Low-flying air attacks usually have three objectives: to
destroy or damage materiel, to cause casualties to
personnel, and to create confusion and otherwise
affect morale. Whether such attacks are easily accomplished,
or difficult and dangerous, depends on the
volume and the effectiveness of antiaircraft fire directed
against the attackers. Pilots on both sides in
this war agree that one of the most difficult missions
is to strafe or bomb troops who steady themselves and
let go with every type of gun that will point upwards
at the attackers. Extremely distasteful to attacking
pilots is a stream of tracer bullets just ahead, in the
path of their planes. Experience has shown that a
good many pilots will turn rather than go through
such a stream, while only a few can face it with sufficient
coolness for accurate strafing or bombing.
2. TACTICS USED BY THE BRITISH
British small-arms or light antiaircraft fire has five main
objectives, as follows:
a. To inflict casualties on enemy aircraft;
b. To maintain the morale of their troops;
c. To protect vital points in the areas they occupy and their communications facilities;
d. To prevent or reduce the effects of low-flying and dive-bombing attacks; and
e. To protect columns of troops and matériel, or entrucking and detrucking areas.
Motor trucks in columns are usually the most vulnerable
targets to low-flying air attacks. Realizing this, the
British maintain a wide interval between trucks
while in movement and a wide dispersion of them
while at a halt. Off roads and in open country, their
trucks move in several columns, more or less abreast.
Constant observation for enemy planes is maintained
by all units. Since the planes attack at a high
rate of speed, only a few seconds are available to get
set for counter fire. Generally, the number of air
observers used depends upon the tactical situation.
In a moving column, each vehicle is required to have
an observer. These observers should be well trained.
It is extremely difficult to determine whether planes
are our own or enemy aircraft. Hostile markings are
a sure guide, but these are visible only when a plane
is passing fairly well overhead. Careful studies
should be made of silhouettes, because they probably
are the most dependable means of quick identification.
As a precaution while at a halt, the British always
mount two antiaircraft light machine guns in each
sub unit and in each unit headquarters. Crews stand
by in readiness for action.
Repeated short blasts of a whistle denote an air attack.
If attacked while in movement, all vehicles are
halted--unless orders to the contrary have been issued.
If the column is under orders to keep moving, all light
machine guns open fire. Otherwise, all personnel get
out of the halted vehicles, disperse, and open controlled
fire at the hostile aircraft. If time permits, it is always
a good idea to dig slit trenches for personnel while at a
halt. All small-arms weapons are used when the planes
come within range. The fire is controlled by platoon
commanders--in some cases, owing to wide deployment,
the control is under section leaders. In no case are
troops allowed to take cover without resisting the attackers.
Experience has taught the British that small-arms
fire is most effective against dive-bombers when they are
diving towards the weapons or pulling out of a dive.
At these times the pilot is unprotected by armor. During
this period only 3 or 4 seconds elapse, so speed in
opening fire is a major essential in successfully combatting
3. TACTICS USED BY THE GERMANS
German ground forces attack hostile low-flying planes
with every weapon which they can point at them. This
combined fire of many types of guns is very intense. Use
of tracer bullets by some of the machine guns is
calculated to increase greatly the effect of the firing
upon the morale of the attacking pilots.
Besides taking the usual safety measures involving
dispersal, cover, and camouflage, the Germans have an
elaborate air observation system.
4. TACTICS USED BY THE RUSSIANS
A captured German order describes the effectiveness
of the Russian light antiaircraft defenses. Extracts
from the order are quoted, as follows:
"During the past 2 months (January and February, 1942), it
has been found that our loss of planes from
small-arms ground fire has been exceptionally high. In
one of our air units which supported a ground attack,
the loss from enemy small-arms ground fire was 50 percent. The
reason for this lies in the well-organized
Soviet antiaircraft fire. Our aviation units have made
the following observations:
"a. Every Soviet ground unit attacked by our aviation
opens fire on our planes with rifles and other infantry
weapons. The probability of hits on a small
target by widely distributed ground fire is very great.
"b. As soon as Soviet cavalrymen are attacked, they
dismount and fire from a standing position with their
rifles placed on the saddles. The infantrymen lie on
their backs and fire.
"c. Mortar fire is also used. I do not point this out
as an example to be followed but to explain that the
Soviets fire on aircraft with all weapons used by ground troops.
"d. The Soviets place light and medium antiaircraft artillery, transported
on sleds, at the head of the column."
5. EFFECTIVENESS OF FIRE
Carefully aimed small-arms fire at the proper time
against low-flying planes almost always damages the
aircraft, and frequently it causes casualties to the flying
personnel. The results usually are not apparent to
those conducting the fire on the ground because of the
speed of the planes. Even if a plane remains in the air
only 30 seconds after being hit, it will fly 2 or 3 miles
before falling. Therefore, the ground forces should not
be disappointed if planes fly away apparently unhit.
Few planes vigorously attacked are able to escape at
least minor damage. Every attacking plane not shot
down has to be checked thoroughly after reaching its
base. Not only must all serious damage be repaired
but every bullet-hole must be patched and a search made
for any hidden damage. Frequently parts must be replaced
and sometimes new motors must be installed.
All this takes time and requires labor. In the meantime,
these planes are grounded and are not available