroyed. 125 Japanese bivouac and concentration areas and AA positions on New Ireland, New Britain, Buka, Bougainville and the Shortlands strafed. 4 Japanese airfields strafed : Kahili, Kara, Ballale, and Borpop. Successfully intercepted enemy formation attempting to attack task force reinforcing Barakoma.
Assisted Bougainville ground troops in an untenable position by strafing enemy mortar positions.
Participated in over 200 combat missions, flying 4,195 combat hours.
This combat record was established with the loss of 12 pilots missing in action and 6 wounded in action.
Only 1 pilot was injured and none killed in operational accidents.